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Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Minister Hamad bin Jassim

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 05, 2000

Wednesday, April 5, 2000

(Also participating in this press conference at the Emiri Diwan Doha, State of Qatar was Foreign Minister Sheikah Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani)

Foreign Minister: His Highness the Emir and the Crown Prince met with Mr. Cohen today and they discussed many issues, the bilateral relations on the military side and the situation in the Gulf and all aspects which are related to the relations between the United States and Qatar. It was a good meeting. I think that the relations between Qatar and the United States are excellent and these visits always indicate how both countries respect each other and try to increase mutual cooperation. We welcome Mr. Cohen to Qatar again and although his visit is short, I hope that he enjoys his time whenever he visits Qatar. Now, we would like to open the floor for questions unless Mr. Cohen would like to say a word.

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much. I'd like to make just a brief statement and then open it up to your questions. As many of you know, I take the occasion on at least twice a year to visit countries in the Gulf to review a range of mutual security issues, and my conversations in Qatar are always a valuable part of my tour.

Today I met with the emir, the crown prince and of course with my colleague here, Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim. We continued some of the discussions that I had with him and the crown prince in Washington last month.

The United States is committed to the security of all our friends in the region, and Qatar is an important partner in efforts to maintain a peaceful and stable Gulf.

We work with our partners in a variety of ways, including exercises, forward presence and, as in Qatar, the pre-positioning of U.S. equipment.

Today I talked with the emir and the crown prince about ways to enhance our cooperation with Qatar and to work together on new multilateral security measures, such as the Cooperative Defense Initiative. The initiative is designed to enable Gulf nations to counter potential chemical and biological attacks. Such threats will exist as long as Iran and Iraq pursue efforts to either build or maintain weapons of mass destruction.

And so I did raise the issue of the need for Iraq to permit weapons inspections in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions. As long as Saddam Hussein refuses to allow inspections and comply with other Security Council Resolutions, UN sanctions, of necessity, must remain in place. Full compliance is the quickest way to help the people of Iraq.

In our meetings, I discussed the conversations that I had with Israeli Prime Minister Barak, Egyptian President Mubarak, and Jordanian King Abdullah about recent developments in the Middle East peace process. I think all of us were deeply disappointed by the inflexibility that Syria showed when President Assad met with President Clinton in Geneva recently. With the Syria track blocked at this point, Israel is concentrating on withdrawing its troops from Southern Lebanon and on talks with the Palestinian Authority. Qatar's support for a comprehensive Mideast peace agreement has been helpful. And I want to thank the emir and the foreign minister and the crown prince for their dedication to trying to bring about a peace settlement for the Middle East.

Closer to home, I am also pleased to note the rapprochement that exists between Qatar and Bahrain. You have made impressive progress in the last few months, and I hope that you will continue to address and resolve long-standing differences. The willingness to work with Bahrain is another example of Qatar's commitment to stability in the region, for which I commend them.

And with that, I will entertain your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you think that after nine years of sanctions and arms inspections, Iraq continues to pose a threat to its neighbors?

Secretary Cohen: Well, as you know, there have not been any inspections for over a year and a half now. There are two requirements, of course -- that Saddam must fully comply with those inspections to satisfy the international community that imposes the sanctions. And that he is no longer building either a nuclear capability or possesses or is developing chemical and biological agents. There is no way to make a determination as to whether those activities continue without the presence of inspectors on the ground. And so, once again the Security Council has gone on record -- and members of the Security Council -- he must comply. And until such time as he complies, there should be no relief from sanctions because after all, if you have no inspections and then you take the sanctions away as well, let me go back to building my military again to the extent that it was with either chemical or biological nuclear weapons, then the entire region once again will be placed in jeopardy. And so, the best thing that he can do is to allow the inspectors to come back. Let them make their determination and then report to the Security Council. At that time, they can be relieved from the sanctions once they have satisfied that he is complying. But I must tell you that he is imposing hardship upon the Iraqi people, because the oil for food program is designed to go to the needs of the Iraqi people. He is preventing much of that assistance from getting to the people, especially in Baghdad and in the south compared to what's taking place up north. And the UN agencies have made that determination, that there has been withholding of humanitarian support by Saddam himself by storing medicines and pharmaceuticals and supplies for the Iraqi people. And so, there's only one person who is creating the hardship and that's Saddam Hussein.

Q: One last question Mr. Secretary. A little bit further east, you said you would be briefing GCC leaders on a missile, early warning and interception system. Is this related to US expressed concerns over Iran's development of long-range ballistic missiles?

Secretary Cohen: It pertains to any threat in the region from a potential missile attack and what we have instituted at least, we would like to see greater multilateral cooperation throughout the region so that all of the Gulf States can feel secure. That they would not be subject to a surprise attack, that this shared early warning would help to identify should such a missile that would be launched against any of the Gulf states so that preventive measures could be taken. But it could apply to Iraq should it reconstitute its missile capability, which we hope he will not be able to do. It could apply to Iran. It could apply to any number of countries. So the goal is to have the Gulf area feel secure, that they would have full knowledge and be able to make preparation for either active or passive defenses.

Q: Yesterday, there were 11 U.S. troops that were injured in a clash with Serbs in Yugoslavia. I would like you to comment on that. And also, what do these types of clashes say about how successful the peacekeeping mission is in that region?

Secretary Cohen: With respect to the success of the peacekeeping mission, overall, peace does prevail throughout Kosovo. Without going into great detail, I think if you compare what was taking place year ago to what is taking place today, you had Slobodan Milosevic who was trying to purge hundreds of thousands of people from Kosovo itself. There were over a million and a half refugees that were created. And there was execution of people, mass killings. People on the move and on the run trying to avoid Serbian atrocities. Today, a year later, we now see over eight hundred thousand refugees who have returned to Kosovo. Some 550,000 internally displaced people are back in their homes. 50,000 children are going back to school. We have seen overall that there has been a general peace maintained. There have been flashes of conflict periodically. Yesterday was one example of that in which some of the soldiers were injured, most of them suffering minor injuries and I am informed at this point that the most serious was broken hand suffered by one soldier. So I think, under the circumstances, that given the tensions that have existed for some time, and given the passions that obviously are still quite high, given the atrocities that have taken place in the past, that there has been overall, a great success that has been achieved.

Q: I have two questions. Do the region's countries agree to air raids on what are called the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, especially since three permanent UNSC members have stopped participating in what the U.S. and Britain are doing? The second question is Mr. Cohen announced that he will discuss oil prices, although oil prices have fallen. There are experts in the field and from the U.S. and an agreement on prices has been approved which, I think, is much lower than at the present time.

Secretary Cohen: On the first question that you asked about the containment policy that is being conducted -- Operation Northern Watch/Operation Southern Watch. Those will continue because they are designed to protect the people in the north and also in the south from Saddam posing a threat either internally to his own people or externally to other neighbors. That containment policy will remain in effect and just as Saddam's forces, if he tries to fire upon the aircraft or send aircraft after them, there will be an adequate response on the part of the allied forces. On the oil price itself, we were pleased that OPEC decided to reduce the price of oil and that is important to maintaining price stability throughout the world and helping countries to continue their economic development and so we were pleased with the result of the OPEC decision.

Q: My first question is for the foreign minister. An American magazine specializing in defense affairs published, during the heir apparent's visit to the U.S., that there is a possibility or there are talks of supplying Qatar with the American Patriot missiles. Are these reports true and is there a need for these missiles in Qatar? The second question is for Secretary Cohen. How true is the news that a joint defense agreement will be signed between the U.S. and Israel after the Middle East peace process. And do you think that the American promise to supply Israel with an arms deal with a total cost of 17 billion dollars will help achieve peace or is it aid to strengthen Israel in order to enforce what is called the peace of force and not the force of peace? Thank you.

Foreign Minister: Regarding the first question, during the heir apparent's visit, I think the news appeared because he visited some factories that build these kinds of missiles. We always discuss with the U.S. how to cooperate in defense and other fields. This includes the issue of any defense weapons we need in Qatar. But the heir apparent did not discuss during his visit a contract with American officials on this issue. It was a visit to understand the capabilities of the missile and discuss defense issues. But there were no, and I want to stress this, we did not sign nor talk in detail about a contract.

Secretary Cohen: As for the second question, and I repeat it for the American press who is here, as to whether or not there was a joint peace treaty to be signed between the United States and Israel. And whether or not any appropriation for the peace agreement would be in the interest of Israel or the region.

First, let me point out that there is no treaty that was being discussed. We have a strong bilateral relationship with Israel. There was discussion about enhancing the relationship, but only in the context of a peace agreement with Syria. And so as that is on hold at this point, we continue to have a strong bilateral relationship with Israel. But any discussion of enhanced relationship in other types of appropriations for Israel were only in the context of an agreement with Syria.

Q: I want to ask you Mr. Minister if there is a complete agreement between Qatar and the United States on the needs for this cooperative defense initiative, and what concrete steps your government is considering to take this initiative forward.

Foreign Minister: As I mentioned, our relations with the U.S. allows us to discuss all these issues and we believe that the early warning system for the area is an important issue. And we appreciate what our ally, the U.S., recommends. The presence of U.S. troops in the Gulf area is not secret. And the protection not only for the troops, but also for our region is the top priority. And we always discuss with the U.S. and our allies, and especially with the U.S. to see how we can develop protection from any attack. And I would like to make it clear that when I say attack, I am not accusing anybody specifically, but certain measures should be taken during peace and war. And these measures are being taken for the benefit of both sides.

Q: The U.S. secretary of Defense mentioned that sanctions on Iraq would continue, but is there now a positive shift in relations with Iraq as some Gulf countries have reopened their embassies in Baghdad. What do you think of these steps?

Secretary Cohen: Well, each of the Gulf states will have to make its own determination in terms of what type of relation it will have with Iraq. But of course the sanctions should remain in place and that is something that is important - to prevent Saddam from rebuilding his military capability. We have supported the enlargement of the oil for food program. We have supported allowing more revenues to go for food producing equipment to make sure that the revenues that are flowing into Iraq are going for humanitarian purposes to the people and not to allow Saddam to rebuild his military. Each country in the Gulf region will make its own determination in terms of what diplomatic relationship it maintains with Iraq.

Q: The first question is for H.E. the foreign minister. How do you see the American initiative to improve relations with Iran? And does Qatar have a role to play in this respect? The second part of the question is have you discussed any issues related to lifting current sanctions on Iraq with the American minister. The second question is for Mr. Cohen. The New York Times published in the last few days that Iraq purchased weapons from North Korea to store them in Sudan, was this "leaked" to pave the way for a new strike on the Sudan?

Foreign Minister: On U.S. ties with Iran, we talked about this issue. We look at it, in Qatar, positively. We think that any good relations or ease in relations between Iran and the U.S. serve peace and stability in the region. Iran is an important neighbor for us, and a big neighbor, and we want to have good relations with it. This has been Qatar's policy for a long time on this issue. There should be common ground to develop relations and, also, to set up a system or an understanding on non-interference in internal affairs in any country in the region. And at the same time, we are joined with Iran in many positive issues. We must build on these and exploit them. Hence we welcome the Iranian-American rapprochement. As for the issue of sanctions on Iraq, for us, we are committed to, firstly, with UNSC resolutions. UNSC resolutions are clear. At the same time, we feel pain for the suffering of the Iraqi people and we hope that there will be possibilities to solve this issue in a clear manner and through the international legality. Iraq is an important neighbor. We want it to be stable and to prosper and we want there to be understanding between it and its neighbors so that there can be no threat from any party on another. Therefore, we hope that Iran will also be a part of the group. When we talk about the importance of Iran, we are also talking about the importance of Iraq because of its existence in the Gulf and as a large country in the region. We must try to see how suffering can be ended and how Iraq can be positively dealt with.

Secretary Cohen: If I could add to what the Foreign Minister has just said, I believe that the way to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people is for Saddam to comply with the Security Council resolutions. It's very direct, it's very open, to allow the inspectors to come back so there can be relief for the Iraqi people. Again, I repeat that he is imposing suffering and he should be held accountable for that. With respect to the question about the New York Times article, we do not base our security policy upon articles that appear in the New York Times or any other major publication, but only when we are satisfied that our security interests are threatened do we contemplate taking any action. But we do not base our security policy on items that appear in the press from time to time. Only when we are satisfied that there is a direct threat to the interests of the United States and to our security.

Q: I'd like to ask Secretary Cohen about Kosovo. Whether this incident shows the need to increase the number of U.S. troops in Kosovo. Will there be any added deployment in the enhancement of the forces there?

Secretary Cohen: No, I don't believe there is any need at this point for increased participation of more troops, multinational troops. What it shows is that there is more need for police. This essentially was a police action where the individual was suspected of having committing acts of robbery. In fact, it was a police action to go into the house to search the house for evidence in this particular investigation and where they found a certain number of grenades. And because of the way in which it was handled, crowds did gather and there was a need for a response on the part of KFOR, but I believe that what we need is more police. We need a judicial system. We need to have the civilian agencies contribute to helping rebuild the institutions in Kosovo. But at this point, there is no need that I am aware of for additional troops.

Q: I have two questions. The first is for the H.E. the U.S. secretary of Defense and the second is for H.E. the Qatari foreign minister. First, Mr. U.S. secretary of Defense, after a few days, the Iranian defense minister will visit Saudi Arabia. There are news indicating that he will reiterate an offer to sign a joint security agreement. How does the U.S. see this issue or this assumption? The second question is for the Qatari foreign minister. Is Qatar playing a role in reactivating the Syrian-Israeli track?

Secretary Cohen: Let me respond on the issue of Iran and any security arrangement they might have with Saudi Arabia. First of all, we were somewhat encouraged by the elections that took place in Iran. There is growing evidence that the new generation in Iran would like to have a different relationship with the external world and for that I think we can say it's a very positive sign. We also support some of the domestic initiatives of Khatami. What we have not seen, however, is any change in their external policy, namely their support for terrorism, namely their undermining of the Middle East peace process, and their acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. And so, our policy toward Iran cannot change until we see those changes in their policy. How other countries deal with Iran is up to them, as I have indicated, each country must decide for itself. But I believe that others will look to Iran as well to see whether there will be changes forthcoming in their reform policies, to see how they relate to the rest of the world.

Foreign Minister: We don't have any direct relations with the Syrian-Israeli track, but we always try to encourage both sides to participate in the peace process and to try to overcome difficulties. And by the way, I would like to thank the United States for their efforts,. and President Clinton for his measures in Geneva and we also urge the U.S. to try to bring both sides together to achieve a comprehensive peace in the area.

Q: My question is for H.E. the U.S. secretary of Defense. Mr. Kofi Annan recently stated that the UN is risking losing its media battle against Iraq if it does not do anything to reduce the suffering of the Iraqi people. Then, British and Italian parliamentary visits to Baghdad were made and some senior officials from the oil-for-food program resigned. My question is, aren't the sanctions failing now?

Secretary Cohen: I believe that the U.N. credibility is at stake in insisting upon compliance with Security Council resolutions. We have a situation where the Security Council has insisted that Saddam Hussein allow inspections to satisfy the inspectors that they are not engaged in building weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors are no longer there. He has refused to allow them to come in to conduct their inspections. So secondly the notion that the Security Council will then say no inspectors, let's lift the sanctions so that Saddam can go back and build his military to the point where he poses a threat to the region, I believe is unacceptable and should be unacceptable to the members of the Security Council. Otherwise, there is no sense in having Security Council resolutions which are flouted, which are ignored, which are defied. And then say okay, we weren't serious, you can have your way, we don't have to have inspectors, we don't have to have sanctions, you can go back to building your military to the point where it was before the war. That to me would undermine the credibility of the United Nations itself and so I don't think that that is going to be the result.

Q: I have two questions for H.E. the minister and the secretary of Defense. The first question is for the Qatari foreign minister. Israel stated that it agreed with Qatar to raise the level of representation with Qatar from a trade office to a full embassy. How true is this? Another question: There is news of a visit by the emir to Iran. Will His Highness, if he makes the trip, carry a file on the islands disputed between Iran and the UAE? The two questions for the U.S. secretary of Defense: Several experts said that the early warning system is very expensive and will not be of benefit to the region. So why campaign to market the system? The other question: What is new in American-Iranian relations?

Foreign Minister: You have four questions, two and two. Anyway this is the last question. On raising the level of diplomatic representation with Israel, our view is to seek peace and to support the parties involved in the Middle East peace process to complete the process. Until now we have not decided to raise the representation, but Qatar has always taken steps to normalize ties with Israel and to convey to the Israeli and non-Israeli public opinion that Qatar does not have a direct goal or direct interests in this issue. Our goal is to notify the Israeli side that whenever the peace process moves forward and whenever there is peace, there will be normal relations with Qatar. And I am sure that this is the feeling of the majority in the Arab World. We want peace in all tracks and this peace will lead to normal relations with Israel because Israel is part of the Middle East region. But until now the decision has not been taken because we await developments in peace negotiations between Syria and Israel, between the Palestinians and Israel, and withdrawal from Lebanon. All of these issues are important elements in the decision. This is with regard to the first question. The timing of the emir's visit to Iran has not been decided. H.H. the emir attaches great importance to the region's issues, including the three islands' issue, but there is a committee that has been made responsible, by the GCC, to look into preparing the right atmosphere between Iran and the GCC states or between Iran and the UAE to solve the issue. The committee is responsible for this issue. That's why we do not have any comment or follow up except through this committee, that includes Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar.

Secretary Cohen: You asked about the shared early warning. This is not a very expensive system. In fact, it has to do with communications capability, much of which is involved with software development. And so this would not be seen as a major expenditure on the part of the Gulf states. On the second question, as I recall, you were asking about the relationship between the U.S. and Iran? The latest news -- you probably heard that Secretary Albright last week announced that there would be some easing of trade restrictions with the United States on some of the luxury goods coming into the United States but there has been no fundamental change in the policy of the U.S. toward Iran until such time as those three conditions that I mentioned before change. Stop supporting terrorism, stop trying to undermine the Middle East peace process, and stop the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. Until we see a change in those policies, we will not have a change in U.S.-Iranian relations.