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Joint Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and Prince Sultan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 09, 2000

Sunday, April 9, 2000

(Also participating in this media availability was HRH Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

Q: (MBC Television) I would like to ask you, Your Excellency Mr. William Cohen, Secretary of Defense, and Your Royal Highness, about areas of disagreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Thank you very much.

Secretary Cohen: That's a very easy answer. There are no points of disagreement between his Royal Highness and myself or between the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States. We have a very strong bond of friendship. We are committed to maintaining peace and stability throughout the gulf region that we intend to continue to build upon this strong foundation and security relationship and to make it even stronger in the future. So there are no points of disagreement.

Prince Sultan: I don't have anything more than what the Secretary has said. Every time we meet, we get good cooperation to serve peace in the region.

Q: (Okaz Newspaper) We have heard the reports from the London newspapers about reductions of American forces in the Kingdom. We would like to know how true are these reports. We also would like to know about the establishment of the two committees for human rights.

Prince Sultan: First of all, the troops which have been in Saudi Arabia since the end of Desert Storm are within the frame of United Nations assignments and directions to continue the surveillance of Southern Iraq, and also the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, as well as the other GCC countries. And these troops are doing their duties to protect peace only, and not to for aggression. Anything else that is said is not correct.

As for human rights, the most important thing that protects human rights is Sharia law, and we as a Muslim state believe in human rights within the framework of the Sharia and the basic law of Saudi Arabia, as well as the Majlis al Shoura (Consultative Council). All of these call for a mechanism to get together in order to protect human rights, whether inside or outside the kingdom, and in particular Saudi Arabia is protecting the rights of foreign laborers and also taking care of their social security and their rights more than any other country in the world.

Q: (Reuters) I would like to ask Your Royal Highness whether you would like to see the United States take more action to improve relations with Iran beyond the lifting of the sanctions on rugs and pistachios and caviar.

Prince Sultan: We are calling for peace. We hope that Iran will respond to what is in its security and economic interests. All steps taken by the United States toward this goal are welcome.

Q: (Al Mustaqbal Newspaper - Lebanon) Your Royal Highness, the Secretary has said that a goal of his visit is to establish an early warning system among the GCC states. What is the position of Saudi Arabia vis-a-vis these American proposals.

Prince Sultan: This issue has been discussed with a number of GCC countries. We hope there will be a joint meeting of the GCC countries to study this proposal which is a constructive one that aids the cause of peace. Whatever the GCC states decide will, of course, be appreciated by us.

Q: (Al Ahram Newspaper, Egypt) You said in Manama two days ago that the Gulf countries are preparing a project to prepare the GCC countries in order to face any chemical and biological warfare that might happen in the region, which could harm a large number of people, which you call a war crisis. Is this preparation meant for a particular country in the Gulf, for example Iran or Iraq? What is the significance of the timing of this?

Secretary Cohen: There is no particular sense of timing to this issue. I have been talking about this for several years and I have been talking about it because we have seen evidence that the spread of chemical and biological weapons continues. We are preparing in our own country our citizenry to face such a prospect in the future and to prepare to defend against it and to manage the consequence should any chemical or biological agent ever be used against American citizens on American soil. We think it is important also, because of the presence of chemical and biological capability in the region, that all of the Gulf States at least try to take whatever reasonable, responsible measures that can be taken to protect their military and to protect their citizens against any potential use. This is normal, prudent planning, and something that I believe our defense establishments are required to take.

Q: (Al Ahram Newspaper, Egypt) I would like to ask about the peninsula shield forces in the GCC and your ambitions with your fellow leaders in this regard. What are the obstacles facing the modernization of the peninsula shield forces... and what is the update about the shape of the peninsula shield forces?

Prince Sultan: The peninsula shield force is like a kernel of the forces of the gulf states. It proved itself during Desert Storm. There were consultations and studies within the GCC countries about the modernization of the GCC forces and of course it is a force meant to be established for the preservation of peace and security and of course any detailed information or military information is not meant to be told to the public but this is going on in a very good manner.

Q: (AFP) I'd like to know what you think it would take to get Iraq to accept weapons inspectors back into the country and to ease the atmosphere of confrontation there is now.

Prince Sultan: We are praying to God that the leadership of Iraq will comply with the Security Council resolution in this respect in order to salvage the Iraqi people from the burdens that they are suffering now.

Q: (Egyptian TV) I would like to know the important points that were discussed this evening about the peace process.

Prince Sultan: If you allow me, on the subject of peace, all of us welcome a just and comprehensive peace under the framework of the United Nations. We are already harvesting ... from the traditional and cooperative research between the two sides.

Secretary Cohen: In answer to your question, I believe the United States has been a very positive force for trying to bring about a Middle East peace settlement. I also believe that Prime Minister Barak has taken some very courageous steps in trying to bring about a peace agreement with Syria and he is now moving on a track to bring about a peace agreement with the Palestinians as far as resolving their remaining disputes. Contrary to your suggestion, the United States has been a positive force rather than a negative one, and I believe that President Clinton tried to do his best to persuade President Assad to reach out and to respond positively to the initiatives that were offered by Prime Minister Barak. I believe it is in everyone's interest, Syria, Israel, the entire region, for these negotiations to be reopened and continued and for all concerned to come up with a positive response to the proposals that have been put forth. I know that that is what President Clinton wishes. I know that Prime Minister Barak still believes there is an opportunity for an agreement. I spoke with Egyptian President Mubarak recently, I know that he also is very much interested in seeing progress made, and I am hopeful that a peace agreement can be achieved in a relatively short period of time, because time is growing short. President Clinton I believe offers the best opportunity to help bring about a peaceful resolution. And I think it would be important for President Assad to take advantage of this opportunity and to come back with a constructive proposal for helping to resolve the remaining issues.

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