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Secretary Cohen Press Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 10, 2000

Monday, April 10, 2000

(Press Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. I've just finished meetings with His Highness Sheikh Zayed, Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifa, UAE Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, and Defense Minister Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid. Our discussion covered a wide range of subject matters, bilateral, regional, and global issues. We all agreed that the security relationship between the United States and the United Arab Emirates is very good and getting better. In the meetings I expressed my pleasure with the decision of the UAE to purchase the F-16. Not only is the F-16 aircraft a great combat plane, but the decision will further link our two nations in a strategic relationship that will enhance the stability throughout the Gulf.

Another important contribution to our bilateral relationship is the use of Jebel Ali as a liberty port for our sailors and Marines. This is the port that the United States Navy visits the most outside of the United States. In a discussion of regional issues, I noted that the United States is encouraged by the recent political developments in Iran. But the United States has yet to see the changes in the three unacceptable Iranian policies: their support for terrorism, their attempts to undermine the Middle East peace process, and the development of weapons of mass destruction. Changes in these policies would benefit all countries in the region by creating a greater sense of security.

On Iraq, we agreed that Saddam Hussein can end the suffering that he has imposed upon his people by complying with the UN Security Council resolutions. Until he complies, sanctions must continue. Now Iraq has tried to ease the impact of the sanctions by smuggling more oil. Unfortunately Saddam Hussein uses the smuggling revenues to build palaces and military projects, and not to benefit his people. At current oil prices, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy is also earning roughly five hundred million dollars a year from fees that it imposes on the smugglers who operate in Iranian waters. The UAE supports the United Nations maritime intercept operation to halt this Iraqi smuggling, and the new port control authorities should make an additional contribution. The UAE has worked for stability that extends beyond the Gulf. The UAE forces are making a very valuable contribution to security and stability in Kosovo, and it is the UAE's commitment to security in the region and in the world that makes UAE a force for peace and stability.

With that, let me entertain your questions.

Q: With reference to smuggling, I was wondering if there was any word back on what the analysis of the oil samples taken from the Russia tanker show.

Secretary Cohen: I don't believe there has been any word coming through but I'll, not yet. Hopefully in the next day or two.

Q: Your Excellency, during your visit to the gulf region you proposed a new weapons deal with the GCC. Can you give more details about this idea or this project? Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: Are you referring to the Cooperative Defense Initiative?

Q: Yes.

Secretary Cohen: For the past year or so I have traveled throughout the gulf to focus the attention of the gulf states upon emerging threats. One that includes weapons of mass destruction, of not only the militaries being vulnerable to such an attack, but with the proliferation of chemical and biological agents, that that could cause catastrophic damage to civilian societies as well. And what I have tried to do is, number one, make all the Gulf states aware, certainly of the threat, but then to talk about ways in which that threat can be reduced through a concept of shared early warning, whereby the United States could link up with each of the Gulf states to provide a type of intelligence warning in terms of any missile attack ever launched against any of the GCC countries, to be able to track the missile, anticipate where it would land, and to try to take proactive measures to minimize the damage involved.

It would involve active and passive defenses as well, and this would be to prepare militaries to operate in a chemical or biological environment, to acquire certain protective equipment, to perhaps have available the kind of technology that would identify what agent is used in the field so that you know what the appropriate remedy would be. This is something that we feel very strongly in the United States, that with the spread of chemical and biological technology, it's going to pose a serious threat to all of our citizens in the event that a chemical or biological agent is ever released.

And so we are in fact taking preventative measures in the United States. We have a program whereby we are going out to 120 of our major cities and trying to prepare those agencies and individuals who will be responsible for trying to manage the consequence of an attack, be it released in a vial, through some gas, whatever the form might take, to train the people who would be the first responders, people who would have to go to the scene of the catastrophe and identify what has taken place -- what kind of agent, chemical, biological, what kind of protective measures should be taken to train people to deal with the consequence of this. So this is something we feel very strongly about, and it's a program that I have been discussing for some time now with leaders in the GCC to at least identify the nature of the threat and the kinds of measures that could be helpful in dealing with it.

Q: In the context of the CDI has the United Arab Emirates, do you find that there is unanimity in their views on what constitutes a threat in this particular region? And, number two, in the context of the CDI, has UAE expressed any specific interest in going forward with any of these elements that you have described?

Secretary Cohen: I think that there is generally, interest in the concept, and there has been interest expressed in how each of the gulf states might deal with it, either on an individual basis working with the United States, or collectively, something that perhaps could be developed. But generally speaking, I am approaching each of the countries, and each will have to decide whether it is of sufficient interest to them. Each country will approach it differently, but my goal is to at least alert the countries in the region to the nature of the threat and to explore ways in which our militaries can share information, share intelligence, share ways in which the threat can be either deterred or minimized should it ever occur.

Q: ...There is caution in the gulf countries in regard to Iran, but there is a corresponding correlation, especially within the two main powers which are Saudi Arabia and Iran. Do you think that Iran is a threat, despite the fact that most of the gulf countries are opening up to Iran?

Secretary Cohen: Well as I indicated in my opening statement there were some positive signs that have taken place in Iran domestically and politically. It appears to me that the younger generation would like to have a different relationship with the international community than the one they've enjoyed during the past ten years or so. But we have yet to see any change in the external, or foreign policy of Iran. Secretary Albright, just a few days ago, tried to send a signal that we would like a better relationship with Iran, and had eased some restrictions on luxury items that have been identified. But fundamentally, our policy cannot change toward Iran until there's a change in Iran's policy toward the external world, namely to stop supporting acts of terrorism, to stop undermining the peace process, to stop trying to acquire either nuclear, chemical, or biological agents and the missiles to deliver them. If that can take place, then there certainly can be a different relationship with Iran.

Q: The United States is demanding lower oil prices. Do you think that will have an affect in the Middle East or gulf region?

Secretary Cohen: I don't believe there'll be any major impact on the need for countries in the gulf to modernize their forces. One of the concerns of course with oil prices being fixed at very high levels is that it set off a round of inflation that could affect the economies globally, and put a number of countries into recession. So we think that the result that was achieved very positive. We have been expressing our thanks to the leadership involved for reducing the price by increasing the production levels and to try to stabilize prices at a reasonable level. We think that's important for all countries so that inflation can be contained, growth can be promoted and each country can make its own assessment what it needs for its national security and what it's prepared to allocate for its appropriation process.

Q: The Department of Defense has denied newspaper leaders reports that Saudi Arabia has discussed any plans to withdraw U.S. forces, any U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia. And yet in the past you have spoken about redeployment within the region. Does the denial mean that those planned redeployments are now on hold?

Secretary Cohen: We have no plans at all to reduce our forces in Saudi Arabia. That report was in error. We have talked about, in some cases, trying to help some of the countries; perhaps bear some additional burden as far as the forces are concerned. But that can come in a way that I've spoken of in Qatar for example, with the Al Udaid airbase, that perhaps one way would be for Qatar to agree to accept an air expeditionary force or unit in the event of a crisis. That would be one way we could help spread some of the burden of having additional forces coming to the region. But any changes certainly would never take place without consultations, and we have no plans whatsoever to reduce forces in Saudi Arabia. So that report was wrong.

Q: Would those forces come from within the region or outside?

Secretary Cohen: Pardon.

Q: Would those forces come from within the region or outside?

Secretary Cohen: Which forces?

Q: The forces you mentioned.

Secretary Cohen: They would have to come from outside in terms of a crisis, if we had to in any way expand the U.S. presence or that of the allied forces who would be coming in, so they would be keeping a facility available for an expansion or augmentation in the event of a crisis.

Q: Your Excellency, the F-16 huge deal only previously has been concluded between the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates. What kind of supremacy and to what extent is it designated and expected to avail. And isn't it a conspicuous race of armament -- open ended race of armament -- declared in the region? Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: With respect to the F-16s, the United Arab Emirates decided it wanted to modernize its forces. It is a sovereign nation that looked at a number of aircraft from a number of different countries, and it decided in looking at the F-16 that it was a superior, and the superior, aircraft, and we believe the finest in the world. And the leadership decided in negotiations with the private contractor that this was the plane that they wanted, and we supported that. And we think that every nation is entitled to provide for its security needs, and the UAE is no different. The leadership makes a judgment as to whether it should increase its airpower, its naval forces, its land capability, but each country will decide for itself what is in its national security interest, and in this case, the leadership decided the F-16 was the best aircraft at the best price for the benefit of the people of the UAE.

Q: Regarding the F-15 deal in Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us what stage discussions are there regarding plans to buy F-15 in Saudi Arabia, the number of planes involved and value of the contract?

Secretary Cohen: There is no F-15 deal. The Saudis at some point in time may decide to upgrade their capability and that would have to wait for further discussions, but there's been no deal as such, just initial discussions in terms of whether they will decide in the future to upgrade their existing capabilities.

Q: So the discussions that have been reported are purely initial discussions on how many planes, or any details...

Secretary Cohen: No such details yet.

Q: Do the people in the United Arab Emirates express an interest in buying Patriot missiles as part of this security arrangement?

Secretary Cohen: No, we did not have discussions on Patriot specifically. We talked about the other areas that I mentioned but not about Patriots.

Q: Abu Dhabi Television. Back to the CDI issue. Now is there any idea about the provisional costs that might incur, and also will it be linked somehow to a system that would include Israel, especially that there is something that is being discussed in the case of reaching an agreement -- a final agreement, peace agreement with Syria, which would probably put any attack on Israel, as an attack on the United States itself. Would there be any linkage, and what are the countries actually involved in the proposed plans?

Secretary Cohen: With respect to CDI: This does not involve expensive equipment as such in terms of a shared early warning. It's mostly software upgrades, intelligence collection and sharing. So there's not a great expense involved there.

If you talk about active defenses as opposed to passive defenses, which are more in the nature of protective clothing, other types of equipment, perhaps antibiotics and other types of things that would protect you passively against incoming attack, that again does not involve great expense. If there should be active defenses, namely a Patriot system or another type of system to, air defense system, then again each country would have to decide whether it wishes to invest, invest in an air defense system.

But essentially the CDI is to alert the gulf states to the potential threat and then to decide for themselves either individually or multilaterally, in any way they decide, to take proactive measures.

There has been no discussion in terms of Israel in terms of this particular project. As such Israel does in fact have a fairly active program in terms of air defense with its Arrow program we have been developing. It also has a very active passive defenses which provides for the protection of its people, but there's been no discussion of linkage. What has been discussed is that hopefully, if there is an agreement that Israel is able to achieve with Syria and also with the Palestinians, that there could be a general peace throughout the region and that all countries would feel more secure and that trade and other relations would improve. That would be a natural consequence of having a comprehensive Middle East peace program, and one that I think that everybody in the region looks forward to in terms of just building security and stability and prosperity throughout the region.

Q: (inaudible, on Iraq)

Secretary Cohen: The last action taken by the GCC states has been to reaffirm the need for Saddam to comply with Resolution 1284, and so there has been no dispute about his need to comply, to open up Iraq to inspectors, to demonstrate and allow them to confirm that he no longer has access to nuclear materials or nuclear weaponry; that he has not in fact been storing chemical or biological agents, and is not building long range missiles.

Now if he does that, then of course the sanctions can come off. He still has an obligation also to account for the POWs, the Kuwaiti POWs, which has not been done to date. But none the less, I think it's very clear, everyone would like to see the sanctions removed for the benefit of the Iraqi people, and there's only one person preventing that from taking place, and that's Saddam Hussein.

In the meantime, the United States, joining with other allies, are trying to do for the Iraqi people what Saddam Hussein will not do for them, and that is to provide humanitarian assistance in food, in clothing, medicine, shelter, and what Saddam is doing is acquiring through his illegal smuggling activity, he's building more palaces, he's putting more money into his military, and so there's a way for the suffering to be relieved, and that is for Saddam to comply. Barring that, I believe that the gulf states have issued their statement that he needs to comply, and that's what we're all aiming for.

Q: (inaudible)

Secretary Cohen: Each country must decide for itself what is the nature of the relationship it wishes to maintain with Iraq. I think all concerned, everybody in the region, is concerned about the Iraqi people. We're concerned about the Iraqi people. Each country will decide for itself what kind of relationship, at what level, it will maintain contact with Iraq, and so we must let each country do that for itself.

Q: Mr. Secretary, this is relative to Iran and Iraq to oil. Recently Iran has announced to have busted two vessels carrying Iraqi oil, illegal oil. What do you say about that? Because Iran has been always accused of not cooperating with UN sanctions, so here they have announced they have busted two vessels.

Secretary Cohen: Well, I think if this marks the beginning of compliance, full compliance on the part of Iran, that will be a very good message for all concerned. It is very clear that what Saddam Hussein has been doing. He has been increasing the level of smuggling activity, moving his ships that are flagged from a variety of different nations into Iranian waters, and then allowing the offload of that oil at a charge which is going into the Iranian Guard naval forces as such. So it's clear that this has been going on. I indicated that Iran has been benefiting at least to the tune of five hundred million dollars annually. Saddam Hussein may be accumulating as much as a billion dollars annually through this illegal smuggling, so to the extent that Iran is now going to enforce the Security Council resolutions and crack down on the smuggling taking place in its waters, then that will be to the benefit of all concerned.

Q: Actually we know that the states have to play a very important part in security arrangements in the area. And now you are saying that it's willing to play the same part now and in the future. Secondly, do you think that the policy of the states can allow for countries, neighbors such like Iran and India and Pakistan, to be participate [sic] in the security arrangements now and in the future?

Secretary Cohen: I'm sorry, Sir. I didn't get the first question.

Q: Regarding the security arrangement. That we know that the United States have been played an important part in the area during the last time. But you said then United States policy was willing to play the same part in the future, and you will allow for countries such as Iran and Pakistan and India to participate, to be backstage in these security arrangements now and in the future.

Secretary Cohen: As far as the U.S. role in the gulf: we would hope that there could be a change in the policy on the part of Iraq, and a change in the policies on the part of Iran. We think that maintaining a U.S. presence in the gulf would be stabilizing. We are here, I must say, at the invitation and at the will of the countries in the region. If the countries in the gulf region did not want the United States or opposed our being here, then certainly we would not. But I think all concerned understand that the U.S. presence in the gulf has been stabilizing. We have in fact contained Saddam Hussein from moving against Kuwait, or possibly Saudi Arabia. We do intend to continue our restrictive policies in terms of Iran because of their acquisition, or attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction. But we are hopeful that there would be a change in policy and that we would expect, and we would hope that there would continue to be a U.S. presence for stabilizing purposes, but that will depend upon the countries in the region.

With respect to India and Pakistan, President Clinton made a very important trip to visit both India and Pakistan to see if he could not be influential in helping to reduce tensions. Because it's important for both countries now, with the potential for nuclear weapons, and tensions running high particularly over Kashmir, that there could be a conflict that would get out of control, and that's something that is in no one's interest. And so he was using his good office to go there, to meet with the Indians, to be the first president to do so in many many years. To go to Pakistan even though that was quite controversial, to say that I am here to help in any way that I can to bring about a peaceful reconciliation in this region, so that India, which is a great democracy, and Pakistan, which we hope will get back to having a democratic leadership, can share in the prosperity and the security in promoting stability. So we hope that that will be the case.

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