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Secretary of Defense Cohen and Qatari Foreign Minister, Joint Press Conference

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al-Thani
October 10, 1998

Hamad: In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent. On behalf of my country I welcome our guest, the American Secretary of Defense. I had discussions with the U.S. Secretary of Defense, then he met with His Highness the Heir Apparent, and he will have a meeting tomorrow with His Highness the Emir. The visit comes in the context of close bilateral relations between the State of Qatar and the U.S. and continued consultations on developments in the Gulf region and on developments in U.S.-Qatari ties. I now invite my brothers the journalists to ask questions of the Secretary.

Cohen: Let me make a brief opening statement. Sheikh Hamad and I have just completed our third meeting this year, and I have met with the Crown Prince twice: once in Doha, and also in Washington; and tomorrow I will meet with the Emir. And this reflects the very close working relationship that our two governments have. Our soldiers have served together in war and now also serve together in promoting peace. We have had occasion to discuss the issue of weapons of mass destruction, and noting that the United States strongly supports the U.N. Security Council resolution to insist upon compliance on the part of the Iraqi government with the Security Council resolutions. As we have indicated before, we do not seek confrontation, but we do insist upon full compliance with those resolutions that will help contain the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, we also discussed the subject matter of terrorism, and acts of terrorism must be condemned wherever they occur. And we also discussed ways in which we might cooperate in the future to help deter and to defeat any acts of terrorism directed against our Government or our people. So I am pleased to be back in Doha, and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to share a few moments with the Foreign Minister and with the Crown Prince. I look forward to tomorrow's meeting.

Q: Excellency, the International Court of Justice yesterday issued a decision on the island of 'Hanish' in favor of Yemen. How do you view this ruling in the light of the Qatari-Bahraini border dispute?

Hamad: As for the Qatari-Bahraini dispute, I do not want to mention it now, as this is not the place for it. We hope to develop relations with our brothers in Bahrain, and we hope that this issue will be solved in the court in a way that is mutually pleasing to both us and our brothers in Bahrain. Regarding Hanish, I think it is civilized and good that the court made this decision and both sides accepted it.

Q: Your Excellency had mentioned that one of this tour's goals is to set up an air-defense system in the region with U.S. support. What is the purpose of this system? Is it primarily aimed at Iran and Iraq? The second question: you mentioned during your press conference in Bahrain that the military option against Iraq still exists. What are the reasons for attacking Iraq now, especially since it has cooperated and implemented many of the (U.N.) resolutions?

Cohen: With respect to the cooperation on the part of the United States and the GCC States, we believe that we have been a very stabilizing force and have contributed to peace and stability in the region. And we hope to maintain these very strong ties with the Gulf countries in order to maintain that peace and stability. And so one of the reasons for my trip here is to reaffirm the very strong bonds that we have and will continue to have. With respect to Iraqi compliance with the Security Council resolutions, it has become very clear that Saddam Hussein has refused to fully comply with the Memorandum of Understanding that was negotiated by Secretary General Kofi Annan last February. And Saddam has refused, for example, to allow full, unfettered inspections. He has not complied with the Security Council resolutions, and that's why the Secretary General and the Security Council members have indicated unanimously that he is not in compliance, and therefore there can be no comprehensive review of the sanctions. We are hopeful that Saddam Hussein will agree to fully abide by his commitment, the one that he made to the Secretary General last February. And we are also hopeful that the Security Council will stand behind its resolution. Otherwise, those resolutions will not have much credibility in the future. So we are hoping that Saddam will comply so that he will not continue to inflict suffering upon his own people. Because the easiest thing for him to do is to simply fully comply with the Security Council Resolutions, and the sanctions can be lifted. So he is keeping the sanctions on and depriving his people by his actions. But we're hopeful that he will see the wisdom and the need to comply, and that's the reason why the Security Council has suspended the review of the sanction. And until he complies, they have insisted that the sanctions remain in place. This is a decision not by the United States; it's by the Security Council itself. And so it is Saddam Hussein vs. the United Nations, not Saddam Hussein against the United States.

Q: Has there been any movement in deploying forces to Kosovo? Have you signed any deployment orders; have there been any assets, any equipment moved toward Kosovo? And also, if that's the case, are you considering changes in your itinerary this week?

Cohen: I am not contemplating any changes in the itinerary at this point, and so I fully expect to complete the visits to all of the Gulf states before heading back to Washington on Wednesday. I would expect some forces to be moved in the next day or two that would include B-52s. And so I expect that to take place, to put them in place so that should the ACT ORD be assigned the next several days that those aircraft could be available for the SACEUR to use should he deem it necessary to do so.

Q: Diego Garcia?

Cohen: No, it would be to the European Theater.

Q: Your Excellency Mr. Minister, since we are talking about Iraq, is it true that a high-ranking Iraqi official will visit Doha soon?

Hamad: Until now, there has been no specific discussion to that effect. There is some talk of a visit by the Iraqi Foreign Minister, and of course if he wants to come to Doha, this is possible. We would listen to his point of view, and we would advise him as Arab brothers. While there is talk of a visit, no dates have been decided upon.

Q: Your Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs, you played an effective and positive role in preventing tension between the United Nations -- or perhaps the United States -- and Iraq when Iraq asked international inspectors to leave. There is now tension between Turkey and Syria; will Qatar offer similar mediation?

Hamad: Of course we do not object to any mediation effort that will ease conflict, especially in the Middle East and especially between Turkey and Syria. But I think that there are mediations taking place now, and we hope that the two countries will use wisdom in resolving their differences and not resort to force. I think it is wrong for Muslims to try to solve conflicts between them by taking up arms.

Q: It is known that President Bill Clinton wants comprehensive and just peace in the Middle East region, but Israel does not want that, so it sent Monica Lewinsky in order to have him overthrown. Why are investigations involving Monica Lewinsky leaving out this issue?

Cohen: I think I understand what you are saying. (Laughter.) Let me say that there is nothing taking place at the domestic level in Washington or our country that would inhibit President Clinton and Secretary Albright from continuing to push for a Middle East peace settlement. You will have taken note that I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat met only, I believe, once last year. They have met on three occasions just in the past week, and next week in Washington there will be a so-called Washington Summit. So I think there is every reason to be encouraged of reaching an agreement in the very near future. And President Clinton has been devoting his energies and efforts to bringing that about. And nothing is going to divert his attention from that goal.

Q: Does your country still perceive Iran as a threat to regional security, and therefore pursue the policy of dual containment?

A: Cohen: The answer - sorry; go ahead.

Q: The related question is, what if Iran chooses to invade Afghanistan? What is your position?

A: Cohen: If Iran invades Afghanistan? That is a decision for Iran to make. We would not take any position in terms of picking sides in either case. We believe, as the Iranians have tried to do, is to find a diplomatic way of resolving the issue. But they are concerned that their diplomats have been murdered. They continue to find that there are assaults made upon some of their people, and therefore they have demanded that that cease and desist. Hopefully, their concerns can be reconciled and resolved by diplomatic methods. But that's a decision the Iranians will have to make, and it's not for the United States to say.

Q: Sharma: And on dual containment?

A: Cohen: I'm sorry; with respect to dual containment, we intend to continue that policy. We believe it's important that weapons of mass destruction not continue to spread as they have been spreading. We think that the sanctions have been responsible for curtailing Saddam's effort to build a nuclear, chemical, and biological weaponry capability; and that the same is true as for Iran. We have been encouraged somewhat by the changes that the Khatami government has made. But I must say that his moderation and the moderation that he reflects as far as the changes taking place in Iranian society have not yet been translated into changes in foreign policy. The United States has indicated that we are prepared to undertake talks with Iranian officials on a government-to-government basis, provided that we see some change in the external behavior of the Iranians in three different categories: number one, that they stop trying to undermine the Middle East peace process; that they stop supporting terrorists and terrorism; and -- the third point -- that they stop trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Should they indicate that they are prepared to make changes in these three areas, which do in fact contribute to a destabilizing effect and a very dangerous one, then we are prepared to return to a much more normalized relationship with them. But we have seen no evidence of that to date, and therefore the dual-containment policy remains in effect.

Q (to Hamad): Regarding the presence of military forces and equipment in Doha, did you discuss a specific timing for the departure of the equipment and forces? (to Cohen) The rumor is that the goal of your visit is marketing new arms deals with Gulf countries, especially after the recent deal with the United Arab Emirates.

Hamad: Regarding the presence of American troops, there is a defense agreement between us and America. The agreement is valid for a few years and calls for military cooperation, including allowing the presence and storage of American equipment in Qatar. This cooperation is not related to a particular crisis or time period but is linked to the agreement signed between the United States and Qatar.

Cohen: With respect to the second question, I did not come here to sell anything but goodwill and to express our appreciation for the strong relationship that exists between our two countries. I believe that it's important for us to continue as friends and partners to consult. I came to consult with the Foreign Minister, to consult with the Crown Prince, and to consult with the Emir, and basically to reaffirm the bonds of our friendship. And also, in the process - while I'm in the region - to visit our troops that are currently deployed, to express to them my thanks for the great sacrifice they make by being a long way away from home, to miss birthdays and celebrations of their families. Many of them have children born while they are deployed far away from home. And so it was an effort on my part to meet with our troops to express our thanks, and to meet with my counterparts and friends in the region to also express my thanks. But I came bearing no gifts and not seeking to sell anything. The only gift I've brought is that of friendship. I take that back; we did bring small gifts. (Laughter.)

Q: When you speak about weapons of mass destruction, what you usually do is mention Iraq, you mention Iran; sometimes the United States mentions Syria, other countries in the region - Libya. Israel is never mentioned, although it has the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the nuclear bomb. It also has - what experts believe (it) to have - biological weapons. The admission on the Israeli part that the Israeli cargo plane that crashed in Holland five years ago carried material that can be used in the manufacture of biological weapons. Don't you think that you are carrying this one-sided view a bit too far?

A: Cohen: Well, as I recall, Israel has not used any weapons of mass destruction. I believe Saddam Hussein has, however. And once that has been manifested, then we think it's important that it be contained. To the extent that other countries are developing this capability, we do not support that. We are trying to contain the spread, wherever they take place, of weapons of mass destruction.

Q (to Hamad): Do you agree with the American view of constant threats to launch a new attack to Iraq, and in light of your discussions with Mr. Cohen, do you think that a new war in the region is likely?

Hamad: We are opposed in general to attacks on Iraq, and we also ask Iraq to adhere to United Nations resolutions. We in Qatar always call for calm in the region. It was with this mindset that I went to Baghdad in January. The current situation, I think, does not require much concern but rather more effort to convince all parties to fulfill commitments to what has been agreed upon between the United Nations and Iraq. If there is commitment, I think that there will be no need for strikes. If there is no commitment, we must all try to resolve this issue to the extent possible via diplomatic efforts. I think that this is in line with what I discussed with the American Secretary of Defense today.

Q (to Cohen): It has been observed that the U.S. places a high priority on rallying international support for what it calls terrorism. Yet at the same time many Arab and international observers accuse the U.S. of practicing terrorism, particularly in reference to the recent U.S. strike on the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. Why did America reject a plan to carry out an international investigation of the strike, which it claims was manufacturing materials for chemical weapons? And a related question: does the U.S. expect new attacks against its interests in light of current American policy?

A: Cohen: The short answer to the question about whether the United States would agree to an investigation: the answer is, we don't think it's necessary to do so. I personally reviewed the information pertaining to the Shifaa plant. I was satisfied that the information pointed very clearly that chemicals, so-called precursor chemicals for the manufacture of VX, were discovered. The history behind Osama bin Laden's activities in Sudan, his contribution to the military-industrial corporation, of which this plant was also a part; and the information we had that he was seeking to acquire and has been seeking to acquire chemical weapons, was very persuasive as far as I'm concerned about the need to have struck that as a target.

As I have pointed out, the terrorists who have attacked American embassies have done so with the purpose of killing as many people as possible. They killed 267 people, most of them Africans. They wounded 5,000 people, most of them -- if not all -- Africans. And by contrast, the United States, in seeking to send a very strong message to terrorists that their actions will not go without response, tried very hard to limit the amount of casualties. And if you look at what took place in the Shifaa plant, there was only one. But I think that's important to keep in mind in terms of how the United States approaches this compared to the terrorists who seek to inflict as many massive casualties as possible.

With respect to terrorism in the future, the answer is yes. We believe - and we have sufficient evidence to believe - that a number of terrorist actions have been planned and will - the attempt will be made to carry them out. We intend to remain as vigilant as possible and as intense and intensive as we can about preventing those acts from being carried out and the destruction that would go with them, not only to our buildings and facilities but also to our diplomats and embassy people and innocent individuals associated with the embassies. So we expect that this will be continued for a long time. We've tried to indicate to our public that they must be prepared for this on a long-term basis, and that we need to work very cooperatively with all of our allies and all of our friends to combat this type of terrorism from being carried out.

Cohen: Thank you very much.

Hamad: Thank you.

(End transcript.)

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