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Secretary of Defense Cohen briefing in Bahrain

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 10, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. First, let me express our deep gratitude and thanks to the Amir for hosting a very productive visit - to the Amir, the Crown Prince, the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister. We all had a very good series of meetings on regional and bilateral issues. Our talks were built on the Emir's very successful meeting with President Clinton in June. We discussed the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction programs in both Iraq and Iran, and we reviewed ways that we could increase our cooperation in the fight against terrorism. I also had time to tour the Bait Al Qur'an, and this magnificent museum gave each of us a richer sense of Bahrain's culture. In addition, I had occasion to visit our sailors aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Gulf, where their patrols are helping to preserve peace and stability in this region. The United States very much appreciates the strong support that our navy gets from Bahrain. For half a century our countries have worked together for peace and stability in the Gulf. We're good friends and we're loyal allies, and our cooperation is going to continue to support mutual security and regional peace. And with that, let me entertain your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, how concerned does the leaders of Bahrain that you've spoken to seem to be about the intentions of Iraq?

Secretary Cohen: The questions dealt with the region itself. I believe, the Amir was very clear on this that Saddam Hussein must fully comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions. Also looking at Iran, well, Bahrain looks for positive signs in the evolution of moderation in Iran. It nonetheless feels it must remain vigilant, as we feel everyone should remain vigilant, we, too, share the hope and desire that one day we can see a moderation of Iranian foreign policy. But in the meantime we are looking for signs that we have yet to see that they will cease their activities as far as terrorism is concerned (supporting it) they have not yet stopped undermining the Middle East Peace Process and still seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction and we are hoping that there will be a change in those policies of Iran so that we too can look forward to the day when we can have a much better relationship with Iran. I believe that also reflects the sentiments and the opinion of the Amir and the entire Bahraini people.

Q: Sir, what will America do if confrontation happened between Turkey and Syria, and will that effect the Peace Process in the Middle East and peace in the area? Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: We are very supportive of President Mubarak's efforts to negotiate a settlement of the tensions that exist currently between Syria and Turkey. We are hopeful that that will not materialize and not turn into a confrontation, but we have expressed our public support for President Mubarak in his efforts. With respect to the Gulf itself, once again let me reiterate that we are hopeful that Saddam Hussein will comply with the Security Council resolutions, that he will abide by the agreement that he negotiated with Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and that once there is compliance with that, then there can be a review of the sanctions. But Saddam Hussein cannot hold up the inspections and then insist that sanctions end. He must comply with the sanctions, with the resolutions, and as soon as he complies with the resolutions, then we can look at a review of the sanctions. I believe that is the position that the Secretary General has taken, and we strongly endorse that position. Right now it is a contest between Saddam Hussein or Iraq and the United Nations, and we believe that the United Nations should stand behind the Security Council resolutions and hope that that will be the case. In the event that there is a failure to abide by the Security Council resolutions, then we will maintain a very capable presence here in the Gulf and are fully capable of carrying out any military option that might be required. We hope that that will not be the case and look forward to seeing this situation resolved peacefully, but we maintain insistence that Saddam Hussein fully comply with what he has signed his name to fully comply with, and that is the memorandum of understanding with Kofi Annan.

Q: Sir, on the regional missile defense system, can you tell us what the position of Bahrain and other GCC states is on it and how it will work, how it will be financed?

Secretary Cohen: I am sorry, I have missed the first part of the question?

Q: The regional missile defense system...

Secretary Cohen: We had general discussions about the need to share information and possibly technology in the field of missile defense. Because of the proliferation of missile technology, globally, but especially in the Gulf region, and that we believe it's important to start looking at ways in which we can cooperate to defend the people as well as our soldiers and sailors, airmen and marines. So that's something that I believe we can look forward to in the future. It's very sophisticated technology, it's going to take some time to develop. We are working very actively on a series of programs that will provide protection for our troops who are forward deployed and eventually look forward of the possibility of developing and deploying a system to defend our people in the United States. But that research and development is underway, and we hope that we can share some of that information, perhaps more cooperatively in the future, with Bahrain and other Gulf countries.

Q: The regional missile system will be based in Bahrain? Secretary Cohen: Pardon?

Q: The regional missile defense, will it be based in Bahrain?

Secretary Cohen: Wherever it's required. If the Bahraini government decides that it wishes to have a missile defense system, then obviously it would be based where it is most efficient.

Q: Do you think the impeachment inquiry of President Clinton can have an influence in his way of facing crisis like in Kosovo?

Secretary Cohen: The short answer to that question is: no. I do not believe it will have any impact. I have had many, many meetings with President Clinton during the past eighteen to almost twenty months, and I can assure all of you who are here and who may be watching or listening that the President has a determination to focus on issues involving the security of our country and that of our friends and allies, and he concentrates with great intensity upon these issues and at no time have I ever seen him but be fully concentrated on issues involving diplomacy and foreign policy and so I expect that any proceedings will not have any impact on his decisions.

Q: Despite the bitter warnings from the US, the UK and NATO, President Milosevic carried out the destructive campaign against Kalvanians for three months. Even now there are warnings, but no action. Is it because the Kalvanians are Muslims?

Secretary Cohen: No. The answer to why it's taking so long to deal with the situation in Kosovo, it's a complicated one, but it involves sixteen countries. NATO is comprised of sixteen separate nations. It acts by consensus only and that means everybody must agree and so to develop that consensus takes time. Each country has a somewhat different approach. But all countries have come to the conclusion that they cannot accept any longer the kind of inflection of damage and harm upon innocent people. And they have seen Mr. Milosevic cross the line from trying to counter insurgency against him by the KLA or the UCK to try and put that down as far as the attacks upon his people to crossing the line to engaging in willful destruction of innocent people, displacing some two hundred and fifty or possibly as many as four hundred thousand innocent people from their homes and also engaging and killing a number of innocent men and women and children and in addition, driving some fifty to seventy thousand people up into the hills surrounding Kosovo, and they are in danger either of freezing to death or starving to death. The collective judgment of the NATO countries has issued, I believe, or is prepared to issue, a very strong warning and what they call action order or "Act Ord." I believe that that will come about in the next several days, but it's been a challenge to make sure that you have a consensus and that people all agree on what the action should be and part of the problem is that Mr. Milosevic has kept the level of his violence below the surface somewhat in terms of not exceeding the level that would prompt international reaction. Now that the world has seen that he has, in fact, exceeded that line and crossed over that line, you have the Security Council which has passed a resolution condemning the action and setting forth a number of demands that he must meet, and he must meet those in order to avoid military action being taken against him. So, it has been a process of developing a consensus within the sixteen NATO countries. I believe that consensus is now there.

Q: Do you think that the missile defense system is very necessary for the region? And why? And the second question: Is the United States intending to militarize the region despite reports previously indicating that the United States will eliminate its military forces in the region? Thanks.

Secretary Cohen: Could you repeat the first question?

Q: The missile defense system -- is it very very necessary for the region and why?

Secretary Cohen: As far as a missile defense system, if you look at what has been taking place in terms of the technology and the development and proliferation of missile technology. Iran recently tested the Shehab-3 because it has a longer range than it had previously. Other countries are developing longer-range missiles. They are also developing warheads that could contain chemical or biological elements as well as nuclear. Under those circumstances, I think it becomes imperative that countries co-operate and develop a theater missile protection system for their people and for their forces. Its very sophisticated technology. It costs a great deal to research and develop. As I indicated, the United States alone has some five separate systems that we are currently conducting research and development on. And we hope that we can accelerate that, but we are moving as fast as the technology will allow in our judgment. But we think it's important because we have so many people who are forward deployed in many parts of the world and that we intend to protect them as best we can against any missile attacks upon them. So, it will be up to each individual country to decide whether they wish to either participate and share in that kind of development of technology or acquisition of that technology. With respect to militarizing the region, we have no intention of militarizing the region. We are here at the request and at the behest of the government. And we never seek to impose our will or position on anyone. If we are no longer welcome, then we no longer stay. But, we have a long-standing tradition with Bahrain. We have been friends many, many years. We are celebrating our fiftieth anniversary of strong partnership. We hope that that will continue in the future and whatever military presence we maintain certainly will be at the recommendation and at the request of the government itself.

Q: You just said that (inaudible) consensus in NATO now -- is there a new development?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I was encouraged for example to see Chancellor-elect Schroeder emerge from his meeting with President Clinton and indicate that he supports NATO action and essentially taking this "Act Ord," and I believe he lent his support for that one when he came from the White House. I think most of the countries are prepared to move forward soon within the next several days in terms of supporting the "Act Ord" in the event Mr. Milosevic doesn't comply with the UN Security Council resolution. Mr. Holbrooke continues his negotiation efforts, and they are going to be very serious. He has indicated they're at a serious stage or state, and he has had considerable experience in the past in negotiating these types of difficult problems to a workable solution. We are hopeful that that will be the case with this case, but we have to remain committed to carrying out the action that I believe the NATO countries are going to support in the event Milosevic does not comply.

One more? It's the last one.

Q: On terrorism -- the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh had to be closed last week because there was a threat. Can you identify for us the countries where you perceive which are high-risk countries, and if we will continue to work alone or jointly with other countries? Secretary Cohen: I will not and I cannot name specific countries where there is a high risk. I think there is generally a risk of terrorism throughout many regions. This is one of the subject matters that we talked about, for example, with the Amir and his leadership. That this is something that every country I think, unfortunately, has to confront. The spread of terrorism is a danger to the stability and peace in this region and to the extent that we have threats made against our embassies or personnel, then we take appropriate action. But I would not be in a position to comment on which embassies and which countries we are generally alert to acts of terrorism and we have seen in the so called low-threat areas even in East Africa that acts of terrorism were carried out with devastating consequences to our people and to our friends. So we are determined that we are not going to simply remain passive and vulnerable to the activities of terrorists, that we will take defensive measures, we will take appropriate safety measures, we will also intensify our efforts to track down the terrorists and the ones who are responsible for killing innocent people.

Thank you.