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Secretary of Defense Press Conference, Udairi Range, State of Kuwait, October 12, 1998

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 12, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Let me just make a brief opening statement then submit to your questions. The presence of our troops here - the soldiers from the world's best army - I believe demonstrate conclusively our commitment to Kuwait's security. We're going to continue to work with countries in the region to contain Iraq as long as Saddam Hussein threatens his neighbors. And the United States will also insist on full Iraqi compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Among the other provisions, the resolutions require Iraq to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction and to provide full accounting for the Kuwaiti POWs and MIAs. Our coalition with Kuwait remains strong as these exercises show. We appreciate the support that the Kuwaiti government gives to our forces. The Kuwaiti people have been so generous to our forces and it's great to be here again to visit the soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division. To meet with Kuwaiti officials. And, I'm pleased to announce that Vice President Gore has invited the Crown Prince to visit him in Washington later this year, so our governments can continue their consultations on bilateral and regional issues and the Crown Prince has agreed to visit Washington. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I just wanted to ask you about the proposed regional defense missile system. What sort of response have you had from the Gulf countries you've visited so far? What's the estimated cost of such a system? And what missiles would it use?

A: As I've indicated to all of the Gulf states that I've visited so far, there is a proliferation of missile technology that is starting to spread here in the Gulf Region. I can point to Iran for example with the testing of the Shahab-3. There will be other countries who will also test missiles that have longer and longer range. And so, that will place in jeopardy troops and people in the region. We are developing -- the United States is spending enormous amounts of money developing a series of theater missile defenses. We would hope to be in a position to cooperate with our friends in the region to either have them share and join in that research and development or to in some way cooperate in the future as far as their deployment is concerned. But we intend to protect our forces and we believe that the theater missile defense system is an imperative and we are rushing it as fast as we reasonably can in developing that technology. It's very sophisticated, it will require lots of effort and we are pursuing that course. So we are talking in general terms, now, and not with specific systems in specific countries, but generally the nature of the threat and what's going to be required to defeat that threat.

Q: The reaction?

A: Everyone in the Gulf understands what is taking place. And they will follow it, we will work with them and we will see if we can't continue this research and development on as fast a pace as we can and in the future we'll see what unfolds, but I think it's namely alerting them to the danger of the threat and to what we are doing and finding ways in which we can cooperate in the future. It's been very general so far and the response, I think, has been quite positive.

Q: Give us an update on Kosovo. (Inaudible) Give us a sense of what you talked about?

A: Well, I had to leave the conversation to get here. But, it's continuing as we speak. There are a number of people engaged in that phone call but it is basically to bring us up-to-date on the state of the negotiations which I think should remain confidential for the time being. I think some progress continues to be made, but the allies are moving closer to making a decision today, possibly as late as tomorrow in which the ACT-ORD would be authorized. And so, there seems to be no disagreement that I can see that this may become necessary. Unless Milosevic agrees to comply with the Security Council resolutions, but we'll know more. It's still early Monday morning in Europe, well more the United States. And in Europe, it's early afternoon. We'll know more by tonight, tomorrow.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you think the UAE's insistence on the codes for the F-16 jeopardizing the deal and do you see (inaudible) the French over the (inaudible) as a potential alternative to the F-16? Where are you now?

A: I think the UAE has always looked at all the potential competitors and they will decide on what system is best for them. I believe that the United States still produces the finest aircraft in the world, but each country will have to judge for itself which systems they prefer. It would be my hope that they would select the F-16. And, I believe that a lot of effort has gone into satisfying their requirements, but ultimately only the UAE can decide.

Q: Are you willing to budge on the codes? A: I don't get involved in the costs.

Q: No the codes.

A: Oh the codes. That's something that needs to be worked out at the government level. I think that great progress is being made.

Q: Sir, Iran yesterday accused the U.S. of escalating tensions, or creating tensions in the area, in order to sell more weapons.

A: We're not trying to escalate tensions, we're trying to seek to reduce tensions. As a matter of fact, I do think that it's our obligation to point out that dangers exist. We've indicated that we would like to have a better relationship with Iran. We've seen some positive statements that have come out of the Khatami government as such. We're sending very positive signals that we'd like to have exchanges more on a government to government basis. That has not yet been agreed to by the Iranians. But, we've also indicated that while we would like to have a better relationship, that there has to be a change in the foreign policy, policies I should say on the part of the Iranians. Mainly their support for terrorism and their attempts to undermine the peace process that is underway. And also, the acquisition of either nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. If we see changes in their foreign policies, then I think that we could have a much better relationship. And so, I'm simply calling attention to what the potential threats are. But, I also look at the potential opportunities for a better relationship with them.

Q: (Inaudible) ....missile systems....Arial Sharon is the new defense (sic) minister....

A: As I've indicated when the question was raised in Bahrain, that sometimes you find that those who are seen as being hawks or conservatives are able to make peace agreements. And I've taken pains to point out -- that you may recall Yitzhah Rabin was once viewed as a very hard liner, and yet became a person pursuing peace. We have seen President Reagan, when he was first elected, they said, 'My heavens, we're not going to ever have any good relationship with the Russians.' He was able to help negotiate START 1. And so there are many cases, Richard Nixon, a conservative president who was elected, opened the door to China. So, I think there is opportunity for Mr. Sharon to also be able to achieve a peaceful agreement, a peace agreement. And I'm frankly quite optimistic that this week when Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu go to Washington that they will make some serious progress.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the United States of America is looking to make stable the region. Peace for the land here -- Turkey and Syria and Iran by Taleban. What's the comment by the United States in these cases?

A: We've indicated that we support President Mubarak's attempts to mediate a solution to that potential conflict between Turkey and Syria. We don't think it's anyone's interest to see a conflict in the region. We hope that President Mubarak will be successful. Similarly, with respect to Iran and the Taleban. I think Iran has been concerned about the activities that the Taleban have taken in killing a number of their diplomats. And, have voiced their outrage about it. But they still seek to resolve it diplomatically. And I think that to the extent that can be achieved, then we would see it as a very positive thing. I don't think anyone wants to see conflict spread anywhere. We don't want to see conflict in Kosovo. We are trying our best working with NATO to persuade Milosevic that he should cease and desist what he's been doing. He's been killing a lot of innocent people; he's driven hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes. As I mentioned a few moments ago, some 50 to 70,000 could starve to death or freeze to death. That is not acceptable behavior. So we're working with a NATO organization to try to persuade him to abide by the U.N. Security Council resolution, which simply says, 'pull your forces back, pull your army back, pull your MUP police back.' Allow the NGOs, the non-governmental organizations to get up into the hills and help resettle the displaced persons and sit-down at the bargaining table and help resolve this issue about Kosovo's future. So, we support that.

Q: The patience?

A: The patience I think, it's running out because of a number of factors. Number one, the weather -- it's starting to close-in in Kosovo. It will be cold there in the next week or two. That will present enormous problems in helping those people. And so, that is a factor, which is driving the pace of this. I think you will see some resolution of the issue one way or the other over the next several days.

Press: Thank you.

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