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Cohen News Conference at Bahrain International Airport, Manama, Bahrain

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
November 16, 2000

(News conference at Bahrain International Airport, Manama, Bahrain)

Cohen: I want to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the amir, the crown prince and to the prime minister, and to express my thanks and gratitude for the strong support Bahrain has provided to the United States during the past 50 years.

It is one of the strongest relationships we have anywhere. Our relationship can be summarized by the words commitment -- and we have a strong commitment to the security of the region; by containment -- containing Saddam Hussein from threatening his neighbors; in terms of continuity -- we will maintain a continuous policy toward the Gulf and our friends and allies in the region.

Whoever is elected next president of the United States -- and I know that there is some concern about how that will unfold -- but I can only assure you that I anticipate that it will be completed in the reasonably near future and whoever is elected president of the United States, that we will have that policy, that we had in the past, continue into the future.

We again thank the Bahraini government's leadership, for the support you have given the United States. NavCent [U.S. Naval Forces Central Command] is headquartered here, the naval presence that we have is instrumental and vitally important to helping to maintain the security of the region, and we do want to express our deep thanks to the Bahraini people and their government and their commitment to this relationship with the United States.

As I've indicated before, our policy of commitment and continuity and containment is one that we will continue to follow for the indefinite future.

Thank you.

Q: Your excellency, the Qatari foreign minister last night in an interview with a TV channel in France admitted that Qatar is hosting the biggest U.S. military warehouse in the region, including very advanced weapons and military equipment, but he refused to disclose anything regarding the agreement signed between the two countries in this matter, saying that it is confidential and a secret. First question: America is always warning that Iran and Iraq are constituting a threat to the countries of the region and America is ready to face the threat through military action -- does it mean that America could use these weapons stored in Qatar against these countries while the Qatari foreign minister said in the interview that Qatar's relations with both Iraq and Iran are very strong? Second question: If the dispute between Qatar and Bahrain escalates in the Hawar Islands issue, could Qatar use American weapons stored on its land against Bahrain, taking into consideration that there was a previous incident in which Qatar attacked Bahrain civil installations in Hawar-- in other words, how accessible are these weapons to Qatar?

Cohen: With respect to your first question we indeed do believe that Saddam Hussein continues to pose a threat to the region. He continues to frustrate the will of the United Nations by refusing to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions. He has thrown out the UN inspectors. He has refused to allow anyone to examine his biological, chemical or missile production facilities, and now he is seeking to have the sanctions lifted even though he is in non-compliance with the Security Council resolutions. So he continues to pose a threat and that's the reason why anyone who believes in the United Nations' role in international affairs must continue the support of the UN sanctions.

With respect to Iran, we have indicated in the past that we would prefer to see a better relationship with Iran but that relationship can not change until Iran changes its fundamental policies in terms of -- stop undermining the Middle East peace process, stop supporting terrorism and stop supporting acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, and so we hope that there can be changes in Iran.

We hope, certainly, that there will be changes in Iraq because Iraq in my judgment will not join the international community until they have new leadership. With respect to our relationship with Qatar and also here in Bahrain, we believe that we have been very productive in producing a greater regional cooperation. There certainly is a better relationship that I have witnessed in recent years between Qatar and Bahrain, and we do not anticipate that there will be any conflict between Qatar and Bahrain in the future. And this issue on the islands will be settled according to a court ruling that will be accepted. So any hypotheticals beyond that, I think, are in the realm of speculation which I surely couldn't answer.

Q: Did you meet with the amir?

Cohen: And with the crown prince and the prime minister.

Q: And did they express any concerns over their perceived U.S. position on the Palestinian/Israeli situation?

Cohen: No. They indicated that they value very much the strong relationship that Bahrain has with the United States, understanding that the United States' presence throughout the Gulf region has helped to maintain stability and generated, helped to generate, the prosperity that the country is now enjoying. They obviously expressed concern about the lack of a Middle East peace agreement and the fact that there is still violence taking place between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But that is separate, distinct, from the U.S. relationship with Bahrain and they really fully understand that and appreciate it.

Q: Mr. Cohen, there have been reports published stateside saying that suspects have been apprehended in Bahrain that were directly tied to Osama Bin Laden. The local press and the Interior Ministry deny this. Do you have any information on any direct threats here in Bahrain and suspects taken in?

Cohen: I do not.

Q: Crown Prince Abdallah from Saudi Arabia, in a recent statement, said the United States is partly to blame for the situation in the Middle East, especially in Israel/Palestine. How do you see the relations between the Arabs and America in this context?

Cohen: In where?

Q: In the context of the statement made by Crown Prince Abdallah?

Cohen: Well, I have enormous respect for Crown Prince Abdallah. I consider him to be a friend. I know that he is genuinely concerned about what is taking place in Israel between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but I also know that he regards the United States as being a key contributor to security and stability throughout the region. So, while I know that he feels deeply about what is taking place between the Palestinians and the Israelis, I also know that he supports the United States' role in maintaining peace and stability throughout the region.

Q: Well do you think sir, that the United States, you know, is losing credibility in the region because of its open support for Israel in the Palestinian question?

Cohen: I think you have to separate what is taking place in Israel between the Palestinians and the Israelis and the role the United States plays in helping to maintain peace and stability throughout the Gulf region. I know that there are some who confuse the issues but I also understand that the Arab leadership recognizes the need for the United States to continue to play the role of (inaudible).

Q: Would you like to say something on the Middle East Peace process in the near future and the summit between Arafat, Barak and U.S. President Clinton?

Cohen: As you know, both Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat have visited President Clinton in Washington. I have not been apprised of the substance of the conversations. The president is now over in Asia, but I know that he is deeply committed to trying to get the process back on track and the first thing that has to take place is the cycle of violence has to be broken, and both sides have to pull back. Both sides have to seek a means of getting back to the peace table. I think everyone has seen during recent weeks that there is no alternative to peace. The only alternative that we see to peace is more and more violence in greater and greater numbers and, ultimately it is a hellish existence for all concerned. And so there is no alternative to peace and the parties have to lower -- if not eliminate -- the violence, have a period of respite where the parties can assess how they move back to the bargaining table to achieve what everyone knows has to be achieved.

Q: President Clinton in Brunei is quoted to have said that somebody has to stop the shooting which is going on, why doesn't the U.S. tell it to Israel because it started it now?

Cohen: I'm sorry...

Q: Why doesn't the U.S. ask Israel to stop it now, because it started it?

Cohen: I believe the president asked both parties to stop -- both parties to stop the killing and the violence and that's the only way you really can get back to the peace table and the bargaining table. Both parties have to pull back and stop the violence.

Thank you very much.