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Cohen Press Conference with His Royal Highness Prince Sultan, MoD

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
November 19, 2000

(Joint Press Conference with His Royal Highness Prince Sultan, Minister of Defense, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Q: (Saudi Press Agency) (Translated) Defense Minister, first we would like to know the results of your Highness' meeting with his excellency the American Secretary of Defense.

Prince Sultan: (Translated) The visit is not the first, and the discussions were about following up on American-Saudi cooperation. We also discussed any new technologies that might be useful for us in light of the joint cooperation between our two countries.

Q: (Translated) The Secretary announced before he arrived in Riyadh that the U.S. wishes to see Qatar reopen the Israeli trade office, despite the fact that this request is in contradiction to the resolution of the Arab summit.

Secretary Cohen: What I indicated was that I hoped that commercial relations can be reestablished with Israel but that is up to each individual country in the Gulf. It is my hope that both the Israelis and the Palestinians can return to the bargaining table to reach a just and fair resolution so that peace can be established. And that yes, commercial ties can be once again reestablished throughout the region so that people throughout the Gulf and Israel and elsewhere can benefit. That is my hope.

Q: (Okaz Newspaper) (Translated) Our country lost seven today in the crash of a tornado airplane. Were there reasons for that fire which started in the helicopter, and what were those reasons?

Prince Sultan: (Translated) It can happen anywhere in the world that there are technical problems. During training exercises, if we look at past events, we will find planes that crashed into each other in the sky or on the airport runway. We are in Saudi Arabia, and we have had less than one quarter of plane accidents in the past three years. Others have had nineteen or twenty percent of plane accidents. The tornado was doing night maneuvers and then the pilot by mistake while he was landing, hit a mountain, which caused the airplane to burn. The fliers died. The other accident was caused during national duty of a helicopter pilot and others who were trying to save the life of a Saudi youth that was lost in a flood in Mejmah (Qassim) for twelve hours. On their way back, when they were landing, there was a technical problem in the engine, which caused the plane to crash. There was another accident, but no one died. In this accident, the pilot from the northern region was trying to save the people in the helicopter crash. However, he couldn't, and then on his way to the airport, he and his son faced a technical problem which caused an accident but they are still alive and in the hospital.

Q: (Reuters) Are you comfortable with the amount of U.S. military presence currently in Saudi Arabia, and do you foresee any changes occurring in that area?

Prince Sultan: (Translated) We don't have any American troops in the Kingdom, and when we needed the American troops, we had thousands. What we have now are only the embargo planes which were put in place by the coalition countries in Safwan City directly after the war, and with the presence of the coalition troops and the Iraqi delegation and was signed in the United Nations and the Security Council. The aim of these planes is not aggression against Iraq, but to serve peace and stability in Iraq and the neighboring countries for the past twelve years.

Q: (Defense News) As a leading member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, do you see contentions within the Council about continuing sanctions on Iraq, or do you favor alternatives to sanctions?

Prince Sultan: (Translated) I can't talk on behalf of the GCC states. They have their men. But the GCC ministerial council and the summit did not change their view that Iraq must comply with the United Nations Security Council resolutions and should allow the inspectors. And when we are certain that Iraq is doing so, and does not have incorrect weapons, then Iraq will be a friendly brother country.

Q: (Al Riyadh Newspaper) (Translated) Inaudible - re American interests in the region, and "the results of the Israeli suppression of Palestinians"...

Secretary Cohen: As Prince Sultan indicated, this is my ninth visit to the region, and I would say that based on the countries I've been to to-date and those that I will visit the next several days, that our standing in the Gulf Region is still very high. We enjoy support for the contribution we make to peace and stability and prosperity throughout the Gulf region. With respect to acts of terrorism, I would say and point out that acts of terrorism predated the current conflict that we see taking place in Israel between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We had several bombings that have occurred in the past in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere that were unrelated to the situation that currently exists in Israel. And so I believe that those acts of terror take advantage of the situation in Israel right now, using that as an excuse for the perpetration of acts of terrorism. But those have preceded what is taking place and what we have to do is to work together that today and tomorrow and into the indefinite future that we work together as we have in the past to defeat terrorism wherever it occurs and behalf of whomever. This is something that we share a mutual interest in -- defeating terrorism.

Q: (Al Watan Newspaper) (Translated) The Russian Foreign Minister has proposed to have a unity of the military and security, which includes the GCC countries, Iraq and Iran?

Prince Sultan: (Translated) First of all, this proposal was not made to us officially. We say that Russia is a great country and is the second peace broker after the United States. But I believe that this proposal is not practical. The work, which must be done, is that Iraq should comply with the UN resolutions, which Russia as a member of [the Security Council] approved. If Iraq complies with UN Security Council resolutions, the problem will disappear and there will be no need to know how to deal with our brother in Iraq.

Q: (Al Watan Newspaper) (Translated) Regarding the review of oil prices?

Prince Sultan: (Translated) First, the increase of income from oil. The Saudi government had given farmers a large sum of money as part of the national economic development plan for all Saudi citizens. Second, debts are being continuously paid off by the government. Third, plans for projects that have been suspended in the past, we hope will resume so that we can build and construct new projects in the future. Concerning debts, these have been scheduled and we hope to settle them within the next two years.

Q: (Defense Week) Your Royal Highness, since the U.S. and its allies have enforced the no-fly zone over Iraq, the result has been regular bombings and clashes between the United States and Iraq. Do you support enforcement of the no fly zones in the current form or do you believe there should be some changes?

Prince Sultan: (Translated) The present no-fly zone is to serve peace, and it is not a Saudi decision, so how can we say if we are with it or not? This is the decision of great countries that have the right to decide about the position of Iraq. This no fly zone has lasted for years, as the American, British and French forces have been working only on peace keeping. This agreement has been reached by the Security Council and agreed by all the countries of the world, and nobody has ever argued with or discussed this decision. Just a few months ago, there was some discussion about the question of Iraq's accepting the international inspectors. If approved by the Security Council, then you can be sure that we would be the first people to call for lifting sanctions on Iraq.

Q: (Al Youm Newspaper) (Translated) There were reports that Saudi Arabia will sign deals to buy aircraft and weapons. Did you discuss this subject with His Excellency the American Defense Minister?

Prince Sultan: (Translated) Now we are not thinking of any new weapons deals. We are now thinking to build Saudi society scientifically and industrially and agriculturally and commercially. Saudi Arabia has enough to defend itself.

Q: (Saudi journalist) (Translated) News reports said that you are signing a weapons deal with the Secretary of Defense.

Prince Sultan: (Translated) I did not discuss any weapons deal with His Excellency.

Q: (AP) Do you think that the United States' foreign policy favors Israel over the Palestinians? And secondly no matter who is at fault in the violence, is there any chance of a peace settlement soon?

Prince Sultan: (Translated) I think the U.S. under the leadership of President Clinton is seeking world peace, especially in the Middle East. The question of who is biased or not biased is not a useful question. It has no use to anybody.

Q: (Al Jazeera Newspaper) (Translated) The Iraqi Commerce Minister announced that Iraq is ready to receive goods from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through the Arar border, and they are waiting for approval from the Saudi authorities.

Prince Sultan: (Translated) We believe in free trade. And we don't interfere with Saudi businessmen's deals.

Q: (AFP) Do you support the American efforts to track down the organizers of the attack against the USS Cole in Aden? And do you believe that Osama Bin Laden is behind attacks in Saudi Arabia?

Prince Sultan: (Translated) We are against this operation and anything related to it. And this is a matter that has to be dealt with by our sister Yemen and the United States.

Q: (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat) (Translated) Regarding the gift of a Boeing 747 from Qatar to Iraq?

Secretary Cohen: My understanding is that this was an individual who is not representative of the government of Qatar, that he was acting on his own, that it was his personal property, and that it in no way received government sanction. And so, it is an individual making his own political statement and we interpret it as nothing more than that.