(Interview with Egyptian Television's "Good Morning Egypt" in Cairo, Egypt)
Q: U.S. Defense Secretary Mr. William Cohen, welcome. Thank you for your time and for talking to Egyptian Television.
Cohen: Thank you.
Q: How do you see the level of regional security? As I understand, there have been threats to Kuwait prior to your visit, the attack on USS Cole, and several attacks on British targets in Saudi Arabia and Yemen? How do you see the level of security in the region?
Cohen: The threat level has gone up in recent days as the result of the bombing of the USS Cole. Additional measures were taken not only by the Navy, but also across the services, and as the threat level rises we have to take measures to protect our forces. But, I think that in recent days my travels throughout the Gulf states, and now here in Egypt, have been very good. We have strong support throughout the region. We obviously take security measures and our bilateral relations with all the Gulf states and, of course, with Egypt, are very strong.
Q: What have you been discussing so far with Gulf counterparts? Have you been discussing decreasing the U.S. military presence in the Gulf? You said that you are not intending to leave the Gulf, but are you discussing decreasing the military presence of the U.S. forces there or are you discussing or drawing arrangements to use the air space in the Gulf in case there are any attacks on the U.S. military?
Cohen: No, we are not discussing any decrease in the U.S. presence. We talked about ways to enhance cooperative security. I have talked for several years now in meeting with my counterparts and the leadership in the Gulf about ways in which we could have a so-called Defense Cooperative Initiative and share technology, intelligence, and capabilities to deal with terrorism and share early warning systems so that we can help protect and promote security throughout the region. No decrease is contemplated, though we obviously look at ways in which we can allocate our resources and assets throughout the region, and we do that in a balanced fashion. But we don't anticipate any reductions, or certainly for the foreseeable future.
Q: It's been almost 10 years now since the U.S. forces have been stationed in the Gulf. Isn't it about time that the U.S. should think of another strategic alternative for security in the Gulf other than the military presence? Provided the high bill of the presence of these forces in the Gulf.
Cohen: Indeed. The United States is here helping to enforce the UN Security Council Resolutions. That accounts for our presence. We obviously are here to help promote security and stability throughout the region. To the extent that there can be greater cooperative efforts in the Gulf, to the extent that Saddam Hussein complies with Security Council resolutions, that may, in fact, allow for some modifications in the future. But I believe that all the states in the region want to see the United States continue its presence so that there can be continued stability, so that there continue to be investment and prosperity. So what will take place in the future will much depend upon the level of the threats in the region coming from Iraq, Iran or others. And that will, of course, be determined, by agreement on the part of all the countries in the region.
Q: Secretary Cohen, you pointed to Iran and Iraq, so we would like to touch on that issue. Former security experts like Brzezinski, Scowcroft, and Richard Murphy opposed the policy of dual containment and they also opposed the embargoes imposed on Iraq -- this policy imposed on Iraq. It's over ten years now since these sanctions have been imposed on Iraq with only the Iraqi people being hurt and the Iraqi regime is being strengthened. It didn't weaken the Iraqi regime, so isn't the United States going to think about another way to deal with the Iraq other than the sanctions and dual containment policy?
Cohen: If I could just take a moment to challenge the question itself, the concept of it. First of all, Saddam Hussein has totally frustrated the will of the international community. He has refused to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions, he has thrown inspectors out of Iraq so that there was little opportunity to see whether he continues to develop chemical or biological or even nuclear weapons. Number two, he has said no inspections and, now, no sanctions.
We sympathize deeply with the plight of the Iraqi people. We have been in the forefront supporting the Oil for Food program. The U.S. supported doubling it. Now if you look historically, prior to the Gulf war, Saddam Hussein was earning about 13 billion dollars a year from the sale of oil, most of which was going to his war machine. Since the end of that war, since imposition of the sanctions, he now earns about 13 to 15 billion dollars -- legally, at least -- under the Oil for Food program, most of which goes to humanitarian purposes. So the person who is inflicting the suffering upon the Iraqi people is one person: Saddam Hussein. Has the containment policy worked? He has been contained in that he has been unable to rebuild his war machine and thereby threaten his neighbors in the region. So the containment policy has, in fact, worked. What we would hope is that Saddam would fully comply with the Security Council resolutions, open his doors, invite the inspectors in, make full disclosure; and then the sanctions could be relieved.
Q: But it seems that the US is the only country now holding on to this sanctions policy. We've seen recently a British airplane go to Iraq breaking this embargo, a trade fair was recently held in Iraq where almost 45 countries participated. My question is seeking other alternatives other than sanctions which has not worked for ten years?
Cohen: But it has worked for ten years in that Saddam Hussein cannot pose a threat to the region. So the sanctions and the containment policy have been effective in really containing his flow of revenue. If you take the sanctions off, then all of the revenue starts going to his war machine. Do any of the countries in the region feel they'd be more secure? I think the answer is no. By the way, the British are still helping to enforce the no fly zone, to make sure that Saddam is not able to pose a threat to the region.
Q: Secretary Cohen, in light of the recent spate of violence in the region over the past eight weeks, we have seen the reaction coming from the United States and actually it's been raising question marks here in this part of the region as to how critical the United States was of the Palestinians while it's been using a cautionary diplomatic language when it comes to Israel. I was wondering, with more than 250 Palestinians dead and more than 10,000 injured, the question is: Are Israeli lives more precious to the United States than Palestinian lives?
Cohen: All lives are precious in the eyes of the U.S. We want to see a stop to the violence on both sides. I think, based on my conversations with every leader throughout the Gulf and here, I believe, in Egypt, as well, they look to President Clinton as being a real leader in the search for peace. They give him great credit for his efforts to bring about a peace agreement in the Middle East. And he will continue that till the end of his tenure. And the next President, whoever that may be, will do the same. But we are committed to seeking a just and lasting and fair peace in the Middle East, and so there's no value placed on one life above that of the other. We want to see the killing stop on both sides.
Q: The imbalance in the area of nuclear power in the Middle East permeates this region with a sense of insecurity and instability. Secretary Cohen, don't you see that resolving the arms situation in the Middle East is necessary, as security and stability cannot endure in the presence of this imbalance of power in favor of Israel?
Cohen: What we hope is to see a peace agreement that will help resolve many of these issues. Israel is a strong country. It needs to be strong in terms of its own security. But I might point out that we've also been engaged on a bilateral basis in helping Egypt to modernize its military, as well as other Gulf states that I've traveled to. But Egypt has been a real pillar. It's a regional power as such. The U.S. has also helped Egypt to become a modern military. So, what we hope is that we can have a balance achieved throughout the region, there can be a Middle East peace agreement, and it will be lasting.
Q: Along 8 years [sic] as Defense secretary you've been coming here to the region, you've visited Egypt several times...
Cohen: Nine times.
Q: Nine times. Are you anticipating any change in the military relations between Egypt and the United States with a new administration coming into office?
Cohen: No, the policy will continue. Egypt has been a very strong partner for peace. President Mubarak has been a real leader and very courageous in reaching out to help bring the parties together. Our military to military relationship is very strong. We have a 1.3 billion dollar foreign military financing program. Recently it was proposed an additional 225 million dollars to help with naval and port security. So we intend to continue to work with Egypt in a very cooperative fashion and make sure its security needs are met as well. That will continue whether it's President Gore or President Bush. The policy between the United States and Egypt will be strong.
Q: Mr. Cohen, you are a Republican yourself. Whoever is coming to the office, a Republican or Democrat, if you were offered a post other than Defense, would you accept that?
Cohen: No. First, I am completing nearly 31 years of public service. I am looking forward to being a private citizen and I have indicated that for some time. I am very, very grateful that President Clinton gave me, a Republican, an opportunity to serve in his administration. It has been perhaps the most exhilarating and rewarding experience of my life, but I am ready, finally, to be a private citizen.
Q: So what will you do as a private citizen, write a book?
Cohen: Yes. I will try to complete a novel that I started in 1994-95 that I had to put on the shelf. I will probably do some lecturing.
Q: What is it about?
Cohen: International intrigue! It was something that I thought about years ago and started to write, then had to suspend. I will probably do some consulting in the Washington area. But I will be involved in public policy and foreign policy issues. It's something that I was doing for some 24 years when I was on Capitol Hill before I came here.
Q: Mr. William Cohen, U.S. Secretary of Defense, we thank you very much for your time. We wish you the best of luck as a private citizen.
Cohen: Thank you.