Secretary Cohen and General Zinni Press Conference at Doha International Airport, Doha, State of Qatar
Secretary Cohen: I am pleased once again to return to Qatar. I had an excellent meeting with the Emir, Sheikh Hamad, the Crown Prince, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Chief of Staff of the Qatar Armed Forces.
Qatar is an important partner with the United States in promoting regional peace and stability. The continued close cooperation that we enjoy with Qatar, as well as with the other GCC states, is a key element of a shared strategy for the region.
For some time, we have had equipment pre-positioned here in Qatar as part of our long-term commitment to the Gulf. Qatar has also hosted multiple air expeditionary force deployments in recent years. We are taking concrete steps to deepen our defense relationship with Qatar.
We are talking with Qatar under a program we call the Cooperative Defense Initiative to see how we can help the region deal with the increased threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This initiative includes shared early warning programs, the development of active and passive defenses to better confront these emerging threats, as well as the potential consequences of a chemical and biological attack.
We are also discussing the prospect of combined military planning so that we can together promote interoperability between our forces, which will ultimately strengthen regional deterrence. As you would expect, we also discussed in our meeting the full range of regional issues including Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East Peace Process.
With those brief opening comments, let me entertain your questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, in Bahrain you spoke about a redeployment plan for the U.S. forces in the region. Can you please tell us according to which basis you are going to redeploy the U.S. forces?
Secretary Cohen: What I indicated in Bahrain was that General Zinni has been making a review of the deployed forces that we currently have in the region. Contrary to any press accounts, we do not plan to reduce our force in the region. We intend to maintain the force approximately where it is today. General Zinni is looking at ways in which perhaps there can be some minor adjustments. He has not yet refined his plan or formalized it, and so we are awaiting his review to see what minor adjustments need to be made, but there will be no major changes.
Q: A Qatari newspaper had a commentary today complaining about the financial burden of hosting U.S. forces in the Gulf. I was wondering if that is something which came up in your discussions with the Qatari leaders or whether that is something that you'll be discussing elsewhere on your trip through the Gulf?
Secretary Cohen: That was not an item of discussion generally. Qatar does in fact contribute to the support of our forces who are here. And I believe it is a very beneficial relationship for both of us. Of course, the U.S. also bears a considerable burden in keeping our forces in the region, and we expect to build upon the current relationship even further. Burden sharing issues will be a part of any discussion that we have in the future.
Q: Mr. Cohen, on your last visit to the region you spoke about the common early warning GCC system. What happened to your proposal?
Secretary Cohen: The shared early warning? As a matter of fact, we are moving forward with technical discussions on shared early warning with Qatar and others. And that is part of this Defense Cooperation Initiative - we have not only the shared early warning, but also share information and techniques on coping with biological or chemical weapons' attacks. It's all part of the Defense Cooperation Initiative, but we are also moving forward with the shared early warning. We have our technical experts who meet periodically and are moving forward to the satisfaction of the U.S. and also of the Qatari leadership.
Q: Last time you were here, I believe some Qatari officials had some strong words about the U.S. position on Iraq. What did you discuss with them this time on Iraq and what was the response that you got?
Secretary Cohen: I indicated that the U.S. is very supportive of the UK and Dutch proposal that has been circulating the United Nations Security Council. We believe that inspections must resume, but that there can be some flexibility, additional flexibility on the oil-for-food program, and other types of revenues, perhaps devoted to the infrastructure, oil industry infrastructure. But we believe that Saddam Hussein must once again bear the full responsibility for the suffering taking place on the part of the Iraqi people. I did discuss the UNICEF report which pointed out that those in the North certainly were doing better, much better than the people in the South, where Saddam was controlling the distribution of medicines, food, and supplies contrary to his obligations to his own people. But we intend to continue the containment policy until such time as Saddam complies fully with the Security Council resolution. We did discuss that.
Q: And what was their response?
Secretary Cohen: They understood fully what the U.S. position was.
Q: Secretary Cohen, Iraq is certainly one of the subjects you discussed in your current trip. My question is about the Iraqi opposition who will be meeting later this month in New York. Are you planning on giving any sort of military support to the opposition?
Secretary Cohen: The support we have given so far to the Iraqi opposition is political in nature. It is designed to provide an alternative voice for the Iraqi people. But we believe that ultimately, the change of the regime must come from the Iraqi people, from within Iraq itself. We are looking forward to a time when there is a change of leadership in Iraq. We also would re-emphasize that we believe that Iraq's territorial integrity must, should be maintained and hope that a change in regime can be brought about in the future so that the Iraqi people can once again join the international community and start to prosper. They have suffered great deprivation under the leadership of Saddam Hussein and as long as he continues to occupy that position of power, the deprivation is likely to continue.
Q: Can you just update us on U.S. contacts and efforts with Gulf countries to find someone to host the third brigade set somewhere here in the Gulf on land?
Secretary Cohen: I think that's a question better directed to General Zinni. He's probably in a better position to answer that question.
Q: The United States is the first and the only country in the world which has so far expressed satisfaction about the new leader in Pakistan, does this mean an official recognition of this leader?
Secretary Cohen: I believe that the U.S. initially expressed great concern about what took place in Pakistan. But we're also pleased with the tone that was set by the General in his statement yesterday when he stated that he was committed to seeing a restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan. He also stated that he was interested in trying to reduce tensions between Pakistan and India, that there would be some withdrawal of forces in order to reduce that level of tension, and we welcome that. We also indicated that we want to see a restoration of democratic rule as quickly as possible. So we expressed our concern that we want to see Pakistan return to a democracy as soon as possible.
Q: We know the role of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in assisting Operation Southern Watch since December but what has been the role of support for the southern Gulf states such as Qatar, the UAE, and Oman?
Secretary Cohen: Of course the British have been patrolling with the U.S. as far as the No Fly Zone is concerned and they continue to support that effort. With respect to the other Gulf states, they also support our efforts by maintaining pre-positioned equipment and Qatar plays a major role in that. We have in Bahrain, of course, NAVCENT. We have our bases in Oman. UAE is also really helpful. All of the forces that we have fully deployed throughout the region help to maintain stability, and remind all of the Gulf states that we are here to support their security interests as well as our own. And we believe that having that presence and maintaining that level of presence, we contribute to the stability and prosperity of the region. So each country does in fact participate in its own fashion.
Secretary Cohen: There has been no diminution of support on the part of the Gulf states for our efforts in the Gulf.
Q: There has been some speculation that the U.S. might take some decisive action to finish the Iraqi problem once and for all. When are you going to take that sort of action, and what would be the nature of that action, to finish the Iraqi problem once and forever?
Secretary Cohen: I don't know that I or anyone else has used the expression once and for all, or once and forever. We believe that the Iraq people and their general quality of life and their prospects for the future will be greatly enhanced when Saddam Hussein is no longer their leader. We hope that they will have an opportunity to bring about change on their own so they can join the community of nations and proceed to enjoy the prosperity that many other countries in the world currently enjoy. It's clear to me that as long as Saddam is there and continues to pose a threat to the region, that the isolation of the Iraqi people is likely to continue for some time. And so we're hoping that change can be brought about, that the Iraqi people will be given an opportunity to reverse what has happened under Saddam, which has been a very long period of conflict, suffering and deprivation on their part, brought about by his policies. As I've indicated, there is a great distinction being made by those people who are further away from Saddam's control in the north than the south where he continues to manipulate the flow of humanitarian supplies, medicines, clothing, food, and to their great detriment. So I think that the Iraqi people's suffering, which we are very concerned about as well, since we also supported the Oil for Food Program, enlarged it-and doubled it, as a matter of fact, and want to do everything within our power to help the Iraqi people. But Saddam Hussein must bear the full responsibility for their deprivation.
Q: Mr. Secretary, U.S. scenarios published recently anticipated an Iranian swift strike on commercial oil facilities in the Arab Gulf states. If this came true, what would be the response of the U.S. military, especially the Air Force?
Secretary Cohen: I have not seen any report that has predicted a swift strike on the part of Iran against any of the Gulf States. But frankly, we look forward to establishing a better relationship with Iran once Iran has changed its external policies of supporting terrorism, undermining the Middle East peace process, or trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We have seen no change in that posture by the Iranians. What we have also indicated is that by virtue of our presence here in the region, we help to serve as a deterrent to either Iran or Iraq striking any of the Gulf states. That is one of the reasons why we have a presence. It's one of the reasons why we have strong bilateral relations with each country. It's one of the reasons why we have developed pre-positioned equipment here in Qatar and elsewhere to send a very strong signal to Iran or Iraq not to ever attack any of the Gulf states. So by virtue of our presence and the power that we bring with that presence, we believe that it is a very strong deterrent against any country attacking the Gulf States.
Q: General I asked about the third brigade set, but perhaps we could broaden the question to include what Secretary Cohen said are your plans for rejiggling U.S. forces in the region, not a change in numbers, but redeploying.
General Zinni: Well on the first question, actually it would be the fourth brigade set. And my recommendation will be to put it afloat, and we're still working that plan, but that will be my intention for the Secretary. As far as the region, we constantly look at our force levels in the region to make sure that we're balanced correctly, and look at all the threats. There is no intention to make any great reductions or any significant reductions in the area. We're always looking at better and more efficient ways to move things around, but nothing has been firmed up.