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DoD News Brief: Bright Star Exercise, El-Omayid, Egypt

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 25, 1999

Bright Star Exercise, El-Omayid, Egypt

SECRETARY COHEN: I am enormously impressed with what I observed today with the Bright Star operation. I first of all want to thank Field Marshall Tantawi and the Egyptian military for being great hosts for this exercise. It is the largest exercise the United States will participate in this year and perhaps the most important as well. The fact that it is held here in Egypt is testimony to the leadership of Egypt and, in particular, President Mubarak and Field Marshall Tantawi.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to observe this with my counterpart from the United Kingdom, Geoffrey Hoon, and the other national representatives who are here today.

What we saw today was precisely planned and perfectly executed. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from 11 nations have through Bright Star the chance to exercise together, operate together, learn from each other and build the kind of trust and friendships that bind militaries together, regardless of service or nationality. Through these kinds of exercises, these men and women learn vital military skills that they can use to make themselves and their militaries better and achieve our shared objectives of a more peaceful and prosperous region.

There are also 33 nations observing this exercise and recognize its importance.

I look at this as more than an exercise. What you saw today was a strong statement, a chorus of nations from the United States to Egypt to Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, that this is a coalition that is getting stronger. This is a group of nations committed to cooperation and consultation, not confrontation. This is a group of nations with leaders interested in building prosperity for their people, not palaces for their cronies.

One country that is not represented here today should pay close attention to what Bright Star represents. Saddam Hussein remains an outlaw in his own neighborhood. Over his horizon, he should see that Bright Star demonstrates that the countries of this region, backed by the United States, Britain and other European allies, have a different vision of the future. We are building a long-term partnership that will provide the security that our people want and the stability that they deserve.

As I have traveled around the region this week, I have found a shared vision about the future of this region. The leaders that I've talked to see the same threats, the same opportunities and the same imperatives for what we have to do together to support peace in this region and deter aggression. We are helping, through exercises like Bright Star, to build the kind of military capability and cooperation needed to maintain regional stability. I am very pleased with the results and innovation exhibited this year during Bright Star. This is indicative of the long-term commitment that the United States has made to regional security.

I'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: What is the right time that Israel can participate in such type of maneuvers?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, that of course, is up to Israel. It's not for me to decide. We know that there are some 33 countries that were invited as observers and 24 are observing. We have 11 countries participating. We expect that this exercise will only increase in the future; it's nearly double the number we had the last exercise and we look forward to more countries participating but each country will have to decide for itself.

QUESTION: Putting in consideration the main project of this year's maneuver is facing an intervention from a neighboring country. Are these exercises designed to face any new crisis in the Gulf area? To face Iraq and Iran? Did you convince the Egyptian side that the new Iranian missile is a threat to Egyptian national security?

SECRETARY COHEN: First of all, the purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate the need for multi-national cooperation so that you can build a much stronger predicate and basis for peace with regional cooperation. To do that, you must train together, you must exercise together, you must share technology, you must share techniques and tactics. All of that builds a web-not only of friendships but of interoperability. It's essential to deter aggression from wherever it might come.

With respect to Iran itself, we watch Iran very closely. We have indicated that while we would prefer to have a better relationship with Iran, there are at least three conditions that must be met before that can take place: Iran must stop supporting terrorism; it must stop undermining Middle East process; it must stop trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And so we will remain vigilant, we will cooperate and work with all of our partners and allies in the region to make sure that no country would seek to undermine the peace.

I might also add with respect to Israel, I hope that the Egyptian military can find ways to cooperate and work together and have joint exercises and training measures with Israel as well. So we're hoping that we can actually increase Israel's participation, especially with Egypt and with other partners in the region.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you training for a replay of the Gulf War? That's what's the Iraqis think.

SECRETARY COHEN: We are training for the purpose of maintaining readiness, interoperability, to prepare for any contingency for the future. There's no one specific type of operation. As you saw today, this is an amphibious operation, combining air, land, and sea, and it is designed to prepare the troops for any contingency. You'll see other aspects during the course of Bright Star that will focus on maintaining that interoperability and defensive capability. I think that Iran should take note, as I've indicated, that they should not seek in any way to attack their neighbors or try to undermine stability in the region, because each country now working together is going to be that much stronger, that much more capable and I think Iran and, especially Iraq, know that we maintain our containment policy and we'll continue that policy until such time as the Security Council Resolutions are abided by.

QUESTION: Yesterday, charges were filed against [name inaudible] for sexual misconduct. What is the military doing to stop sexual misconduct?

SECRETARY COHEN: With respect to sexual misconduct, I think that the military has taken very strong action. We have said that there is zero tolerance for abuse, and we have set standards for all of the services in terms of sexual harassment. I think that the United States military has demonstrated that we are serious about seeing to it that such grievances do not go unaddressed. I don't have the information on that specific case but the general policy we, I think, set a very high standard and insist upon its compliance.

QUESTION: What did you discuss with President Mubarak and Field Marshall Tantawi?

SECRETARY COHEN: Yes, I met with Field Marshall Tantawi yesterday, as well as today. I did have an occasion--both of us--to meet with President Mubarak. We talked about the Middle East peace process, about the need to move forward on it, to see to it that the Wye agreements in fact are complied with. We talked about the need to have what we call the Cooperative Defense Initiative. That is where each of the countries in the region that I have been talking to need to have increased shared early warning so that we can share information about any potential missile launches. We talked about the need to deal with the threat of chemical and biological weapons. There is a proliferation of these types of weapons of mass destruction and what we want to do is to share, again, information, technologies about defense capabilities, Patriot missiles, by way of example, air defense, also passive defenses for clothing, vaccines, other types of medicines that might be necessary in the event there is a chemical or biological attack, and also share information on how we go about organizing what we call consequence management. What happens if you have an attack in an urban area, by way of example. So it's not only your soldiers who are facing this kind of chemical or biological environment, but what happens when it's directed against innocent civilian? So we discussed that, as well as ways in which we can build upon the strong relationship we have. A variety of issues along those lines. A very good meeting.

QUESTION: Your Senators have just rejected Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). How do you think you can protect others from chemical weapons?

SECRETARY COHEN: I'm glad you asked the question because as you know the United States was the first to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and it's been signed by some 150 or more countries. But also to point out that the United States is abiding by the spirit and terms of the treaty. We are not testing nuclear weapons. We regret that the Senate saw fit to reject the treaty but we hope to have it returned, we hope that reconsideration be given in the future, perhaps in an environment which does not involve election years. At some point it will be brought back and-- we hope-- that further consideration will be given it. I might point out that it was brought up in a way that did not give Senators-- in my judgment, from my experience-- enough flexibility to deal with issues such as attaching reservations or conditions and other types of amendments that most treaties have had in the past. So it was brought up under a very unusual procedural process whereby a number of members who were truly concerned about it, who wanted to find ways to be supportive could not under the circumstances. So we're hoping that perhaps sometime in the future we can have it considered again. It's unlikely it will be brought up next year during an election year and that's understandable, so we wanted to see to it that during the course of the time immediately after, it will be brought up again and reconsidered.

QUESTION: [summarized] Secretary Cohen, given that the peace process is ongoing, are these exercises related to real-world tensions?

SECRETARY COHEN: Related to which?

QUESTION: Real world tensions.

SECRETARY COHEN: These exercises really are designed to promote interoperability, so that Egyptian forces can operate together with U.S. forces, British forces, Jordanian forces. What you saw today was an extraordinary demonstration of an Italian ship offloading a British light air cushion ship carrying Egyptian soldiers. That kind of joint operation can only strengthen all of the countries in the region and promote stability. So, it's not related to sanctions. We have a sanctions policy. We have a sanctions policy against Iran, by way of example, and against Iraq. But against Iraq, what we have said is, we are concerned about the welfare of the Iraqi people. UNICEF has done a study showing that the people who are farther away from Saddam in the north are doing much better than those under his direct control because he is controlling the amount of food, medicine and supplies coming in under the Oil for Food Program. What we want to do is help the Iraqi people and I believe that can ultimately come about when Saddam Hussein is no longer in power since he appears unwilling to really allow the program to operate properly. So, we are trying to find ways. There is a proposal pending before the United Nations supported by the United Kingdom and the Dutch. Bahrain also endorsed it. It was to provide greater flexibility for the Food for Oil Program, to insist that inspectors go back into Iraq, and perhaps even to allow for investment into the oil infrastructure of Iraq. But to make sure that Saddam is not simply allowed to gather all of the new revenues that would be generated by this and put it into chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. So, we think there is a proposal before the Security Council that makes a good deal of sense that will help satisfy all of us that inspections are being undertaken and that he is not being allowed to use the revenues for chemical and biological weapons.

QUESTION: Secretary Cohen, during your tour in the Gulf you talked about a Cooperative Defense Initiative. In what way is it different from the current one?

SECRETARY COHEN: The question is what exactly is the Cooperative Defense Initiative and what will it entail in the way of costs? What we are seeking to do, and I have found in virtually all the countries where I have been, that there is support for such an initiative. What we want is shared information, shared early warning so that we are able to communicate to the countries involved, intelligence information that would alert anyone to whether missiles have been targeted and fired at a country. We want to promote our understanding of the nature of the threat. Anthrax, by way of example, as you probably know we have vaccinated, we have a program to vaccinate all of our soldiers, sailors, and Marines against anthrax. We certainly want to promote air defense and to have a region-wide air defense capability so that if someone launches a missile there is a capacity to knock it down, or an aircraft that might try to attack. We also want to talk about new techniques or technologies we have developed as far as protective clothing or vaccines, medicines that might be necessary to combat a chemical or biological attack. So, that's what we mean about the Cooperative Defense Initiative, that we share that information on a regional basis. When you have that capability it serves more as a deterrent. If a country thinks that you are well prepared against a chemical or biological attack, they are less likely to launch such an attack. So, it's a deterrent capability and it's also what we call consequence management. The State Department has a program whereby they want to share information with other countries about how to deal with a chemical or biological attack should one occur-- who's in charge, how do you train the police and the firemen and others to deal with that kind of humanitarian catastrophe. So that's basically what's involved.

QUESTION: And the costs?

SECRETARY COHEN: We haven't talked about the costs involved. I mentioned air defense. There would be a cost involved for Patriot missiles. Egypt, by way of example, has agreed to start acquiring the Patriot for the future, but that would be some years before it comes on line.

QUESTION: What did President Mubarak tell you in terms of the MEPP? Did he have concerns that he shared with you or what did he think?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, I think, he has been encouraged by Prime Minister Barak. I think that he believes that he is committed to the peace process. I have indicated on a number of occasions that the Wye Agreement must be complied with fully. And, that is our understanding and his understanding as well, but generally I think that he has been favorably impressed with the commitment made by Prime Minister Barak. He has met with him and talked with him. So, we are hoping that the process can move forward. That's something that is very important for all concerned.

QUESTION: Can you explain the sense of urgency to move forward on the Patriot issue with the Egyptians? Is this to just to benefit American companies, or is there some compelling real world contingency that you are worried about in the near term? Is that driving your schedule or is it just selling American weapons?

SECRETARY COHEN: It really has been to try to get the program on track. The Egyptians have been developing a five year program. Last year when I was here, we made available the Patriot. I believe they are committed to the Patriot in terms of its acquisition. The timing is something that Egypt will have to decide, but we think that sooner is better than later, not only from a contractor point of view, but also from the proliferation of the capability in the region. We are seeing a greater and greater missile technology being developed. We've seen the Shahab 3 in Iran, and are likely to see the Shahab 4. Greater and greater range of those missiles pose a greater threat. So, to the extent that you can have more advanced technology to counter that, I think the better off everyone is and that would include Egypt as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you very much.