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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
February 13, 1997 5:15 PM EDT
--This media activity occurs during an Honor Cordon welcoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of the State of Israel, to the Pentagon.

Secretary Cohen: First let me indicate that the Prime Minister and I have known each other for quite a few years. It's my distinct pleasure and honor to welcome him here today in my new capacity as Secretary of Defense.

I know that we share many views. Among them the appreciation of the need for a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East, and the importance of ensuring Israel's qualitative superiority and qualitative military edge.

We will discuss issues that will include, I assume, a proliferation of mass destruction weapons, and also the cooperation that's necessary in the fight against terrorism. In welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu I want to assure him that the Department of Defense remains a very close and reliable loyal friend.

Mr. Prime Minister Netanyahu: Thank you.

Secretary Cohen is an old friend. I wanted to take this belated opportunity an congratulate him on assuming the important role of the defenses, not only of the United States, but of freedom and democracy and ultimately peace in the world.

I have to say that I feel -- I know you're not going to believe this -- but I feel this is a very warm welcome. Despite the weather, I feel [I'm] among friends and among leaders who think and understand the importance of security in achieving peace. The Secretary and I will indeed discuss the elements of security and how to achieve the wider interests of making sure that the Middle East becomes a peaceful and more secure place in the world.

I have to say on this occasion that I think the great fortune of Israel and of mankind has been that the United States has been the preeminent military and strategic power in the last half century. It has been the fortune of the Jewish people, to have the United States as its friend, the fortune of the Jewish State, just as it was the misfortune of the Jewish people in the first half of this century, that the United States was not in this preeminent position.

I look forward as we close towards the year 2000 for a productive relationship with the United States and with you, Mr. Secretary, to insure our common interests and our common quest for peace and security. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, might we ask with the continued reassurance of the President and the Secretary for Israeli superiority and military power in the Middle East, would you oppose then the sale of U.S. F-16s to Saudi Arabia.

A: Well we're concerned with that. It's one of the things I'm going to speak to the Secretary, and we'll speak about it has friends, with a common interest. But, you'll give me at least to say, and hear, the Secretary in private quarters before we make any public announcements.

Q: Excuse me. Would you be willing to give up the Golan for a full peace with Syria?

A: What did you say?

Q: Would you be willing to give up the Golan Heights for a full peace with Syria?

A: Are you asking would Assad be prepared to give up the Golan Heights for peace with Israel?

Q: (Inaudible) would you?

A: Well why don't you ask it of Assad, and come back... No, we have a stated position. It is clear that we think the Golan Heights is a crucial, vital territory for the defense of Israel and that position has not changed.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you will receive within two weeks the Minister of Defense of Saudi Arabia here. And this time you will discuss with him the opportunities to (inaudible) the Saudi (inaudible) with the American. How important this visit will be, in your assessment, in this time? (Inaudible) F-16, to discuss? We need your comment about that.

Secretary Cohen: Well first of all let me indicate that Saudi Arabia is a friend. They will be coming to meet with me and the President. We will discuss many issues. To my knowledge there has been no request from the Department of Defense for a sale of F-16s, so that seems to me to be quite premature, but I'm sure the issue will be discussed. But we will have a full range of issues to take under consideration when he arrives.

Q: Is this visit important in this time?

A: Of course it's important. It's always to have an ally who's working towards a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and to support our efforts in the Gulf, and obviously in helping us to contend with Saddam Hussein and other countries who might be interested in disrupting that peace.

Q: Thank you sir.