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Joint Press Conference Secretary Cohen and Minister Arens of Israel

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 27, 1999

Joint Press Conference with U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Minister of Defense Moshe Arens from the State of Israel

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome my friend Moshe Arens to the Pentagon as Minister of Defense. We have known each other a very long time. I first met Moshe Arens back in 1978 when he was serving a different capacity and I was also serving a different capacity. And we've maintained our friendship over the years.

During the course of our meetings, we discussed Israel's military modernization program [and] the United States commitment to help Israel maintain her qualitative edge in defense. We talked about the need to continue with the Middle East peace process. On the topic of stability in the region, we talked about the important role that Jordan plays and the need to support Jordan's security and economic development. I did brief Minister Arens and his staff on the developments in Kosovo and the importance of the NATO summit last weekend. That summit strengthened the will of the NATO allies to step up the air campaign until we meet our military goal. And, of course, we dwelled on the brutality and suffering that Mr. Milosevic has inflicted on the people of Kosovo, triggering an exodus of refugees into neighboring countries.

I also thanked Israel for the medical team that it sent to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia earlier this month. President Milosevic's campaign of ethnic violence in Kosovo reminds all of us that countries that treasure freedom and justice and democracy have to work together for peace and stability. And these are the ties and the values that bind our countries.

With that, let me say once again what a pleasure it is to have Minister Arens with us today. And it only will strengthen our commitment and relationship with Israel in the future.

Minister Arens: Let me start by thanking Secretary Cohen for his hospitality on this, probably by umpteenth visit to the Pentagon. But it's the first time that I've come directly to the Pentagon from a visit to the Holocaust Museum. It was my first chance to see that very impressive museum. And I told the Secretary that coming from there, I was more conscious than I might have been of the great suffering of the refugees in the Kosovo area and the wish that the Jewish people only might have had during the years of the Holocaust that one of the allied powers would use its (inaudible) capability to try to put an end to our suffering. And here, we do see the United States leading an effort to provide some relief to the suffering of the hundreds of thousands [of] refugees that all of us see on the screen. We in Israel are completely supportive of the position of the United States and of the actions taken by the United States and the NATO forces in the area [and] are prepared to be of whatever assistance we can if there is anything we can do in terms of supply of any kind of hardware that might be useful at this time. I made that offer to the Secretary. I suppose that will be looked into.

We are also moving into another area, fully supportive of the United States government's position on preventing Iran, or preventing the Russians from transferring technology in the ballistic missile area and in the nuclear area to Iran. We realize that it is only the United States that can be effective in terms of using its leverage to prevent this kind of transfer. Whatever we in Israel can do can only be done in full coordination with the United States and with the realization that the primary effort has to come from Washington.

I used the opportunity to brief the Secretary on the situation in southern Lebanon and the fact that we have a very explosive situation on our hands. That the people who are behind the attacks - the daily attacks on IDF soldiers in the area - are Syrians who control the Lebanese. And we're hopeful that maybe the Syrians will be receptive to messages that are being addressed to them that they better put a lid on what is happening and restrain the Hezbollah guerrillas.

I reported to the Secretary on my visit to the Lockheed Martin plant in Ft. Worth. I will be going from here to the Boeing plant in St. Louis. We're on the verge of making a decision on the next batch of fighter aircraft. It might be F-16s; it might F-15s. It might be maybe a mix of both aircraft. We're looking for the best possible configuration that the Israeli air force can use. Israel has to be strong in order to survive in the Middle East, in order to move to peace. And a strong air force is a necessary condition for that.

And lastly, we talked about ballistic missile intercept, an area that is of interest to the United States and to Israel, an area in which we have a cooperative program going that so far has been quite successful and that holds the promise of being able to do what many years ago seemed impossible, intercepting ballistic missiles on their way to the target.

Thank you very much.

Q: Secretary, do I understand (inaudible) could you provide (inaudible) could you provide just an overall total [of] reservists that you plan to call up?

A: As you know, that it has been discussed in the past that 33,000 is the figure that we will operate on that basis. We expect to phase it in depending upon the needs of SACEUR in terms of the allocation of the resources. But I expect that the White House will act upon this reasonably soon. But Ken may have more information for you later.

Q: Secretary Cohen, what is the point of making special meeting with Secretary Arens only few weeks before the Israeli elections?

A: As a matter of fact, the visit was going to take place much earlier. Moshe Arens had indicated to me that he would like to have come earlier. But this is at my request that we had to delay it because of other conflicts in the schedule. But as I indicated when I was in Israel, the United States is not seeking to influence Israeli politics. When I went to Israel, I was asked why did I meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I met with all the candidates when I was there. So it was an effort on my part not in any way to involve America in Israeli politics. The Israeli people decide for themselves who they wish to have lead them. But this is something that had been set long ago and I had delayed it because of the other commitments that I had. This was not at Minister Arens' request in terms of the timing of this.

Minister Arens: I might only add that there is and there should be a continuity in the relationship, in the very unique relationship between Israel and the United States. That is not contingent on election dates or even the outcome of elections, either in the United States or in Israel.

Q: (Inaudible) do you see any (inaudible) military field and the military cooperation between the two countries?

A: I'm not aware of the chilly relationship that you're referring to. We support the Middle East peace process. We support the implementation of the Wye Accord as such or the agreement. We want to see that take place. And there has been no interruption of the military relationship between our two countries. We believe in a strong Israel's and the United States' interests and we intend to continue that military relationship without interruption.

Q: Secretary Cohen, the Yugoslavia deputy prime minister, Draskovic, has told CNN that Yugoslavia is ready to accept a U.N. mission, U.N. forces in Kosovo under the United Nations flag. Is there any way that there could be a compromise that instead of a NATO-led force, there would be a U.N. force in Kosovo as a way to end the violence there?

A: Well, we made it very clear that we are going to insist on the conditions that NATO has set out during the course of this summit, that all the forces must be out - Serb forces, the paramilitary forces, the police forces - that the Kosovar refugees must be allowed to return to their homes in a safe and secure environment. There must be an international peacekeeping force that is NATO-led, and at the core, NATO must be involved in its management. And that there must be a degree, full degree of autonomy as laid out by the NATO ministers who met here this past week.

Q: When you say NATO at the core, does that rule out a blue-helmeted U.N. force?

A: It must be a armed peacekeeping force, international peacekeeping force. We believe it should be led by NATO. And we intend to pursue our campaign until such time as those conditions are met.

Q: Minister Arens, given your experience in military matters, if you were to make the call on Kosovo, do you think that you'd have to use ground troops to clear the Serbs that are there, or do you think we should just persist with this bombing forever.

Minister Arens: I don't think it really would be very appropriate for me to, from the sidelines, provide military expertise to the Secretary of Defense as to what should or should not be done. From the report I received from the Secretary this morning, it looks like progress is being made by the use of the aerial bombardment.

Secretary Cohen: And I think you can also gather from the Minister's comments he believes in having a very strong air force.

Q: Can you provide an update on the (inaudible) which is helping to work with Congress on the approximately $40 million to help Israel pay for the third battery of the Arrow?

A: Right. We have indicated we support the continuation of the research and development phase of the Arrow program and we'll work with Congress to bring the funding about. We have not reached finalization of how we'll fund it, but that is a commitment by the United States.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you bring us up to date on where you are with providing the additional 300 aircraft that Gen. Clark has requested and also making additional (inaudible) in Europe?

A: Well, we're waiting for Gen. Clark to provide a detailed analysis of exactly how many aircraft he will need, what types, where they'll be bedded down and so forth. I have not received that yet, but he is in the process of putting that together for us to look at.

Q: He hasn't requested specific aircraft yet?

A: The mix of the aircraft is still being worked out. That's one of the reasons we want to make sure we have the full matrix as agreed upon so we can then start adjusting the call up to fit the aircraft that will be going.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what have you heard from the Red Cross about the condition of the POWs over there? And do you think that the fact that they got in is a good sign that maybe there might be some way to get them out?

A: As you know, we believe that they are being illegally detained. They should have been out and released immediately. But at a bare minimum, they are entitled to [the] protection of the Geneva Convention. Now that they have been seen by the International Red Cross, I think that's at least a positive development. My understanding is that there was a medical doctor present this morning, but not that a detailed examination was conducted. According to a report I saw on the wire, they appeared to be in reasonably good health. But I don't know the details of that. I think we'll have to await further reports from him. We would also expect that they would have an opportunity to have continued visits by the Red Cross and further examination to make sure and satisfy the doctors that they are, in fact, in good health. Right now, it's just been sort of a visible type of judgment, I guess, by the doctor, but I don't have enough information on that.

Q: Thank you very much.

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