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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad
March 10, 1999
  • Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad
  • Doha, Qatar

Hamad: In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent. First, we welcome Mr. Cohen to Qatar. Mr. Cohen just now held talks with His Highness the Amir and myself. The talks were productive. We discussed events in the region and bilateral relations between the State of Qatar and the United States. The meeting was good, and it took place in the context of excellent relations between Qatar and America. I will allow Mr. Cohen to make a comment if he wishes before we take questions.

Cohen: Thank you very much. Before I start, I'd like to congratulate Qatar on yesterday's elections, in which women ran for office and voted for the first time. This is a sign of Qatar's leadership in the region. This is my fourth visit to Qatar in 13 months, and - as it has been in the past - Sheikh Hamad, the Amir, and I have had very successful meetings. We are working together to bring peace and stability to the region, and we very much appreciate the support that we get from Qatar.

In our meetings today, we took two steps to make our relationship even closer. We agreed to establish a telephone link to facilitate communications between our two governments. The United States also offered to share early-warning information about missile launches in Iraq or Iran. We discussed programs in Iraq and Iran to maintain weapons of mass destruction and the threat that these weapons pose to the region. After Iraq invaded Kuwait and fired Scud missiles at Saudi Arabia, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolutions to contain Iraq from attacking its neighbors. And pursuant to those resolutions, the United States and the United Kingdom enforce the no-fly zones over Iraq.

Since the end of last year, Iraq has violated the no-fly zones more than 100 times; they have fired more than 20 surface-to-air missiles at coalition aircraft; and they continually fired anti-aircraft guns and rockets in an effort to shoot down our planes. In response to Iraqi aggression, our aircraft have fired back in self-defense; and we will continue to target Iraq's air-attack network as long as it continues to threaten our planes.

We are focusing on military and not civilian targets. We have nothing but respect and sympathy for the people of Iraq and the conditions that they endure under Saddam Hussein. The United States sponsored the oil-for-food program for Iraq to import food and medicine. Saddam delayed that program for several years, and since starting it, he has been slow to distribute goods to his people.

Last month, the Security Council reported that in central and southern Iraq, Saddam is storing in warehouses 275 million dollars in medicine and medical supplies, more than half the amount purchased under the oil-for-food program. And so it is clear that Saddam Hussein cares more about weapons than the welfare of his people. If Saddam cared about his people, he would help them by complying with Security Council resolutions. So the United States will continue to work for an Iraq that is unified, peaceful, and prosperous.

I might indicate that the same report said that only about 40 percent of the equipment received for water treatment and sanitation has been distributed, and 50 percent of the agricultural chemicals. So the question is, why is Saddam hoarding goods and not helping his people? Iraq says it doesn't have enough trucks to distribute these goods, but it always seems to have enough trucks to move its military equipment and troops.

And so, like Qatar, we look forward to an Iraq that respects the United Nations, its neighbors, and its people; and we will work toward that end.

Q: The U.S. is accused of exploiting the issue of the so-called Iraq-Iran danger to sell more arms to the countries in the region, plus to guarantee the expansion and the deployment of your troops in the Arabian Gulf area. How do you comment on that? And second question is, Iraq says that there is no U.S. (sic) resolution behind imposing the no-fly zone over its North and South. Can you name that resolution and what it says?

A: (Cohen) The United States and Great Britain - and indeed the French, up until recently - have in fact, since 1991, been enforcing a no-fly zone in order to protect the Iraqi people, both in the North and the South, as well as the neighbors in the region. We will continue to enforce the no-fly zones, as we have in the past.

With respect to other countries acquiring weapons, we believe it's important, that to the extent that Saddam or Iran poses a threat to the region, that the countries of the Gulf be in a position to defend themselves. And we will help to cooperate with them and provide them with whatever equipment is necessary to provide for the peace and stability of the region. We do so at the request of the Gulf states, and we hope to be able to help them in that regard.

Q: The dual containment policy where Iraq and Kuwait are concerned has proven to be a failure. Do you think that the new dual containment policy you are adopting in the military realm will meet the same fate? This is my first question. My question to the Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad. Did you discuss with Mr. Cohen your idea, which you presented in Washington in your most recent visit to the U.S., on holding an international conference to discuss the Iraqi crisis? Thank you.

A: (Cohen) You are inquiring as to whether or not the containment policy has been successful. The answer is yes. Saddam has been contained since the end of the Gulf War. He has not been in a position to pose a threat to the countries in the region by virtue of the United States, the United Kingdom, and others who have been working to make sure that he doesn't move against Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or any other country. So the containment policy has, in fact, been successful. As I indicated in my opening statement, while containing Saddam's aggression against his neighbors and preventing him from being able to deliver these weapons of mass destruction - which he continues to hide and conceal - we have helped protect the security of the region.

In the meantime, we have supported the Iraqi people through the oil-for-food program, which, I must once again emphasize, he continues to frustrate and inhibit. The notion that he would hold up and store in warehouses almost 300 million dollars' worth of medical supplies and then complain that the Iraqi people are going without medicine is the height of hypocrisy. I think it should be known and made known to all of the people in the region exactly what he is doing. We intend to continue to enforce the Security Council resolutions and to contain Saddam's activities until such time as he agrees to fully comply with the Security Council resolutions. We look forward to that time when there will be a different leadership so that the Iraqi people can enjoy the fruits of being full-fledged members of the international community once again.

A: (Hamad) Regarding your question, we discussed in general both our idea and Iraq's situation. As you know, we are concerned about the Iraqi people and the Iraqi people's suffering, and we hope that this cloud would be lifted from the Iraqi people as soon as possible. There is no doubt that there are United Nations Security Council (UNSC) requirements and that we support these requirements. I think that they should be implemented by Iraq and also that the United Nations should continue to consider the tragic situation of the Iraqi people. As for our idea, it is really a general idea; and it does not go beyond, as I mentioned two days ago when the French Foreign Minister was here, the framework of the United Nations. It falls within both the United Nations and the context of UNSC resolutions. But we know that there are debates in the UNSC, and we will wait until of April, when UNSC committees reach their conclusions.

Q: There has been much speculation about whether GCC countries support the continuing attacks in immobilizing Iraq. Do you support the almost daily attacks, despite the fact that many experts say that anti-aircraft fire does not really threaten these aircraft?

A: (Hamad) Is this for me or for -

Q: It's for you, Sir.

A: (Hamad) Well, what would you like me to answer? We understand the position of the United States in this aspect. We wish not to see Iraq being bombed daily, or these attacks which are taking place daily in the no-fly zone. We have our different opinion on this, but let me tell you one thing -- our main issue is how to bring peace and stability in the area. The United States, as an ally, have their opinion on this peace and how they bring the peace and stability. Sometimes we have our differences - I have to say this very frankly - but in principle, I don't think there is any difference between us and the opinion of the United States. But I cannot say we support the daily no-fly zone attacks.

A: (Cohen) If I could just add, there would be no daily attacks upon the triple-A batteries or the radars or the surface-to-air missiles if Saddam Hussein were not trying to take down and destroy and target our aircraft. And so the way for these counterattacks to stop is for Saddam to simply stop trying to violate the no-fly zones and stop trying to kill our pilots and our airplanes.

Q: Mr. Cohen, why do you beat the drums of war against Iraq and also trumpet the good news of a war in Korea? When can Washington turn toward the logic of peace and abandon the militarizing of international relations and arms sales as personally conducted by the Secretary of Defense? Will this prevent war from harming humanity, or will it lead to actual peace? A question for His Excellency the Foreign Minister of Qatar. We have noticed a change in the general position of the Qatari government on the Iraqi issue, especially after the Damascus Declaration Countries' meeting that preceded the Desert Fox operation.

A: (Cohen) First, let me dispute your question with respect to Korea. As a matter of fact, the United States has maintained peace and stability on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean conflict by maintaining a presence and having a strong deterrent. We have been supporting President Kim's efforts to have a better relationship and a new opening with North Korea. We have also been very concerned, however, that the North Koreans in the past have been in the process of developing nuclear weapons. They have demonstrated most recently that they have been developing longer-range missiles; in fact, firing a missile that went over Japan, which has Japan very much concerned about whether the North Koreans will pose a threat to their country as well. We have been in the process of promoting the so-called Four-Party Talks.

We have also had former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry trying to meet with various officials to devise, to oversee our current policy to see whether it needs to be strengthened or modified in some way. But we want very much to see a peaceful resolution on the Korean peninsula. It's in no one's interest to see that conflict. Go ahead, please; follow up.

Q: You said to the American troops in Saudi Arabia, "Prepare for a war, even in Korea." The militarizing of international relations is a methodology of the American administration.

A: (Cohen) I think something's missing in the translation, but you seem to suggest that we are trying to militarize the forces in Saudi Arabia for North Korea.

A: (Hamad) No, I think the question is saying that you are telling your people or your army in Saudi Arabia to prepare themselves for a long war.

A: (Cohen) I'm not sure I understand the question. What I have said in Saudi Arabia is that we should always be prepared for self-defense for any attack that might come from Iraq, Iran, or anywhere else; and that they should have proper defensive measures. That is the policy, I think, of every country, to be prepared against any potential attack. But we, under no circumstances, are telling our forces to be prepared in Saudi Arabia for North Korea.

Q: And about the arms trade?

A: (Hamad) Please; I will answer just (the other) question. Regarding Qatar's position after the Damascus Declaration, it has not changed on the situation in Iraq. We continue to have diplomatic relations with Iraq. Also, our position is clear. We call upon Iraq to implement UNSC resolutions and international law, and we do not ask anything else of Iraq. Regarding ourselves, our policy is very clear. There are obligations on both parties. As I mentioned at the beginning of this press conference, Iraq has its duties, and the United Nations has its duties toward the Iraqi people.

Q: The American administration allocated 97 million dollars to assist the Iraqi opposition. Did you ask the Gulf countries, including Qatar, to use their territory to train the Iraqi opposition, particularly since that out of the 97 million, 11 million are (inaudible). My question for Sheikh Hamad, do Iranian maneuvers pose a real threat to Qatar?

A: (Cohen) You inquired about the Congressional authorization for moneys to help consolidate the opposition. Indeed, Congress did provide authorization for money to help organize an opposition to Saddam Hussein. We are in the process of trying to coordinate those opposition groups to see if they might speak with a single voice in providing an opposition to the Iraqi regime right now. We hope that they will be able to consolidate those voices and those people. We are making some progress in that, and hopefully, their voice will be heard by the Iraqi people, who, I believe, would long for the day when they can have a change in leadership other than that posed by Saddam Hussein. So we are working with the opposition groups; we are trying to organize them and provide them with an opportunity to have a collective voice as an alternative to Saddam Hussein.

A: (Hamad) Regarding Iran and the Iranian maneuvers, they do not pose a direct threat to Qatar, but if any Gulf country feels that this is a threat to it, then we would consider it a threat to us. But we still think that we must rely on the voice of reason and solving problems between brothers in the Emirates and Iran on the Emirati islands through peaceful means or through international arbitration. We in Qatar think that there must be normal and cordial ties among all Gulf countries, including Iran and Iraq. We believe that all in the region are responsible for safeguarding peace, but when and how will be specified at the appropriate time. Only two more questions, please.

Q: Your Excellency, what exactly do you want from the region? You speak of the Iraqi Kurds but let Turkey do whatever it wants to the Kurds. You let Israel do what it wants in southern (Lebanon) and Palestine. Since Desert Fox, there has been a feeling of impatience with all that is American. This is happening in the Arab street from the extreme North to the extreme South, from Morocco to Egypt. Your Excellency, the Gulf is suffering from a very difficult economic situation, even in the oil-rich countries, due to military armaments and the suffering of the region's countries.

A: (Cohen) You omitted something from your question. You didn't point out, for example, that President Clinton has pushed very hard for a Middle East peace settlement; in fact, he traveled to Israel back in December to meet with Palestinians in Gaza. And I think that was very well received on the part of the Palestinian people. So I would take issue with your characterization that throughout the Arab population, that they do not see anything favorable about the United States. In fact, I find quite to the contrary that our role in the Gulf, our support for the Gulf States to promote peace and stability - which will allow for the promotion of prosperity - is very critical to all of the Arab people.

We have tried to demonstrate by our relationships that we indeed identify with the suffering of the Iraqi people. We were the ones promoting the oil-for-food program. Saddam Hussein is holding up 275 million dollars' worth of medicine and not distributing it to his people. So I think that it's very clear that we are showing more concern for the Iraqi people than he is showing. In addition, we are working with all of the Gulf states to help provide for their own security. This is something I believe they all welcome and want to see continued and, indeed, enhanced. When I mentioned earlier in my opening statement that we want to share early-warning with our Gulf friends, that we want to have direct lines of communications, that will be for the benefit of the Gulf states.

Q: My first question is for Sheikh Hamad. You have been talking for some time now about keeping the crisis within the framework of the United Nations and UNSC. There is clear agreement on this with the European position and, specifically, the French position after Desert Fox. But there is a basic difference with the American position. In your last talks, did you notice any American intention to bring the issue back to the UNSC? And if the answer is negative, then what is your position in Qatar and that of the (other) Gulf countries? The second question is for the American minister. We hear you talk constantly about an Iraqi threat to its neighbors, as well as suggestions of a similar Iranian threat. What is the relationship between this talk and the arms deals that are part of your visits to the region?

A: (Hamad) Regarding the UNSC issue, we talk with Mr. Cohen about the necessity of everyone working together in the UNSC and, above all, of maintaining keen sensitivity towards the Iraqi people. And I think the American side understands and is considering this issue. We think that the legality of the Iraqi position should be through the UN. Therefore, we may differ on some points, but I think that the American side is also making efforts through the United Nations regarding the next step on Iraq. As I mentioned, we are awaiting the reports that will be issued on April 15th by the concerned committees in the UN on this matter. Our position is clear regarding the crisis with Iraq. It should be dealt with through the UN, but at the same time, we in the region are directly concerned with this crisis because it affects and casts its shadow on us. Therefore, we also think that our opinions and ideas on how to reach to an end to this crisis should be considered.

A: (Cohen) Let me respond by pointing out that Iraq invaded Kuwait and sought to destroy that country and its people, in addition to much of its oil-production capability, just a few years ago. It was Iraq that used chemical weapons against the Iranians and against its own Kurdish population. So the danger posed by Iraq in the past has been clear. What we seek to do is prevent Iraq from doing similar types of things in the future to the detriment of all in the Gulf region.

And so when I come on various visits, I am not coming to promote any sales that are not being requested by the Gulf states themselves, be it in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or any other state. To the extent that they feel that each country needs to have measures to protect its population and its military, then certainly we are in a position and are eager to be of help, and to provide whatever equipment we can. But I must say, if you only look at what is taking place in the past, less then a decade, the proliferation of missile technology, the testing of the Shahab 3 in Iran, should be of concern to those in the region; the acquisition of chemical and biological weapons by Iran and Iraq should be of concern to those in the region, and indeed they are. And it is for that reason that the United States is so willing to share our technology and our support for the Gulf states to prevent those kinds of threats from becoming a reality and manifesting themselves in any kind of an attack.

So I come here not on any sales mission, as such. I have today offered Qatar shared early warning, meaning whatever information we have with our satellites that find the testing of missiles in the Area, we will share that with Qatar. To the extent that we can have communications, we will set up a link of communications so that we can communicate on a regular basis. That is in the interest of promoting security and stability in the region. And we will continue to do that.

A: (Hamad) Thank you all.