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Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at Ittihadia Palace, Cairo, Egypt

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 15, 1999

Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at Ittihadia Palace, Cairo, Egypt

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. I'm pleased to be back in Cairo for talks with President Mubarak and Field Marshal Tantawi. I appreciate their wise counsel just as the United States appreciates Egypt's crucial role in promoting peace and stability in the region and in the world. We had wide-ranging discussions. I've had many meetings with President Mubarak and I have known him, well, since 1981 when I first met him. And I always enjoy coming back because he does give me a wise counsel and insight into events in the region and also globally.

On Iraq, we did have discussions and I stressed that we want a unified, peaceful and prosperous country that respects its people and its neighbors. And the best way to achieve this goal is for Iraq to comply with the U.N. Security Council Resolutions. Instead, Saddam Hussein is hiding and holding his weapons of mass destruction. He is trying to shoot down planes that are patrolling the no-fly zones-- forcing us to react in self-defense. Saddam Hussein continues to repress his own people and to deny them the full humanitarian benefits of the oil-for-food program, which the United States has sponsored.

Last month, the Security Council reported that in central and southern Iraq, Saddam is storing in warehouses some $275 million in medical supplies - more than half the amount purchased under the oil-for-food program. And that same report said that only about 40% of the equipment received for water treatment and sanitation has been distributed along with approximately 50% of agriculture chemicals. Iraq says that it doesn't have enough trucks to distribute these goods. I find that ironic, strange that Iraq always seems to have enough trucks to move its troops and military equipment. And so we have to ask the question, "How can Saddam have enough trucks to carry missiles but not enough trucks to carry medicine?"

We also discussed briefly the period of March 26 that will mark the 20th anniversary of Camp David. Egypt has changed history by choosing peace over war and both our nations continue to pursue a comprehensive peace. Our strategic partnership is strong and we look forward to increasing that cooperation even more and I've invited my friend, Mr. Tantawi to visit me in Washington soon so that we can work on issues together.

With that, let me entertain your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I have two questions please. The first one, you hit the Iraqi people several times before but we didn't notice any positive reaction. When will you stop firing the civilian positions in Iraq? This is the first one. The second, do you think the current military cooperation between Egypt and the States now is really enough to achieve a balance of power in the Middle East region?

A: On the balance of power, I believe that our cooperation with Egypt is very good. I believe that if you talk to Field Marshal Tantawi, he will tell you that we have a very strong, close working relationship and that our effort in helping Egypt to modernize its military is proceeding very well, very smoothly.

With respect to attacking civilian targets, the United States is not attacking civilian targets. We are enforcing the no-fly zones in the north and the south. And frankly, we would not be striking anything if Iraq was not trying to shoot down our pilots. They've put on their radars, they fired their AAA-anti-aircraft weapons, and their surface-to-air missiles. There have been some 100 violations of the no-fly zone and there have been over 20 firings of surface-to-air missiles at our planes. So our planes are reacting by taking whatever defensive measures are necessary to protect their lives. So we're not at all targeting civilian sites and we strictly try to avoid that. And you will take note, for example, during Desert Fox, that we targeted specifically military sites. You did not see Saddam Hussein allowing any of the cameras to go out and see the type of damage that was done because it was done to military sites and not civilian sites.

So we are very careful about that. We are concerned about the welfare of the Iraqi people. We are the ones who are supporting the oil-for-food program which Saddam resisted for almost 18 months (sic). And I've just pointed out, if you think about it, nearly $300 million, $275 million, in medical supplies and medicines are now in warehouses that he refuses to distribute to his people. And yet he will point to their deprivations, so that you see that his people are being deprived, when in fact, he is doing the depriving. I think it's important that we continue to point that out.

Q: (inaudible)

A: Well, I would like to address the second question after I meet with Field Marshal Tantawi. We're going to have a meeting and we will discuss some of the cooperation and I hope to have a press conference following that meeting but we have some very, I think, positive information dealing with our sharing of information and technology in helping to modernize Egypt's military.

And so I think I will wait till we have our meeting and then I will announce that at the end of the next meeting-- but the answer to that is that we do have increased military cooperation with Egypt.

With respect to the "how long the United States will maintain our presence?" we will say, as long as necessary - as long as it's necessary to help maintain stability in the region. We had a presence before Saddam attacked Kuwait and invaded Kuwait. That presence has increased, obviously, because of the threat that he poses.

We're also concerned with Iran and we have indicated that we would like a better relationship with Iran but that relationship really cannot take place until such time as they renounce support for terrorism or try to undercut the Middle East peace process or continue to acquire weapons of mass destruction. If they do those things then we can hope to have a better relationship with them, but we maintain our presence here at the request and at the sufferance of the people in the region.

The Gulf states want our presence so they can feel secure and have a stable area. It allows investment to flow in because when you have stability in a region, investment will flow and from that investment will flow prosperity. If you have instability and a great chance for conflict, then immediately the investment flows out, the economic consequences are quite devastating and the people suffer as a result. So we believe that our presence here has in fact helped maintain stability and that is the judgment of all of the Gulf States that I have traveled to and met with their leadership throughout the last eight days. That is their judgment as well.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you're going to announce an arms sale to Egypt today, we understand. Your people have said that you are not traipsing the arms bazaar in the Middle East as you travel and yet you are already selling F-16s and AMRAAMs to the UAE, you have on this trip offered to sell AAMRAMs to Bahrain and to Saudi Arabia. How is this not fueling an arms race in the Middle East?

A: Each of the countries in the Middle East, are sovereign nations and they have national security requirements. To the extent that they turn to the United States because we have, in our judgment, the best equipment in the world - they believe that they need certain elements of that technology to defend their self-interest. That is a goal that we would support. Any nation has national security concerns and wants to call upon the United States because of our technological superiority then we are of course, eager to be of assistance. So these requests are coming from the region and to the extent that we can, in fact, provide the technology, we will continue to do so.

We are in competition with many other nations, other countries-- the British, the French and others-- consistently have competed with the United States and as a result of that competition, we, in many cases have prevailed because of the superiority of the technology. This is something that is coming at the request of the countries-- it's not something that I am coming here and insisting that they acquire and try to supply or sell to them. So it's coming at the request of the countries. To the extent that Egypt feels it needs to bolster its defenses, then we want to be as helpful as we can.

Q: In the course of your talks with Egyptian officials over the last day, have they indicated to you any progress on the question of surrender of the two Lockerbie suspects?

A: I talked with President Mubarak and he is continuing to meet with Muammar Qaddafi. I don't know that we can say that any progress has been made. President Mubarak, like all of us, would like to see this issue resolved. We believe that the offer that is currently on the table cannot remain there indefinitely and Qaddafi should accept this and move forward so that there can be a resolution of the issue. But I can't say that any progress that has been made. Talks continue and Mr. Qaddafi continues to weigh whether he is going to comply with the proposal or not.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on the issue of the arms sales, the question that the idea that the requests come from here still begs the question what does the United States, how does the United States view the build-up of arms which appears to be going on in states that are friendly to the United States. Is a good idea for Egypt to be adding tanks, fighter planes? Does this promote peace for this kind of money to be spent on weapons?

A: Each country must make a determination for itself in terms of what is in its best interest. To the extent that Egypt feels it needs to modernize its military in order to protect its own self-defense, that's a judgment that is made by a sovereign country. We in the United States make our own determinations on what we need for our defense. Egypt should certainly be free to do the same as every other country.

Now we do look at the systems that are being requested access to and we make judgments based upon the nature of that technology and we enter in negotiation with individual countries. But each country ought to be free and secure to request technology and equipment that they believe will provide for their own national security interest. And so to the extent that we have relationships, as we do with Egypt-a very positive, constructive, powerful relationship with Egypt-- and they feel that they have to modernize their systems in order to protect the people of Egypt, we certainly want to be in a position to respond to that in a positive way.

Once again, we have competition throughout and to the extent that we are able to compete effectively, then we are successful. But I daresay for us to make a judgment telling Egypt, "No, no, you shouldn't modernize, you shouldn't acquire any equipment, you should have 20 or 30 year old artillery or planes or tanks or whatever" would be, I think, assuming too much on the part of the United States. What we do is to work very closely with our friends, make an assessment as they make their request and try to comply as best we can. We think it's in our interest and we think it's in their interest when they make such requests.

Q: You said earlier in response to an earlier question about protection that the United States is responding to attacks by Iraq and you're trying to protect your pilots over the no-fly zones. Earlier in the month, China and Russia, both members of the Security Council said that the Security Council never authorized the no-fly zones in the first place, and therefore, they are illegal. How would respond to that? Thank you.

A: The no-fly zones have been in existence since the end of the Gulf War and they were devised to protect the people in the north and the south and we have done precisely that. And we and our British friends and coalition members, who otherwise will share in that-the French, up until recently-- and intend to continue to prevent Saddam from moving north or south against his people or posing a threat to the region.

Thank you.


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