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JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH SECRETARY COHEN AND QATARI FOREIGN MINISTER HAMAD

Presenters: Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al-Thani
February 10, 1998

Doha, Qatar February 10, 1998

Hamad: Secretary Cohen and I discussed developments in the region concerning the situation in Iraq. The discussion was good and beneficial. We … agree that there should be a diplomatic, peaceful solution to this issue. We also agree that Iraq should comply with U.N. resolutions related to biological and chemical weapons. We also discussed bilateral ties between the State of Qatar and the U.S.. As you know there is cooperation and there is also an agreement that binds both countries. In the light of this close cooperation we discussed issues of mutual concern. We also discussed the present crisis, which we hope will end in a peaceful manner. I believe that the State of Qatar also stands beside the State of Kuwait. We were clear with His Excellency the Secretary that the peaceful and diplomatic solution is preferred one in the State of Qatar and all the states of the (Gulf) Council …inaudible.

Cohen: (inaudible)…Sheikh Hamad has already taken my statement, and I will try to just add to it (inaudible). It gives me a great deal of pleasure to be here tonight, along with my two colleagues, Senator Levin from Michigan and Senator Warner from Virginia. The United States and Qatar are partners for peace and stability in the region; our forces served together to free Kuwait in 1991, and Qatar supported our forces in 1994 when we turned back potential for Iraqi aggression. Qatar supports our presence today, and the United States wants to indicate…very much appreciates that support. This evening, we discussed a shared security concern: the need for Iraq to end its program to build weapons of mass destruction. These deadly chemical and biological weapons threaten the security of the entire region, and I should take this occasion to point out that Saddam Hussein has not hesitated to use these chemical weapons against his own citizens and against Iranian citizens as well. So his past behavior indicates that he is not at all hindered by any consideration for the human factor involved in resorting to these deadly weapons. He has not yet placed the interest of his own people above his ambitions, in this respect that he has supported murders there (inaudible)…to extend his power in the region. So we agreed that Iraq must comply completely with U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for unfettered inspections. And we also agreed that diplomacy is the best way to ensure compliance. The United States has continued to work for a diplomatic resolution. Saddam Hussein holds the key to ending the current crisis. He can resolve it by unlocking his doors to inspectors, and if that diplomacy fails, Saddam Hussein must carry responsibility for the consequences. Of that there is absolutely one solid agreement between the United States and Qatar and the other Gulf states.

And we're prepared to answer your questions.

Q: Secretary Cohen, now that you're completing your swing through the Gulf region, are you feeling any more confident about the level of support for U.S. military options?

Cohen: Well, I felt very confident from the beginning that we would have the strong support of all of the Gulf states in the pursuit of resolving this diplomatically, and to take whatever measures would be necessary in diplomacy first. My travels throughout the region only reaffirms my initial belief. We are going to work as hard as we can, as President Clinton has done in the past, to continue our diplomatic efforts but also recognizing that if diplomacy fails, that Saddam Hussein must bear the full responsibility for his actions. And that view is shared by all of the Gulf states, and I would anticipate that (inaudible)….We still have to visit Bahrain tomorrow, and I would anticipate that that would be a unanimous opinion on the part of the Gulf states.

Q: But do you think that support is growing?

Cohen: I think the support has been there from the beginning, and I believe that there is solidarity on this issue, with all the states supporting the United States

Q: A question for Sheikh Hamad. I witnessed in your statement that you did not refer to Saddam Hussein bearing the full responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Do you subscribe to this view, or could you elaborate on this omission from your statement?

Hamad: No. I just want to say that of course we are waiting for Saddam to take the right decision and to comply with the United Nations resolutions. And I think, I don't want to say, a responsibility, like Mr. Cohen said, that we'd like to say to Iraq as a state, not as Saddam Hussein, but of course he's responsible if he takes a decision to comply with United Nations resolutions, or take the other decision; it will his own decision and his own responsibility. That, I think, is very clear. What we are trying to - taking care - and I think this is the same opinion (inaudible) on the humanitarian side of the people of Iraq. That's taking, you know, taking our mind, and we are trying to see, we are willing to see Saddam take the right measure and to comply with United Nations resolutions.

Q: My question is to the American Minister of Defense. Why does Washington - and with it Britain - insist on striking Iraq, as the issue of inspections is not a big deal but rather something for the U.N. teams? What is the American reaction toward Arab opposition to a military strike on Iraq, especially from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, America's strongest allies in the region? Thank you.

Cohen: First, let me take issue with the notion that what Saddam Hussein has been doing is of no concern to the people of this region. Of all the people who should be concerned about the development of anthrax or VX or Reisen or other deadly chemicals or biological weapons, it should be the people who are in the Gulf region. They have been the victims of his aggression in the past. He has launched attacks with chemical weapons against his own citizens, killing thousands; he has launched attacks against Iranian, killing thousands using these deadly chemicals. He has lied in the past about possessing such weapons. You may recall initially after the Persian Gulf War, that he stated he had no chemicals or biologicals, when in fact it was discovered and they admitted - Saddam Hussein admitted - that they had as much as 2,100 gallons of anthrax, a single spore of which in your lungs will cause your death within a few days. They admitted having nearly four tons of nerve agents; one was VX, a (inaudible) of which will kill you in a matter of moments. They now have admitted that they in fact have Reisen, which is a deadly poison for which there is no antidote. So it should be a concern to all of the people in this region, plus one of his principal intelligence directors, who defected to the West revealed that he had recognized some of those missiles were of anthrax in ordinance. So I think that it is incorrect to say that we should not be concerned about what Saddam has been doing in the past. If the expression that "All that is past is prologue" were meant, he poses a very dangerous threat to the region in the future. So we think it's important the inspectors be around to carry out their mission; that is exactly what the United Nations has called for. And that is exactly what he is refusing to comply with at this point. If he refuses to abide by the U.N. resolutions - and on this issue there is absolutely no difference of opinion on this; he must comply with those U.N. resolutions, or he must accept responsibility for those actions. Why have the United States and Great Britain insisted that he comply? Because we believe that he poses a threat to the civility of the region, that he has a capacity to inflict great harm and has shown no hesitancy to do that in the past. It's not only Great Britain and the United States, as you've noticed from recent statements. Chancellor Kohl in Germany also supports the United States and Great Britain. Canada recently announced its support. Australia has announced its support. There is a growing recognition that the U.N. resolutions cannot be allowed to be flouted by Saddam Hussein if they are to maintain their integrity or credibility. And so for these reasons we insist that diplomacy should be of concern, and we want to see diplomacy succeed. But if it doesn't succeed, then we believe that we must compensate and try to reduce his capacity to build or deliver these weapons of mass destruction by military means if all else fails.

Q. I have two questions, the first for Secretary Cohen, and the second for H.E. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim. The first question: It seems clear that the U.S. position is continuing in the direction of the use of force against Iraq despite the fact that there is a unified Arab position giving priority to diplomatic means. And in your and Mrs. Albright's tours of the region, the Gulf states' positions were all unified in giving priority to the use of diplomatic means, yet some of Mrs. Albright's and American officials' statements give the impression that there is foreign agreement on the use of force against Iraq. So how do you respond to this?

Hamad: Let Mr. Secretary answer first, and then ask me the question.

Cohen: First of all, let me respond by saying the United States has given priority to diplomacy. The fact is that President Clinton, Secretary Albright, and others in the Administration have spent the past several months seeking a diplomatic resolution of this issue. And so there is no difference of opinion or difference in priority. The United States is not seeking a military resolution of this issue. What we have said and believe very firmly is that we should try to solve this diplomatically, but if diplomacy fails, and by that we mean Saddam very easily can resolve this issue with no difficulty. He has the keys in his hands to simply abide by the U.N. resolutions. His failure to do so then makes it incumbent upon the United Nations, upon the United States, to seek to reduce the capacity which will pose and does pose a threat to this region. I did not mention in my previous statements that it was discovered after the war that he was trying to acquire a missile capability that would've reached to some 3,000 kilometers, which would run all the way from Baghdad, certainly, to Paris, and possibly further. And so he has made it very clear by his past conduct that he intends to bear a military capability which can threaten not only the countries in this region but those that are at quite a distance. One other point I'd like to make: We are concerned about the welfare of the Iraqi people. We are the ones who initiated the oil-for-food program. Saddam Hussein personally obstructed that program for many months, almost 18 months. He was opposed to it. We have shown greater concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people than he has. While he has been building these monumental palaces that are huge in size, spending billions of dollars, his people have been going hungry. It's been the United States that has proposed providing relief for his people, and we will continue to do that. And so we have exhibited more concern for his people than he himself has. And I wanted to make that very clear. We are concerned about the Iraqi people; our quarrel is not with them. We believe they have suffered for many years under his brutal dictatorship, with report after report coming out in terms of how he has ruled with absolute brutality against those who express any opposition to his political objectives and military objectives. So we have made this agreement that diplomacy should be given every reasonable opportunity, and that should be given priority, but when diplomacy fails, we are left with an option which none have sought but one which we cannot walk away from.

Q: Gulf positions have all agreed on the importance of a diplomatic solution, and we have learned that there will be a GCC meeting at the ministerial level this week. If there is a unanimous decision on a diplomatic solution, why hold this meeting, which will be in Kuwait?

Hamad: First, I believe the meeting in Kuwait is an important meeting for exchanging views among Council members, because this issue directly concerns us as GGC countries. And the GCC countries, including Qatar, do not welcome and we do not want to see Iraq hit again. We are concerned about the Iraqi people and Iraq's capabilities, but I think that talks would be of benefit and a good way to send a message to the Iraqi government about the importance the GCC countries attach to a diplomatic and peaceful solution and the peaceful, if that is possible. Let me be frank with you. Not all matters related to this issue are in the hands of the GCC countries. We are part of the world. We prefer to live in peace in the region, but we cannot separate ourselves from the world. Therefore commitments oblige us, and we have our commitments to the GCC countries. Through these commitments, the meeting will focus on how to overcome this crisis in a peaceful way and help the region avoid once again the results of military troops.

Q: Sheikh Hamad, if diplomacy is unable to resolve this crisis, would your government be prepared to support a military strike - an American-led military strike - either politically or militarily. Thank you.

Hamad: Well, it's a difficult question, but let me say one thing: We have a military agreement with the United States. For that, there is obligation for both sides in this military agreement. And I don't want to go into details, but still we are hoping for a diplomatic solution for this. As you know, we have been working with the United States in the past, and we have good cooperation, good understanding. And I think when it comes to that, it has to be discussed between both countries, and I think we have been showing for many years that we always come to a mutual and good solution which could serve both countries.

Q: One question is directed to Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, the Foreign Minister of the State of Qatar, and another question directed to the American Defense Minister. Will Qatar provides facilities for the American air force? And the question for the American Defense Minister: It was reported that you had a meeting last week with the Israeli Defense Minister in Munich. If Israel takes part in strikes, will the U.S. have a position? What will the U.S. position be in this case? Thank you.

Hamad: First, we know that at the present time that there is an American presence in Qatar, as well as storage of American equipment in Qatar. This is not a secret. At the present time, the U.S. is satisfied with arrangements with friendly countries and therefore there are no American forces for this issue at the present time in Qatar. And we hope, all of us, that this crisis again ends peacefully. I will now let Mr. Secretary answer.

Cohen: With respect to conversations I had with Minister Mordechai, we confer from time to time. He, obviously, was interested in my analysis of the situation, both from the prospects for peace and a diplomatic solution, and also what defense requirements Israel might need should it ever be attacked. We have said before that Israel, like any other state, has an inherent right to defend itself and determine the action it should take. We intend to stay in very close contact with the Israelis throughout this because of the potential threat that Saddam Hussein might make toward that state, as we are consulting with all the other states in the Gulf region to take whatever preparations necessary to deter any such kind of attack.

Hamad: I will give two questions, one for the ladies, because they've not been fair not to give you any question. (Laughter)

Q: Mr. Secretary, tomorrow you'll go visit the George Washington. Can you tell us about the depth of American resolve? How long will that mean or translate into the two-carrier presence in the Gulf? Will you be able to tell the sailors how long they might have to stay on station?

Cohen: First of all, with respect to whether George Washington, I will express my deepest sympathies to the family of the pilot who was killed in an unfortunate accident recently, to express my congratulations and admiration for the men and women who are serving in the Gulf. They are engaged in very dangerous missions day in and day out. The reason that the United States is regarded as the world's superpower is by virtue of the people that we have in our military and their professionalism, and their readiness to take action when called upon. That comes with great danger. They engage in very dangerous activities every day that they're out at sea and even in port. And they have some of the most sophisticated equipment in the world, and they understand their responsibilities. How long will they be required to remain or expected to remain in the Gulf? That is a determination that the President of the United States will make and will depend very much upon what Saddam Hussein is doing in the region, whether or not such presence is required for any extended period of time. The president, in consultation with his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with me, and other members of the national-security team will make that determination, and we would not make a premature estimate of how long. We are prepared to be there as long as necessary, and I believe that our men and women who are serving in the Gulf are prepared to be as ready as necessary to be at the peak of their capabilities any moment they are called upon to exercise them. So how long will depend very much on what the president determines is the appropriate time for them to remain at that level of support.

Q: Will your campaign be directed against Saddam Hussein? I mean, the elimination of Saddam Hussein? And if Saudi Arabia doesn't allow you to use their bases, where would you be shifting your other aircraft from? To which country?

Cohen: As I have (inaudible) on many occasions, the United States our their allies, in seeking to enforce the U.N. resolutions that Saddam Hussein - if he fails to allow the inspectors in - will be resolved to reduce and curtail his building and rebuilding of his weapons of mass destruction, mainly the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. And those will principally be the targets that it would be necessary to reduce. Those are the ones that pose the threat to this region, and so we would seek to carry out military moves if it comes to that. What is not allowed by Saddam Hussein as far as the U.N. inspectors carrying out their mission: and so that would be the goal of the United States and the allies. (Inaudible)…As I've indicated before, that our goal is to reduce his weapons of mass destruction and his ability to deliver them to anyone in the region. And that means we reduce his threat to his neighbors. And we would then seek, obviously, to keep sanctions in place. Until such time as he is in full compliance with U.N. resolutions, there can be no relief from the sanctions. And so that would be our goal under the circumstances. General Zinni has been in very close contact with all of the leaders throughout the Gulf, and he is satisfied, as am I, that we have the resources and the assets necessary to carry out our military objectives should they be required and should the president decide to do so. And we're very pleased with all of the meetings we have had to date, including this one. I must say, I'm very gratified with the meeting that we have had prior to this press conference. And we remain as confident as ever that our support in the Gulf…(inaudible).

Q: Whenever America threatens to use weapons against Iraq, a question is posed in the Arab street: who will pay the bill, the American side or the Gulf countries?

Cohen: We'll if you would like to volunteer (laughter). We'll be happy to have the Gulf States pay for any of the costs involved. Obviously, this is a very important matter. It does involve considerable expense. The United States has borne a good deal of the expense in terms of the (inaudible) here, and we will have to decide in the future how those costs are to be borne. But we've had partnerships; as Sheikh Hamad has indicated, we have strong partnerships with other countries in the region. And we've had a shared responsibility in terms of bearing this burden, the expense of it. And we would expect that to continue.

Q: (inaudible)…for a massive U.S. strike against Iraq, a demand for a diplomatic solution. However, people are expecting to see Saddam Hussein remaining in power after the strike is over, and then we go back to the same old vicious cycle. So they believe…the vicious cycle never ends; the threat is there. According to the United States, what happens then?

Cohen: Well, I think you have to look at it - let me post the opposite question. I know it's not appropriate for someone who's standing behind the microphone to pose a question, but the question I would pose is, what is the option in terms of insisting that there be full compliance? In the absence of full compliance, that his capacity to manufacture or deliver chemical and biological weapons, what does that mean for the region? It would be very easy for any of the U.N. members to simply walk away and say, Saddam, you're free to continue your nefarious ways. You can manufacture as much chemical and biological weapons as you want; you can make as many missiles as you want, and (inaudible) insist that you stop. That is one alternative that is open to all of the states in the region and to all of the United Nations. I don't think that's acceptable. I think that what has to be done is that we have to insist that he comply with those U.N. resolutions. The United Nations must insist that he comply with the resolutions. Otherwise, they have no credibility; they have no integrity, as far the passing of these resolutions. And a failure to push him to do so can't result in a reduction of his capacity; that is the goal. If he is still standing after a military option should be exercised, then he will have far less capacity than he had before. That will in fact pose less of a threat to the region than we have today or in the near future. So I think that you have to look at it in the context of what happens if he simply refuses to allow the U.N. Inspectors to do their job, and there is a decision made by the United Nations saying, We don't care anymore. Saddam can make whatever he wants; he can pose the same threat that he has in the past; he can conduct aggression against his neighbors as he'd done in the past, and the international community is unconcerned about that. I don't think that's an acceptable option. And that's the reason why the United States has insisted, as well as our Gulf partners: You must comply; we want a diplomatic solution but in the absence of that, we have to see to it that his capacity is reduced and curtailed. Otherwise, the threat will continue to grow; there will be less stability; there will be the threat of aggression in the future, and perhaps less will to resist his aggression in the future. So it's important that the United Nations stand up to this challenge and not back down and say, Let's just let Saddam continue his nefarious ways.

Q: Your excellency, Mr. Minister: Will we wake up early in the morning in the coming weeks to hear the roar of American planes taking off and returning to Qatar after completing combat missions over Iraq, and know then that Qatar agreed to provide military facilities to the U.S. in this task?

Hamad: First, Qatar is always clear and frank, and we announce our decisions as we take them. If we take such a decision, we will announce it before these planes are heard. Be sure of that. And at the same time, we hope that we wake up in the morning to find that this crisis has been solved in a diplomatic and peaceful manner. And just as we are keen on Kuwait and Kuwait's independence, we are - be certain - keen on the Iraqi people and Iraq's children, and that Iraq be a unified, powerful country working within the U.N. and working with its Arab brothers in peace. And we are keen, as I mentioned at the beginning of my talk, and as the U.S. Defense Minister stressed, on a peaceful and diplomatic solution which would save us from this crisis. Finally, we thank you all and we hope that we will meet in better circumstances. Thank you.

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