News

Background Briefing
Subject: SecDef Visit to Middle East


Wednesday, October 13, 1999 - 9:00 a.m.
Subject: Subject: SecDef Visit to Middle East
Presenter: Attributable to a Senior Defense Official

STAFF: Good morning. Today we'll have a short background briefing on the secretary's forthcoming trip, and the briefing will be by a senior defense official who is well known to you. And the attribution that is suggested is a "senior defense official."

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Good morning. Let me go over just the mechanics of the trip. The last couple of days are still a little bit up in the air in terms of what order. Leave out on Sunday, as you know, fly through Italy and get to Bahrain early in the morning, scheduled right now for 1:40, and then meetings on Monday with Bahraini officials. Overnight in Bahrain. Tuesday to Qatar; meetings with Qatari officials in the morning and for lunch. Go to Saudi about mid-afternoon and meet with Saudi officials in the late afternoon and for dinner and stay over in Saudi. Wednesday, fly to the UAE and there to Abu Dhabi to start with; and meeting with the UAE officials there. Lunch probably in the UAE. Then en route to Dubai, which is part of the UAE, as you know, and meet in Dubai -- and the minister of Defense of the UAE is from Dubai, so we'll meet him there. Overnight in Dubai.

Then the next morning -- and right now it's a late take-off -- and the next morning fly to Cairo, meet in the afternoon with Egyptian officials; overnight in Cairo, and that's Thursday, the 21st, I'm on now. Friday the 22nd, go to the Bright Star Exercises. I think we will -- and there we're going to go to an airfield. I thought we were going to go to an amphibious ship, but I don't --

We're going to also go on a ship. So we'll be at an airfield and then on an amphibious ship and be there for an amphibious demonstration. And then Friday, the 22nd, is essentially a Bright Star Exercise day. RON in Cairo. Saturday the 23rd, go to Kuwait, meet with Kuwaiti officials in the morning, and I'm going to guess probably have lunch in Kuwait, but I'm not sure about that, and then go out to the carrier. And I don't know which carrier it is.

STAFF: Constellation.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Constellation, visit the Connie, overnight in Kuwait again; then on Sunday to Jordan, meet with Jordanian officials in the morning and perhaps for lunch; and then fly from Jordan to Oman, meet with -- well, I think we will fly from Jordan to Oman, probably not have meetings, overnight in Muscat; and then on Monday the 25th meet with Omani officials, probably through lunch; then fly to Tel Aviv, overnight in Tel Aviv, meetings on Tuesday the 26th; and then home on the 26th.

Now as I said, the last three days we're still working times and dates, so those could change.

Q: So -- pardon me -- Sunday Jordan, then Oman -- (inaudible) -- Muscat, Monday Tel Aviv, and Tuesday meetings in Tel Aviv. Is that --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, that's right.

Q: And in Kuwait, there's only one night in Kuwait, which is Saturday?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Correct.

Okay. Schedule?

Q: Schedule? I'm sorry. Oh, do you have more to tell us? I don't want to step on your briefing, sir.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You cannot possibly step on the briefing. Okay.

Q: What time are we leaving on Sunday? Morning, afternoon?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: 0900.

STAFF: Noon.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Noon? Good. Shows you what I know. Noon.

STAFF: Oh, correction; it's 0900. I guess they changed it. I'm sorry.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: 0900. The schedule says 0900. We've gone back and forth on exactly what time to leave, so it's possible that will change again, but we'll leave Sunday morning sometime.

Just in terms of who we'll meet with: In Bahrain he'll meet with the emir and with the minister of defense; in Qatar, again the emir, the minister of foreign affairs and the chief of staff. In Saudi, I would expect he'll meet both with the crown prince and with the minister of defense and aviation. That's Crown Prince Abdullah, Minister Sultan, Prince Sultan.

UAE, he'll meet with President Zayid and also with the chief of staff, who is the president's son, Mohammed bin Zayid. And then in Dubai he'll meet with the minister of defense, who is Mohammed bin Rashid. In Cairo he'll meet with President Mubarak and the minister of defense, Minister Tantawi.

In Kuwait he'll meet with the emir and also with the minister of defense; in Oman with the Sultan, Sultan Qaboos; in Jordan with the king, with the prime minister and with the chief of defense; and in Israel with Prime Minister Barak and various other officials. So that's a quick sense.

In broad terms, this is a series of meetings that are about consultations on regional issues. He'll talk about Iraq and Iran, of course. He'll talk about long-term defense cooperation, including the U.S. presence in the region, some of the initiatives that we have started. He -- when he was there last, in February, as you'll recall, he talked to them about shared early warning and problems of weapons of mass destruction, and we started a so-called cooperative defense initiative, which focuses on passive defense and shared early warning, potential of theater missile defense.

We will also talk about the Middle East peace process. Certainly we would have talked about India and Pakistan anyway, but I'm quite confident, in light of the ongoing activities in Pakistan, we'll talk about Pakistan. And then, if there's time, I suspect there will be some discussion of Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Let me stop there and take your questions, rather than --

Q: Is it his first time to any of these places?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, he's been to all these places a number of times.

Q: It's his first visit to Israel since the new government was installed. Is their relation -- isn't it? Isn't it?

Q: Yes?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, because he met with the prime minister just before the elections. That's right. And he's met with the prime minister here.

Q: Is that -- is there any significant change in the political or military-to-military or -- I mean, is there close, warm relations or what -- is there any change in tone or tenor or size or shape or anything else?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I think we have a very good relationship with the Israelis on the security side, and that's been true throughout the last several years.

The one obvious change, of course, has been there's been progress in the peace process and the potential for greater progress. And the prime minister's committed to that.

From our side, from a DOD perspective, in addition to a U.S. government perspective, our role is to help ensure that the Israelis' security is ensured. So we have worked with them for years, as you know, on all aspects of their overall security, and he'll talk about some of those issues. But the overall framework remains the same.

Q: Is there any change in the Arrow project, any progress or headaches to report on that?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. The Arrow project is just proceeding ahead. And, you know, it's a project that eventually we expect to have three batteries out there and up and running, and it's just moving along.

Q: Is this the first time that the secretary has gone from Saudi Arabia to Israel on the same trip?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. He's done that several times. He did it the last trip.

STAFF: (Off mike) -- in March.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: He did it in March, because I was with him.

Q: Do you see -- I mean, the -- there seems to be just a flat deadlock, and there seems to be little change or progress or anything going on with the -- or, with Iraq. I mean, they do what they're doing, we do what we're doing, and it just seems to be in a status quo, it seems frozen, it seems like there's -- nothing's moving in a direction that Washington sees as positive, but it seems like it's -- is there a review underway of perhaps a different approach, or is it just status quo?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, this isn't a baseball pennant race. We have a policy, and we're succeeding in the policy. The policy is a policy of containment. And Iraq is being contained. It's not a threat to any of its neighbors. The neighbors are able, actually, to have developed economically. The peace process side, we've been able to have progress on the peace progress. In the gulf we're working closely with the gulf countries. And Iraq has been made essentially a very limited factor in the overall. So from our perspective we're doing rather well.

Q: So what will he be discussing on Iraq, then?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, we do have, for example, forces in a number of these countries that fly Operation Southern Watch. He'll want to discuss how those forces are operating. We get the cooperation with respect to Southern Watch from these countries. He'll talk about that. He will certainly want to hear the perspectives of these countries with respect to Iraq and to make sure that we have similar perspectives. That's one of the important things to do on these trips is to actually listen and hear what our friends have to say so that we can shape our policy in light of things that are important to them as well as important to us. So he will go through all of those kinds of issues.

Q: Just overall, what sorts of things is he hoping to bring back from the --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The broad thing that he wants to bring back is continued cooperation with the countries in the region. In broad terms, the U.S. is the indispensable country for the provision of security for our friends in the area. And we have been able to do that for quite a number of years. We do that through cooperative efforts. And that's what he's seeking to undertake. In particular terms, we're not there in any, you know, significant way to talk about arms sales or anything like that, so it's not that kind of trip. What he will do is to make sure that the cooperation of the forces in the region, central command forces, is going well. He'll want to make sure that the efforts vis-a-vis weapons of mass destruction are going well, the so-called Cooperative Defense Initiative. In some countries, there may be issues to be able to deal with things like terrorism. Obviously, certainly with Israel and in other countries, the peace process will be very important. So he'll have those kind of issues.

Q: Is he going to discuss Osama bin Laden?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That certainly could come up. It's not a highlight.

Q: This is sort of an Iraqi question as opposed to specifically on this trip. It just occurs to me this surpassing irony, the reason that we're doing Southern Watch and Northern Watch, I gather, in part is to protect the Kurds from any attacks that he would make against them. Yes? You're nodding yes.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm nodding yes.

Q: Okay.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Northern Watch.

Q: All right, in Northern Watch. And then, as you know, about 10 days ago, Turkey went into Iraq and went after Kurds. I know that there's a bunch of different groups, but do you see the irony? Do you agree that it's ironic that we are somehow protecting the Kurds from being attacked by Saddam Hussein, but then they're getting attacked by Turkey, who is also helping protect them from Saddam Hussein as part of Operation Northern Watch?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That question is too hard to answer.

Q: Any new initiatives on aid or other -- that sort of thing?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No new initiatives on aid. Let me just try and think if there's anything that would really fit the bill. No, not really. I mean we have, you know, the ongoing congressional process, which is about -- we've got a possible State appropriations bill in the White House; there are some issues as to whether or not that will be approved. But that's all out in public, so you're well aware of that. And other than that, there's nothing really.

Q: The Constellation is involved in Operation Southern Watch, is that why you're going out there?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. I'm sorry, say -- the Constellation is out there; it's out there. Some of the aircraft fly Southern Watch, and it's also there for -- you know, to be a presence in the region. But I didn't quite hear what your question was.

Q: That's why he's going to go out and observe operations?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, it's because it's -- yes. I mean, when the secretary is there, one of the things he always does in a region is to go and see the forces that are involved in operations. The Constellation is involved in operations. This is -- he has visited at least two aircraft carriers before when he's been out there, and maybe more; I just don't recall. And this is just to go out and thank the people who are on the Constellation for what they're doing and talk to the senior officers about their view of the region.

Q: And the same sort of thing with Bright Star?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, Bright Star is a multinational exercise; it's not just a U.S. only, so it's somewhat different. This is --

Q: (Off mike.)

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Bright Star is a land and sea exercise this year because it has an amphibious component also. I believe it's right, that there are 11 countries involved this year. They are countries -- Egypt, of course, which is the host, Arab countries; I know the U.K. is involved, the U.S. And we can give you a list if you'd like. It's a quite large exercise; the number 65,000 comes to mind. And so it's become a very effective exercise for multinational training. It's become a very effective exercise to have the countries of the region work together as well as countries outside. So it has coalition benefits also. So the virtue of going to Bright Star is not only from a U.S.-only perspective, but from a multinational coalition perspective.

Q: You said that's hosted by the U.K.?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, it's hosted by Egypt; it's in Egypt. The U.K. is participating.

Q: Where are they going to have the landings?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't actually know.

(To staff) Do you know?

STAFF: Not far from Alexandria.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We'll try and give you an exact answer.

Q: What is his view on the events in Pakistan? And what sorts of issues is he going to be discussing on that region? I mean --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, there's a military coup that's occurred in Pakistan. We have said that we hope that the constitutional processes will be adhered to. A military coup normally is not adherence to the constitutional processes. So we would like to have that be brought back into alignment with their own constitution.

He will advance it for discussion with the Pakistanis. He will take account of the views of countries in the region that are interested -- for example, the Saudis -- to see what conversations they may have had with the Pakistanis, to see whether or not there's anything that we can add to our knowledge as we deal with the Pakistan on the issues that it has in front of it.

Q: Does he have any plans to visit Pakistan in the future --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No.

Q: -- the near future?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, neither on this trip nor in the near future.

Q: And has he ever met with General Pervaiz Musharraf?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't think so, but I don't know. "Ever" is a big word. Not --

Q: You?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: As far as -- I don't know. I've been in Pakistan. I haven't met him as -- in his current position. But I -- it's possible that I've met him sometime in the past. But I actually don't recall that I did. But I don't know. I've met with a lot of them.

Thank you.

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