Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen doublespeak

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at eircom.net
Tue Jan 14 15:51:27 MST 2003


Cowen denies US weapons transit claim
By Marie O'Halloran



  The US is not using Shannon airport for the transit of large quantities of
arms to the Gulf, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, has insisted.
However, US soldiers on civilian aircraft were sometimes accompanied by
their personal weapons but these were kept in the planes' holds, he added.

The US embassy in Dublin also issued a statement on the issue last night.

Mr Cowen said that none of the recent US military cargo planes which had
landed at Shannon was "declared as carrying munitions". In all of last year,
the Department of Transport "received only one request for the landing at
Shannon of a civilian aircraft carrying munitions".

In his first comment on the controversy over allegations that US military
personnel and weapons were coming through constantly against Government
rules, the Minister said that a significant number of US military aircraft
landing at Shannon were VIP transports and refuelling planes.

"The remainder are cargo planes, none of which in the recent past were
declared as carrying munitions," the Minister said.

Mr Cowen, who has just returned from an official visit to Malaysia, said it
was "simply not the case" that the US was shipping large quantities of
weapons to the Gulf through Shannon.

On the wider issue of war with Iraq, the Minister reiterated that war was
not inevitable and every effort had to be made to avoid it.

However he added, "all prior experience confirmed that only the credible
threat of force is likely to persuade the regime to meet its disarmament
obligations".

He rejected a demand by the Green Party's chairman, Mr John Gormley, that
gardaí should search planes at Shannon to establish whether they were
carrying weapons. "The US is a friendly country and we do not seek to board
US military aircraft or aircraft carrying US personnel in order to verify
their declared cargo," the Minister said.

He stated, however, that officials from his Department had been in touch
with the US authorities "to ensure that civilian carriers are reminded of
their obligations to seek permission for the transit of weapons and
ammunition through Irish airports".

Referring to reports of troops carrying personal weapons, the Minister said
that "troops travelling on civilian aircraft are sometimes accompanied by
their personal weapons which are carried in the hold of the aircraft.
However, they do not carry ammunition and they do not bring their weapons
into the airport buildings."

Mr Cowen confirmed that military personnel have been permitted to wear
uniforms in the transit area of Irish airports "but that further permission
must be sought for them to wear uniforms outside these areas".

In its own statement issued yesterday evening, the US embassy said that all
flights with US personnel through Shannon "are cleared with the appropriate
authorities and come through in full compliance with national law", and that
Shannon was one of a number of European airports used for transit by its
military personnel.

The statement did not make direct reference to the allegations that arms and
munitions were being transported via Shannon but pointed out that US forces
in transit at the airport undertook various missions. Many of these "are
conducted under UN mandate, with the support of the Irish Government and the
international community. Some are simply exercises with other countries'
military forces or humanitarian operations. These include UN Security
Council resolution 1368, which pledged support for the war against global
terrorism after the September 11th attacks" in the US, it said.




© The Irish Times




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