Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen today received the recommendations of the Special Panel on Military Operations on Vieques and called for continued dialogue on the issues. The panel's chief recommendation was that the Department of the Navy should immediately begin a priority assessment of the training requirements at Vieques with the objective of ceasing all training activities at Vieques within five years. The panel also concluded that training-- subject to modifications to reduce the impact of training activities on the quality of life of residents--must continue at Vieques during the transition period. The panel's complete, 15-page report containing all of the panel's recommendations is attached.
Cohen indicated that he found the work of the Special Panel to be independent and balanced. "While I have an obligation to ensure that American forces are well-trained and ready to meet the operational requirements of today's international events, it's clear from the Panel's report there are serious concerns among the residents of Vieques which need and deserve the careful attention of the Navy and the Department of Defense. I remain convinced, therefore, that further discussions with representatives of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and the Navy on these important issues would be productive before I make my final recommendations to the President," Cohen said.
After receiving an update on the work of the Special Panel, Cohen asked its members to engage in further dialogue with representatives of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and the Navy. He asked them to keep the record open since discussions could assist in achieving consensus on approaches and solutions to implement the Panel's recommendations. He also asked the Secretary of the Navy to develop initiatives to better implement earlier commitments to economic development for Vieques.
In a June 9 letter, President Clinton asked Secretary Cohen to establish a panel to review the need for operations at Vieques and to explore alternative sites or methods that would meet the Department's needs. The President asked for a resolution that ensures our country's military readiness as well as the safety and welfare of the people of Vieques. The four-member special panel established by Cohen was chaired by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Force Management Policy Frank Rush. The other panel members were: former Indiana Representative and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Lee Hamilton; retired Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Richard Neal; and retired Commander, Third Fleet, Navy Vice Adm. Diego Hernandez.
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For additional information, contact Lt. Col. Catherine Abbott at (703) 697-5134.