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Secretary Cohen's Press Briefing Enroute to Santiago Chile, 24 May 98

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 24, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Let me begin by saying that we have concluded a wonderful trip to Argentina. I had, as you know, a long meeting with President Menem. It went extremely well. You were able to get all of your questions answered, Charlie. I had a good meeting with the Defense Minister. Overall, I think that it was a very successful trip from our perspective. Now on to Chile. This will be my first trip to Chile. I guess I will be the first cabinet member since the President visited here in April. I'm looking forward to seeing the President again, Frei, and also meeting my new counterpart. I intend to take up a variety of issues. I will thank them for the support that they have given us -- certainly in the Gulf, with UNSCOM, they have a detachment that supports UNSCOM. They also have been very supportive as far as peacekeeping in Bosnia as well. I will take the occasion to thank them for that and see if we can't build upon the meetings that we had when President Frei was in Washington. With that, let me open the floor for questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you made it clear that this is not an arms sale trip, and you don't plan to hammer them on the subject. Having said that, do you hope in fact, that the Chileans do decide on American jets? And if given half a chance will you extol the importance of U.S. weapons, the (inaudible)?

A: (Cohen): The short answer is yes. I have spoken to the Chileans in the past about my belief that U.S. equipment, obviously, we think is superior: our technology and the logistical support that goes with that. They are well aware of what we have to offer in terms of aircraft and technology and personnel. They will make their own decision. We have had discussions in the past, but this is something about which they will make their own examination. So I think that there is nothing that I will have to add to the conversations that we have had before. I am really going down to show my interest in the region and to build upon the friendships that have been established. That really is, basically, designed to show that we are concerned about the region, that we want to express our gratitude for their support and efforts that we have underway elsewhere. And to show some interest. I think that this is my main purpose. I have not been here before, I would like to show that this is a country of interest to us like Argentina and Brazil.

Q: Is the United States satisfied that the civilian government in Chile controls the military to the extent that you want?

A: (Cohen): Yes. They have a strong democracy.

Q: Mr. Secretary could you explain why it is important for the United States to win this contract?

A: (Cohen): To what?

Q: To win the fighter contract.

A: (Cohen): Well, I think for the same reasons that it would be important for us to win contracts in competition in other areas as well. I think that it would demonstrate to the Chileans that we have a strong relationship. It would provide them with the kind of logistical support training that goes with the purchase of equipment of this nature. It provides a stronger link between our military and the military-to-military relationship that we maintain. I think that it serves both countries well. Obviously, we are in competition with other countries, but that is true of other areas of the world as well. We think that we have superior product. We think that we have a superior training program. We believe that it would help to solidify our long-term relations with Chile as we continue to have these exchange programs of our military-to-military contacts. So, it is beneficial to both countries.

Q: Is there any down side for Chile if they opt for fighters from another country?

A: (Cohen): No. That is something that they have to decide in terms of what is in their best long-term interest. If they decide on systems from other countries, then that is a decision that they certainly can make and should make. I think the message has been very clear - we think that we have something superior to offer. Not only in the technology, but again, everything that goes with it. So, they will make that determination, but I think that we have a pretty good story to tell and it has been told, and now it is up to them to decide what they feel is best for them.

Q: Do you expect to discuss any new joint exercises or anything like that with the Chilean (inaudible)?

A: (Cohen): No. Unless you do General Wilhelm.

A: (GEN Wilhelm): I will probably suggest some joint training efforts with the Chilean Armed Forces next year. We have a fairly (inaudible) exercise program. In the past our exercise efforts have partially been oriented at the bilateral level. We have been seeking, aggressively, to move that into (inaudible) exercises. We (inaudible) may see that happen in a major peacekeeping exercise in Paraguay in July and then the Chileans (inaudible).

Q: Who is going to take part in the one in Paraguay in July?

A: (Wilhelm): I will give you the details later.

Q: What do you know about the Chilean Army after (inaudible)?

A: (Cohen): What do I know? I think that is a question that you should direct to General Wilhelm. I am personally, not familiar with the status of their military at this point, other than that they have a very competent, capable military. I think that the General will be in a better position to inform you, based on his relations.

Q: There is just one last thing - has any decision been made, are you ready to make any announcements on the USS INDEPENDENCE?

A: (Cohen): I believe the INDY is on its way out of the Gulf, heading, eventually, home. This would be consistent, I believe, with some readjustment of the size of our forces in the region, which we would like to get back to pre-crisis levels and hopefully we can do so in the next several weeks. That would be consistent with that.

Q: Does that mean that other aircraft, the F-117s will be brought back, the B-52 bombers that are at Diego Garcia?

A: (Cohen): I would hope that we will be in a position to reduce the level down to approximately what it was prior to the crisis. But also have on hand substantial prepositioning and also be in a position to augment that force within 48 hours. So, I think that we will see some reduction, and that will include the 117s and others in the foreseeable future.

Q: The INDY will be replaced by the USS EISENHOWER though, in late July or will it? Are you going to go to one carrier?

A: (Cohen): That is a decision that the President will have to make. I would hope that we will go to that one carrier presence so that we can get down to approximately where we were prior to November. That is still very significant and that would be between 17,000 and 20,000 personnel. And again, we would hope to have a rapidly deployable force that could go back within a 48 hour period and be really, where we are today. So, we are trying to get back to normalizing the force structure in a way that allows us to maintain a significant presence and then augment it very quickly if there should be a crisis erupt in the future.

Q: I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying that the decision is still to be made whether or not the IKE will in fact go or do you expect that it will not replace the INDY?

A: (Cohen): My expectations will be that we will have a one carrier presence.

Q: Are you at all concerned that Saddam Hussein may, once you are out of there, try to take advantage of the situation?

A: (Cohen): No, because we have worked very closely with all of our allies on this and all are in agreement that should there be any kind of a crisis we can quickly put our multi-national forces in very, very quickly to respond to any crisis. We would anticipate having the capability of going back in to where we are today, roughly the same numbers, within 48 hours. We will have a sufficient presence on hand that is more than an adequate deterrent and would have great capabilities. Basically, try to get back to having a more routine deployment of our forces.

Q: The last question. Can we assume that the IKE will then go into the Med? So that it would be in place to come into the...

A: (Cohen): I think that we ought to wait on that decision for the time being.

Q: But your expectations are that we are going to have the one?

A: (Cohen): That is my expectation.