United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz holds a Press Conference in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
January 15, 2005

            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  Good afternoon. Selamat Sore. I would like to say that it is good to be back in Aceh, but I wish the circumstances were different.  I was last here I think fifteen years ago and it was a beautiful place, much of it is still a beautiful place, and the people here are remarkable, and it is a terrible and unbelievable tragedy that the place has suffered.  When you fly over in a helicopter you just begin to get a sense of how enormous this tragedy has been, and when people don’t just lose a parent or a brother, but they lose their entire family it gives a new horrible meaning to what it means to be a survivor.  So all of us feel an enormous sympathy for the people of Aceh and an enormous desire to help in this tragedy and I am happy that our American military were able in the very early days to bring help immediately when perhaps no one else could have brought that help. But I am also pleased that this is, the whole world coming to help Indonesia, and I know from my own experience here that Indonesians are a very self-reliant people, so before long you probably won’t need the help, but the scale of this is just so enormous, I can’t imagine any country that could handle this on its own.  Right now the immediate focus is on making sure that the survivors have adequate food and water, to take care of the remains of people and to get an assessment of what the medical situation is like.  Again, because it is spread out over such a large area the UN is organizing medical teams that include UN personnel, Indonesian personnel and American personnel, and they are working through four different zones here in Aceh to get a sense of what the real medical problems are of the people.  But it’s also clear that beyond the immediate needs, there are going to be a great deal of work to rebuild, reconstruct.  We had a survey report that I read back in Washington about the damage to the road along the coast, and I forget if it listed 36 major breaks in the road, and you begin to think that well, maybe 36 engineer teams could get it fixed.  Now when you fly over that road you realize it has just disappeared in many places and the coast line has disappeared in many places, so a very fundamental approach has to be taken to how that work is done, but the whole international community has stepped forward -- eager to help, and anxious to help and our Indonesian partners, I think, have welcomed that help and are making good use of it.  I would be happy to take some questions, if I get really hard ones, I will ask General Sutarto to help me, unless you want to make a comment here?


            Sutarto: No, please.


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  Okay.  Thank you for enduring this heat.  If you could say who you are and where you’re from.  Yes ma’am.


            JOURNALIST:  (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  We don’t have a plan, other than to try as quickly as we can to hand over responsibility to others, and especially to the Indonesian government as they are ready to take that on. And I think the date that you mention is more of a target than a deadline.  It’s not that, the goal, though, is for Indonesia to be self-sufficient and, or at least as self-sufficient as possible.  And the goal from our point of view is to be able to free up our people for other missions.  But, let me emphasize, the most important goal is to make sure that the survivors here are properly taken care of.  I think that’s what everybody agrees has to be done and we can have targets and we can have goals within that, but we have to achieve the mission and the mission is to make sure that the suffering is relieved and the reconstruction gets going.


            Yes, sir.


            JOURNALIST: …Terry Norton from Reuters. I wonder if you can comment on what you think, if this disaster could possibly offer some opening for reconciliation between the Government and GAM, and, related to that, what do you think the military’s position to substantially increase its troop strength here (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  Let me step back a minute, and then get to the question. I think this crisis offers both an opportunity and a challenge. In fact, isn’t that what they say a crisis is?  It’s a danger and an opportunity.  And it stems from the fact that Indonesia has just been through its second democratic presidential election.  Some people said it would never happen. Some people said, well, maybe one, but that will be all.  The whole world watched this election here over the course of 2004, and, I must say, were impressed by the fairness of the election, by the orderliness of the election, and by the common sense of the Indonesian voters. And they elected a government which has not even finished a hundred days in office.


            I should talk louder, I think, is what you’re saying, right?


            This democratically elected government has been in office, I think, just barely 70 days, or, not even 70 days, and it’s facing this enormous challenge.  And I think the whole world has a stake in showing that democracy can succeed in Indonesia and that this democratic government can rise to this challenge. And I would say that’s a basic point before I get to your question.  But I would say, as to your question, it’s much too early to, I mean, right now we’re dealing with the immediate aftermath, we’re dealing with people that may be running out of food and water, we’re dealing with possible disease, but certainly there’s an opportunity here for the people of Aceh to find their government, the Indonesian government, is concerned about their welfare, takes care of their welfare. I think that if,…


            Should I wait a minute?


            I think that, if we can achieve what we want to achieve, I mean what the whole world wants to achieve for the people of Aceh in this crisis, it’s bound to have a good effect on the relations between Aceh and the rest of Indonesia.  I am struck by several Indonesian friends I’ve talked to on the phone over the last week saying that the outpouring of sympathy for Aceh, from Jakarta and from elsewhere in Indonesia, is unprecedented. And I hope that the success in this, through this effort in relief and reconstruction, that there can be a similar feeling from the Acehnese people that it’s good to be part of Indonesia. 


            Yes, sir, in back.


            JOURNALIST:  (inaudible) in Bahasa…


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  (laughter) and General Sutarto will have to help me. Saya suda banyak lupa [I’ve already forgotten a lot.]


            JOURNALIST:  (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  Pelan, pelan [Go slow.]


            JOURNALIST:  (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  I think he wants to know why the military and not the civilians, right?


            These were the only people who could do the job. 


            JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: First of all, this wasn’t only military.  We have civilians very much involved in this.  USAID is really the leader for our government in terms of establishing requirements.  I am proud to say that one of my former students from Johns Hopkins University is the AID representative here working on this disaster.  Ultimately, civilians are in charge, but when it comes to having large numbers of helicopters that can reach remote areas of Aceh, the only people that can do it are the military.  But that’s a temporary emergency measure.


            I think to be successful…I said earlier that success I would measure in terms of meeting the needs of the people of Aceh for relief and reconstruction.   I think if it’s going to be a real success it has to be an Indonesian success, it has to be an Indonesian Government success.  The American military are just something there in the very beginning for meeting an emergency.


            You, and then you. Yes, sir


            JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  Everyone seems to be obsessed about this three-month date.  The people I’ve been talking to all day are focused on how to get the relief out tomorrow and the next day, and how to put together a plan for rebuilding roads.  As I said earlier and the Ambassador said earlier, our goal is to put ourselves out of business as quickly as possible.  We certainly understand that the Indonesian Government is in charge here and the Indonesian Government needs to be in charge here. I think if we focus on the goal of relief and reconstruction everything will fall into place. I think that’s what everyone is concerned about and that’s the first priority.


            Yes, ma’am.


            JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  I think that it would be good for everybody if the Indonesian Government had, the Indonesian military had some of the capacity that has deteriorated and we would like to see how to fix that. It’s… in any case the magnitude of this disaster however exceeds the capacity of any country to deal with it and I think help would have been required no matter what.


            Excuse me for just one second.


            And I think Secretary Powell said when he was in Jakarta last week that we are working on getting spare parts to repair some number of the Indonesian C-130s and I think their technicians in Jakarta as we speak working on that…and the report I got are they’re very impressed with the way in which Indonesians had maintained those airplanes in very difficult circumstances. I think it’s clearly a… we’ll support humanitarian efforts if we can get those spare parts here.


            And I think before we die of heat I’ll take two more and then…one over there and one over there. Yes, ma’am


            JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


            Where are you from? Again if you go slow and let me have some help…


            JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  Now you’re going too fast. You said seventy percent of our people…?


            JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  That I didn’t get. (inaudible) (laughter).

Life isn’t that simple, unfortunately.


            I think I’m going to repeat really what I said earlier, which is quite apart from this humanitarian catastrophe, we very much want to see democracy succeed in Indonesia and we are very impressed at how well it’s done.  And I must say...in 1998 when …President Soeharto resigned and the first movement toward democracy came in this country, people sometimes called the economic circumstances a tsunami.  If you recall that word was used back then and Indonesia’s been building democratic institutions under some of the most difficult economic conditions any country could encounter and I think we very much have a stake in that success.  Now if you start asking me things about wiping out debt and debt forgiveness, we get into complicated issues where, quite frankly, I think we are doing a lot and we’re certainly prepared to look at doing more. And this relief effort, of course, the president has committed $350 million of U.S. Government money and we have quite possibly more to come and I imagine the great bulk of that will come here to Indonesia.



            JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  I thought I was prepared for it…and it was…I honestly wasn’t. Just the enormous extent of it, the complete desolation. I suppose if it’s a sign of hope you also have to be impressed that the mosques and churches are still standing. Maybe that’s a good sign for the future. But I just…the scale of this is unbelievable and I know an Acehnese in Washington who lost his entire family. And I asked what that meant.  It meant 200 members of his entire extended family. And I ..to imagine that repeated over and over again…to imagine so many children without both parents or without one parent. It’s more than just 100,000 individual cases. It must be a great burden on the survivors. But I think there is a spirit of rebuilding, there’s a spirit of getting on with dealing with this problem. There is an enormous spirit of cooperation among civilians and military, among Indonesians and people of other nations. And I must say, speaking to our sailors on the aircraft carrier, they are just so pleased to be able to help out in this tragedy. They fly over it everyday and see the scale of it and are glad they can do something to help. Thank you very much.

Additional Links

Stay Connected