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Signing Ceremony with Secretary Cohen and Minister of Defense Tan of Singapore

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Minister of Defense Tony Tan, Republic of Singapore
November 10, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Let me say that it gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome Tony Tan, the Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister of Singapore. When we met in Singapore in January, he surprised me somewhat by announcing that the U.S. Navy ships would have access to the new Changi Naval Base. These facilities are going to accommodate our largest aircraft carriers. And when Minister Tan made that announcement, I then invited him to come to Washington to join me in signing this addendum to the 1990 U.S. - Singapore Memorandum of Understanding, covering our use of Singapore's facilities. And the addendum that we signed covers the use of these facilities.

The United States and Singapore have a very strong strategic partnership. Singapore stations training detachments in the United States. In fact, following his visit to Washington, Minister Tan is going to travel to Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico to help to activate the U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter squadron, the Singapore detachment.

Our ships and planes operate out of Singapore. Our partnership helps the United States to maintain a very visible presence in southeast Asia. And that U.S. presence helps to maintain peace and stability throughout the entire region. And so, it is my pleasure to welcome my colleague and counterpart on his visit here to Washington and to thank him very enthusiastically for the strong support we've had with the Singaporan people and Singapore government and strengthening our relationship even further in the future.

Minister Tan: Secretary Cohen, ladies and gentlemen, I am indeed very happy to be in Washington today to sign with Secretary Cohen the addendum to the 9/19 Memo of Understanding between the U.S. and Singapore. This addendum paves the way for the enhancement of the U.S. presence in the region as it formalizes arrangements for U.S. Navy ships to use the berthing facilities in our new Changi Naval Base when [it] is ready in the year 2000. It means that U.S. aircraft carriers and other big ships which now have to anchor a distance from shore can berth alongside. We are building these berths at Changi Naval Base even though we do not need them ourselves. As the U.S. has indicated that it would be useful for the U.S. Navy, which currently does not have any facilities between Guam, Japan and the Middle East, where aircraft carriers and other deep drop vessels can berth alongside for maintenance and logistics support.

Singapore attaches great importance to a continued U.S. presence in the region and we want to be as helpful as we can in facilitating that presence. Indeed, Secretary Cohen and I agree that the presence of U.S. forces is a positive influence for regional peace and stability and that the access that the U.S. forces have to facilities in Singapore is important in facilitating that presence.

Many things have happened in our region since Secretary Cohen and I last met in January in Singapore. We have had good discussion and exchange of views on the regional security situation. We agreed that it is not in the interest of Singapore or the U.S. or certainly the countries in the region to see the region possibly fall apart or degenerate into instability. And we discussed ways in which the defense relationship between Singapore and the U.S. can be further enhanced so that our two countries can work more closely together to contribute to the security and stability of our nation. Thank you very much.

Secretary Cohen: We'd like to take a few questions pertaining to this addendum and this agreement first. And then perhaps take a couple of questions on other subjects that you may have on your mind.

Q: Secretary Cohen, I wonder if you could inform us of the progress regarding approval for Singapore's purchase of Apache Long Bow attack helicopters and also if there is any discussion for future Singapore basings here in this country, whether it be for Chinook or any other type of military capability? And finally, if you can address the 100,000 U.S. troop presence in the area and if you've reaffirmed your commitment to Minister Tan?

A: (Cohen): With respect to Apache and other types of equipment, we're going to continue to have discussions. We're making good progress in that regard. I have reaffirmed on a number of occasions the fact that I believe it's in the United States' interests to maintain approximately 100,000 of our forces throughout the region. We intend to continue to maintain that level of force. And we will discuss in the future what sort of deployments or detachments that Singaporan government may wish to seek in the United States. But we would hope that we could accommodate additional detachments in the future. But it's something we're going to discuss.

Q: You mentioned that you discussed earlier, I wonder if you could elaborate on what are the areas of cooperation or the areas of cooperation you hope to achieve with Singapore and U.S. defense?

A: (Tan): Well, I would characterize the relationship between the U.S. armed forces and the Singapore armed forces today as excellent in every respect. We have very strong professional exchanges, particularly with the U.S. Pacific Command because southeast Asia lies within their theater of operations. We also have a very close understanding at the policy level between our officials in Singapore and the United States. What I discussed with Secretary Cohen just now, the proposal which he made in Singapore in January that we could enhance the security relationship and defense relationship further by interacting more further in the area of defense technology. This is an area which we discussed. I think that it's an area we would regard as being extremely important for Singapore. And we have initiated some moves in that direction. And I think that this will be an area where both Singapore and the U.S. will work together fruitfully in the next few years.

Q: Another subject. Since the new naval base in Changi is being constructed with better facilities and capacities, do you foresee that Singapore is able to host other elite navies besides the U.S. Navy that need be or requests?

A: (Tan): Certainly I think that if other countries were to make, to request to use our facilities at Changi Naval Base, we would certainly consider them. This would depend on the circumstances, but we would certainly consider such requests.

Q: Secretary Cohen, how would you describe your country's relations with Malaysia and how do you view the recent decision by Malaysia to pull out of the next (inaudible) exercise involving Singapore and other forces?

A: (Cohen): We have had a very good relationship with Malaysia. It has been strengthened in recent years. As you know, there is considerable controversy taking place, however, with respect to a domestic matter, which I prefer not to comment on at this point since I have a strong friendship with the deputy prime minister. But I hope that he will be treated with fairness and due process and a just outcome will result from the trial that's taking place. But we would hope to maintain our relationship with Malaysia. We have a number of key industries that have facilities there. We have a good working relationship, and hopefully, that will continue in the future.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on Iraq, if I may, is the United States now close, close to a military strike on Iraq? And if such a strike were contemplated, would Iraq be warned ahead of time, given a final ultimatum that it must cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors before the strike was launched?

A: (Cohen): First of all, the President has made no decision with respect to our response to Iraq's flagrant violation of his agreement with Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and his flagrant violations of his obligations under the Security Council resolutions. The President continues to weigh options. He has taken, as he's indicated, nothing off the table. The military option is certainly still on the table. We would prefer and he would much prefer to see this resolved peacefully and that Saddam Hussein should reconsider his decision to terminate UNSCOM's activities. I believe that also reflects the sentiment of the Security Council, which has unanimously condemned Saddam's actions. And I believe that reflects the sentiment of the countries in the Gulf who believe that he is obligated to comply with the agreement that he signed with Kofi Annan. So, the President continues to review it. He has made no decision at this point.

Q: Do you expect if a strike is launched, if a strike was decidedly launched, would it come soon? Are you worried that Iraq is now building weapons of mass destruction?

A: (Cohen): I think that we've all indicated that time is running out on this, and it can't go on forever. That diplomacy always should have every opportunity to dance. But at some point, a dance has a beginning and an end. And we would hope that diplomacy would be successful on the part of a number of countries who have indicated that they think that Saddam has made a bad mistake, that he has an obligation to fulfill. And hopefully, their message will persuade him to reconsider. And that is our hope and we have to see how it will unfold, but that is our preference, obviously.

Q: You've indicated before, Mr. Secretary, and so has General Shelton the difficulty and -- if you select an air strike, the difficulty in reducing his ability to make weapons of mass destruction. There could be so many targets and our level of knowledge is, well, whatever our level of knowledge is. So air strikes end up getting you what, should you decide to take that option? And then what?

A: (Cohen): Well, as we've indicated in the past, that in the event that he continues to not allow UNSCOM inspectors to do their job on the ground, and we think that that's the preferable course of action. That's the most important as far as we're concerned, to make sure that he's not reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction. And then we certainly would consider the possibility of degrading his capability of manufacturing these weapons of mass destruction or the means of delivering them and posing a threat to the region. Beyond that, I don't think it's helpful or productive for me to comment in terms of how much damage could be done. We think that it would be a significant degradation of his capacity. But we're hoping that it doesn't become necessary to resort to that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, last spring, you were at a rather fractious town meeting on this issue in the midwest, Ohio I think it was. And at that point, there didn't seem to be a great deal of public support for action. Do you think there is support now? Do you think it is necessary to ask to build support?

A: (Cohen): I think the world has seen that Saddam Hussein, once again, has provoked a crisis by again refusing to live up to his obligations under the Security Council resolutions and now under the agreement that he signed with Kofi Annan. And I think the world sentiment now recognizes that he appears intent on not complying with the Security Council resolutions. The Security Council's credibility is on the line; the U.N.'s credibility is on the line. And I think the U.S. credibility as well in terms of simply allowing him to flout his obligations. And I believe that most people now recognize that, and if it becomes necessary to take military action, I would expect that there would be certainly more support than before. That remains to be seen.

Q: Secretary Cohen, have you issued any orders in preparation for military action?

A: (Cohen): Well, as you know, we had a tragic accident aboard the USS ENTERPRISE on Sunday night just after I had left Norfolk. And I would like to take this occasion to extend my deepest sympathies to the families of the heroes who lost their lives that evening. It goes once again to point out how dangerous it is for us to maintain the most highly trained and qualified military in the world and the risks that these young men and women face each and every day as part of their training.

I did realize that the ENTERPRISE is going to have a set-back of a day in terms of being able to carry out its mission. It is on its way to the Gulf. I have recommended to President Clinton that we accelerate the transit time of the ENTERPRISE carrier battle group so that it arrives not on November 26th, but by November 23rd. In addition, I also recommended to the President that we sail the BELLEAU WOOD amphibious ready group from WESTPAC to arrive in the Gulf by November 26. And he agreed that that was a wise course of action and certainly designed to give him greater flexibility in the event that any military action is required. So I will sign those deployment orders as soon as this meeting is over.

Q: Are you saying that any major military action is delayed until those forces reach the Gulf?

A: (Cohen): No, I'm simply saying that I recommended that we accelerate the arrival of the ENTERPRISE on the 23rd as opposed to the 26th and that it will replace the EISENHOWER -- it's scheduled to replace the EISENHOWER carrier --and that we move the BELLEAU WOOD, which is also designed to replace the ESSEX. So I just thought it would be prudent to accelerate their arrival.

Q: Was consideration gived to breaking the EISENHOWER's six months deployment. It's scheduled to be back in Norfolk, I think, in early December?

A: (Cohen): As I indicated, the ENTERPRISE is scheduled to rotate and replace the EISENHOWER.

Q: So both carriers remain, will remain in the Gulf?

A: (Cohen): That is not my intent at this time. The purpose is to get the ENTERPRISE there as part of its rotation. I want it there earlier. It will give all of the people aboard the opportunity to train in place and that will be important in the event that any military action is required.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the U.S. has long maintained that this is a dispute between the United Nations and Iraq and not the United States and Iraq. While the U.N. has voted to condemn Iraq's action, the process has not reached the point where the Security Council has voted in favor of military action. Does U.S. military action -- would U.S. military action undercut and damage the U.S. position that this is a dispute not between us and them, but between the U.N. and Iraq?

A: (Cohen): Well, as we've indicated, this is a dispute between Saddam Hussein and the United Nations, but it also remains that the United States has the responsibility also of helping to enforce this matter through UNSCOM and all the United Nations participate in that. But it's the United States forces in the region along with our British friends and French friends who are enforcing the resolutions. And so we have a key role to play, and I would expect that if military action is required, that would be consistent with the desire to enforce the obligations under the act.

Q: Would you seek permission from the Security Council before any action is taken?

A: (Cohen): I really can't comment on that. That's a matter for the President to decide.

Q: Would Iraq be given a final ultimatum before any strikes be launched?

A: (Cohen): I think Iraq is on notice that it is obligated to comply with the agreement that it negotiated and signed back in February. It is on notice that it needs to comply with Security Council resolutions. I think it has plenty of notice in terms of its obligations.

Press: Thank you.