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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Roundtable with Singapore Media

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 31, 2003

Wolfowitz:  Just briefly to open, I do think it’s very important to this whole region that the United States remains committed here.  Every time in the past when we’ve started to sound like we were wavering, then people say, “no, no, you mustn’t withdraw, you mustn’t go isolationist.”  It’s sort of a measure, I think, of confidence in the American commitment to this part of the world that we’re being accused of being unilateralist, although I must say I find it a strange comment as I said last night that when 15 NATO countries are with us and four were against us I would have thought that the four that were against us might be criticized for being unilateralist.  But I think the co-operation that we’re getting from countries in this region on a whole range of security issues but particularly in the fight against terrorism is impressive and continues very strong. 

 

And I suppose the one last comment I’d make is that it is a very good sign that there seems to be so little issues surrounding China these days.  I just met with the Indian defense minister who’s recently been to China.  As a student, I believe he was demonstrating in front of the Chinese embassy and throwing stones at it and as he told me, he was supposed to be banned for 100 years from China.  I guess they gave him time off for good behavior.  But he had a very good visit and their relations are good, so many of the big issues in this part of the world are going well. 

 

It’s the North Korean problem that is a tough one, but I think it’s a problem as I said this morning that needs to be addressed on a multilateral basis, needs to be addressed with firmness, and needs to be addressed with patience.  It would be nice to resolve it quickly but I don’t see a way to do that. 

 

Q.  I just want to ask you a question on the impact of the war in Iraq on the region, particularly the Muslim countries.  I think the suspicions of the US have grown deeper since the Iraq war, and Malaysia in particular has been very vocal, I think they have warned, Mahatir has warned, people of a new form of colonialism and be careful any time you’ll be attacked soon.  How is the US going to approach Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia?

 

Wolfowitz:  I think in Indonesia the government was very clear that whatever the issue was, it wasn’t an issue over Islam.  It was an issue over Iraq, and I think the relatively quick end of the war probably mitigated the problems, and I suspect the uncovering of mass graves and the recognition that this dictator killed more Muslims than probably any other individual in the world, at least in recent memory, probably has some impact as well.  I think the concerns of Indonesian Muslims, to be honest, are very much focused on Indonesia.  And the overwhelming proportion of them are very moderate in their outlook and I think continue to be appalled by what the terrorists are doing, not only to us but to Indonesia.  Indonesia’s still suffering economically from the effects of the Bali bombing and from the sense of insecurity that the terrorists have brought, so on that issue I think our co-operation is very strong. 

 

I think the meetings are going to take place next week in Sharm El-Sheikh and Aqaba to move the Arab-Israeli peace process forward ought to have a positive effect in this part of the world as well.  And in a somewhat longer, at least medium term, I think the opportunity to build a new and free Iraq is something that ought to have a positive impact on Muslims here also.  But I come back to the point -- I’ve lived in this part of the world for several years.  I know many, many Muslims in this part of the world, and I think their concerns are, though they care about the Middle East, I think their concerns are very much the conditions in their own countries and in that respect we have a big interest in seeing that there continues to be progress here.  Indonesia, a particular concern of mine, not just because I’ve lived there but because it is the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, it’s struggling to manage a successful democratic transition in the face of some real economic hardship.  And one of the better pieces of good news that I’ve heard while I was here is that Indonesia apparently is going to register a reasonably strong positive growth this year.  That’s very good.

 

Q:  American military presence, the same issue you’ve been asked about since you arrived.  In the wake of that LA Times story which of course has circulated rather widely, you made it clear that decisions haven’t been taken.  Is it possible down the road that the US would ask Australia, perhaps the Philippines, to base troops there and can you address separately the issue of troops and Malaysia and Vietnam which seems even more outrageous.

 

Wolfowitz:  That story in the broad concept was generally pretty accurate, and in some of the more salacious details, if I can call them that, I don’t think there’s any basis although I can’t rule out that as I put it at some eight level in the bureaucracy, somebody’s entertaining the idea of moving our Marines from Okinawa to Australia.  I don’t think that it would be entertained at any serious level or in any serious way.

 

Q:  In any numbers?

 

Wolfowitz:  Certainly not that particular notion, nor do I think there’s any realism in thinking about naval bases in Vietnam which I read about.  It is true that the whole -- one of the principles as I’ve said, in our whole look at our worldwide posture is that it’s an unpredictable world, and we want to have forces that are flexible to respond to unpredictable situations.  But I think it’s also a pretty solid principle that we’ll want to have our main points of access being in those countries that have traditionally had the strongest relations with us and have welcomed our presence.  And it is a fact of history that the Philippines asked us to leave and I don’t see a prospect of them wanting us back, so that’s an academic subject.