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Secretary Cohen Media Availability at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
December 10, 1999 1:20 PM EDT

Media Availability at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

Secretary Cohen: Why don't we just begin with your questions? I think you've heard enough of me.

Q: (Inaudible)

Secretary Cohen: My understanding of that particular contract is that it is provided for by law and that Congress has adopted laws which allow for set-asides for minorities and for small business. I think perhaps Congressman Davis might be in a better position to give you an answer about that, but it is actually provided for by congressional legislation.

Congressman Davis: Mr. Secretary, as I've said before, I am looking at, I am concerned that this law is not an appropriate protection for the taxpayer and I've spoken to several members of Congress about this, and intend to look into how it's been used not just at MacDill but in the past around the country and whether it does present problems for the taxpayer that we need to fix. If we need to fix it, Congress needs to fix the problem it created.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you had mentioned concerns about Y2K particularly from our counterparts in Moscow, that area. What are your thoughts on that? Are there any real threats of either domestic or international terrorism that might face our country when the clock turns to January 1?

Secretary Cohen: From a mechanical point of view, we have taken rather significant steps certainly in the Department of Defense, but throughout all of our agencies, to make all of our systems Y2K compliant. There may be some difficulties sporadically and disbursed throughout the country where either some of the smaller companies or perhaps even states and some of the more rural areas have not been able to adequately address this, but I think we're overall satisfied that we have minimized the disruptions that could come about as a result of that.

From a defense point of view, we are fully compliant and we have made a heroic effort to bring ourselves into compliance on the Y2K, but we will be prepared to assist a variety of communities that may find some difficulties.

As far as other countries are concerned, I mentioned Russia because we want to make sure that if there are problems that are experienced in Russia that they do not misconstrue that or miscalculate, and that's the reason why they are sending some of their people to Colorado Springs and why we hope to institutionalize that by having a permanent Joint Center in Moscow next year.

There may be other countries who suffer from shortages in terms of electrical power output and so forth, and each country and each community should have its own contingent plans in place.

There has been some concern expressed by the FBI that there may be groups that try to exploit any temporary shortages or problems that might be encountered and of course we want to be on the alert for that domestically. But I think that we are in reasonably good shape, and time will tell in terms of what other countries have done. Everybody has been made aware of it. We have certainly talked about it from a defense point of view for the past year so we have worked quite closely with our major allies in order to make sure that the systems that we need to be fully integrated are in fact Y2K compliant.

Q: Is it your expectation, though, when January 1 comes, it should be just routinely another day for your average American person?

Secretary Cohen: I think that for the most part that will be the case. There may be, again, some areas that have problems that they have not either anticipated or have not addressed satisfactorily, and that will be the role of the Governors and the Mayors of the various cities to have contingency plans put in place, or have them in place for possible execution. We will have standby procedures that we can be of assistance should that be the case, but I think that for the most part we will be in good shape.

Q: (Inaudible)

Secretary Cohen: The answer to the first question is yes, it's absolutely necessary there be inspections in Iraq.

Iraq is under an obligation under the United Nations sanctions regime that they must fully comply with allowing inspectors to make a determination to their satisfaction that they no longer have nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or missiles to deliver them.

As we all know, Saddam has evicted and thrown out the inspectors. Now what he would like to do is to have a termination of the sanctions. Frankly, if that were to be the case, Saddam would simply go back to spending all of his revenues, or a good portion of them, on rebuilding his military and posing the same kind of threat that he did prior to the Persian Gulf War.

So the answer to Saddam is there can be no relief from the sanctions until such time as you agree to allow inspectors back into Iraq to satisfy themselves that you are in fact, and you have in fact eliminated all your nuclear materials and capability and biological and chemical weapons. Until that happens there can be no relief and should be no relief from the sanctions.

Q: Do you think (inaudible)?

Secretary Cohen: That really is up to the community. As I pointed out during the course of my remarks, this is a remarkable community with the support it provides to military personnel, their families, the kind of volunteerism and programs that are available to the area to have both personnel and the military be able to integrate and relate to the business community, the business community supporting the military. This is a remarkable community.

In terms of future development, I think everyone is always concerned about future base closure proceedings. BRAC proceedings. As you know, I have called for two more rounds. That has not been supported, but we need to eliminate as much excess infrastructure and overhead as we can if we're going to pay for the kind of weapons systems that we need to have to keep us at the leading edge of technology and capability in the world.

So I would expect at some future time there will be more rounds of base realignments and closures. But I would also point out that here in Tampa you have MacDill which has the unique situation of having two unified commands, both Central Command and Special Operations Command. So that speaks very well I think for the future.

In addition, because of the shutdown of our activities in Panama as far as the counterdrug activities, we've seen some of those assets now moved here into MacDill. I think that also will be important in terms of continuing the counterdrug activity throughout the Caribbean and South America.

No one can predict the future for you, can tell you any particular facility will never be considered for closure in the future, but I think based upon what I've seen here, this is a very strong community and a very strong strategic facility that we have both for deployment of assets to the European theater, to South America, throughout, [to] help the South American countries in terms of combatting drugs and terrorism and also throughout even Africa. General Zinni's area of responsibility stretches all the way to East Africa, including the Central Asian countries where he has just returned from. So he has a big area of responsibility. Also Pete Schumaker has an important global responsibility, and they are both centered here, so I think that speaks well for the future.

Q: (Inaudible)

Secretary Cohen: There is no role for the United States in Chechnya. I think what we can do is continue to voice our concerns about acts of terrorism being directed against the Russian people on the part of any group, be they in Chechnya or elsewhere. At the same time, urging Russia to seek a diplomatic solution and not rely upon a military one. So I think our role is one diplomatic in nature, and not military.

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