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Wolfowitz Press Conference at Manila Peninsula Hotel

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
June 03, 2002 10:30 AM EDT

(Press Conference at Manila Peninsula Hotel)

Wolfowitz: Good morning. Thank you for coming. I just thought at the outset I want to make mention of the fact that I just had an excellent short meeting with Governor Farouk Hussein - governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. He's a remarkable man, a medical doctor who spent some 22 years in exile during the Marcos period and some of the period afterwards. He was briefing me about some of the problems of the southern Philippines and I must say as someone who has dealt with this region for a very long time - and the problems have been here for a long time - the sense of movement of progress, of the ability of someone who is a leader of the Moro National Liberation Front to be an active participant now in the government of this country, is a huge step forward, and there's been a lot of progress made. So it was a pleasure to meet with you, governor.

I suppose if you want to ambush him afterwards with a few questions, he's somebody who can answer them very well. But if I might now just focus on my visit and the purpose of my visit -- and if you permit me a personal reflection, I've worked on Asia and Asian policy for more than 20 years, quite intensely. I have to confess this is my first time back to the Philippines since the period of my life that was very involved with U.S. policy for the Philippines in the last years of the Marcos administration, and working actively with President Corazon Aquino (she wasn't the President yet then, of course,) and many leading opposition figures in the Philippines, in what became one of the great historic transitions to democracy, and a remarkably peaceful transition to democracy.

Shortly after the great events of EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos - Epiphany of the Saints) I, I went off to be the U.S. Ambassador in Indonesia and spent 3 years there and many years doing other things in between. But for me it's very satisfying, personally, to be back here. It's a wonderful country and what happened in 1986 which was, in my view, a great event of the Philippine people taking their own fate, their own future in their hands, and doing it so successfully, was something. Viewing it from thousands of miles away in Washington, we took great satisfaction and I think anyone who participated in any way in those events thinks back at them as a remarkable period.

In fact, last night, President Arroyo was gracious enough to host me and my party for a very warm dinner at Malacanang with quite a few senior members of the Philippine Cabinet present. Many of them had stories to tell from those years and there was a lot of interesting reminiscence.

But I didn't come here just to reminisce or just to think back 20 years. There's a lot going on now, obviously. The Philippines has been our partner in many difficult circumstances going back to World War II and events after World War II, and now in this war on terrorism. We find ourselves standing together, both our countries believing deeply in democracy, in human rights, both of our countries threatened by terrorists who deeply oppose those values and who believe in the killing of innocents as a way to advance their terrible agenda-which is an agenda that aims to take the world's Muslim population back to some medieval notion of intolerance and bigotry and repression. The efforts that we have underway here in the Philippines today between our two governments and also very definitely between our two governments and also very definitely between our two defense departments, which is-I'm here to represent the defense department-are aimed at advancing that struggle against worldwide terrorism.

We started back in January, end of January, as I think most of you know this exercise, Balikatan in Southern Philippines. Balikatan, I'm told is Tagalog for 'shoulder to shoulder' and that is how we feel we are standing with the Philippines and the Philippine people. While our effort is focused in Basilan, I think it's appropriate to understand that this is much more than just about one small corner of this big country. I believe that the success of the Philippines in demonstrating that Christians and Muslims can live together in a society that's free and open and progressive is part of what President Bush has referred to as building a more just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror. Our aim is not just to defeat terrorists but to build the foundations of a just and peaceful and tolerant society afterwards.

I believe the Philippines, long before September 11th was aware of this challenge, long before September 11th had encountered international terrorists and domestic terrorists and has risen to the challenge in a way that we appreciate very much. So it's really a privilege to work with people who share our values, with people who are self reliant and determined to stand on their own feet and tackle their own jobs, their own tasks, and we're here to help. I'm here to find out how we can help and to go back and advise Secretary Rumsfeld about what would be appropriate ways to help in the months going forward. I'd be happy to take questions.

Yes, Sir.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you indeed think that it will be a good idea for the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk to (inaudible)...

Wolfowitz: I noticed some of these stories about the Kitty Hawk. It was the first I ever even heard of the notion. There's simply nothing to it. Kitty Hawk isn't even close to the Philippines. And we are not talking about sending in U.S. troops to do the job for the Philippine Armed Forces. What we're about here is improving the capabilities of the Philippine Armed Forces to do the job themselves. I mentioned self- reliance. Going back to 1986, it was the Philippine people who were responsible for that democratic transition, not the United States. So we were happy to help on the side, it's the Philippine Armed Forces who were responsible for some extraordinary successes already to date, in Basilan. But we are more than happy to be able to give them some training, give them some technical assistance. But they're the ones who have the job to do. As for the Kitty Hawk, it's hundreds, I think probably thousands of miles away, and we have no thought whatsoever of bringing it here.

Q: Hi, sir. CINCPAC had earlier suggested that U.S. troops in Basilan be allowed to work down to the company level. Have you brought this up during your talks with President Arroyo last night?

Wolfowitz: It's definitely been a subject that's been contemplated really pretty much from the start of the exercise. We've had in mind that as we make progress in certain ways that there would be other steps that might be - that might - I really want to underscore that none of these have been decided - that might logically follow. But this is not the kind of exercise that you could write its precise blueprint that will carry you through for months or years. It's the kind of thing where you have to see how you make progress, how the problems change as you make progress, and what steps are appropriated at each stage. It is one of the questions. We talked about it with the President, we talked about it this morning with Secretary Reyes, and I'm sure I'll be talking about it later today in southern Philippines with both Philippine authorities and with the American commanders down there.

I would like to emphasize though that whatever particular steps we decide to do, or don't decide, or decide not to do, it's a mistake to focus too much on any one detail or even, as I try to suggest, on any one small island of this country. We are very much committed to helping the government across the board in what really is clearly a long term challenge of peace and order -- peace and order not just for the sake of peace and order, but also peace in order which is essential for moving forward on some of the root causes that terrorists breed off of. I was informed just a few minutes ago by the governor that at the moment the only international aid agency that is able to deliver assistance to his part of the country is USAID -- not because other countries are unwilling to do so but because so far the others are unwilling to take the risks of encountering the serious security threats that are posed there. So it's a broad issue.

Q: Can you tell us what aid you might have discussed with Secretary Reyes that the U.S. might offer the Philippines beyond the training in the southern region, particularly any foreign military financing, excess defense articles, or any other technical assistance in the way of intelligence or anything else?

Wolfowitz: I don't want to be too specific because I find that every time we mention the specifics it becomes a sort of a litmus test - are you going to do it or aren't you going to do it? But we really did discuss a very broad range of instruments of assistance that the United States is providing and can continue to provide and might provide in different forms, different quantities. There's been a significant increase already in our international military education and training programs. It has been a very successful program over the course of many years, but we're also, with the Philippines as with many other countries, looking for ways in which those programs might be increased specifically tailored to assist with counter-terrorism training. We are looking at equipment needs of the Philippine Armed Forces and ways in which those can be improved. I do think what we're learning from Balikatan is that training is the most important thing. Equipment without training is almost useless, and capable forces do very well even under-equipped. But what we like to have are capable, well equipped forces - that's the goal.

Q: Is Balikatan itself going to be extended?

Wolfowitz: That's one of the questions that I hope to be better informed about when I leave here. Those are decisions that have to be made by both our governments, and I would emphasize that I'm the Deputy Secretary of Defense. I work for Mr. Rumsfeld. He is the one who will decide what he recommends to our President, and of course it's President Arroyo who has to decide from the Philippine side what is appropriate. I think there's agreement on the purposes, I really do. I think it's a very solid agreement. When President Arroyo was in Washington a few months ago, I was in her meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld. It was a very warm and productive meeting, and I know that she had a similarly excellent meeting with the President of the United States. I'm going to say is probably several times, but I think it bears repeating which is that when you have a meeting of minds, when you have common values, common purposes, and a common understanding of what the problem is, that is the most important thing in any particular decision on how to move forward. It needs to be seen in that broader context.

Q: There has been a lot of (inaudible) reports about the condition of the Burnhams. What is currently the best U.S intelligence -- Philippine intelligence, for that matter -- on their status? Are they alive (inaudible) and if so where do you believe they are?. (Inaudible) and why would you not want to go down to training at tactical level when military officials say that we enhance that chance of rescuing them?

Wolfowitz: Fair questions, but I think one of the things that enhances the chances of rescuing them is to say as little as possible in public about what we know. We do believe they're alive, and I don't think I want to say much more than that. Obviously the people who are holding them have access to everything we say in public as well. This is one of the things we want to achieve. We very much want to rescue them. The Philippine Armed Forces, the government of the Philippines, the President of the Philippines all want to rescue them and that is important. Again, it is one aspect of this larger problem.

And it's not just the Burnhams. I shouldn't even say "just." I mean, these are two human beings who are suffering, they're two Americans who we want to see rescued. But it is also worth remembering that the threat that these terrorists pose to foreigners, to foreign aid workers, destroys the tourism industry, destroys the hopes for the opportunities for foreign aid, and foreign reconstruction and development assistance. The peace and order issue of which the Burnhams are victims of has much larger implications than the Burnhams themselves. So it is important as it is to rescue them for their own sake, it is important also for larger reasons.

Q: Mr. Secretary have you discussed...(inaudible) the status of the MLSA and how important is that agreement to the U.S. Government in regard to the U.S. presence in Southeast Asia or East Asia for that matter?

Wolfowitz: We have discussed the MLSA (Mutual Logistics Support Agreement) with Secretary Reyes this morning and it is important. It is an instrument that will facilitate our cooperation. I think it's clearly in the interest of both countries but I don't want to be presumptuous and tell the Philippine government what to do. We think that signing of that agreement, the completion of that agreement will allow us to work more closely together. There is no question about it.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Sir.

Wolfowitz: I better let you recognize the questioner because I don't want to be responsible...

Q: Sir, after your forces, your Balikatan forces go home, are you open to the possibility of leaving at least a token force of advisers or a small group of officers who will continue the training or give technical advice to the Armed Forces?

Wolfowitz: I would say we're really open to all kinds of possibilities not just with respect to Basilan but with respect to the larger problems of peace and order in this country. As elsewhere in the world and in our own armed forces there are big questions of priorities - what's the most important things to do, what's the best use of scarce resources. Certainly, the best outcome would be for the peace and order situation in Basilan to be such that even the Philippine Armed Forces don't have to devote large resources to that one island because there are problems elsewhere in this country. But we are taking a strategic view of this and in that strategic view, we're trying to make the smartest use of resources which even though the United States is a big country, and we have a huge defense budget, the requirements are spread all over the world.

Q: Can I just ask to be more precise about the question regarding the extension of the exercises that is being considered right now and when such a decision would be made on this issue? And I have another question regarding what you said on a press conference on May 29 when you were talking about the lack of talk about security among countries in Asia considering the fact that there has been a lot of frustration in the slowness of the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) process. Has the U.S. made specific proposal to speed it up or form some kind of institution?

Wolfowitz: Let me take the second part first. I believe that thanks to the leadership of President Arroyo, we have seen a very important example of regional cooperation in the trilateral counter-terrorism cooperation between the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. When I was in Singapore recently, we talked to some other ASEAN countries who are thinking about joining that grouping. I'm frankly very upbeat about ASEAN. I think it has created an extraordinary ability for countries, that not so long ago were mainly talking about their territorial disputes with one another or even war with one another, to be talking about cooperation. It's flexible -- the fact that three ASEAN countries joined that agreement without necessarily all ten joining. That's the way things get done in Asia. In my experience a lot informality, a lot of flexibility. I think it's quite successful.

The first part of your question - as I said I'm here not to make decisions but to have a better appreciation of the situation so that I can better advise Secretary Rumsfeld and he in the end advises the President, our President, but at the risk of taking a little of the drama out of the whole thing, and I know drama is what we all live for and particularly you live for. This is a long-run process. Our cooperation with the Philippine government, with the Philippine Armed Forces, goes back before September 11th. Obviously, September 11th hast put it in an entirely new context but as our President has said over and over again, this war against terrorism is going to be a long struggle, and it is about more than just defeating terrorists. It's also about getting those root causes that terrorists feed off, of building a more just world. I believe that is what it has been about here in the Philippines. This is going to be a series, I believe of individual steps, gradual decisions. It was pointed out to me earlier today that at one point we had everything neatly organized into phase one, phase two. There will be phasing. Obviously you make decisions at a given point based on how you assess the situation at a given point. But we're already in phase one engaged in a major engineering construction operation on Basilan island which was supposed to be a part of phase two. So don't expect this to be neat and orderly. You can expect that we're going to be monitoring the situation carefully week by week, month by month. We'll be making changes and adjustments as we see most useful for these circumstances.

Q: Sir, does the disintegrating situation now of the Burnhams make it imperative for the US -- to keep the US presence here by way of its troops?

Wolfowitz: The Burnhams are important. The peace and order situation in the Southern Philippines is important. The whole security and development of this country - they're all important. It's a mistake I believe, as I've said over and over again, to focus too much on one island or just the Burnhams. We're very concerned about the Burnhams and we will do - we are doing whatever we can and the Philippine Armed Forces are doing everything they can to find and rescue the Burnhams, but it would be a very misleading impression to suggest, especially to Filipinos, that as soon as the Burnhams are rescued the Americans will lose interest in the Philippines. This is a much bigger question.

Thank you.

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