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Media Availability at Tilt-rotor Day with Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
September 08, 1999
Secretary Cohen: Charlie?

Q: I'd like to ask you about Indonesia.

Secretary Cohen: Does anybody here have a question about the V-22?

Q: Not really.

Q: The problem seems to be getting worse rather than better in Indonesia. In fact a new military commander was appointed today. Is the United States at least making some contingency plans to possibly put peacekeepers in there? If not, why not?

Secretary Cohen: The United States, like other nations, are calling upon Indonesia to deal with this problem as swiftly and effectively as possible. We're calling upon the government of Indonesia to bring the East Timorese militia under control. That responsibility is theirs. They understand the consequences of failing to act; what the reaction of the international community would be.

The United States is not planning on any insertion of peacekeeping forces. What we are doing is--we are coordinating and talking to Australians and others who would be interested in a peacekeeping force should the Indonesian government invite such a force in and should the United Nations approve it. But we are not planning on peacekeepers going into Indonesia.

Q:...rejected peacekeepers and the situation isn't improving.

Secretary Cohen: The government of Indonesia is responsible for bringing order and peace to East Timor. That responsibility rests upon them, so we're calling upon them carry out their responsibilities. The entire international community is doing that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you're saying they understand the consequences. What are the consequences?

Secretary Cohen: Certainly the international community has a number of levers it can pull on this. There are serious financial consequences to be sure in the event the Indonesian government is seen as being either ineffective or in complicity with the militia operating in East Timor now. So I think there are a number of things they will have to look at in terms of its isolation in the international community and what...

Q: But that...

Secretary Cohen: ...the marketplace would react to any serious instability in the region. All of those consequences could flow from that. I think that's the...

Q: No military intervention.

Secretary Cohen: There's no plan for any military intervention.

Q: Mr. Secretary, how do you draw the line between where you intervene? Why Kosovo and not East Timor? As the Secretary of Defense, how do you make that kind of determination?

Secretary Cohen: As I've indicated before, the United States cannot be and should not be viewed as the policeman of the world. We act where it's in our national interest to act. That's where we can act effectively, certainly in conjunction with allies, or alone if necessary if it's in our vital interests. But in this particular case it's incumbent upon the Indonesian government in the first instance and the international community acting through the United Nations secondly, if that's not possible. But we have to be selective where we commit our forces, and under the circumstances this is not an area that we're prepared to commit our forces to.

Q: A followup on the V-22. How confident are you of the funding for this project in that there won't be a sneak attack launched by members of the House against the V-22 as there was against the F-22?

Secretary Cohen: This aircraft, this technology has enjoyed strong support over the years. It is one of the great pleasures of my life to have been engaged in the conception--at least the development of this concept--while a member of the Hill in supporting its funding, and now seeing the realization as Secretary of Defense.

I believe this technology presents the wave of the future. It's here today, but it's going to be applied in various other types of aircraft. I would foresee very strong and enduring support for this aircraft.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I thought I saw [Weldon] shaking his head back there. Did...

Congressman Weldon: It was the only major program that was canceled and completely restored and the Congress led the effort. So just so you would know that it was a Republican Administration that canceled this program, and it was bipartisan support in Congress that resurrected it. And that's the reason it's here today, because of that support and the support of the UAW and the support of the Marine Corps.

Q: Will the U.S. participate if Indonesia invites peacekeepers to come in and the Security Council does...

Secretary Cohen: I think it's premature for the United States to be talking about any peacekeeping force at this time. This is something that the Indonesian government must do. Failing that, the international community must lead.

Q: Mr. Secretary, are military ties with Indonesia continuing, including joint training exercises?

Secretary Cohen: At this time there are no joint exercises taking place. As you know, many of the exercises have been reduced in recent years. We do maintain military-to-military contact. We hope those contacts will prove beneficial during this period of crisis.

Q: Mr. Secretary, how convinced are you that the U.S. military operated appropriately at Waco? That there were only three Delta force observers, and that they did not operate on the final day of the siege? How convinced are you?

Secretary Cohen: I am not in possession of any information that would allow me to give you an informed answer on that. There's an investigation inquiry underway now, and I don't have any information on it.

Q: Do you believe there's any information contrary to what the public record's been for six years?

Secretary Cohen: I can't speculate on anything at this point. An inquiry is being made, and once that inquiry is complete there will be a full discussion of it. But, I'm not in possession of the facts that personally allows me to comment.

Q: Doesn't that leave the door open, Mr. Secretary?

Secretary Cohen: If there are legitimate questions raised then we have an obligation to inquire. This happened long before I became Secretary of Defense. I have no information personally that would contradict anything that has been stated before. There's an inquiry underway. I want to reserve judgment and find out exactly what took place and what the facts are.

Q: Are you looking into this separately from the Justice Department?

Press: Thank you.