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Media Roundtable With Secretary Gates from Jakarta, Indonesia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
July 22, 2010

                MODERATOR:  We have an opening statement from the secretary.  And then we’re tight on time, so we’ll just try to get as many questions in as we can and, of course, want to make sure our Indonesian hosts get some questions in.  So we’ll alternate back and forth between the traveling press and the Indonesian press.

                So thank you for coming.

                SEC. GATES:  This is my second visit to Indonesia as Secretary of Defense, and I’m pleased to be here again to experience first-hand how our bilateral relationship has matured.

                This is a very important time in our relationship, as we’re broadening, deepening and elevating the ties under the auspices of the Defense Framework Agreement that was signed in June and the overall U.S.-Indonesia comprehensive partnership.

                I had very good discussions today with President Yudhoyono and Defense Minister Purnomo.  We discussed a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues.  Our nations share a number of interests, and we spent some time talking about those and how we can work together to address our common security challenges.

                Regionally, for example, we talked about the upcoming ASEAN defense ministers’ meeting plus in Hanoi in October and our views of the South China Sea.  Bilaterally, we discussed progress in three key areas:  maritime security cooperation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping operations.

                These are areas where the government in Indonesia has clearly defined a role for the Indonesian armed forces, and we are already cooperating closely in these areas.

                We also discussed where we could increase and improve this cooperation so that Indonesia can expand its leadership in the region and globally.  For example, the government of Indonesia has vast humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief experience, and the United States is committed to assisting with improving the Indonesian armed forces’ mobility and airlift capabilities in this area.  Indeed, Ambassador Hume recently attended the sendoff ceremony for the first Indonesian C-130 that is headed to the United States for a complete overhaul in Oklahoma City.

                Indonesia also has an important role to play in maritime security, given that it sits astride key sea lines of communication and other -- and nearby to other key waterways.

                We discussed how we could support each other in terms of providing for better security and surveillance of Indonesia’s waters and exclusive economic zone.

                I would also note that Indonesia is one of the largest contributors to the United Nations peacekeeping operations and has a significant deployment in Lebanon right now.

                We also remain committed to working together in the area of defense reform and professionalization of the TNI.  As you all know, the Indonesian armed forces have undertaken important military reforms since the fall of Suharto.

                Most recently, the Ministry of Defense has publicly pledged to protect human rights and advance human-rights accountability and committed to suspend active-duty military officials credibly -- to suspend from active duty military officials credibly accused of human-rights abuses, remove from military service any member convicted of such abuses, and cooperate with the prosecution of members of the military who have violated human rights.

                The president and I discussed these commitments again today.  I told the president that as a result of these significant steps and other reforms that the TNI has undertaken, the United States will begin a measured and gradual program of security cooperation activities with the Indonesian army special forces, KOPASSUS, within the limits of U.S. law.

                The process will begin with staff-level discussions to begin common understanding of how each of us operates and trains.  Subsequently, cooperation could include activities such as participation in select conferences and events involving non-lethal subjects such as rule of law, human rights, and the military decision-making process.

                I noted to the president and defense minister that these initial steps do not signal any lessening of the importance we place on human rights and accountability.  And that our ability to expand upon these initial steps will be based on continued implementation of reforms within the TNI.

                I believe that taking these initial steps is important for a number of reasons, including that KOPASSUS members are already involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations and would also likely have a role in any major crisis response or hostage-taking incident.

                What has struck me during this visit is that this is no longer a relationship that is focused on how the United States can assist Indonesia.  It is a relationship that is built on how our two countries can assist the region and the world.

                As Indonesia takes on even greater roles in providing leadership in the region and beyond, this becomes an even more important relationship for the United States.  And our bilateral relationship becomes even more important to effectively addressing broader regional and global issues.

                Since I noticed that you all have copies of this -- you can grade my reading skills. 

                MODERATOR:  We have radio here, too, so they appreciated it.

                Let’s begin with Kompas, if we may, please.

                Q     My question is, since we have a plan that will have a comprehensive partnership and that Indonesia as an equal partnership, is it possible for USA to really have any cooperation because it seems that United States is still dictating in many things, including in terms of human rights.

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that actually a lot of the initiative for the improvement in human rights here in Indonesia has come from within Indonesia and from within the Indonesian government.  And I would say that President Yudhoyono has played an important part in these reforms.

                And so I would -- we have -- all over the world we make known our interest in human rights.  But what takes -- what is required for action is the initiative and the will of governments around the world to legislate these reforms and to implement them.  So this isn’t something the United States dictates.  This is something that comes from within.

                And it is, I think, a measure of the extraordinary progress here in Indonesia over the past 10 or a dozen years, the progress that has been made in this area.  And I understand there are dramatically declining numbers of incidents of violations of human rights.  And I think this is a tribute to the people and government of Indonesia.  This is not something the United States has dictated.

                MODERATOR:  Phil Stewart.

                Q     You said in your remarks that this would happen in stages, and you seemed to suggest there wouldn’t be any lethal or any combat training for the Indonesian special forces anytime soon.  Can you give me some idea of what kind of timing you’re looking at?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that, as I’ve tried to make clear, that the growth in this -- the expansion of this relationship will be gradual and take place over time.  And I would say that each step of the way, I think, will be marked by continuation of the defense reforms here in Indonesia and the deepening of those reforms.  And as that progresses, my hope is that we’ll see a deepening of this cooperation.  But we’ll take it a step at a time.  We’re beginning in a very limited way.  But I think it is important to recognize the progress that has been made by the Indonesian armed forces and the TNI to take this step at this time.

                MODERATOR:  How about Radio Elshinta?

                Q     Thank you.

                What makes the U.S. military policy lift policy to the Indonesian special forces KOPASSUS -- (inaudible) -- to the resumption of human-rights violence?

                SEC. GATES:  I’m sorry?

                Q     What makes the U.S. military lift policy to the Indonesian special forces, the KOPASSUS -- (inaudible) -- of human-rights violence?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that the reason that we have been willing to take this limited step is, first of all, because of the defense -- the reforms that have been put in place over the last number of years here in Indonesia.  And I would particularly commend the leadership of President Yudhoyono in this.  And we talked together a number of months ago about a pathway forward that could lead to the beginning of a resumption of cooperation.

                The Indonesian armed forces have taken that path.  We are -- and we are responding to the progress that has been made and the commitments that I talked about in my prepared remarks that the Indonesian -- that TNI has made and that the government of Indonesia made.  So it’s these commitments, the progress we see in fulfilling these commitments, and the commitment to continue fulfilling them that led us to the conclusion that we could take this limited step.

                MODERATOR:  How about Daphne?

                Q     Sir, what other measures would you like to see implemented within the military in Indonesia that will, you know, convince you to actually go on with this cooperation and go further up to combat training, for example?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, there are a number of pieces of reform legislation relating to the defense arena that are pending.  Those would obviously be useful.  But I would say I think, again, the emphasis is on a step-by-step process.  And before we start thinking about step two or step three, let’s first implement step one and then see how we go and move on.

                MODERATOR:  Can you -- your placard in the corner, can you switch that so I can see it?  Thank you.

                How about Media Indonesia?  Do you have anything?

                Q     Yes.

                So from your statement, can I say that the U.S. government is satisfied with the reform done by the TNI?

                SEC. GATES:  I think what you can say is that we are impressed by the progress that has been made, by the commitments that have been made for further reform and continuing reform.  And we believe that that justifies this limited step that we have taken.

                MODERATOR:  Yeah, go ahead.

                Q     Mr. Secretary, the U.S. military has strengthened its relationships with a number of countries -- Pakistan, Cambodia, Indonesia and others that haven’t always had very good reputations in terms of human rights.  Are you concerned that the U.S. might be seen as losing its voice or influence in this regard, that it doesn’t put the same priority on human rights as it does on pressing security needs?

                SEC. GATES:  I think that the question boils down to how do you best further advance human rights.  And my view is that, particularly if people are making an effort to make progress, that recognizing that effort and working with them further will produce greater gains in human rights for people than simply standing back and shouting at people.

                And so I think that we do -- there are expectations that we have.  And as I said, we laid out a path early in the year of what it would take.  The commitments that I described in this paper have been undertaken.  They are fulfilling those commitments.  We anticipate they will continue to fulfill them.  We think this is a pathway to greater human rights rather than a lessening of interest or priority in human rights.

                MODERATOR:  Sir, please.

                Q     I just would like to be more specific.  Is it also including -- (inaudible) -- modernize our weapons?

                SEC. GATES:  I’m sorry?

                Q     This defense reform, is it also including conversation -- (inaudible) -- modernize our weapons?

                SEC. GATES:  We are very interested in working with the TNI about force modernization.  We probably have one of the most active programs of cooperation with the TNI more broadly of any country certainly in the Pacific Command area.

                There’ll be -- in fiscal year ‘11, there’ll be something like 140 different joint military activities.  We’re clearly working with -- as I referenced in my remarks, we’re clearly working with respect to the C-130s and upgrading those.  And we’re also willing to look at other areas where we can cooperate with Indonesia as well.

                MODERATOR:  Elisabeth.

                Q     How hard did you have to work to convince -- (inaudible) -- State Department and the White House that this was a good idea?

                SEC. GATES:  Secretary Clinton and I were both convinced that this step forward was the right thing to do at this time.

                Q     And the White House was --

                SEC. GATES:  And we -- and the talking points, the whole thing that I’ve said, was signed off on by the National Security Council.  So this represents -- this is not just a Department of Defense statement.  This is a United States government decision.

                MODERATOR:  Yeah, let’s go to -- how about Koran Tempo?  Do you have anything, sir?  Nothing?  You.

                Q     Me?

                MODERATOR:  Yeah.

                Q     I’m from VIVAnews.

                MODERATOR:  Oh, sorry.  There’s a misplaced placard there.  VIVAnews, you got anything? 

                Q     Yes, thank you.  Regarding the progress of the -- (inaudible) -- and also how do you assess the progress in these two regions?

                SEC. GATES:  You have just exceeded my level of expertise.  Let me ask the ambassador if he has any comment.

                AMB. HUME:  Yeah, I would just say briefly, I think if you look at Aceh, you have a remarkable evolution over the last number of years in terms of peace and peaceful cooperation.  You had the elections, you had no problems there during the elections, so I would say enormous progress.

                (Inaudible) -- you also have a lot of engagement by the Indonesian government, just some local objections to the speed with which the agreements to improve social conditions there have gone forward.  But what I see when I go out there is there is a remarkable amount of activity back and forth between the central authorities and the local government there -- not enough progress but it’s still pretty remarkable.

                MODERATOR:  David Cloud.

                Q     Sir, have you had a chance, or have your underlings, for lack of a better term, had a chance to brief the Hill about this?  I’m most interested in whether you’ve talked to Senator Leahy and others who have led the charge on restricting U.S. military relationships in these sorts of situations.

                SEC. GATES:  Admiral Mullen has had a couple of telephone conversations with Senator Leahy over the past week, I am told.  I don’t have any first-hand information and I’m completely at a loss in terms of the time frame.

                I guess Wednesday night, or Wednesday afternoon there were some conversations with people on the Hill who are particularly interested in this area, and by and large the feedback I’ve gotten -- and I can only tell you sort of third-hand at this point -- is that they thought these limited steps were okay.

                MODERATOR:  Is it Sinir Harafam?

                Q     Actually --

                SEC. GATES:  Of course they’ll all speak up tomorrow and make a liar out of me -- but that’s what I’ve heard.

                Q     The cooperation -- (inaudible) -- in three areas, with maritime, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.  And I want to ask about the cooperation on trans-border crime in this region.  How is the cooperation between the United States and Indonesia, and how the United States sees Indonesia in this area, transborder crime?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I would say, more broadly, that, first of all, I think the counterterrorism cooperation between our two countries is very strong and I would congratulate Indonesia on the success of its counterterrorism efforts over the last couple of years.  Even since my last visit here in 2008 there have been some notable counterterrorism achievements and successes. 

                By the same token, I think that the effort that we have made, working with not just Indonesia but also Malaysia and Singapore in terms of maritime surveillance with respect to piracy and crime and so on has really had quite a positive effect.  And I think the three countries, using some of the radars and other equipment that we have provided, I think there has been a real change in the environment in terms of crime and piracy, say, compared to off the Africa coast, Horn of Africa.

                So I would say that these transnational issues, that the cooperation not just between the United States and Indonesia but among a number of countries here in the region has been very positive and is certainly headed in the right direction.

                MODERATOR:  Yeah, go ahead.

                Q     On North Korea --

                MODERATOR:  The floor is yours.

                Q     Today, North Korea Delegation spokesman in ARF, Hanoi condemned U.S.-Korea naval exercise as a threat to global peace.  What is your response on that?

                SEC. GATES:  My response to that is I condemn their sinking of the Cheonan. 

                MODERATOR:  How about Republika?

                Q     I’m actually with Associated Press. 

                MODERATOR:  Okay -- these placards. 

                Q     This was the only seat.

                MODERATOR:  Okay, AP.

                Q     Thank you. 

                Mr. Secretary, you mentioned -- going back to U.S.-Indonesia military relations, you mentioned this is the first step in a new relationship with KOPASSUS.  Can you give us anymore details about what the first step entails?  Is it just the announcement?  In your speech you say "gradual program of security cooperation activities" with KOPASSUS.  What does that mean?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I think the statement also talks about the fact that we’ll start with talks between staffs on the different approach to operations and training of the two, and then we could proceed to deal with subjects and events associated with rule of law, human rights, and military decision-making.

                MODERATOR:  You already had one, so let’s be -- I don’t how to call the AP.  I guess they are ours, but how about this -- you already had some -- you in the corner.  Yeah.  Who are you with?

                Q     From Republika

                SEC. GATES:  It’s a trick question. 

                Q     (Inaudible) -- cooperation, Indonesia and South Korea, to improve fighter aircraft specifically F-16.

                SEC. GATES:  I’m sorry; would you repeat that?

                MODERATOR:  Can you say it again, sir?

                Q     Can you comment about military cooperation, Indonesia and South Korea, to improve fighter aircraft -- (inaudible).

                SEC. GATES:  One again, you have exceeded my level of knowledge.  This is the first I’ve heard of such a program.

                MODERATOR:  Indonesian-South Korean cooperation?

                Q     Yeah.

                MODERATOR:  It’s probably exceeded your knowledge too, Mr. Ambassador. 

                Okay, let’s wait for the South Korean MoD [Minister of Defense] to pass through.  How about the Jakarta Post?

                Q     I was thinking about maritime security cooperation.  Will there be a cooperation between the U.S. and the Indonesia intelligence information sharing so that both -- I mean, Indonesia will know what kind of vessels that pass through Indonesian waters, and their moves and their destinations?  This can be used to prevent any attempt of drug trafficking, terrorism, et cetera.

                SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I would say that the effort that we have funded in terms of radars and technical intelligence and so on, with respect to Indonesia and Malaysia and Singapore, is itself a form of intelligence and intelligence sharing.  And I think that we have a strong foundation in that area and I would expect it to continue to expand.

                MODERATOR:  How about the Jakarta Globe?

                Q     Mr. Secretary, for the past year we have seen U.S. officials bring the region -- (inaudible) -- Indonesia, and in accordance to your speech here -- (inaudible) -- even greater roles in providing leadership in the region and beyond.  How do you see the U.S. has significance including the region and in Indonesia providing leadership?  How is the U.S. assisting Indonesia in providing leadership in the region?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I see us as partners, and I think that some of the programs that we have together enable the expansion and improvement of Indonesian military capabilities, particularly in the three areas that I described:  maritime surveillance and security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and in peace-keeping.

                In each of these areas I think we can provide assistance to Indonesia.  And in this partnership, both play a role here in the region.

                MODERATOR:  Yoso.

                Q     Secretary, on the South China Sea, I’m wondering if you touched on their Chinese naval buildup in the region with the conversation with your counterpart.

                SEC. GATES:  We didn’t talk about the Chinese naval buildup as such.  We did talk about the disputes in the South China Sea, and we talked about our shared view that these disputes should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law.  That they probably should be resolved -- preferably should be resolved multilaterally. And that they should be done -- and that our overall approach is that we’re against any kind of coercion. 

                We’re against the use of force and we’re against anything that hinders stability, the freedom of navigation or free economic development.  Within that framework, the disputes need to be addressed through dialogue and through negotiation.

                MODERATOR:  How about Voice of America?

                Q     You know, human rights groups are asking that the Indonesian government hold open investigations and prosecutions of those involved in human rights abuses in KOPASSUS before any sort of military engagement takes place.  What’s your reaction to that?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I would tell you, first of all, our position is the commitments that the Indonesians have made are, in our view, sufficient to justify this first step.  I would say that in terms of what’s happened in the past, whenever we cooperate with another country’s military, we vet not only individuals but the units those individuals are assigned to, to see if there have been human rights violations. 

                The embassy here is rigorous in that effort and in providing us that information, and that’s our way of insuring that at least the people that we’re working with were not previously involved in human rights violations.

                MODERATOR:  Any of our Asian traveling press?  Yes, please.

                Q     Secretary, I was wondering, how do you rate your stay in South Korea for three days and four nights and 2+2 meeting and the meeting with the president Lee Myung-bak?  And I’m wondering, still do you think that North Korea would like to make an asymmetric attack like they did with the Cheonan in the future?

                SEC. GATES:  Because of my visit? 

                Q     Yeah, either to have your evaluation of the 2+2 meeting -- (inaudible).

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think the 2+2 meeting -- first of all, it’s important to remember that the occasion for the 2+2 meeting was the anniversary of the 60th -- was the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance that came about because of the North Korean invasion. 

                And we discussed the fullest range of bilateral issues, regional issues, obviously North Korea, and stability in the region, and global issues as well.  And I think we had very thorough talks and I think it was an important step forward in the strength of the alliance.

                MODERATOR:  John, do you have anything? 

                Q     No sir.

                MODERATOR:  Okay.  Yes, please. 

                Q     Please, different subject - may I ask a Futenma issue?

                MODERATOR:  Futenma issue? 

                SEC. GATES:  Sure.

                Q     Okay.  Yes, my name is Takashi Fudo with Jiji Presss, Japan.  Thank you very much.  Regarding the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa in Japan, Japanese defense minister said the Futenma replacement facility issue should be delayed by the end of November when the Okinawan governor election is done.  So, what do you think of this idea, the delay of the Futenma issue?  Is there any concern you have?

                SEC. GATES:  First of all, I just would like to express my appreciation for the agreement of a few weeks ago that we would go forward -- between the two governments that we would go forward with Futenma.  I think it is clear that there are some domestic political challenges that the Japanese government faces in this regard, and speaking for myself personally, I am willing to be patient as they deal with those issues.

                MODERATOR:  Okay, how about one last one from the Indonesian --

                Q     The U.S. has military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a Muslim country.  How will the security measures be during the Ramadan month of August?  August is -- Ramadan is coming, so will there going to be any changes in regard to Muslim -- (inaudible)?

                SEC. GATES:  I’m sorry; what was the question?

                MODERATOR:  Just, are you going to change any operations during Ramadan in Iraq or Afghanistan?

                SEC. GATES:  No, but in Iraq, again, in keeping with the agreements that we have with the Iraqi government, our forces will be down to 50,000 in Iraq by the first of September and will be going to zero at the end of next year. 

                MODERATOR:  Okay, one last one here from Kompas.

                Q     Mr. Secretary, I’m wondering, how can the USA compete with China when China is now very eager to cooperate with many countries without asking about human rights whatsoever?  So, what do you think about that? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I think most of the people in the world care about human rights.  Some of their governments may not.  And I think, frankly, the United States is on the side of history in this area.  And we want good relations with all countries as well and we’re open to talking with all countries. 

                But our commitment to human rights and to human liberty is as old as our republic.  We will never be silent about these issues.  And, frankly, I think -- as I say, I think you’re looking at somebody who was very much involved in the Cold War and with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.  Three-hundred-million people found a much greater degree of freedom than they had had in their entire lifetimes.  This is the direction of history and I think we’re on the side of history.

                MODERATOR:  That’s a good note to end on.  Thank you, guys, for coming.

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