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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Singapore Deputy PM/MOD Tan

Presenters: Defense Secretary William Cohen and Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Dr. Tony Tan
January 15, 1998

Opening Statements:

Dr. Tan: I am very happy to welcome Secretary Cohen to Singapore today. Secretary Cohen is no stranger to Singapore and the region as he has visited this area several times when he was a Senator. And I'm indeed very pleased that he is able to be here today in his capacity as Defense Secretary. Secretary Cohen and I have just had a fruitful discussion, during which we discussed the defense relationship between the U.S. and Singapore, and exchanged views on a range of issues.

Both Secretary Cohen and I agree that Singapore and the U.S. have a strong and important strategic relationship, with extensive bilateral defense interactions that serve the interest of both countries. The presence of U.S. forces is a positive influence for regional peace and stability and the access that the U.S. has to facilities in Singapore is important in facilitating that presence.

Secretary Cohen and I discussed the memorandum of understanding between Singapore and the U.S. that provides for U.S. forces to have access to facilities in Singapore. I informed Secretary Cohen that we will commence work on the new base in Changi for our Navy, and that U.S. Navy ships could make use of the facilities at the new Changi Base when they visit Singapore for resupply and maintenance. U.S. ships which currently call in Singapore, such as destroyers, aircraft carriers and submarines, could call at the new Changi Base once this is ready in the year 2000. Secretary Cohen and I agreed that our officials will discuss the details of U.S. Navy's access to the facilities at Changi Naval Base, and these arrangements will be covered in an addendum to the MOU.

Finally, I expressed to Secretary Cohen the SAF's (Singapore Armed Forces) appreciation for the access arrangements which the U.S. Armed Forces have provided for our F-16 training in Arizona and our Chinook helicopter training in Texas. Over the years, the training and exercises with the U.S. Armed Forces have been most useful in helping the SAF to improve its operational readiness and capability. And we look forward to more interactions and cooperation between our two armed forces.

SECRETARY COHEN: Thank you very much. Let me express my gratitude to Deputy Prime Minister Tan for hosting this brief but very important visit. I also want to thank the government of Singapore for the support that it gives to the U.S. military, particularly our Navy and Air Force.

Earlier today I visited the USS Mobile Bay and her crew. The ship's port call here symbolizes the close cooperation between our two militaries.

Our countries—as the Deputy Prime Minister has indicated—we share a strategic vision that can be summarized in four words: Partnership, Presence, Peace and Prosperity. Singapore and the United States maintain a very strong security partnership. U.S. ships and planes frequently operate out of Singapore and Singapore stations training detachments in the United States. Our partnership helps the United States maintain a highly visible military presence in South East Asia.

This presence is not a threat to anyone. It is a force for peace and stability in Asia. That peace is fundamental—a fundamental building block of Asia's prosperity. And this prosperity has lifted living standards in Asia, increased world trade flows and created new markets for American products. The partnership between the United States and Singapore is a model for how countries can work together for the good of America and for the good of Asia. The clear benefits of that partnership illustrate why the United States intends to remain engaged in Asia and committed to helping the region remain peaceful, stable and secure.

Q: Secretary I want to come back briefly to ask you about Iraq. To begin with, the situation in the Gulf now, is the United States now more active in considering, is the U.S. Military actively considering plans for possible strikes against Iraq and have U.S. friends and allies in the region including Saudi Arabia agreed that their bases might be used for such strikes....?

Cohen: Well first of all, as President Clinton has indicated, he is still pursuing diplomatic initiatives, so I think any consideration of questions surrounding the use of force are premature and hypothetical at this point. We have indicated that force has not been ruled out, hasn't been ruled in; we're seeking to achieve a diplomatic solution, if at all possible. Obviously the possibility of that remains to be determined, but we are committed to working with our allies in the United Nations and the Security Council to bring about a peaceful resolution of the situation rather than a military one. But as far as military capability is concerned, it is very obvious that the United States has a significant presence in the Gulf. We have approximately thirty thousand of our troops that are there; that we have, in fact, the support of the Gulf nations whose security we helped to defend; and that there's very solid support for the United States pursuing the diplomatic initiative, but also being prepared to help the United Nations in the event that military action should ever become necessary. So I think we have not reached that point yet and when that point will be reached—if ever—remains to be determined.

Q: But you have no doubt that Saudi Arabia will allow you to launch strikes from this territory?

Cohen: I am satisfied that the relationship we have with all of the Gulf states would allow the United States to help defend the interests of all the countries in the region.

Q: Secretary, you've been traveling around the region. Are you concerned that the region may be in danger of becoming destabilized due to the economic crisis in Indonesia in particular. And, if so, what does that mean for U.S. presence here?

Cohen: Well, my purpose in coming was to reaffirm an initial trip I had scheduled for last November, which was interrupted by events in the Gulf, was simply to convey to all of the countries in the region that the United States is committed to this region. We believe it's important for the United States to be engaged, as it has been engaged, to provide the stability which has supported the prosperity in the region, and we intend to make that commitment a long one and certainly not a short one. And so my presence and that of our other officials who are traveling in the region is to recognize there are financial difficulties being experienced by the countries in the region now. We want to do what we can at a diplomatic level, an economic level and always, certainly, from a security point of view, to contribute to the stability of the region. And that is the purpose of my visit—to visit all of the countries, including those in Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, China, to reaffirm our commitment to be a player that will stay in the region for the long term—not simply in good times but bad times as well.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you had asked for unlimited access of facilities in your speech in KL (Kuala Lumpur) for U.S. military in this region? Are you satisfied with the facilities you have in Singapore so far?

And a question for Deputy Prime Minister: What more would you like to see in trading and facilities with the U.S. and the SAF?

Cohen: We are very happy with the relationship we have with Singapore. The Singapore Government has been a very steady partner and ally in the sense that when there was a need to help maintain a presence in the region, Singapore was the first country to step forward, saying: how can we be of assistance? That assistance has been very much appreciated by the United States, but it has been of bilateral benefit. Obviously, as the Deputy Prime Minister has indicated, the Singaporean forces gain a great deal from training with the United States, and we also gain from training with the Singaporean Military. So it's a mutually beneficial arrangement—we're quite satisfied.

Tan: Well, as I said, Singapore regards the military presence of the U.S. in this part of the world as positive and contributing to peace and stability in the region. And to facilitate this presence, we're happy to make available access to our facilities for U.S. aircraft and ships. And we will extend these facilities by making available Changi naval base when this is ready in a few years time. The level of interaction between the U.S. and Singapore from military forces is very good. We participate in joint exercises, and this is beneficial to both sides. We're also very grateful to the U.S. for helping us with our training facilities. For example, our F-16 training in Arizona and the Chinook helicopter training in Grand Prairie, and there are also discussions which are underway for further training in these areas. We would also like to discuss with the U.S., for example, further cooperation in defense technology, and this is another area which we could discuss and investigate further.

Q: With access to the Singapore facilities, how have they benefited the American forces?

Cohen: By allowing us to make port visits, to associate with the military, have military exchanges -- this has been beneficial, I think, to both sides. We obviously benefit when we interact with other militaries. We think that we learn from them as well as they learn from us. Any time you have an opportunity to exchange military personnel, plans, exercises, training, it can only benefit the countries involved. So we, the very strong bilateral relationships, we are trying to increase those to multilateral relationships as well. We have found not only in Asia but wherever we have these joint types of exercises, Europe as well, that it helps to tear down barriers that might exist; it helps to have greater transparency; it helps each military to understand the other's background, training, expertise, competence; and whenever you have that kind of interchange you are bound to benefit on both sides.

Q: Mr. Cohen, do you feel that Singapore has played an important part in maintaining the stability in the region, especially now of late, with the economic turmoil and all that?

Cohen: The short answer is yes. It's played a very important role, and we look forward to it continuing to play an important role, a constructive role.

Q: Mr. Cohen, the drug certification process in the United States is under way. My question is: Is Mexico going to be certified again this year as a U.S. rally in the war against drug trafficking?

Cohen: I really am not in a position to make a comment about Mexico's status, that's something that we've taken up with the Administration, but at this point I am not in a position to comment on it.

Q: Secretary, can you tell us the status of your talks or negotiations on rescheduling some of the acquisition and purchase agreements that the regional governments had with U.S., with their differences?

Cohen: Well, it depends upon the individual governments obviously. Because they are... Q: Malaysia and Indonesia, for instance?

Cohen: Well, in Malaysia there is no program to cut back on exercises, equipment that, currently, is under contract with us. We had a meeting with the Minister of Defense and, even though there are some difficulties being experienced in the Malaysian economy right now and there will probably be some reductions in their budgetary expenditures, they intend to maintain a very strong relationship with the United States. So, it will depend upon the circumstances -- what the parliaments decide, what they will have available for resources and how they can balance their national security needs with those resources. But it depends upon the individual countries, obviously, and I shouldn't indulge in any kind of a generalization. Each country has to make a determination as to what's desirable and what's affordable. But each country, obviously, places a very high premium and priority upon its national security needs, but they must take into account what can be acquired at the time. So that's a judgment that I can't make and wouldn't presume to make. That is something individual countries will have to make.

Q: The Thai prime minister has said he'll be asking you for your assistance in delaying the purchase payments for some FA-18s ordered from the United States. Is the U.S. approach on this kind of issue where countries in this region, because of the financial crisis, find themselves unable to pay for weapons already on order from the United States, how flexible is the U.S. prepared to be? Are you prepared to go as far, for example, as your competitors, the Russians, in offering that payment can be made in large measure by barter, and, secondly are you at all concerned that South Korea because of its economic difficulties will no longer be able to bear its very large share of the costs of U.S. forces in country?

Cohen: Well, first of all, it's not in my position to establish whether or not the United States companies who are involved will -- what kind of arrangements they will make. I can say that we are encouraging our U.S. companies to be as flexible as they possibly can in order to accommodate the needs of our very strong partners. We have a strong relationship, historically, with the Thais that will continue, and we will try to be as flexible as possible. But that depends a great deal upon the individual manufacturers and what arrangements they will make. In terms of whether they can match the Russians in terms of how far or how low they're willing to go, that's a matter that I wouldn't care to speculate upon other than to point out I think most countries in the region would prefer to have American technology for purposes of inter-operability and also recognizing that we have superior products for the most part. So I think most countries, even though they're experiencing some temporary difficulties, would still prefer to have U.S. technology as opposed to any other country. But that depends again upon the circumstances and what arrangements can be made. With respect to your second question on South Korea; South Korea, notwithstanding its difficulties, I believe, because of the circumstances on the Korean peninsula, will still commit substantial resources to its defense needs and continue to pay host-nation support in very significant numbers. So, once again, we think that they will continue to support America's presence in the fashion that they have today.

Q: Dr. Tan, as you look around at the nations in this region so many of them are having economic troubles and many of them are slowing down or deferring purchases of weapons. Do you think this is going to change in some relative way the threats and the strategic picture, or is everyone going to just have to kind of slow down and the status quo will stay in place?

Tan: Well I think, obviously, the economic turmoil there will have some effect on the strategic position here but we believe that this is not going to be permanent. The countries will recover and that eventually they will go back again on a high growth path. In this respect the presence of the U.S. is very important. We're building up strong bilateral relationships here, and we're also building up strong multilateral relationships, for example in the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum), and I don't believe that in any case this would significantly change or affect adversely the security situation in this part of the world. We need to continue to build up strong relationships and to build up confidence building measures and I think this is being done and, of course, it is important and has been demonstrated by the actions of the U.S. in the last few days, the strong commitment and interest to restoring stability to this part of the world. The U.S. has a strong security presence here. The U.S. also has a strong economic presence here, and I think that the security presence augments and strengthens the economic presence of the U.S. in this part of the world which is to the benefit of everyone.

Q: Do you think the United States is doing enough, or is your message that you'd like to see the United States do more to assist the countries in the region during this time?

Dr. Tan: I think that this crisis here, you're talking about the economic crisis, needs coordinated response not only from the United States but also from countries like Japan and Europe. It also needs the strong commitment by the countries in this part of the world, for example in the case of Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, which have turned to the IMF for assistance, to abide by the IMF conditions and to implement the programs which they've agreed with the IMF. If this is done, then with strong leadership from the United States, a basis can be laid whereby a foundation can be established for the recovery of the economies in this part of the world. But it needs both a commitment and work on the part of the countries in this region as well as support from the U.S., Japan, and Europe for this to happen.

Q: Secretary Cohen, what impact would the access to Changi Naval Base have on U.S. military presence here? Will there be a quantitative increase in the presence?

Cohen: Well, first let me express the United States' gratitude to Singapore and the announcement that the Deputy Prime Minister has just made. The construction of this pier and the announcement that American carriers, in addition to other ships, will be welcome to pay visits to Singapore is a very significant development. It would signify that Singapore is prepared to accommodate additional visits on the part of the United States in the future to make the bonds that we currently have even stronger, and I think it sends a very strong signal, once again, for the long term security relationship in this region; that Singapore is prepared to encourage the United States to build upon its security relationship and is prepared to act upon its words of encouragement and, namely, to accommodate our ships and our sailors and our interests in this region. I think it is a very important announcement that he has made today.

Q: Secretary Cohen, is there a chance that nuclear submarines could use the new facility in Changi?

Cohen: I think that's a decision to be made by the Singaporean government at this point as to whether it could accommodate it. Certainly if you could accommodate an aircraft carrier you can accommodate about anything, and so this is a decision that would have to made—I would leave that to the future. The base will accommodate U.S. aircraft carrier, submarines, and other ships.

Tan: I've already said just now that the base will accommodate U.S. aircraft carriers, submarines, and other ships.

Thank you.