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Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan

Presenter: Defense Secretary William Cohen
January 21, 1998 12:00 PM EDT

Good morning. First I want to thank Foreign Minister Obuchi and Defense Minister Kyuma for hosting my brief, but very useful visit. I also want to thank the government and the people of Japan for the support they have provided to the United States military.

Before coming to Japan, I visited Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and China. These countries understand that the United States military presence in Asia lays the groundwork for peace and prosperity throughout all of Asia. Our security policy in Asia rests on four essential pillars. First, bilateral relations, especially a strong security alliance with Japan. Secondly, multilateral relations such as the ASEAN Regional Forum. Third, engagement with China. And fourth, control of weapons of mass destruction. The forward presence of nearly 100,000 American troops in the Asia-Pacific region is the foundation that supports these four pillars.

Our troops work very hard to prepare for their deployments. They also work very hard to train in a way that doesn't inconvenience the Japanese people. We want to be very good neighbors. Sometimes our security concerns require training that cannot be scheduled in advance. And I want to express my personal regrets about this imposition upon the people of Japan that the rapid deployment of the USS Independence caused in terms of requiring the training of its air wing, particularly the imposition that it caused for the students who were preparing for exams. This was something that came up very suddenly and we will certainly try to avoid this in the future.

Yesterday afternoon I met with Prime Minister Hashimoto. We reviewed our strong security alliance, the implementation of the defense guidelines, and progress under the SACO agreements. Peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region rests on leadership from the United States and Japan, and our alliance has never been stronger.

Thank you very much.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. You are going to visit the Independence today and it will be going to the Gulf this month to replace the Nimitz. Do you think the United States now is any closer to possible military attacks on Iraq, given the situation over the inspectors? And will the United States insist that its inspection team be put back into Iraq again?

SECRETARY COHEN: First of all, the Independence, indeed, will be deployed to the Gulf. It will be deployed in order to allow for the rotation out of the Nimitz, which will have to be recored. So it is simply to maintain the status quo, as such, with respect to two carriers being deployed in the Gulf, itself. There should be no conclusion reached at this point prior to Mr. Butler continuing and completing his negotiations or discussions, at least, with individuals in Iraq, Tariq Aziz and others. He will have to complete those discussions and then return to New York to meet with the Security Council. I think we should not make any pre-judgment on the outcome of those discussions at this time. So I would say it's premature to reach any conclusion. We are still seeking a diplomatic solution.

The final question you had is, should the U.S. team be allowed to complete its efforts, or undertake its efforts, in Iraq, and the answer is yes. The United States is part of the UNSCOM inspection Team, or teams, and to the extent that the United States is precluded from conducting these inspections, that would certainly have an impact upon the unity that UNSCOM has maintained in the past, and would undercut its credibility as far as I am concerned. The United States intends to continue to be part of UNSCOM, but ultimately the composition of the inspection teams is up to UNSCOM itself. But I would anticipate that Mr. Butler and others would insist that the United States maintain its role as part of the inspection team.

Q: Vladimir Solntsev of Itar Tass news agency. An idea of strengthening of dialogue in the region between four big countries such as the United States, Japan, Russia and China has been expressed recently by the officials in the Japanese and Russian governments. What do you think about such kind of idea? And do you foresee the possibility in the future of Russians and Chinese joining military exercise in the area, maybe RIMPAC maneuvers or something. Thank you.

SECRETARY COHEN: I think the more we can promote strong bilateral relations between, obviously, the United States and Japan, Japan having a strong and positive relationship with Russia and China, that can only contribute to stability throughout the region. I think that at some time in the future, that perhaps there can be planning for joint measures or exercises. I suspect that is sometime into the indefinite future. Right now the important thing is that Japan is talking and perhaps arriving at some kind of an understanding with Russia pertaining to the controversial claim on islands. I think that's a very positive development. Obviously, Japan also has an interest in maintaining a good relationship with China, and the United States would have good relations with all three. So the answer is, we think that more contact and more cooperation will only contribute to a peaceful and stabilized region.

Q: I am Arita from Asahi Shimbun. With regard to the Futenma Air Base, may I ask you a question? In exchange for that, there is talk about the floating heliport to be constructed but the governor of Okinawa has opposed the idea. As for the sea-based heliport and so forth, are there any other options available to make up for the Futenma Air Base? Any other options available from the view point of the United States?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, with respect to Futenma, that's obviously a matter of local concern, and something that will have to be decided by the Japanese government and local officials. We do not seek in any way to influence the outcome of that decision process. The options, I think, have been reviewed. If there are other options available, then they would be considered, but I think it's something right now that the mobile air, or floating air facility is the one that appears to be the most viable. If there are others that can be considered, I'm sure they either have been or would be.

Q: Michael Lev, the Chicago Tribune. Can you please explain the significance of this cooperation comprehensive mechanism? Does it add any new flexibility, or in any other way enhance the security alliance? Or is it strictly a legal mechanism for last year's defense guideline changes?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well the guidelines, the update of these guidelines, really are designed to improve the lines of communication; the commitment on the part of the United States to help in the security of Japan itself and in those areas surrounding Japan as it pertains to its security. It would also allow for consideration of humanitarian types of missions and operations. It's really designed to simply upgrade the previous guidelines in order to make them more adaptable to the 21st century.

The old guidelines were for another generation, another time, and this is a new document, as such, that would hopefully improve upon the clarity of the guidelines that have been established, and to make very clear our relationship in terms of providing for the security -- indeed, our forces going into South Korea. And essentially it pertains to Japan's security and nothing in the guidelines would be inconsistent with the Japanese constitution. The guidelines are subordinate to the Japanese constitution.

Q: I am Yara from Okinawa Times. With regard to the Futema Air Base issue once again, just the other day a citizens' referendum was held in the city of Nago. As a result of that, I think you have been reported about this yesterday, what was your reaction to the referendum's results in Nago? And also, in formulating SACO from Japan and the United States I believe two goals have been set. One of the goals set was that Okinawa people's burden will be reduced or lightened. And also as for the consolidation and reduction of the bases in Okinawa, as a part of that the functions of the U.S. military forces and the capability of U.S. forces will not be undermined as a result of that consolidation and reduction work. And as far as the citizens voting by Nago city is concerned, with regard to these two goals, do you think those two goals still stand to be achieved? Now that the referendum is over?

SECRETARY COHEN: The short answer is yes. The two goals can be achieved. Obviously, the situation on the part of the people of Nago is an internal matter. We do not seek to intervene or in any way try to influence that. That's a matter of local political concern. But can the presence of U.S. troops be reduced in a way that reduces the imposition and inconvenience that it imposes on the people of Okinawa? I think we have demonstrated that we have tried to reduce what we call the footprint of our troops to try to take into account the needs of the people of Okinawa as far as the training missions that are scheduled. We've tried to be very sensitive to the testing periods of Japanese students so as to not interfere with their ability to concentrate. We think that we have made very significant efforts at reducing the footprint of our troops and taking into account the needs of the people of Okinawa. So we think the goals are still mutually compatible.

Q: Secretary Cohen, it's Bob Burns from Associated Press. You'll be going to South Korea today. Do you intend to encourage President-elect Kim to hold face-to-face talks with Kim Jong Il? And what is the U.S. policy on the usefulness of such talks at this point?

SECRETARY COHEN: I think the policy of the United States has always been to encourage the North to talk to the South. That is a matter that is for the two Koreas, as such, to discuss. But we would favor face-to-face discussions. We have been, I think, moderately successful in getting the Four Party Talks initiated. That has come with considerable effort on our part, with the help of the Chinese, and we now have the North sitting down at least at the same table as the South. It has been the practice, or at least the desire, on the part of the North to try to avoid having direct contact with the South, and to engage the United States directly. We have been very resistant to that tactic on the part of the North. We believe that their differences must be resolved in face-to-face negotiations with the South itself. So to the extent that that is possible, we would be very supportive.

Q: I am Fujita, a journalist. The comprehensive mechanism was decided and the Joint Action Committee is going to be established, a new mechanism, and I think the planning is going to be done as a result of this—as a result of security consultative committee set up and so forth. Will you be discussing the Taiwan issue, as well, under this?

SECRETARY COHEN: I don't plan to be conducting discussions. We have a group of experts, military experts, who will be serving in the bilateral planning group as such, and they will be discussing specifically ways in which the security of Japan can be ensured, ways in which we can perhaps cooperate on humanitarian missions and peacekeeping missions. But it will be not confined to—or directed in any geographic way toward Taiwan, toward China, toward any other country, but rather pertaining to the geography and pertaining to Japan's security in and around Japan's areas.

Q: Anthony Rowley, Business Times. Mr. Secretary, will the Security Consultative Committee or any of the other of these bodies have any competence in the area of determining on an ad hoc basis the question of areas surrounding Japan? And also in your meetings in other parts of the region, to what extent has this question arisen? Do you find that the Asian nations are now somewhat more reassured on this question of what areas surrounding Japan will be?

SECRETARY COHEN: I think most of the other countries that I have visited have raised the issue of the guidelines simply as a matter of inquiry: what are the guidelines intended to do? And I have pointed out that the security of the Asia-Pacific region really is based upon the strong bilateral relationship that the United States has with Japan. And so by updating and modernizing the guidelines they should be construed and viewed in precisely that fashion. It's basically designed to help secure Japan's defense needs and security interests, and to the extent that we can do that through clarifying the lines of communication, the ways in which we can cooperate extending to humanitarian and peacekeeping missions in the region itself, then I think most of the countries have been satisfied with that. I have raised it—it was raised in our discussions in China, and of course we have tried to be as open and transparent as possible. It's one of the reasons why we published a draft proposal last June and circulated it to all the countries so they could comment and raise questions before we published the final draft, which was signed last October in New York. But I think most of the inquiries have been answered satisfactorily to those who have raised the question.

Q: Will the SCC have any role in determining the concept?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, the Consultative Group or Commission obviously

is designed to take into account the security interests of Japan, so they are a group of experts who would be sensitive to the needs of Japan. It's represented by both countries.

Q: Mr. Secretary I'd like to ask you—Bill Gertz with the Washington Times. I'd like to ask you about missile defense. North Korea is close to deploying missiles capable of hitting U.S. forces in Japan, which would be a major target in a conflict. Does the U.S. plan to deploy theater missile defenses soon in Japan?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, the United States has been concerned about missile proliferation generally. We believe this poses a global type of threat, but by virtue of the fact that the United States is deployed virtually globally, then we are very concerned that our troops be fully protected. That is one of the reasons why we have engaged in a number of research and development projects on a variety of theater missile defense systems, and we would anticipate deploying those systems in any area that our troops are forward deployed. And so we encourage, for example, we hope Japan will also partake in some research programs for theater missile defense, but we intend to proceed, nonetheless, with our own programs, and that would include any area where our troops are deployed.

Q: [inaudible] from Mainichi newspaper. Yesterday, Suharto, President Suharto of Indonesia announced his candidacy for the election. And his candidacy, are you supportive? Are you supportive of his candidacy for the next election? And also in Indonesia, IMF structural reform is being conducted in that country. However, in President Suharto national car and airplane planning have not been abandoned... And if Suharto is to be reelected for [a] seventh term, do you think economic reform will be pursued in that country? And Thailand, Indonesia and other countries in Asia, suffering the financial crisis, do you think that will give an influence over the security in this region?

SECRETARY COHEN: It's a series of questions. Let me begin with the first. Do I have any opinion of President Suharto's announcement for his candidacy to be reelected? Even angels would fear to tread into Indonesian politics. And so I have absolutely no comment to make about the politics of any country. His decision to run does not come as a surprise to me. I had occasion to meet with him very recently and contrary to the reports that were circulating about his health being in decline, he seemed to be quite healthy and quite vigorous during the hour-long meeting that I had with him. So it does not come as a surprise that he would express his interest in running again.

With respect to the reforms that he has pledged to undertake, I think that these reforms would be critical in terms of gaining the confidence of the international community—the international financial community -- that changes will be made to the monetary system in Indonesia, the banking system, to make sure that it is open, that it is [an] honest system whereby companies can, in fact, compete openly for contracts, that contracts would not be awarded on the basis of friendships. All of that would be important in the way of reforming their system in order to regain the international investment community's confidence. He pledged to carry them out and we would expect that to be the case.

As far as the other countries in the region are concerned, all are concerned about the situation in Indonesia. I suspect that Japan is also concerned about what takes place in Indonesia. All of the countries throughout Southeast Asia are concerned because it's become very apparent that their economies are all interdependent. That if you have reforms undertaken in either Malaysia, in Thailand, in other regions, they can be proceeding on a very sound track and yet be overwhelmed by the problems that would be created if Indonesia is not able to recover its momentum for the future and to stabilize its economy. So everyone recognizes that. Singapore, all of the countries, recognize the importance of Indonesia stabilizing its economy. And we would hope that that would, in fact, take place.