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Press Conference at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, Japan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
January 14, 1999

Press Conference at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, Japan

Secretary Cohen: First I'd like to express my gratitude to Defense Minister Norota for hosting my visit, and also to express my deep appreciation to Ambassador Foley and his entire staff. I had the opportunity to work with then-Congressman and then-Speaker Foley during a 24-year period, in which I served on Capitol Hill. And he is an extraordinary diplomat, as he was an extraordinary legislator. And so I thank him very much for his service here in Japan.

I had very good meetings with Foreign Minister Koumura, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nonaka, and Prime Minister Obuchi. We all agree that the security relationship between the United States and Japan is extremely strong and [that] it is central to the stability of the Asia-Pacific region. And at all of my meetings, we discussed the importance of defense guidelines. The guidelines will improve our ability to cooperate on contingencies ranging from natural disasters to threats to our mutual security.

We discussed the need for Japan, South Korea and the United States to deal cooperatively with the new security challenges posed by North Korea. Our policy toward North Korea can be described in four words:

Deterrence -- and this is one of the reasons why the United States maintains approximately 100,000 troops in the Asia-Pacific region;

Defense -- and that is, faced with new threats, the United States and Japan will cooperate on programs to develop Theater Missile Defenses;

Dialogue -- we will continue to pursue the Four Party Talks and to support President Kim's policy of engagement, in the hopes that we can solve our problems through cooperation, compared to confrontation;

Determination -- even as we help North Korea deal with its humanitarian crisis, we must be clear that our primary challenge is to contain Pyongyang's weapons of mass destruction program.

The successful alliance between the United States and Japan reflects our common values and our commitment to work together to solve problems.

During the course of this visit I had the chance to see the strong partnership between our defense forces when I visited Misawa Air Base earlier this week. Japan provides generous support to U.S. forces who are serving here, and our troops work very hard to be good guests.

And I am glad to report that the Japanese government reaffirmed its pledge to resolve the Shinkampo incinerator problem by September of the year 2000, and the work to reduce pollution there has already begun.

I'm also pleased to report that the United States and Japan have reached an agreement on low-level training flights. This agreement is going to enable the United States pilots to maintain their proficiency while responding to concerns raised by Japanese citizens -- again, another example of our commitment to be better neighbors in the local communities that host U.S. forces deployed to Japan to protect our mutual security interests.

And with that, I'd like to entertain your questions.

Q: I'd like to ask, aside from the threat from the possible nuclear site in North Korea, aside from the threat to the Framework Agreement, can the United States and its allies tolerate nuclear weapons or long-range missiles in the hands of the North Koreans?

A: I believe we've indicated that nuclear weapons and long-range missiles and that combination, certainly in the hands of the North Koreans, would be very destabilizing and threatening to the stability of the region. That is precisely the reason why President Clinton and the Administration negotiated the Agreed Framework, and that was to stop the nuclear weapons program on the part of the North Koreans. It also is the reason why we continue to engage in talks to encourage the North to cease developing and testing its long-range missile program. We think the combination, either individually or in combination, poses a destabilizing threat to the region.

Q: I have two questions. First, about the missile issue. There is underground site suspicion. There is a lot of focus on it, but missile is another important issue. However between Japan [and] the United States over the North Korean missile issue, there is a subtle difference. How can you overcome this difference? How, ideally, should this be addressed? This is my first question. Second, about the North Korean contingency. In the case of contingency, the Far Eastern Economic Review and other magazines have reported that U.S. forces in Japan may go to Pyongyang - there is such a war plan. Is there such a war plan, really? And is this plan frequently revised? Could you talk about these points? Thank you.

A: First, with respect to the underground facility, the United States has received a variety of sources of information that causes us some concern about the purpose of this underground facility. We are suspicious of the nature of the facility. We need to satisfy those suspicions. We need to have access to the underground facility so that we can be assured and satisfied that the North Koreans are, in fact, complying with the agreement that was negotiated back in 1994. It would be very difficult to maintain support for the KEDO program if, in fact, the North Koreans are seeking to circumvent or subvert that agreement by covertly constructing a facility that would allow them to continue to develop a nuclear capability.

With respect to the missile tests that have been conducted by the North, it seems to me that that only reaffirms the need for the United States and Japan to cooperate in developing Theater Missile Defense capability. And we are very pleased that the Japanese government has decided in its budget deliberations to commit about $8 million to the research and development program that would allow us to proceed with research and development of the kind of defenses that will be necessary to protect our forces and our people from this type of missile threat.

With respect to contingency plans, we believe that we must maintain a very strong deterrent against any attack upon the South or upon Japan on the part of North Korea. And that deterrent capability is one that we will maintain, strengthen as need be, but to remain vigilant and strong. At the same time, we are seeking to be as open and flexible in dealing with the North as far as our negotiations are concerned. We think it's important that we continue to engage the North to seek to persuade them that the path toward their integration into the international community is one that should be pursued on a peaceful basis rather than a confrontational one, or one that seeks to in any way intimidate the countries throughout the region.

Q: Sir, the Chinese are threatening to enlarge their own missile program in response to the moves that Japan and the United States have made to jointly develop a Theater Missile Defense. I wondered if you could comment on the Chinese assessment of Washington as reckless as going down this path? And comment on the threats that China is making to enlarge its own programs. Number one. And number two, I wondered if you could clarify the Pentagon's assessment of North Korea's missile advances? There were reports last month that the United States had alerted Japan that yet another test was going to be fired. Japan then retracted those reports and if you could clarify for us. Does the United States have evidence that the North Koreans are, indeed, preparing to launch yet another - yet another missile? Thank you.

A: With respect to the Chinese statements, I am not really familiar with the full statement they have issued about the United States or Japan being reckless in seeking to develop a Theater Missile Defense system. As far as the Chinese expanding their ballistic missile capability, it's become very clear that they have developed a long-range capability and that we are well aware of it, as far as their ballistic missiles are concerned, and so I don't understand how this Theater Missile Defense system that would protect the people of Japan, as well as American troops who are here in the population, would in any way pose a threat to China.

It seems to me that the Japanese people and the American people have an obligation to try to provide protection for their troops as they're deployed and for the population in the region against what is clearly an increasing threat from missile proliferation. That should in no way pose a threat to the Chinese, and so I can't accept their characterization as this being reckless or irresponsible. I think it's a very responsible course of action for both of our governments to pursue.

With respect to the testing on the part of the North Koreans, we have indicated in the past that we believe that they have tested and developed a missile capability. We saw in August of this past year the testing of a missile that had a fairly significant range. And we believe that we have shared information with the Japanese government and officials as we acquire that information, to make sure that they are alerted to any danger posed to them. So we continue to work very closely with our Japanese counterparts. We share information and intelligence whenever we have it and can, and we will continue to do so.

Q: Did you discuss with Japanese officials the situation in the Middle East? And second, there is some speculation that the United States forces is going to have big attack against Iraq after the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan. In regard of the Iraqi latest war of words against Kuwait. Is this possible? Thank you.

A: With respect to the Middle East, indeed, we did have discussions about the Middle East. And I took the occasion to thank the Prime Minister and other officials for their very quick response in endorsing the action taken by the United States and Great Britain against Saddam Hussein at a time when he refused to comply with his obligations under the U.N. Security Council resolution. And so we did discuss that and I expressed our gratitude for Japan being among the very first - indeed, the first - to express its support for the action that was taken.

With respect to further action, that very much depends upon Saddam Hussein's actions. We intend to continue to maintain our containment policy. We intend to continue to indicate to Saddam Hussein that he cannot and should not seek to pose a threat to his neighbors. We intend to continue to enforce the no-fly zones, and, to the extent that he poses a threat either to the countries in the region or to our own forces, we will take appropriate action. But we have made no specific plans pertaining to Ramadan or any other period of time. We intend to maintain our policy of containing Saddam Hussein and his program of developing weapons of mass destruction. And we'll continue to do so.

Q: I have a question regarding the new guidelines. Now, in the case of contingency in the surrounding area, Japan may support the U.S. forces in logistical support. If there is no U.N. resolution, this act may be in violation of the Constitution. And also, if there is to be approval from the Diet before the logistic support, well, many people argue that. How do you assess such argument and discussion developed in Japan? What is your comment on that?

A: With respect to the Defense Guidelines, they pertain to the security relationship between the United States and Japan. This is not something that is contingent or subordinate to the United Nations. This is a security arrangement that the United States has with Japan. We would expect the Guidelines, and, hopefully, the legislation that would allow their full implementation to be taken up by the Diet, as soon as the Diet determines it is possible to do so, and to do so consistent with the Constitution of Japan. We do not foresee circumstances in which these guidelines would in any way contradict or undermine Japan's constitution.

As far as the legislation that would be necessary to be passed to implement the guidelines, we would hope that they would be passed with the understanding that actions that might have to be taken on the part of the United States and Japan should be quick, responsive and decisive in nature. So that, if we had to deal with a humanitarian situation -- as Japan did recently in helping very quickly and very productively with the situation in Honduras -- should we have to respond to any kind of humanitarian situation in the region, we would hope that the guidelines would allow the United States and Japan to act quickly, responsively and very decisively.

Q: I hate to be the skunk at the garden party, but your visit here comes against the backdrop of the impeachment trial in Washington. I'm wondering, Sir, in your visits here and elsewhere, have our allies expressed any concern that America is somewhat distracted by what's going on in Washington? And secondly, have you or your planners in the Pentagon done any planning, I suppose is the way to put it, that some governments - of course, here, we're thinking of North Korea - might take advantage of the fact that Americans, at the moment, are not paying as much attention to foreign affairs as perhaps normally?

A: First, let me disagree with your characterization of your position as you articulated the question. Secondly, let me point out that I have worked very closely with President Clinton for the past two years. I have found him to be completely focused on national security interests without regard to any other factors that might be taking place. I continue to see the intensity of his focus. He has not been distracted. In fact, if anything, I would suggest that the most recent action taken by the United States in dealing with Saddam Hussein is just another example of the President's ability to conduct his job as the Commander in Chief of our national security system. And so there has been no distraction. He is completely focused on issues involving our security.

And as I travel around the world, I must say that virtually every leader that I have met with has praised President Clinton, has asked me to express their support for his efforts in building the kind of international regime that would contest and confront aggression, wherever it may take place, that affects the interest of ourselves or our allies. So I have seen no, in any way, diminution of support for the President internationally. There may be countries who might seek to try to take advantage of the domestic situation in Washington. Perhaps Saddam Hussein had that in mind when he frustrated and flouted the Security Council resolutions and obstructed Richard Butler in trying to carry out UNSCOM's obligations. If so, that was a classic case of miscalculation on his part. And to the extent that any other country would feel that President Clinton is in any way distracted from carrying out his obligations as Commander in Chief, they would be making a similar mistake.

Moderator: That will conclude the press conference. Thank you all very much.

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