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Updated: 14 Jan 2003
News Briefings

Background Briefing


Friday, September 8, 2000 - 1:00 p.m.
Subject: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen's upcoming trip to Asia
Presenter: Senior Department of Defense Official

Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA): This is a background briefing on Secretary Cohen's trip to Asia next week. Because of the difficult spelling and pronunciation of the briefer's name, we're going to hold the briefing on background, and it will be attributable to a senior defense official.

Senior Defense Official: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Secretary Cohen will be making his 10th trip to the Asia-Pacific region, having already visited this theater nine times before. He will be leaving on Wednesday evening, September 13th.

The first stop will be in the Philippines. The Philippines, of course, an important treaty ally of ours. This will be Secretary Cohen's third visit to the Philippines. We are in the process, I would say, of reinvigorating our security relationship with the Philippines.

Secretary Cohen, of course, met with President Estrada and Secretary of National Defense Mercado here at the Pentagon in late July, and he will continue his consultations with these people during this visit to Manila. He will have dinner with President Estrada. And again, he will be meeting with the secretary of national defense as well as the Chief of Staff Reyes.

Let me perhaps pre-empt a question that some of you or one of you will -- bound to ask, and that is that this trip has long been planned, prior to the current hostage situation in the Philippines. And this, of course, is a matter of great concern, and the fact that there is an American citizen being held hostage. Secretary Cohen in his discussions in the Philippines will talk about many issues, and naturally the discussions could include this hostage situation. But I want to just -- I want to make the point that he is not going there specifically for -- because of the hostage situation. As I indicated, he's been there three -- or this will be his third visit, and it's quite natural, on a trip through Southeast Asia, to stop in the Philippines.

Q: Would you reiterate the United States has no intention of negotiating for hostages or -

Senior Defense Official: Yes, that is our position. We do not negotiate, we do not pay ransom for hostages, and that we hope that situation can be resolved through consultations and talks.

Following the Philippines, the secretary will travel to Singapore. And again, this will be his third visit to Singapore. Singapore is a close security partner of the United States, and I would say it is critical -- Singapore is critically important to the U.S. presence in Asia.

He, Secretary Cohen, will meet with the acting prime minister, as well as the president, President Nathan, and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew. There will be a range of bilateral and regional issues discussed in Singapore.

Following Singapore, Secretary Cohen will travel to Indonesia, and this will actually be his fourth visit to Indonesia. And when I say "third visit," "fourth visit," these are all of course during his tenure as Secretary of Defense. I believe, as Senator Cohen, he visited this region many times prior to that. But each of these numbers is in relation to his tenure as secretary.

In Indonesia -- again, this trip has been planned for some time, but given the recent events in West Timor, it has taken on increased importance, the timing of this visit. And Secretary Cohen has been directed by President Cohen -- by President Clinton to raise our concerns about the lack of security in both West and East Timor.

Secretary Cohen will take a strong message to the leaders of Indonesia.

Indonesia's failure to protect an American citizen and other international aid workers, and more general failure of the Indonesian army to provide security for the international relief operations, threatens to destroy the international goodwill towards Indonesia at a time when it needs it most. And we have asked for meetings, of course, with the top leadership in Indonesia and the top military leaders.

Following Indonesia, the next stop will be Thailand.

Q: Excuse me. Are there concrete plans for him to meet with the president and --

Senior Defense Official: With President Wahid?

Q: Yes, and military leaders?

Senior Defense Official: Yes. And there is a concrete plan. That sounds like an oxymoron. Yes, we expect -- the meetings have been requested with President Wahid, yes.

Thailand. Again, this will be the third visit of Secretary Cohen to Thailand, another important treaty ally with whom we have close historical relations. Thailand provides critical access to our military forces in the region and also provides training opportunities. There are a number of areas of mutual concern, mutual interest that the United States and Thailand have, such things as counternarcotics and demining.

Secretary Cohen will meet with and have dinner with the prime minister, who is also the minister of defense. That's Prime Minister Chuan. And the service chiefs are also expected to be there at that meeting. And there will be other meetings with the acting foreign minister and the Privy Council. I just note that some of these meetings with acting foreign ministers is primarily because the foreign ministers are in New York at this time.

Thailand is really the last stop in Southeast Asia. From there we travel to Korea, where this will be Secretary Cohen's sixth visit while secretary, sixth visit to South Korea. The primary purpose of this visit is to conduct the Security Consultative Meeting, SCM. Not to confuse you all, but this is actually the 32nd SCM meeting that has been held over the years, approximately one a month -- one a year. And this will be Secretary Cohen's fourth SCM during his tenure as secretary.

At the same time, there's also what's called a Military Consultative Meeting, an MCM, that will be co-chaired by General Shelton. So General Shelton will be there at the same time.

While in Korea, Secretary Cohen will have meetings with President Kim Dae Jung, Foreign Minister Lee and Minister of Defense Cho. Also, there will be an opportunity for Secretary Cohen to meet with U.S. troops in Korea.

And the final stop will be Japan, a key country and the cornerstone of our Asian strategy, and this will be Secretary Cohen's sixth visit to Japan. Secretary Cohen, actually, will be meeting this coming Monday in New York City with his Japanese counterpart in the Two-Plus-Two meeting, where Secretary Albright and Secretary Cohen will meet with Foreign Minister Kono and Minister of State for Defense Torashima. The next day -- next Tuesday actually, Minister of State for Defense Torashima will come here to the Pentagon for a meeting.

But it is still appropriate on a trip to Asia of this sort, to stop in Tokyo. We expect meetings with Prime Minister Mori, again with Foreign Minister Kono, with Minister Torashima, and also he will meet with members of the Diet to discuss a number of bilateral and regional issues -- specifically to talk about the direction of our U.S.-Japanese alliance in a strategic sense.

That is the general outline of the trip. It's approximately a nine-day trip to Asia, stopping in these key countries.

Charlie?

Q: Does he intend to emphasize to Indonesian leaders that United States has no intention of renewing military relations with Indonesia unless the military gets control of the West Timor -

Senior Defense Official: The latter part is key: unless they get control.

Our military-to-military relationship with Indonesia at the moment is suspended. But in the future, of course, if necessary reforms and actions are taken, we would like to re-engage with the military. But that will take place only after events happen -- certain actions take place in Indonesia, and after consultations with the Congress.

Q: I thought earlier this year the Indonesians were observers at a military exercise in Thailand.

Senior Defense Official: Yes, that's true.

Q: And I thought that that was supposed to be a first step towards renewing these military contacts that have been suspended. Or was it suspended again?

Senior Defense Official: There have been some exceptions made to the overall suspension of this military engagement where it was deemed in our best interests and their best interests for them to be an observer in an exercise. It was also earlier this summer the CARAT Exercise, the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training activity, which is mainly a humanitarian activity. So there have been selected exceptions to this overall policy. But any re-engagement only takes place after taking into account events and actions in Indonesia.

Q: Are there any concrete steps, sort of like a road map, if you will, that the United States would like to see on the part of the Indonesian military before you would resume, you know, more intense military contacts with them?

Senior Defense Official: Generally, yes. But it's all very circumstance-dependent as to exactly what transpires and what happens. But no final decisions have been made on resuming military cooperation with Indonesia at this point. And we will consult with Congress before initiating any changes to this policy. And, I mean, our ultimate objective, because of the benefits that could be derived from a military engagement, we would like to re-engage, but only under the proper circumstances.

Q: I guess what I'm getting at is what are the proper circumstances? What is it that the Indonesian military has to do?

Senior Defense Official: Well, they have to provide for a more secure and stable situation in West Timor, for one. Certainly what is taking place there now is not adequate.

Q: What about recently there were -- I believe that there were trials or disciplinary action that were taken against Indonesian military officers for their role in the East Timor violence, that some critics said didn't go far enough.

Senior Defense Official: Didn't go far enough.

Q: Is that something of concern to you?

Senior Defense Official #2: Sure. Nineteen people recently named by the attorney general that they were -- well, they've been investigating 33 people based on the Human Rights Commission report. Nineteen were named as official suspects, including some general officers. Not every general officer that was named in the 33-member report was named in 19, although there may be subsequent investigation and -- subsequent namings. We certainly -- this the right movement. It's not as quick as we might like it to be, but it is certainly progress towards, I think, one of the key things you were asking before about what we need to do, what Indonesian government and military need to do for a full reengagement. Accountability is one of them.

I do want to just remind you of what I'm sure you know, but that Congress -- Leahy provisions in the Foreign Appropriations Act -- restrict our military-to-military engagement, and he does give in that -- there are six conditions which revolve around accountability, cooperation with the U.N. in Timor, and addressing the refugee situation in West Timor. And certainly while we have not created any official road map, we obviously are guided and bounded by -- or bound -- sorry -- by the congressional legislation for full military-to-military relations, still there are things that we could choose to do and some of which we did choose to do in terms of Cobra Gold observers and CARAT in Indonesia, which was -- which, for the Indonesia portion, was humanitarian affairs. Elsewhere, it can be other types, but for Indonesia, it was very much humanitarian. There are things we can do that are not restricted by the law at this point, and we do that as we see it's appropriate within policy.

Yes, sir?

Q: Back to Japan? What kind of progress do you expect out of this visit in terms of as for the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma?

Senior Defense Official: That will certainly be one of the bilateral issues that are discussed both next week here in the United States and also when Secretary Cohen is in Japan. And we hope to implement and make progress on the SACO [Special Action Committee on Okinawa] recommendations.

Q: Going into a bit more in detail a little bit, the sticking point for this relocation process is the term limit, 15-year term limit. And I was wondering whether the United States is ready to indicate any change of position for this matter?

Senior Defense Official: No, Secretary Cohen has stated his position on this and there's no change to our position.

Yes?

Q: Will the secretary do anything specific to follow-up on the president's visit to Okinawa in July, where he promised to do -- to work hard to reduce the footprints of the U.S. military bases on the people of Okinawa?

Senior Defense Official: Well yes, certainly, he will follow-up on what President Clinton said and --

Q: What is he going to do specifically?

Senior Defense Official: Well --

Q: Any new initiative?

Senior Defense Official: Well, a lot of this is part of the SACO process and the -- much of it has to do with the ultimate relocation of Futenma and what the solution there is and overall reducing our footprint in Okinawa. But I really can't get any more specific at this point until we sit down and have discussions with the Japanese.

Q: Will there be any proposals traded back and forth, that will be mostly exploring what give-and-take is possible later on?

Senior Defense Official: I think in terms of exploring proposals and all that will come later; that won't happen during this trip. It's a long-term process.

Yes?

Q: I assume that Secretary Cohen will be discussing the progress in contact between North and South Korea during his visit in Korea?

Senior Defense Official: Yes, certainly when he meets with Kim Dae Jung, one of the topics on the peninsula are the events taking place between the North and the South and the progress that has been made. So certainly, with President Kim Dae Jung, I'm sure this will be -- President Kim Dae Jung will update Secretary Cohen on the implications for the alliance.

Q: And what do you see the -- what do you see the progress -- how do you all see the progress that's been made, and the implications for the alliance?

Senior Defense Official: Well, two points. One is that since the summit in June, there has been progress made because a number of these events and exchanges and ministerial meetings have occurred as announced back in June So it's definitely on track in that regard.

I would also make the point that militarily, nothing has changed on the peninsula and that -- so the overall security situation there has not changed.

Q: So I take it from your answer that means that The Defense Consultative Meeting and the Military Consultative Meeting will not address troop size or U.S. troop strength in Korea?

Senior Defense Official: I think it's premature, because what you're suggesting is troop size possibly being reduced, and it's premature to anticipate anything like that.

Q: What about the issue there have been demonstrations and protests at U.S. training facilities, I guess.

Senior Defense Official: I know at one of the firing ranges, Koon-ni Range, there were some protests in August. I was in Seoul at the time; I'm very familiar with all of this.

There's -- I would characterize it as a rising nationalism, sentiment of rising nationalism in South Korea. Some people cast it as anti-Americanism. But I think President Kim Dae Jung and others have come out and made strong statements refuting those sentiments against the United States and our troops. There have been protests and incidents, yes.

Q: I mean, will it be a matter of discussion? Will we be seeking any -- I don't know -- any actions or measures by the South Koreans to curb --

Senior Defense Official: Well, we appreciate and encourage the kind of public statements that have been made by President Kim Dae Jung and other Korean officials in support of the alliance.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

Sr. Defense Official: Thank you.

THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS PREPARED BY THE FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., WASHINGTON DC. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE IS A PRIVATE COMPANY. FOR OTHER DEFENSE RELATED TRANSCRIPTS NOT AVAILABLE THROUGH THIS SITE, CONTACT FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE AT (202) 347-1400.



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