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Defense Secretary Pledges Aid for Thailand

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

BANGKOK, Jan. 21, 1998 – Defense Secretary William Cohen told Thai leaders the United States will help them work out new payment options for military equipment they ordered before the current Asian financial crunch.

Thailand announced last month the crisis would force it to delay a planned $392.2 million purchase of eight U.S. F/A-18 jet fighters from Boeing Co.

"We are going to work with the Thai government to find ways in which we can help them through their current economic circumstances," Cohen told reporters Jan. 15 at the ministry of defense. Earlier, he told Prime Minister Chuan Loekpai he will send a team of 10 experts within two weeks to work with the Thais on a variety of security issues. "The F-18 will be part of that," he said.

Several other Asian countries also have said they won't be able to meet current payment schedules for U.S. military equipment they're contracted to purchase. A primary objective of Cohen's 12-day, seven-nation visit to the Far East is to calm the edgy nerves of Asian leaders whose economies have been racked by the financial crisis.

"You are our oldest friends," Cohen told Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan. "We have a strong treaty relationship with you. We know that you are currently experiencing difficulties, but we hope that we can provide assistance and support in a variety of different ways."

The U.S. security partnership with Thailand goes back to World War II, when Thai students studying in the United States formed the Free Thai Movement and worked alongside allied forces in the Pacific. By 1954, Thailand and the United States were treaty allies, and Thai troops fought beside U.S. troops in Korea and Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, more than 50,000 U.S. troops were based in Thailand. Today, the U.S. presence is fewer than 200 service members, but military-to-military relations between the two nations remain strong. Thailand contributes the largest foreign contingent of military officers participating in the U.S. International Military Education and Training program. Also, Thailand hosts Cobra Gold, the largest annual combined forces exercise in Asia.

These close ties, DoD officials said, played a large part in Thailand's preference for American military hardware, a boon for U.S. business and force interoperability.

Thailand also assists the DoD's ongoing effort to identify and repatriate the remains of U.S. service members missing from the Vietnam Conflict. Based in Bangkok, Detachment I of Joint Task Force-Full Accounting handles logistics for recovery teams working in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam while the defense attache collects MIA-related information and evidence. The Walter Reed Army Medical Center Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Science operates with the Thai military here to study infectious and tropical diseases future soldiers could encounter.

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