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En Route Press Briefing to Washington, DC

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 20, 2000

July 17, 2000

(Press Briefing en route to Washington, DC. Also participating: Mrs. Janet Langhart Cohen.)

Secretary Cohen: I wanted to talk to you before we get tired and everybody gets relaxed. Just to bring you up to date on what took place today and then from the meetings we had and the press conference. The defense minister and I discussed a series of issues pertaining to my briefing them on my conversations with Chinese leaders, which they were very much concerned about. I discussed a range of issues that were of concern to the Chinese and the United States. Later, during the course of the morning, the foreign minister came, and we had a working lunch. We continued the discussion of issues ranging all the way from China to North Korea to what's taking place in East Timor, Fiji, Solomon Islands and, basically, conducted a discussion with the foreign minister, bringing him up to date on the foreign policy aspects of our national security policy. Then, later in the afternoon, I went over to meet with the prime minister and reviewed the issues that he was interested in, again, the major relationship with China and what's taking place in East Timor as far as the situation there and Fiji and the Solomon Islands. So, those were just the issues we discussed. [There's] no knew information in that regard.

To bring you up to date on what took place in China, on another positive note and as a result of Janet's meetings, she had suggested that we have a military-to-military exchange of musicians, or rather, some concerts that could be put on between our military musicians and the military musicians from China. We are encouraged that we can get a number of private sponsors to accommodate the travel requirements and other accommodations for the musicians. In addition, as a result of her meeting at the CCTV, she and one of their top anchors announced the possibility of doing a joint television program that would consist of interviewing top officials both from the United States and also in China. The CCTV and this particular anchor have a viewership in the morning that consists of almost 200 million people and in the evening 400 million, so it's quite an audience that will be reached in China, and then, we would hope that we'd have, certainly not comparable numbers, but interest in the United States as well. These are two of the significant initiatives that were proposed by Janet and evolved out of this meeting in China. The Chinese were very enthusiastic about it, and we're going to try to work out the details in the next few weeks.

Q: Are there any assurances that this will be live or uncensored or unedited in any way?

Cohen: We haven't gone over the details of that, but I think it was a very good meeting that we had. It was a lively meeting at the television studio. They were happy to certainly see Janet. I stopped by to join her. I wanted to be there to see what they would talk about, but it was really a breakthrough in terms of communications. They found they were talking about TV journalism and that was a common area for them. So, she proposed that we have this joint interview program. We'll have to work out the details of how we would construct it with the time difference and the language issues, but they were eager to see if we could make it work.

Q: Mrs. Cohen, what sort of program do you have in mind?

Mrs. Cohen: Well, I talked to my counterpart at CCTV and the kind of show that he hosts is a show that's a potpourri of talk, talking to a varied demographic of Chinese, mostly women. That's his audience and they talk everything from family to health to politics and entertainment. So, that's the kind of exchange we could have, and it's the kind of thing that would evolve on its own.

Q: Is it a one-time thing or a series of shows?

Mrs. Cohen: If it's successful, it'll probably be more than one time. We'd certainly like to do it at least once.

Q: And you would interview Americans?

Mrs. Cohen: I would interview Americans and Chinese. He would do the same and exchange that. His format is live and a half-hour show, and he brings in everyday Chinese, like a town hall meeting. I guess a la Phil Donohue of the old days -- more upscale than what we have now on our television.

Q: You would do it in the United States or would you come to China?

Mrs. Cohen: Both places. We could do it via satellite, live hook-up. Technology will allow us to stay where we are in our respective cities. He could be in Beijing; I could be in Washington, or we could do it together in each of those two places.

Q: What do you hope to get out of it?

Mrs. Cohen: I think good relations between our two nations and letting people see each other as human beings, rather than Chinese or American or nationalities. Basically, we're all human beings, wanting the same things: a roof for our families, food for our families, to enjoy our music and our poetry, to see that our kids get a decent education, and good health care. We all want the same things.

Q: What if you have someone like the individual who stood up in the stock exchange or Mrs. Chen who are not conciliatory (inaudible)?

Mrs. Cohen: I think it would make it interesting. That's what television is all about. You are all journalists. You like the sensational, the interesting, and the out of the norm. It would make it more interesting. We want an open, candid exchange.

Cohen: I didn't take it that way during the stock exchange. I thought he was excited, and certainly, I've had my own level of excitement -- Ohio State. (laughter)

Q: On missile defense, some of your comments in Australia seem to suggest you're leaning more towards making a recommendation for moving ahead. On the TV show you said it was necessary, and today at the press conference, you said that the Iran missile test was precisely the reason why missile defense is needed. Is that a fair assessment?

Cohen: It is consistent with what I've said all along, that I support the research and development. I believe that to the extent that there continues to be proliferation of missile technology that there should be a defense mechanism against that. Whether it is going to be this system or something else, I believe that we cannot have a situation where the American people are vulnerable to either threats or intimidation or the actual use. There are still a variety of things you need to take into account, whether the technology is there and what the impact will be on arms control. A personal point of view -- I supported moving forward on NMD since I was in the Senate and had continued to put the money in our budget when I became secretary of Defense. This is real; this is not simply rhetoric; but I put the money behind the program. Only the president can decide whether we should go through with it at this point. I think that this is an issue that's not going to go away with the elections. That if there is any delay in the program, then another president will have to face it at some point because the threat will continue to expand.

Q: On the Iran missile test, the fact that this test was successful, does that mean that they have a possibility of developing a longer range missile sooner than earlier intelligence estimates?

Cohen: Any time you have success in a particular missile system, that gives you confidence to move forward with more tests with greater capability, and so, it has a way of growing almost exponentially. Once you get some of the fundamentals down, then the new technology that comes in makes it that much easier. You don't have to keep going at the same pace. So, I think there's obviously a potential to accelerate development with each successful test.

Q: Where do you think they were on NMD? You got strong statements against it from Germany and France. Did Australia weigh in? (Inaudible)

Cohen: They've already publicly said that they would be supportive (inaudible) if there is a decision to deploy.

Q: Do you think that U. S. cooperation with Australia is increasing defense cooperation?

Cohen: It has been very strong. We've increased, and even further now with the change in our export controls where technology is concerned. I think they'll be eager to take advantage of expediting the transfer of technology.

Q: What will you be doing in terms of their build-up? I tried to get the defense minister to talk about that, but he (inaudible)

Cohen: When the White Paper comes out, we will, obviously, look at their sea power. They'll look at their early warning capabilities, other types of things. They see the need to start to build back up some of their systems that are getting old (inaudible). They'll have to replace them. They'll have to decide what their priorities are, and I wouldn't know how to pre-judge that. But overall, I think they're going to move forward for the next few years to increase their defense expenditures. I think you'll have to look for the outcome of the White Paper.

Q: Can I just follow-up on what you were asked Sunday about counting on the Australians to join us if the Taiwan Straits bubble over? (inaudible)

Cohen: We didn't have any discussions with the prime minister specifically about that. I did note, in trying to (inaudible) discussions, several of them this morning that came up with the transcript of the show yesterday. What I tried to point out, and I did yesterday, is that Mr. Armitage isn't necessarily the only advisor to Governor Bush and there's a certain prior assumption there that this is going to be the policy of a President Bush if he ever got elected. What I simply wanted to point out is that there are a number of advisors, and it doesn't necessarily mean that there's going to be a President Bush; there could still be a President Gore. So, it's too early to make any judgments concerning who'd be elected under our system and what the requirements of the Australians would be. But I pointed out that the Australians have been very supportive of the United States over the years. I assume that they will be supportive in the future, depending upon their own interpretation of what their national security needs are. I thought it was very positive that they did express support for the United States conducting the R&D program on NMD, but they will reserve judgment like everyone else will until a decision is made as to whether we are going to deploy the system.

Q: Are they concerned at all about China and its military build-up?

Cohen: They were mostly concerned about the political situation in China and what the nature of our conversations was. I explained that I thought, overall, this was a very successful meeting in China, and the Chinese went out of their way to ensure that it would be successful. For example, the issue of Kosovo and Belgrade was never raised. The only reference was to the interruption of our military to military for obvious reasons. Beyond that, there was never a question raised about that. So, anything that we did in China was, on the signing of that environmental agreement, to the reestablishment of ship visits, to their participation in the Asia-Pacific Strategic Studies Center -- all of that is very forward leaning on their part. I think they were pleased to hear that. They obviously want to have good relations with China as well. Let me also explain that, in China, there was a difference in tone which I think Ambassador Preuher elaborated to you on and that was news to them as well.

Q: Do you know yet what went wrong with that last missile test?

Cohen: Other than what you've already been told, I don't have any more information on that yet.

Q: (inaudible)

Cohen: I've been too busy briefing you. No. (laughter)

Q: What sort of timeline is this television thing on?

Mrs. Cohen: Well, we want to do it, hopefully, before the end of the year, and we're going to work on it as soon as we get back with the people --

Q: Knowing that there is anti-American sentiment in Korea, troops have been warned to be very, very cautious right now and we are also having protests in Okinawa. Do you have any message for our service members serving in both of these places?

Cohen: To heed the admonitions about being careful during this time. Tensions are high in Okinawa, and based on the latest incident and the G-8 coming up, there are likely to be more rallies and so forth to try to impress upon the G-8 leaders concerns of the Okinawans. But I have not seen any indication that there is any violence associated with it, but we will watch it on a day-to-day basis. In Korea, I don't think it's a very widespread sentiment. President Kim has already indicated that the U. S. troops will remain for the indefinite future, even if there is some kind of a unification or association. But I think that during these times when fundamental changes are underway, there are likely to be political sentiments expressed, and we just have to be cautious about them. But we are preparing for the national security needs of this country by being forward deployed in Okinawa and also in Seoul, Korea. It is fundamental to our forward deployment strategy of having to shape events. It's a national security issue for us. We are there at the invitation of the will of the sovereign governments of Japan and South Korea, and we intend to remain there.

Q: Thank you.

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