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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Press Conference in Bangkok, Thailand

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
January 15, 2005

            …whole range of his military and civilian staff that was an opportunity for me to thank him and the Defense Ministry and the Thai government on behalf of our government and our Defense Department for the extraordinary cooperation that our two countries and our two militaries have been able to achieve in helping bring assistance to the victims of this unbelievable tragedy.  It’staggering, the losses that have taken place in this part of the world, the losses in Thailand alone would be staggering and yet they are dwarfed by the losses in Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, and India, as the minister said.  It’s the source of some satisfaction that we’ve been able to deliver aid very, very quickly to the survivors and that would not have been possible without the efforts of our military and those efforts in turn would not have been possible without the close cooperation we’ve had with Thailand and with the Thai military. But, cooperation is a product of many, many years of working together in exercises, in training programs, in the almost daily contact of one sort or another between our two defense establishments, and, in a situation like this it pays off in terms of human lives saved and suffering relieved.  The Thai have been great partners with us.  I’m very appreciative of the way in which the Thai government has risen to the crisis here, and particularly the attention they’ve given to helping American victims and the relatives of American victims to find out about their loved ones, to get people out, to get them home, I know that our embassy here is very grateful for that cooperation. We’re going from here to Utapao, and I think I could say the principal focus of this trip is to look ahead and to think about how we can make sure that the medium and longer term needs are met and met as much as possible with local resources and with civilian resources and with non-governmental resources.  In that respect also Thailand is a leader in this region, not only able to take care of most of its own problems but even raising money for victims in other countries and it was a powerful gesture of goodwill toward their neighbors that Thai people are donating to the victims in other, harder hit countries.

 

            Be happy to take a few questions.

 

            JOURNALIST: (inaudible)…what role do you think the United States can play in the next phase?

 

            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  I think they’ll be playing a very important role as a country.  The U.S. military has a lot of other work to do and we’re happy to be the “First Responders” if you like, we’re happy to be able to step in when no one else can, but, frankly, our job is to work ourselves out of a job, and it’s, it is heartwarming that all around the world from governments and from individuals people are coming forward. I believe our two former presidents have raised, correct me if I have the number wrong, I heard $350 million from the American people, that’s obviously a role America has to play, but as soon as our military folks can pass these responsibilities on to other organizations we’ll be happier.

 

            JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

 

            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  I should, let me be clearer. Pass it on and make sure the job gets done. Ultimately the key here is to make sure that the people who are suffering, the people who need to recover, have the assistance they need.

 

            JOURNALIST:  (inaudible)

 

            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:  My sense of the comments that you heard from Indonesia wasn’t that they’re setting arbitrary deadlines so much as they’re setting goals and expressing their own desire to take on responsibility in their own country as quickly as possible.  And we now understand that, we applaud that, and, as I said in answer to the previous question, our people, while very proud and very happy to be providing relief when we are absolutely needed, we are also happy to pass on the task to other people, and particularly the people who live in those countries as quickly as possible.  The key thing is going to be to make sure that in the process the needs of the people are met and that’s one of the things we’ll be talking about, particularly in Jakarta with the Indonesian government.

 

            JOURNALIST:  …with CNN, just to follow up on that question, can you give us any idea specifically how much longer do you think U.S. troops will be on the ground here in Thailand and at Utapao and how much longer they’ll be offshore in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

 

            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ:    I’ll have a better idea, actually after we get to Utapao.  My sense is that already their role in Thailand is leveling off, if not declining.  The key contribution now is the one that is being made for the whole region and not just from the U.S. and Thailand but, I think it is eight other countries that are operating with us out of Utapao.  It’s the key coordination center for the whole region.  Once again, we don’t want, we’d like to be out of this business as soon as we responsibly can.  We will be consulting closely, especially with the Thai government—everything we’re doing here is in close consultation with them—can’t put a timeline on it, but I must say that it’s impressive the speed with which Thailand itself is able to take on more and more responsibility.

 

            I think one last question if there is one.

 

            Okay, thank you.