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Cohen Press conference at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
September 22, 2000

(Press conference at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo)

This is my sixth visit to Tokyo as Secretary of Defense, and my last stop in a trip to six Asian countries. I just finished a meeting with a large group of Diet members, and when I leave here, I will meet with Prime Minister Mori, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nakagawa, Foreign Minister Kono and Defense Minister Torashima.

The breadth of these consultations highlights the importance that the United States attaches to the U.S.-Japan security relationship. Our forward deployment of nearly 100,000 troops in the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which is 40 years old this year, serve as anchors of stability and prosperity in Asia.

As you know, I just came from Korea, where President Kim Dae-Jung stressed the importance of keeping U.S. troops in Korea, specifically and in Asia generally, even as the two Koreas begin a process that we hope will lead to a reduction in tensions. He told me that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would create a power vacuum and replace security today with uncertainty tomorrow. Peace and prosperity rest on stability, and stability is what the U.S. and Japan are working together to achieve.

Earlier this month, Secretary Albright and I met with Minister Kono and Torashima in New York at the so-called "two plus two" meeting. After the meeting, Secretary Albright and Minister Kono renewed the Special Measures Agreement, providing a tangible demonstration of our nations' shared commitment to a continued U.S. presence in the region. The Special Measures Agreement and other Host Nation Support that Japan provides to U.S. forces here also demonstrate that freedom is not free. It requires a commitment of people, money and the energy necessary to maintain strong alliances. Japan and the United States both understand that a weak deterrence can not insure a strong, stable peace.

Good training is one key to maintaining forces that are strong, ready and flexible. Our troops work very hard to train in a way that doesn't inconvenience the Japanese people. For example, most night landing practice takes place on Iwo Jima, so that it does not inconvenience people who live near bases. Unfortunately, sometimes unpredictable changes in the weather and other circumstances can alter our plans, as recently happened. I regret the inconvenience that recent changes in training sites may have caused and assure you that we will continue to our efforts to be good neighbors as we carry out the training that is the key to maintaining a successful deterrent.

In recent years, Japan and the U.S. have strengthened and updated our security relationship with the 1996 Joint Security Declaration and the revised Defense Guidelines. As a result, Japan, the U.S. and all of Asia are more secure. Thank you.

Q: You just mentioned in comments to Japanese parliamentarians that the North [Korea] is going to have to soon realize that it will rather quickly have to make some kind of concessions on the military side to keep receiving economic and other assistance from South Korea and the West. Could you tell us why you think that? Will this economic aid and cooperation come to a screeching halt unless North Korea begins to make some concessions to lower military tensions on the Peninsula?

Cohen: Mr. Aldinger asked about my comments that I expressed at a breakfast this morning when I addressed a group of Diet members. I pointed out that there is great expectation on the part of many in South Korea that the initiative begun by President Kim Dae-Jung will prove beneficial to the ultimate goal of reconciliation, but I also noted that it cannot be a one way street. It cannot be a case where there is a lack of reciprocity. The North cannot take the position that the only basis for discussion will be whether or not economic aid continues to flow north, so that it can rebuild its economy without some corresponding reduction in military tensions. Otherwise, we would see a situation in which the North continues to strengthen its military, while calling on the South, and perhaps the American and Japanese peoples, to build up its economic power. That is not a situation that I think is either desirable or will be achievable. So, reciprocity is the key. We believe, in the U.S., that this engagement policy of President Kim Dae Jung is the correct one. We support him and we also know that there has to be, over a period of time, some indication on the part of the North Koreans that they are prepared to reduce tensions, and that means that they will have to find some confidence building measures that they will take in parallel step with their South Korean counterparts to reduce those military tensions if there is going to be a peaceful reconciliation.

Q: Will the economic aid stop?

Cohen: I think that it is premature to speculate on that. I think we have to wait and see how these initial talks unfold, and then take it step by step.

Q: Having seen your trip all through Asia this time, I see a big difference in terms of the way of how to host U.S. Forces. While Singapore is very eager to host U.S. Forces, even to construct a pier for an aircraft carrier on their own, in Japan and Korea there is some question and doubt about maintaining the same level of forces as you have faced at the breakfast meeting this morning with the lawmakers. Where do you think this difference comes from?

Cohen: Obviously, in Korea, as a result of the initiatives of President Kim Dae-Jung, there is hope and expectation that there can be reconciliation between North and South and that there will not be a need for as large a presence as the U.S. currently maintains. But I would be quick to point out that even though Kim Dae-Jung is initiating these moves to the North to bring about a reconciliation, he has made it very clear both privately and publicly, that he expects the U.S. to maintain its military presence on the Korean Peninsula, and Chairman Kim Jung Il in the North, also agrees that that will be important.

What we have said is that the size and force structure will always depend on the nature of the security environment and that is true for the North Koreans and South Koreans to resolve and it is also true here in Japan, in conjunction with the U.S. In 1996, the declaration that was signed by President Clinton and Prime Minister Hashimoto, is what governs that relationship, to continue consultations and to make a determination of the size of our force, our activities, consistent with the nature of the security environment. I have tried to point out that even though there are positive signs of peaceful intentions being expressed, there are still many dangers that have to be contended with. The North Koreans have not in any way diminished their military capability. In fact, they have intensified them.

They are training harder this past year than in years previously. And so, they've increased their state of readiness. They have, during the past year, moved more forces forward-deployed, with heavy artillery pieces also being moved closer to the South. These have to be taken into account and even as the South is reaching out with a gesture of peace, that President Kim Dae-Jung understands absolutely that he must maintain a strong military deterrent and that means a strong relationship with the U.S. I think that the same is true for Japan. Obviously, anytime that you have a presence of American Forces, there are bound to be some impositions on the local community. We understand that. I think that the Japanese people have been very patient, understanding.

Sometimes they don't see, because of the end of the Cold War, that there is a need to remain strong and vigilant, that there is a need to have the kind of training that takes place in order to make sure that if Japanese Forces or U.S. Forces are ever called upon to take action, that they be fully trained, prepared and ready to go into combat, that takes a lot of training. That does cause some burdens for the local population to bear. It's understandable, but I think also as a result of the leadership here in Japan and the leadership in South Korea, that leadership understands that the U.S. must continue to play an important role in the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.

Q: You talk about confidence-building measures between the North and the South. What specifically are we talking about when we talk about confidence-building measures- what the North can be doing, what can the South be doing? Secondly, you talk about increased military actions in the North? Does the North represent a greater threat now than it has before?

Cohen: It doesn't represent a lesser threat than before as a result of its training, I would say its forces are more prepared today than they were a year ago; and so in that sense there's a greater state of readiness on the part of the North Korean forces. Over the past year, they have moved a number of their assets in a more forward-deployed status. They have continued their ground-testing of their missile systems. They have not launched a Taepodong since the last one, but nonetheless they continue their testing at the ground level. So I would say that the threat exists, the possession of chemical, biological, potentially nuclear weapons, still poses a significant threat to the region. In terms of confidence-building measures, these would have to be negotiated by the South Korean military and the North Korean military, but there are a variety of ways in which they could start to step back: pulling forces back from their forward deployed status, eliminating their weapons of mass destruction, having various types of agreements -- notifications of training exercises and so forth -- there a long list of confidence-building measures that could be taken, but that must be negotiated between North and South.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I have two questions if possible. The first one concerns Theater Missile Defense. China and Russia are still highly critical and they are suggesting that American plans are going to destroy the whole system of stability. So, my question is, what your plans are, are you going to make it a closed system for only the United States and Japan and possibly Taiwan to participate, or maybe you are going to make it an open system and there is a possibility for such countries as China and Russia to participate, too. And my second question is about Russian nuclear submarine Kursk which capsized last month. Russians are suggesting that one of the possible reasons is a collision with a NATO or American submarine, they are asking to let them, well, have a look at a couple of United States submarines and the answer from the American side is no; so I ask, why not? And what is your own explanation of that particular accident. Thank you.

Cohen: With respect to National Missile Defense, as you know, President Clinton has decided to defer a decision on deployment of that system, on a system, until the next administration. I have had conversations with President Putin and other leaders in Russia to explain that this system as contemplated by the United States is in response to the continued proliferation of missile technology, particularly in the hands of those states formerly known as rogue states, now known as states of concern. But their possession does in fact pose a threat to the security of the United States and the question then becomes, can a system be designed and constructed that would require some modification of the ABM Treaty, but would be limited in nature and provide the kind of limited protection that the United States feels is needed.

President Clinton had met with President Putin, and President Putin said two things. Number one, he agreed that there was an emerging threat. Number two, he said, why don't we see if there can be a NATO-Russian participation on Theater Missile Defenses, and number two, why don't we explore the possibility of a joint research and development project on something called a boost-phase intercept system. We are open to exploring a boost-phase intercept system; in fact we sent a team of experts to Moscow to meet with the Russian experts. And what we found was there was very little interest on the part of the Russian experts to discuss any concept or plan for a boost-phase intercept system. So at this point, we would like to work with the Russians but we have nothing that they have produced to date that we would find, be the basis for, a boost-phase intercept system.

With respect to the Kursk, we had made it very clear that the United States, that our ships had no role in that terrible tragedy. We have communicated that, we believe that our word, indeed, has been categorical. I have received every assurance and I know that all our ships are operational and could not possibly have been involved in any kind of contact with the Russian submarine. So frankly, there is no need for inspections, since ours are completely operational, there was no contact whatsoever with the Kursk.

I hope that the Russian authorities find out the cause of it. All I can do is speculate at this point, that there were internal blasts that led to the loss of that ship and the fine men aboard her.

Q: I have a question about the Middle East. You mentioned that you want to maintain the American forces in the Far East. How about your strategy toward the Middle East? Until when do you think American forces are needed because there are some observers there, they think that you are there because of President Saddam Hussein, and they said you need somebody like Saddam that makes a pretext that you stay in the Gulf; and I have here some story in the Stars and Stripes, and it says that Saudi deployments of American forces from Japan may lessen Misawa noise complaints. It's like they said that you are sending some American forces from Japan to Saudi Arabia to help Japanese reduce the problems associated with the American forces. Do you have any comment on this? Thank you.

Cohen: Well, to your question as to whether or not we need Saddam Hussein in the Middle East in order to have a presence, we would be happy to see Saddam Hussein leave. We look forward to the day when he and those who support him are not longer in power. And I personally believe that until such time as that happens, there is unlikely to be the full integration of the Iraqi people back into the world community. So, we're not looking to maintain a presence based on Saddam Hussein, we'd be very happy to see him depart, and depart as soon as possible. Secondly, we do not intend to remove forces from the Asia-Pacific region to put into Saudi Arabia; if we have any allocation of forces that are here going to Saudi Arabia, it would be a normal rotation of troops and forces moving from place to place, but it basically would be to maintain the same level of composition of forces that we normally have. There's been no effort to reduce the number of forces that we normally have, so there's been no effort to reduce the level of our force here to accommodate our needs in Saudi Arabia; there'll be constant movement of our forces from place to place pursuant to our scheduled redeployments.

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