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Joint Media Availability in Boston, Mass., with Commandant of the Coast Guard

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
September 28, 2000

(Joint media availability in Boston, Mass., with Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. James Loy)

Loy: Ladies and gentlemen, thanks very much for being interested in our opportunity to confer some honors on some young Coast Guard people from around the country. We are especially delighted to have, of course, Secretary Cohen and Governor Cellucci here to do that with us. I don't think any of us have an opening statement, but we would be glad to take your questions.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about the fact that the drug trade is moving out into the Pacific? What does that mean for the Coast Guard?

Loy: Well, the interdiction challenge is sort of an ever-present challenge and, of course, the bad guys, because of the enormous profits that are taken from that business, have a way of attempting to find the soft spots in our armor, whatever that might be. Our challenge is to sort of get inside their mental discipline and be there when they show, rather than to try to chase them where they happen to be at the moment.

The Pacific has an enormously greater challenge because of distances, and the natural choke points that the Caribbean offers clearly provides tactical opportunities for us to deploy forces accordingly. So we have to depend much more on the Department of Defense as their intelligence apparatus and the detection and monitoring responsibilities that they have under the law. And over the course of this past year, we have had just growing production out of that partnership and it has now been reflected in these numbers that we announced yesterday which record an annual record for our service.

Q: Do you expect those to keep going up?

Loy: Well, we would like to think that, first and foremost, that Plan Colombia, the president's initiative to assist the country of Colombia over the next several years, deal internally with the production end of that business such that there is not as much on the high seas for us to worry about interdicting.

The national drug policy of the nation, as prescribed each year by General McCaffrey, is a sort of a three-legged stool. It's about source country reductions in production, it's about transit zone interdiction, and it's about demand reduction in our own nation, which is an enormously important part of the profile as well, and we hope to continue to work hard on all three areas.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you give a sense for your appreciation for the harrowing missions that some of these Coast Guard heroes embarked upon, especially with regard to -- (off mike)?

Cohen: Well, as I tried to point out during -- very briefly -- is that these young people risk their lives every single day of the year. They are out there on the high and turbulent seas.

They are performing really miraculous feats, which for the most part go unnoticed. We may see a headline story about, as I mentioned, cocaine being seized. But we don't read about how much effort they put into their jobs, how much danger is involved, and the kind of dedication and professionalism they bring to the task.

So this was just an opportunity for me to come here to say we need to pay tribute; we need to highlight the efforts of these young men and women.

My wife, Janet, and I, for the past three and a half years have undertaken a campaign to reconnect America to its military. And what we really mean by that is to remind the American people, every day that we can, that we've got heroes in our midst and they are performing heroic deeds. And so to talk about the efforts that these young people have carried out and made on our behalf, it's truly remarkable and we owe them a great deal of gratitude. That's why we're here today.

Q: Secretary, what would you like your legacy at the Pentagon to be?

Cohen: (Laughs.) My legacy in the Pentagon -- I would like to believe that my wife, Janet, and I have been successful in reminding the American people of the importance that our men and women in uniform play in our lives; remind them of the patriotism that is displayed on a daily basis; remind them of the kind of sacrifice that the men and women who are wearing the uniform make every day, and their families especially; remind people that their sons and daughters are out there in foreign lands, on the ocean defending freedom, not only for the American people but on behalf of our allies. And that today, more people sleep under the blanket of freedom than any time before, by virtue of their sacrifice.

So I hope that we, in this brief period of time, have been able to rekindle a sense of awareness; renew a sense of patriotism about our men and women who are serving us.

Q: Secretary, a two-parter. Are we prepared to back up our rhetoric if Milosevic doesn't step down? And also, are we doing anything -- taking any precautions in case of a coup in Peru?

Cohen: Well, we back up our rhetoric every day of the year. We are forward-deployed all over the globe. We have 100,000 of our personnel who are in the Asia-Pacific region, 100,000 throughout Europe; we have 23,000 in the Gulf. We are backing up rhetoric with the reality of the most powerful military on the face of the earth.

We have, as we are fond of saying, the best-led, the best-trained, the best-equipped, the best-educated fighting force in the history of this country. So we're backing up our words with our deeds every day and we're prepared for contingencies which affect our national security interests, and that runs a full panoply of diplomatic and economic and potentially military, depending upon where the crisis arises.

Q: How worried are you about what's going on in Belgrade?

Cohen: Well, we're encouraged by what's going on in Belgrade. The people of Yugoslavia have spoken out very loudly in rather overwhelming numbers that they want Milosevic out of office. They recognize that they really won't be able to be fully integrated in the international community until such time as he's gone. They want him out. He recognizes that he has lost, and now what he's trying to do is call for a second round of votes so he can steal the election. Hopefully, the people in Yugoslavia will reject that, and that Milosevic will go.

Q: And if he declares a civil war in Belgrade?

Cohen: I think the strength of the opposition and what they've shown, the people who are raising their hands and casting their votes on behalf of new leadership, I think that's a signal, and the support that the international community is now signaling for the opposition candidate, for the freedom that they want, I think that will discourage Milosevic from taking any military action -- hopefully it will. If not, we'll have to wait and see how it all unfolds.

Q: How about in Peru? Any precautions right now? Anything special we're doing, anything different?

Cohen: We're not taking any special precautions. We watch the events in Peru. But we expect the situation to resolve itself peacefully.

Staff: Just one or two more, please, ladies and gentlemen.

Q: We're done.

Cohen: Okay. Great.

Q: Thank you.

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