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Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen Press Conference in Singapore

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 06, 1999

Secretary Cohen: I'd like to first express my thanks to Deputy Prime Minister Tan for hosting my very brief, but I am satisfied, a very important visit. On my last trip here in January of '98, Minister Tan announced that Singapore is building a pier at Changi that can accommodate U.S. aircraft carriers. This is a sign of the strength and scope of our security partnership and the United States is grateful for Singapore's support.

The presence of approximately 100,000 U.S. military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region makes an important contribution to peace and stability in the area and our presence has been the foundation for the region's prosperity. United States presence in Asia is sustained by friends and partners, who host and train with our forces.

Today, the eyes of the region and the world are focused on East Timor, where nearly a dozen countries are working together in a cause of peace and stability. Singapore is making an important contribution to the United Nations sponsored peacekeeping force in East Timor. The ability of forces from many countries to form an effective multi-national force shows the benefit of bilateral and multi-lateral training, exercises and exchanges. When our forces train together, both countries benefit, and we can apply the lessons learned wherever our forces operate. So our relationship with Singapore has never been stronger, as a result, we are able to work together to improve security and promote stability. And with that brief statement, let me entertain your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Indonesia has to date set an October date to elect a new president. Given your warning to Jakarta, what's your reaction?

A: Well, I don't think they have settled on a new date, given the warnings that I gave in Jakarta. I came as a friend to Indonesia to, at least, advise them what I thought was the best course of action and how to deal effectively with the situation in East Timor. But it is also clear that many of the individuals I spoke with understood that the sooner election can be held, the quicker leadership can be installed, and a government to deal with the issue more effectively. So, I think there was that sentiment that everyone had understood that by waiting too long, there was a sense of instability and waiting on the part of individuals and not being able to really act as effectively as they could otherwise do after the election. So, it's a positive thing. I think it will help send a very strong signal that these elections will take place soon. And that as soon as that election is over, the government will take strong measures to deal not only with East Timor, but to in fact deal with the issues that are affecting Indonesia's economy, and its relationship with its military and other issues that are affecting the country itself.

Q: Sir, do you expect once the election is settled, once the new president is named, that the country will ... (inaudible) ?

A: That will be my hope. I think that is the hope of all Indonesians as a matter of fact. I think that 's the very reason why those that voted for setting this date sooner understand that time is very important; that the issue of East Timor is important to the future of Indonesia, but Indonesia needs to set itself on the course of fulfilling those democratic ideals and dreams of the people who have voted for it. So I think everybody understands that, and I think that's the reason why the vote was to accelerate the timeframe and to have the election by October 20th.

Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary, the militias continue to make threats and attacks against the peacekeepers. Do you see any signs the Indonesian military is making good on their assurances to reign in the militias and, also if I may, if the peacekeepers are attacked, are they authorized to pursue their attackers into West Timor?

A: Well, on the question of the hot pursuit, that is something that I believe you have to refer to the United Nations charter that they would have the opportunity to protect themselves. How far and wide any such pursuit could take place is something I can't make a statement definitively on right now. But anytime you have any peacekeeping unit that comes under hostile attack, they certainly have the opportunity to protect themselves and take reasonable measures to do that. But, I would hope that General Wiranto and the military would understand and the civilian leadership would understand that it's important to get control over the militia, that it's important for them to take measures to disarm the militias in West Timor to prevent the cross-border, any potential cross-border attacks. Right now, it may be just words on the part of militia, and certainly you cannot expect the government to curb militias saying they're going to do something. What they can do is take away the capability of carrying out any sort of rhetorical threats; so much remains to be done in terms of actions and we'll have to wait and see whether or not they take the affirmative action to help in the demilitarization of the militias.

Q: Have they done anything?

A: I've only been away for a day. I haven't been in a position to make judgment. They understood what needs to be done and we will see as events unfold, whether they carry out their commitments.

Q: You have impressed on the ASEAN countries to have the presence in East Timor at this time. You have any specific numbers in mind or have called on specific countries to possibly play a combat role if necessary.

A: I don't have any specific figures in mind. What I tried to indicate is I think it's important for the ASEAN countries to be openly and visibly supporting the peacekeeping mission that has been authorized by the United Nations. I think it is important to send the right signal that all of ASEAN is concerned with bringing a stability to East Timor, that it is everyone's interest and that should not be simply delegated perhaps by default to the Australians or the New Zealanders or to the Thais, that everybody has an interest. Each country will have to make a determination in terms of what is its capability in a way of forces. But financial contributions certainly need to be emphasized so countries who are able to contribute to the so called trust funds that will be used to help in this whole effort of peacekeeping. That is important. And each country will have to make its own determination. What I was trying to stress is a need for an open visible endorsement of the need to have the peacekeeping mission succeed. I don't think it is in anyone's interest to try to go back and recalibrate or to recalculate whether or not the timing for the referendum was right or wrong. That issue is past us and the issue right now was how do we bring up peace, stability, and security to East Timor which is overwhelming for independence.

Q: Going back to Singapore - U.S. Defense relations, how do you see Defense relations developing in the new millennium?

A: Well, they're going to get better. What we have now is a very strong relationship now as I indicated. I will be leaving here after this press conference and going out to Changi to see the evolution of that pier which will accommodate ships as large as our aircraft carriers. To the extent that Singapore has that capability we intend to come as often as we can, and we appreciate very much the opportunity to take advantage of Singapore's strong partnership with the United States. It helps us to maintain our force of roughly one hundred thousand people in the region. We believe very strongly that the presence does contribute to the security and stability in the area and ultimately prosperity. So it can only get better. It is very strong now and we look for even stronger ties.

Q: Are there any joint exercises in the pipeline between U.S. and Singapore in the future?

A: Well, there are a number of programs that we hope to explore, there's a large enhancement engagement program that we would like to explore with all the countries in the region and that is to explore ways in which they can be greater, not only bilateral but multilateral ways of cooperating and dealing with environmental catastrophes, and humanitarian type of situations. We're seeing so many things take place, not only in East Timor, but an earthquake in Taiwan, other types of environmental catastrophe in which most recently we saw what took place in Japan and so there are many types of areas where there could be cooperation on regional or multilateral basis, and hopefully, as this unfolds in the future, ways we can find in which we can share information, set up mechanism whereby Ministries of Defense might be able to cooperate with National Defense Universities to share information in developing procedures for peacekeeping, humanitarian missions, and other types of things of that sort. So we're looking forward to programs such as that.

Q: In Bangkok yesterday, you made reference that a strong U.S. political presence was good to China, can you explain and make particular reference to the situation in Taiwan Straits and South China Sea?

A: Well, we have a relationship with Taiwan, certainly in the Taiwan Relations Act, and we also support strongly the one China policy. And I have traveled to China on many occasions, and I have lectured in various types of fora before the Chinese people, and their leadership. I am absolutely convinced that without a strong U.S. presence in the region that there would be a certain competition between a number of countries for a presence here. That would certainly stir something of an arms race, which would only inhibit the development of the economies in the region. So, what I tried to indicate to China is, that by virtue of our presence, by our relationships with Japan, and the updated or revised guidelines that we have signed with them and have been adopted by Japan, that too, is a contributing factor to benefiting all in the region, including China. If China were to have to contend with other competitors for some either dominance or presence in the region, then that certainly would impact upon their own modernization programs, and so, I believe that our presence is a stabilizing, beneficial presence for all of the region, including China.

Q: As you know, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty comes up next week. How serious is it in trouble? And what did you and other members of the administration do or say differently to persuade your former colleagues to approve it?

A: Well, I think this is a very important issue. I think the signal that we send, and how we deal with the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will have an impact on countries who are either currently developing, or acquiring nuclear weapons or those who might in the future. I think it's important that we try to prevent that from taking place by going on record, not only voting for the Test Ban Treaty itself, but also ratifying it. And that hopefully will send a strong signal to India and Pakistan, both of whom have pledged in the past, that they will be willing to sign this treaty but have not done so. I think that we should take that step, and I believe it is a verifiable treaty, that we have the technology, that we have the means of on-site inspection that will satisfy us that tests are not being conducted and I think that is a signal that should be sent to all concerned. How much of a struggle? I think it's an uphill battle, I think that we are going to have to overcome some fairly strong resistance, how that can be achieved is simply, through, hopefully, the powers of persuasion, that of a rationale pointing out the opportunities, and pointing out the risk of its rejection, But no one can predict at this point how that will unfold. But I'm prepared to go back, sooner than I had planned, in order to partake in talking to former colleagues to at least ask them to keep an open mind until all the facts can be laid before them in a formal hearing.

Q: What did you discuss with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong this morning?

A: I discussed, basically, issues I'm talking about here. We discussed East Timor. We discussed the need for East Timor to be stabilized, so that the people can return safely, services can be delivered to them, humanitarian assistance, and then a reconstruction effort can be undertaken, and I indicated that my hope is that UNAMET, the United Nations effort, in phase three could begin certainly before March of next year. But, it is important to move as expeditiously as possible, in order to bring stability there. We also discussed how the stabilizing of East Timor, would also have an impact upon Indonesia, that one cannot be separated from the other, that Indonesia may not see it as being as important perhaps to its future, but it is. Because, the rest of the world is watching very closely, in terms of how this is going to be resolved. If it is not successfully resolved, then it may have very negative implications, and so we discussed principally East Timor, we also discussed full range of subjects that affect Singapore security place in the area and we also discussed China, and I think that was it.

Q: Singapore Armed Forces and U.S. Defense Forces have had many exchanges. How do you describe the exchanges between the U.S. Armed Forces and Singapore Armed Forces?

A: In a word, "terrific." Singapore represents perhaps a largest number of forces training in the United States today. And that is something very positive. We have many of your pilots who trained in the United States, we are looking forward to many of our sailors, some of whom are here today, enjoying port visits and sharing information. This is a very healthy, strong relationship between our two militaries and I think it can only get better by virtue of how close we are becoming, the interoperability of our equipment, training take place that makes it a very seamless operation. When we train together, effectively, both sides, both countries benefit, so we are looking forward to a very strong beneficial relationship in the future as well.


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