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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Press Conference with Senators Reed, Hagel

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 31, 2002

(Joint press conference in Singapore after meeting with Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Chuck Hagel.)

Wolfowitz: Good afternoon, I'm Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense of the U.S. and here with my colleagues from the U.S. Congress we really want to just say how delighted we are to be here and how important we think this conference is. It was a terrific initiative by the International Institute of Strategic Studies to bring together security experts both from government and outside government in the Asia Pacific region to discuss the security problems of this huge and hugely important part of the world.

We're really here just to sort of extend our greetings and our support for the conference. We'll have many opportunities to answer specific questions but in thinking about what to me are the most important themes of Asian security these days I really think of two. First of all the security in this part of the world is critical to my country, critical to the whole world and there is today I believe the strongest bipartisan consensus that I can think of in a long time behind the U.S. commitment to Asian security, the commitment to maintain our presence and our alliance relationship in this part of the world and our commitment to work with all the countries of the region to build new multilateral modes of co-operation and this conference is one of them.

The second point is that this gathering storm, if I could borrow a word from Churchill, this gathering storm that is the terrorist threat is something that threatens the world. It's true that the attacks of September 11 were on my country and some people here may feel that that's thousands of miles away but the terrorist threat is here as well.

I was reminded just yesterday that it was 15 years ago this month that I was sitting in my office in Jakarta as the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia when an improvised mortar bounced off the roof of the embassy and landed in the courtyard and fortunately the fuse didn't go off but it was a bomb loaded with nails. The terrorist who had set that had at the same time set a time device to attack the Japanese embassy with an improvised mortar and to set off a fire bomb in the basement of the British Cultural Centre. He was on a plane out of the country when all of these things went off. He was a Japanese Red Army terrorist and ten years later thanks to close cooperation with Japan we have him in an American jail where he belongs, but it's a reminder to me that terrorism is not new in this part of the world.

More importantly the terrorist really threatened the values that we all care about, the values of freedom and tolerance and democracy and this is a fight for everyone and we appreciate very much the cooperation we've had from Asian countries but it's not just a favor done for the U.S., I believe it's something that supports everyone. But again I'd like to turn over to my congressional colleagues and once again say this is an important effort and one that has strong bipartisan support in the U.S.

Hagel: Mr. Secretary, thank you. I am Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska, co-chairman of this delegation along with Senator Jack Reed, Rhode Island, and we will introduce our colleagues who are accompanying us on this trip in a moment, but let me say that we are grateful first for the government of Singapore hosting this important conference and also to the leadership of International Institute of Strategic Studies as Secretary Wolfowitz mentioned, for their focus and leadership in bringing this effort together.

This, as Secretary Wolfowitz stated, is not only appropriate, important and timely, but it now captures the essence of not just our defense issues in the Asia Pacific area along with the U.S. and other nations. But also it is very critical to our future diplomatic trade relationships all the important linkages to our future and we have been mindful of that in the U.S. Congress for some time, so to bring together as many senior members from as many countries represented here at this conference in the Asia Pacific area is really something very significant.

With that let me introduce my co-chairman of our delegation Senator Jack Reed.

Reed: Thank you Chuck. Our presence here underscores the importance of this conference to the U.S. The recognition of our vital interests in this region but also as Secretary Wolfowitz said the common threat that faces us. If we're wise we can also I think seize mutual opportunities and the beginning of wisdom often is sitting down and listening so we're all here quite eager to hear what our colleagues from around the region have to say. We look forward to a very interesting and insightful meeting and we hope this is the start of many such meetings as we begin to learn more about each other and fashion ways in which we can deal with a common threat and seize mutual opportunities. Thank you.

Let me quickly introduce the others in the delegation. We have Congressman Jim Kolbe from Arizona; Congressman Vic Synder, Arkansas; Senator Fred Thompson from Tennessee and Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher from California. Thank you.

Shall we take a couple of questions? Couple of questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can we ask you tell us about your plans to establish military ties with Indonesia and how this would impact on human rights abuses in the country so far?

Wolfowitz: It's a very important subject. I'll be having a bilateral meeting with the Indonesian defense minister while I'm here. We've had discussions also with Congress including members of this delegation. We really have two objectives -- one is to encourage military reform in Indonesia.

The reason that there are these congressional restrictions because there have been abuses in the past, abuses from which the Indonesian people themselves have suffered and if it there's going to be effective democratic control of the military in Indonesia there needs to be reform. But at the same time, there needs to be an effective military if democracy is going to survive and we believe that contact between our military and their military is a constructive positive force so we would like to move forward on both agendas at the same time.

Q: Mr. Secretary, if in 2004 a more Islamic oriented government comes into power in Indonesia, how would you prepare and handle that?

Wolfowitz: That's a long way off still! Indonesia made an incredible step forward a few years ago -- from 50 years of dictatorial rule to genuine democracy, and genuine democracy means people pick their leaders, they pick their governments, but from three years of living in a country and close involvement with that country, which as I think you all know has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. I know that the great majority of Indonesia's Muslims believe in tolerance, believe in religious freedom and religious liberty and do not believe in terrorism, and I believe that whatever government is there in Jakarta there will be a strong interest in cooperating to prevent terrorism: terrorism against Indonesians, terrorism against Americans, terrorism against people throughout the world.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on the India-Pakistan front, the fact that Pakistan is a key ally of the U.S. in the battle in the al Qaeda, do you believe that's holding up the U.S. from putting pressure on General Musharraf to deliver on the stopping cross-border terrorism into India.

Wolfowitz: We're very much opposed to cross-border terrorism. We've made that clear; we are making that clear every day now. We also believe that war is not the solution to the problems there; that war on the sub-continent has potential, has catastrophic consequences that would do untold damage to India, to Pakistan, and to the whole world, and we've come at a particularly tragic time because we're not only in a new year of U.S.-Pakistan relations when it should be possible to move forward in very positive ways. We're also in a new era of US Indian relations marked in many ways including the meeting just recently in Washington of the U.S.-India defense planning group. But our defense relationship for which I have some responsibility for is just part of a much broader relationship with India that is I think entering a new era. It would be tragic to see both of those positive opportunities destroyed by war that would do great damage to everybody.

Thank you.