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USIS Washington File

29 September 1999

Text: Defense Secretary Cohen's Australia "Today" Show Interview

(Cohen: Countries in region must do their part for peace)  (2030)
Countries in the Asia-Pacific region must do their share for peace,
U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said in a September 29
interview on Australia's "Today" Show during his trip through the
region.
"What we expect is those in a region who have to confront a
peacekeeping mission should bear the burden of that, and we will be
supportive as much as we can ... but we are not the global policeman,"
Cohen said.
With respect to the peacekeeping operation in East Timor, Cohen
stressed that "Australia must take the lead on this and ... we expect
other countries in the region -- all of the ASEAN countries -- to
contribute to this."
Cohen's message to the region was balanced by a list of "do's" for the
Indonesian government.
Jakarta, Cohen insisted, "has an obligation to see to it that the
people who are now displaced into West Timor are allowed to go back
into their homes in East Timor."
The Indonesian government also has the responsibility to provide
security "to prevent the militia from in any way interfering or
harming" the East Timorese, Cohen said.
"If Indonesia is going to proceed down the path to democracy," Cohen
stressed, "it must take these actions and hold the military
accountable to the government."
The U.S. defense chief also emphasized that "there must be civilian
control over the military" in Indonesia.
"The world is watching," Cohen warned, adding that failure to
cooperate with efforts to restore peace, stability and democratic
efforts in East Timor could lead to diplomatic isolation or economic
consequences for Indonesia.
"The rest of the world ... is watching, and we are committed to and
helping the Indonesian people to achieve their own dream, that they
voted for, and that is for democracy," Cohen said.
Following is a transcript of the program:
(begin transcript)
INTERVIEW, CHANNEL 9 THE "TODAY" SHOW
WITH SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, WILLIAM S. COHEN
September 29, 1999
Q: Leading INTERFET forces in East Timor, America has so far taken an
important and yet understated role in the peacekeeping exercise. The
crisis in the region has of course underscored the Australian and U.S.
roles in Asia with one recent interpretation suggesting Australia play
deputy to America's role as regional policeman. A position vigorously
denied by our Prime Minister, John Howard. The American Secretary of
Defense, William Cohen, is on a whistle-stop tour of this part of the
world, and he joins us now for his only television interview from our
studios in Cairns. Mr. Secretary, good morning to you.
COHEN:  Good morning to you.
Q: After you leave Australia, you fly to Jakarta to meet with
President Habibie and General Wiranto. What message are you bringing
to them about East Timor and its future?
COHEN: What I am going to say to General Wiranto and to President
Habibie and others I'll be meeting with, Mrs Megawati, also with other
officials, non-governmental organisations and human rights groups as
well... But the message I will deliver is that the Indonesian
government has an obligation to see to it that the people who are now
displaced into West Timor are allowed to go back into their homes in
East Timor; that they provide that security to prevent the militia
from in any way interfering or harming them; and that if Indonesia is
going to proceed down the path to democracy, which we all support, it
must take these actions and hold the military accountable to the
government; there must be civilian control over the military, and that
the world is watching.
Q: And if Jakarta does not heed that message, if it doesn't control
its military, if it doesn't make it accountable for the murder of
independence supporters, if it doesn't honor the referendum result and
doesn't continue democratic reform, what then?
COHEN: Well, I think it will have serious consequences to the nature
of the relationship that Indonesia will have with the rest of the
world. The rest of the world, as I indicated, is watching, and we are
committed to and helping the Indonesian people to achieve their own
dream, that they voted for, and that is for democracy. And so I think
to the extent that the government does not cooperate, refuses to
achieve the goals that the Indonesian people aspire to, then I think
Indonesia itself will have to face up to consequences which will range
again, but certainly involve some isolation diplomatically, perhaps
economic consequences as well. But this is very important to the
future of Indonesia, and they have to understand this.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there are reports today suggesting that unless
President Clinton intervenes, the peace mission in East Timor will not
get done, that Australia lacks the experience to lead a mission of
this kind. What are you hearing from your people? What's General John
Castellaw, for example, what's his assessment of the situation now?
COHEN: Well, I disagree with the notion that Australia is not capable
of leading such a peacekeeping mission. We have had a very close
relationship with Australia for many many years now, Australia is one
of our strategic partners and we have military-to-military relations
which are outstanding. And we believe that the Australian military is
fully capable of leading this peacekeeping mission. One of the
purposes of my coming here, is to meet with my counterpart, the
Defence Minister John Moore; to get a briefing from him; and then also
to meet with our own military, as well as the Australian military and
the New Zealanders. To get an assessment of what's taking place on the
ground and to see ways in which we can be helpful, and making sure
that this peacekeeping mission is successful.
Q: Just on the question of the peacekeeping force itself. Did
Australia ever formally ask the United States to commit combat troops
to that mission?
COHEN: The answer is no, that no formal request for such a commitment.
We have been in touch, in very close contact, with our counterparts as
such, at the military-to-military basis, and with John Moore and
myself. And we have provided the kind of support in the way of
intelligence, transportation, logistics, sustainment, all of those
types of technologies and techniques and capabilities that the United
States has, to make sure that this mission is successful.
Q: I just want to be quite clear on that point. At the time Australia
said, a peacekeeping force needs to be sent into East Timor, Australia
at no stage said to Washington, will you commit combat troops to that
force?
COHEN: There has been no specific request, to my knowledge, and
certainly not to me, for such a request. We have indicated that we
would be supportive certainly, and we commend Australia for taking the
lead on this. This is a very important mission, and I want to commend
the Australian people and the government for taking this lead. But we
have indicated from the beginning, that we would be in a support
mission and we are doing that. There has been no formal request for
anything but what we are doing now, and we continue to talk on a daily
basis. Admiral Blair is meeting with his counterparts as well. So this
is something that we're following on a day by day basis and we are as
supportive as we can be.
Q: O.K. Would America commit combat troops to East Timor, to the
peacekeeping force, if Australia said, "we need them"?
COHEN: Well that's a hypothetical I can't answer at this point. What
we have indicated is that we believe that Australia must take the lead
on this and that we expect other countries in the region -- all of the
ASEAN countries -- to contribute to this, and that the United States
can be supportive as we are today. Frankly, I think if we make sure
that the Indonesian Government understands that their military must,
in fact, help and cooperate in achieving the success of this mission,
then future talk about more forces on the ground won't be necessary.
Q: Why didn't America -- just on that point -- offer combat troops?
For example, when the United States asked Australia to commit troops
to the Vietnam War, we did. We put our hand up for the Gulf War. We
did the same for Kosovo, and yet when we called for support for a
peacekeeping force it was almost as if America had to have its arm
twisted.
COHEN: Well not at all. As a matter of fact, you pointed out
correctly, Australia has been a key partner of the United States over
the years, and we've recognized that, and we believe that our
relationship is one of the real stabilizing forces in Asia. But by the
same token, we've also indicated by our past performance that we are
stretched very thin. That we, contrary to reports that I keep reading,
are the global policeman, we do not seek to achieve that status, nor
can we carry it out. What we expect is those in a region who have to
confront a peacekeeping mission should bear the burden of that, and we
will be supportive as much as we can. But the United States is very
much stretched across the globe trying to make sure that we contribute
to peace and stability, but we are not the global policeman.
Q: You gave a speech earlier this year, in which you said America is a
superpower, we can't retreat from the Asia-Pacific region. Where then
does Australia fit into that strategy?
COHEN: Well, we maintain a very strong relationship with Australia. We
have training missions together, we share intelligence, we share
information, we share technologies, and so we look to Australia as
being a very strong strategic partner of the United States.
Q: But, you are saying, in the face of increased instability in this
part of the world, Washington would expect Australia to play a greater
role with less direct support from America?
Cohen: Well, as a matter of fact, the United States is providing
considerable support for this peacekeeping mission, and I don't think
that that should be diminished. So, we expect to work with our
partners, but we also expect countries in the region to assume the
responsibility for helping to maintain the peace, and that's the
message that I will carry to countries, such as the Philippines, also
Singapore, Thailand, and others. This is not something that the United
States can dictate, nor should dictate -- cannot dictate -- from
Washington. This is something that is going to require the regional
countries to ensure their peacekeeping mission.
Q: So, that in a sense, we may be playing deputy to the United States?
COHEN: Australia is not playing deputy to anyone. Australia is a
country -- a sovereign country which believes in a strategic
partnership with the United States. It is not a deputy of the United
States, nor is the United States the policeman. We try to promote
peace and stability, and democracy, and prosperity, and working on a
bilateral basis with a number of countries in the region, but that
should not be construed as the United States either seeking or trying
to be a policeman of the world.
Q: So just finally, you therefore, have a clear understanding of the
status of our defense relationship with America and vice versa, and
you're not confused by all this talk about a Howard Doctrine, and what
it means?
COHEN: We're not confused about the nature of our relationship with
Australia. It's strong. It grows stronger each year. We're building
upon that relationship, and we expect to do that in the future as
well.
Q:  Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time today. 
Cohen:  My pleasure. 
(end transcript)



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