Senior Defense Official: Let me just open with a very general, brief statement . Then I'll be happy to take as many questions as you have.
As you know, Secretary Cohen leaves on Saturday for about a week long trip to Asia. It will be his first as Secretary of Defense. Our first stop will be CINCPAC. It's a traditional first stop in Asia for the first visit of the Secretary of Defense. He'll have meetings with Admiral Prueher on regional situation, he'll get the command brief from Admiral Prueher. We will then -- we'll stay over night in Hawaii. We'll proceed to Japan on Sunday. We'll spend two days in Japan. In Japan, Secretary Cohen will meet with his principle interlocutors at the Japan Defense Agency. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he'll meet key parliamentarians from the Diet He'll also have a chance to interact on important security with Prime Minister Hashimoto.
We will also have an opportunity to meet our commanders in the field, both Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, as he views the troops in Japan. After two days in Japan, we'll then go to Korea where he'll have a similar opportunity to meet with his senior interlocutors again at the Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also in the Blue House, the Korean center of government.
He'll also spend time with General Tilelli, the commander in chief of our forces in Korea. He'll also have an opportunity to meet our troops there. He'll go up to Panmunjon, see the situation on the border. He'll be briefed intensively on the security situation, developments in North Korea of late and then he'll return to Washington on Friday.
He'll have a team with him, Under Secretary Slocombe, myself, some military representatives. He's looking forward to the trip. And I think with that, as a general introduction, I'll be happy to take whatever questions you have.
Q: Does he look to strike any kind of -- is this mainly glad handing or does he look to strike any kind of major agreements while he's there? And is the United States worried about the sexual assault case, albeit different from the one in Okinawa? Is he worried about perhaps a (inaudible) black eye to the U.S. military and U.S.-Japanese relations?
A: On the first question, I think Secretary Cohen is particularly interested to get out and get a sense of the region from a new perspective as Secretary of Defense. I think he'll want to move forward a variety of initiatives that we've laid out over the last several years in terms of moving forward in defense guidelines, close consultations with our Korean interlocutors about vigilance on the Korea peninsula, trying to ease the burden on the people of Okinawa and the so-called SACO process on Okinawa.
In addition, he may have a few things that he himself would like to put forward. And I think we'll see more of that as we get underway on the trip.
Q: How will the matter of theater missile defense work in to the visit in Tokyo as far as Japan's interest in cooperation of the United States, the Patriot or whatever?
A: Well, I think as you know, Dr. Kaminski, our Under Secretary for Acquisitions was in Japan for consultations about two weeks ago. He had very detailed discussions with our Japanese friends. Japan has been involved now in almost a two year study in terms of how they think about and what they're national options and priorities are vis-à-vis tactical missile defense. I think that our goal, of course, in this entire process is to provide as much information, calculus, as much data as we can to allow Japan to make its own decision about what are it's options, what are in it's national interests concerning tactical missile defense.
I also think Secretary Cohen will lay out very clearly what his and the Department of Defense's priorities are in terms of tactical missile defense. And he's been very clear on the record that this is a very high priority for him in this, the second Clinton Administration. So I think our Japanese interlocutors will be very interested to hear how Secretary Cohen wants to move ahead here.
Q: Are they ready to -- are you expecting to get some sort of word from them on what their decision is?
A: Their decision in terms of how they want to proceeded is likely to be made some time this summer. And really, that's for Japan to announce. Our primary responsibility in this is to provide as much information as possible to help them make their best possible decision, not to put pressure, but to provide info.
Q: Given that the Okinawa situation continues to be a hot domestic issue in Japan, will there be any discussion -- can you tell us if there will be any discussion of any U.S. troop reductions and can you just update us on what the status is with the Okinawa -- I understand the local leases are going to expire next month and I guess there's some question about whether or not Japanese government will be able to pass a law that ensures U.S. continues to stay there.
A: First of all, let me begin by saying Prime Minister Hashimoto in virtually every meeting that he's had with senior American interlocutors beginning with President Clinton, begins all his presentations with key assurances that he is committed to providing a stable and legal framework for the continuation of American forward basing in Japan. And we are very comforted by those very supportive statements and we are pleased with Prime Minister Hashimoto's statement of intention to move ahead with so- called land lease legislation. We expect there will be discussions between Secretary Cohen and Prime Minister Hashimoto on this matter. It will be interesting to hear from a Japanese perspective about so-called "correlation of political forces" within the Diet on this very delicate matter. We believe that it is in both U.S. and Japanese interests to move ahead with a legal framework which allows for the legal continuation of American bases in Japan, obviously. And we're hopeful that this will come to pass.
On the question of American commitment to keep about 100,000 troops forward deployed in Asia, I think you've all seen the comments recently of Secretary Cohen. He's made very clear that we stand by that commitment. That's been reaffirmed time and again, most recently by Vice President Gore, by Secretary Albright, by the President himself in both Australia and the Philippines. So I think you can safely say that from top to bottom, the U.S. government supports the continuing forward deployment of about 100,000 forces in the Asian-Pacific region. We think that's absolutely critical at this juncture -- a critical time in Asia's development as we see uncertainty on the Korean peninsula and other developments.
Q: Just one quick follow up, what's the status of the discussion of some sort of off-shore base or facility, this floating base?
A: When the former Secretary of Defense, Secretary Perry, was in Japan on December 2nd last year, we concluded the so- called SACO, the Special Action Committee on Okinawa final report. In that document, the government of Japan and the government of the United States committed to building an off- shore facility for the relocation of helicopter assets from Futenma Air Base, which is an air base, Marine air base, on Okinawa to an off shore location. At the staff level, we have proceeded with those discussions. We've worked very closely with our Japanese interlocutors. I think again, this will be a subject that Secretary Cohen will want to discuss with his Japanese counterparts. And I think we'll have more to say on this trip concerning the next step in this process on Okinawa.
Q: Is this to suppress public concern about American presence in Okinawa? By reduction of the helicopter forces from that air base?
A: No. In fact, we're not -- the very basis of the so- called SACO report was that the United States government would be prepared in close consultation with our Japanese interlocutors to reduce the intrusiveness of U.S. forces in Okinawa but not reduce the numbers. And so in fact, our force structure in Okinawa will remain relatively constant. But what we are doing is trying to return some land on Okinawa that is no longer necessary in terms of training and also to curtail some activities such as artillery firing that are most onerous on the people of Okinawa.
Q: It's not a helicopter base? Not the helicopter base for the new off-shore base?
A: I'm not -- I'm sorry?
Q: Helicopter operations would be moved from Okinawa to an off-shore base?
A: Yes. The offshore facility is only about a mile off shore. It's not --
Q: I understand that, but would you move the helicopter operations from Okinawa to that facility?
A: Yes. We are planning to move --
Q: Would you move the crews and the housing and their other facilities?
A: It's not anticipated that we would have the crews or the housing on this base. In fact, we would expect that to be on shore, but the runway itself would be built off-shore.
Q: About the sea base facility that you talked about, it seems that little progress has been made recently mostly because of the strong opposition in local areas in Okinawa, so how is Secretary Cohen going to urge the Japanese leadership to go ahead with agreements and have a specific plan for construction by the end of this year?
A: Let me just say that the most critical issue at this juncture obviously is the legal foundation for the continuing use of American facilities in Japan. I think it's fair to say that that particular issue has gotten much of our diplomatic attention.
The second question about the progress in the development of an off-shore facility, in fact, at the working level, we've exchanged tremendous amounts of information about what would be necessary in terms of the relocation of hangars, noise levels, a variety of other things. As you know, in Japan, there are a variety of firms that are competing to build such an entity. And we are busily trying to develop, in consultation between the United States and Japan, a shared set of assumptions about what will be necessary to complete such a task.
Q: To get back to the off-shore base for a second, is it still anticipated that that will be a fixed facility or is it to be a floating, movable facility?
A: I think the -- I think at this juncture, the plans -- the competing plans we've seen in Japan are for it be a fixed facility that would be close in to shore that would be connected by a causeway.
Q: Would we own it?
A: The exact legal issue about permanent ownership I think is unclear. I think in terms of the question of would it belong to the United States while U.S. forces are in Japan, that's very clear.
Q: I just want to go back to the, just for a moment, to the incident with the sailor at Yokosuka. Without saying anything about the guilt or innocence in this case, is it fair to say, though, that this incident, because of the reaction it generates in Japan, it's not helpful coming at this delicate part of while they're trying to get this legislation through the Diet.
A: There's obviously heightened attention to the conduct of U.S. forces in Japan. This is an issue that we take very seriously. We think morale and training are critical. Our commanders spend tremendous amounts of time on this issue. We work very closely with our Japanese interlocutors. On this particular case, we are in the midst of working closely with Japan to gain as much information as possible. We don't yet have enough to make any sort of public statements about, and that's specifically often in the past, the first reports turn out to be erroneous. And we want to be very careful about this. I can tell you that the procedures that were put in place after the tragedy at Okinawa of about a year and a half or almost two years ago appear to be working much better. The consultation between the two sides is extensive, very close and I think at this juncture, that's as good as we can do.
Q: The U.S. and Japan are scheduled to hold mid level consultations later on this month on missile defense issues. There is some question as to whether or not those talks are going to be actually held, and I was wondering if Secretary Cohen's visit will in any way spur those meetings on to be held?
A: I wasn't aware that there was any dispute. These are working group meetings that have been going on for many, many months. I think this is the eighth or tenth. These are exchanges of views. I thought they were to proceed as planned in the United States at the middle part of April. I don't see any problem with it and I think that's what plan to do. I don't know of any controversy surrounding that. And that would be very unusual, frankly.
Q: To follow up on the sailor case, the first reports that came had said that it was a situation of rape and then it seemed that it's changed to assault. Any idea why there was that disparity there, was -- did the girl claim rape to begin with?
A: Here, we just don't know enough and I don't want to muddy the water any farther. We're trying to find out as much information as we can from our interlocutors in Japan. When we have good, solid information, I can assure you that Ken or whoever will be briefing it immediately.
Q: Under the new procedures, when could you expect Japanese authorities to take custody of the sailor?
A: The question about custody in a case like this, under the provisions of the SOFA, the Japanese government can make a request for custody and we are responsible to look at it seriously. We're still at a very early stage of this situation. In close consultation, the Japanese have not requested custody at this juncture.
Q: Can I just clear up one more thing about missile defense? The Japanese are not trying to make a decision about whether they want missile defense, the decision is whether or not they want to field their own system or buy a U.S. system. Is that not right?
A: I really think they're at a much earlier stage about deciding whether -- what's the potential national utility of such a situation and a changing Asian security dynamic. I also believe that, you know, if you look at their budgetary constraints right now, they're in no position to move ahead dramatically in this way. I think primarily what they've been looking are various possible arenas and areas of collaboration with the United States. And that's what we expect to hear more from our Japanese friends this summer.
Q: Thank you.