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Department of Defence News Briefing with US Secretary of Defence William Cohen

US Embassy Japan, Tokyo

21st January, 1998

Good morning. First I want to thank Foreign Minister Obuchi and Defense Minister Kyuma for hosting my brief, but very useful visit. I also want to thank the government and the people of Japan for the support they have provided to the United States military.

Before coming to Japan, I visited Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and China. These countries understand that the United States military presence in Asia lays the groundwork for peace and prosperity throughout all of Asia. Our security policy in Asia rests on four essential pillars. First, bilateral relations, especially a strong security alliance with Japan. Secondly, multilateral relations such as the ASEAN Regional Forum. Third, engagement with China. And fourth, control of weapons of mass destruction. The forward presence of nearly 100,000 American troops in the Asia-Pacific region is the foundation that supports these four pillars.

Our troops work very hard to prepare for their deployments. They also work very hard to train in a way that doesn't inconvenience the Japanese people. We want to be very good neighbors. Sometimes our security concerns require training that cannot be scheduled in advance. And I want to express my personal regrets about this imposition upon the people of Japan that the rapid deployment of the USS Independence caused in terms of requiring the training of its air wing, particularly the imposition that it caused for the students who were preparing for exams. This was something that came up very suddenly and we will certainly try to avoid this in the future.

Yesterday afternoon I met with Prime Minister Hashimoto. We reviewed our strong security alliance, the implementation of the defense guidelines, and progress under the SACO agreements. Peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region rests on leadership from the United States and Japan, and our alliance has never been stronger.

Thank you very much.

Q: I am Arita from Asahi Shimbun. With regard to the Futenma Air Base, may I ask you a question? In exchange for that, there is talk about the floating heliport to be constructed but the governor of Okinawa has opposed the idea. As for the sea-based heliport and so forth, are there any other options available to make up for the Futenma Air Base? Any other options available from the view point of the United States?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, with respect to Futenma, that's obviously a matter of local concern, and something that will have to be decided by the Japanese government and local officials. We do not seek in any way to influence the outcome of that decision process. The options, I think, have been reviewed. If there are other options available, then they would be considered, but I think it's something right now that the mobile air, or floating air facility is the one that appears to be the most viable. If there are others that can be considered, I'm sure they either have been or would be.

Q: I am Yara from Okinawa Times. With regard to the Futema Air Base issue once again, just the other day a citizens' referendum was held in the city of Nago. As a result of that, I think you have been reported about this yesterday, what was your reaction to the referendum's results in Nago? And also, in formulating SACO from Japan and the United States I believe two goals have been set. One of the goals set was that Okinawa people's burden will be reduced or lightened. And also as for the consolidation and reduction of the bases in Okinawa, as a part of that the functions of the U.S. military forces and the capability of U.S. forces will not be undermined as a result of that consolidation and reduction work. And as far as the citizens voting by Nago city is concerned, with regard to these two goals, do you think those two goals still stand to be achieved? Now that the referendum is over?

SECRETARY COHEN: The short answer is yes. The two goals can be achieved. Obviously, the situation on the part of the people of Nago is an internal matter. We do not seek to intervene or in any way try to influence that. That's a matter of local political concern. But can the presence of U.S. troops be reduced in a way that reduces the imposition and inconvenience that it imposes on the people of Okinawa? I think we have demonstrated that we have tried to reduce what we call the footprint of our troops to try to take into account the needs of the people of Okinawa as far as the training missions that are scheduled. We've tried to be very sensitive to the testing periods of Japanese students so as to not interfere with their ability to concentrate. We think that we have made very significant efforts at reducing the footprint of our troops and taking into account the needs of the people of Okinawa. So we think the goals are still mutually compatible.

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