THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Auckland, New Zealand)
|For Immediate Release
||September 13, 1999
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE PRESS POOL
Stamford Plaza Hotel
Auckland, New Zealand
8:45 A.M. (L)
THE PRESIDENT: Let me begin by saying that I welcome the statement
of President Habibie last night inviting the United Nations to send
a security force into East Timor. I think that this is a real tribute
to the determination of the friends of the people there, the Australians,
the New Zealanders here, all the people here at APEC who express
I think there are a couple of points I'd like to make about it.
Number one, it's important to get the details worked out and get
this force in in a hurry, in a way that it can be effective. Number
two, if that happens, then we can resume our work with the people
of Indonesia, the world's fourth largest country, to help their
transition to democracy and the restoration of prosperity there.
In terms of what our role would by in East Timor, we have had extensive
discussions with the Australians through our defense channels and
we've been asked to provide a limited, but important function related
to airlift, transportation, communications, intelligence, and perhaps
in engineering work. Exactly what the details would be have yet
to be worked out and require more extensive consultations with Congress.
I made a number of calls before I left the country. Secretary Cohen
and Mr. Podesta are back there now working on this issue. But I
hope we can wrap it up. The most important thing is for President
Habibie to make good on his statement, get the details worked out,
get the force in in a hurry.
Q Mr. President, will there be any U.S. ground troops in combat
roles in East Timor?
THE PRESIDENT: We've not discussed that, we've not been asked for
that. What -- I talked to Prime Minister Howard yesterday and I
stopped in Hawaii, as all of you know, and met with our Commander-in-Chief
there, Admiral Blair, and obviously I've talked to Secretary Cohen
and General Shelton. What we have been asked to do so far relates
to airlift, what countries are going to contribute to troops --
someone needs to take them to the theater -- relates to transportation,
communications, intelligence, and the possibility of some engineering
work. All of that would require some presence on the ground in East
Timor, but no one has asked for any combat troops.
Q Mr. President, these are troops that, by and large, have never
worked together before. It's not like the NATO kind of force. Do
you see for the United States any kind of coordinating role to keep
the peacekeepers together, to have a command structure for them?
THE PRESIDENT: We might be asked to provide some help on command
and control. But keep in mind, a number of these troops have worked
together. There is a group here in this part of the Asia Pacific
region that train together, that work together, that do exercises
together. So there is some experience here. But there will be some
work to be done, depending on how many countries come on the command
and control, and if we're asked to provide some technical assistance
there, of course, we'd be willing to help.
Q Mr. President, how much control will the Indonesians have about
the makeup of the force? They've already said that they're uncomfortable
with the Australians being the leader.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that has to be worked out today. But my view
is that we should work with the Indonesians in a cooperative fashion.
Perhaps they should have some parallel presence even, but they should
not be able to say who is in or not in the force and what the structure
of the force will be. Otherwise it will raise all kinds of questions
about whether there will be integrity in the force and it will also
delay the implementation.
The truth is the Australians are willing to carry the lion's share
of the role. They're willing to put in a large number of people.
They have enormous military capacity. Our people have great confidence
in working with them. And so I don't think that we should be in
a position of having this thing delayed for days and days and days
over that, and I hope that it won't be when the talks occur today
with the Indonesians leadership.
Q Mr. President, as a practical matter, what's the quickest you
think a deployment could occur -- 24 hours, 48 hours -- how quick?
THE PRESIDENT: I think we could begin to move quickly, but I think
it depends upon the meeting today with the Indonesians. Let's wait
and see what happens today, and then you ask me that question either
late today or tomorrow, I can give you a more intelligent answer.
Thank you all.
END 8:53 A.M. (L)
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