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US State Department Briefing On East Timor

Daily Press Briefing Index
Wednesday, September 15, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin


INDONESIA (East Timor) 2 Congressional consultations regarding peacekeeping force / humanitarian interest


QUESTION: Well, here's a simple one: In the last couple of days, what has the administration been doing, that you know of, to consult with Congress about the operation in East Timor, and what kind of a reception are you getting?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, a number of administration officials, including the President, have been consulting with Congress about this operation, and essentially indicating that we do think it's important for us to participate; that having a role in the logistics, in the communications and in the intelligence area is an appropriate role for the United States, because these are capabilities that we have unique expertise in; that an ally of ours - a very close ally, Australia, who has been with us through thick and thin - has asked for our assistance, and we think, therefore, it would be appropriate to help.

We are talking about hundreds of American service men and women, not thousands. I think, in general, there has been a recognition by members of Congress that this kind of an assistance to the Australians, and others from Asia -- including Thailand and the Philippines and Korea and perhaps Malaysia and others who are intending to contribute -- is an appropriate way for us to share the burden without bearing the full brunt of it.

QUESTION: The US administration being pressed as to what national security interest - or is the humanitarian situation compelling enough that there is a disposition to go along with this limited involvement?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we think there is a national security interest in our participation, and the national security interest is a very simple one: Indonesia is a country -- the fourth-largest country in the world, the largest Muslim country -- that has been going through profound changes in the last year moving from an authoritarian dictatorship to the beginnings of a real democracy, and that development of Indonesia is of interest to the United States, in and of itself, and because Indonesia stands astride critical sea lanes and lines of communication for our forces and our goods and services around the world.

If Indonesia is unable to deal with a situation like East Timor -- if it were to continue to spin out of control -- it could affect the future of Indonesia, and thus our national security. Secondly, there is a humanitarian interest. We do believe that we should look at how to be helpful, where we reasonably can be helpful, where our unique capabilities can make a difference, and that is why we believe it would be appropriate to help ensure that the hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering get relief.

But again, what happens here is that people often try to develop a simple formula for what the United States should and shouldn't do, and there is no simple formula for American intervention, or American use of force. That is what the President, and the Secretary of State, are paid to decide: not to simply plug in a formula, but to make the judgment calls that are necessary in cases like this.


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