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Federal Document Clearing House
White House, Defense Department Briefings
White House Briefing Speaker: Ari Fleischer
Defense Dept. Briefing Speaker: Rear Admiral Craig Quigley
July 30, 2001
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY
FLEISCHER: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: There was a nonbinding resolution yesterday in Puerto Rico calling for the immediate end of the testing. Will the president immediately end testing or do it over the next two years, as he announced last night?
FLEISCHER: The president has accepted the recommendation of the Department of the Navy that represents a balanced approach, and the president has always said it's very important to listen to the people of Puerto Rico and he has.
The president also believes it's very important to have a seamless transition so that our military can be the best trained it can be so we are prepared for any contingencies around the world, and that's the approach that the president will reflect.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) immediately, we need to take a couple of years?
FLEISCHER:The recommendation of the Department of Navy was that the withdrawal from Vieques will be effective as of May 2003, and that is a recognition of the fact that the people of Puerto Rico have concerns on this issue but so, too, is it important to make certain that our military is trained until an alternative location is found.
QUESTION: Does your referendum have anything to -- stay with the president? After all, isn't that the will of the people and the referendum shows they want it stopped now?
FLEISCHER:Well, and in addition, there are the ongoing legitimate needs of our nation's military, and these matters are not only decided by referendum, but they are decided by a variety of factors that represent a balanced approach, and that's what the president has done here.
QUESTION: What about communities who are also facing military operations nearer? Do you think this starts a precedent where local communities should be able to have some kind of a vote either to get rid of military operations or maybe to keep base closings that they don't want closed?
FLEISCHER:The president thinks it's important to listen to the local communities, and he thinks it's important for the United States military to work well with the nation's that are hosting us or the localities in this country that have military facilities. Very often these communities cherish those military facilities. There may be occasions where they don't and there are some problems, and the president thinks it's very important to work closely with local hosts.
But it's always a question of balance and working well with local hosts and securing the military needs of our country to have our men and women properly trained so they can deter war. QUESTION: The referendum against base closings are a referendum for other communities that do not want the military as a neighbor.
FLEISCHER:Well, in this case, Vieques is rather unique. As you know, this was an agreement entered into by the prior government of Puerto Rico with the previous administration and codified by the United States Congress that has created a referendum. So it is the law of the land in this once instance.
FLEISCHER:I'm not aware of another incident which is similar to this. But this is the law. There is a referendum in Puerto Rico .
QUESTION: Back to Vieques , 68 percent of the inhabitants of Vieques want the Navy out immediately.
QUESTION: I think the resolution of which President Bush speaks says by May 1, 2003, doesn't say on May 1. It means there's some wiggle room there. When you have a 68 percent saying one thing, does this spur the White House to try to accelerate it?
FLEISCHER: You know, the president has said and he is listening to the people of Puerto Rico . He thinks that's important. The president is also the commander in chief with the responsibility to make sure that our men and women are sent into harm's way with the best training possible. And he wants to do both, and he has done both. He's listened to the people of Puerto Rico , and he wants to make certain that our nation's military training mission is fully and fairly carried out.
The Department of Navy is engaged in looking for alternative sites to Vieques , and they need a sufficient amount of time to get the job done to protect our men and women in their training missions.
So, as always, it's a question of balance, and the president believes he's found it.
QUESTION: Yes, but to follow up on that, you did say earlier --I don't know if it was a slip of the tongue or not -- that the changeover was effective 2003. Is it your understanding that we won't be leaving that base until May 2003 or we'll be leaving it sometime between now and then?
FLEISCHER: I think the announcement from the Department of Navy said "effective as late as May 2003," but I would just refer you to the direct words of the Navy's announcement of recommendation, but it was through May 2003, no doubt.
QUESTION: What's the soonest you think it could be done?
FLEISCHER:That's a question you need to address to the Navy. That really depends no the Navy's success in finding alternative location.
QUESTION: Can it possibly be done immediately as this nonbinding resolution...
FLEISCHER: Again, that's a question for the Navy.
QUESTION: Ari, under the terms of the agreement, there is a binding referendum which is scheduled to take place in November, which, as you know, will either have the Navy leave or will allow it to resume live fire. Is the administration doing anything at all to lobby and try and change the vote on Vieques , even though we know that the vote on Vieques is not necessarily representative of the whole people of Puerto Rico . So what's going to happen (OFF-MIKE)
FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of what's being done with that. But given the action that the president has already announced concerning Vieques , with the Navy recommendation, the president has already determined, in accordance with the Navy, that the United States needs to find an alternative location.
FLEISCHER: Thank you.
DEFENSE DEPARTMENT REGULAR NEWS BRIEFING SPEAKER: REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY
July 31, 2001
DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN
QUESTION: OK. On Vieques , the governor of Puerto Rico said that in the referendum that took place on Sunday the people of Vieques have spoken and that in light of this expression -- democratic expression, the U.S. Navy should stop all military operations in Vieques and withdraw immediately. Is it the policy of the United States to have these issues of national defense discussed or decided by local communities?
QUIGLEY: Well, I think that there's been no shortage of voices on how we perceive the local referendum there that occurred last Sunday. It was a non-binding referendum. We have said that our intention is to depart Vieques in May of 2003, but that we need the time between then and now to continue to train there until we find alternative training site or sites to carry out good quality training for sailors and Marines in the Atlantic Fleet. That remains true today.
QUESTION: The White House, yesterday, basically said or reiterated the position that there are no alternative sites, so it will remain until 2003. However, the governor of Puerto Rico says that she has information that the administration is leaning toward an early departure. Is there any change in U.S. policy?
QUIGLEY: No, I have no indication of that at all.
One element I know we've been discussing here on several days, the legislation to rescind the November 6 referendum did go to the Hill yesterday.
QUESTION: So it'll be debated at least in the House in the defense authorization bill tomorrow?
QUIGLEY: Well, both the House and Senate in our oversight committees, that's who receive the legislation from us. And then our motivation, because we think it's bad policy to have a local referendum affect national security policy of the nation, would be to hopefully have the November 6 referendum rescinded and press on with our intention to leave Vieques in May of 2003.
QUESTION: The original defense authorization bill last year also included the funding for different aid or projects in the island, as well as cleanup funds for the part that is going to be transferred to the Department of the Interior. Will that still be included in the legislation or is that also being rescinded?
QUIGLEY: I don't think that was addressed by the proposed legislation. You should check with the Navy on that, but I do not think that was a part of the legislation that went to the Hill yesterday. I think that was focused solely on the referendum on November 6.
QUESTION: Congressman Weldon said last week that when the referendum legislation comes over, as you told us now it has, that he'll attempt to amend it so that the voters are -- if they vote against allowing the Navy to stay, that they'll, in effect, be voting for all the military to leave all of Puerto Rico . Assuming that the referendum goes forward -- and I understand that DOD's position is that it should not, but assuming the referendum goes forward, would the DOD support that addition to the referendum?
QUIGLEY: We'll just have to see how those cards are played in the weeks ahead. I'm a very poor predictor of the future.
QUESTION: Just on Vieques just to clarify, are there any upcoming exercises scheduled on Vieques this coming weekend or weeks?
QUIGLEY: I believe that the training for the next battle group starts in the near term. I believe it's just in the next few days.
QUESTION: And there are no plans to alter that based on this nonbinding referendum?
QUIGLEY: No. Thank you.