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Last Updated:8/22/01
Excerpts from media roundtable with Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman, August 21, 2001
Q Mike Hedges (ph) with the Houston Chronicle. You mentioned Colombia is an area you are looking at. Can you give us a little bit of an insight into your thinking about how things are unfolding there and what the next round will be in the training there?

MR. RODMAN: Well, it's -- all I can say is it's an issue we are looking at, and there -- I mean, there is a formal review going on, as you would expect, and I think the new administration does want to look at it and come to its own conclusions about what the right strategy is. This is an issue of which there is enormous congressional sensitivity. And so I think whatever policy we end up with ought to reflect not only an administration judgment about what it makes sense to do, but as much of a bipartisan consensus as it's possible to achieve. I mean, I can't say anymore about where we are heading, because there are no conclusions yet. But it's something -- it's -- some agonizing decisions there, and I think there's a consensus that there's an important American interest, but there is not necessarily a consensus about what the right way to serve that interest is. And, as I said, we are going through an intellectual process at the moment, the new administration, and I wouldn't attempt to point to where we are going to come out.

Q Excuse me. By "congressional concerns," are you talking about, number one, putting U.S. -- possibly putting U.S. troops in harm's way; and, number two, human rights concerns? Is that what you're --

MR. RODMAN: Well, I'm not speculating about it. But just -- I was struck in my own hearing and in confirmation hearings of some of my colleagues in the Armed Services Committee that there are a lot of -- there's concerns about are we getting deeper into a conflict or not, or what is at stake -- is it just narcotics, or is there some wider stake we may have in the survival of a friendly democratic government. And I was sort of intrigued to hear senators on both sides of the aisle with different views on it. So, as I said, I think we as a country are not quite sure where we are heading, and there is a process going on now rethinking which, you know, I hope -- I mean, I think it's maybe possible for us to form some sort of consensus in the country about what it makes sense to do. I certainly wouldn't speculate about whether it will end up.


Q Jim Dow (ph) from the New York Times. Following up on that, when you talk about review, are you referring to specifically on relations with Colombia, or is it more broadly about the military's role in drug interdiction? And could you talk a little bit about --

MR. RODMAN: It's an interagency review, and I don't think it has any limitation. You know, how should we handle the drug review? Should there be -- you know, should our policy on engagement, which obviously includes a military component, should it -- you know, should it have a rationale beyond just narcotics? Again, I don't want to prejudge where it's going to end up, but I think any new administration would have come in and looked and say, Where are we heading there, given the military engagement? And yet, given our stake in Colombia, as a democratic government in our own hemisphere, you know, that we have a stake in. So, again, I don't want to -- I can't give you any more of a clue about where we are going.

Q Is there a time table for finishing the review?

MR. RODMAN: I don't think so. I mean, it's something -- you know, we were kind of late getting started. I mean, there were -- it -- it's only in the summer that we -- at least as I was aware of -- a systematic review, and it's underway, and I am not aware of a deadline.
Q Yes, Esther Schraeder (ph), Los Angeles Times. Can you give us an understanding of the administration's thinking as to the use of private contractors in fighting the drug war again in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America?

MR. RODMAN: Well, it's another topic that I am not an expert on. I know that there is a personnel cap on our personnel in Colombia that includes -- under which we have some private contractors and some U.S. personnel. You know, I really don't have anything very illuminating to say about that. I mean, the fact that there is I think a legislative cap shows that the Congress is interested in the question. So I think that it is -- it's important that there be again some consensus between the executive branch and the Congress about how we engage in some of these areas, whether it's contractors or direct U.S. personnel. It's not a very illuminating answer. But I -- that's the way it is.
Q I'd like to take it back to Colombia, if I could for a second, just for a clarification. President Bush did say that this was a priority area for him. You said that the review is looking at whether our engagement there should have some rationale beyond narcotics. Might the United States have an interest in the military defeat, over and above the narcotics issue, might the United States have an interest in the military defeat of the rebel forces there?

MR. RODMAN: Well, I would just say we have an -- I mean, one could argue that we have an interest in a friendly democratic government and its ability to exert or exercise its sovereign authority over its territory. But it's not an unreasonable thing to think about. But, as you know, our policy up till now has focused on the narcotics, and that's for a combination of reasons, including the importance of the narcotics issue to this country, and also to that -- that seems to be what there was a consensus on, given the sensitivities. So, again, we are looking at that. And I think Congress ultimately has to play a role here to see if we can get -- well, I don't want to invent any new formulations on this, precisely because it's so sensitive, and because we haven't come to conclusions. But I mean you are right to say that's -- anyway, many different interests that one could identify in that situation.

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