THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LES ASPIN
The Oval Office
5:21 P.M. EST
SECRETARY ASPIN: I have been proud of the work that President Clinton and I have done over the past year to reshape our American military to deal with the new dangers of a vastly changed world. We now have a new working consensus about how much we should spend on defense. And we can work together building the right kind of military strengths that we need.
As a result, this year we have been able to focus our agenda at home, because we have been agreed on our military effort and what we need to remain strong. We have also worked together with our uniform military to find common ground on some very, very difficult social issues that could have distracted us from maintaining a ready-to-fight force.
Dealing with all of these changes have made for a very challenging and interesting year. I am extremely proud of the work that we have done together.
I have been working continually for over 20 years to help build a strong American military. It's time for me to take a break and to undertake a new kind of work. So I have asked the President to relieve me of this duty as Secretary of Defense as of January 20th.
I know that while Bill Clinton is our Commander in Chief our country will continue to grow in all of its strengths, our men and women in uniform will always be honored, and we will be true to our best values as a people.
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, it is with real sadness that today I accept Secretary Aspin's request to be relieved of his duties as Secretary of Defense for personal reasons. I am very grateful that he's agreed to remain at his post until January 20th, and beyond if necessary, so that we can plan together for the coming year and effect a smooth transition at the Pentagon.
Les has been a close advisor and a friend of mine for a long time. I have valued his wise counsel as a key member of our national security team. And I have told him that after he takes the break he's requested I very much hope he will consider other assignments for this administration.
During a lifetime of public service in Congress, with our transition, and at the Pentagon, Les Aspin has made invaluable contributions to this nation's defense and security. None of them have been more significant than his service as Secretary of Defense. Along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he has provided solid leadership for our uniformed and civilian defense personnel during a period of transition that is historic and has at times been unsettling.
He helped launched creative policy responses to the fundamental changes of this era -- from the dissolution of the Soviet empire, to the growing challenges of ethnic conflict and weapons proliferation. And through it all, he has led with character, with intelligence, with wisdom and the unflappable good humor that is both his trademark and his secret weapon.
One of his most important contributions in this past year has been his efforts to help our administration relate our defense strategy in this new era and our defense spending. Under his leadership, the Pentagon conducted the first comprehensive review of our forces since the end of the Cold War. This now well-known, bottom-up review has provided our nation with a profile of this era's threats and a vision of our force structure that will guide our nation's military for many years to come.
He's provided steady leadership for the entire defense community as it has confronted the inevitable downsizing that accompanied the end of the Cold War. He acted on the recommendations of the Base Closure Commission in a way that demonstrated equity, responsibility and a great concern for the communities and the families that were hit hard by the closure of our military facilities. And as we've reduced our force levels, he's been the first to voice concerns for the men and women in uniform who shoulder the burden of our national security.
His leadership has also been invaluable in helping our country to adapt to our military social changes. He led the way in our efforts to open the doors for women to serve our nation in combat roles and helped to ensure more equitable rules toward homosexuals in our military. He's provided creative leadership as he's mobilized the Pentagon to develop new and stronger responses to the many security challenges of this new era, such as his new counterproliferation initiative. And on a range of tough decisions and tough challenges abroad, from Bosnia to Korea, he has called them as he saw them, bringing to bear a lifetime of experience and dedication and a razor-sharp mind to our nation's security interest.
Above all, Secretary Aspin has provided deep strategic thinking and leadership at a time of profound change in this world. As a result, when our citizens go to bed tonight, we can do so secure in the knowledge that our nation is building the right forces and acquiring the right capabilities for this new era.
I will always appreciate the thoughtful and dedicated and, ultimately, selfless service that Les Aspin provided to me and to this nation over this last year. I asked a lot of him -- tough times and tough problems. He gave even more to me, to our military and to our country than was asked, and I will always be very, very grateful.
END5:26 P.M. EST