THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
For several weeks, we have been working on how best to reconcile the imperative of providing satisfactory training for our armed forces, with the strong feelings of many residents of Vieques and Puerto Rico about the impact of training operations there. I have discussed this with the Governor of Puerto Rico, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and others.
Today, the Secretary of Defense has recommended a plan of action which I believe offers the best avenue to addressing both needs. I have accepted that recommendation and am directing the Secretary of Defense to work with the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico so that we can move forward in a cooperative manner.
I understand the longstanding concerns of residents of the island. These concerns cover a wide range of issues, from health and safety to the economy and the environment. They reflect a distrust that, unfortunately, has been building for decades. Those concerns must be addressed, and I believe our plan will do so in a constructive manner.
At the same time, as Commander-in-Chief, I cannot send our servicemen and women into harm's way if they have not been adequately trained. The training that our Atlantic Fleet has undertaken on Vieques since 1941 is important. While the Navy and the Marine Corps will develop a satisfactory alternative for the upcoming exercise, it will take several years to develop a comparable long-term replacement.
The plan I am adopting today provides for the end of training on Vieques within five years, unless the people of Vieques choose to continue the relationship; restricts training activities during the transition period to those required by the Services; sets forth an ambitious economic development plan for Vieques that would be implemented during this transition; and gives the people of Puerto Rico and the Navy an opportunity to discuss this plan in order for it to be understood fully before training resumes this spring for this transitional period.
In particular, the following steps will be undertaken:
First, the Navy and the Marine Corps will make alternative arrangements which they deem satisfactory for training of the Eisenhower Battle Group and the WASP Amphibious Ready Group, scheduled for December. While such arrangements can be undertaken for the Eisenhower and WASP groups, they do not constitute a long-term alternative to Vieques. Rather, this period will provide an opportunity for the people of Vieques to discuss this plan with the Navy and the Marine Corps and understand it fully.
Second, we will resume training next spring for a transition period, no longer than five years. This will enable the Navy to develop a suitable, long-term alternative. Training on Vieques will cease after this transition period unless the people of Vieques decide it should be continued. The Navy and the Marine Corps will develop a timetable to phase out operations in Vieques as soon as possible during the transition period, including transferring title of land to Puerto Rico beginning with the western quarter of the island.
Third, when training resumes for this transition period it will be limited to inert ordnance only -- no live fire -- unless and until the people of Vieques decide differently. Training will be authorized for 90 days a year, what we need to meet our essential training needs.
Finally, when training resumes we will implement an ambitious program that addresses the concerns that the community has had for so long -- and that has been spelled out by the Secretary of Defense.
I am convinced that this plan meets my essential responsibility as Commander-in-Chief to assure that our military forces are satisfactorily trained and ready, while at the same time addressing the legitimate concerns of the people of Vieques. It provides some breathing space so that the people on the island and the Navy and Marine Corps can proceed in an orderly and mutually respectful fashion.
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