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Transcript

Press Conference with Ambassador Roos

March 14, 2011
Tokyo, Japan

AMBASSADOR ROOS: First of all, let me thank all of you for coming today. I know that everyone is stretched very thin right now and I appreciate your presence here. You may have noticed on your way in that our flag, the flag of the United States, is at half mast and obviously our country is paying tribute to all the victims of the current catastrophes.

I just want to take a moment before we get started with the U.S. brief to commend the government of Japan and the Japanese people. Japan is one of the most well-prepared and capable countries in the world to manage a response to a disaster such as we have seen. You heard Prime Minister Kan talk about the fact that this is the biggest disaster and challenge that Japan has faced since World War II and I think Japan, I know Japan, the country, is up to the task. The country has proven over and over again with respect to other countries around the world who have needed their help, that this is a people that step up in a time of need. And I also want to tell you that I am glad to see, because I think it’s important that not only the United States, but many of Japan’s other friends stepping up to help Japan when it is so desperately in need.

I just want to commend, once again, the Government of Japan and the Japanese people for their resilience during this extremely challenging time. We’ve seen on television, in the streets, the people of Japan remaining calm and pitching in to help one another and that has just been during the period when so much has happened during the last 72 hours.

So with that, let me turn to the U.S. effort. I think it goes without saying that the United States of America is one of Japan’s closest friends. This is a time when our country needs to step up for the country of Japan. We wanted to begin these briefings so that we can go through some of the latest facts on the ground as we know them. I’m going to make a few comments with regards to some of the U.S. efforts going on, but I have with me here today General Field who is the Commander of U.S. Forces Japan, and I’ve asked him to speak to some of the military efforts, humanitarian and disaster relief efforts that are going on, because they are so critical to the overall U.S. efforts.

First of all, because I know it’s on everyone’s mind, let me just comment on the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant issue.

We would like to reiterate that U.S. experts have been in close consultation with Japanese experts regarding the evolving situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Our experts have included senior representatives of the White House, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the President's Chief Senior Science Advisor, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and I think it’s important to say that the NRC members who are on the ground here include experts in boiling water nuclear reactors and they have come to Japan to make themselves available to assist their Japanese counterparts.

Our position that was set forth yesterday has not changed: we are encouraging U.S. citizens to heed the instructions of the Japanese civil defense authorities.

Japan's Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency has recommended that people who live within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area immediately. No other evacuations have been recommended.

Now, as the Government of Japan announced earlier today, a hydrogen explosion occurred at the 3rd reactor at Fukushima.  I wish I had more information for you, but all I can tell you right now is that we are currently in consultations with Japanese officials about the situation, as well as reviewing the situation with our own experts.  We are confident that the government of Japan is doing all it can to respond to this serious situation.

Again, I just want to re-emphasize we are available to assist Japan in its efforts responding to this current development and we will of course provide further updates.

Let me now turn to consular information. As you know, American citizens are our highest priority. Let me just give you a couple of facts. Number one: we are not aware of any confirmed reports of American deaths in Japan. I have been informed that there are also no serious injuries that we are aware of at this time.

Now the State Department has received numerous inquiries on the welfare and whereabouts of specific U.S. citizens in Japan. And the Embassy and the State Department are working around the clock. We have our consular services available 24 hours a day to determine the whereabouts and well-being of all U.S. citizens in Japan.

The best information that we have right now is that there are approximately 1,300 American citizens in the Japanese prefectures that were most affected by the earthquake and the tsunami.

U.S. citizens in need of emergency consular assistance should send an e-mail to JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov and please include detailed information about their location and contact information.

Now, you probably all know, but I should repeat that there are numerous other websites with information and updates as we develop them and those are made available. Karen Kelley, our press officer here, can give you copies of those websites after this press conference. I should also say that I am trying to tweet current developments as they become available.

In addition, Prime Minister Kan's office has established an English-language website that users may access for the latest quake-related information. (www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/index-e.html)

Let me comment briefly on the USAID assistance that the United States is providing. USAID response includes the USAID Disaster Assistance and Response Team which is now on the ground in Japan and is working to coordinate overall U.S. government response efforts along with the U.S. Embassy. The USAID/DART team includes four experts from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They are advising USAID/DART on nuclear issues, including the ones I previously made reference to, and are again consulting with their Japanese counterparts.

Urban Search and Rescue teams from Fairfax County and Los Angeles County are on the ground in Misawa, Japan and will begin search-and-rescue operations today. Comprised of 144 personnel with emergency medical skills, engineering, and water search capabilities, they are clearly going to be important in the disaster relief efforts. They also, by the way, include 12 canines trained to detect live victims.

The Government of Japan, and I should emphasize this, is directing the search and rescue teams to conduct operations along with Japanese firefighting units in the areas that are hardest hit by the tsunami.

Now, as you know, a major, major effort is underway by the United States military and earlier today General Field had the opportunity to visit some of the disaster areas. So I thought in this briefing today it would be helpful for General Field to provide an overall view not only of his thoughts with regard to today, but the military effort. General Field.

GENERAL FIELD: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Good afternoon. This is the first time I’ve been able to publicly, on behalf of the U.S. Forces, Japan, offer my deepest condolences to the people and government of Japan for this tremendous loss that they have experienced over the last few days. The U.S. military is working closely with the Ambassador, the Embassy, USAID, and other U.S. agencies as we work our way through giving our fullest support to the people and the government of Japan. We are in constant contact and very close communication with the Japanese Self-Defense Force, as we work our way through their support and relief requirements.

This morning, I was fortunate enough to accompany the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the Japanese Joint Staff to the disaster area. Frankly, there is tremendous devastation along much of the Japanese coastline, centered around the city of Sendai, much like you have seen on the media. Both the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami wreaked havoc on some towns, cities, and rural areas all along that Japanese coastline area. But as we flew up, and we looked out one side of the helicopter at that devastation, I looked out the other side. And on that side, in Japan, there are cities, there are towns, there are areas that, from the air, look relatively unaffected, although I'm sure they aren’t, but they look relatively unaffected. They have people moving around, you can tell that the Japanese people are already beginning to dig their way out of this disaster, and are well on their way to establishing how they’re going to recover and move on in the years to come.

Let me give you an idea of where we are, as we work with the Japanese Self-Defense Force. In response to this disaster on Friday, our 7th Fleet Commander immediately left Singapore and is heading here on his command ship, the Blue Ridge, at best speed. You all know that the Ronald Reagan and its strike group is off the coast of the disaster area. And they are conducting sea survey missions, search-and-rescue missions, and relief efforts in very, very close coordination with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. Our Air Force has moved all of its search-and-rescue helicopters and crews from Okinawa up to Yokota Air Force Base here on the main island of Japan. In addition, they have deployed the rest of their C-130s from Kadena Air Force Base up to Yokota to round out our fleet up here. They all began flying missions yesterday.

The Marines from Okinawa, the 3rd MEF, moved CH-46 helicopter assets and KC-130 aircraft up north to support the effort. They provided a command element that is currently about a half hour away from the Northeast Army headquarters at Camp Sendai, where they will provide a linkup between our headquarters at Yokota and the Joint Task Force that was established today by the Minister of Defense, led by the commander of the Northeast Army. That command element will ensure that we are closely coordinating all of the ground and air requirements that that new JTF, that Joint Task Force, will require in the days and weeks to come. In addition, the USS Essex, upon which is the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Okinawa, will arrive on station two days from now, and when required and when requested, will provide complete support to those efforts by the Northeast Army.

Let me take a second to say this. While we were at Camp Sendai today, we had a briefing and a presentation about the efforts that the Northeast Army has already conducted over the past few days. And I have to tell you, it is tremendously impressive. They were rapid, they were effective, they were thorough, they were unbelievably caring as they found people that were hurt and injured, buried under rubble, stuck in cars. And they gently extracted them from those terrible situations, and got them to safety. So I was very, very assured by how well they had taken on this task, and how quickly they had gotten out of the blocks to get things done on a real basis in Sendai.

Finally, our U.S. Army forces in Japan have already established a kind of transit point at one of the airfields up just west of Sendai, so that the ground forces and perhaps the air forces of all of our nations can transport supplies and, if required, people, in order to support that new Joint Task Force effort.

In summary, I’d just like you all to know that the U.S. military stands closely together with our Ambassador and our Embassy and our other U.S. agencies to provide the fullest possible support to both the people and the government of Japan.

Questions and Answers:

QUESTION: Thank you sir, Khaldon Azhari from Panorient News. I would like to know what is the effect of the earthquake, the impact on the American establishments in Japan, including the American bases, if I may. Thank you.

GENERAL FIELD: Currently right now, we’ve had no reports of any U.S. service members or their dependents seriously hurt in this incident. However, up in Misawa Air Base, up in the northern part of Japan here, they did experience a severe power loss of commercial power, as did the surrounding community. And since we live as part of the communities here in Japan, what happens with the community outside the gate normally affects the base on the inside. Now what we have done to alleviate and mitigate that circumstance is we have used backup power, and we have provided that base with more generators with which to run the electrical systems that they need to operate the base. And the reason that’s so important is because that is one of the bases that we will use as a hub to bring in support not only from the United States and Japan, but from other countries. And that has already been provided, and that has already been accepted up at Misawa Air Base. The wing commander up there, and the men and women of the Air Force, the Navy, and the other agencies that reside on that, alongside of our Japanese Self-Defense Force friends, have done a remarkable job, being very resilient in the face of this adversity. And they have been very caring of their Japanese neighbors, and they are continually focused on getting as much help as possible to those in the surrounding areas.

AMBASSADOR ROOS: One thing I would add, with regard to the U.S. Embassy and the consulates, is to our knowledge, there was no material damage to any of the structures. As I said before, our personnel and families, there were no injuries. We did take precautionary measures when the first major earthquake occurred of closing the Embassy. And we did a structural analysis before we re-opened, and we had temporary headquarters over at Daley Hall, which is in the facility, the compound where our employees live. Obviously, we will continue to respond to events as they unfold. As you know, there have been many aftershocks, including a few today that I’m aware of. And we will continue to monitor the situation, and be conservative in taking any necessary action.

QUESTION: Anthony Rowley, Singapore Business Times. Mr. Ambassador, you said that, in relation to the hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima No. 3 reactor, you were confident that the Japanese government was doing everything it could to deal with the situation. But are you confident, or are your experts confident, that a catastrophe, a much worse catastrophe, can be averted?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: I basically said all I can say at this point in time, because as you know, it just happened. The Japanese government and its experts are taking the lead in this matter. We are consulting with them, but obviously they are taking the lead, and we are also consulting with our own experts. So I really can’t offer any further comment at this time.

QUESTION: Tadek Markowski, Fox News. Question for the Ambassador. I know we’re a long way from the Beltway here, but the Obama Administration supports a large expansion of nuclear energy in America. Do you think, from your discussions with the government back there, that events on the ground here in Japan have given them some serious pause for thought on that issue?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: I’m going to refer you to the White House with their comments in that regard. I think the President’s position on that issue is clear.

QUESTION: I heard that there is some, several crewmembers in the USS Reagan were contaminated with radioactive radiation, and the USS has moved away from the coastline. Is that true, and if that’s so, since when, and how does that affect your rescue?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: The general may have further comment, but I think the best factual analysis of that, with the details, is set forth in a release put out by the Defense Department. So I would refer you to that for the details.

GENERAL FIELD: I think 7th Fleet did put out an announcement on that today. And after that incident, what they did is they analyzed where they were, what their mission was to be, and they moved their ships into an area where they thought that there would not be any chance of any further contamination, and in a way that they could continue to do the missions that they are assigned to do: again, working on that sea survey because there is a tremendous amount of debris that is pulled off into the ocean after the tsunami receded; relief efforts on the land; and search-and-rescue on both the land and the water areas.

QUESTION: Are there actual crewmembers contaminated?

GENERAL FIELD: We found contamination on the clothes of several crewmembers, and one crewmember had some on his skin. And the exposure rate was about the same as you would get over a month-long period outside in the sun. We assess that as very, very low. And the way we treat that is we scrub the areas with soap and water, and then we test them, and there was apparently no harm come to any crewmembers. And they are all back performing their missions today.

QUESTION: What are the total number of people actually contaminated?

GENERAL FIELD: I think you’ll have to refer to that statement on that. I’m not sure right now.

AMBASSADOR ROOS: It’s all set forth in that.

QUESTION: Harumi Ozawa, AFP. Could you be a little bit more specific about the Japanese prefectures where 1,300 Americans are believed to stay? And another thing is, we understand that there are many European countries which have advised its nationals to leave Tokyo or the country. And what is the thought behind the American’s, the American government is not doing the same thing?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Well, I would have Paul Fitzgerald, do you have details on that? Why don’t you come and provide the details.

CONSUL GENERAL FITZGERALD: Good afternoon, I’m Paul Fitzgerald, the Consul General here at the Embassy. The Ambassador referred to approximately 1,300 Americans who normally reside in the five most-northeastern prefectures of Japan, those areas that were most affected by the earthquake and the tsunami.

QUESTION: To the northeast?

CONSUL GENERAL FITZGERALD: To the northeast, yes.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

CONSUL GENERAL FITZGERALD: Yes, I can. They are Ibaraki, Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, and Aomori. Did you have another question?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: I’ll answer the second part of the question. With regard to the second part of the question regarding the advice being given by other European countries, we are aware of that. But that has not changed the analysis of our country with regard to the guidance that we’re giving the United States citizens at this time.

QUESTION: Kouya Ozeki from Yomiuri Shimbun. Ambassador, you talked about providing assistance to the Japanese officials concerning the nuclear plant. Can you tell us specifically what kind of assistance the U.S. is capable of providing? And the same goes for General Field, as for the Marine Expeditionary Forces that you spoke about, what are they capable of, and are there any specific plans, or kind of activities they are going to engage in? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR ROOS: The assistance we’re capable of - and I should say 'consultation,' because again, the Japanese are the leads and have significant, substantial expertise with regard to this matter - but as I said, we have the full range of expertise within our government, ranging anywhere from the boiling water nuclear reactor expertise that I made reference to, to contamination expertise. So across the board, as you know and was pointed out, we have significant experience in the nuclear industry. So across the board, we are making that available to the Japanese government.

MODERATOR: There was a question about the U.S. military capabilities?

GENERAL FIELD: Yes, in regards to the U.S. Marine capabilities, the great thing about the U.S. Marines is they do bring tremendous capability to any situation. And our Marines in Okinawa are well-trained in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, and have much experience in that area. The Marines that will arrive will be on the USS Essex. They have about a battalion’s worth of Marines on board, they have multiple helicopter assets that will be immediately folded into the search-and-rescue and relief operations, and then the command unit that we move forward to work with the Joint Task Force headquarters, or put closely with the Joint Task Force headquarters in Camp Sendai, and see what requirements they need and where they can provide assistance, and when the Joint Task Force headquarters commander and his staff decide where those Marine would be best served, we’ll move them to those areas and they can help along the spectrum of the operations that they’re conducting in search, rescue, relief, logistics, or anything along those lines.

QUESTION: How many ships and how many personnel do you have in the area?

GENERAL FIELD: It’s one ship, USS Essex. We also have Marines that are on the ground from Okinawa as well, a small amount that are here in that command element, and then a small amount of Marines that are here with the helicopters and the C-130s that came up earlier. And so they’re at the disposal of the Japanese government, as they decide what kind of help they need from our U.S. military.

QUESTION: (inaudible) ... on the number of American military personnel that are helping in this operation?

GENERAL FIELD: We have roughly 50,000 American military men and women stationed in the country of Japan. And as far as I’m concerned, all 50,000 are involved in this effort if required by the Government of Japan. The U.S. government has promised every possible support, and we live and work and enjoy the benefits of living in Japan, and so when there’s a disaster, we are also going to be part of the solution.

MODERATOR: Thank you, I think that’s all the time that we have today. We are hopefully going to be able to provide you a daily briefing. We’ll have more information on that to send out tomorrow morning. Thank you.