DoD News Briefing with Adm. Keating from the Pentagon
MR. WHITMAN: Good morning, and thank you for joining us today.
It's my privilege to be able to introduce to you somebody who's probably not a stranger to anyone in here, Admiral Timothy Keating; former NORTHCOM commander, now Pacific commander, and no stranger to this room either, has done several briefings here. Is in town for some other business, and is gracious enough to give us some of his time to give us a brief overview of the AOR and also take some of your questions.
So, Admiral, thank you again for coming, and welcome back.
ADM. KEATING: Bryan, thanks. Good to see you.
Good morning. And here's the best part of the job: Aloha. Thanks, Bryan. It's good to see you all. I thought I'd take a couple of minutes to tell you -- it's been about a year since I've had the pleasure of appearing with you.
I'll spend a couple minutes on what we might have been -- what we have been up to in the Asia-Pacific region through the eyes of the Pacific Command, and then be happy to take as many questions as you all have.
In the years since I've been with you, we have republished our strategy. And you'll see underneath strategy -- and we're happy to give you copies -- partnership, readiness and presence. And these are themes we're emphasizing in our day-to-day conduct of affairs at the United States Pacific Command, 325,000 men and women in uniform, and civilians, who are committed to stability, and ensuring that all of our allies and partners in the regions -- in the region understand our commitment to them, not just on a bilateral mil to mil but on a multilateral, multiagency basis. So we're emphasizing partnership.
We need to be ready to execute whatever plans the President and Secretary of Defense have us execute. And to do that, we find it best to be present. We need to be out there and about the pretty significant region; it's about 51 percent of the surface of the Earth, as you know, and we go from California to Africa, North Pole to South Pole.
As an example of the operations we have under way, we have Pacific Partnership. It's the United States Naval Ship Robert Byrd. Just completed a visit to Samoa, where we -- the doctors and nurses and dentists and veterinarians and engineers on board treated over -- almost 3,000 personnel. Two hundred and seventy veterinary cases were seen by the veterinarians on board. And it's not just a U.S. issue; we've got Australians and New Zealanders with us as well.
They're on their way to Tonga. They'll be there today. They're going to visit three other countries for humanitarian-assistance efforts throughout the region.
We also have Pacific Partnership, where instead of a big ship, we send a smaller airplane, a C-17. They were just in Indonesia, in the eastern reaches of Indonesia, and treated several hundred patients while there. So that's the humanitarian -- kind of the humanitarian side of what we're about.
We also are concluding operation -- Exercise Talisman Saber, which is one of the centerpieces of our exercise program, where we have a United States aircraft carrier battle group, the George Washington; we have a Marine expeditionary strike unit, the Essex, participating with our Australian allies in a very aggressive, comprehensive sea/land/air exercise with international observers, using actual forces from the U.S. and Australians' military forces. And we virtually link into forces back here in the United States so that guys and girls in F-16 cockpits in Seymour Johnson, for example, can be flying an actual sortie with the United States Navy F-18 pilots off the George Washington. So it's an aggressive, high-end annual -- biannual exercise we conduct in the air, land and sea in northeast Australia with our very good ally, Australia.
We're a force present, a force engaged, a force ready, a force committed to peace and stability throughout our region. And I think over the past 60 years the effectiveness of our presence in the region and the impact of our new strategy, I think that is an apparent impact.
I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q Admiral, I wanted to -- I'm Lara Jakes with the Associated Press.
ADM. KEATING: Hi, Lara.
Q Hi. I wanted to ask you about the North Korean ship that we were shadowing last month and early this month. Can you give us an overview of what you think the ship's mission was, if there was some kind of tactical versus strategic mission there in terms of engaging the United States or some of our allies; and why they eventually turned back, whether it was Myanmar refused to let them port or they ran out of fuel? Or what exactly was happening there?
ADM. KEATING: Let me -- let me take it in reverse order, if I could.
I don't know why they turned around. It's not crystal clear to anybody, to my -- to the best of my knowledge, outside of North Korea, why the instructions were given for the ship to return to its port of origin.
You're aware we were following it fairly carefully. Beyond that, I really shouldn't say, other than we knew where it was in some very close observation by several different methods. We were prepared to execute whatever guidance the president and secretary gave us. As it turns out, we did not do anything other than shadow the ship.
What was the -- what were the -- the cargo? Not clear to me at Pacific Command what was on the ship. That was of less importance to us than maintaining track on the ship, and that our men and women did.
Q Do you think -- there's some school of thought that they were just kind of playing with our minds or trying to get us to engage or ratchet up some kind of tension there to get attention. What do you think about that?
ADM. KEATING: If that was their goal, they didn't succeed, beyond our knowing where the ship was, which was what the Secretary of Defense told us to do.
Q Still on North Korea, when you look at pictures of the head of that regime right now that are publicly broadcast on TV, it doesn't look like he's feeling too well. He does appear to be in declining health. What's your assessment? What are you hearing about his health situation?
And the state of the regime, the state of stability, do you think some of this missile activity is because the regime is maybe struggling for the next round of survival here, or who's going to head it? What's your overall view?
ADM. KEATING: Yeah, the facts as I know them are fairly limited. He has clearly suffered some change of health. Is it the result of a stroke? Is that change the result of a stroke? Is there some larger issue at stake? I don't know. He's a different man today than he was a year ago, physically, in appearance. As to how -- his mental acuity, I don't know. As to the plan for succession, I don't know.
We have a number of options that we at Pacific Command are studying in close coordination with Department of State, Department of Defense, intelligence agencies and our partners in the -- and allies in the region. What he has in mind on a day-to-day basis, not crystal clear to any of us. What would happen if and when he cedes control or is no longer capable of exercising control, don't know. But I can tell you that we have plans with the United States Forces Korea and others in place if the president tells us to execute those plans in the event of some uncertain succession in the North.
Q Well, can you just expand on that a little bit? In the event of uncertain succession -- the day he either dies or is no longer in control of the country -- is that -- is it and why would it be a national security crisis for the U.S.? Do we consider that a crisis point? And what do you do? What's the next step? You say you have plans.
ADM. KEATING: Yeah, well, as you would expect, we have -- we are prepared to execute a wide range of options in concert with allies in South Korea and in discussions through State, which would have the lead, with countries in the region, and internationally if necessary. I don't think it is axiomatic that the departure of Kim Jong Il means national security crisis. We'd hope it wouldn't. But we are going to be prepared if it -- if it does mean that.
Q Do you think he has cancer?
ADM. KEATING: I don't know. I just don't know.
Q What is your understanding of possible military ties between Myanmar and North Korea, and of the possible transfer of nuclear technology between the two countries?
ADM. KEATING: Yeah.
Q How concerned are you about that?
ADM. KEATING: Moderately concerned. Secretary of State Clinton, of course, mentioned it recently.
If -- and this goes to the larger issue of North Korea and proliferation. United Nations Security Council recent resolution highlights the international concern with the possibility of proliferation. If it is, in fact, Burma that is receiving goods and assistance from North Korea, that's against -- that violates United Nations Security Council Resolution -- or, yeah, 1718. And we, along with the international community would be very concerned if that is, in fact, occurring.
Q It was believed that the Kang Nam was going to Burma. Have you tracked any other ships since then headed in that direction and -- or any prior to the Kang Nam that we should -- you want to tell us about?
ADM. KEATING: (Laughs.) The easy question -- answer to that question is "I'd rather not tell you about it."
The ship you mentioned is the foremost example of the capability that we in Pacific Command have in responding to Secretary of Defense direction. I'm better off not citing specifics, but just to assure you that we have the capability of keeping close track of any sort of vessel that might be violating UNSCR 1718.
Q But without going into specifics, then, there is trafficking between the two, you would say?
ADM. KEATING: Between the two?
Q Between the two countries, North Korea and Burma.
ADM. KEATING: There is trafficking. Well, the use of the -- that word "trafficking" I'm afraid would have the connotation of in violation of 1718. Air and surface traffic moves between North Korea and many countries -- several countries, including Burma. And we -- we watch carefully.
Q Admiral, I have a follow up on your answer to Barbara's question. What sort of information does the U.S. have that a change in the leadership in North Korea would result in a change in the military posture, whether it would be an internal threat for a power struggle or an external threat? And what sort of preparations is the U.S. and its allies prepared to engage in?
ADM. KEATING: I don't have indications that a change in -- any change in Kim Jong Il's status means a change in military posture. It is reasonable to plan on possible changes in military posture. And I don't mean to be -- to dance on the head of a pin here. But once again, the President, Secretary of Defense, would -- and you all -- would expect us to have looked at a wide range of options with Skip Sharp at U.S. Forces-Korea, with his counterparts in the South Korean military, and principally through State Department or diplomatic channels.
We are -- it's a continuing process. It's not static; it's dynamic. That doesn't necessarily change hour to hour, but we are watching it carefully, the North Korean situation, all the time. And we'll be prepared to respond as we're directed.
It is our hope that State Department efforts to bring back the parties to the table, the six parties -- I don't know how wildly optimistic folks are, but we're -- you know, that's a continuing effort in State Department. And we in Pacific Command would be in support of those State Department initiatives in the event of some challenge following a Kim Jong Il change in status.
Q So could this be characterized as prudent planning and preparations, as opposed to --
ADM. KEATING: Those are very good words.
Q -- as opposed to anticipation?
ADM. KEATING: Prudent planning, thank you.
Q Can you describe, though, what any of those military options are, in the broadest sense?
ADM. KEATING: It would be logical to assume we're prepared across a spectrum. You would expect that of us and you would not be disappointed.
Q Sir, I'm curious, with all that's happening with North Korea and so many unpredictable moves, do you have concerns about the plans for normalizing tours for military people in Korea in light of that?
ADM. KEATING: We at Pacific Command don't have concerns. It's -- Skip Sharp has worked hard, as did B.B. Bell before him, to gain approval from this department for tour normalization, and we support that proposal.
Q Hi, Admiral. I'm Kevin Baron with Stars and Stripes.
ADM. KEATING: Hi, Kevin.
Q Can you give me an assessment or update on the move to Guam? And any concerns about not being on schedule to make that happen?
ADM. KEATING: Yeah, I'll do my best, Kevin. The -- the President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense have stated, all recently and emphatically, we understand our obligations as a country, under the Defense Policy Review Initiative and we intend to fulfill those obligations. So, too, have Japan's leaders spoken and stated.
And so the Deputy Secretary of Defense and his senior group meet, and we participate in those meetings about biweekly. And plans are afoot to live up to our -- the Defense Policy Review Initiative agreement.
Q Do you have concerns over these issues of the cost of getting the Guam base up to speed, all the logistics?
ADM. KEATING: Sure. I mean, it's a significant investment by the United States and by Japan. And the governor of Guam, Congresswoman Bordallo, we chat with them. Our chief of staff was just in Guam two days ago, Major General Steve Tom. There is concern. There's a certain gravity to the word "concern" that may not be entirely -- (chuckles) -- well-founded.
It's going to be an expensive proposition, it will take time, and there are thousands of lives that will be affected by the move. So we want to get it right, and we'd like to do it right the first time.
The goal for the Department of Defense is to move those Marines and their families to a first-rate facility in a United States territory, Guam. And we, the Pacific Command, will capitalize with the strategic advantages that the move offers us.
Q I'd like to shift to Russia for a moment, if we could.
ADM. KEATING: Sure.
Q So much of what we've written and are watching in the European part of Russia is negative and competitive: the war in Georgia, cyber attacks in Estonia, muscling their way into Kyrgyzstan. What is your assessment of the PACOM interest with Russia? They seem to have been a better partner. And, if so, why is that? And, again, is Russia sort of bifurcating their hemispheres? And what are the implications?
ADM. KEATING: A little bit longer answer, if I could.
When I was at Northern Command, as Bryan mentioned, I had the -- we had the privilege of living there for a couple years and working with those good folks at Colorado Springs -- I was invited repeatedly to Russia, was never able to consummate the invitation, if you will, for one reason or another. Have been invited since we've -- in the now nearly three years we've been at the Pacific Command. Have been -- had a kind of a standing invitation that for one reason or another, perhaps foremost their adventure into Georgia, we've not been able to do the deal in terms of going to Moscow.
So there's this, I'll say personal, but from the Northern Command and Pacific Command, yeah, come visit, but we've never been able to do it. Reasons are several, including Georgia.
Recently, United States 7th Fleet asset visited Vladivostok. So there -- at a certain level, we've not been able to visit. At another level, at the deck plates, there has been a recent visit, and it was a very successful visit by all accounts.
I am unaware, Tom, of a bifurcation in the part of Russia's leaders, diplomatic or military, between east and west Russia. We have not had any particular challenges with Russia's military in our area of responsibility. There is, as you're aware, an increased frequency of Russian long-range aviation flights off -- never penetrating U.S. airspace -- off the coast of Alaska and sometimes all the way up to the North Slope off the coast of Canada. The Russians are flying more often -- not frequently, but more often -- than they had in years previous. We're not sure why they're doing it, but it's international airspace and they're not -- not breaking any laws. So we watch them carefully. We sometimes intercept them, sometimes don't. And that's up to our choosing.
Their fleet is -- their naval forces are reduced in numbers, slightly reduced in capability, though they're still a potent force. They've got some very capable submarines. They're conducting long- range missile tests, all in accordance with United Nations procedures. They announced them and we observed them.
So a long answer to a short question. Russia isn't something that keeps us awake at night. We would like to have a little more vigorous mil to mil with them than we do now. That's up to the secretary -- and the chairman's been there a couple times -- to tell us when the green light is on. I believe it would be if I were to have a fulfillable invitation, but I don't have that invitation yet.
That make sense? Okay.
Q Paul Eckert of Reuters News Agency.
ADM. KEATING: Hi, Paul.
Q Next week, there will be U.S.-China bilateral talks -- very important, high-level talks, but of course with the Treasury and the State Department. I wonder, as you hand over the reins to your successor in Honolulu, how you --
ADM. KEATING: That's not for 90 days. That's a long way away.
Q Okay. Okay, we hope to see you back.
ADM. KEATING: (Laughs.) Yeah.
Q Anyway, the -- things are (in training).
ADM. KEATING: Yeah.
Q How do you assess the Chinese -- the mil-mil component of U.S.-China relations? What would you like to see done? And finally, is -- does the cooperation over North Korea afford new opportunities for potential U.S.-China mil-mil?
ADM. KEATING: Yeah, it's a great question. As it happens, I'm attending the session here in town at the invitation of the Secretary of State next Monday and Tuesday, and I'm grateful for the -- to be included. I think it's important to have Pacific Command in the room.
The mil-to-mil dialogue with China is not robust right now. It has been essentially on hold since our latest announcement of Taiwan arms sales in October of 2008. I've not been to Beijing in over a year, nor has any senior military leader been to Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii in that same time.
As you're well aware, Michele Flournoy just returned from senior- level discussions with colleagues and counterparts in China. We hope that this is a clear signal on the part of the Chinese of their intention to resume pure military-to-military dialogue.
I am not scheduled to go to Beijing, for what it's worth. I do think, however, that Admiral Bob Willard, presuming Senate confirmation, after he takes command, will go to China in -- I don't know, sometime maybe into 2010.
So we would rather have more frequent dialogue. We would have -- more importantly, we'd rather have more robust dialogue, something substantive. There's plenty of substance to discuss. Right now it's not going on.
We hope that the MMCA -- Military Maritime Consultative Agreement -- meets in the near future. It was agreed to by China and by the United States Department of Defense, precise scheduling not certain. It's an important dialogue in a relatively narrow sense of MMCA; in a broader sense, mil to mil with Pacific Command. We hope that it is invigorated sooner than later.
Q Yes, Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News.
ADM. KEATING: Hi, Viola.
Q What do you feel is going to be the next significant challenge in the region for your successor?
ADM. KEATING: It would not be a headline -- I hope it's not a headline-grabbing violent extremist attack a la Indonesia recently. While the fatalities were relatively fewer than perhaps desired by the terrorists, if you're one of the nine family members who perished or one of those dozens injured, it's plenty significant.
So let me answer the question in a negative way, Viola: I hope it's not a terrorist attack. I am confident it won't be the outbreak of nation-on-nation military activity. I hope that it is not some campaign to deny free access to the maritime or air domain. So it's a series of things that I hope don't happen.
And I think by executing the strategy that the United States Pacific Command has -- which is, oh, by the way, founded in the National Military/National Security Strategy -- by executing that strategy on a day-to-day basis -- and it's kind of pedestrian, it's kind of monotonous -- but in so executing, will do much to ensure things that don't happen.
So when Bob Willard, once confirmed, when he takes over, he won't have the headache of an immediate crisis in the -- he's certainly capable of handling it, as are all those in the Pacific Command. It's what won't happen. It's the shoe that doesn't fall that I hope he finds to be the biggest challenge, and that is the day-to-day execution of the strategy and not reaction to a contingency or an emergency.
Q Sir, looking at the last three years that you've been in PACOM, how in the big picture would you define the biggest changes in terms of not only relationships built, but challenges? So where is the big shift?
ADM. KEATING: I don't think it's a tectonic-plate movement exactly, but the ability of our command to participate with others in building multilateral relationships. And that capitalizes on the work done for decades and decades to build very strong bilateral relationships all throughout the Asia-Pacific region. We've got 38 countries in our area of responsibility, have been to some that you wouldn't think automatic -- Burma, got there. The humanitarian assistance we offered was not accepted to the extent that it should have been, but the cooperation and collaboration by multilateral agencies, not just mil to mil, is what I think is the most signal change in the three years I've been at Pacific Command.
Q How about the challenges? What's shifted in terms of the challenges faced?
ADM. KEATING: As forces have -- worldwide, United States forces have contributed to Fox Fallon and now Dave Petraeus' efforts in the Central Command. We have sent troops forward. Right now, there are some 30,000 United States Pacific Command forces who are in the Central Command.
Balancing that commitment, that obligation, with our ability to execute on a daily basis our exercises and the ability to report to the secretary of Defense our readiness to execute whatever plans might be required, it has been -- it isn't insurmountable, but it has required us to adjust a little bit the way we might do business on a day-to-day basis, this commitment of forces to the Central Command effort. Not insurmountable, but it's been a different way of doing business than we might have done had we all those forces still in Pacific Command.
Q You've anticipated my exact question. Can you talk a little bit more about how you have had to, you know, reconfigure what you do to deal with the Central Command? And are you putting things into either the next budget bill or QDR, things that you think that Pacific Command has to have regardless of ongoing commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan?
ADM. KEATING: Yeah, if I can take those in reverse order, too, Tom.
It is gratifying, personally and professionally, not -- you know, just don't -- I hope nobody listening or reading interprets more here than just the fact that we combatant commanders are -- it is a more inclusive process, the QDR, this time. I've been involved directly in two of them, and I -- and then I was younger and wasn't here for previous editions. At any rate, the combatant commanders have a more influential voice, if you will, in this QDR process.
I've been back here three or four -- three times for the singular purpose of participating in two-day sessions chaired by the secretary or the chairman addressing Quadrennial Defense Review. So our input is significant, according to those crafting the document, and our opinion is valued.
It wasn't -- the combatant commanders just didn't have as significant a role in previous Quadrennial Defense Reviews. So I think that's encouraging.
The specifics of our input are better left to be addressed as the document's published. But I can tell you the folks with whom we talk are receptive, and I can see changes as the QDR unfolds based not just on Pacific Command, but all the combatant commanders' inputs.
The accommodations made for the day-to-day operations in the Pacific have not been significant because of the draw by the Central Command on personnel and capabilities. And in fact, it actually offers -- I mean, we can capitalize on some opportunities. As forces flow into and out of -- mostly naval, but some air and Marine -- as they flow into and out of the Central Command AOR, it lets us use them as they're moving through. And the department and Central Command are good enough to say, "Yeah, you can use them for a little while."
We have had multilateral -- not just bilateral -- exercises involving maritime assets headed to the Central Command AOR and coming back. We are able to capitalize on the operational commitments by countries in our AOR to the Central Command -- piracy incidents in the Gulf of Aden, Japan's continued contributions to refueling operations in the -- in the Indian Ocean. As those forces return home they are more experienced, they're better qualified to operate in a multilateral military engagement basis.
So in the end, I think because there hasn't been any significant military activity requiring large numbers of Pacific Command forces -- thankfully -- we are able to capitalize on the investment being made by those forces that are in the Central Command AOR -- not just U.S., but coalition and allied forces as well.
MR. WHITMAN: Admiral, we probably have time for only one more.
ADM. KEATING: Okay. Yes, sir.
Q My name is Takashi Fudo with Jiji press, Japanese news agency.
ADM. KEATING: "Konnichiwa."
Q Yeah, "konnichiwa." (Chuckles.) Thank you.
How important U.S. 7th Fleet stationed in Japan especially -- (inaudible)?
ADM. KEATING: Huge. The 7th Fleet is a -- is a -- we want to -- my wife and I had the great privilege and pleasure of living in Yokosuka for two-and-a-half years. We didn't have 7th Fleet -- Bob Willard did have 7th Fleet -- to have the Kitty Hawk Battle Group, back then when it was Kitty Hawk; now it's George Washington, nuclear- powered aircraft carrier -- participating in Talisman Saber off Australia.
So there's a hook all through here. Seventh Fleet is one of our absolutely essential elements of our theater security cooperation plan. As we execute our strategy, that's the George Washington. It demonstrates partnership. They are always ready. And because they are forward-stationed, they are present all throughout the area of responsibility. And it's not just a carrier, it's the ships and, foremost, the sailors, the men and women on the 7th Fleet staff, and all of the forces in the 7th Fleet. It is an essential element of our security strategy all throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
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