United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Transcript


News Briefing En Route Malaysia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
August 23, 2013

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL:  Hello.

             GEORGE LITTLE:  Thanks. 

             SEC. HAGEL:  (Laughter.)  Okay.  Everybody all set?  Everybody's on? 

             Q:  Yes, sir.

             SEC. HAGEL:  You're doing that?  You want me to get louder?  Get closer, okay.

             First, let me just amplify for a minute or two on my comments yesterday when I spoke to the Marines as to what I'm doing, what you're all doing out here.  This is my second trip to the Asia Pacific since becoming secretary of defense.  And one of the specific purposes of coming out here this time was to attend the ASEAN Defense Ministers-Plus, which, as you know, will be held in Brunei in a few days.

             But if you've come this far, and you want to add some value to the trip, so I am including stops in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.  We'll have bilateral meetings with defense ministers, the presidents.  We'll discuss regional bilateral issues, security issues, military to military issues, economic trade issues, diplomatic issues, the whole range of our relationships out here.

             As I said yesterday, the rebalance to the Asia Pacific is not just about U.S. security interests in this area or not just about military-to-military relationships.  It is the composite of relationships, and that is diplomatic, economic, trade, security, military-to-military.

             And as I said yesterday, the great challenges that face the world today and well into the future are global.  They're universal challenges.  And the stronger our alliances and partnerships can be, I think the more significant our future, not just for our country, but -- but for all countries.

             So it's important that we have opportunities to come out and spend time with leaders of other nations.  And as I stopped in Hawaii yesterday, when I have an opportunity to also acknowledge our troops and their families, I always like to do that.

             That's a little bit of what I'm doing out here.  I'll be glad to here in a minute respond to any specific questions.

             I'm sure the issue of Syria is going to come up, so let me address that briefly.  Yesterday, on our way to Hawaii, I spent a good amount of time on a video teleconference with the president's senior national security advisers.  I'll continue to be closely connected and involved with the president's national security advisers on this issue, as is always the case on any issue.

             I think you most likely had an opportunity to read the president's transcript from his interview yesterday.  I don't have really anything to add to that, other than I think he said it exactly right, framed it exactly right, that we're dealing with a very serious issue, we are working with our international partners, the international community, the United Nations, we are looking at every option.

             The president has asked the Defense Department for options.  Like always, the Defense Department is prepared, has been prepared to provide options, ranges for all contingencies to the president of the United States.  We'll continue to do that.

             I think that's about it, so whatever you want to talk about.

             MR. LITTLE:  All right.  We'll start with Bob.

             Q:  Thanks, George.  Mr. Secretary, thanks.  Having said that the president has asked you to provide options, in anticipation of having to provide forces in some fashion, have you moved any ships or other forces closer to the region in anticipation of having to do something?  And also, could you give us your view more broadly on the utility at this point, with chemical weapons having apparently been used on a larger scale, the utility of using U.S. military force in Syria now?

             SEC. HAGEL:  Well, as I said, the Defense Department has a responsibility to provide the president with options for all contingencies.  And that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets to be able to carry out different options, whatever options the president might choose.

             On the specific option of military use or force in response to what we will determine at some point here very shortly, first, what exactly did happen, and we're still assessing that.  I think the range of military options is always part of the range of options the -- that the president has.

             But I would also note, again, as the president said yesterday, it's important that we be part of the international community on this, because you look through -- which I think is inherent in your question, Bob -- as the president noted yesterday, what would -- what is the long-term objective here?  What are our long-term interests?  What are we trying to accomplish in the way of influence, in the way of outcomes?  So I think military options are always part of that range of -- of options.

             MR. LITTLE:  Kevin?

             Q:  So I'd just follow up.  In your answer you said that the responsibility requires positioning our forces, so there are reports out that there have been ships moved closer to Syria, specifically for the purpose of cruise missile strikes.  Can -- can you comment specifically on those reports, true or not, or anything else?

             SEC. HAGEL:  Well, I'm not going to get into the specifics of our forces as far as assets and the positioning of our forces or assets.

             MR. LITTLE:  Phil?

             Q:  Mr. Secretary, we've heard a lot from Chairman Dempsey about his views on the risks of military intervention.  And we've heard a little bit less from you about -- about those risks and about the merits of -- or the challenges of any military action in Syria.  Are you and General Dempsey on the same page when it comes to Syria?  And is it -- is it fair to assume that you share his views?  Or where -- where do you match up and where do you differ?

             SEC. HAGEL:  Well, the views that General Dempsey has expressed are, first, part of his responsibilities as adviser, senior military adviser to the commander-in-chief.  And he's made that very clear. 

             The second part of his job is senior military adviser to the secretary of defense.  General Dempsey and I work very closely together and share our thoughts with each other and with the president.  And I think that what General Dempsey has said in ways of his analysis of consequences of military force, risks of military force, are exactly what the president's senior military adviser and the secretary of defense's military adviser should do.

             Any time force is required or used, there are risks, there are consequences.  And I think General Dempsey's analysis of this has been very accurate and very correct and very appropriate.  And I would leave it at that, that there's -- there's no disagreement between General Dempsey and me on -- on his analysis that he's given to the president, as well as given to me.

             MR. LITTLE:  Dan?

             Q:  Thanks.  You were talking about the importance of being part of the international community on this.  Would that mean that any action, either diplomatic or even potential military action, would be taken in concert with U.S. allies, that you would not have a unilateral U.S. action, if it came to that?

             And then, a follow-up to that is, you know, could we see a situation like Libya, where some European allies took direct action and the U.S. was in a more supporting role?

             SEC. HAGEL:  First, I would -- I would begin with referencing the comments that President Obama made generally on this issue yesterday.  And he spoke very directly to international legal requirements and what restrictions are placed on invasion of other countries, of sovereignty, of going to war.  What are the legal requirements and restrictions?

             So just as the president said, that is always a consideration.  And that is always part of our analysis, has to be, because of the international norms and standards that -- that we abide by.

             Second, the international community, I believe, should and will act in concert on -- on these kinds of issues.  If the intelligence and the facts bear out, which it appears to be what happened, use of chemical weapons, then -- then that isn't just a United States issue.  This is an international community issue.  It violates every standard of international behavior.

             So in collaboration and coordination and constant effort with the international community, whatever efforts we take, I think is always a primary focus for the United States and, I suspect, most nations.  That said, the United States has never given up its own sovereign right to protect its own interests. 

             So I think, again, the president summed it up just exactly right in his comments yesterday about international community coordination and support.

             MR. LITTLE:  Julian?

             Q:  Do you have a -- or does the government have a timetable to figure out -- make a conclusion if chemical weapons are used?  Does the international community, once that determination is made, do you think the international community needs to act swiftly to ensure that he doesn't feel he can get away with further attacks?

             SEC. HAGEL:  I think the international community is moving swiftly, first, in getting the facts, what did happen, and getting the intelligence right, and all the other factors that go into a decision that I believe will be made swiftly, should be made swiftly. 

             If, in fact, this was a deliberate use and attack by the Syrian government on its own people using chemical weapons, there may be another attack coming.  We don't know that. 

             So a very quick assessment of what happened and whatever appropriate response should be made, that needs to happen within the timeframe of responsible action.  And I think President Obama talked about that yesterday, about assessing this correctly and factually before an appropriate response should be made or is made.

             MR. LITTLE:  Gopal?

             Q:  Thank you.  Short of the full U.S. military intervention in Syria, are there additional measures that the Pentagon has been asked to take to support other allies in the region, including Jordan and Turkey, and even Iraq, which has been asking for some assistance?  Is there anything that's being contemplated that these countries can do in order to maybe intervene or take action in -- in Syria?

             SEC. HAGEL:  Well, as you all know, the United States is currently working with a number of our allies in that area.  You mentioned Turkey.  As you know, we moved a Patriot battery into Turkey, Turkey being a member of NATO -- is a NATO partner -- so we are working with Turkey.

             We're working with Jordan.  As you know, we have a battery there with F-16s, and we have a relationship with that country.  There are European nations, other NATO allies that we coordinate with and work with, and we will continue to do that.

             MR. LITTLE:  Larry?

             Q:  Mr. Secretary, if the U.N. finding is either negative or inconclusive, is -- is the prospect of military force by the U.S. then ruled out?  Is that the only thing that might trigger a military response?

             SEC. HAGEL:  Well, I'm not going to get ahead of the judgment of our intelligence assessment and where we are.  This is, I think -- as the president noted yesterday, this is on a very, very quick timeline on assessments and analysis and meetings.  And to prejudge that, I wouldn't do that. 

             I think, again, all options will remain open.  The president has asked for those options.  And we're working in close consultation with our international partners on this.

             MR. LITTLE:  I think we're toward the end here.  One more question.  Joan, do you have -- okay.  Okay.

             Q:  Could I just ask for clarification on a couple of small things that you've already said?  First off, when you talked about positioning, we can -- we can write correctly that the U.S. has repositioned assets, without talking about which assets those are?  And also, when you talked about moving -- that we were on a tight timeline, are we talking days here or -- or could it be more than that?

             SEC. HAGEL:  Well, first of all, I don't believe I said that we have moved assets.  I said that -- I think, if you go back and read the transcript, I don't think I said that.  I said we are always having to prepare, as we give the president options, prepare our -- our assets and where they are and the capability of those assets to carry out the contingencies we give the president.

             As to the timeline, I don't know -- I didn't say, didn't -- didn't subject myself to any kind of a timeline, other than this will be dealt with -- I suspect some decisions within a short amount of time. 

             But, again, it really is about what the president said yesterday.  When we get the facts, when we are assured of -- we know as reasonably well, the best we can what happened, and all the other factors, as the president noted yesterday, international community, international law, then I suspect some decisions will be made.

             MR. LITTLE:  Thanks, everyone.  I think we'll wrap it up there.