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Joint Press Conference by Secretary Hagel and Minister Le Drian in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian
January 24, 2014
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL:  Good afternoon.  I appreciate the opportunity to once again welcome French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian.  Jean-Yves is a friend, and I always very much enjoy his company and the conversations and discussions that we have about our important relationship and the big issues that face both of us and face the world.
 
We just finished a very positive and productive meeting, where we discussed several issues, and we reinforced the deep and enduring security relationship between France and the United States.  
 
France is America's oldest ally.  And our defense partnership continues to be one of great importance.  It's important both in Europe and around the world.  In recent years, French and U.S. troops has served side-by-side around the globe, from Africa to Afghanistan.  
 
One area of focus today was our continuing cooperation and support of our international efforts in Africa, including significant French contributions in Mali and the Central African Republic.  I commended Minister Le Drian for France's leadership and taking decisive action in Mali, as well as other locations, to displace extremists that were gaining a foothold there.  The United States has provided support to operations in Mali since early 2013, including continued airlift, refueling for French aircraft, and intelligence cooperation.  
 
I also commended France's leadership in helping the African Union's international support mission to provide humanitarian assistance in the Central African Republic.  The United States has been and remains committed to supporting efforts to protect civilians, prevent further atrocities, and provide humanitarian assistance in the Central African Republic. 
 
A little more than six weeks ago, in coordination with France, U.S. aircraft began helicoptering transport to get some 850 peacekeeping troops from Burundi to the Central African Republic and to help quell the violence in that area.  Last week, we extended the support to peacekeepers from Rwanda.  
 
Today, the minister and I discussed ways we can continue working together in Africa and other locations to address shared interests and challenges going forward, including its support of crisis response and counterterrorism efforts.  
 
The United States and our European allies have taken the threat of violent extremism very seriously since 9/11.  And we are working together to find new ways to combat this threat in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.  We also discussed a number of other critical issues, including objectives for the NATO summit in September, how to better facilitate cadet exchanges between our service academies, and our efforts to cooperate more closely in areas like space flight safety and operations.  
 
Today I can announce that, earlier this week, U.S. Strategic Command and the French Ministry of Defense signed a space situational awareness agreement.  This will enhance information-sharing between our two countries in this critical domain.  This is an important step that we've taken with some of our closest allies, and now with France.  And it will help bring the U.S.-French alliance further together into the 21st century.  
 
Now I will ask the minister for his comments.  And we'll be very happy to take questions.  
 
Thank you.  Minister?
 
DEFENSE MINISTER JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN (through translator):  Thank you, Chuck.  Ladies and gentlemen this is our second meeting here at the Pentagon.  It is always a great pleasure for me to meet Chuck Hagel.  Between us, it is now like a friendship and we are very happy to meet with each other.
 
My business here also has to do with the preparation of the upcoming visit -- state visit done by President Hollande in a few days.  This visit, this meeting takes place at a point where we can say that we are in a situation, the Franco-American defense cooperation that has never been as important, as deep both in the strategic sector and in the intelligence sector.
 
The main reason is that we share the same analysis of the threats, the same analysis of proliferation risks, the same analysis regarding terrorism, and the same determination to fight against extremists and violent groups which put in question our security, the security of France, European security, but also threaten American security.
 
In our talks, we emphasized the questions linked to Africa.  I thank Chuck Hagel for the important support -- the indispensable support that the United States gave both for France, but also gave to the U.N. missions, the African missions during these operations both in Mali, where they gave us airlift support, refueling support, and intelligence support, and in the Central African Republic, where it -- especially with transportation and airlift, in order to mobilize the African forces.  And Chuck Hagel had mentioned this important support through the transportation of a certain number of African troops on the theater.  
 
We both agreed that we needed to pursue cooperation in our dialogue on Africa, which is both a question of development, but also a question of security, both at the same time, and that security in Africa also means security in Europe and also security on the international theater, especially in the Saharan-Sahelian zone, where there are dangerous threats, and we both agreed to create a high-level group with a representative of each of us with a team in order to discuss permanently our analysis and, if the case may be, common initiatives in Africa.  
 
I would add that during our talks I had the opportunity to explain to Chuck Hagel the new military positioning of French forces in Africa, which we're going to set up in order to better identify and better target terrorist threats in this huge area, which goes from Mauritania to the Horn of Africa.
 
And also together, we mentioned the future of the NATO summit and also the conclusion of the European Council (inaudible) topics that we will discuss, because we're going to meet again in February for the meeting of NATO ministers.  
 
Thank you.
 
SEC. HAGEL:  Minister Le Drian, thank you.  
 
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY:  Folks, we have time for just two questions (OFF-MIC) 
 
Q:  Mr. Secretary, you had a chance to meet with Secretary James about some of the -- the problems within the Air Force's nuclear personnel.  I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about what thoughts she's come away with from her visits to some of the bases and what she has shared of you.  And can you say -- it sounds as though this problem may be more widespread than maybe was initially thought.  Is it -- I mean, what have you come to learn about that?  
 
SEC. HAGEL:  Thank you.  I spoke with Secretary James last week before she left on her trip to the three ICBM locations.  I spoke with her again yesterday for about an hour as she completed those inspections.  And she was at Barksdale and had just met with Admiral Haney, who you all know is our commanding general for our strategic forces and who was here to meet with me last.  He flew in from STRATCOM and then went back.  
 
We spent that hour talking about some of her observations, what she thinks we need to do, some general thoughts about those recommendations that will be made in a meeting that I'll be having soon here at the Pentagon, which I announced yesterday, and the announcement of two different efforts going forward.  One is to bring all of our strategic commanders, all those responsible for leadership in our nuclear deterrent, both Air Force and Navy, as well as an outside group that will be shaped and framed and specifically be given some objectives as to come back to me and the chairman with recommendations on how we can better deal with these challenges that we're now seeing as a result of what's happened here the last three weeks, especially.
 
As to her thoughts on this, I think she framed it up this way.  There's no one issue here.  And I believe that's true.  This is cultural.  As I said when I was at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, over the years, I do think we have taken some focus off of the responsibilities of these very dedicated, very bright, young officers, in the sense that their mission's important, their responsibility's important, but when you look at this country over the last 13 years has been committed to two large, long land wars.
 
And I think there has been a sense that -- of just well, we just take for granted that the nuclear component of our -- of our national strategic base line, and that is the nuclear deterrent.  And I have said, and I believe this the case, and I asked specifically Secretary James' question, do you think that the safety, security, and effectiveness of our nuclear component or weapons are in jeopardy?  She said no.  
 
I asked Admiral Haney the same question.  I asked the chief of staff of the Air Force the same question.  I've asked commanders the same question.  But that doesn't dismiss the -- the issues that we have in front of us.  
 
I think also there's a testing issue here, too, that she mentioned.  We -- we have a pretty significant and tight and unforgiving test curriculum and regimen that I'm not sure doesn't need to be explored and examined in some detail.  Obviously, our standards can never be compromised.  As I've said, and I think anyone who has any responsibility for our nuclear component, feels strongly about this, as do all these young people who we entrust with great responsibility.  There cannot be any errors in this.  
 
This is a -- a business of -- of error-free management.  And when you connect that with the -- the high standard expectation at every test you take, if you don't make a 100 percent on every test, then you're eventually in a position where you probably minimize your chance for advancement.  
 
Now, again, that's not just the only piece, but that's another piece.  We're going to take a look and how we train and continue to train and test all these young people who have -- who have this great responsibility.  
 
Standards must not be eroded.  Of course not.  But is there a better way to do this?  Can we -- can we be more attuned to their interests?  I asked the question, and I asked her the question, and she mentioned the same thing in some of her thoughts.
 
When you -- when you put these people in these locations, where there is -- where there's almost a certain amount of isolation, I think that's a dynamic of -- of an environment that you have to factor in, too.  Do they get bored?  Are we doing enough?  There's another part of this, and that's incentivizing these young men and women.  Is there enough incentive?
 
So we'll get into all of these things in great detail when -- when we have our first meeting, and we'll be coming through with a number of recommendations that will come from Secretary James' trip.  General Welsh, as you know, was out there, as well.  Admiral Haney has been very connected into this.  All our commanders have.  So we'll obviously be briefing the press on where we are on this.  But I think at this point, that's about as far as I want to go in -- in responding to the question.  
 
But, again, I would leave you with this.  We're not going to erode any standards in -- in our ability to manage our nuclear stockpile, nor can we.  And our nuclear stockpile is safe, secure and effective today.
 
Q:  And on the (OFF-MIC) question, though, you can't say whether or not they've found this (OFF-MIC) 
 
SEC. HAGEL:  Well, we're looking at this, Lita.  We're looking at this carefully.  We have to, because we have two different episodes of two different dimensions of behavior.  And so we are -- we are going to go wide and deep in exploring every facet of our training, of how we manage, of our standards, everything.  We obviously have to address some of these things, and we know that something is wrong.  So we'll fix them.  
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Next question?  Patrick?
 
Q: Mathieu Rabechault from Agence France-Presse.  This is a question for both of you gentlemen.  Mr. Minister, this morning, you mentioned the risk of chaos in Libya.  France, the U.S., and other NATO countries plan to train forces there, but given the dire situation in Libya, are France and the U.S. prepared to do more to help the Libyan government secure -- to (inaudible) security there?  
 
And another question for you, Mr. Secretary, concerting Sochi.  In case of an attack, are you discussing with the Russians a possibility to let you in, either to evacuate U.S. citizens or to help them face the situation?
 
SEC. HAGEL:  Minister?
 
MIN. LE DRIAN (through translator):  I'm going to answer about Libya.  What we notice is that they are concentrations of terrorist groups in the south of Libya.  And this has been accelerated through the French intervention in Mali.  And there is a kind of trafficking freeway from Guinea-Bissau all the way to the Horn of Africa with drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, human trafficking, and which go in part through south Libya.
 
And we keep on supporting the transition authorities.  And the coming weeks will be crucial for the stability of this country.  And it seems to me that it is essential to bring about the constitutional system.  We need to have political conditions in order to achieve anything.  And we all agree on that.
 
This being said, the Libyan state is very fragile.  And in Libya, there are many militias that are very often as well-equipped as the army or the police.  And so there's a question of security, which is a problem, and the population is exasperated.  And there could be an explosion of violence, and the situation doesn't allow to fight against the terrorist groups the way we should do.
 
I mean, initiatives were taken, both by the United States in order to do some training of Libyan forces in order to face the security emergency that was an initiative taken by the European Union, in order to ensure border security, but we are faced with a situation that is extremely fragile.  
 
And I think it is important for the international community to be aware of the risks, and the solution goes through a political stabilization, but also through support to secure the borders, which are very porous, and also we need to support the regular Libyan army.  It is going to be a long-term task.  And this should mobilize a common vigilance to avoid going back through a new cycle of terrorism in an area which is already extremely fragile.  
 
As to Sochi, I think the question for -- was for the secretary.  
 
SEC. HAGEL:  Minister, thank you.  
 
On your question regarding Sochi, you all know that General Dempsey was in Brussels this week and had a very in-depth conversation with his Russian counterpart.  I have spoken recently, as I do often, with my counterpart in Russia, the defense minister, Shoygu.  We've discussed American assistance in any way we can help the Russians.  
 
At -- as of right now, the Russians have not requested any specific assistance or technology.  We want them to know that, if they need our help, we want to help.  I think as you -- most of you know, we'll have two ships in the Black Sea during that time.  So whatever we can do, we want to do to help.  But right now, there has been no request from the Russian government for any particular assistance.  
 
Q:  But can you just clarify, would the Russians let the U.S. in?  Do you have any understanding with them?  Would Russia let the United States in?  Would they let France in to rescue its citizens, if it came down to that?
 
SEC. HAGEL:  Well, we have had conversations with the Russian government on the protection of our citizens, of course.  And I'll let the minister speak.
 
Q:  Would they let them in?
 
SEC. HAGEL:  If we need to extract our -- our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do that.  
 
Q:  (OFF-MIC) 
 
SEC. HAGEL:  You may ask the minister anything you'd like, Barbara.
 
Q:  I'm sorry.  I don't speak, French, sir.  My apologies.
 
MIN. LE DRIAN (through translator):  If the question is to know whether we've had any requests from the Russian authorities for security, if France receives any request for support, the answer is no.  If the question is, do you have the intention to ensure the protection of your citizens that might have problems in Sochi?  The answer is yes.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you. 
 
SEC. HAGEL:  Thank you.