MINISTER OF DEFENSE TOMASZ SIEMONIAK: (through translator): Well, ladies and gentlemen, today we are hosting the Secretary of Defense of the United States, Mr. Chuck Hagel. It is beginning of the year of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Poland's regaining its independence and the 10th anniversary of Poland's membership in NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization].
And it is with the satisfaction that I would like to remind you that back in 1998, Mr. Chuck Hagel, as the United States senator, voted for Poland's accession to NATO. And it was really very nice to hear today that he said that he was very proud of the way he voted.
And in talking about our anniversaries, it is important to remember that in the historic events for our country, the United States played a decisive role. It bases our alliance on strong foundation of history, friendship, and common values.
The sign of that friendship, exactly 32 years ago, was the day of the 30th of January, 1982, during the martial law. The president of the United States made that day the day of solidarity with Poland. Today, we meet that solidarity as allies who believe that the active presence of the United States in Europe guarantees our continent security, development, and democracy.
This solidarity is manifested in the strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization that is based on strong United States and Europe -- Europe that must do more for its own security. It is so, because of the events in Europe and close to the European borders in North Africa and in Syria make it necessary to take seriously the threats and the necessity to strengthen NATO.
Poland is ready to take up real and very specific actions in this area by means of the modernization of the Polish armed forces by great financial effort that is taken by its citizens and organizing the regional security policy.
The efficiency of these actions, and the efficiency of our air force depends on the support and the presence of the United States. One cannot think about the security of Poland and the security of this part of Europe in the 21st century without the United States.
We have very positively evaluated that so far, military cooperation – first of all, the Brotherhood in Arms in Afghanistan that is based on very close cooperation of our troops. But this is also about other common air forces’ exercises with the use of the permanent presence of the American troops from the aviation detachment.
We also noted that the works on the implementation of the third phase of the American missile defense system in Europe that covers the installation in Redzikowo in 2018 goes according to the schedule.
We also talked about the situation in Ukraine. I informed the secretary of defense about the activities that are taken up by Poland also in the context of the meetings he's going to have tomorrow with the president of Poland and with the prime minister of Poland. After those meetings, we are going to visit together Polish and American troops in the base in Powidz.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Minister Siemoniak, thank you.
It is a pleasure to see you again and be with you here in Poland, for the very reasons you noted, as well as my own personal interest in this country.
I want to wish you, Minister, and the people of Poland the best today. As has been noted -- you mentioned that it was 1982 that President Reagan proclaimed this day as the national Polish Solidarity Day. And we honor that. We recognize that. And I congratulate the people of Poland, and I congratulate the people of the United States.
It's a privilege for me to be back in Poland after a number of years, though it's my first trip as the secretary of defense, I have visited before. And I very much appreciate this opportunity to be back in Poland and visit with some old friends.
As the minister noted, I will, later today, meet with the foreign minister, Sikorski, who I have known for many years. And I look forward to my meetings tomorrow with the Polish prime minister and president.
One point that I am going to continue to emphasize in all of my meetings, as I did with the minister, is the acknowledgement that Poland continues to be a strategic ally for the United States, a strong partner, and an old and good friend.
And as the minister noted, my vote back in 1999 to approve the ascension to NATO of Poland was a vote that I am very proud of. And I am proud of that vote not because only it was the right vote, but because what Poland has done over the 15 years it's been a member of NATO: the strong leadership participation contributions Poland has made to NATO.
I want to particularly acknowledge and thank Poland for its contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is -- as Poland has partnered with the United States in both of those wars at great sacrifice, we are very much aware that you have lost members of your armed forces, and we acknowledge those sacrifices and we appreciate that partnership.
Over the last few years, we have opened up a new chapter in our partnership, a friendship, a partnership that dates back to America's independence, when Poland's great general, Casimir Pulaski, volunteered to serve under George Washington. There are, as many of you know, many monuments to General Pulaski; the many monuments to the Polish general in the United States.
And many of you know that the general was such a deft leader using cavalry, that he is considered by our Army to be the father of American cavalry.
And as the minister noted, in a reference in his comments, the U.S.-Poland relationship is a personal one to me, and I will see evidence of that tomorrow.
My grandmother's maiden name was Konkolewski and her parents were married in a little village here in Poland, which I will have occasion to visit tomorrow and visit the location of the rebuilt church where they were married as well, as the minister gave me copies of the marriage license.
The name of the village is Kiszkow. I understand it's a small village. I told the minister today that I hope my great-grandparents didn't leave the village owing a lot of people money.
The United States and Poland are not only bound by a culture in history and personal relationships, but we're also bound by shared interests in peace and security.
In support of these interests, U.S.-Polish defense cooperation is strong, enduring and it continues to enhance in many areas of cooperation.
One example of this is missile defense, where our nations continue to work closely together, both bilaterally and through NATO in response to ballistic missile threats. And the United States is firmly committed to deploying a U.S. missile defense system to Poland. We look forward to this system coming online in 2018 as part of phase III of the European Phase Adaptive Approach.
Another example of our cooperation, one that I will see tomorrow and one the minister has noted, is at Powidz Air Base, where our groundbreaking joint aviation detachment is located. Where our American and Polish airmen are training and working side by side every day.
Not only does this detachment send an important defense capability message to our allies and partners ... That message is that the United States remained committed -- remains committed to the European and Polish defense.
But it also shows that we are open to new and innovative ways of thinking about how our militaries can collaborate and bring more value added to our single and joint capabilities. And the United States greatly appreciates Poland inviting us and hosting that detachment.
Our two nations are working to expand training exercises and operational exercises occurring through that aviation detachment. And these include other regional partners, such as Romania, which is the latest member to acquire -- NATO member to acquire F-16s.
And because Poland has demonstrated its leadership, its willingness, its commitment to play a significant leadership role here in Central Europe, this partnership and this joint exercise is particularly important and well suited to future exercises and training opportunities.
Now these are but a couple of the very clear, concrete, tangible expressions of America's strong security relationship with Poland. And they also very clearly reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Central and Eastern Europe and they form a foundation to support an enduring partnership with these countries in this region well into the future.
As Poland explores its options for its own missile defense capabilities, there is an unmistakable opportunity for us, both of us, to forge even closer cooperation in this area, leveraging cutting-edge technology and enhanced NATO capability. This will benefit Poland and the United States and the entire Trans-Atlantic Alliance.
The minister and I also discussed today our continuing commitment to supporting Poland's defense modernization efforts. In an area of fiscal pressures that reside on both sides of the Atlantic, this investment is particularly required to move our alliance further, deeper, closer into the 21st century, ultimately allowing both of our militaries to collaborate much closer on more projects in the future.
As the U.S. begins to place an even greater strategic emphasis on working with our allies and our partners around the world, particularly here in Central and Eastern Europe and with our NATO allies, we are very confident that our partnership and alliance with Poland will continue to be close, enhanced, strong, and effective for many years.
MIN. SIEMONIAK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thank you very much.
And now we have time for four questions. Since the time is limited, I proposed two questions from Polish journalists and two questions from American journalists.
Now we have time for the first question.
Q (through translator): I have two questions to Secretary Hagel.
You said that the United States remains determined to support the engagement and continued engagement in Europe. In Poland, however, we speak quite much about the American pivot towards Asia. How would you comment on this?
And the second question is, can you please give us some more details about Polish-American cooperation in the area of missile defense?
SEC. HAGEL: Regarding the first question, I have said, since I have been Secretary of Defense, on every formal occasion I have spoken, that rebalancing for the United States to Asia-Pacific does not mean retreating from the rest of the world, and especially not retreating from the continent of Europe. Rather, we intend to enhance our relationship in NATO, and with our transatlantic partners.
The United States has interests all over the world, and has been a Pacific power for many, many years. But our commitment to Europe, our NATO allies, our partners in this part of the world will continue to be as steadfast and as complete as they have in the past.
As to your second question -- what we are doing with Poland in one area through the NATO Alliance and the third stage now of the European phase adaptive approach -- working closely on that with Polish military.
As Poland explores its own missile defense possibilities and options, we are closely coordinated with the Polish military and Polish government on working with them technologically, operationally and in every respect.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.
STAFF: A question on the American side, please.
Q: Secretary Hagel, Missy Ryan from Reuters.
There are reports that Syria to date has removed less than 5 percent of its chemical weapons material ahead of a February 5th deadline, and suggestions that the Syrian government may be stalling in implementing the chemical weapons deal. Would you please comment on this? And how confident are you, in fact, that the deal will be implemented in a timely fashion?
SEC. HAGEL: The United States is concerned that the Syrian government is behind in delivering these chemical weapons, precursor materials on time and with the schedule that was agreed to.
I spoke with the Russian defense minister yesterday about this. And asked the minister to do what he could to influence the Syrian government to comply with the agreement that has been made, to continue to move these materials to the port of Latakia so that we can get back to the process of destroying these chemical weapons.
As you know, our ship, the Cape Ray is on its way. It left, I believe, Monday night from its port in Virginia. And our partners who are specifically engaged in assisting with this effort -- Denmark, Norway, and the Italians -- are prepared to follow on with their responsibilities and commitments once this process can get started again of getting materials to the poor and getting them out of that -- out of Latakia.
We believe that this effort can continue to get back on track even though we're behind schedule, but the -- but the Syrian government has to take responsibility of fulfilling its commitment that has been made. And the Russians, the United States all of the countries involved in this, we all know this is a United Nations Security Council resolution. It needs to do everything all of us can to assure that this time table gets put back on track and these materials move to the port.
MIN. SIEMONIAK (through translator): Next question, please.
Q (through translator): This is a question of Secretary Hagel.
In the book by Robert Gates, he refers to the negotiations between Poland and the United States on missile defense. Do you believe that the Polish requirement, which are described in that book, as something that requires a greater than Article V guarantee from the United States is something excessive?
Do you believe that Article V is sufficient, or you think that we can -- in Poland -- require also some bilateral arrangement with the United States in terms of the provision of security for our country?
And a second question is, do you believe that the still unsolved thing or question connected with the CIA black sites influences the cooperation between Poland the United States? Do you think that it can be detrimental to our alliance?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, on the issue of the black sites, as you all know the United States government does not respond to any questions regarding those kinds of issues. And I think that's been the official position of the United States government.
As to your question, specifically, about how it might affect or will it affect relations between our two countries, I think the depth and the width of the relationship between Poland and the United States is such that is can withstand any testing or questioning that may jeopardize that relationship.
And I think you heard here in the last few minutes some significant evidence of this relationship being as close as it's -- as it's ever been between our two countries.
As to your question regarding Secretary Gates's book and the specific points that you raised, first, I've not read Secretary Gates's book. So I'm somewhat at a disadvantage on that point, but let me respond to the points that you made.
As far as I am aware, we and the Polish government, the United States government, NATO continues to move forward with this project, without any technical or legal complications. And I suspect if there are any questions as to authorities, then they would be dealt with and whatever adjustments we would have to make we would make.
STAFF (SPEAKING THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And the last question from the American side, please.
Q: Thank you very much. I'm Adam Entous with the Wall Street Journal. Thank you very much for doing this.
I just wanted to ask quickly, just a follow up to Missy's question about Syria.
Do you have a sense of why the -- why the Syrians have been so far behind in turning over the chemicals? Is this foot dragging, do you believe? Or is this security related?
And then I wanted to ask about Afghanistan.
And today the national security adviser to the president said that he was more optimistic that Karzai would sign the BSA [Bilateral Security Agreement] before he leaves office.
I wanted to ask you if you share that optimism, if anything's changed, and also to talk about the contours of an enduring presence that we've heard talked about before, as we've heard, now, new details about what the Pentagon's proposing, which is a binary proposal, 10,000 in 2015, but then that number dropping over the next two years.
So I wanted to see how two years and enduring presence, how those are squared.
Thank you very much.
SEC. HAGEL: Adam, on your first question, I do not know what the Syrian government's motives are or if it was incompetence or why they are behind on delivering these materials.
What we do know, is they are behind and what we do know they need to fix this and that's what we're all working together to address.
As to your two questions regarding Afghanistan, as I have said before, President Karzai agreed, personally agreed to the bilateral security agreement.
And the loya jirga that he empaneled has strongly endorsed the bilateral security agreement and President Karzai's quick signing of that agreement.
What is coming out of the presidential palace today or what President Karzai says today, I don't know, it changes constantly. We are all hopeful that he sign this BSA for the reasons, I think, everyone knows or which will flow into your second question on Afghanistan.
As I have said, the president has said and the president mentioned this the other night in his state of the union message -- the planning and preparation on what a mission would be -- what the Afghan people who would invite the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] partners to do to help them with -- remains undefined until that bilateral security agreement is signed.
So, our conversations about questions about what kind of force structure, or how many -- when would they leave -- all the other important considerations that have to be played into any post-2014 decision can't be made, but -- by not only the United States, but our ISAF partners, in particular, NATO, until that bilateral security agreement is signed. Which then, following that, would be a status of forces agreement for the NATO countries. And then the ISAF non-NATO countries would have to have some standing, as well.
And again, I'd like to thank the Polish government for their continued commitment to a post-2014 mission in Afghanistan if -- like all of us -- they have some assurance that there is some legal basis to being invited in first. And then they, like us -- like all the ISAF partners -- NATO partners -- have to go to our parliaments, and have to plan for our budget, force structures -- the people of each sovereign nation.
So, it all comes back to the first part of your question, the signing of a bilateral security agreement.
MIN. SIEMONIAK (through translator): Thank you very much.