SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Happy April Fool's Day. I don't know what the holiday is tomorrow, but we'll celebrate something. I'm not going to go back and cover ground that I've already covered yesterday, and you all have the agenda for the trip, so you know what we're going to be doing here the next few days. But let me just re-emphasize a couple of points and then we'll go to questions.
First, the point of the first of the trip, when I invited the ASEAN defense ministers last year to Hawaii, the thought I had then, and it has really been reinforced over the last few months, is it's more and more important that the United States, as we have moved over the last three years into a rebalancing to Asia Pacific, be clear in our intent. What is the purpose? And I have said in the last three trips that I've taken to Asia Pacific that the purpose is about a continuation of our relationships, strengthening those relationships in Asia Pacific. As I've said, and we all know.
FLIGHT CAPTAIN: Ladies and gentlemen from the flight deck, we'll be conducting our in-flight refueling in approximately 20 minutes, at which time we'll put on the fasten-seatbelt sign. If you need to get up and move around and secure any loose items, please do so at this time. Thank you.
SEC. HAGEL: Perfect. I won't cut into your restroom break time. I know that's important. But the purpose is not just a recommitment of this rebalance to our relationships in the Asia Pacific to our partners, through our treaty allies, but also a coordination of our efforts. ASEAN represents the one organization in the Asia Pacific where there is a cohesiveness, a consolidation, a coordination among ten nations, plus. And if you look at the ASEAN Defense Ministers-Plus organization, it's the ten, plus the eight, which we've participated in last year and we've been participating in over the last couple of years. That represents a tremendous opportunity to connect, to coordinate, to communicate, to reinforce the United States message about our intent, our cooperation, in areas where we can cooperate.
When we design the two and a half days for the meetings, I wanted to ensure that it was more than just military to military, and I think we've done that. As you know, we've got the director of USAID, we've got the head of NOAA, we'll be participating in a U.S. Commerce Department building. We'll be focusing a lot on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief. Yes, military to military exercises, where we can all do more as we connect and coordinate with our capacities and our capabilities. And all of this is about a more stable, secure Asia Pacific. That means a prosperous region of the world. A region of the world that presents possibilities and hope for all its people.
And I think Asia Pacific over the last 25 years is a region of the world that's done that pretty well. Over 600 million people in that region, huge emerging economies. When you look at the economies in the Asia Pacific -- pretty impressive. Impressive what they've done. And they've done that, I think, essentially because they've had some pretty wise leadership and how they have handled their differences, and their areas of competition. It's imperfect. There's been conflict. There still are issues, disagreements. We'll talk about those. And I intended to talk about those when I go to China and Japan as well.
But I just wanted to step back for a moment and give you maybe a broader sense of what was behind this when I first asked these ministers to come. And then as we've defined that, I hope, even in a clearer way, I want those defense ministers after they leave Hawaii to feel even more clarity about U.S. commitment to the area, our coordination, our communications, the areas where we can cooperate more and more and more. And certainly again humanitarian assistance, disaster relief is one.
There's a tremendous amount of capability capacity in the Asia Pacific. We represent a good amount of it. This is not about crowding anybody out, but it is about assuring freedom of the sea lanes and the openness of our skies and cyber. And we're going to help continue to do that.
All right. With that, let's go to questions – Lita.
Q: I'm sorry. Mr. Secretary, can you give us a sense of any specific steps the U.S. is either seriously considering or going to do as a result of the NATO decisions today and in order to help allies in and around Ukraine?
SEC. HAGEL: Lita, I have not seen Kerry's press conference yet or I haven't seen the full readout yet. But I know what the secretary was going to talk about in his interventions. So to answer your questions and not fully conversant with everything that went on in those meetings. We're going to continue to stay on the path that we're on. I think it was pretty clear the comments of Secretary General Rasmussen yesterday. We have tasked General Breedlove and our military commanders to look at more options for measures for collective security. We have reaffirmed, again, the United States.
And I think all the 28 members of NATO their commitment to that collective security commitment in the Euro-Atlantic area specifically focused on our treaty obligations. We continue to look at different possibilities and options. I think the president has been very clear on this. We still are pursuing a de-escalation of this crisis. We still have it in the diplomatic channels, the European Union, the United States, European powers, have taken economic-sanctioned actions as you know. We could take more. But we want to de-escalate this. But also at the same time, make it very clear that one consequence that's come out of this has been in every measure that was tested a recommitment of the coalescing of the NATO partners around the security commitments that we have to each other and to Europe. I think that has been one of the principal consequences in responses to this Russian action in the Crimea and as they still have forces built up on that border.
Q: Sorry, sorry. Sorry. Has Russia's actions in Crimea turned upside down the understanding that NATO and the west had with Russia? If they're going to cross borders, invade other countries, violate another country's sovereignty, doesn't NATO then have to think about, consider moving troops into Eastern European member-states in the alliance like the Baltics as a deterrence and to reassure those countries?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, as you know, we have taken measures, not just the United States, but other NATO countries to reinforce those countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe with F-16s, F-15, refueling, reconnaissance ISR. And it hasn't been just the United States, but other countries. A number of European Nations have done the same.
We remain always flexible. We remain always, just like I said. As Secretary General Rasmussen noted yesterday, looking at stronger measures which General Breedlove has been tasked to do as well as all our military commanders. I was just on the phone a couple of hours ago with the Norwegian minister of defense talking about some of these different options. So we're doing that now and we're looking at more options.
Q: I'm sorry. To follow up. Just to be clear, would an option that would look at, consider would be actually moving -- permanently moving troops to the eastern edge of the NATO Alliance and to actually have not just training, but actually have forces there?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, you know that we have an aviation brigade, assistance commitment in Poland, the Baltic air policing that we're part of. There are always different options that we look at and we'll continue to look at. We have to be prepared to deal with any contingency and all options. And that's all part of the commitment that all 28 members of NATO have together.
Q: You talked about tasking General Breedlove to come up with more options. I was wondering if you have given him specific things to look at? And if you could talk about what exactly is he looking at?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, he'll come back with some specific options to NATO. And we've asked him to look at the full range of measures.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Last one.
Q: Okay. Turning to ASEAN quickly. Two-part question. One is do you think that the -- how do you think that the shortcomings of the search so far for the Malaysian jet are lessons for -- that you'll take into ASEAN? And also, do you see room at this meeting to discuss their concerns about U.S. budget cuts, particularly those that might happen under sequester?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, let me start with the first. If I could paraphrase your question on budget-cut concerns that the ASEAN nations might have or do have about our continued commitment on the rebalance. We will talk about those things. I have been very clear and direct, you know, in what I've said about those fiscal restraints that we are dealing with working through. And I have made it very clear that the prioritization in the president's budget that I presented to Congress, which the Congress will be dealing with for the next few months. And I would also add the Quadrennial Defense Review puts a priority on the rebalance to Asia Pacific. And in the interest of time, I won't go through all the facts, but look at what we're doing in Singapore, what we're going to continue to do in Singapore with the rotation of LCSs, the rotation of the marines in Australia, the ongoing negotiations with the Philippines to use Subic Bay resources on a rotational basis, TPY-2 radar site in Japan. We got the landfill permit in Okinawa, the continuing effort in posturing of assets in the Asia Pacific. So I think it's pretty clear, even with budget restraints, we'll live with those. This is a priority. And we'll fulfill the commitments that we have made. And I do look forward to talking about that with our ASEAN partners.
The second part of your question?
Q: On the Malaysia jetliner.
SEC. HAGEL: The Malaysia jetliner issue, lessons learned, what we don't know and all the issues that you had been reporting daily. Like any of these tragedies, and we don't yet know what happened. There's always lessons to be learned. This is another good example of coordination. Every request made by the Malaysian government, of the United States, and I've talked to the minister twice personally about this, we have complied with those requests. But when you're dealing with the realities that we're dealing with, the huge amount of unknowns, just trying to focus on a general area, a search area, that presents -- that in itself, certain limit -- big limitations to how much we can do. We're going to go back, the Malaysians will go back, all the ASEAN nations will go back and walk through this. What could have been done, maybe what should have been done, what needs to be done better. But coordination is a key part of this. How do we bring all the complement of full assets of nations together to cooperate and connect when you have these disasters. And we will get into some of this at our meeting over the next two days, and I look forward to that.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.