Press Conference with Secretary Hagel and Defense Minister Onodera from the Pentagon
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good afternoon. Today, I'm honored to welcome Minister Onodera to the Pentagon. We just completed a very productive meeting covering the full range of issues facing the U.S.-Japan alliance, including North Korea's destabilizing behavior, threats to maritime security, and our shared efforts to enhance our defense posture and capabilities to respond to the 21st century challenges.
In the course of our discussions, the minister and I reaffirmed that the U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of regional security and prosperity.
While our focus here today is on our defense, I should note that as the United States rebalances to Asia, our two nations are taking significant steps to deepen economic and diplomatic ties, including recent progress towards Japan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.
Strengthening our security alliance is also critical to achieving the goal of the U.S. rebalance, enhancing prosperity and promoting peace and stability in the region. The most obvious threat to stability in the region is the provocative behavior of North Korea.
Minister Onodera and I agreed that continued close coordination between U.S. and Japanese forces will be essential for monitoring and responding to any further provocations, particularly cooperation on missile defense. Today we made progress on plans to deploy a second TPY-2 radar to Japan, which will help protect both of our nations from the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles. The United States remains steadfast in our defense commitments to Japan, including extended deterrence and a further nuclear umbrella.
Minister Onodera and I also discussed ongoing friction in the East China Sea, another key regional security challenge that must be resolved peacefully and cooperatively between the parties involved. In our discussion today, I reiterated the principles that govern longstanding U.S. policy on the Senkaku Islands. The United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, but we do recognize they are under the administration of Japan and fall under our security treaty obligations.
Any actions that could raise tensions or lead to miscalculations affect the stability of the entire region. Therefore, the United States opposes any unilateral or coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan's administrative control, a message General Dempsey conveyed to his counterparts last week in Beijing.
Even as we focus on these near-term security challenges, Minister Onodera and I also engaged in strategic discussions about the future of the alliance. Our staffs have been working for some time on a review of roles, missions and capabilities to inform any revisions to the defense guidelines that underpin our alliance cooperation.
One area that has been identified as a critical priority is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Today we announced the formation of a defense ISR working group to deepen cooperation in this area. Minister Onodera and I also reviewed the significant progress that we have made in realigning U.S. forces in Japan in order to achieve a more sustainable, resilient and effective military presence in the region.
Earlier this month, the United States and Japan jointly announced a base consolidation plan on Okinawa. Its implementation, in concert with moving ahead on the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) will ensure that we maintain the right mix of capabilities on Okinawa, Guam and elsewhere in the region, as we reduce our footprint on Okinawa and strengthen this alliance for the future.
In addition, we confirmed the deployment of a second squadron of MV-22 Ospreys to Japan, which will take place this summer and increase our capabilities in the region.
I would like to recognize Minister Onodera for his leadership and his commitment to this alliance and also, as I have expressed to the prime minister, to please convey my gratitude to Prime Minister Abe.
The tangible progress we have made in reorienting this alliance to meet 21st century challenges is the result of hard work and close coordination between our two governments. We are strengthening this alliance for the future.
Minister Onodera, thank you. Please proceed. Thank you.
MINISTER OF DEFENSE ITSUNORI ONODERA (through translator): I had a very good discussion with Secretary Hagel today. With the outcome of meeting of President Obama and Prime Minister Abe in February, Secretary Hagel and I confirmed the significance of leavening up our bilateral cooperative relationship to a next step.
Considering situation of North Korea, we -- we confirmed our bilateral close cooperation, as well as trilateral close cooperation of Japan, U.S. and South Korea.
On the Senkaku Islands, I explained Japan's basic position that the islands are clearly an inherent part of the territory of Japan, in light of historical facts and based upon international law, and that Japan is determined to protect its land, water and air.
Secretary Hagel and I confirmed that Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan security treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands and that we are opposed to any unilateral action that aims to change the status quo by force.
On bilateral defense cooperation, we confirmed that bilateral discussions on strategic environment perceptions are underway. We welcome the establishment of defense ISR information, surveillance and reconnaissance working group and progress of a study on bilateral cooperation in peacetime, represented by bilateral patrol and surveillance activities in peacetime.
On realignment of USFJ [United States Forces, Japan], we confirmed that landfill permit request for FRF and development of consolidation plan for land returns south of Kadena are important steps for significantly mitigating impact on Okinawa. We agreed to steadily make progress on USFJ realignment, including development of relocation of USMC in Okinawa to Guam.
On MV-22 Osprey, Secretary Hagel and I confirmed that government's plans to land U.S. 12 MV-22s of the second squadron of MV-22 through MCAS [Marine Corps air station] Iwakuni this summer and then move them to MCAS Futenma.
Lastly, I invited Secretary Hagel's visit to Japan this year, and we agreed to hold two-plus-two meeting preferably this year at appropriate timing to discuss efforts of strengthening alliance among ministers and secretaries of defense and foreign affairs.
Based on the outcome of today's meeting with Secretary Hagel, I will continue to work on challenges in order to build even stronger bilateral alliance. Thank you for warm hospitality for Secretary Hagel and his great staff.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you, Minister. Thank you.
GEORGE LITTLE: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Minister, thank you. We'll do two questions per side, and we'll start with Cami McCormick with CBS News.
Q: Secretary Hagel, this is for you. Hello.
SEC. HAGEL: Hi.
Q: This is regarding Syria and the assessment that chemical weapons had been used. I was wondering, first of all, if -- if -- can you elaborate at all on anything more on what's been learned, the scope? Were people injured? Was there more than one attack, what the locations were, and -- and if the U.S. and its allies are perhaps considering some sort of proportional response to that?
Secondly, if you can't answer any more questions regarding that, what should the American public read into that assessment, considering the consequences could be so important?
SEC. HAGEL: First, we are continuing to assess what happened -- when, where, all the questions you asked, working with our allies and our own intelligence agencies.
Your second question, I think we should wait to get the facts before we make any judgments on what action, if any should be taken, and what kind of action.
Q: (through translator) My question -- my goes to Secretary Hagel. With the -- my question is on the security situation of East Asia. I understand that U.S.-South Korean joint exercise would end on the 30th of this month. How do you see the situation of North Korea and current status of North Korea?
And second question is, how do you see the issue of North Korea and missile -- missile program of North Korea? And how you are planning to respond to that?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, the United States, like all of our allies in the region, as well as over 80 countries of the world, are very concerned about the situation on the Korean -- Korean peninsula. We have said we are working with our allies to be prepared for any contingency. But I would again call upon the North Korean government to take the path of peace. There is an effective, wise course of action to enhance their people, their nation, and they -- they should take advantage of that.
Our capabilities with our allies in the region to deal with provocations, as we have said before, is one that gives us a strong set of preparations, which as I've already noted, we are prepared for any contingency.
MR. LITTLE: We turn to Lita Baldor with the Associated Press.
Q: A question for each of you. Mr. Minister, first, similar to the previous question, now that these military exercises are ending, how do you assess the North Korean threat? Do you see things starting to calm down now? Or do you think that we will be at a high level of threat -- persistent level of threat from now on?
And, Mr. Secretary, on Syria, as you've probably heard over the last several days, members of Congress have been calling for a no-fly zone, creation of a safe zone, and other military action. Do you rule out any unilateral U.S. military action in Syria? And do you think that any action would require either a coalition of the willing or NATO, U.N. support?
And, secondly, now that time has gone on, there are greater concerns about the radicalization of the rebels. Do you think that time has passed for any thoughts of arming the rebels? Are there too many concerns now about how radical the rebels are and have become?
MIN. ONODERA (through translator): I'd like to begin by explaining on my view on North Korean situation. So far, we have analyzed the information that we have gathered, and we have been sharing those information between our two countries. But as far as I know, for the time being, we have not -- I have not received any information that would allow us to level down our level of the patrol against North Korea, patrol and surveillance against North Korea.
SEC. HAGEL: Are you finished, Minister?
MIN. ONODERA: Yes.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.
Your two questions. My role is to present to the president -- and my responsibility -- options for any contingency. I won't speculate on those options, nor publicly discuss those options.
Q: (OFF-MIKE) about the rebels and...
Q: Well, I (OFF-MIKE)
SEC. HAGEL: I've already answered it. I'm not going to speculate into hypotheticals and getting into -- into these areas, other than to say that I've -- as I said, we are prepared to give the president options for any contingency.
Q (through translator): My question goes to both of -- both you. It's on this question on the guidelines on U.S.-Japan defense cooperation. I understand that you are working on the review of the guidelines of U.S.-Japan defense cooperation, but what kind of threat are you having in your mind?
And understand that work by going through the discussion of this review, the two countries are discussing only roles, missions and capabilities of two countries, as well. Abe administration is currently aiming to beefing up the role of the self-defense forces and to utilize their capabilities for this area.
And I understand that both of you have mentioned and agreed to work on the bilateral patrol and surveillance area in defense area particular. Secretary Hagel, in what specific area does U.S. government expect to see the -- more a role from the self-defense forces through the process of reviewing these guidelines?
And to Defense Minister Onodera, what kind of area of self- defense forces' role should be beefed up to deepen the cooperation? And the question goes to as to when are you going to compiling up the basic directions of these guidelines? If you have any schedule or timeframe in your mind, could you share with us?
MIN. ONODERA (through translator): The current guidelines for U.S.- Japan defense cooperation was drafted in 1997. Therefore, a certain amount of time has passed since then, and we have seen drastic changes in security environment. U.S. and Japan have been studying on the roles, missions and capability discussions, and we have just started the discussion on the strategic environment perception between our two countries, especially. And as for the schedule of this review, I think it's going to take a few years.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. I would agree with the -- the minister's timeline. The reason I would agree with it is because this region of the world, the Asia Pacific, is a vital area for stability, security, trade. The sea lanes in the Pacific are particularly vital to the economic interests of all those nations. To keep those sea lanes open and security and stability in that area is the primary focus of this review.
Enhancing and strengthening military-to-military security relationships among our allies directly enhances stability and security, therefore enhancing trade and development and peace in the region.
Specifically the first part of your question -- what are we are doing -- I noted, as did the minister, some specific examples of enhancement. The addition of the TPY-2 radar missile site, the MV-22 Osprey, the cooperation on rebalancing our Marines and facilities on Okinawa, those are but three areas where we are working together specifically.
MIN. ONODERA: Thank you.
MR. LITTLE: We'll wrap it up there. Thank you, everyone.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you.