Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Hagel at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good afternoon.
The NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] defense ministers have just concluded a positive and productive series of meetings. A key focus has been on laying the groundwork for next year's NATO summit, which will enable NATO leaders to set priorities for the future of the alliance. In our discussions, we began to define a forward-looking agenda that will be the base of the content and the efforts and the objectives of the summit next year focusing on strengthening the transatlantic alliance.
We see three priority areas for the summit: capabilities, partnerships, and Afghanistan. Our sessions yesterday focused on NATO military capabilities and the need to continue to invest in these capabilities to meet 21st century challenges.
On cyber, NATO's Computer Incident Response Center is on track to achieve full operational capabilities next week. This center will provide protection from cyber intrusions against NATO computer networks, a capability that was identified as a priority at our June ministerial meeting.
The U.S. supports a proposal for the center to have teams of NATO cyber experts that can be quickly deployed to assist allied nations if they request help in dealing with cyber intrusions or attacks. It was agreed that the alliance must do more to deal with cyber threats, and this will remain a top priority going forward.
On missile defense, the United States continues to meet its commitments to deploy the European Phased Adaptive Approach, and it's on schedule. To continue this progress next week, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller will join NATO leaders at a groundbreaking ceremony for the missile defense radar site in Romania, and then he'll attend a missile defense conference in Poland.
Two decades of experience in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya, and off the Somali coast have helped us build NATO forces that can work together seamlessly. We want to preserve that hard-won capability in the future. And that is the goal of NATO's new Connected Forces Initiative. Yesterday, ministers agreed on the key elements of the Connected Forces Initiative. In 2015, the alliance will begin regular large-scale exercises to ensure that our forces continue to gain experience working alongside each other, and even after we draw down combat forces from Afghanistan, we will continue to work together and enhance and enlarge these exercises.
To help NATO maintain a ready force, the U.S. is also increasing its participation in the NATO Response Force, a rapidly deployable, multinational alliance capability. We will begin rotating a battalion-sized unit to Europe twice a year so that we can participate in NATO Response Force training and train with individual allies.
In a few weeks, the United States will deploy U.S.-based forces to support the NATO Response Force Exercise Steadfast Jazz. This will mark the first time the U.S. has sent a ground unit to a NATO Response Force exercise.
These new U.S. commitments to NATO send a strong signal about the importance America places on this alliance. During this ministerial, I stressed the need for our partners to make strong, long-term commitments to NATO. Overdependence on any one country for critical capabilities brings with it risks, and we must continue to work to more equally share the burden of providing security.
Yesterday, ministers agreed to pursue flagship projects for next year's summit that will help balance alliance burdens, while filling capability shortfalls in combat lift, missile defense, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Our work to build effective working partnerships also extends to nations outside of NATO. Today we held the first defense ministerial meeting in several years of the NATO-Russia Council. Russia and NATO have many areas of common interest, including the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.
Following the NATO-Russia Council, I had good bilateral discussions with Russian Defense Minister Shoygu. The cooperation between the United States and Russia on Syria's chemical weapons underscores the benefits that come when our two nations pursue practical cooperation in areas of common interests. In order to help identify other areas for practical cooperation and promote greater transparency, Minister Shoygu and I today agreed to increase consultations with each other and between our staffs. The minister and I will hold regular video teleconferences to ensure these consultations move forward. This new security cooperation channel can help lay a foundation for progress in what's an important military-to-military relationship.
Finally, in today's ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] session, we assessed the progress we are making in Afghanistan toward achieving our security goals. I also discussed this progress yesterday with Afghanistan's defense minister. ISAF nations continue planning for the new train, advise and assist mission to help develop Afghan security capability after 2014. In the session we just completed, ISAF defense ministers endorsed General Breedlove's strategic planning assessment for this new mission.
This document will help the alliance and national governments move ahead with their planning efforts. A post-2014 NATO troop presence will require the approval of the Afghan government, a signed bilateral security agreement [BSA], and a status-of-forces agreement between Afghanistan and NATO.
In the ISAF meeting, I updated ministers on the status of the BSA and the recent progress we've made toward its completion. As we prepare for next year's summit, NATO will continue to focus on the challenges ahead and the new structures and strategies that will be required to deal with them.
Thank you. I'd be glad to take some questions.
PRESS SECRETARY GEORGE LITTLE: We'll start with Lita Baldor of the Associated Press.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we were told yesterday that the Afghan minister expressed confidence that the BSA would be approved. I'm wondering, during your discussions with him, did he also offer any assurances or express equal confidence that the provisions that the U.S. says it needs in the BSA, including the jurisdiction in counterterror operations provisions, would be in the BSA and that there are no real hurdles to that?
And just secondarily, the president initially had said that the end of October was the deadline for approval of the BSA. In your mind right now, can you tell us when you think this actually has to be completed by, end of the year, early next year? Can you just give us a sense of timing?
SEC. HAGEL: First, the minister did note his optimism about the BSA being completed with the language that both countries require. Our position has been very clear on this, especially on jurisdiction. But he was very positive and felt very good about the loya jirga going forward and advising a president to sign it, and then the next event, as you know, would be the ratification by the parliament.
As to the timing, I noted before, obviously, the sooner, the better. We need -- we all need time to plan, prepare. But that planning has been going on. It's been going on here at NATO headquarters for a post-2014 train, advise and assist mission, so that's not new.
But I believe we are on track with a -- right now, a scheduled late November loya jirga session, which should take a few days. I think if that works as we anticipate -- and, as the minister noted yesterday, he believes will -- we could get an agreement fairly soon. The sooner, the better, but we're not waiting for the signed BSA. We're continuing to plan and prepare, as we are with our ISAF NATO partners.
MR. LITTLE: Yes, sir?
Q: Thank you very much. (Inaudible) from the Egyptian Television.
Minister, I have two questions, if you'll allow me. The first, you did agree with the Russian minister about the importance of Geneva II and destroying the chemical weapon, but do you have some other things you disagree with the minister, something you -- it was clearly that you -- (inaudible) -- work together?
And the second, considering the action you did take in Egypt by freezing some military aid, is it a type of measure you take or a type of sanction against Egypt? And when do you think this type of action you can withdraw? Thank you very much.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, regarding Geneva II, yes, we strongly support, as you know, moving forward with Geneva II. I think all of you know Secretary Kerry is in Europe today -- (off-mic.) -- London, I think, yesterday. And we are working with our Russian partners and the other 10 nations involved in this effort. We believe -- and we said it -- I think the Russians feel the same -- that a diplomatic solution, political solution is what's required, going to be required for Syria. So, yes, we strongly agree on the importance of Geneva II.
As to Egypt, the decision that was made regarding some weapons systems for Egypt was a decision to put on hold some of those systems. We announced one of our sophisticated airplanes that, the F-16, which would be put on hold a couple of months ago. Just recently we made some other announcements regarding Apache helicopters, tank kits, and so on.
We have laws in the United States that we must comply with on what are the restrictions and what are the boundaries of our assistance to allies regarding government and human rights. And we comply with those laws. So we're working with the Egyptian government. It's been very clear, the interim government, we believe, is moving in the right direction, road map toward inclusive, free democracy, rights for all people, assuring that all individuals, all citizens of Egypt have the same rights.
So we continue to work with the interim government in Egypt and hope that those rights will be fulfilled and they will continue to make progress on elections, on a new constitution, and a new and inclusive democratic republic. Thank you.
MR. LITTLE: We'll turn to Phil Stewart of Reuters.
Q: Yes, hi, Mr. Secretary.
First, a quick follow-up. You said you would be starting regular video conferences with your Russian counterpart. How often will those be? And why -- when was the last time the secretary had regular conferences? Is this unprecedented or not?
And then on Syria and the destruction of chemical weapons, both the NATO secretary general and the Russian defense minister raised the possibility of some sort of role in doing -- helping eliminate the chemical weapons. What might the United States do to contribute to that, by way of U.S. forces on the ground perhaps? Or what would they -- what would the U.S. do? And then why would it be important, perhaps, for NATO to have a role in that? Thank you.
SEC. HAGEL: On the Russian defense minister and the United States secretary of defense ministerial follow-ups, specifically teleconferences, I don't know if -- if that has occurred in the past. We have not decided on what kind of a regular basis we would do it. Our staffs will be meeting very soon on starting to lay out some kind of a schedule of an agenda, the point being we could use at least the initial teleconferences to, first, as I suggested in the meeting, have a very open, transparent and frank discussion about not just where we agree, but where we disagree, how we might be able to accommodate each other in some of these areas.
Also, I noted that I think it's particularly important that leaders from significant world powers have some regular occasion to talk to each other to anticipate problems, to anticipate issues that may be coming, rather than waiting for a crisis and then -- then we are forced together to communicate because of a crisis, something's blowing up in the world. Aren't we wiser to try to get out ahead of that, anticipate that, talk through some of these issues?
We have differences. We're going to continue to have differences. But I think it's always smarter and better for everyone if -- not only can we anticipate some of these big issues that may be coming, these challenges, threats, but also deal directly with our differences and find common interests and enhance ways where we can cooperate when we do have common interest.
As to your second question, I think -- if we can continue to see progress made, and I believe everybody believes we can, in destroying chemical weapons in Syria, then it seems to me that this is going to open opportunities for a lot of nations to play roles in -- in Syria in order to accomplish the objective.
It may well be that NATO will be asked for some assistance. Right now, as you know, the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] has the lead here. The United Nations is involved. And I think it would probably be something we would assume would occur if we can stay on track and make progress, like we believe we can, that other nations would be asked for help. And maybe -- it may be NATO. As to specifically your question about U.S. involvement, there are no plans to have any U.S. forces in any way in Syria.
MR. LITTLE: And the gentleman in the front row will have the final question.
Q: (Inaudible) from (Inaudible).
Was it Mr. Shoygu's initiative for this media conference thing? Because I know that he likes these videoconferences. He had them a lot -- worked a lot when he was emergency minister in Russia. And will this be replacing or adding up to the existing two-plus-two format?
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Yes, as to your first question, Mr. Shoygu has had a lot of experience with these, and they've been very effective and productive for him. I've used videoconferences over many, many years in different jobs I've had. I think they are productive. They are effective. We use them all the time, National Security Council with the president. It is a good way to stay connected.
Some of you may recall that, when we did have the two-plus-two in Washington, we actually mentioned this, that we were going to see if there was a possibility if we could pursue it. So what we did today was we followed up on some general thoughts that Minister Shoygu and I had in our initial meeting before the two-plus-two, which we had just -- we had an hour alone before the two-plus-two. So this was a follow-up from that idea that we each kind of came to. And I thought it was -- the timing was right. Obviously, Minister Shoygu thought the timing was right.
So, again, this is -- it seems to me -- one of the examples that can be used and should be used to take advantage of areas where we can agree, where we can anticipate and get out ahead, and where we -- we can enlarge and scope things out, where we could have more participants in something like this effort in Syria and chemical weapons.
But this teleconference -- just being one -- but this teleconference and videoconference that we would have would be not limited to any specific area, as I think I outlined some of the areas that we would have some interest in. And he's very receptive to that. I'm very receptive. I think he and I have a similar pattern, a style of doing business.
MR. LITTLE: And that will conclude our business today. Thank you, everyone.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you very much. Thanks.