SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good afternoon. New Zealand Minister of Defense Jonathan Coleman and I just finished a very positive and productive working lunch, where we reinforced the close ties between the United States and New Zealand. Having fought together in every major conflict of the last century, including Afghanistan, our bonds are rooted not only in our common interests as Pacific nations, but also in the history and the values we share.
Our partnership is important. It's important to peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific, and the United States remains committed to strengthening this partnership as one component of our rebalance to the region. One of the themes we emphasized today was the significant progress we've made in expanding our defense cooperation since the Washington declaration was signed last year. In addition to high-level visits like this one, we've had a productive set of exercises and training initiatives, the first joint defense policy talks in almost three decades, and the successful meeting of Pacific army chiefs from Asia Pacific nations, which our two nations co-chaired in Auckland last month.
That meeting focused on how we can work together on global peacekeeping operations, a central part of where we hope to improve our partnership. Today, Minister Coleman and I confirmed that we will continue to work more closely together on peacekeeping issues, with New Zealand providing military instructors to the U.S.-led global peacekeeping operation initiative beginning next year.
We also discussed the benefits of our increased cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in Asia Pacific. Both our nations have led multilateral exercises to help improve our coordination in these operations, demonstrating our ability to work together in the interests in the region.
All of these areas of our cooperation underscore the broad nature of our defense relationship. We look forward to continuing to deepen our defense cooperation in the future. Near-term steps include military-to-military talks next month in Honolulu, New Zealand's deployment of a frigate to a multinational anti-piracy coalition in the Gulf of Aden, and the United States' upcoming participation in what will be New Zealand's largest-ever multinational and interagency exercise.
Further on the horizon, we're looking forward to New Zealand's full participation in next year's RIMPAC [Rim of the Pacific Exercise], which is the world's largest multinational naval exercise. Today, I authorized a New Zealand navy ship to dock at Pearl Harbor for RIMPAC 2014 and extended that invitation to Minister Coleman. This will be the first time a New Zealand navy ship will be -- have visited Pearl Harbor in more than 30 years. The docking of this ship at Pearl Harbor will be another act in strengthening our relationship and the rebalance to the Pacific.
I'll now ask Minister Coleman for his comments before we take questions. Thank you. Mr. Coleman?
MINISTER OF DEFENSE JONATHAN COLEMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I just want to begin by saying it's great to be here in Washington, and I thank you for your hospitality.
As you outlined, look, there's a long history between the U.S. and New Zealand. It's a history built on common values. Our troops have fought together in many theaters around the world, most recently in Afghanistan, and a big theme of our talk today was actually we are looking forward to future cooperation with the U.S. We're looking for common ground where we can extend cooperation. As the secretary said, we are very keen to help build peacekeeping capacity in -- among nations across the Asia Pacific region.
We've made great strides in the defense relationship over the last two years on the back of the Wellington declaration and then the Washington declaration. We greatly appreciate the lifting of restrictions on New Zealand ships docking in U.S. ports. And I want to thank you for that waiver.
We're also very pleased to see the resumption of mil-mil talks after 30 years. And where we're getting to, really, is the resumption of a tempo of contact, whether it's at the political level, the officials level, or the mil-mil level, which we haven't seen for a number of decades.
So we're looking forward to continuing a great business-as-usual relationship, where our people are exercising regularly together, where we're working on issues of common importance across the Asia Pacific region and potentially beyond.
We talked extensively about the U.S. rebalance to our part of the world. New Zealand certainly welcomes that. The military side of that is the public manifestation, but the point I made was that actually there's multiple legs to this.
There's the diplomatic leg. There's the trade leg, which is very important from the New Zealand perspective. We're very keen to see TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] negotiations concluded, you know, on quick a timetable as possible, and we welcome this new climate of engagement we have with the U.S., right across a range of portfolio and policy areas.
We've had some high-level U.S. visits to New Zealand over the past couple of years, starting with Secretary Clinton. Leon Panetta was there last September. And in return, you've made our ministers very welcome, and we're certainly looking forward to our prime minister potentially being able to visit the U.S. coming here to Washington, D.C., in the first half of next year.
So I just want to say, thank you for your hospitality. The relationship is in great shape, and there's a great future to come between our two countries. And the mil-mil defense cooperation area is one part of that.
So thanks, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. HAGEL: John, thank you. Thank you very much.
All right. Barbara?
GEORGE LITTLE: Before we move to questions, I think minister...
MIN. COLEMAN: Absolutely. Just breaking with Pentagon protocol, there would be no opportunity that should be passed up to promote New Zealand. So this is our national rugby team, the New Zealand All Blacks, and when Secretary Hagel and all those free Sundays in Nebraska is out mowing his lawns, I hope he'll spare a thought for New Zealand and be able to wear this in some of his copious leisure time.
So thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. (Laughter.)
I'd just like to give you this as a personal gift.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you.
MIN. COLEMAN: And, of course, appropriately emblazoned on the back. So there you go. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, a high honor, indeed, which, of course, I am completely unworthy of. But nonetheless, I shall accept it in the spirit that you given it, on behalf of all the ne'er-do-wells seated over here at -- in the shadows, where they belong, by the way, where they belong.
MIN. COLEMAN: It's my pleasure to give it to you, so thank you very much.
SEC. HAGEL: Jonathan, thank you.
MIN. COLEMAN: (inaudible) cheers.
SEC. HAGEL: And good luck.
MIN. COLEMAN: Thank you.
SEC. HAGEL: I know you're very proud of those guys. So thank you very much. And I'll put this -- yes, now don't you take it, George. (Laughter.)
Thank you very much. Okay, Barbara?
Q: We'd like to ask both of you gentlemen about your views about what's been going on with the National Security Agency. Mr. Secretary, to start with you, because you jointly oversee the NSA and as a senior member of the national security community, clearly all of this is in your portfolio, as well. So what did you know about the collection of intelligence from world leaders' communications, whether it was metadata or whatever it was? What did you know about it? When did you know about it? Have you discussed it with the president? Do you feel it's appropriate? Why is it appropriate?
And, Mr. Minister, how worried is your government that the United States is intercepting your communications? And what does this do to New Zealand's trust with the U.S.?
But, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. HAGEL: Barbara, I don't discuss conversations I have in National Security Council meetings. I certainly don't discuss publicly conversations we have regarding intelligence. We are examining all of the different dynamics that are now out there and the procedures and processes. I think the White House has been very clear on that. I think those who lead our intelligence community have been very clear on that.
We have great respect for our partners, our allies, who cooperate with us and we cooperate with them to try to keep the world safe, to keep each other safe, to keep our nation safe. Intelligence is a key part of that. And I think this issue will continue to be explored, as -- as it is now. But that's all I have to say.
Q: In fact, Mr. Secretary -- in fact, the White House has said the president did not know about this until the review this summer of communications intelligence policy. It seems -- even if he didn't know it, it seems unlikely as a senior member of the national security community you didn't know about it. Did you know about it?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, like I said, I -- I don't comment on intelligence matters, and that's all I've got to say about it. Thank you.
Q: And, Mr. Minister?
MIN. COLEMAN: Barbara, look, New Zealand's not worried at all about this. We don't believe it would be occurring. And, look, quite frankly, there'd be nothing that anyone could hear in our private conversations that we wouldn't be prepared to share publicly. And a cartoon in our local paper in our capital, Wellington, showed an analyst potentially listening to the communiques from New Zealand and a big stream of "ZZZs" coming out. So, you know, I don't think New Zealand's got anything to worry about, and we have high trust in our relationships with the U.S.
Q: Secretary Hagel, do you agree or disagree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium in a matter of a few weeks for a nuclear bomb? The respected Institute for Science and International Security released a report last week. They concluded something similar, that it would be a month before Iran could have enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb. Do you agree or disagree?
And, Mr. Minister, what is your country's assessment about how long it would take Iran to break out?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, our intelligence community, as well as the intelligence communities of our allies, have varying interpretations of timelines on the capability and capacity that Iran possesses now. I think the main point is that we are working right now to try to find some high ground here to resolve the issue of the -- this -- what we believe is a very significant threat to the future of the Middle East and our security.
The president has been very clear on this, that his position is that Iran will not be allowed the capability to develop nuclear weapons capacity. So the varying timelines on when they're most likely to break out vary.
Q: But do you agree or disagree with the Israeli prime minister's assessment?
SEC. HAGEL: Like I said, there are varying degrees of intelligence on timelines.
MIN. COLEMAN: So I don't really have anything to add regarding timelines. What I would say is I think it's very important that the Iranians aren't allowed to develop this capability, and it's important that there's a continued level of engagement with them, but at the same time pressure to make sure that this doesn't happen. And it's very -- it's got to be very clear what the free world's view on this matter is so they can't develop that capability.
SEC. HAGEL: Tony?
Q: This is something you might be able to answer. What impact will sequestration have, if we go through it for the next two or three years, on the Asia rebalance?
And for Mr. Minister, are there any U.S. weapons programs or acquisition issues you hope to get closer with the United States on, like -- in terms of, like, buying the F-35 fighter or other aircraft, other weapons including the Littoral Combat Ship-- having it do port calls in New Zealand?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, on sequestration and how it affects the rebalance, I've said, all of our chiefs have said, General Dempsey has said continued sequestration cuts will affect all of our plans in all areas. At the same time, we've said that this rebalance, Asia Pacific, is a priority.
We noted that a priority in the budget presentation that we made in 2014. We will do it again for the budget presentation in 2015, to protect that rebalance in every way we can. But, again, the reality is, when you take the kind of cuts that the Pentagon has been taking this year, and if we continue to take those kind of cuts over $50 billion on track for next year, it affects us in every way.
But, again, prioritization of the Asia Pacific rebalance is at the top of the list, as well as cyber and other interests that are clearly in the interest of our country and our future.
MIN. COLEMAN: We're not looking specifically at any new weapons systems programs that the U.S. may have. What we have is a detailed defense capability program looking forward, which is basically based around the development of a joint amphibious task force. And as the timing of various capabilities comes up for renewal, we go out to the market internationally to see who can, you know, meet our requirements at the best price.
Now, that might be a U.S. provider or it may be Korea or somewhere else, but we're not looking at capabilities that the U.S. has and saying, "Oh, look, we want to get in on that deal," because we're a small defense force. We're very niche in what we do. And we need capabilities that support those very specific things we need to do, largely in our backyard, the Southwest Pacific, so largely around amphibious capability.
But we don't see, for instance -- you know, talking about F-35 fighters -- that's just not part of our horizon, because we can't see with our size the situation where we would, A, ever need that capability, but, B, ever be able to afford it. So, yeah, that's where we are. Thank you.
MR. LITTLE: Thank you, everyone.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.
MIN. COLEMAN: Thank you. Cheers.