MODERATOR (through translator): (off mic) minister of defense and member of the parliament of Mongolia and honorable secretary of defense of the United States, Mr. Chuck Hagel.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you.
MINISTER OF DEFENSE DASHDEMBEREL BAT-ERDENE (through translator): Good afternoon and welcome to everyone. Today, honorable secretary of defense of the United States, Mr. Chuck Hagel, is (off mic)
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.
MIN. BAT-ERDENE: -- and we had the opportunity to exchange views on bilateral relations and (off mic). Since we established a defense cooperation in 1991, based on the values and friendship between the two nations, we are developing cooperation in many fields, such as enhancing our peacekeeping capabilities between (off mic) and also training of (off mic) in the United States.
Also, we discussed the present status of defense cooperation between our two countries, Asia perspectives, and also participation of our military personnel in international peacekeeping and coalition operations. And also in addition to this traditional ways of preparation, we also touched some new ways of cooperation between our two countries.
We are not only a passive observer in the international arena, but Mongolia is willing to actively participate in our (off mic) international peace and security. This is an important rationale for Mongolia’s foreign policy and (off mic) will continue actively participating in international peacekeeping and other (off mic) international organizations.
I'm confident that today's visit is very important in the developing bilateral relations, especially in (off mic) and opening a new page in our bilateral defense cooperation.
Mr. Hagel, thank you so much taking your time and coming to (off mic) and now I would like for you to take the floor.
SEC. HAGEL: Minister, thank you. I very much appreciate your invitation to visit Mongolia. As we discussed, Ulaanbaatar is the final stop on my 10-day visit here to the Asia Pacific region.
I wanted to visit Mongolia because it's a valued partner of the United States. As one of the world's fastest-growing economies, Mongolia has a growing stake in regional and global security.
On the basis of these many shared interests, our nations built strong economic, diplomatic and security ties. And we both want to strengthen these ties.
In our meeting that we just held, I commended the minister for the significant contributions the Mongolian armed forces have made to security around the world through their participation in many activities. These include United Nations peacekeeping operations and also by fighting alongside the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As I told the minister, I very much look forward to visiting Mongolian troops this afternoon. I want to thank them for their services and their sacrifices. Over the past decade, our two militaries have benefited from working together and learning from each other. The joint vision statement that the minister and I just signed, as he has noted, expresses our shared desire to continue deepening that defense relationship.
As Mongolia invests in defense modernization, the United States will continue to work with our Mongolian partners to improve joint training and exercises. And this will include increasing opportunities for Mongolia to observe and participate in multilateral exercises. We will also work together to increase the ability of our forces to work even closer together.
And we discussed some of those opportunities this afternoon. A strong U.S.-Mongolia defense relationship is important to America's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. I have noted that point in the last 10 days I've been in the region and the minister and I discussed it this afternoon.
I did share with the minister some of my reflections on this 10-day trip. I briefed him on all of the stops that I have made during this visit. I told him about candid exchanges I had at every stop, including my most recent three days in China. And I specifically mentioned the conversations I had in China regarding the regional security issues and China and America's shared interests in putting our military-to-military relationship on a stronger footing, which we think is good for the Asia Pacific region.
I've met with 13 Asia Pacific defense ministers on this trip. And from all of those discussions in this 10-day trip, it's clear to me that preserving the region's growth and dynamism and opportunities depends on forging even stronger security relationships throughout this region, increasing cooperation in areas of common interests and resolving disputes peacefully.
There are many challenges facing all nations of this region today, but also many opportunities. We must continue to work together to seize these opportunities as we all build a better future for all of our people.
Minister, thank you.
MIN. BAT-ERDENE (through translator): Now we are going to (off mic) answers (off mic) two questions.
Q (through translator): If the United States (off mic) Mongolia as an important partner in Asia Pacific, what kind of ways of defense cooperation are you looking for in the future?
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you for the question. Well, I think what the minister and I talked about and which we agreed to, we signed a new statement of vision to address this issue, builds on the current exercises and the joint ventures that we have had over the last few years. Iraq, Afghanistan are but two.
But also in the training area of an exercise that has been going on for the last few years will continue this year as we increase our partnership members conquest and the Five Hills Training Center, which we continue to build on.
We'll continue to do more together regarding humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. And more joint exercise training opportunities that we discussed, new ones today.
MODERATOR (through translator): The first question from the American press delegation is Ernesto Londono from the Washington Post.
Q: Good afternoon. Thank you for your hospitality. My first question is for the minister. I wonder if, as the United States expands its footprint in this region, if Mongolia would be willing to consider at some point allowing the U.S. to have bases or troops in this area.
And for Secretary Hagel, Afghanistan in recent days conducted an election that has been seen as having unfolded in a largely positive way. Does this bring the administration any closer to planning its potential post-2014 mission? When might we expect some sort of an announcement as to how this changes that calculation?
MIN. BAT-ERDENE (through translator): Thank you for your interesting question. (off mic) establish foreign military bases or participation of foreign troops in the country.
SEC. HAGEL: Ernesto, thank you. Let me first address your question this way. It's important that the world recognize that Afghanistan, as you noted, has just had a successful election, an election that actually according to the preliminary judgments before the ballots were cast really went beyond what most forecasts were as to turnout, number of ballots cast, and it was a remarkable success for a country that has come a long way through a very difficult situation. The people of Afghanistan deserve credit. The Afghan forces deserve credit for being able to conduct that election.
Regarding a post-2014 decision for the United States, you know President Obama has said the United States position is, along with our NATO and ISAF partners, that if the Afghan people invite us to stay in Afghanistan, we do believe that we could play a role to continue to help the people of Afghanistan through train, assist and advise missions.
So with the first step along the way in Afghanistan complete, and that being an election, and according to at least preliminary results, there most likely will be a run-off election, the bilateral security agreement inviting the United States to stay, as well as our NATO-ISAF partners, which we are all planning for, which you know that, then we will await decisions based on the invitation from the people of Afghanistan.
Q (through translator): How do you see the present status of defense cooperation between our countries, and how do you see their future perspectives?
SEC. HAGEL: It's a question for me?
MODERATOR (through translator): For both.
SEC. HAGEL: Oh, for both of us.
SEC. HAGEL: Okay. Well, we, the United States, believe that the military cooperation between Mongolia and the United States is very solid, it's very strong, and we look forward to continuing to deepen and strengthen our military cooperation and relationship. And that was much about why we signed this new statement of vision between our two militaries.
MIN. BAT-ERDENE (through translator): I would like to answer. The assistance of the U.S. Department of Defense, his contribution (off mic) and we really appreciate it. And Mongolia wants to be not only a passive observer on the international arena, but we want to be actively engaged in international operations and in strengthening world and regional peace.
Also, a lot of Mongolian military personnel got their education in U.S. military schools and (off mic) and we can say they also contribute to our defense transformation.
Our (off mic) is not directed against any (off mic) party. And as we say, Mongolia is a peace-loving country. And this main principle is (off mic) cooperation.
MODERATOR (through translator): Our final question today is from Dion Nissenbaum of the Wall Street Journal.
Q: Thank you. Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you a little bit about Ukraine and if you were concerned that Russia could use the growing instability in eastern Ukraine as a pretext to send in troops and if Russia can credibly argue that its troops on the borders are there for exercises when there's no evidence to suggest that they are.
And for the minister, I wanted to ask you if you had concerns that the United States cuts to its defense budget could imperil its efforts and actually increase its involvement in this region. Thank you.
SEC. HAGEL: Yes, the United States -- all of our allies in NATO and in Europe are concerned about Russia's actions. They have -- they have violated the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation. The uncertainty that they continue to project with provocative actions heightens the tensions, and obviously NATO and the European Union have responded to that, will continue to respond to that. As you know, Secretary Kerry is scheduled to meet Minister Lavrov, I think, next week on this issue, but it's dangerous, it's irresponsible, and the Russians have got to take action to show the world that they are going to behave within the international boundaries of international law and international norms.
MIN. BAT-ERDENE (through translator): Our defense cooperations goal is to strengthen regional and world peace, and so that's why the main direction or area of our cooperation is enhancing the peacekeeping capabilities of (off mic) and I do believe that -- and we discussed this issue with Secretary Hagel -- and I do believe that (off mic) or some economic problems, our cooperation will not alter, and it will be (off mic)
Q (through translator): (off mic) that we are planning to (off mic) develop our cooperation and look for better way areas or areas to enhance its involvement in international peacekeeping (off mic) what would be the outcome of that?
MIN. BAT-ERDENE (through translator): I would say that we are very pleased with the current status of our defense cooperation. And as I said, our preparations (off mic) on many things, including enhancing peacekeeping capabilities (off mic) and anticipation of (off mic) soldiers in our international peacekeeping not only enhances professional skills, but it enhances sophistication in the international arena, and I think that our cooperation will develop in many, many new areas and we did today discuss some new areas, including enhancing capabilities of military medical service.
Thank you, everybody. Appreciate it.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.