REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. Sorry I'm a little bit late.
Got quite a few announcements here to start with, so bear with me. I wanted to talk a little bit about next week for the secretary.
So, on Monday, the secretary will travel to the Middle East for consultations with his counterparts across the region. This trip will be the secretary's third to the Middle East in just over a year, and it will advance America's regional strategy in that region. Our effort to work in a coordinated manner with allies and partners across the region to address common security challenges.
The secretary's first stop will be in Saudi Arabia where he will participate in a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) defense ministerial, an initiative that he called for at the Manama Dialogue in December of last year. This meeting agenda will be the first U.S.-GCC defense ministers forum since 2008, and it provides an important and timely opportunity for the United States to step up cooperation with Gulf nations as we confront common regional security challenges related to Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq.
The ministerial is designed to strengthen multilateral security cooperation in the region focusing on enhanced GCC coordination on air and missile defense, maritime security, and cyber defense. It is also an opportunity for the secretary to underscore U.S. security commitments in the Middle East and to reinforce the United States' unstinting policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and further destabilizing the region.
From Saudi Arabia, the secretary will travel to Jordan, where he will meet with the Jordanian chief of defense to discuss the United States and Jordan's cooperation on the conflict in Syria. This visit will highlight U.S. commitment to the defense of Jordan, where more than 1,000 U.S. personnel are on the ground working closely with Jordanian defense authorities.
This consultation follows on the secretary's discussions with the Jordanian chief of defense at the Pentagon in March and with King Abdullah the second in February.
The final stop on the trip will be to Israel, where the secretary will meet with President Perez, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Minister of Defense Ya'alon. This visit follows on National Security Adviser Rice and senior DOD officials' participation in the U.S.-Israeli consultative group earlier this week, and it will be Secretary Hagel's sixth meeting with Minister Ya'alon and his second trip to Israel.
The secretary and Minister Ya'alon will discuss critical regional and bilateral security issues, including the United States and Israel's cooperation on rocket and missile defense. The secretary, as you know, is deeply committed to the U.S. Israeli defense relationship, which is as strong as it's ever been.
I also have an announcement for Chairman Dempsey. Just allow me to read it here. The chairman will host a visit to the United States next week by the chief of the general staff, People's Republic of China, General Fang. Last year, General Dempsey met with General Fang during a weeklong trip to Asia. At the conclusion of that visit, General Dempsey invited General Fang to visit the Pentagon, and this visit marks that reciprocation.
General Fang will arrive in San Diego on Tuesday, where he will be hosted by the U.S. 3rd fleet, and tour the aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, a littoral combat ship, USS Coronado, and he will visit the U.S. Marine Corps recruit depot there in San Diego. General Fang will visit General Dempsey at the Pentagon on Thursday, where he will receive a full military honors arrival ceremony and participate in a joint press conference with you all.
On Thursday, General Fang will visit U.S. Army Forces Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, before wrapping up his travel with meetings in New York, and General Dempsey looks forward to the opportunity to meet again with General Fong and to continue their conversation on improving our mil-to-mil relationship with -- with China.
So, a very, very busy week ahead. That said, I'd be remiss if I didn't also note that today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. I note that for my own benefit as well as for everybody else. (Laughter.)
The secretary and Mrs. Hagel extend to all our military spouses all over the world their deep gratitude and admiration for everything these silent heroes do to keep our nation strong, from enduring long and stressful separations, especially over these last 13 years of war, to frequent moves, career changes, and any number of other hardships that come with military life.
Our military spouses serve every bit as much as our troops do. They may not bear arms in defense of the country, but they sure do bear a great deal of responsibility for keeping our servicemembers and our families ready in all respects. That's why, under Secretary Hagel's leadership, DOD has put a premium on programs that help military spouses advance their education and careers. These programs range from employment partnerships to scholarships to career counseling, and they have helped tens of thousands of military spouses find rewarding jobs.
And because every military spouse deserves our support, Secretary Hagel has made DOD benefits available to all spouses, including those in same-sex marriages.
So, with that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Admiral, what, can you give us the latest rundown on what the U.S. is doing to help Nigeria in terms of moving people there, assets...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I can. Again, I want to stress at the outset that our participation in this coordination cell, it is a -- it is an interdisciplinary cell that will be comprised of people in law enforcement, FBI, intelligence community, and of course, the U.S. military. Our cadre that will be in addition to the 10 or so U.S. military troops that are already working at the embassy will consist of about eight personnel. Six of them are already there in Nigeria, in the capital. The other two should be arriving in the next few days.
These are subject matter experts. They're troops that are trained in intelligence, communications, and -- and mostly coordination functions, logistical kind of things.
But they, again, the great majority of the additional assets, additional personnel are there on the ground. We expect the other two will get there shortly.
Q: People who work just out of the embassy, what, on telephones? What are they doing exactly?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, they will work out of the embassy. We're not talking about U.S. military operations in Nigeria to go find these girls. That's not the focus here. The focus is sending subject matter experts that can help advise and assist the Nigerian authorities in their search for these girls.
Look, it's a tragic incident. The president was clear he wants to help in any way we can. This is the help that the Nigeria has accepted and we believe it's the appropriate step right now.
Q: Things like photo interpretation, or what -- what kind of expertise?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I mean, they are trained in communications, intelligence collection and analysis and some logistical issues.
So I think we going to be trying to do what we can to help them in their search, to help them collect and analyze information that they obtain, and to do what we can to help them, you know, to help them find these girls.
Q: A bit of a follow-on, it's been three weeks since they went missing or since they were kidnapped. Do you feel that time has been lost?
And why not put boots on the ground, like, for instance, the special operators in Uganda to find Kony?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: So, let me unpack that a little bit. Look, in any hostage situation, time is of -- is at a premium. And there's no question that we're racing against the clock here. They've been gone for a long time. I know that. Everybody knows that.
We had made repeated offers of assistance, and it was only just this week when the Nigerians accepted the offer of this coordination. So on that -- you know, within 48 hours, people were moving to get there.
So we've responded as quickly as we could, once the offer had been accepted. And I would -- you know, the effort right now is on trying to help them find these girls.
And to your other question about Kony and Uganda, I mean, we have had a longstanding and emerging military relationship with the Nigerian armed forces over the last couple of years, helping them -- routinely helping them improve their counterterrorism operations.
And that work continues. It will continue.
The Kony mission, it's important to remember that that was, you know, at the request of Ugandan authorities. And it was a presidential decision to approve that request.
The discussions we're having with Nigeria right now are principally around the search for these young girls and trying to meet their needs for the advice and assistance that they require to after -- does that answer your question?
Q: When the secretary goes to the Middle East, will he be taking a new view from the U.S. when it comes to helping the rebels in Syria?
And, now that the chemical weapons are mostly out of Syria, is the U.S. now looking more at providing more training and more -- and actual weapons to the rebels, and a bigger role for DOD...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary fully supports the president's approach here, that -- which is that we support the development and advancement of a moderate Syrian opposition. But we're not gonna get into the details of exactly how that support is rendered. And I just wouldn't get beyond that at this point.
On the chemical weapons side, the Cape Ray remains in Rota, the crew is prepared and ready to carry out the mission once the remainder of the material is out. There is a very small percentage of the material that has not been taken out of the country.
And -- but OPCW and the Syrian authorities are working to try to make that happen as soon as possible. There is some violence in and around the facilities where the material is being kept that's preventing it from being moved right now.
Q: Is that a factor in the calculation on helping the Syrian rebels, that if the chemical weapons aren't basically gone, does that, then, open up more possibilities?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I mean, that's a political question that I'm not prepared to get into here today.
I mean, our expectation is and has been that they will remove all their chemical weapons material from the country. That process has been going on for some weeks now.
Again, we're very near the end, and there's some violence that's preventing the last bit of it. Our expectation is it will come out.
But as for a linkage, I mean, I think, I don't want to conflate the two. There is an expectation by the international community that the materials will be moved out.
And likewise, this administration has made it clear that the position is that we will support a moderate Syrian opposition, and we're not gonna detail all the, you know, all the ways in which we're gonna offer that support.
Q: Back to Nigeria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah?
Q: What else did the U.S. offer that the government in Nigeria rejected? And what is the status of any offer for the use of drones? Was that offered and they rejected that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would refer you to State for more specific details on the offers. As I understand it, the principal offer was this coordination cell and it was accepted and that's what we're participating in. It is, again, not just a military cell. It's an interagency, interdisciplinary cell that we're participating in.
And as far as I know, there was no specific offer beyond that.
Q: But as we understood it, any -- any use of U.S. drones, they would have been military drones. So what can you tell us about any offer to provide surveillance with U.S. military forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any offer to provide surveillance with respect to this search. I think one of the things that we need to remember is that, at least from the military side of this, the folks that we're sending down, their principal job is advise and assess.
So one of the things they're going to be doing is assessing what we -- they're going to be doing what we call "gap analysis." So they're going to go down there and they're going to take a look at what the capabilities are, what capabilities the Nigerians are applying to the effort, and what gaps they may need and additional help and/or resources they may need. And then they'll come back and they'll report that up through the interagency process.
I don't want to presuppose at this stage what those gaps are and what additional resources may be required. Let's let them get on the ground. They just got there today. Let them do their work. Again, it's an interagency effort, and float those ideas up.
And then we'll take a look at it from right there. But right now, there's no active discussion about the use of unmanned systems in the search. We've got a team just arriving. They're going to make that assessment. They're going to look at whatever the gaps are and capabilities and then we'll have that discussion later on.
Does that answer your questions?
Q: Is it not accurate that you or the United States is discussing ISR, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets with the Nigerians? Is that not correct?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't want to pre-judge discussions that may or may not be happening outside the building. I can tell you that the president's made it clear we're going to do what we can to help. The first step in this help is getting the coordination cell on the ground, having them do a gap analysis, assess what capabilities are there that can be applied, and what, if any, other capabilities might assist, and then we'll move on from there.
Q: Okay. So you also said that time is of the essence. You're fighting the clock. Boko Haram now knows the United States and other countries are going to come after them. And you have said you believe the girls have already been moved.
So how many days is all of this analysis going to take, that you described it as floating up ideas? How long do you do this before you come to some understanding of what you're going to offer to the Nigerians and talk to them about it and get decisions? How long does this go on?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, it's not about floating ideas up. And it's not that we don't share a sense of urgency here. As I said, time is definitely working against everybody here.
This is about what we can do to help them in their efforts to find and rescue these young girls. They have armed forces in Nigeria, armed forces that we have been helping train and develop over the last couple of years in counterterror. And we're not going to do anything additional that isn't acceptable to the Nigerian government. And we urge them to use all the resources at their disposal, and they have resources at their disposal to go after -- to go after these girls and rescue them.
Q: I'm asking what is the U.S. timeline of this coordination cell to finish its assessment and have something to report, something to offer to the Nigerians? What is the timeline for them finishing their work?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There is not a deadline. Look, I can't speak for the other agencies that are participating in it. Our first six just got on the ground this morning. Everybody has -- everybody shares the same sense of urgency here. We know that time is not on our side. The girls have been gone a long time.
We all know that geography is not on the side of the Nigerians in trying to find them. So they're going to work as quickly and efficiently as they can. Everybody shares the same sense of urgency here, but there hasn't been a deadline given to them, a date certain where they have to come back with a list of recommendations.
It's not like we sent them down there to do a report. But one of the things, not all, but one of the things, as I said, they're going to do is assess the situation. They're also going to start advising right away. I mean, it's not like they're just going to go down there and work on a report and then do nothing else. They're going to advise and assist, but they're also going to be doing what we want them to do, which is assess whatever gaps in capabilities there may be.
Q: Just one very quick. You said at the very beginning the Nigerians rejected the initial U.S. offer to provide some assistance and advice. Did they give you any reason why they rejected your offer?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I didn't say they rejected it. I said there were -- I said that we had been making offers of assistance. They said that we had been making offers of assistance. They just accepted, just this week, they just accepted the offer of a coordination cell.
Q: Have they asked for assistance?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I'm aware of, other than accepting our offer of a coordination cell. Not aware of any other requests, no.
Q: Admiral Kirby, when was this U.S. military assistance to the coordination cell first offered to the Nigerians?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You've got to ask the State Department. Again, this is not a military-led operation. We're part of an interdisciplinary team, and I'd refer you to the State Department on that.
Q: Is the U.S. team going to work with the other teams from Great Britain and France? Do you know what they will be doing?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'd refer you to the State Department. I mean, again, this is a State-led initiative. My guess is that there will be some communication and coordination between the efforts of various other countries down there. I mean, again, everybody shares the same sense of urgency here. Everybody's decrying this, as we should. This is a tragic thing. And we all want to help to the degree we can.
So, I would expect there'll be some level of coordination and communication, but the details of that, I'd refer you to state.
Q: Are these offer to help in the borders, to track these girls...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That's a great question for the Nigerian government. You know, our role right now is on advising, assisting, and assessing the situation through a small team of U.S. -- whole government, but U.S. experts that are being sent down there.
And again folks, I mean, they just got there on the ground today. So, you know, we need to let them do their work, and they -- they all, again, they'll move as quickly and efficiently as they can.
Q: Given the U.S. relationship already with the Nigerian military, specifically on counter-terrorism, are you surprised about how Nigeria has handled that, and does that help speed up the process of figuring out what to go next and how to advise the Nigerians?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The work on advising and assisting them in counter-terror continues and it's -- it's not a relationship that we've been working at for an exceedingly long period of time. And I'm not -- you know, I think the Boko Haram, serious terrorist organization. Absolutely brutal. And the Nigerians are very aware of the threat Boko Haram poses to them and to their national security. I think that's obvious to all of us, that they certainly understand the threat posed by this, and this is a tough problem to get at.
And it's not just in Nigeria. I mean, counter-terrorism is tough in many places around the world, and that's why we're putting such a premium on these partner-building, partner capacity building efforts, which as I said at the outset, will continue with Nigeria.
Q: I have a different subject. The Navy and Republican lawmakers are asking for an exemption from the Labor Department when it comes to the president's minimum wage hike for federal contractors. They say it's driving fast food joints off bases. Does the DOD support this exemption for minimum wage workers on bases?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The DOD supports the minimum wage hike that the president has directed. We do. And what we've asked the Department of Labor to look at the fringe benefit addition, to review that, and the Department of Labor is reviewing our request for them to do that right now.
Q: So, you support the -- the wage hike, but just not when it comes to on your bases?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We've asked for a review of the fringe benefit addition for those contract workers on our bases, and the Department of Labor is reviewing that right now.
Q: Okay. And on a slightly different subject, the GAO, you might have seen this, released a report which says the DOD is paying $150 per gallon for green jet fuel. Did you see that report? What do you think of that number, and on -- you know, seriously, how do you square cost savings, cutting personnel, and paying $150 per gallon...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The $150 per gallon example was a one time purchase of only 1,500 gallons of experimental fuel, and that was for one small test conducted in 2009. We obviously welcome the scrutiny that the GAO provides. Appreciate the hard work that they do, and we work with them closely on these things. But this was a one-time purchase only, and it's the smallest quantity we've purchased since 2006.
We don't buy fuel at that price in bulk. And our policy is that we're only going to buy alternative fuels in bulk quantities if they're cost-competitive with petroleum.
You're welcome. Otto.
Q: The GCC meeting. There's been some disharmony among the GCC members because of the different positions on supporting Syrian rebels. You didn't mention Syria as one of the issues that the secretary would discuss in Saudi Arabia. Is that likely to come up, to get a unified position on Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think the situation in Syria, look, it always comes up when we go to that part of the world, and I mean, I certainly couldn't discount the notion that it could come up in the discussions, but the reason the secretary called for this forum and the focus of the agenda of the forum is to talk about common threats that all of us face in that that region. And so it's maritime security, as I said. It's cyber defense. And it's missile defense threats.
Those are the three broad, big areas that the ministers are going to focus on for the day that we're in Jeddah.
Q: Is the department's position that the Cape Ray will not move, will not begin its mission until all of the material you suspect is in Syria is removed? The Cape Ray will not move?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right now, there are no plans to move the Cape Ray until the bulk of the -- until all of the material has been removed from Syria. That was the planning assumption going into that. That remains the planning assumption. But look, we are nothing if not a planning organization. And I wouldn't prejudge any decisions that haven't yet been made.
The Cape Ray is there. The crew and the staff are on board. They're ready, and we look forward to getting on with the mission once that material has been removed.
Q: So, you could be planning to change your mind? (Laughter.)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm just going to say right now, the plan is to get all the material out before -- you know, before destruction can occur. That's the plan.
Q: President Putin said earlier this week that the Russian forces from along the Ukrainian border were being pulled back. We've heard several times now this week, from Pentagon officials on the record, that that is not the case.
What is the latest on that, and what indications are you getting that potentially they will be doing something like this?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We've seen no indications that Russian forces have been removed from the border area with Ukraine, eastern and southern Ukraine. So, I know what's been said. I've seen the comments by President Putin and other officials in Moscow. We haven't seen that indication. They're still there in great number. They're still capable and still -- and our assessment is still a very ready force.
And again, their presence there is doing nothing to deescalate the tension there in Ukraine, and we continue to call for the removal of those troops. They are still there.
Q: The Russian defense ministry issued a statement saying that your characterizations or that the Pentagon's characterizations were misleading in the sense that they're making the claim that the troops have been pulled back, and you're saying the opposite. Do you believe that your comments might be perpetuating this in a way?
And has Secretary Hagel been in contact with Minister Shoygu?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, well, I mean, what's perpetuating the tension there is the presence of tens of thousands of Russian troops across the border from Ukraine to the east and to the south. That's what's perpetuating the tension, not comments that we're making here. And we wouldn't have had to deny that there hadn't been a removal of the troops if Moscow hadn't assured everybody that there was.
So, you know, what's misleading is saying you're taking your troops away from the border and they're all still there.
Q: And then Senator -- I mean the Secretary Hagel with the Shogyu?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Oh, I'm sorry. I think read out the last conversation they -- they had, which was a week or so ago. There hasn't been one since.
Q: China. With General Fang coming here next week, do you have any idea if the China report's going to be released before, during, or after his time in D.C.?
And also, there was a sort of a vague report coming out of China yesterday that the USS Blue Ridge was involved in a encounter in the South China Sea with two Chinese PLA ships?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the China report, I'll have to get back to you on that.
Yes, it's due, and it's working its way through the chain of command. I don't have an announcement today to give you on the timing of that.
On the Blue Ridge, I think I had something on that.
Now, what I have here is that the USS Blue Ridge and a helicopter operating off of it were conducting routine flight operations in support of maritime security operations in the South China Sea.
And I'm not aware of any altercation with respect to that.
Q: North Korea made it to another nuclear test. Do you have any information on that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Just as many times here, I'm certainly not going to get into issues of intelligence from the podium.
But I'll go back to what I've said before, which is we continue to monitor the situation on the peninsula very, very closely, as we must. And we continue to call on North Korea to meet its international obligations and to not -- not -- not just -- obligations not just to the international community, but to their own people.
And nothing has changed about our policy of a verifiable, credible and irreversible denuclearization of the peninsula.
I actually got you already.
Q: Budget question. The House doesn't seem to agree with the building very much on a bunch of spending measures. What’s the secretary - I know he’s going to have trouble responding to pending legislation. But what’s the secretary response to the moves of the last day or so?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, look, I'll put it this way.
Even before the threat of sequestration, this department had to and was making some pretty difficult choices. As we knew we would have to, when you come out of over a decade of war.
And then you layer on sequestration, and it really required -- the threat of sequestration really required -- and we had to live with it for almost a year -- even more difficult decisions.
And the secretary drove a budget process this year and a QDR, a new defense strategy that made those tough choices, very difficult, strategic choices that preserved the readiness of the armed forces for a very difficult future environment, while still finding efficiencies and savings where we could and, again, preserving that readiness.
And he presented a budget to the Hill that did that, a budget that was supported by all the services, as well, and makes some necessary reforms.
And without speaking specifically to pending legislation, his hope is that the Congress will see the wisdom in the strategic choices, the hard decisions that he has made. And his expectation is that they'll be willing to make the same ones.
Now, we're very early on in the process. Yes, I know the House Armed Services Committee has completed their markups, certainly.
The secretary certainly hopes that when it gets to the Senate and into conference, that the Congress will prove capable of seeing the wisdom, again, in the decisions that we've made and being willing to make those same tough choices and putting national security first over parochial interests.
Does that answer your question?
Q: Congress virtually deep-sixed every one of your proposals, though, from U2 and A-10 to the personnel, the commissary.
Is the secretary a little bit, you know, angry, chagrined, disappointed, or what?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can tell you that the secretary was certainly not pleased by the House Armed Services Committee markup of the budget.
He firmly stands by, resolutely stands by, the budget that we submitted, because it was strategic in tone, and because it was tied to a defense strategy that made sense, the QDR, which made sense for the kind of future we're gonna face, while accepting very real fiscal realities, which he was willing to acknowledge.
I mean, he told you himself this was a pragmatic budget.
So, yeah, I think it's fair to say that he was not pleased by the markup. But this is the first step in a process here, and he's hoping that it gets into conference, that Congress will prove willing to make the same kind of tough choices that he has made choices which I would like to remind you preserve readiness, preserve readiness first and foremost.
Q: Is it fair to say that he might have done an ineffective job of selling the president's package to Congress? In retrospect, when you get slam-dunked like that, you've got to wonder whether the chief salesman did a bad job of selling the product.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't believe that's the case at all, Tony. I think he made a very compelling argument, an argument that has been -- that the budget and the arguments that support it have been supported by people outside this building as well, make a very compelling argument for the need to make again, very tough choices.
And to explain them in ways that people could understand. I mean, there are programs now that he wants to do away with. There are programs he wants to truncate. There are capabilities he's willing to trade to preserve the readiness of the men and women in uniform. And again, his hope and his expectation is that he'll get that support on the Hill.
Now, yes, I, we've seen the markup. And again, I think it's fair to say he's not pleased by that, but again this is the beginning of a process and he looks forward to working with the Congress as we move through the process.
Q: Do you think he's going to sharpen his approach, though? Maybe be more convincing or more forceful in the arguing?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know how he could be more convincing or sharpen his argument any more than he did through testimony on the Hill in multiple committees about what he was trying to do and why. I mean, it was laid out very, very clearly. And I'd remind you that it's a budget supported by the service secretaries and the service chiefs themselves.
It's -- the QDR, very clear about the kind of future we're facing and the capabilities we need. And yes, the QDR factored in budget realities because we all have to. It would be irresponsible for us not to have factored in the budget realities we're facing.
So, as I said before, he is -- he remains more than willing to continue to engage members of Congress on the budget going forward. He absolutely will do that. But I think he did -- I think he and the department's leadership laid a very compelling argument out for why they were making the decisions they were.
Q: On Mexico. Can I ask you, do you have something...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You can always ask about Mexico.
Q: About the helicopters – have the helicopters have been delivered to Mexico?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have an update for you. Let me take that question for the record and get back to you.
Q: And what is the agreement now secretary was in Mexico to train more Mexican military?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think they -- well, first of all, terrific visit down there. And the secretary got a lot out of it. It's an important -- Mexico is an important partner here on the continent.
And they discussed a wide range of things that we can do to better advance the relationship. But there wasn't specific agreement about a specific set of joint exercises. But it's something that both sides remain committed to continue talking about. In fact, he spoke with both ministers of defense earlier this week as a follow-up to the meeting that he had in Mexico City.
So he's very optimistic about where the relationship with Mexico is going, where it's -- and how far it's come in just the last several years. He's been very, very grateful for the leadership of General Jacoby in helping foster that -- the closeness of that relationship. And he looks forward to keeping it close moving forward.
Q: On the markup, the secretary's suggested in the past that he has some authority or ability to close or consolidate bases independent of Congress. And now that it looks like another year is going to go by without any movement from up there on BRAC or base closures, has the time come for him to start exploring that? And what are some of the options open to him to do those things without members of Congress being involved?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There are some authorities. I think, back to my answer to Tony, I mean, I think he knows there's a process right now. We're just beginning that process on the Hill and he respects that. And he wants to have conversations with members of Congress about the whole package moving forward, and specifically in regard to BRAC.
He continues to believe that another round of BRAC is necessary. We've got to reduce some of the infrastructure associated with our -- the joint force, certainly around the world, but also here in the continental states.
He would obviously prefer that that's the way forward is through another round of BRAC, and that's why we put into the president's budget that the president approved and submitted, and that's the track that he would prefer to take.
Yes, there are some authorities that he has to reduce infrastructure, but again his hope and his expectation is that the Congress will make, be willing to make those kinds, and BRAC is one of those, those kinds of tough decisions moving forward.
Q: What are those other ways? What other authorities does he have?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have them handy here, Bob, I mean, but there are some Title X authorities that he has to reduce infrastructure. But again, he wants the focus to be on another round of BRAC. That's really the right way -- not the right way, it's really the best way to do this, and that's the way that he -- that he would prefer to move forward with reducing infrastructure. If you need something specific on the authorities, we can get back to you on that. I just don't have that detail up here.
Q: There was some reporting today that Iraq might be open to the possibility, it might be discussing the idea of having U.S. military drones in its borders which would require U.S. military personnel. For that to happen, what's necessary? A BSA? A SOFA? or is it just a bilateral agreement?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: A great hypothetical, Luis that I'm not going to engage in. There's no discussion right now about the addition of unmanned aerial systems in Iraq to help them get that particular threat or associated manpower to go with it. We have, as you know, a small number of U.S. troops working out of the embassy on security cooperation issues. That work continues, we continue to advise and assist them as necessary, and look it's a common threat we all face in the region, but there's no discussion of that right now.
Q: Specifically, when you base personnel in another country, what kind of agreements are in place?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's no discussion about that right now, Luis. I mean, I'm not going to engage in a hypothetical about a situation that isn't being discussed right now.
Okay everybody. Thanks, have a great weekend.