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Media Availability With Secretary Carter in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
July 22, 2015

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Well listen, let me once again thank you all for being here.

What I'd do is just give you right as we leave Jeddah, a readout on the meetings I had with the king and the minister of defense just now.

This is, first of all, a -- I expressed this as did my Saudi counterparts, a longstanding and old relationship with new challenges.

And so these were both with the king and with the minister of defense, exceptionally substantive meetings. We really rolled up our sleeves on the topics that were discussed at the Camp David summit in May, which was the reason for my visit here, is to follow up on those things. So we really rolled up our sleeves and got to work in both meetings on all of those issues.

And when I talked, I say a old relationship with new challenges. Of course, the two new challenges that preoccupy both the United States and Saudi Arabia today are first of all Iran, and its malign activities in the region, and potential for aggression number one. And number two, ISIL and other forms of violent extremism in the region. And we discussed both of those as well as a number of regional issues of concern to all of us: Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and so forth.

And finally, in addition to discussing our joint concerns and policies with respect to all of those areas, a number of the capabilities that we and Saudi Arabia work on together to bolster our joint deterrent and response capabilities in -- in the Gulf region, and these include special operations forces and other ground forces, maritime forces, air forces, cyber forces, ballistic missile defense forces, and other capabilities that we have worked with Saudi Arabia for quite some time on, really decades, but of course both the challenges as I said, change, and we have new challenges today that we need to address. And of course the capabilities change as technology improves and we all learn and improve what we do.

The -- we'll have an opportunity to follow up on many of these issues, both with the -- President Obama with the king, when the king visits the United States in the fall. And I also extended an invitation to the minister to come to the United States, either in association with the king's visit or some other time of convenience to him.

And in that connection, we can both continue our conversations on these things which we do on the phone periodically and by correspondence periodically, and have now a number of times since I took office. But it'll be nice to do that in person. And I extended an invitation also to travel to some facility of the United States, other military facility, get us out of Washington, and get a chance to be together. So tremendous working discussions and relations with them.

I know one thing that you'll want to know is about -- with respect to Iran is the nuclear deal and the -- both the king and the minister of defense reiterated their support for the Iranian nuclear deal.

And then we went on to discover, as I said, other aspects of our concerns about Iran and also about ISIL.

So that's pretty much the wrap-up of today's meeting. And with that, I'll take some questions.

And from Bob Burns first.

Q: Mr. Secretary, we just said that the -- (inaudible) -- with the Iranian deal. Did they not have any reservations about it? And secondly, did the general you know, specifically reservations the -- (inaudible) -- and secondly how can the U.S. or would the U.S. jump to mitigate any of those concern about these specific new types of assistance?

SEC. CARTER: The -- discussed that with the king, and the only reservations that we discussed were ones that we clearly shared, namely that we attend to verification of the agreement as its implemented and also with respect to the -- the so-called snapback of sanctions. Actually, the king used that very phrase.

So those are the aspects of the implementation, the agreement that we discussed. But those are the same issues that we know will arise in the course of the implementation.

Q: (off-mic)

The second part of my question is about (off-mic)

SEC. CARTER: Well, it's inspections on the one hand and snapback on the other.

Q: I meant assistance to the Saudis.

SEC. CARTER: Well, this isn't a one-way relationship. This is a two-way relationship. It has been for decades. So we talked about a number of things. And like -- (inaudible) -- joint capabilities that we've jointly developed and jointly deployed for decades. Air and missile defense, air forces, land forces, maritime forces, cyber forces, missile defense forces, and so forth.

And so we discussed all of those kinds of capabilities. We also discussed training and other kinds of planning that we do, and how to strengthen those. These are topics by the way that we discussed first at Camp David with all of the Gulf countries, and so we're following up with all of this.

Q: Do you believe that Saudi Arabia is overstating -- (inaudible) -- support for the Sunnis, given the fact that the U.S. government -- (inaudible) -- it seems to me there's only modest support and not much of any direct arming? And given the United States -- (inaudible) -- support for -- (inaudible)

SEC. CARTER: Well, with respect to the Houthis in Yemen, I think our assessment is that no one anticipated, probably even the Houthis themselves, the success that they had, success defined from their point of view, in causing the toppling of the government and the subsequent humanitarian disaster that has occurred in Yemen.

What we talked about today was the need that both the Saudis and we share for there to be a political settlement to the problem of Yemen. That's the way to keep the peace, that's the way to restore the humanitarian situation there.

So they see that as we see that, as the key.

Q: Do you think their assessment about -- (inaudible) -- do you think the reverse may be -- (inaudible) -- Iranian support?

SEC. CARTER: The -- if the Iranian influence with the Houthis is real, and we have taken steps to check Iranian for example resupply of the Houthis, and emphasized the need for a -- a political settlement there, so I think that we and the Saudis share a concern about malign influence by Iran, but we also both share an assessment that it's a complicated situation.

Where would the Saudis know Yemen as well or better than we do, and I think their characterization of it was exactly that it's a complicated -- this is my word, patchwork of different local interests of which the Houthis are one. So they recognize that very well.

And so the important thing from their point of view and our point of view, and this is what we share, is that it's -- what Yemen needs is a political settlement that allows peace to be restored and the people to begin once again to live in a decent way, because right now, as you probably know, the humanitarian situation is really very fragile. And that was all unleashed by obviously the Houthi toppling of the government in Sanaa.

Q: Sir, -- (inaudible).

I was really struck last year by your predecessor -- (inaudible) -- GCC. The message was that they were too -- (inaudible) -- about Iran and not concerned enough about ISIS. You just for example gave a listing that had Iran as the first concern and ISIS as the second. Are you worried that the Saudis are again too focused on Iran and not focused on ISIS? We've seen they've pulled back --

SEC. CARTER: We -- I can -- I don't know what happened in the past. I can only tell you that we discussed them both equally today. And I need to remind you that the Saudis just arrested, I think the number's 432, correct me, as I'm sure you will, if my number's wrong, but something like that, the people in their own country who were fomenting terrorist acts there.

So we talked about both of these dangers to our respective homelands, and also in places like Iraq and Syria.

Q: So you're not concerned that the Saudis are too focused on Iran?

SEC. CARTER: We discussed them both equally today. They are the two concerns that we -- I shared with the Saudi government and they with me today, even as we did yesterday in Israel.

Q: Sir, last question (off-mic)

SEC. CARTER: No that wasn't. That didn't arise. And I think we foresee the -- we discussed this, the principle thing that needs to happen in Yemen is the conclusion of a political settlement there so that governments can be restored because it's the disintegration of governance there which has led to the catastrophic humanitarian situation. And we did discuss that, which is as concerning to them as it is to us, and I think anybody, everybody around the world who looks at it.

Q: (off-mic)

SEC. CARTER: Our discussions with respect to Yemen were as I characterized.

Q: Thanks. Appreciate it.

STAFF: Thank you sir. Thanks everybody.