SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Good afternoon, everyone.
Thanks for being here.
It's been a pleasure here to host the U.S.-ASEAN Defense Informal here in Hawaii and I want to thank the 10 defense ministers and the ASEAN secretary-general who joined us this week for their friendship and their collaboration.
And in particular, I want to recognize Lao Minister of Defense Lieutenant General Chansamone for his leadership of the ASEAN defense ministers meeting this year. He, therefore, made this meeting possible and I appreciate that.
And I also want to acknowledge ASEAN itself.
For almost 50 years, ASEAN has helped provide the security and uphold the principles that have helped all our nations and the entire Asia-Pacific so well for so long.
To that end, we had a very productive session today and, of course, we have more to go. We deepened our partnership; we reaffirmed our commitment made by our leaders at Sunnylands in the fourth U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Laos earlier this month to strengthen defense cooperation on shared security challenges, particularly in the maritime domain and on tera -- and on counterterrorism.
And we discussed the path forward for the Asia-Pacific's principled and inclusive security network, which will help us all to connect, to cooperate and to contribute to regional security.
From the United States part, I shared with my counterparts the plans and the commitments that are part of the next phase of our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific. The defense department is going to take steps to help catalyze our shared principles and inclusive security network, even as we qualitatively upgrade the United States's own force posture in the region and prioritize some big bet investments in advanced technologies.
The U.S. rebalance and the burgeoning security network are important at a time of regional change and challenges. And we discussed and made plans for two particular challenges this week, ensuring maritime security and countering extremist elements.
To take the first, we all recommitted our militaries to keeping the region's waterways open and secure and to help all our nations see more, share more and do more in Southeast Asia's vital waterways.
Together and on our own, we're going to improve our coordination and cooperation within and among our respective militaries and also with our coast guards. That's why I've asked our chief of naval operations and the U.S. Coast Guard commandant to hold a U.S.-ASEAN maritime dialogue next year to share best practices in maritime security, particularly on coordination between navies and coast guards. And I was able to extend that invitation today.
I also invited my counterparts to visit the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South in Florida to see how our military and law enforcement agencies work there with partner countries to build maritime awareness in another complex, congested and multinational waterway.
And that's why I've asked Admiral Harris, our Pacific commander, to invite our ASEAN partners to participate in the maritime domain awareness exercise next year to improve information sharing in the AS -- in the maritime domain.
So in these and in other ways, we discussed specific ways that ASEAN nations can work among themselves, as they're all were -- already doing, both in small groupings and as a complete grouping, and then with the United States to increase security in the -- these vital waterways in this part of the world.
A second topic- counterterrorism. There, I was able to share with the ministers the accelerating campaign to deal ISIL a certain and lasting defeat in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and everywhere it might metastasize around the world, including Southeast Asia.
I gave them an update on our coalition military campaign and assured them that we will defeat ISIL.
We also spent a great deal of time discussing the threats posed by ISIL-affiliated groups, returned foreign fighters and other extremist organizations in this region.
I was able to describe how the defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria would demonstrate that there were no state based upon the ideology of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but that I also expected to see real and attempted metastasizes to ASEAN nations and I was able to describe to them how our efforts against messaging, foreign fighter flow, ISIL finance, our burgeoning intelligence about ISIL operations and membership, our elimination of key ISIL leaders, including external plotters, all of that I was able to describe. And they shared their own efforts and we resolved to work together.
And to build on these discussions, I've asked the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies to host an ASEAN counterterrorism workshop in 2017, to identify and address any gaps that might exist in U.S.-ASEAN cooperation on countering violent extremism and close those gaps.
And we talked about other matters and other proposals, as well, but just to conclude, the U.S.-ASEAN partnership is now stronger than ever. ASEAN will be just as central to the Asia-Pacific's principled future as it has been for the last half century.
And the United States looks forward to partnering with ASEAN and its member countries for decades to come.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Thank you, Peter.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Secretary Carter, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday compared himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and said he'd be happy to slaughter three million drug users in his country. These comments have been condemned by American Jewish groups as inappropriate and deeply offensive. Beyond rhetoric, Duterte's government has so far killed an estimated 3,000 people in what critics have called an extradition -- extrajudicial war on drugs.
Do you have concerns about proceeding with plans to expand military ties with Duterte's government given his statements and recent actions?
SEC. CARTER: Well, that -- that matter wasn't discussed at this particular meeting. But I can tell you that just speaking personally for myself, I find those comments deeply troubling.
And as far as the alliance is concerned, it has been in existence and has served the interests of the -- our nations for many years now. And I did have an opportunity to discuss our operations with respect to it.
The -- the -- the alliance is an alliance of independent and strong nations. And like all alliances, it depends upon the continuation of a sense of shared interests.
So far in U.S.-Philippine history, we have had that. We would look forward to continuing that. But that's something that we continue to discuss with the Philippine government.
I certainly discussed with the defense minister -- he and I had very good meetings here about our ongoing alliance operations.
But that particular matter wasn't discussed. But I gave you my own view.
Q: Do you -- do you agree with Secretary Kerry's remarks that were released today that his diplomatic efforts in Syria should have been backed up by a more serious threat of military force?
SEC. CARTER: I -- I haven't seen those particular comments. I think what Secretary Kerry has been trying to do, so far unsuccessfully, but very understandably, on behalf of the Syrian people, is to put an end to the Syrian civil war. That is not something that can be done militarily. It is something that has to be done politically. And that has been our approach.
And that is why what the Russians have tried to do and their influence there has been so wrong. You know, they came into -- saying that they were going to politic -- participate in the political solution to the civil war, which is the only way civil wars can end.
And they’ve not done that. And Secretary Kerry has been trying to move them to that position of using their own influence over the Assad regime to promote a political solution. Yes, so far unsuccessfully, but that has been the effort that he has been embarked upon.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. The Pentagon said that an air strike Wednesday in Somalia had killed nine members of Al-Shabab. Somali government officials had said that that strike killed 13 local members of government forces and the Somali government is demanding an explanation.
I was wondering if you could tell us what happened in that situation and being that this could potentially be the second time that the U.S. has struck some local government forces in foreign countries, are you confident of the U.S. methodology in conducting air strikes?
SEC. CARTER: Well, in this instance, as in all instances, when questions are raised about the actions of U.S. air strikes, we pursue them. We conduct an investigation. We certainly share those results. And we'll do that. We haven't carried out that and we haven't looked at the -- this particular matter yet.
And with respect to confidence, there's no military anywhere in the world that is both capable of carrying out air strikes with the precision of the United States, nor one more committed to the principles of openness and transparency and accountability than the United States. And I think we've demonstrated that record consistently. And I have confidence in that.
That also acknowledges the fact that there have been mistakes made over time and we try to stick to, stand up and hold ourselves accountable when that happens.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Carter.
I want to go back to the South China Sea.
So did you talk about the on course tribunal decision with sentery?
SEC. CARTER: We did... yes, we -- we did and, of course, ASEAN as an organization was deeply involved in that. And so the secretary-general was able to speak to that.
Without speaking for him, ASEAN has stood by, as the United States stands by, the matter of principle involved here. And that is the principle of adherence to the rule of law, avoidance of -- militarization or coercion in circumstances like this and the American support for the ASEAN both process, in this case, and the result in this case. The United States has been unvarying in that.
And, you know, as for our own activities, I think I've made it abundantly clear in -- for quite some time now, the United States will conduct its activities around the world, as we have in the past, into the future, with no change.
STAFF: Thanks, everybody.
SEC. CARTER: Thank you.
And now we're on to something else.
Is everybody going with us?
SEC. CARTER: Good. OK, let's go there and then I'll -- we're going to have more discussions with my colleagues through the afternoon.
STAFF: All right.