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Media Availability with Secretary Carter enroute to Tokyo, Japan

  SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Let's see.  Do you want me to hold that?


      PETER COOK:  If you want, sir, I can hold it for you.  Whatever you prefer.


      SEC. CARTER:  No, I'm fine.


      First of all, thanks once again, all of you for coming along here on this trip.


      This is first and foremost an effort for me to visit with U.S. forces deployed around the world as the holiday season approaches, thank them for what they're doing, tell them how proud we are of them, how proud we are of them and how supportive the American people are of what they're doing and how appreciative they are of what they're doing and also their families, because we know that being deployed abroad frequently means separation from your family and that's particularly hard at Christmas time.  So, it's an extra burden that we're particularly thankful for in this season of giving thanks and blessings.


      Also, I have an opportunity to visit with a number of important places where they're deployed and to describe to them and also to talk to our partners in those places about the strategic importance of our presence around the world.


      I discussed some of that yesterday at the Reagan Library, and in particular, the strategic transition that the United States has embarked on from the era of very strong preoccupation of necessity with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a full spectrum requirement now.  And that is evident here in the Asia-Pacific where we are as part of the rebalance emphasizing first in our own military some of our most advanced capabilities.


      And secondly, in the transformation of our alliance relationships and the ways that countries are working together, us with our allies and partners, but also countries in the region working together and working with us in a principled and inclusive network in a region that is extremely important to America's future economically and in other ways and that has no formal security structure, and so requires all of us who are Asia-Pacific powers to organize ourselves to keep security.


      And you see that going on; you see it led by the United States and are included, including importantly the United States.  And that's good for the future of this region because peace is critical to this region to continue to have prosperity in it.


      Japan is my first stop.  Our alliance with Japan has never been stronger.  It's taken a number of advances in recent years; I'd particularly point to the guild lines, defense guidelines.  And the scope they provide for the Japanese armed forces, which are quite capable extremely capable actually to operate in a wider range of ways for security, both within the alliance and for the region as a whole.  And I'm sure we'll be discussing that.


      I'll have an opportunity to visit with some Japanese forces in Yokosuka even as I visit with American forces there and have an opportunity to appreciate them for their role in the alliance.


      So, that'll be the first stop, and again, a long-standing alliance, but one that has continued to change and evolve and to be relevant to new circumstances.  And one needs look no further than North Korea to understand the importance of that.  And again, the health of the alliance has never been better.


      With that let me stop and we'll take questions.  And I think Peter's gonna, as always ask Bob first.


      MR. COOK:  I'll move the mic around, sir.


      SEC. CARTER:  Okay.


      MR. COOK:  Bob?


      Q:  Thank you.


      Mr. Secretary, at the Reagan forum, you congratulated Jim Mattis on his selection to be your successor.  And I know you know him, but setting aside that it's him in particular, there's the broader question about having a retired senior career military officer serve as secretary of defense.  And I'm wondering what your view is, whether that gives you any misgivings about whether this would undercut the principle of civilian control of the military as you see it?


      SEC. CARTER:  Well, I said yesterday at the Reagan forum, I know Jim extremely well; he's an extremely capable person.  I've known him for literally for decades.  And so, it will be not only am I committed to helping him to hit the ground running, but it'll be an easy thing to do because I know him well and I'll help him in every way I can.


      The issue of his conformation is an issue for the next president and for the Congress.  So, it's not an issue for me to comment on.


      Q:  Sir, if I may follow up.


      The reason I asked you that is it's partly because you in particular, while you served as secretary of defense obviously, goes without saying, but you've also served many times throughout your career in senior positions in the Defense Department and you've commented on this, on the importance of this principle of civilian control.


      And I'm wondering, setting aside the fact, as I said, that it's Jim Mattis in particular, what about the principle?  Are concerned that this principle has been undercut by this?


      SEC. CARTER:  Well, I think that that will be taken into account by the Congress as they have made provision that this is possible in the law, expecting that on occasion this maybe a president's choice and also an appropriate choice as seen by the Congress.


      So, there's provision in law for that.  And I think the concept of professional military advice is extremely important and will continue to be rendered by the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff and Joint Chiefs of Staff and the combatant commanders. Remember, there's a vast reservoir of knowledge and experience accumulated in our senior military.  These are people of very considerable abilities and ability to contribute to the security of our country.


      MR. COOK:  Idrees?


      Q:  Thank you, sir.


      Over the past two days, the progress in near Mosul seems to have stalled a bit and there seem to be more counter-attacks by Islamic State and there seems to be a bit of cloud cover, which is not allowing as many airstrikes.  Generally speaking, do you think the fight near Mosul and in Mosul is gonna get harder or is it sort of gonna -- has it plateaued?


      SEC. CARTER:  It -- it's going pretty much down the path that we thought.  It was always gonna be a tough fight, and obviously, there's always weather issues.  It's always gonna be a tough fight and we're prepared for, as most -- more importantly the Iraqi security forces are prepared for any eventuality there.  But none of this is unexpected.


      I'll just remind you that our experience and it's not our experience, again it's really the Iraqi experience is of successfully taking a number of cities now.  And I'd just make two points about that in addition to the fact that they've been successful.


      The first is it has been different in different cities because the enemy's tactics have been different, and so we'll need to be prepared for that, whatever they may be.  But secondly and really importantly, the Iraqi security forces have learned a lot in the course of their successive victories, and so they too are better prepared for this kind of engagement.


      But it's pretty much going down the path that we expected, and I'm confident of the outcome.  I mean, ISIL will be in the hands of the Iraqis, no doubt about it.


      Q:  Okay, just a follow-up on that.  Do you think the recapture will take place before January 20?


      SEC. CARTER:  I have always said I hope as soon as possible.  But this is a war, so I'm not gonna predict that.  That's certainly possible but again, it's gonna be a tough fight.


      MR. COOK:  David?


      Q:  Mr. Secretary, you made this case now and in your speech yesterday about a multilateral sort of approach to this principal alliance, the network approach, allies working with America, with each other, led by America.  You have a president-elect and members of his nominees to his Cabinet who have a much more bilateral, even unilateral, approach.


      Why should your Asian allies believe that America will continue to lead a multilateral approach?  And if you're trying to reassure them as you leave office, what do you tell them about why the next American government will have to pursue some sort of multilateral approach?  And what's at stake if they don't?


      SEC. CARTER:  Well, bilateral and multilateral are not mutually exclusive, so we have strong bilateral alliances in the region and bilateral relationships and that's true around the world as well.  But it's also true that countries in the region are finding that the security issues that they want to address are sometimes better addressed collectively.  So I'll give you a couple examples of that.  But you've seen that in the cooperation between South Korea and Japan recently, which has been importantly catalyzed by North Korea which is a common enemy to both of them.


      And also, you see it in trilateral work between us and South Korea and Japan, also catalyzed by the fact that North Korea threatens all three of us, as you could easily discern from reading what they say about the reasons for their provocations.


      When it comes to things like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which is a big theme in the Asia-Pacific and military responses to that, all of the earthquakes and tsunamis and so forth that have been experienced here in recent years, have shown the value and the power when multiple militaries are able to contribute what they have as quickly as possible and have worked together and have enough interoperability so that they can be effective together.


      And then, you see it in an organization like ASEAN, with which the United States cooperates and a number of other countries cooperate, which is intended to express the common view of a number of countries, in this case, of Southeast Asia, about what the principles are that should undergird the continued peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region.


      So there's sort of all these layers.  All of those collectively are the network of which I've spoken.  And I would say also that I think the United States and it's the fact that it is the strongest military and the power of the region and will remain so for a long time gives it a very important role there.


      But this is not a situation where there's a leader or that's not our approach.  Our approach is an inclusive one.  Everybody plays a role, a principle is the leader and it's not a region where coercion let alone conflict is a good thing because it's a region that's enjoyed 70 years of peace and that has led to 70 years of unprecedented prosperity.  And it would be a shame for a region that has enjoyed that to turn in another direction.


      MR. COOK:  Eugene


      Q:  Hi.  My question is host nation support from Japan to U.S. -- (inaudible) -- in Japan.  So are you satisfied with Japanese host nation support in terms of the payment?  So do Japan need to pay more to in-house corporation?


      SEC. CARTER:  No, we've been satisfied with our understandings with the Japanese in that regard.


      And you know, with respect to the U.S.-Japan alliance, it is, this is a two-way street.  We provide enhanced security to one another.  And we have because of our treaty, a security role in the event that Japan is threatened.  Japan provides for U.S. forces engaged in the Asia-Pacific not only the advantage of being close to an ally but being forward based in the region.


      And yes, Japan reimburses the United States for a large fraction of those costs, and that's good, too.  But it shows it's a two-way street.  And as I said, the alliance relationship's never been stronger than it is now.


      STAFF:  (off mic.)


      Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I just wanted to follow-up on the last question. 


      Obviously, burden sharing within the alliance structures has been talked about a lot lately, not just with Japan but also with NATO.  Are you anticipating having as you meet with your counterparts in the various countries, are you anticipating a lot of questions regarding the future of the relationship in the new administration?


      Obviously, you know, you're not speaking on behalf of them but this is a unique time.  Are you -- I know you've been engaging in the transition process.  Have you or is that gonna be an expected focus of your meetings with your counterparts?


      SEC. CARTER:  Well, I mean, look, I'll be in a position to discuss all the things that we're doing together.  I'm not in a position to speak to and would not try to speak for the president-elect.


      But these are subjects that are consistently ones that we discuss, and I'll give you just some examples.  But in the case of Japan, as my visit to what is a joint base indicates it's not only their host nation's support, it's that we operate together, that we dream together, that we exercise together and we're always talking about these programs.


      And we'll be talking about them. I'll be talking about it with my counterpart in Japan when we get to Europe, just to take another example since you raised that, it's been a long-standing and urging of mine and of the Secretary General Stoltenberg and President Obama and of most but not all of the members of NATO, that they need to increase their spending for defense.


      So there's nothing new about that.  We think that Europe should be spending more on its own defense.  Some countries have met their Wales Summit target, but many have not.  So I expect to continue to discuss that in Europe and I -- my expectation would be that that would be discussed between the United States and NATO in the future because it's something of great importance to our country.


      But just again, I can't speak for the new administration.


      MR. COOK:  All right.  Got time for one more.


      Q:  Hi, Mr. Secretary. 


      The TPP is something that you've talked about a lot.  It looks like it is not going to happen under the Trump administration.  How important is the demise of the TPP for the efforts to pivot to the Asian-Pacific?  How might it affect U.S. military operations, if at all, in this region?


      SEC. CARTER:  I can only speak of the strategic value of the TPP, but I've spoken about it very strongly the entire time I've been secretary of defense.  And I think it does have strategic importance because it is part of the way that the region expresses its collective determination -- this in the economic trade sphere, but to operate from principle.  And that principle is you negotiate deals and they are done not on a coercive basis or on the basis of pressure, but mutual interest.


      And that gives the United States a chance to have the rules set in that way and not set without us.  And that's my principal concern about the alternative.  So that's a current concern for the U.S. position and that's why I've been clear that for strategic reasons, I do support the TPP.


      STAFF:  (off mic.)


      Q:  (off mic.)


      SEC. CARTER:  We have to see what the trade future will hold.  I obviously can't speak for people going forward.  But the TPP, or something very like it, I'm just -- is in our strategic interest.  My view on that has not changed.


      MR. COOK:  All right.  Thanks, everyone.


      Q:  Thank you.