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Remarks by Secretary Esper and Australian Defence Minister Reynolds Following Bilateral Engagement at the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MARK T. ESPER: OK, well good afternoon everyone. It's been my pleasure today to welcome Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds to the Pentagon. As you all know, the first trip I took as Secretary of Defense was when – to the Indo-pacific region. The first country I visited was Australia, and the first person I met with, Minister Reynolds. So it's great to welcome her here to the Pentagon and to discuss a wide range of issues.

As you know, our priority theater is the Indo-pacific, and Australia and the United States share many, many decades of mateship together, we have shared values, shared interests, and frankly, shared approaches to so many of the challenges we face around the world.

So it was great to sit down, and have a good conversation, and to continue a dialogue that's been ongoing now since my – I entered office three months ago. So, welcome to the Pentagon again.

AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE MINISTER LINDA REYNOLDS:  Well thank you very much, Secretary Esper, and it's wonderful to be here in Washington D.C., my first visit as the Australian Minister for Defence, and our second meeting, after meeting in August in Sydney.

It – in Sydney, we put together a very ambitious work program between our defense departments, and so today we had a good opportunity to discuss progress of those various work plans, but we also had an opportunity to discuss shared deployments and things that we're doing globally, but of course in the Indo-pacific, as well.

So thank you very much for your hospitality, and for that very warm welcome.

SEC. ESPER: Yep, thank you.

MIN. REYNOLDS: And it's been a very productive afternoon.

SEC. ESPER: Absolutely.

MIN. REYNOLDS: Thank you.

STAFF: We'll take a couple of brief questions. Cameron?

Q: Minister Reynolds, how did you explain to Secretary Esper Australia's growing concern about China's increasingly assertive strategic behavior in the Indo-pacific, especially the South Pacific? Did you – are you satisfied with the level of U.S. military commitment to the region?

And Secretary Esper, is there any scope at all, do you think, for even further increase in cooperation between Australia and the U.S. in the face of China's activities there recently, again in the South Pacific, and if so, how might that be achieved?

MIN. REYNOLDS: Well, Cameron, thanks for the question. We did discuss today many of the work that we're doing together in the Indo-pacific, and a number of the programs that we can now enhance. Of course, Australia enjoys a very close relationship with China in terms of our economic relationship. But, like with any country, we do expect all countries to accord with international law and to do so peacefully.

So, we have discussed a number of things that we can do together in the Indo-pacific. Again, it's not targeted at any one nation, but we do expect all nations to abide by international law.

SEC. ESPER: And I would just echo that. You know, as I see one of the biggest challenges I face in office is to implement our National Defense Strategy. Our National Defense Strategy emphasizes that our principal concern is the Indo-pacific region, and in order to implement that, I need to engage more, I need to – I need to redeploy forces to the area. I need to be more present in the region, as well.

So the – the – the line of effort number two, as we like to say, in our strategy is to grow more partners and to strengthen our alliances, and this is a critical alliance to us. And so the more we can do that with other countries from the region, all the better for both of us.

STAFF: Lita, Associated Press?

Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, just changing to another subject. The president has said repeatedly over the last week or so ,that he wants to take the oil, and keep the oil in Syria. Have you been given that as a military mission, and if so, how would that look, what does that look like, and can you do that without actually getting into some sort of form of combat with Russia and Syria?

SEC. ESPER: Yeah, the – the mission is, as – as I've spoken to, and I've conveyed it to the commander, and that is, we will secure oil fields to deny their access to ISIS and other actors in the region, and to ensure that the SDF has continued access, because those resources are – are important, and so that the SDF can – can do its mission, what it needs to do in the region.

Q: But he has said 'take.' Is that a new mission?

SEC. ESPER: It's – it's, you know, half dozen, six. I interpret that as deny ISIS access to the oil fields; secure them so that they are denied access to the oil fields.

STAFF: Thank you guys so much, appreciate it.