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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks and Norwegian Ministry of Defence State Secretary Bent-Joacim Bentzen Conduct a Press Conference Aboard USS Porter in Oslo, Norway

STAFF: Good morning everybody, I’m Lieutenant Colonel Meiners from DOD Public Affairs. This morning we're joined by State Secretary Bentzen and Deputy Secretary Hicks. We have 30 minutes this morning. State Secretary Bentzen will make some opening remarks, and then Dr. Hicks, and then we'll do Q&A. I'll call on folks, and that is it. So sir, please. 

SECRETARY BENT-JOACIM BENTZEN, STATE SECRETARY MINISTRY OF DEFENSE FOR NORWAY: Thank you all for meeting us here and we have just had an interesting tour of the US destroyer. The destroyer we are on right now. The U.S. is Norway's most important Ally and is crucial for Norwegian security. 

I wish to thank Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks for taking time to visit the Norway in these challenging times. These are challenging times, and thus it is even more important to maintain close dialogue with Allies at a time where the global security situation is changing rapidly. 

I want to underline how the invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally changed the security situation in both Europe and in Norway. Norway is bordering a country that will use military force against a peaceful neighbor, to pursue their own geopolitical interests. 

Our relationship with the current leadership in Russia will never be the same. 

We appreciate the U.S. leadership in this process. The war in Ukraine has proven that the western countries are able to act together and to hold Russia accountable. 

Unity at this point is more important than ever before. As we speak, preparations are being made to welcome Sweden and Finland as NATO members. With the NATO enlargement, the high north and the Baltic Sea region will be increasingly linked. Events in one region are going to influence dynamics in the other, therefore we have to reassess how we look at Nordic defense and defense cooperation. Thank you. 

DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DR. KATHLEEN HICKS: Well thank you State Secretary Bentzen, it's been a real pleasure to be here in Oslo, and I'm grateful for your hospitality in hosting me here in Norway. I had the opportunity to meet with Minister Graham, as well as with State Secretary Peterrson at the foreign ministry. The U.S.-Norway bilateral defense relationship is strong, and it's marked by deep cooperation and interoperability. Our location this morning here on the USS Porter is emblematic of that close cooperation and relationship. Norway is a critical supporter of freedom and security globally. We will not forget the Norwegian forces who stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States in Afghanistan. The Norwegian forces manning the field hospital in Kabul, providing essential support to evacuation operations including in the aftermath of the ISIS attack on U.S. forces on August 26th, 2021. 

I'm glad to be here at a particularly historic time, as we work to stand alongside our Allies against Russia's unjustified further invasion into Ukraine. 

We commend Norway for hosting NATO's Cold Response exercise earlier this year. It demonstrated significant alliance resolve during this challenging period for European and world security, and I want thank you for Norway's assistance in recovering the U.S. Marines who were tragically lost during that exercise. We're deeply appreciative for your efforts. 

We recognize that Putin's war of aggression has changed the core of Trans-Atlantic security. Perhaps there is no place this is more evident than here in the Nordics, where your neighbors Finland and Sweden have made a historic decision to seek NATO membership. 

I know Sweden and Finland's decision will also have lasting impacts on the broader Nordic region, and we look forward to working with you to deepen our cooperation. We commend Norway's decision to send defense assistance and humanitarian support to Ukraine. Thank you for joining the community of nations in defense of democracy there. 

State Secretary Bentzen, the United States highly values its bilateral relationship with Norway and will always stand with you. Thank you, and I'm happy to take a few questions. 

STAFF: OK. Alf, you're first. 

Q: Thank you, you two, for doing this. My question would be about Ukraine and the discussions which is approaching now about securing a safe line for ships into Odessa to transport out wheat and grains, which is necessary to feed the (inaudible). Is that a good idea to secure some kind of a naval coalition—shipping escort—military maybe, to get the grain out, or is there any other way that support export of (inaudible) from Ukraine?   

DR. HICKS: Sure. I could start. So from the U.S. perspective, we're working constantly with Ukraine and alongside Allies and partners in Europe and then beyond -- the many nations around the world that are concerned about Ukraine's defense, but also to your point about the implications of Russia's aggression on a variety of world impacts, including on food security. So we work closely with Ukrainians to think through strategies for how to manage that. I don't want to get in front of where those discussions are today, but simply to say that we're in a constant dialogue to make sure we understand where it is wisest for us to bring assistance and where there might be other approaches. 

STAFF: Idrees? Oh, I'm sorry. 

Q: I have Secretary Bentzen’s comment, too?

SEC. BENTZEN: I totally agree with Dr. Hicks and her points on all of that case and we have to look into that, and of course Norway is also concerned about the food situation and our (inaudible) is that we have (inaudible). 

DR. HICKS: If I can also add, the United States just passed a significant supplemental aid bill. A large portion of that is included for food security, so there are financial approaches that we are also considering.

Q: Madam Secretary, we're now three months into this war. Just curious how you're, sort of, thinking through not just keeping the Alliance together but making sure that the American people are, sort of, you know just as interested in the issue now going forward as they were in the first two months. And for the minister, is Norway considering giving anti-ship missiles to Ukraine? And is there… what the timeline is for that? 

DR. HICKS: So starting on the question about the U.S. public, there's very strong bipartisan support in the United States for assistance to Ukraine. I think the will and the tragedy really of what the Ukrainians have demonstrated just has galvanized the world well beyond the United States but to include within the United States. And again, the passage of our supplemental appropriation, the president's signing of that just the past few days I think really is a testament to the degree, the depth of interest in the American public. The needs of Ukraine will likely shift over time and we'll shift with that, and as we do so, as we do in all things in a democratic society, we'll be working closely with members of Congress, representatives of the people, and making sure that we're fully tied into what's appropriate to provide. 

Q: Can I just follow up that on the Naval strike missiles? How would that eventually help in Ukraine in the war? 

DR. HICKS: I think that was the question. I think that was the question that was coming. 

SEC. BENTZEN: I don't want to comment, on any deliveries; we are doing considerations from day to day according to what Ukraine is asking for, but I do not comment on any deliveries due to operational security. 

STAFF: Ma'am? Ms. Gru? 

Q: Yes. To what extent has Putin's attack on Ukraine influenced what – what does this have to say for the significance of the Norwegian-U.S. agreement about having U.S. soldiers based here and equipment? Has the significance increased? 

DR. HICKS: So, we're very appreciative of the efforts of Norway for the SDCA to make sure that gets passed. That's really about enhancing our ability to exercise and be interoperable together, to train here in Norway. All of the efforts that we put together here relate to how we can support bilaterally and then alongside our other Allies. All needs of NATO, whether that's in the high north, whether it's to the south or on the eastern flank, all that interoperability really will help us in every aspect of where we're trying to go inside the NATO strategic concept. 

Q: Can you say anything about how the war in Ukraine—has it changed what you are planning to station here, in the areas that you control for instance? 

DR. HICKS: We don't have any plans to do stationing of U.S. forces. We really are looking at the agreement and way ahead in terms of how we think about our exercising and training. 

Q: But you will have soldiers here? 

DR. HICKS: Again, for exercising and training—deployed here—correct.  

STAFF: All right. Jack. 

Q: Madam Secretary, I talked, of course, about the $40 billion supplemental that's coming through. I'm curious are there any systems, of course the Ukrainians have asked for MLRS, HIMARS, any systems the U.S. is still worried about providing for fear that it could escalate the conflict? And then Mr. Minister, I'm curious, with the Russian ballistic missile threat still so close to your border, are you interested in getting more U.S. or NATO ballistic missile defense support, especially with Sweden and Finland coming into the Alliance potentially this year? 

DR. HICKS: So on equipment for Ukraine, we work very closely with the Ukrainians on what they believe their requirements are. We work through with them how to think about the capabilities that make the most sense, and we think about those capabilities across the breath of the international community response, whether we're talking about lethal aid or non-lethal aid, and the secretary of defense for the United States just convened again, the Ukrainian defense coordination group for the purposes of understanding what the Ukrainian -- the Ukrainians who were present, what they need and their presentation of what they need alongside what nations can provide. 

To your specific question on the capabilities as they get to more advanced and longer range, those are ongoing conversations that we're having. I don't want to get in front of where that process is, but obviously we're making sure that the Ukrainians have what they need to defend themselves, and we're also thinking through, you know, the implications of any equipment we provide both in terms of the Ukrainians maintaining control of that weaponry and the implications of those weapons. 

Q: And sorry, just before he answers, is there a chance for longer range stuff beyond the --

DR. HICKS: I don't want to get in front of where the process is right now. We're constantly looking at the needs on the battlefield, and as we look ahead to Ukraine's more enduring military requirements—training and capabilities. We'll take all of that into account as we think about the capabilities to provide. 

SEC. BENTZEN: Our government just updated a white paper of the nation of Ukraine before Easter, and of course the security situation in Europe has been changed, and it has been changed for a long, long time right now. As Sweden and Finland joining NATO will strengthen the Nordic defense. We have to look into how that have an impact on the security in Norway, and of course Sweden and Finland but I don't go into specific capacities right now. 

STAFF: (Inaudible) go ahead. 

Q: This goes to the applications from Sweden and Finland to join NATO and the objections that the Turkish side approached this week (inaudible) and some people say it's, kind of, what Turkey wants from Sweden and Finland when it comes to weapons export they might get from the U.S. Does the U.S. any plans of supporting Turkey with new weapons systems like the F-16s to approach Turkey and to ease up the situation (inaudible)? 

DR. HICKS: We don't see a connection, frankly, between the Turkish concerns that they've expressed with regard to Finland and Sweden, and the issues you're raising in regard to equipment provisions from the U.S. What we are confident about is that these concerns the Turks have raised are (inaudible) confident that Finland and Sweden will be able to resolve those with the Turks directly. 

Q: If the U.S.-Norwegian agreement is agreed upon in the parliament on the 3rd of June, when will you start building the infrastructure? 

DR. HICKS: Again, the -- we are -- this is not for permanent U.S. --

Q: I know.

DR. HICKS: -- capabilities so I don't think I have a direct answer to that. There's, you know, allow us to spend funds in a way that we cannot do today for training, et cetera. We would be working with the government of Norway on what that process would look like and we don't have any announcements to make, any plans of specific investments of infrastructure that we would be doing. 

STAFF: Jack?

Q: Yes. I'm just curious where you see the situation in the Donbas now. It seems like the Russians have made some gains over the weekend. Just if there are any concerns about where the situation is with the Ukrainians on the battlefield now. 

DR. HICKS: Like everyone in the world, we’re watching this day to day, we get a lot of information back from Ukraine itself about, in addition to what we are able to see for ourselves and working along strong intelligence partners like Norway understanding the battlefield. It shifts, of course, it shifts day to day and I think the key is to get above the tactics of that, and think long-term. The reality is Ukraine is going to survive as a nation. It will have military means to protect itself, and we want to make sure as part of the community of democracies that we're there to support that. 

STAFF: Alf or Gru, do you want one more?   

Q: Yes. I -- I -- I -- 

STAFF: I know Gru wants another one. 

Q: Eventually what kind of weapon do you think that you would wish Norway to contribute in the Ukraine? You know pretty well what the Norwegians on capacity. What do you -- do you want?

DR. HICKS: Well it is not for the United States to say what Norway could provide to Ukraine, and it's really for Ukraine to identify what it believes it needs. That's why we just have begun this series of meetings, the Norwegian defense minister participated directly yesterday, and I'll defer to my Norwegian counterpart on how they'd like to describe that. 

SEC. BENTZEN: We are getting messages from the Ukrainians, we are doing assessments based on that, but I won't comment on any information due to operational security. 

STAFF: OK. Sir, ma'am. I'll just give it back to you for any closing thoughts. 

DR. HICKS: I would just say, once again, it's such a pleasure to be here and to affirm, really, the strength of the U.S.-Norwegian relationship. I’m proud of the USS Porter and her work here in the high north and around Europe as part of the U.S. Over 100,000 forces that we currently have in and around Europe--really a testament to our commitment to European security. 

SEC. BENTZEN: And our operational unity is important (inaudible), you coming here showing the solidarity with Europe is important, so thank you. 

STAFF: All right. Great. Thanks everyone. Thank you.