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Joint Press Availability by Secretary Hagel and Minister Alasania in Georgia

MINISTER IRAKLI ALASANIA: (speaking foreign language)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Minister Alasania, thank you. And thank you for your warm hospitality and your friendship over many years. As we were walking over here this morning, we talked about the first time we met years ago, as I had taken a helicopter trip to Pankisi Gorge and looked at then a very serious challenge to Georgia's security.

And the minister at that time was leading the counterterrorism effort for Georgia. So to you, minister, thank you for your contributions to your country and our partnership and for your friendship.

I also want to thank the people of Georgia for your friendship, your always warm hospitality. During my time in the Senate, I had occasion to visit this country on a number of missions and occasions. And I always appreciated the hospitality, the warmth, and the friendship. And we do have many common interests that the minister noted, so to you, minister, and to the people of Georgia, thank you.

I especially appreciate being back here in Tbilisi immediately following the NATO summit in Wales, where I believe that summit produced an important milestone in Georgia's efforts to join the Euro-Atlantic community. In our meeting that we just concluded, the minister and I reaffirmed the close defense partnership between the United States and Georgia and our shared goal to build even stronger military ties in the future, particularly in light of Russia's blatant aggression in Ukraine.

I also expressed the gratitude of the American people for the contribution of the Georgian armed forces, the significant contributions Georgia has made to operations in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Over more than a decade of fighting together, our two militaries have forged a deep and enduring friendship and a strong and vibrant partnership. I look forward to witnesses this partnership again when the minister and I visit U.S. Marines and Georgian servicemembers at a training center here in the next couple of hours.

This partnership extends to the care -- the care we provide our servicemembers, as Georgia's wounded warrior care program has been established with U.S. support, and we discussed that this morning and our continued commitment to that program and that effort. Because Georgia is such a committed and dependable partner of the United States, we fully support Georgia's ongoing defense modernization efforts and we want to and will continue to help Georgia fulfill its Euro-Atlantic aspirations, including membership in NATO.

The minister and I discussed how to move forward with all of these efforts by leveraging the substantial package of measures for Georgia that NATO leaders just endorsed at the Wales summit, which we both attended. This package includes expanded defense capacity-building efforts, more joint training exercises, strengthened liaison and enhanced interoperability capabilities. Georgia was one of only five nations to achieve a new elevated status of NATO enhanced opportunities partners -- (inaudible) – package adopted was a priority for the United States, and the U.S. intends to make a substantial contribution to this new alliance effort.

We will also continue our bilateral capacity-building efforts with Georgia. And today, the minister and I discussed the necessary steps for Georgia to acquire the U.S. military helicopters that they have requested.

Georgia's new status as an enhanced NATO partner will help it advance its preparations toward NATO membership, a goal which the NATO heads of state once again endorsed in Wales. The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important, given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin. His illegal annexation of Crimea, which the United States does not recognize, and the ongoing military campaign Russia is mounting in eastern Ukraine pose a grave threat to regional stability, as had its actions inside Georgia's internationally recognized borders.

The United States continues to call on Russia to fully withdraw its forces from Georgia's borders and welcome the restraint Georgia has shown in this effort. Russia's actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously. But President Putin's actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together. We will need a close partnership to counter another key security challenge, the growing threat of violent extremism.

The minister and I had a very good discussion on potential ways that Georgia could play an important role in this partnership with the United States, Iraq, and our coalition partners to destroy the ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] threat. This is a galvanizing moment for NATO and our partners. And I believe that the summit in Wales put us on the right path to respond to President Putin's challenge over the long term, as well as the threat of ISIL.

The United States will be there to lead, because what happens in this region matters. It matters for our own security and our allies' security. It is now up to all of us to send a clear message of strength, of unity, and resolve, and back up that message.

Minister Alasania, thank you again for your friendship, your leadership, and to the people of Georgia, I thank you again. Thank you.

MIN. ALASANIA: Thank you.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: First -- (inaudible) -- will come from Lita Baldor, Associated Press.

Q: Thank you. Lolita Baldor with AP [Associated Press]. Mr. Secretary, just regarding the airstrikes, a while ago near the Haditha Dam in Iraq, isn't this -- could this be considered an escalation of the U.S. effort against the Islamic State and signal the start of what may be broader operations moving against the group -- (inaudible) -- in Syria? And are you closer, do you think, to aiding the moderate opposition there? Or does this suggest perhaps you can move on with operations without a credible moderate opposition ally on the ground?

SEC. HAGEL: No, I think the strikes that the United States took are very much in line with what the president -- with what President Obama said were the guiding principles of military action in Iraq. First, the Iraqi government asked us for their support in those strikes. Second, it was the Iraqi security forces on the ground who conceived of the operation -- (inaudible) -- the Iraqi security forces air force is conducting strikes. – Haditha Dam is a critically important facility for Iraq. It is, I think, the second-largest hydroelectric dam in Iraq.

Consistent with what the president has said were the guidelines for any military action there, to protect our people and critical infrastructure in Iraq, both of those fit clearly into the purpose of the strikes, as well as the request of the Iraqi government.

As to your question regarding opposition partners and supporting moderate opposition, I presume you're talking about Syria. We've made very clear -- and especially in our meetings that we had in Wales -- as we structured and organized a core coalition to deal with ISIL threats, that ISIL's presence in Syria carries over, obviously, into what they are doing in Iraq.

We are exploring more partners, all the different options that we need to explore as to how we are going to deal with the next step of this. But I think the president has laid that out pretty clearly, as he has structured what his guidelines are and what we must do in order to deal with this threat, and that includes, as we are, supporting the Syrian moderate opposition.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: (off-mic)

Q: (off-mic)

Q: (off-mic) Mr. Minister just wanted to know what Georgia is likely to do or willing to do in this fight against the Islamic State.

MIN. ALASANIA: (inaudible) -- trusted ally of the United States. We fully support what the United States is doing to eradicate these barbarians. And we have developed quite an institutional building experience that will help probably the Iraqis to put together their own armed forces. Training, exercises, these are the things that can come to our mind that our secretary mentioned the -- (inaudible) -- discussions -- (inaudible) -- trying to achieve, I think, Georgia continuing role, supportive role in that and we can also discuss further in our security cabinet how best we can support the allies.

Q: (speaking foreign language)

MIN. ALASANIA: (speaking foreign language)

SEC. HAGEL: As to your question of me, yes, I think the Wales summit was a very defining summit, in that it did accomplish a number of things. One, it centralized a mission set for the 28 nations of NATO. That mission set and objective was very clear, and it was coordinated.

And the differences of tactics on different issues may occur, as to differences in any institution, but the clear central mission of what occurred there was first, I think, the most important part of the outcome.

Second, we actually accomplished some specific follow-up actions, a readiness force. I mentioned the 10 nations that came together in this core coalition, as we will expand that out to deal with ISIL.

I think, third, a recognition that the world still remains dangerous with many threats. The value-added 28 nations can bring to one institution, if it is coordinated and focused and organized, is particularly valuable at a time like this, when we are seeing asymmetrical threats. We are seeing not only just terrorist threats, but the sophistication of those threats through social media and the funding of ISIL, the sophistication of ISIL's strategies and tactics and leadership and weapons, and how we were as a group, a collective security group of 28 nations, with our partners, are going to deal with that.

I thought the -- the unanimity in bringing those leaders together in common purpose was very clear. And I don't recall a NATO summit in recent years where you had so much agreement on so many big issues. But the follow-up process that occurred there was important, as well. So those were some of the, I think, top-level accomplishments that I think I certainly saw and I think President Obama was very clear about his assessment of the successfulness of that summit.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Next question is Phil Stewart.

Q: (off-mic)

SEC. HAGEL: (off-mic) question?

Q: (speaking foreign language)

SEC. HAGEL: Did we consider what?

Q: (off-mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Yes. And I think I made that clear in my statement. And that is a very significant part of continuing and growing and expanding this partnership. One of the things that I noted here is that the minister and I discussed as to how we go forward on Georgia's request for helicopters and pricing and availability -- that being the next step as to how that works. So, yes, we are constantly focused on how we can do more and will do more.

Q: Thank you. Phil Stewart from Reuters. Mr. Secretary, just a quick follow-up first on the -- (off-mic) – strike near Haditha, was this the opening of a new front in Iraq -- (off-mic) – complicated message of reassurance. Even though Georgia is not a NATO member yet, how do you do that?

And to the Georgian minister, if you could talk a bit about how the, what’s going on in Ukraine affects your concerns about Georgia's security? And do you believe at this point that NATO would come to defend Georgia, even though you're not a member yet?

SEC. HAGEL: (inaudible) -- we may have to go back and give me the list of your questions. But on the strikes, particularly the one-off, no, it's not a one-off. We've had over 100 strikes in Iraq around the Mosul dam and other areas. As I said in my answer to Lita, it complies with and corresponds to and follows President Obama's guidance on how, where and when we will assist the Iraqi security forces. And that's exactly what we're doing here.

On the reassurance question regarding Georgia, after NATO, as I said in my statement -- I think the minister mentioned this, as well -- Georgia achieved a very significant amount of new standing within NATO, starting with a significant package coming from the special partnership arrangement of five countries, Georgia being one of them. That was new, significant. That gives Georgia new options and new expandability and new possibilities working within NATO and our NATO partners.

I've said, as well, that it was clear -- President Obama made this point -- and it was made at the summit that the eventual membership for Georgia in NATO is something that we're committed to. And the process to get there is important.

And I think Georgia has to see this -- the results of that summit as a significant victory for them and a significant addition to what will be their capabilities and relationships. And we're committed to that, as I said I think more than once in my statement, as President Obama said.

Your third question, tell me again, the significance --

Q: (off-mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Okay.

Q: (off-mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Well, again -- (inaudible) – I gave you, it’s a new strike around that dam, Haditha dam, but it isn't anything different from what the president has said in his guidance to the military and what our priorities are, protect the interests of Americans and the infrastructure that will protect Americans.

If that dam were thrown into ISIL's hands or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that that would cause would be very significant. And it would put a significant additional and big risk into the mix in Iraq, which also would risk our interests, as well.

So yes it's new in the sense that it's Haditha dam, but not new at all to our strategy.

MIN. ALASANIA: (inaudible) -- Ukraine, we -- (inaudible) -- condemn Russia's aggression against a sovereign Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. I want to remind you that it’s the -- (inaudible) -- of what we, Georgia, lived through for the past 20 years, and especially the last aggressive war against Georgia in 2008.

And, of course it’s more painful for us to see that the world was not able to protect from the aggressive behavior of Russia, and now we're paying another price. But what Secretary Hagel mentioned at NATO, it gives us huge hope that the NATO is rethinking how will -- (inaudible) -- should react on the challenges of the future and you know Georgia will be part of the NATO response force -- (inaudible) -- 2015.

There was a decision made to add more steadfast troops to that response force, so this is exactly the right move that NATO and partners are making. Of course obviously the confrontation should be avoided -- (inaudible) -- but we have bitter experience in Georgia trusting Russian cease-fire, so we better prepare for the contingencies.

And -- (inaudible) -- Georgia's defense capability building, I think the secretary mentioned straightforwardly we are providing -- (inaudible) -- they are providing Georgia with the information about the request that we made, the beginning marked now the new information from Secretary Hagel on the helicopters, and we're going to continue building -- (inaudible) -- defense capabilities -- (inaudible) – joint training facility that was agreed by the NATO members that will be built in Georgia. This is -- (inaudible) -- significant progress for our defense capacity-building and, again, we are already contributing to the shared values and the shared security. This is what -- (inaudible) – declaration said, so this is -- (inaudible) – no doubt that our capabilities will be grown -- (inaudible) -- responsibility also with Georgia to be part of the security now -- (inaudible) -- that needs to be protected against other -- (inaudible) -- as well.

Q: (off-mic)

SEC. HAGEL: I'm sorry?

Q: (off-mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Share my thoughts on Ukraine? Well, I did address it in my statement about the danger and what position President Putin has put Russia in. And it is essentially, number one, it continues to isolate Russia in the world. And, second, it has done a tremendous amount to coalesce NATO and Europe coming together, recognizing what President Putin's actions have brought, the danger that that represents to all of Europe.

And I think the bigger point here is, too, not just the actions taken in Ukraine, but, you know, the world order has held pretty dramatically and effectively -- not perfectly -- since after World War II. And it has held mainly because of institutions and coalitions of common interests, NATO, the United Nations, World Bank, IMF [International Monetary Fund], General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

And a predicate of that is that we in the world were not going back to the days prior to World War II when countries invaded other countries, that we had ways to sort the differences out. Now, it hasn't always held; I recognize that. And it's imperfect.

So a post-World War II world order that has held pretty well is -- (inaudible) – really in some question because of Mr. Putin's actions here. And I think we all are assessing, not just the short term, in how we've got to all come together to deal with that and we are. And NATO is pretty clear about specific actions that NATO has taken on Ukraine to help Ukraine, but the larger context of what this represents.

Q: (speaking foreign language)

SEC. HAGEL: (inaudible) -- well, it's directly related to this special partnership. Yes, it's reassurance, but it comes right after the NATO summit, where Georgia was given new special status, and I wanted to spend some time here to meet with the minister and the prime minister and the president to talk about how we go forward as we expand our partnership, as we help expand the capabilities for Georgia, not just bilaterally, which we have been doing with the United States and which we'll continue to do and do more of, which we have just noted, but also within NATO.

So this is an important visit for me. I have wanted to come over here since I've been secretary of defense. I think I'm the first secretary of defense here since 2003. Everything the minister and I have talked about today has indicated how important this partnership, this relationship, this friendship is. Georgia has been with the United States and our allies in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, Iraq, it continues to stay committed to what we are trying to do to help Afghanistan post-2014.

This is a very important relationship. And I want to make sure that that is noted, and I want to also have the opportunity to spend some time with Georgia's leaders to see where we need to do more and how we can do more and what I can do as secretary of defense.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thank you, everybody. Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.