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Press Briefing by Secretary Hagel in Peru

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: First, I want to thank Father Carlos for allowing me an opportunity to come visit this spectacular church. Franz, thank you for all you have done to assure the renovation of this historic and magnificent church.

I very much appreciate the opportunity to be here in this historic city that has very significant family ties to the Peruvian minister of defense. Minister Cateriano’s grandparents and parents are from Arequipa. And I want to thank President Humala for hosting this conference here in Peru.

Today's conference, which began yesterday, in particular last night at a reception, was very important. It gave the ministers of defense from 34 nations an opportunity to hear from each other and to trade observations and ideas about our hemisphere, our future together, and our partnerships.

Yesterday, when I arrived, in particular last night at a reception, I had an opportunity to spend some time in informal bilateral exchanges with some of my counterparts from South America. And I thought the plenary session this morning was particularly important to hear from ministers on different points of view regarding different challenges and opportunities in a more formal setting.

I had an opportunity this afternoon to meet with some of my counterparts in bilateral formats, where we were able to talk more specifically about some of the challenges that we face bilaterally, as well as multilaterally.

The importance of the Western Hemisphere to the world as represented by so many different cultures and ideas and values is important to recognize at a time when the world is undergoing an extensive challenge to its present world order.

It's important that we give all countries and all people support in their efforts, for human rights, dignity for all people, opportunities, education, skills, jobs, at the same time we also are mindful of some of the manmade and natural disasters and threats that face our world today.

One of the areas in particular that we touched on this morning in a plenary sessions, as well as I did last night in my exchanges, as well as this afternoon with the ministers, was climate change and consequences that we are going to have to prepare to deal with as a result of climate change.

This afternoon, in one of the bilaterals with Minister Rob Nicholson, minister of defense of Canada, we presented the minister and his staff with an American pumpkin pie to celebrate Canada's Thanksgiving.

And I would conclude my remarks with wishing a happy birthday to the United States Navy, and if I didn't, Admiral Kirby would never talk to you again. So happy birthday, United States Navy.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: After that, I don't think we need to take questions. I think we’re done.

SEC. HAGEL: Kirby's always told me, "End on a high note." (Laughter.)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: First question will come from Lolita Baldor from the Associated Press.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Syria, Turkey, have there been any developments in the ongoing negotiations with Turkey over Syria? I'm just wondering, there's a lot of back-and-forth going on. Are you still optimistic about it? And do you have any goals for the chiefs of defense meeting tomorrow? Anything you really hope they try to accomplish?

SEC. HAGEL: Lita, I am optimistic about progress that we are making with the Turks, as the Turks further define their role in the coalition against ISIL. As you know, we have teams from Central Command and European Command there. As you all know, I spoke with General Allen yesterday to get a readout from his meetings there, as well as I spoke with the Turkish minister of defense.

I said yesterday that I'll leave public announcements about what the Turks are committed to do to them, but I would say, though, to answer your question, we are making very good progress and I am optimistic.

As to your question regarding General Dempsey bringing 20 of the chiefs of defense together from 20 nations, that is going to be an important meeting. As I think you know, President Obama is going to stop by at the end of that meeting tomorrow.

The objective of the meeting that General Dempsey put together was to further coordinate and organize countries' efforts to participate in the coalition. They will be working through those specific areas and defining specific contributions that the nations will make. So I am much encouraged with that meeting, and it's going to be a very important meeting.

QUESTION (through translator): I'd like to ask you a very local question. This is a very Peruvian question. It's obvious that we're very worried about drug trafficking. Peru is considered number one at this point in the world when we talk about seizures, but there's really not enough seizures to go around, very little going on in terms of seizures.

So what kind of cooperation can we look for with the United States -- here I talk specifically about the interdiction flights, which stopped because of the crisis in 2001. Would you be able to give us some details, some facts, of the types of cooperation between Peru and the United States?

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. A very important question and a very important topic, which the president and I discussed last night. I discussed this also with the minister of defense last night, as well as today.

The United States continues to strongly, actively support the Peruvian government's efforts in eradication in all of its fight and all of its different ways to deal with illegal drug trafficking.

This government has made considerable progress. I believe this year so far, they have interdicted over 10 tons of export quality cocaine. Their eradication program is making progress. This is a big problem. It's a big challenge. And it's not going to get solved in a year or two years. It has plagued not just Peru, but other nations of the region.

So like all problems, challenges, it's important that we work together, we are working together, and making certain that we, the United States, are helping the Peruvian government in every way we can, as well as the region. These are regional and actually global issues. The market for illegal drugs is a global one.

So we are very enthusiastic about the four-year plan that is being implemented by the president. And we're going to continue to support this government and the people of Peru.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK, next question Juan Carlos?

Q: Mr. Secretary, ISIS, any threat, ISIS threat in Latin America? Any concern possible entrance of terrorists from Mexico through the southern border? And what is the relations and the situation in Venezuela?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, as to Venezuela, that is an issue that is being addressed and needs to be addressed by the nations of South America. Each sovereign nation deals with these issues as they must.

On the threat of ISIL in South America, Central America, terrorism is not new to this part of the world. And like all terrorist groups, there are connecting rods and you prepare and plan and work with partners everywhere in the world to deal with terrorism. Specific ISIL challenges to South America, I'm not aware of any.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK. And last question, Bill?

Q: Mr. Secretary, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about Anbar. The U.N. said today that 180,000 civilians had left. And there was also reports about an airbase near Hit being evacuated by Iraq security forces. I was wondering if you could confirm that, talk a little bit about it.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I talked a few hours ago with our CENTCOM commanders on what they know and to give me an update. What they told me was they are not aware of any fighting around the airport or in the area that the press reports are specifically focused on.

As to the Hit town and whether Iraqi security forces left that area, I'm aware of the fact that the Iraqi security forces make strategic decisions on these issues. They deploy their forces where strategically they think they can have the most impact. I don't know any of the specifics beyond that.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK, thanks, everybody.