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Transcript
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Media Availability with Secretary Carter enroute to London, England

Sept. 6, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

 

      SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Okay, well, first of all, thanks for coming.

      Just to go through the steps in the trip one by one.  I go up to Oxford tomorrow where I'll be giving a speech on the future of the U.S.-U.K. security relationship and all that we do together and will continue to do to defend and preserve a principled world order.

      And I'll do that at Oxford where, as it happens, I was a student and therefore a long-time appreciator of the special relationship, that now is an important time I think to speak to that.  I'll be talking about some of the challenges, specific, immediate challenges we face, to include countering ISIL and dealing with Russian aggression -- aggressive behavior in Europe and elsewhere.

      Then I'll be meeting with my counterpart, Secretary Fallon, a good friend, a person I've known for a long time now, and a real partner in much that we do, from Europe to Afghanistan to counter ISIL, to the Asia Pacific and everywhere else.  And he is hosting the first-ever U.S. peacekeeping ministerial. 

      What did I say?  I'm sorry -- U.N. peacekeeping ministerial in London.  So I'm pleased to join that.  I understand the prime minister will be dropping by.  This is important because this is something that President Obama hosted in New York a year ago, and as you probably all know, the demand for peace operations is growing around the world. 

      The United States is already the largest contributor to those operations, but last year the president made some additional commitments on behalf of the United States, some of which are the Department of Defense's to carry out.  And I want to report first of all on how we're carrying out the president's pledges from last year.

      But secondly, I brought some new things in addition to that.  So there are two pieces of news.  And then we'll talk also about how to improve and reform U.N. peace operations. 

      While I'm in London, I'll have an additional sequence of bilateral meetings with three very important counterparts from Turkey, Ukraine, and also Israel.  And I have a lot to discuss with each and every one of those also.

      With that, I will go off with another good friend and colleague, the defense minister of Norway, an exceedingly close ally.  And we will go both to a facility -- a base, a Norwegian base up on the Arctic Circle, which is important to both of us, and I'll learn some more about our cooperation and about the Norwegian military and the direction that Defense Minister Soreide is taking the Norwegian military for the future in a very impressive way.

      And then she and I will fly own to Oslo where we'll do a press conference there.  That's a very important relationship if you haven't tuned into it, a great, great closeness and also great value to the United States and I believe also to Norway.  So that's this trip.

      And with that, may I take your questions.

      Q:  I think this is right -- Mr. Secretary, you're mentioning your meeting -- I guess it's Thursday -- with the Turkish minister.

      SEC. CARTER:  The Turkish defense minister.

      Q:  Yeah, sorry.  Anyway --

      SEC. CARTER:  Yes, that'll be Thursday.

      Q:  In this post-attempted coup era that was -- you know, created a lot of uncertainty about the relationship and things -- events that have taken place since then in Syria, what do you need to get from the Turks that will set the relationship in a better footing?

      SEC. CARTER:  Well, we've pretty much returned to the level of cooperation.  There were some temporary disruptions in the things that we were doing, which were very understandable, –in the wake of, after all, was a coup in which some of their military leaders had participated in.  Until their government could sort that out, we understood that there would be some of those interruptions.

      But they're restored now, and so I think our conversations are -- with Minister Isik by the way, whom I've -- I also have known and it plays a very important role in today's Turkish military.  Importantly, and this is one thing we'll be talking about, because he and his leadership and President Erdogan are fundamentally reforming or transforming the command and control of the Turkish to emphasize civilian control, including Minister Isik assuming new responsibilities.  And we may talk about some of that as well because that's obviously an important principle in the United States, the way we manage our military.

      But more operationally, we'll be talking about our counter-ISIL cooperation, in which the Turks continue to do a great deal and are actually doing more with us in recent weeks, and we welcome that.  They -- they're an important NATO ally and long-standing partner, but they happen to have the geography of being immediately adjacent to both Syria and Iraq, which puts great difficulties upon them but also gives them great opportunities to help the fight against ISIL, and they're taking those opportunities.

      And of course, we're going to talk about that as well, so you're right.  A lot to talk about with Minister Isik -- (Inaudible).

      Q:  (Inaudible) -- their ground forces are still on the -- in Syria, right?  Do you have concerns about the future clashes again with Kurdish forces -- Syrian Kurds?

      SEC. CARTER:  We've -- we've talked to all the parties and -- and the -- what we're -- we worked out with them is that they're both trying to combat ISIL and that's in our -- the American interest as well.  We want to work with both of them.  We know they have their difficulties with one another, but countering ISIL we think need to come first for all of us.

      And so we're working with them to make sure that they can each do what they are trying to do without coming into a collision one with the other.  So we've been doing that and we'll continue to do that. 

      And for the Syrian defense forces, which participated in the operation in Manbij, the successful one, that principally means that the Kurdish element of that force will be withdrawing east of the Euphrates.  And I think that will alleviate some Turkish concern there and help the SDF to prepare for what comes next, which is Raqqah, and the Turks for their part to stay -- to keep their forces associated with themselves north of the Sager River. 

      And therefore, there will be a physical separation which I think will be reassuring to both sides.  So we want to reinforce that and the need, which I think we all three of us share, to combat ISIL together.  But I'm sure I'll be discussing that with Minister Isik.

      Q:  Thank you.

      STAFF:  (off mic.)

      Q:  Thanks, Mr. Secretary.  Just very quickly following up on that, do you see any room for the new conversations about the creation of a buffer zone along that border with -- between Turkey and Syria on the Syrian side of that border?

      And I had a question on the Philippines.

      SEC. CARTER:  Okay.  Well, the -- the Turks are working and we are working with them on both side of the -- sides of their border to decrease the passage of foreign fighters, the facilitation and supply of ISIL and in all respects to get control over that critical border area. That's one of the last areas east, west -- east, west of the Turkish border with these conflicts.  It hasn't been secured and it's one for which ISIL has greatly benefited. 

      And so on both sides of the border there, we've been working with the Turks to help them secure that area of the border.  And with respect to the Philippines?

      Q:   And so no contemplation really beyond that, along lines of a no-fly zone or buffer –forward buffer zone that's a bit thicker? 

      SEC. CARTER:  We are working with -- again, on both sides of the border -- but to create a -- to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters and secure the population and territory there.

      Q:  OK, and on the Philippines, you know obviously there was a lot of attention given to the Filipino president's comments, and the fact that President Obama had to cancel a meeting with him. 

      I'm wondering, to what extent -- people who look at the defense relationship should be concerned that -- you know, the behavior that was seen as implosive or perhaps ill-though out could also bleed over into the security sphere, which is a very sensitive one given all the attention to the South China Sea? 

      SEC. CARTER:  We haven't seen that. 

      And our defense relationship with the Philippines is a long standing one.  It's in the -- it's an equal one, it's balanced and favors the security interests of both sides.  And it's something that we are constantly talking about. 

      But at this time, we are continuing to carry on our cooperation under EDCA.  And I'm almost certain that my counterpart, Minister Lorenzana, the new defense minister will be at this meeting.  I believe so.  I'm certain if he doesn't -- I'm sure if he's not able to make it, I'm sure he has other commitments.  And it's a long way to come. 

      But I did talk to him when he first named -- about our defense relationship.  He's someone known to us and known to -- and very knowledgeable about all the things that we do together.  So it's a mutual relationship.  It's an exceedingly strong relationship over time. 

      It's one that's continuing to evolve and I look forward to working with him on that, and seeing him whenever I see him next, which if not this week, it will be in a few weeks time in Hawaii.

      STAFF:  Next, we've got (Inaudible).

      Q:  Thanks. 

      I understand that you are saying that things with Turkey are starting to even out post-coup?  But I'm curious as you go into this bilateral with your Turkish counterpart, what is the biggest concern about the trajectory of the relationship that you're bringing to this? 

      And then I would like to ask you about Brexit.

      SEC. CARTER:  What...

      QUESTION:  Brexit.

      SEC. CARTER:  Brexit, OK. 

      Well, I think what's on both -- I believe in the mind of my Turkish counterpart, Minister Isik and myself is defeating ISIL in Syria.  So that's a concern that we share.  And I think what we are going to be doing is talking -- as I was saying -- about how we can achieve that objective together -- recognizing all the complications of everything that happens in Syria.  So I think that's the topic I'd single out. 

      Now, you know, when I talk to him, we talk about everything; all of NATO's business, we talk about refugees, and other matters than the counter-ISIL campaign.  But I think that will be the principle concern to the two of us. 

      And with respect to Brexit, I made my views known about Brexit before it occurred.  I -- for our strategic relationship and really for Britain's role in the world -- thought it would be better not to introduce this uncertainty.  But that's not a decision for me to make or for us to make, that's a decision that the British to make -- and that's not the decision they made, that's fine. 

      And I'm certain that Britain will continue to do what it's done for so long, which is to play an outsized role, both physically and morally on the world stage that very few countries, precious few countries do and the United States really, really values and I think that will continue a pace and I'll be talking to Minister Fallon on all the things that we're doing together to cooperate in that area from Europe, to the Middle East, to Asia.

      Q:  Is there something specific, though, that Brexit makes harder about the military relationship?  I mean, ever since you guys all, and President Obama, and you as well, expressed concerns before this happened and then once it happened, all we've heard about is how a special relationship is going to go on. 

      What specific things are now going to be more different, more difficult?

      SEC. CARTER:  Well, I think what will be more different is not our (inaudible) bilateral relationship, but by definition, the relationship between the U.K. and Europe and making sure that those - there are no consequences of that that are not in the interests of Europe, the United Kingdom or the United States.

      For example, we need to keep up the solidarity on sanction (Inaudible) process.  We need to make sure that in this vital security area, that there is complimentarily and not competition between what the E.U. is doing and NATO are doing.

      So these are all the things we're on the - on guard for.  I don't think any of them is inevitable.  They're just things all the leaders will have to work to make sure - continue even after the British exit from - from (Inaudible).

      So that's where I would say - that the bulk of the effort would go.

      MODERATOR:  (Inaudible) try to get in one or two more within the realm of safety (Inaudible).

      Q:  Mr. Secretary, Tony Bertuca, Inside Defense.  Congress comes back to Washington today to do its job.  We're headed in the opposite direction, but they come back, a CR is just about a lock, there's a lot of continued pressure on the department.  You've talked before that what's on the table is - is unacceptable. 

      Can you tell us what now -- it looks like a CR is going to happen.  What steps does the department have to take to minimize chaos?

      SEC. CARTER:  Well, you know, unfortunately, it does look like we're going to end the fiscal year for the eighth consecutive time in a row without an appropriation  for defense and as secretary of defense, I can only - say in as heartfelt way as I must - and can in how much this budget uncertainty creates concern in the minds of our troops about their futures in the - in our industry about the stability of programs that we do together around the world in what we're doing and  -- so what I have been urging is that Congress stick with the bipartisan budget agreement.  That is the basis upon which we submitted the defense budget.  The bipartisan budget agreement in the last year.

      And so I'm hoping that in the end, the - that will continue, that bipartisanship, which is the only way anything ever gets done and can be done in our system, that some version of that will lead to a defense appropriations quickly into the next fiscal year as possible, so to - as to avert all that instability.

      And I also want to say in that regards is s there was an article (Inaudible) in the Department of Defense  -- and I - there are a lot of memos, I can't comment on a specific memo, but I do want to say that, you know, I have - with an excellent relationship with my colleagues on the Hill, this is a - a relationship of great respect for people who also care very deeply about our security and our military, where I have differences in - with them in the matter of this budget.  That's no secret.  I make no secret of that.

      I am - have been urging them not to depart from, and some of the legislation has departed from that bipartisan budget agreement, and there's nothing partisan about that.  I – I’m for the bipartisan budget agreement. 

      And I'm also strongly urging adoption of things that have -- that very few people in either party is in favor of but that are good for our troops, like closing bases.

      I have to be in favor of those things as secretary of defense because they're necessary to have -- continuing to have the greatest military in the world and delivering what the taxpayer deserves from the taxpayers dollar and I'm very upfront about those things.  And I realize -- I know -- I've read the Constitution.  They will make the final decisions, but the only thing I can do is try to argue as respectfully but as strongly as I can for what I think is good for our department and our military.

      I've always had a good hearing up there, people have always listened.  I respect that.  I've shown up every time I've been invited for a hearing.  I think it's very important.  I try to communicate.  But I don't hold back either when we have disagreements. 

      If we're going to have disagreements, we try to do that respectfully.  They will have the last word, and that I understand, but I hope that I'll continue to be heard and that they'll be going back in the direction of the bipartisan budget agreement.

      STAFF:  (off mic.)

      Q:  Right now?  Hi, sir.

      SEC. CARTER:  Excuse my ignorance.  What's the “N” hat?

      Q:  Navy. 

      (Laughter.)

      SEC. CARTER:  That's more than ignorance, that's like shameful -- (Inaudible) -- Navy hats.

      Q:  If the -- if the Air Force can't get competition or get two companies to bid for its next launch competition, are you okay with the Air Force flying DOD satellites on an (inaudible) rocket?

      SEC. CARTER:  Well, I think we probably can get competitive bids in the next -- that's been our objective for quite a while.  Under Secretary Kendall and Secretary of the Air Force Deb James are working in that direction.  I have every reason to believe that they'll get to where they have been aiming to get.  So that's a hypothetical question that I don't think we'll ever answer.

      Q:  But what if they don't?  What if they only have one company for the next couple ones?

      SEC. CARTER:  They're working in that direction and I have every reason to believe that -- that -- they think they'll get there and they usually deliver.

      Q:  Thanks.

      STAFF:  (off mic.)

      Q:  I'll be quick.

      STAFF:  Last one.

      (Laughter.)

      SEC. CARTER:  You stand between life and death.

      Q:  Quick follow-up on Brexit and Ukraine.  One question is do you -- do you feel that the U.K. not being in the E.U. -- that the U.K. was playing an outsized role in keeping up the pressure on Russia and keeping sanctions?  So with the U.K. not playing a role in those future E.U. negotiations on sanctions, is there a fear that it will be harder to keep that unity?  And I have one more.

      SEC. CARTER:  Britain was a staunch supporter of the Minsk process, and one of the things that buttressed the Minsk process and kept Russian in the Minsk process was the solidarity of the E.U. behind sanctions.  And so that needs to continue.  Even though Britain will not be a member, I'm hoping that Britain will continue to use its influence, not as a member, but as a member of the European family to make sure that that policy is continued because Minsk is important.

      Q:  And then last question is on --

      STAFF:  Quick, quick, quick.

      Q:  Last question's on the -- totally different -- on the CTBT.  I know the administration has said this upcoming resolution in the U.N. will not be legally binding, but would somehow reinforce the moratoria on nuclear testing.  If it's not legally binding, what effect does it have?  What is the purpose of pursuing this?

      SEC. CARTER:  Well, I mean, look, we have long abided by the central provision of the CTBT without being signatories because we have been able to ensure the safety, security and reliability of our nuclear stockpile, which is a bedrock of our security now and in the future without underground testing.  That -- that remains true today.

      Our Department of Energy laboratory directors say, and in fact our ability both to do the underlying science that buttresses their judgment for them to do that science and for us to monitor and verify that others who are abiding by the ban against underground testing have improved in recent decades.

      So that continues to be something the United States, and this goes back now a number of years, a number of administrations, has judged to be - continued to be in our interest.  So you're right.  We're just re-expressing something that we think is in our interest.

      At the same time when you're doing something that - that makes good sense and it sets a good direction for the rest of the world, which the president clearly wants to do in this field, it doesn't hurt to keep repeating yourself.

 

--END--