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Media Availability with Secretary Carter in the United Kingdom

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER: Good afternoon.

I'll just very briefly recap the very busy two days.

First of all, I very much appreciate Secretary Michael Fallon of the U.K. both convening this peacekeeping meeting -- more on that in a moment -- but also he and I met bilaterally to talk about the many things that we're doing with the U.K. everywhere around the world. And its continuing role as one of the very few countries in the world that has the capability to use military power in an independent, effective way.

And we value that. And that was true before Brexit, and we expect it to be true after Brexit as well. And their commitment to two percent of GDP for defense spending, which has been leading other European countries to head in the same direction. Their recommitment to their strategic deterrent, their strategic defense review which lays out a road map for the future of the U.K. military.

All that is -- undergirds the statements that the British government has said about its intention to maintain its historical, strong physical and moral role in the world. And I heard that from both Secretary Fallon and the prime minister, and their actions reflect that.

We also, and very particularly with Secretary Fallon, signed a memorandum of understanding on cyber cooperation, something that we do very closely with the Russians, and this is yet another step in our cooperation with them in that regard.

I had very good meetings -- bilateral meetings today with both Minister Işık of Turkey, my colleague and friend from Turkey; and also Minister Poltorak of Ukraine, both of whom I've met with on a number of occasions. I had a very good discussion. Minister of Defense Işık was appreciating everything we do together as NATO allies, and in keeping up the pace of the counter-ISIL campaign, which they assist in so many ways as a member of the coalition. And obviously, we talked specifically about their counter-ISIL efforts in northern Syria, which we're supporting.

I, with the Ukrainian minister of defense, signed a very important agreement. It provides a framework for us to work bilaterally with them, to help them continue to modernize their military, something they're committed to doing, and it covers the whole gamut from training and command and control, through acquisition and logistics.

And Assistant Secretary Slotkin can brief you more on that, and all the details on that, but a very, very important agreement with them. And to go with that, I informed the minister that I'd prevailed upon my very, very respected friend, former General John Abizaid, Central Command commander, among many other important roles he played on the Joint Staff and elsewhere, to serve as senior adviser to the minister.

This is a role that I had discussed with him previously. He said he thought he would welcome someone making suggestions to him. Obviously, he will be free to take advice or not. But these would be suggestions made in support of everything that we're trying to do under this new agreement.

And as I describe some of my relationship with John and the fact that I personally appealed to John to spend his time, which he is gracious enough doing this. This is an important thing, working with an important and longstanding partner of the United States in Ukraine. So I'm delighted -- I was delighted with that, too, and I was delighted to be able to tell the minister all about John.

I also briefly before I left the meeting had a chance to chat briefly with Angelina Jolie Pitt, who was present at this conference on United Nations peacekeeping, and I thanked her for taking an interest in that subject, which obviously I am here because we think it's extremely important as well.

One thing she told me that meant a lot to me was she says, "Yes, I am here and I am helping out the United Nations, but I am -- I am also an American and I want you to know how proud I am of the American military." And I told her that the support of our public means a lot to all of us. So I wanted everyone to know that.

And that was it for this trip and now let me go to the questions, which I'm sure -- (inaudible).

STAFF: We have time -- (inaudible).

Q: Mr. Secretary, -- (inaudible) – does the Abizaid appointment indicate your intention to help the Ukrainians with more offensive (inaudible) operations against the Russians?

SEC. CARTER: No, it's about the Ukrainian capability for defending its own territory. That has been the objective of all of our assistance to Ukraine. And so it continues in the same vein, Bob, as everything else we've been doing now for the last couple of years with Ukraine.

But it just allows us greatly to strengthen that and to get it off of a sort of ad hoc basis of the last two years, reacting to events, and put it on, in this case, a five-year horizon; a more sustained and systematic horizon because we believe Ukraine's going to be an important European power for a long time. And it is important that it have the capability for self-defense; that that be interoperable with ours; and that it be modern and undergo necessary reforms and transformation. And that is what it is all about.

STAFF: (inaudible)

Q: Sir, are we providing any money or platforms to Ukraine as part of this agreement?

SEC. CARTER: This agreement does not per se do that, but you know that we are providing several hundred million dollars worth of equipment to Ukraine. We're involved in training. There is a multinational training unit in Ukraine. All of this agreement makes all of that both easier and all pursuant to the purposes of transformation of the Ukrainian military.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday President Erdogan suggested that the U.S. and Turkey are considering a joint operation in Raqqah. Can you flesh that out at all?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I talked the Minister Islik today about our joint operations in northern Syria, which are aimed at securing the border area there on both sides. And that is -- and we are working very hard and very closely with the Turks, and I was assuring him that we were doing that and that I think other coalition members will want to do that, too.

We talked about everything else that we're doing with Turkey as part of the coalition. I thanked them for what is now a normal pace of operations from Diyarbakir and from Incirlik. I also did talk to him about the work that we're doing with the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria. And we know that those two parties are -- have doubts about one another and suspicions about one another.

My promise to both of them -- our promise to both of them, and this, in the case of Turkey has been communicated by the president to President Erdogan, is we need to defeat ISIL and we're going to pursue that path, but we will be transparent with both parties and make sure that everybody knows what everyone else is doing.

And we're doing that now to coordinate so that they don't come into any kind of conflict between them as they're both pursuing objectives against ISIL with our assistance. So we did talk about that as well. It was a very good conversation with Minister Islik.

I had met with him back at Andrews a few months ago, and then of course the coup transpired in Turkey about a week after that, and I called him at that time to express my support and hope he was okay and so forth. And our continuing need to work together, and he's been strong and very clear. So we had a very clear, very candid, extremely productive conversation. Good partner.

Q: (inaudible) -- the conversations with the Turkish defense minister about the conflict between the Turks and -- (inaudible), does this presage a sort of conflict between -- (inaudible) -- partners that the U.S. is allying with on the ground after ISIL is defeated? Is there any thought, any discussion being given to the fact that the defeat of ISIL would in fact potentially impact bringing peace to Syria or Iraq and -- (inaudible)?

SEC. CARTER: Well, the defeat of ISIL is a good thing, but you're right, that now that people can see that that defeat is inevitable, they're beginning to think about what goes on after that. And we, as the leader of the coalition, that's what coalition management and leadership is all about, trying to make sure that no one tries to take advantage of the situation created by the defeat of ISIL to otherwise change the circumstances there.

And we're quite firm about that, both in Syria and Iraq, by the way. And that's the basis of my understandings and our understandings with leaders in Iraq as well. And another important principle, of course, is that places that are rid of ISIL need to be given back to the people who live there to run them.

You see us working to that end in Manbij. You've seen us working to that end progressively in the cities in Iraq that the Iraqi security forces have taken back, and you'll see it again in Mosul and Raqqah where we're intent upon driving ISIL out of those cities. But nobody's going to go in there and occupy those cities except the people who already live there.

That's the point is to give them back, because not only is that the just thing to do, but we all know that that's the only practical way to make a defeat of ISIL last. And I've talked right from the beginning about a lasting defeat. That's part of it.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Has the YPG left Manbij?

SEC. CARTER: Yes, the YPG, which just to remind you all, has membership in the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Syrian Democratic Forces also contained Arabs and other ethnicities, and that's important. And those are the ones who are part of the Manbij Military Council and that are trying to restore and stabilize things in Manbij.

YPG assured us, and we work with them every day, so those forces would not attempt to be part of a hold force in Manbij. That's part of the principle I described, of people who live in a place should be the hold force in that place. They understand that completely.

We have that understanding with the Syrian Democratic Forces, including the YPG parts of it, and specifically that the YPG would remain east of the Euphrates. And that's our understanding with them. And I was able to assure Minister Islik today that that was our firm understanding with them and the basis for our continued cooperation with them.

Q: (inaudible)

SEC. CARTER: Yes, that's -- they are.

Q: They are?

SEC. CARTER: Yes. Yes, and in fact, we talked about making sure that our commanders and their commanders, that is the Turkish commanders, are in touch enough so that everybody knows exactly what the situation is and can confirm these things.