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Remarks by Deputy Defense Secretary Work at Nordic Deputies Meeting at the Norwegian Ministry of Defense, Oslo, Norway

Sept. 9, 2015

STAFF: Welcome to you all.

We have only 25 minutes, and it will not be time for individual interviews afterwards. So after short comments from four of our panelists, you can ask the questions.

So I have the pleasure to introduce the panel.

First of all, I have the pleasure to present to you our American guest, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work.

Next to him, state secretary for the ministry of defense in Sweden, Jan Salestrand, from Denmark, Secretary General Lars Findsen, from Finland, Major General Esa Pulkkinen, from Iceland, Ambassador Hermann Ingolfsson and at last, our own deputy minister of defense, Oystein Bo. I'll pass the word to him.

OYSTEIN BO, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE NORWEGIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENCE: Thank you, Elizabeth [Kjaer] Good afternoon.

We’ve had today for a good round of Nordic-U.S. consultations. We have discussed off course one of the important security issues for the Northern Region which is the changed security landscape in Europe and in Europe following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and their behavior in Eastern Ukraine

We -- the Nordic countries, we share a Western interest in the maintained stability and fruitful cooperation in the region.

We all have good bilateral relation with the United States. As either allies or as partners through NATO, United States and Nordic countries are continuously developing our defense forces and exploring how we can further deepen our cooperation, which is also something we have discussed today.

This meeting has been an important milestone in this respect. It's the first time we meet in this format -- to exchange views on security situation in Nordic region and to explore the possibilities for joint cooperation.

So I'm pleased to be joined here today by my colleagues from all the Nordic countries and not least by U.S. Deputy Secretary Bob Work. The U.S. long-term commitment to European security, especially the High North, is important to us, and Secretary Work's visit is definitely a clear sign of that engagements.

And on that note, I would like to pass the floor to Bob Work.

DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE BOB WORK: Thank you.

Good afternoon everybody. It's great to be here. (off mic) Mr. State Secretary, I want to thank, first of all, you and Madam Minister for the warm hospitality that you showed us this morning and also [for] this glorious weather. It’s quite beautiful, and Oslo is quite a beautiful city, and my wife and I had an opportunity to walk around last night. Quite something.

NATO faces threats on three of its flanks -- in the south, to the east and to the north.

Secretary [of Defense Ash] Carter recently visited Germany and focused, along his counterparts, on more or less the eastern threat. And the purpose of my trip is to meet with the Nordic counterparts so that I can get a better understanding of the challenges that they face in the High North and the Arctic and the Baltics.

Now, as Secretary Carter says, if a country can be judged by the friends it has and the company it keeps, then I think the United States is very fortunate indeed.

I came here to listen to my counterparts this afternoon about the very fluid security environment that they face, from Russian activities in the High North to the crisis of displaced persons in the south. And listening to them has given me a great deal of insight.

I spend a lot of time in the Pentagon working on U.S. programs, and so when I have an opportunity to get outside of the Pentagon and have interactions with my colleagues, it's extremely helpful to me.

And much of our discussions focus on the changing geopolitical security environment in Europe after Russia's aggressive behavior in Crimea and Ukraine and the challenge that it presents for all of us in Europe and in the United States.

And as Secretary Carter has said, we want to approach Russia in a very strong and balanced manner, and I wanted to talk with our counterparts to see their thoughts on this.

And I just wanted to highlight that the High North and the north region is absolutely critical to both European and Trans-Atlantic security. The United States values the partnerships that we have in this region, both through NATO and bilaterally and some of the strongest we have. And the close regional cooperation that I heard this morning between the Nordic countries gives me great, great confidence that we'll be able to meet any challenge together.

It is my pleasure to meet them all and understand the prerogatives, perspectives and threats in the region and –the way we work forward to mitigate them.

So I'd just like to, again, thank our Norwegian hosts for such great hospitality, and I look forward to your questions.

(JAN SALESTRAND, SWEDISH STATE SECRETARY TO THE MINISTER FOR DEFENCE): Good afternoon.

Well, we have, as we all know, a very complicated situation according to security in the world, in Europe, but also in our own region. And we have been working together now in the Nordic context, and we are doing that, focusing to -- to try to do things together and try to do things better.

In that context, I would say that the U.S. presence in our region is of great value and I'll say crucial. So therefore I have found it very, very interesting and important today to get the possibility to meet the highest leadership from -- from the United States and to discuss the challenges, to discuss different ways of -- views on the security in Europe. Thank you.

(LARS FINDSEN, PERMANENT SECRETARY OF STATE, DANISH MINISTRY OF DEFENCE): Thank you – I want to -- to thank my Norwegian colleague for arranging this -– this day

First a general remark: the Nordic cooperation is -- longstanding tradition we have for close cooperation in Nordic -- among Nordic countries. We have cooperated – a lot but there is still more potential to explore and -- having U.S back on that issue is important – will be very important in the years to come.

We discussed important security topics today. We discussed challenges towards the east -- we discussed ISIL extremist challenge. Denmark is committed to being a part of facing those challenges, whether it comes to reassuring our commitments regarding the challenges we have in the east -- we -- we -- we -- we – contribute strongly to (inaudible) with regards to the challenge of the ISIL issue, the -- as part of the coalition in Iraq. Denmark is a strong contributor.

Looking at what that takes to be a part of countering those issues. It takes talking (inaudible) defense. –It takes defense forces that are (inaudible), that are mobile, that are willing to fight, and it actually takes political will to actually use (inaudible) the forces (inaudible). Thank you

STAFF: Thank you so much.

We're open for question now. And I kindly ask you to say your name and which media outlet you represent.

Q: Hi. Saleah Mohsin, Bloomberg News.

Mr. Work, I just wanted to ask you, the topic of the day really is the E.U. migrant crisis. I just wanted to hear your thoughts on that and whether you saw it as a security risk.

MR. WORK: I believe it’s not a security risk in -- in the sense of national defense, but it's certainly a national-security risk in terms of the total number of people who happen to be flooding into the Southern countries of NATO.

And as I said, we -- we have a problem on each of the three flanks, and that is by far and away the largest problem on the Southern flank. It's something that we are very interested in working with our NATO allies and other countries in the region to try to figure the best way to approach this problem.

Q: Do you know if the U.S. has any plans to take any asylum seekers?

MR. WORK: I'm sorry?

Q: Do you know if the U.S. has plans to take any of these asylum seekers?

MR. WORK: I don't know, not specifically, no. That hasn't been -- I know this is being discussed – with response to -- along with our NATO allies. But I know of no specific plans.

Q: If I may just ask one quick question more. How do you feel about Sweden and Finland potentially joining NATO?

MR. WORK: Well, Sweden -- Sweden and Finland, as you can see on this, through the North Defense Cooperation Forum, are very essential to all of the problems that we face in the High North. But whether or not they decide to join NATO is a -- a decision for the people of their country and for their governments.

I would like to say that we believe we have a very strong and close bilateral relationship with both countries. We're very interested in their views on defense, but as far as NATO itself, again, I'd just like to reiterate that is a decision for their governments and their people.

Q: (inaudible), Russian Newswire Agency.

Both of U.S. and Russia of late has been concerned about increasing military presence and intelligence activity in the Arctic. And for many years – High North has been a region for peaceful cooperation, which still keep hearing from American, Russian, Norwegian officials that it’s going to be the case and they hope it will be the case.

Robert Papp for example, has said recently there is no reason to feel concerned regarding Russian exercises in the region.

So is the security situation in the Arctic a matter for concern? Is there any danger of a potential conflict -- (inaudible)?I would most be interested in hearing U.S. and Norwegian views of representatives(inaudible).

(UNKNOWN): (inaudible) --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. WORK: Let me start then.

As -- as far as -- there is a lot more activity going on in the High North than we have seen in the past several years, both in terms of aviation activity, and we had a very fruitful discussion this morning on how these things, you know, could potentially cause a problem over time.

Russia's made clear its interest in the Arctic and our interests are like I believe all of my colleagues': that we would like to keep the Arctic non-militarized to the point -- as much as possible, and that all nations can benefit from it. We do not want to see some type of big security competition in that region.

But it is clear that, as activities increase, and as each of our armed services interoperate -- interact with each other, we just don't want to see any problems or miscalculations or accidents.

STAFF: Can you please repeat your short question for the minister?

Q: Is downplay any reason to feel concerned about the security situation in the Artic region. The U.S. is saying it's concerned about the increase in Russian military activity. Russia is saying it's concerned about the increase of the U.S. military and intelligence activity in the region.

So what is your, the Norwegian, take on that?

OB): We don't see any direct threat to our security in the High North. We -- we notice the activity that's going on. We follow it closely. But as of now, we don't see any direct threat. And that -- we very much agree with the secretary -- with the Deputy Secretary of Defense that we all have an interest —and I believe that includes Russia, in maintaining the Arctic and the High North as a region of stability, international cooperation and transparency.

STAFF: Up there.

This is Joakim Reigstad of Norwegian national television [NRK], I’d like to address the first question to the U.S.—the USA: You talked a little bit about it but keeping in mind that you want to join all these five (inaudible) together, is it a goal for you to make all the Northern countries to be a part of NATO alliances in order to remain peace and stability in the region-- keeping in mind Russia and what it is doing in the Baltics?

(WORK): As I said, though, before, we value partnerships, and partnerships come in different forms. Partnerships come in treaty alliances, but also bilateral agreements between countries and cooperation.

In this case, this body has both NATO allies, as well as non-NATO allies, but we all have a shared interest in peace and stability in the Baltics and the High North. And so the – Nordic Defense Cooperation is a very innovative way for countries to -- non-NATO and NATO to get together to describe, or to discuss, common security problems.

So I believe this partnership is strong, and, as I said, the decision of any country to join NATO is up to their country and their peoples.

(UNKNOWN): But do you think you -- do you think it would be easier to work with all the countries if all of them were a part of the NATO alliance?

(UNKNOWN): No, not necessarily. As I said, I think we have extremely strong bilateral interchanges with both Sweden and Finland. We very much respect their positions and their capabilities in the region, and working closely together with them – and through fora like the Nordic Defense Cooperation Forum -- we believe that we can work together.

And whether or not in becomes more formal over time is entirely up to those countries.

STAFF: One more question if I may on another topic. In a few days Norway's getting the first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Can you give us just a little bit of your opinion on that investment from the Norwegian defense?

MR. WORK: Well, interoperability, -- and Norway -- well, let me start it this way. I just left Iceland, and the Danish had an F-16. They were doing the NATO air surveillance there. Norway operates F-16s. Finland operates F-18s.

Interoperability is something that we very much value in our partnerships and the F-35 shows a commitment by Norway to have among the best capabilities that it can possibly have. We welcome it; we look forward to working with them once they have that platform.

But all of these nations have Air Forces. And our Air Force routinely works with -- and we value and gain as much from our interaction with them that I hope they can earn from interacting with us.

STAFF: More questions or --

Q: My name is Sverre Strandhagen and I’m from Norwegian business daily Dagens Naeringsliv.

Two questions for Mr. Work, first about Syria. What can -- will the U.S. do to solve the conflict in Syria?

And the second question about Ukraine -- is it so that U.S. now can accept the kind of frozen conflict in Ukraine, and what are the prospects for a solution in Ukraine?

Thank you.

MR. WORK: Let me take the second one first. We continue to call upon Russia to stop its destabilizing actions and to honor the Minsk commitments.

We would like to see Ukraine whole again, and we would like to have peace and stability in that part of Europe. So we will continue to work with our European allies.

We would like to see Ukraine whole again. And we would like to have peace and stability in that part of Europe. So we will continue to work with our European allies. Right now, we believe the right way is through sanctions and diplomacy. But we will continue to be very strong and hopefully be able to keep that from spreading.

As far as Syria, it's not for the United States to solve this problem; this is a problem for all nations, and we are working hard through diplomatic means to try to draw an end to that very, very, very troubling conflict.

It's very -- Russia has its interest in Syria. NATO has its interest, because a lot of the displaced people are moving through Libya and into the Southern flank of Europe. It's in all of our interest to try to bring a diplomatic end to that senseless war.

Q: Hi. Chris Cavas, Defense News.

Two days ago, the Russian typhoon ballistic missile submarine Demetrie Donskoi left its Northern fleet port in the Murmansk area. And press reports has it headed for the Eastern Mediterranean. For Minister Bo, is Norway making any special effort to track the submarine as it moves around your coast, along you coast, and has Norway in general increased its maritime surveillance and patrol missions over the past year or two?

And I have a follow-up.

SEC. BO: We already have quite high activity on maritime surveillance. We are cautiously following activity in our waters and around Norway, and we will continue to do so.

Q: Are you making a special effort for this submarine?

SEC. BO: We were always making a special effort. We -- we -- we -- our activity is good enough, active enough to do that job as it is today.

Q: I've heard -- I've been to this region before this year and particularly in Sweden, and I'm aware that in the Baltic itself, the level of concern about Russian activity is pretty high.

I've also heard that Norway is -- is sensitive to being referred to as "alarmed by the Russians." So I guess when -- with -- with this group up here -- with Iceland, with Finland, with Denmark and Sweden and the U.S. -- is Norway comfortable with being characterized as having the same level of concern about Russian military activities as this group? Or is there any different distinction to be made?

SEC. BO: I think we -- we're – all have of same level of concern. I think if -- if you look back in March, there was a joint op-ed from the -- the -- Nordic defense ministers. Expressing same concern that -- all the five.

And we are seeing a different situation – in the North -- as you will see it in -- in the Baltic Sea, but we're still in a situation where we have – increased capabilities, together with less predictability, following what’s happened in Ukraine, and that, of course, gave them reason to -- to follow the situation closely.

But we don't have any difference in views on those concerns.

Thank you.

STAFF: Thank you. You want a closing remark, Mr. Work?

MR. WORK: Well, again, I’d like to thank our hosts for having this, and I'd like to thank my colleagues. This has been an extremely fruitful morning for me.

I often describe my job as the deputy secretary as the tethered goat in Jurassic Park. (Laughter.) I don't get to leave the Pentagon very often, and when I do, I very much value these frank exchanges of views. It's very, very helpful for me.

And again, I would like to congratulate all my colleagues. I think the Nordic Defense Cooperation Forum that they have started is an example of how countries of like mind can get together to solve a common security issue.

STAFF: Thank you. Thank you.

END