Minister for Defence - Joint Press Conference with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

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Senator the Hon David Johnston

Minister for Defence


Chuck Hagel

US Secretary of Defense

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10 August 2014

JOHNSTON:
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here this afternoon. This afternoon, US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, and I have conducted some bilateral discussions and we've had a round table discussion with some strategic commentators in Australia. Can I say, this is the fourth time we've met, I'm very pleased that Secretary Hagel is here in Australia, I'm delighted to welcome him, I'm hoping he's having a good time and we have got AUSMIN tomorrow with our counterparts, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Bishop.

As you know, we have a Force Posture review running out of Darwin, where we have some 1200 Marines exercising in Australia with Australian troops. Our relationship is strong, our friendship is strong, we share common values and today is just a small part of us dealing with a whole host of issues that are important to both of us, both in our region and further afield. I'm going to hand over to Secretary Hagel now, to say a few more words.

HAGEL:
Minister Johnston, thank you and I too very much appreciate the opportunity to renew our friendship and be together again. And I'm particularly pleased to be back in Australia. Being here in Australia is a personal privilege for me. This is the first time I have been back to Australia since I've been Secretary of Defense. But the personal resonance of this country and being here is meaningful to me because my father was here during World War II, when he served in the South Pacific and spent some time in Australia and my first awareness of this country was as a young boy, when he talked about what he saw in the South Pacific, in particular what he thought of Australia and the Australian people and he was quite enamoured with this country and its people.

I came first to Australia in 1968; I took an R&R from Vietnam and matter of fact, celebrated my 22nd birthday here in Australia. And I asked the other day if the Chevron Hilton Hotel was still here, but it has gone, I think as a result of a number of high-rise apartments and other modern versions of progress. But that hotel was a significant hotel for many reasons, but it sat right on the water, on the hill, overlooking the then almost-completed new Opera Centre. That was my first look at the Opera Centre. I have been back to Australia many times since as a United States senator and as a businessman and I've always been grateful in all those capacities for this long-enduring friendship and very strong partnership.

I think after this that we will - Dave Johnston and I will go over to the ANZAC Memorial and lay a wreath, which I appreciate that personal privilege of being allowed to do that and I also want to extend my personal condolences to the people of Australia for the great tragedy that occurred in the Ukraine. I have noted that in conversations I've had with the Foreign Minister as well as Minister Johnston, but since I am here I particularly wanted to say that and tell the people of Australia that Americans' prayers are with you, our thoughts are with you. I know this is a very difficult time for your country and the people of Australia.

I had an opportunity to host Prime Minister Abbott at the Pentagon when he was in Washington recently meeting with President Obama and as you all know, that's where they announced the US-Australia Force Posture Agreement. Minister Johnston and I will join Minister Bishop and Secretary Kerry tomorrow in signing that document, which certainly to the United States is an important document. And I think it represents another milestone in our relationship. It's important also, that document, to emphasising and supporting America's rebalance to the Asia Pacific and doing what we can to assure our own interests, as well as the interests of Australia and other nations in the Asia Pacific to sustain a peaceful and stable order throughout Asia Pacific.

I think when you look at the framework of that agreement, it allows us many things and I think the rotational presence, for example of US Marines in Darwin and American Airmen in Northern Australia, is a good example of what the FPA will allow us to do as we work more closely together and co-operate more closely and coordinate more closely in new ways and strengthen some of the older ways we have been able to co-operate over the years.

It will expand our regional co-operation here in the Asia Pacific, from engagement with ASEAN, to the trilateral co-operation that we have been working on with Japan, which is an important relationship. We have our own bilateral relationships with Japan, but this enhances and broadens that bilateral relationship we each have with Japan into a trilateral relationship. The FPA's long-term commitment provides a solid foundation for our joint capacity building, which we can do more of, our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which we have done together for many years, and I think other areas that provide us some opportunities for new initiatives.

On our agenda today, which we have had an opportunity to meet for an hour, just the two of us and our teams, prior to what David noted, the round table with a number of scholars and experienced former government officials, which was very valuable to me because it gave me an opportunity to listen, to learn more, not just of Australia's interests, but opinions and their thoughts about our role in this area and our role, the United States' role as it develops with Australia and focusing on our common interests. In addition to those meetings this afternoon, we'll have a dinner tonight, which will formally kick off our meeting tomorrow and we will address a number of issues tomorrow, specific issues.

They will focus on maritime security, Special Forces, missile defence and Afghanistan. We'll be discussing, of course, the situation in Ukraine, including Australia's - again, its terrible loss in the MH17 tragedy. This gives us tomorrow and opportunity to advance some of each others' thinking in these areas and gives us an opportunity to explore more ways, better ways, we can co-operate; not just in the areas I mentioned but in areas that we will have opportunities to go into some detail with when we sit down and talk.

We'll also be conferring on the threat by ISIL in Iraq, and America's appreciation to Australia, in particular for Australia's offer to assist in humanitarian relief operations there. I also want to note that when I mentioned Afghanistan, we very much appreciate Australia's continued support and efforts there as well.

So I am looking forward to this meeting tomorrow. I always look forward to coming to Australia and being in Australia and doing what I can as the Secretary of Defense to continue to strengthen, widen, and broaden our friendship and our partnership. So thank you.

COMPERE:
From Tim Lester, Seven Network Australia.

QUESTION:
Question to you both, if I might. First, Defence Minister Johnston, could you please bring us up to date on Australia's humanitarian aid drops in Iraq - where we are up to, are they confirmed, and the like? But also could you answer if we really are potentially facing a genocide in Iraq, are food drops all Australia's military can realistically do, and if we can do more, what is it? What's our more muscular position in Iraq?

And to Defense Secretary Hagel, knowing Australia's strengths and weaknesses in the military area, sir, where would you like to see and how would you like to see Australia involved militarily in the effort to stabilise Iraq?

JOHNSTON:
Now Tim, thank you for that question. I'll answer from an Australian perspective. We have some good skills in terms of the capacity to drop aid packages from the back of a C-130 Hercules. We acquired those skills over many years, but predominantly in the mountains around East Timor and Dili. And so we've got ourselves deployed to be able to slot into American planning in that regard for the people that are entrapped in the mountains around Erbil in north-eastern Iraq.

At this stage, we think that that is a considerable contribution - humanitarian and aid assistance to those people, and I believe there's something around 30,000 people potentially there. With respect to, as you describe it, muscling up, we don't telegraph our punches in any shape or form, and there's been no request for us to participate in combat. The situation for us at the moment is we are committed to helping the Americans and our friends who will join the Americans in providing humanitarian and disaster relief.

Now, what the future holds in what is clearly a very troubled, confused, and difficult situation in Iraq, anybody can guess, but that's just what that would be: a guess, and so I'm not going to speculate at all as to what the future holds. But at this stage, our sole focus is upon humanitarian and disaster relief for those people that are trapped in the mountains around Erbil.

HAGEL:
I want to begin with again, thanking Australia for their offer to assist us in Iraq. As the Minister noted, we are working through specific areas of where the Australians can help, which they have noted they will and want to. They do have, as the Minister mentioned, considerable expertise and skills in air drops and humanitarian efforts, which will be particularly helpful. We are working through now the specifics of those operations.

As to other countries that have offered to assist and are assisting - will assist, many of you know that President Obama spoke yesterday to President Hollande of France as well as Prime Minister Cameron of the UK. They, too, have offered assistance and will be helping. We are coordinating a group of partners to assist in this effort, which we appreciate. This is a humanitarian issue of great consequence for all the world, and I think great powers understand they have responsibilities in these areas.

So again, it's well underway. Those last details of planning - and we'll have more to announce. Certainly, the Australians will make their announcement when they are prepared. Thank you.

COMPERE:
Next question will come from Lolita Baldor from the Associated Press.

QUESTION:
Thank you. Lolita Baldor with AP. Mr Secretary, air strikes began the other day, on Friday. Can you tell us what you think the - your assessment is so far on how - what the impact has been on the Islamic State militants? And at this point, is it time for the United States to move from assessment teams to more of an advise and assist role with the Iraqis, which had been talked about in the past but just hadn't been done yet?

HAGEL:
On the assessment of the effectiveness of the air strikes, they have been very effective from all the reports that we've received on the ground. I will be speaking with General Austin here in a couple of hours. I spoke with Chairman Dempsey this morning. I have been talking with our people on a regular basis, not just on those assessments but all the other dimensions of what we're doing and how we're doing and future operations in Iraq.

As to your second question, we are constantly assessing where we can continue to assist the Iraqi security forces, and where - as we build partnerships, as President Obama noted, and we just talked about a couple of those here in specific terms a minute ago, we will work with the Iraqi Government. As you know, the Iraqi Government requested our help and our assistance, and we'll continue to consider further requests from the Iraqi Government.

COMPERE:
Next question is from Brendan Nicholson from The Australian.

QUESTION:
Mr Hagel, Beijing clearly got what it wanted at the ASEAN meeting with no firm condemnation of coercive activities in the South China Sea. Are you able to explain to us in practical terms how you can reassure nations in the region that America remains committed to the rebalance? Perhaps give us any details of deployments and increased deployments by troops, aircraft, Marines?

And there's been discussion of Australia taking a role with an anti-ballistic missile system. Now, this would mean, I think, an upgrade to the sort of missiles that are going onto our air warfare destroyers - the AEGIS system. Would America be prepared to help out with that system? Would you upgrade the system for us?

HAGEL:
On your first question, the - I was not at the ASEAN meeting. Secretary Kerry has just landed. I got reports from the ASEAN meeting. I don't think I would describe it the way you did, that China got what it wanted out of that meeting. I think it's pretty clear China's actions speak for themselves, and our position has been - the ASEAN position that we have supported - is a careful conduct, responsible conduct, by all nations regarding these disputes. They should be resolved through international law and I don't think that has changed in the position of the ASEAN nations, which I can't speak for and wouldn't try to. But that has been our position, and that is the position that we continue to take, and I think Secretary Kerry made that very clear yesterday.

As to your - I think, your bigger question: the commitment - further commitment of the United States rebalance to the Asia Pacific. Well, when you look at some of the specifics that have occurred and are occurring and in terms of numbers, we have in this Asia Pacific region about 200 ships in our Navy in the Pacific in this area. We have over 360,000 military uniformed personnel and civilians stationed in this part of the world. This is a part of the world that represents five of America's seven treaty obligation countries that we are committed to, which we've made it very clear we're committed to.

Recently, for the first time, we have Marines on a rotational basis here in Australia; 1200, I think, is what we currently have. We have a LCS ship, and we'll have more on a rotational basis in Singapore, which is new. We have just included new arrangements and agreements with the country the Philippines, on a rotational basis to use bases there; and I could go on. But I think it gives you some tangible answer to your question: are we committed or not? Yes we're committed. We will continue to stay committed.

But I might also add that it does not mean that the US rebalance to the Asia Pacific - and this is a dynamic process that the United States certainly has used over the years, as geopolitical interests shift in the world. And I think by any measurement, any metric applied to the Asia Pacific - Secretary Pritzker, Secretary Kerry were quite clear on this when they were in India about a week ago, that the economic development and the emergence of an astounding number of middle class and all of the economic development, productive parts of a society of a country, that are emerging in this part of the world are pretty clear. We have an interest here; the United States. We will continue to have an interest here. We are a Pacific power. We have been a Pacific power.

So, we're not going anywhere and our partnerships here, our treaty obligations here, are important to us. The President has made that case. This is my sixth trip to the Asia Pacific area since I have been Secretary of Defence, the last year and a half. I'll do four this calendar year. Secretary Kerry - Secretary Pritzker was just in India, as you know Secretary Kerry was just in Myanmar yesterday. So I think by any measurement of commitment, it's pretty clear that the US is committed to this part of the world, but also does not mean a retreat from any other part of the world. We have interests all over the world. We'll continue to work with our partners and strengthen those partnerships and the alliances we have in every part of the world and here as well.

QUESTION:
[Inaudible]

HAGEL:
Ballistic missiles; we are going to talk, tomorrow, as I noted, in our discussions with the Australians regarding ballistic missile defence. These are conversations that we've started prior. We talked a little bit in our meeting today, the two of us, about this issue and we think there's great opportunity and possibilities as we go forward and develop some options. But beyond that, I don't have anything to say.

COMPERE:
Last question today will be from David Welna from National Public Radio.

QUESTION:
Secretary Kerry, given the fairly narrow scope…

HAGEL:
[Interrupts] I'm Secretary Hagel, but I'll…

[Laughter]

I'm sorry, John, wherever you are, but I…

QUESTION:
I'm getting ahead of myself; I'm jetlagged but [indistinct]…

HAGEL:
But you flatter me, thank you. He may not see it that way.

QUESTION:
Secretary Hagel, given the fairly narrow scope to date of US air strikes in Iraq, is the US prepared to allow the self-styled Islamic State to remain in the places it's already occupied, a policy of military containment, or is there also going to be an effort by the US to push these insurgents out of those places? And to Senator Johnston: we've heard reports that Australia may be allowing an expansion of US Forces in the North of Australia; is that the case, and if so, what's the basis for that?

HAGEL:
Well on ISIL, you all know what President Obama has said, he's made it very clear, ISIL is a threat to the civilised world, certainly to the United States, to our interests. It is to Europe, it is to Australia and I think reflected in a local newspaper I saw this morning, with the picture on the front page, is pretty graphic evidence of the real threat that ISIL represents. As to how the United States is responding to that threat in Iraq, the President has also made it clear, we're going to continue to support the Iraqi security forces in every way that we can as they request assistance there and we will again build partnerships, as we are now, recognising the threat, not just to the United States, but to the civilised world. So we continue to assess these and how we can best address ISIL and assist the Iraqi security forces in Iraq.

JOHNSTON:
With respect to your very good question on Force Posture; tomorrow we'll sign a Force Posture Agreement that incorporates a status of Forces Agreement that was signed in 1963 when we had a naval communications station at Exmouth on the North West Shelf of Western Australia. So the relationship is one that is entirely understood, known, and been in good practice for many, many years.

So pursuant to the Force Posture Agreement, approximately 2500 US Defence Force personnel will come to primarily the Northern Territory, to exercise on the vast open Commonwealth Exercise Grounds, military exercise grounds that we have in the Northern Territory. They'll inter-operate with Australia; they'll do things that they want to do, go through exercise activities that are important to them. We'll assist them, we'll provide, obviously hospitality. Can I tell you, the Darwin Chamber of Commerce is elated with 2500 hungry Marines in their city.

You might be surprised to know, we've had 1200 there for some long time now. In the dry six months of the year, in the Northern Territory. And you would be surprised, because it's gone seamlessly. Everybody's happy, everything has worked according to plan, there's been no issues and we're absolutely delighted with the presence of those personnel there and we're, of course, got two very large amphibious ships. The Marines, of course, are the world's experts in amphibious combat and amphibious operations and so we're watching and learning as to how those operations are carried out.

Also, we're practising humanitarian disaster relief with a very agile and nimble US Marine Corps that has tremendous platform capacity, in terms of versatility and reach. And so, these are the things that are benefitting Australia and the flip-side of that coin is we have just a lot of space that's open for practice exercises, kinetic practice, all sorts of things. So, it's a win-win situation for both of us. The agreement that we'll sign tomorrow has a term of 25 years and, you know, its - as I say, just nothing more or less than a win-win for both of us.

HAGEL:
Thank you.

JOHNSTON:
Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

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