Dec 4, 2017: Press Briefing by Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison

Kay Bailey Hutchison

U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO

Press Briefing

4 December 2017


Ambassador Hutchison: Welcome. I am so pleased that we are now in my second ministerial, but my first one with our Secretary of State. I think the Secretary General has already been here to talk about our key overview for what we are going to be talking about as we lead up to our summit next summer, but I will reiterate that.

Of course, we’re going to have as a priority the fight against terrorism. We are working very hard on the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and increasing the capacity there. We have the new South Asian strategy in Afghanistan that has had such a good response from all of our Allies here, and most certainly from our Afghan partners and the troops in the field.

As you know, I was with Secretary Mattis going to Afghanistan probably six weeks ago, and our troops in the field are ready to be helpful in every way to the Afghan forces. So that is going to be a continuing priority for us going forward.

NATO-EU cooperation is something that we are building on. Since I have come, there has been more and more discussion about ways that we can cooperate. I would say from the U.S. standpoint, the mobility of troops moving through Europe in a crisis is the main thing that we’re going to be looking at with more EU cooperation. But also more capacity in the EU is going to be a subject that we continue to explore, as well as more information sharing on the ground as all of us fight terrorism where we live.

The U.S. and NATO-Russia issues most certainly will be in the forefront. We have seen Russian activity that is not helpful in many of our NATO Allies and countries, and we look forward to continuing our mission of not changing business as usual until there is movement by Russia in Ukraine. After the illegal annexation of Crimea, we suspended business as usual and cooperation with Russia, and we now expect a change in behavior for Russia to be more aware of the many treaties and agreements that Russia has with NATO and with the United States and which are being violated by Russia as we speak.

There’s the NATO-Georgia Commission. Of course, the United States completely supports the accession of Georgia into NATO membership. They’re an important partner. They’re doing a lot for us in other NATO areas of involvement, including Afghanistan, and we certainly look forward to working with them as they progress toward NATO membership. And the full open door policy, which America does certainly support and continues to support (the open door policy) as we have in the past. We think NATO is much stronger at 29 and we look forward to more in the future.

So with that, I will stop and take your questions and I look forward to this week having Secretary Tillerson with us in Brussels.

Moderator:  Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post.

Media:  A question about Secretary Tillerson. There have been a lot of reports in the last couple of days that he may be ousted from the State Department soon. How does that affect your discussions here in the next couple of days? Does it mean that Allies will take his personal assurances less seriously? And would Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State have a different approach to NATO from the current Secretary of State?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Well, let me first say that we have been working with Secretary Tillerson and his staff on this meeting for several weeks, and there has been no change whatsoever. There was never a blip on the screen. And I think the President and the Secretary have both said that he is on board, and I know from my dealing with Allies that the Secretary speaks for the President and our American policies, as I have just stated.

With regard to Mike Pompeo, I know him and I like him very much but I have no information that he would be in any way in a different role than CIA director, in which he’s doing a great job.

Media:  Khalid Hameed Farooqi, GEO TV from Pakistan.

Can you explain or tell us that there’s a lot of discussion in South Asian strategies, in particular, focused on Pakistan. And Pakistan, regarding this policy, that its concerns have been not taken seriously, and the situation now today that James Mattis as Secretary of Defense was in Pakistan and Secretary of State Tillerson already visited.

And what is going on really with regards to Pakistan and the American CIA? Today Pompeo threatened and warned Pakistan that if it does not destroy the hideouts of Haqqani network and terrorist sanctuaries on the border area of Pakistan, then America will do.

America and Pakistan have already agreement that Americans can take on Haqqani network and terrorist sanctuaries on the border, but despite that, what is the need of this particular threat and warning today by Pompeo? Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  Well, I think it is very important that Pakistan hear the message from Secretary Mattis, who is there today, and from all of us in the administration that we need Pakistan’s cooperation. And we can do so much more as a partner with Pakistan if they will assure that they are not giving aid and financial help to the Haqqani or the Taliban network or any other terrorist network.

It is so helpful in that region to have all of us pulling in the same direction, and that is to stabilize Afghanistan and rid Afghanistan of the cancer that is within it and the terrorist networks. They cannot recover if we have terrorist networks that are well funded, that are killing innocent Afghans, killing members of the Afghan police force and security forces.

The Afghan people want a stable country just like every person in the world does, and we’re there to try to stabilize them for not only a functioning government and an armed services that can defend their country, but to assure that terrorist networks are not growing there and then exporting to our NATO Allies or to the United States.

So Pakistan can be a partner. We are looking for them to be a partner. And we hope they will hear the messages from America that if we can establish a strong and trusting relationship with Pakistan, that it will be to their economic benefit and their security benefit as well.

Moderator:  Bettina Scharkus from ARD in Germany.

Media:  Ambassador, what should Germany do for NATO?  It doesn’t reach the 2% limit. Should Germany more for NATO [inaudible]?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Well, of course Germany is one of our found– not one of our founding partners, but one of our strong partners and has been a huge contributor to NATO. We are hoping that Germany will meet the 2% hopefully before 2024. They’re one of our most economically sound partners right now, and we rely on them for many parts of our overall security, and they’ve been a great partner. We’ll continue to look forward to Germany doing more, working with us, and really, just as they always have.

Media:  Thank you, Assia Atrous Ep Bouguerra from Dar assabah.

I’d like to ask about NATO strategy on illegal immigration. Is it a priority right now? And what about Tunisia [inaudible]? Will they consider [inaudible] at the expense of their economy, the expense of their security?

The second question concerning Yemen.  What about the NATO position?  Anything [inaudible]?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Let me say first of all, that NATO is not on the front lines on immigration issues. Those are for sovereign nations, and that of course is respected.

What NATO is involved with is trying to build our partnerships, project stability in the countries that are on the front lines with neighboring countries that are unstable. So Tunisia is one of our very good partners with whom we are sharing increased capacity building, and we will continue to do that. We consider Tunisia as one of the early countries that stood up for more human rights in their own country. We will continue to do that.

And in other parts of the Middle East, we are trying to build stability with partners. Jordan, of course, is one that is in our partnerships. We are certainly going to try to be as helpful as we can in Libya. And just going forward, every place that is seeking help for a building of capacity, for stability and an ability to withstand any kind of terrorism or lack of respect for human rights in neighboring countries, we want to help them stabilize for human rights and the ability to protect themselves from those who would encroach on human rights.

Moderator:  Teri Schultz from NPR.

Media:  Are you concerned that things are still going in the wrong direction in Ukraine?  We saw over the weekend the monitors, the OSCE monitors noted that there were now Russian Federation flags flying over building in Lugansk, which may not be surprising, but it’s still a dramatic sight. You’ve spoken with Kurt Volker. Do you have any indication that he’s going to be able to help turn things around in any way?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I have spoken with Kurt Volker as recently as the Halifax Security Conference, and I would say that Ukraine is on the top of our list of areas where we need to see more action by Russia in the right direction, and we are not seeing that.

That is why NATO is standing firm on not trying to have business as usual with Russia until they show an ability to come to the table and try — we are trying very hard to encourage Russia to meet the Minsk Agreement. That is an agreement Russia made that is being violated right now in Ukraine.

Media:  Alix Rijckaert, AFP.

I have a question about the missile shield. It’s now in Poland, there is a site that NATO has in Romania. It’s operational. There are ships in the Mediterranean. This is an American technology. I was wondering, do you think this shield could be adapted to respond to the threat of missiles being launched from North Korea, since we now know that they are able to [inaudible] reach Europe?

Ambassador Hutchison:  The missile defense systems that you mentioned are not positioned against North Korea. Having said that, clearly the capability that North Korea is now testing would be ballistic missiles, if they are working in the way that they could, that could affect all of Europe, not just the bordering states with Russia, but all of Europe and all of America.

I think we are beginning to talk in NATO about the overall security threat that North Korea is producing at this point, and I believe that NATO members are very concerned with the activities of North Korea, because it certainly is a threat that could affect all of us, but even at this point it’s affecting South Korea and Japan.

So I know from where I sit that America is trying the diplomatic route, and they are being very patient, they have asked for the Alliance’s help. Our Allies are asked to be helpful in every way they can. China and Russia have been asked to help in every way they can because they actually have more economic activity with North Korea than any of the rest of us do, which means they have leverage. We would ask that they use their leverage for the good of all of our global security.

So at this point our missile defense systems are not aimed at North Korea, but we do consider that there is a looming threat to all of us in America, Europe and beyond with what North Korea is now doing.

Media:  My name is Omar.  I’m from Alghad TV.

I just would like to ask you about the war against ISIS, which is coming to an end. What’s your focus now? Do you have any specifics to put forward the next [inaudible]? And especially about the foreign fighters, do you have any concerns about them, as ISIS is losing territory in Iraq and Syria?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Most certainly we are in a much better place with the Defeat-ISIS Coalition than we have ever been, but we are not finished. Before we finish with ISIS, we have to assure that ISIS is not in Iraq. After which we know that NATO will take a role in helping with advice and training to stabilize Iraq.

We learned a very hard lesson when America left Iraq and ISIS began its treacherous path toward establishing a caliphate.

Now we are, with many Allies, fighting the rise of ISIS in Iraq, and trying to eliminate them, and I don’t mean that we’re actually on the ground. It’s the Iraqi troops who are on the ground, but we are there with training and advice to help them.

When they are defeated in Iraq, we will help stabilize, again, with advice and training, but we are also going to see where ISIS goes, where the remnants of ISIS goes. We hope that some will renounce the tactics of ISIS, but there are terrorist networks that are forming in other places, possibly ISIS-driven, and including Afghanistan, where we are going to make a concerted effort to eliminate them there as well.

So ISIS is on the wane, but it’s not over and we are going to continue to fight ISIS with everything we can because of the tactics they have used that are beyond comprehension in the 21st century.

Media:  One more question, just about Iran. The U.S. now is clearly not happy with the nuclear deal with Iran. How much difference do you have in terms of your position from other Allies and NATO? Are you trying to convince them with your side?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think that at this point we are trying to work with all of the signatories, or most of the signatories to the JCPOA to bring Iran to the table, not on the JCPOA, but on their activities that must be stopped. They are harboring terrorists. They are funding terrorists that are killing many of our Allies’ troops, and in addition, of course, they are testing a ballistic missile, and that is unacceptable. Iran has been given a huge chance to go on the right path and because of JCPOA, they should be much more amenable to stopping the activities that are so disruptive in the Middle East and that are exported to the rest of us.

Media:  Ana Pisonero from Europa Press. What do you expect from the discussions on counter-terrorism and the fight against terrorism? Do you expect concrete compromises from NATO to do more in this case, in which? And also [inaudible] what else is making [inaudible]?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think that fighting terrorism will be on many fronts. It would be certainly Afghanistan and stabilizing Iraq and continuing the fight against terrorists wherever they are because that causes an exporting of terrorism against all of us in the Alliance and our partners. So we will continue to fight terrorism that are outside our borders but are a common threat to us within our borders.

On the second question, I think that because NATO has adopted a counter-terrorism mission, that we will be looking for ways to enhance cooperation with sharing of data about who is coming in to our country, our countries, our members, that are connected with terrorist networks, and everything that we can do to train security officers in looking for potential terrorist cells and hopefully doing more in the deterrence area within our borders, all of our members’ borders, that will carry the fight against terrorism within our borders as well as outside that could be exported in.

Media:  [Inaudible] from Jordan.

First of all, as NATO presence is increasing presence in the Middle East, do you have any plan for direct support to [inaudible], especially Jordan? And how you see their role in the war on terrorism, especially Jordan?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Jordan has been one of our key partners. Since I was in the United States Senate, and I have met your king many times, and he is a player for what is good and right for the Middle East, and he’s been a huge partner. And of course the United States as well as NATO have given added capacity building to Jordan and they are a major force for what is right in the Middle East. We appreciate that and we’ll continue to hold them in a special status, frankly, for capacity building, partnership building, and being a trusted ally in every way.

Moderator:  Thank you very much.