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Press Briefing with Kay Bailey Hutchison
April 1, 2019

Press Briefing with Kay Bailey Hutchison

Ambassador Hutchison:  Good afternoon.  I’m so looking forward to welcoming all of our NATO Ambassadors as well as the Foreign Ministers to Washington tomorrow.  We are really going to have a wonderful celebration of our 70th Anniversary.

I think first of all, the unprecedented invitation to our Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to speak to a Joint Session of Congress I think shows the importance that Americans have for NATO and most certainly the bipartisan support of Congress.  So we are very much looking forward to that and we will have our full contingent of the diplomatic corps in Washington as well as many of our foreign ministers and our ambassadors.

We are also looking forward to discussing the issues that we have achieved in 70 years.  The security umbrella that we have given to Europe and to North America, working together, has been what NATO was intended to do.  It has been the deterrence of Russian aggression for 70 years.  That has been the major goal of NATO and most certainly today it is one of our major goals, to try to show Russia that they cannot encroach on European countries’ sovereignty and to show that we stand together to assure that that will not happen.

So what has that security umbrella given to us?  It has given the prosperity to all of our countries.  A security umbrella has provided investment that allows for creation of an economy, for jobs, and for quality of life for all of our people.  So we are celebrating a big achievement for the longest standing military alliance in the history of the world.  And that has happened because of our unity and our strength.

And I think we are going to be addressing the issues of today as we are also celebrating the past.  I think the Secretary General has talked about the scheduling and that we will have a reception on the very place that the treaty was signed 70 years ago, and then we will have the Joint Session and we will also have then the Foreign Ministerial.

At the Ministerial we will talk about the major issues facing us going forward.  We will talk about burden sharing and making sure that this is uppermost in the minds of all of our allies, that we have an alliance that is not only unified but strong.  Strong in our capability to deter whatever risk any of us might face.

Then we will also talk about Russia and what Russia is doing to destabilize Ukraine, most certainly from the Kerch Straits as well as the illegal invasion of Crimea and the militarization of Crimea.  So we will talk about that.  We will talk about ways to continue to build our deterrence and defense against Russian aggression, whether it is hybrid, cyber, or chemical warfare as we saw in the UK or what we are seeing in the Ukraine and Georgia.  So that will be a major topic.

We will also be talking about counterterrorism.  We will talk about the importance of the new mission in Iraq as well as the ongoing mission in Afghanistan.  And we will talk about future threats, an assessment of where we are for the future as we are hoping to work with China in trade and international norms.  We also are watching what they are doing and we want to make sure that we are assessing what they’re doing and hopefully bring them into the world order, but also be ready if they are not willing to do that.

So I think it’s a very full schedule as our ministerials always are, and I think we will accomplish a lot.  And I guess the last point that I would make is that there will be a Black Sea Initiative not only for the deterrence of Russia but also to say you must stop the destabilization of the Ukraine and we must make sure that all of the NATO countries that live in the Black Sea and around the Black Sea are also under our security umbrella.

So with that, I’m very pleased to be here and to be getting ready to go tomorrow and welcome our many colleagues to Washington, DC and to let them know how much people in Washington and people in the United States appreciate our leadership in NATO and know how important it is to America that we speak with 29 voices, hopefully 30 in the very near future, and that we are all stronger by being together than we would ever be alone.

Thank you.

Moderator:  We have time for some questions.

Press:  Stefan [Leifitz], German TV.

A question regarding burden sharing and Germany’s role.  Is the U.S. government hoping for a new government constellation in Germany in order to increase defense expenditure more easily than right now?

Ambassador Hutchison:  As you know, Germany is the strongest economy in Europe and Germany is stepping up at a greater pace than they had in the past, but there is still much more to do for Germany.  Germany is a major contributor to our NATO missions and they are meeting their capability targets.  That is the equipment that we need to be able to have that security umbrella.  But Germany has said they’re not doing enough in meeting their defense spending needs.  They have said that themselves.  And President Trump and Chancellor Merkel had a conversation the week before last about what Germany is doing.

We all read the reports that Germany was stepping back from their 1.5 percent commitment by 2024 by looking at their next three years of projected budgets.  And Chancellor Merkel said to the President, we are going to stay with our 1.5 percent commitment and we are going to do more going forward, and we will keep our commitments.

So I think that that is very clear.  We’re asking Germany to do more.  They’re saying they know they need to do more, and they’re committing to do more, and I take them at their word.

Press:  [Inaudible] from GeoTelevision News, Pakistan.

There is voices of concern among the Kabul government and particularly Northern Alliance member within the government that mission of Zalmay Khalilzad in particular is bypassing Kabul and there is also dissent emerging also in Washington by some members of Kabul government.  Can you explain that?  And General Secretary just said that you are trying to build consensus and reconciliation with Taliban, but there is big objection among members of government in Kabul.

Ambassador Hutchison:  As you know, there are four major goals of the peace organization that would hopefully lead to a lasting peace in Afghanistan.  Of course the government is a major part of that.  And as Ambassador Khalilzad and others are working in different groups, they are working on the same four missions for a peace negotiation and a peace agreement.  So there are talks going on in Kabul at the same time as talks are going on in Doha, and the effort to bring all of those together will not be finished until all four elements have come together.  And most certainly we are, not we, but all of the participants that want to see this peace go forward, are going to make sure that all of the elements of Afghanistan are part of a lasting peace process, and in fact it will not be lasting unless all of the elements are together.

Press:  [Inaudible] News Agency of Ukraine.

About yesterday’s election.  Would they be somehow reflected in the Ministerial?  Or will it be a subject of discussion?  And from your assessment, were these elections democratic and what kind of impact it could have for bilateral cooperation between U.S. and Ukraine and between Ukraine and NATO?  Thanks.

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think we have to wait until the election is over to make any discussions about a way forward.  But NATO stands with Ukraine, the United States stands with Ukraine in their efforts for independence, for sovereignty, for democracy and for reforms in their government that would be the right elements for the people of Ukraine.  The elections are not over.  I think having a democracy means that you see it to the end and then you work with the people who are elected by the people in a free and fair election.

Press: Thank you, Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency Europa Press.

With the initiatives that the allies will approve on the Black Sea, do you expect more ships from the NATO allies to be down there?  Or just more days of the same ships at sea?  And also, would you expect or anticipate port visits in Mariupol?  I understand that some allies want a measured presence there and look to escalate tensions in an undue way.  So would you expect these kind of visits? Or maybe not Mariupol but just in the region.  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think I understand your question, and the answer is there is going to be a significant discussion of Black Sea security at the Ministerial, and I think there are a number of opportunities on the table to do more in the Black Sea security to send a message, again, to Russia but an actual security increase after what happened in the Kerch Straits.  That was bold and it was malign.  To take over ships, to arrest the crew of those ships, and take them to a Moscow prison.  And I think you’re going to see Ministers say let those prisoners go.  There is nothing that can be said but that it is time for Russia to let that ship, let the ships go, let the people come back into the Ukraine.  They have done nothing wrong.  And then we will continue to do more air cover, most certainly air monitoring.  We will have ships in the Black Sea.  We’ve already done more of that.  Sanctions have been issued by many of the countries in our alliance against people who perpetrated what happened in the Kerch Straits.  And I think that we are on more alert because that was a bold step and it was outrageous what the Russians did.  And we’re not going to sit back and say oh, well, okay, business as usual.  It’s not business as usual.

Press: Teri Schultz.  Hi, thank you.

I’m interested in finding out more about the U.S. position on Huawei. SACEUR Scaparrotti said on Capitol Hill that if the Germans, for example, were to choose Huawei for defense communications, we may cut communications.  I want to know if he was speaking as a U.S. official or as a NATO official, because NATO took some distance from that position.

So what are your concerns at the moment?  And what are the messages being passed to allies about the risks that you feel they would face?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Most certainly everything that America has learned about the capabilities of the Chinese to put in infrastructure is now being assessed and we are working with our allies to assure, first of all, that interoperable NATO communications cannot be disrupted.  5G is on us, it is going to be much more advanced and we must know that we have NATO interoperable communications capabilities.

There are some areas of private sector that some of our allies already have private sector Huawei in their private sector communications networks, but as far as government and security, we must all work together and that’s what certainly America is trying to share with our allies and trying to look for ways that we can assure.

And it’s not about Huawei particularly, it’s about any company that is doing infrastructure for our defense communications that has part of the law that it would be required if the government asks for violation of contracts for sharing of information.  And that is our concern.

So I think that we’re watching what other countries are doing that are in our alliance and how they are securing their networks and all of us are trying to assure that our NATO defense networks are also.

I think what General Scaparrotti was talking about was our military and defense communications.

Press: Hello,

Mathias Kolb, Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Ambassador Hutchison, a report by Germany News Agency DPR from today which quotes you that you have an assessment, it’s again about Merkel and the German government and defense spending, that according to your assessment Merkel is working on bringing a new partner into the coalition to increase defense spending.  Could you elaborate a little bit more on where this information comes from, and who the new partners could be?  Because I think the only partner could be the Greens who are also very reluctant to do more defense spending.  It would be great if you could give some clarity.  Thanks.

Ambassador Hutchison:  I don’t know where that is coming from.  I’m sorry.  I can’t answer.

Press:  Georgian TV.

Black Sea security will be one of the priority topics on the upcoming Ministerial in Washington, so which kind of news tips can we expect regarding to Georgia on this issue?  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  Well most certainly Georgia is one of our primary partners that we want to work with to protect from any further incursion by Russia, and I think that part of our efforts to increase Black Sea security are aimed for help to Ukraine and Georgia.  So I think you’re looking at air surveillance, you’re looking at monitoring ships going through, making sure that those shipping lanes are open and usable as was the case where the Ukraines were taken over by the Russians in the Kerch Straits, that those were legal entry lanes that were by treaty allowed for the Ukraine to be making.  So we are going to do more monitoring and more sanctions of Russians that we hope will result in their letting the prisoners go and returning the ships and going back to the access that is required by Ukrainian ships and that would also be helpful for Georgia.

Press:  Thank you.  Last week Ambassador Khalilzad [inaudible] all NATO regarding the peace negotiations in Doha which [at the moment] are not available at all in this negotiation.

I would like to ask is there a contingency plan if Taliban joins the peace process?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Most certainly part of the peace process is bringing all of the factors together.  That would be, of course the government, of course many of the different components of the communities in Afghanistan, and including the Taliban.  And part of this early effort is to bring together the Taliban with the many other groups in Afghanistan that have a constituency, and there many.  And I think that part of the peace process is making sure that every constituency is represented in these talks and at this point it is bringing the government and the Taliban and making sure, to the best that we can, most certainly through the Afghan leadership, to have all of the constituencies represented because in our view that is the only way we will have a real peace that is a lasting peace.  For us, it is very important that that peace include the gains that have been made over 18 years in education and infrastructure and communication and the beginning of an economy in Afghanistan that would produce the more lasting peace, and also to assure that we do not have the capability for terrorist networks to be able to grow and become exports from Afghanistan into any of our NATO allies or partners.

Press:  Helen Maguire, I’m from the German Press Agency DPA, and I just wanted to follow up on my colleague’s question, maybe give you a chance to clarify.

If you don’t mind, I will quote what you said earlier today, Ambassador, in the telephone briefing on the Ministerial.  This is from the transcript and it says you said, “I think that Germany is one of those divided governments that I mentioned where there is a coalition put together and they are trying to go in that direction, in that right direction I know,”
this is obviously on defense spending, “and they must.  We need more from Germany because they have the strongest economy in Europe.  They need to do more.  They say they need to do more so I know that the will is there of Chancellor Merkel and her part of the coalition, and I think she is working to bring others in so that they can have that budget that will give us more of the capabilities that Germany can provide.”

Would you be able to clarify?  Maybe that was misunderstood in some way.  Thank you very much.

Ambassador Hutchison:  Okay.  I think I now understand the other question better.  I didn’t understand the context.

I don’t mean bringing in new people, I mean taking the coalition as it is and urging them to do what the government has committed to do.  I think maybe that was the question before that I didn’t understand bringing in new people.  It’s not new people necessarily, it is, and I think here it’s very important for us to say that our publics need to know the importance of providing security now.  We are in a world of risk.  Risk from terrorism, being exported out of other countries into our countries to disrupt our way of life.  We are at risk from a Russia that is doing very bold and malign things.  They’re attacking hybrid, cyber, they’re trying to sow discontent in so many of our countries.  So educating our publics and our coalition governments about the need for more spending, more capabilities, more mobility, more deterrence efforts is very important.

So when I say bring more people in, I think that’s the public, I think it is the partners in coalition governments throughout our alliance.  And it is making sure that our publics understand, there is risk out there.  This is a very unsafe world.  We’re looking at the present and we’re looking at the future not being much better.  In fact we’re looking at future in which there is more capability, more technology, for attacks and malign influence than maybe we’ve had in our histories, our joint histories.  And we’ve got to be prepared to protect our publics from those bigger weapon systems, those more technologically advanced systems that would sow division.

And so yes, we need more people to understand in all of our publics the importance of this security umbrella which means we’ve got to have the capability to deter a big adversary or a non-state adversary that uses tactics that are inhumane.

So yes, we need to bring more people in in our publics, in our coalitions and in all of our efforts to strengthen this alliance by having the capability so that our adversaries know that we can do more damage to them if they try to hurt our populations.

Press:  Thank you.  Russian News Agency [Inaudible].

I had a question on will Ministers discuss, raise the question of Golan Heights?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Not specifically would we be talking about the Golan Heights.  Israel most certainly is one of our partners and many in the Middle East are also partners.  I have no indication that the Golan Heights situation, although we’re watching it very carefully, is going to be discussed at the Ministerial.  It’s a very important, I mean I’ve been on the Golan Heights and I see the dangers to the Israeli people and I know that they must be protected from having any kind of missile or an attack capable from the Golan Heights because it’s right across the river.  So it’s very hard to —

Moderator:  Any final questions?

With that, thank you very much.

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