February 11, 2020: Press Briefing with Kay Bailey Hutchison

Kay Bailey Hutchison

U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO

Press Briefing

February 11, 2020

 

Ambassador Hutchison:  Thank you very much.

We are very much looking forward to welcoming Secretary Esper tomorrow to Brussels to start our Defense Ministerial.  And as usual, we have a great deliverable, we have a great project with the Defense Ministers expanding and continuing the efforts that we’re making in counterterrorism, as well as the burden sharing that is increasing, as well as the adoption of China as an area that we are going to begin to look at as a potential competitor, and our new space domain which has been in the news lately.  We are very excited about starting the space domain and making sure that we have deterrence in space as well as we do on the ground.

I think we’re going to have a very full schedule, and I think secretary Esper is very ready to talk to his colleagues and we will look forward to having a lot of progress as we move on for the rest of the year.

With that, I’ll be happy to take questions

Media:  James [Russell] from Wall Street Journal.

Ambassador, you mentioned strengthening the fighting against terrorism.  I understand that one of the things under discussion is moving [trainors] from the Coalition Against ISIS into the NATO mission in Iraq.  Do you think this will be sufficient to satisfy President Trump?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think definitely it will.  I think that President Trump asked NATO to do more as part of the burden sharing for European allies to come in with us and do more in counterterrorism for all of our common defense and risks.  I think by taking some of the load and burden off of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS in the training area we can do that in the NMI operation that’s already ongoing in Iraq and I think it will definitely be the answer to what President Trump has requested.

I do want to say that Secretary General Stoltenberg has moved very swiftly to show that NATO is adaptable, that we can move at a rate of relevance, and he is already looking at the way that we could go forward with our mission in Iraq to expand it so that more Iraqi soldiers can be trained and become more capable to defend Iraq themselves.  I think that is certainly in line with President Trump’s overall goal to help others help themselves so that American forces and NATO forces will not have to remain forever but can leave knowing that we have put the building blocks in place for the Iraqis themselves.

Media:  My name is [Inaudible].  I’m from [Inaudible] TV, a Belarusian independent TV station [inaudible].

I’d like to ask about [Belarus].  U.S. Secretary, Secretary Mike Pompeo, visited Belarus a few weeks ago.  Do you think it is a good time now to think about the invitation of Belarusian officials to make or to talk about cooperation?  And do you feel [do you have signals] for Minsk to make steps to NATO?  And do you think it’s a good [occasion] for NATO and the United States to present that they are not agree with the Russian pressure on Minsk?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Thank you.  The U.S. is very supportive of the efforts that are, the outreach that is being made by the Belarus government.  The new leaders in Belarus do want a relationship with the West.  We are very supportive of that.  We would be supportive in NATO and we are supportive in the United States of working with Belarus in any way that they would ask.  They certainly have looked forward to really expanding their horizons and we really are encouraged by that.

Media:  Mike [Inaudible] from the Washington Post.

Just to follow on the question from my neighbor, the Wall Street Journal, if the troops that are being discussed for the training mission in Iraq, if it’s not really a net increase of NATO countries’ troops in Iraq, what is the difference there then that really relieves burdens?  Or is it just more of an administrative kind of branding situation?  I’m just trying to understand what concretely is going to help the U.S. do other things to free up its resources.  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  Thank you, Michael.

What we are looking at is, and the commanders on the ground are looking at this as well, is what can we moved in training and advising from the Coalition over into NMI.  And if we can move, and we can.  There are several areas where the training is really overlapping that is being done in the Coalition as well as in NMI.  If we can move some of that over it does free up the Coalition for kinetic activity because our number one goal in Iraq for America is to suppress any capability for ISIS to come back.  So we want to do that in the Coalition.

But on the NMI function, we may increase the number of NATO forces in NMI.  What we would like going forward is to have more in the NMI category that would go beyond what is the present three basic bases that are training now and go into other areas where there would be more Iraqi forces that could be trained, and it would take perhaps more NATO forces as well.

Now we don’t know yet because we’re just in the planning stages of how many more that would be, but the goal is to have more Iraqi soldiers ready to take over the force protection, for instance, of their facilities, their administrative, their bases.  The bases where the coalition is could be protected by bases that are in NMI.

So there are several things that could add to the numbers and to the capacity of the train, advise and capability building that NMI now does and make it bigger and more helpful for the bigger numbers in Iraq.

Media:  Thank you, Madame Ambassador.  Thomas [Inaudible], [inaudible] Broadcast Corporation.

What is your reading of the Pew Research report?  And do you also think it is connected with President Macron [criticism] of the alliance?  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  Thank you for that, because of course NATO has always had strong support in America and in Europe.  We saw the results of the poll.  I think that the questioning by both our President and President Macron in varying degrees of NATO has been a positive because I think we have asked allies to do more and they are doing more.

Our allies are increasing in the two percent commitment that was made.  We’re going to have $130 billion increase by the end of this year and the plans are in place to make it $400 billion by 2024, which is when the Wales Pledge commitment would end.  So we will keep going in that direction.

And I think as we are seeing the President call on NATO to do more, he clearly has turned the corner and sees the importance of our allies, our alliance itself, and what they can do and how he can call on them to do more and they do.

I think at the London Summit it was a huge outpouring, really, from our NATO allies saying the transatlantic bond is holding this alliance together.  It is the transatlantic bond that keeps us strong, together.  And I think our allies were sending a signal that they like the way we are going.

So I think that as we keep showing the adaptations that we are and as we do more in the area of counterterrorism while we are also looking out into the future for Space Command, for assuring that we are watching what China is doing and assessing that for our overall risk, that they see that we speak with 29 voices, almost 30, and that is going to make a difference as we are going into the future threats to this alliance and the people who live in it.

Media:  My name is [Inaudible] from Russian [Inaudible].

I need to ask you about Ukraine.  South Ukrainian officials especially new head of Presidential Office Andriy Yermak [inaudible] expressed the willing to [amend the Minsk] agreement [in order to change the] priority of actions to be taken, is the relation to the border, whether the border control [should be return to]Ukraine?  But first, or should local elections be held first in Donbas?  What do you think about this?  Will it [Ukraine and]?  Will U.S. support it?  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  I’m not sure I got the whole question, but certainly in the area of Ukraine and everything that can be done that would bring a peaceful settlement in the Donbas and the eastern region is supported by America and NATO.

We are calling on Russia to withdraw from the sovereign territory of Ukraine and to let the Ukrainian people come together and move forward as they have shown they want to do in freedom and democracy with the rule of law and human rights.

So we have an absolutely commitment to Ukraine to be helpful.  We most certainly are calling on Russia to let Ukraine have the freedom that they are seeking.  I think that the efforts that we are making in the Defense Ministerial, I think as the SecGen mentioned, there will be a meeting with the Defense Minister of Ukraine to reinforce the commitment that NATO has to the sovereign boundaries of Ukraine as the Ukraine government has proclaimed, and Russia needs to let them have the freedom to form their government and protect their people.

Media:  Thank you very much.  [Inaudible].  Two questions.  First on Ukraine.

So Ukraine has been [generally focused] and [inaudible] New Opportunities and Partnership [Status].  If they are supportive to the Ukraine [transatlantic] status?

And the second one, things that was discussed with response to new Russian missile system.  What can U.S. already offer in this [package] as a response to the hypersonic missile system?

Ambassador Hutchison:  First of all, the U.S. does support the Enhanced Opportunity Partnership for Ukraine in NATO.  And I think there is wide approval of that in NATO as well.

We have asked for reforms in Ukraine so that they would have civilian control of their military.  They have had corruption issues which Ukraine is trying to deal with.  We support President Zelenskyy’s efforts in that regard and we will continue to work with them as they solidify their democracy and instill the anticorruption measures that have been introduced by President Zelenskyy.  So we are very supportive.

On the issue of Russia and arms control and the missiles that they are clearly testing, I will say that as we left the INF Treaty with the U.S. keeping the commitment in the INF Treaty until we gave the required notice that we would withdraw so that we could start the efforts to have a defense against the missiles that the Russians were making in violation of the treaty.  And we are now in the process of coming to the point where we can defend against the missiles that Russia has been making in large numbers in violation of the INF Treaty.

So we will have those capabilities that will be available hopefully in the short term, but I don’t know the exact timeline yet.  They have been tested but not yet finalized in their operations.

So we will have the capabilities to defend anything that we are seeing that Russia is making.  That will include conventional, hypersonic, nuclear.  We are going to be a credible deterrent to Russia or any other entity that would seek to harm anyone in our alliance and most certainly our country.

Media:  Thank you.

The sources say that there hasn’t been any specific request about the do more in the Middle East from the U.S.  Is that something that you understand will be coming that’s being worked on in the Pentagon, that you do have some specifics that you can ask NATO?  Or are you expecting the NATO side to come up with its own offer on that?

And on the Pentagon budget that was leaked yesterday, there’s a decline in [planning] requests for the European Defense Initiative that’s been mentioned.  Do you see that as something that is going to be a trend?  This is the second year in a row that there’s been a decline in that request.  Or do you think it’s just something that comes and goes by year?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think it comes and goes in accordance with how developed the plans are.  And in the early stages we had four, five and six billion dollars invested in setting up our side, the U.S. side of the European Defense Initiative.  That’s in addition to the Enhanced Forward Presence that NATO does for the Baltics and Poland, and we also include Romania and Bulgaria in many of those operations.

So the slight decrease is only a maintenance message, not a withdrawal message.  And I think that the $4.5 billion is certainly sufficient for the, we have 5,000 troops in Poland and have committed to another 1,000.

So I think the deterrence effect is very solid.

In addition, when you look at what we’re doing with Defender ’20 that has become more and more discussed, it is going to be a huge exercise showing that we have the interest of European security, that we are making sure that we can have the military mobility that is needed to assure that we can get to any of our allies in a relevant time frame if there is a crisis and a need.  That’s all part of deterrence and strength and the show of that.

So with all of those things, I think the clear message is that we are in Europe, we are defending Europe.  We are making sure that we are fit for purpose.  And I think the $4.5 billion for the European Defense Initiative is a significant continuation of that priority.

Media:  And a specific request on Middle East?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Oh, yes.

Media:  — some sort of —

Ambassador Hutchison:  Yes.

I think that we are working now very closely, the U.S. with NATO, on what can be done.  We’re asking for military advice on what can be done in the NATO framework in Iraq and as I think the Secretary General said earlier, we are in consultation with the government of Iraq to work with them as well for this train and capability investment that we are making in Iraq.

I think that we’re talking to the military people about how we can increase the numbers and the areas where we would train and advise the Iraqi soldiers, and also more areas that they could function in that are not now being done in Iraq.

So we are looking at a strong presence.  We’re working with the U.S. as well as NATO to determine what can be done militarily in the training, advising and capability enhancement for the Iraqi forces.  So it’s a joint effort.

Media:  Thank you.  [Inaudible].

Ambassador, China is very far from the reaching [inaudible] transatlantic union.  Should NATO be part of the deterrence towards China?  And how does the alliance need to change to be part of that deterrence?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think that NATO has shown adaptation where we go outside where we are threatened inside.  We have done that in counterterrorism in the Middle East.  I think China has come onto our radar because of the Belt and Road Initiative.  And when you put together what China has been doing that we have not addressed, and building up infrastructure in the ports throughout the world, China now controls assets in two-thirds of the largest container ports in the world.

So they have been working for a long time to have an infrastructure niche in the major ports, and when they certainly went public with their Belt and Road Initiative in Europe and all of the coast up into the Arctic, of course we would be watching that.  As any capable deterrence, I think it is our responsibility to see what China is doing, and we hope that we would never have to be in an antagonistic situation with China but hope is not a plan.  A plan is to deter and we want to show that we are deterring and that we are building up to assure that we will be able to control global navigation, that we will be able to control our communication systems which is part of the concern that we have with 5G not being secure and affecting every kind of security risk we have if our communication systems are not secure.

So I think we are doing the prudent thing.  We’re not being provocative, but we are watching and we are assuring that we are ready and able to deter any kind of adversary which is counterterrorism and Russia today, but it could be China tomorrow.

Media:  This is Mohammed with the Jordan Times.

Jordan is part of the International Coalition Against Terrorism.  I would like your thought about what role do you see for Jordan in the expected [more NATO involvement]in Iraq and the Middle East.  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  Jordan is a very important Enhanced Opportunity Partner with NATO.  They’re a very close ally with the United States.  And they have really done an incredible job already with our help, of course, in dealing with refugees and most certainly we do much sharing of information with Jordan.

I think Jordan will continue to play the role of a state that has done everything it can for the good of their own people, and wanting to have an association with the West, wanting to build their economy and their security and they have done everything they can to put in place all of the basis that is needed for their own protection.  We are there helping them, both NATO and the United States, and we value them as an enhanced partner of NATO.

Media:  Thank you very much.  [Inaudible] in Germany.

Ms. Ambassador, which role do you see for NATO in the wider Middle East?  So not Iraq and its immediate neighbors.  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  It’s a very good question to which we don’t have the answer yet.  What we would like to do is ask our militaries to make available options where we could be stronger in the Middle East in other places because we do see much because of Iran’s efforts, putting militias and terrorist groups into several different places in the Middle East.  We want to make sure that we have the capability to stop terrorism from being exported from anywhere in the Middle East into any of our allied countries and certainly into America and Canada.

So we are going to see what is possible and make sure that we have the capability to do what we’ve done in the Coalition Against ISIS.  The Coalition to Defeat ISIS has been very successful where they have been in operation.  Because of the unrest in Iraq we have seen signs that that terrorist group could be trying to regroup both in Afghanistan as well as Iraq and Syria.  So we want to make sure that wherever ISIS or any other terrorist group has the capability to grow and expand, that we knock that down before it has the chance to be exported into our countries.

Thank you.

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