February 13, 2018: Telephonic Press Briefing with Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison

Kay Bailey Hutchison

U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO

Telephonic Briefing

Preview of Defense Ministerial

February 13, 2018



Moderator:  Greetings to everyone from the U.S. European Media Hub in Brussels.  I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across Europe and thank all of you for joining this discussion.

Today we are very pleased to be joined from Brussels by Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO.  As you know, this week is the NATO Defense Ministerial, so this is a very timely discussion.

We thank you, Ambassador Hutchison, for taking the time to speak with us today.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ambassador Hutchison, and then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 30 minutes.  As a reminder, today’s call is on the record.

With that, I will turn it over to Ambassador Hutchison.  Ambassador?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Thank you very much.  I’m very pleased to be able to talk about the Defense Ministerial that will start tomorrow.  This will be my second one, and I’m looking forward to a very strong beginning to run up to the summit which will be held later with heads of state.

On this week’s agenda, we will be discussing certainly the Nuclear Posture Review that the United States has come out with in the last few weeks, and just talking to the Ministers, our Minister will, about the nuclear strategic planning for the future.

And going forward, also, we will be looking at where we are in burden sharing.  That is something very important for our alliance.  We have bigger threats than we have had since the Cold War, and we are working to increase the amount that all of us are putting in so that we will be able to face the threats with the umbrella that is a common defense for all of us and our allies and partners.

The area of alliance modernization will also be discussed by the Ministers.

We have certainly had a change in the international commitments that need to be made, and with that, the Military Committee of NATO is making a recommendation on a new command structure that will add several areas of focus that it is determined by the military that needs to be upgraded and modernized, so that national command structure will be discussed by our Ministers in the run-up to the heads of state that will make a formal decision on the new national command structure.

And the relationship between NATO and the European Union is an area also that will be discussed.  The NATO-EU cooperation is something that we are looking at to be a time where we can work together interoperably, especially in areas where the European Union would have a special role such as military mobility moving through Europe.  There are many areas that when we’re talking borders from one country to another, that we hope that we can eliminate some of the barriers if we are moving through Europe under a NATO command.

Also included in the NATO-EU areas of cooperation might include hybrid, cyber, civil preparedness, coordinated exercises, and the sort of terrorism that has come into a risk now, both in Europe as well as in the United States and Canada.  We want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to cooperate and share information that would lead to eliminating the terrorist threat that we all face today.

So these are the main areas that will be discussed in the Ministerial by the Ministers, and where we can exchange information and go forward with a stronger alliance, which we all agree we want to work together to produce.

Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you very much.  Our first question comes to us from Dejan Sajinovic from Nezavisne Novine outlet in Bosnia.

Nezavisne Novine:  Thank you very much.

First, I have to say, I didn’t hear the Ambassador very well.  I can hear you perfectly well, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to hear almost anything because it was very, very quiet.  I don’t know the reason.  So I didn’t hear anything that was discussed this far.  I apologize for that.  So I will ask the question and I hope that we’ll be able to hear more.

My question is what is the U.S. policy to Bosnia- Herzegovina is working [with] Balkan countries, and in respect of the possible NATO membership of those countries that are still not in NATO.  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  I’m sorry that you can’t hear.  I hope that’s not the case now.

Certainly we have the open-door policy where Bosnia is one of our partners that we are working with to try bring them into a position where they would be able to, if they decided to join NATO,that they would be able to be accepted.  We would support that, of course.  America has a very strong relationship with Bosnia through the years.  I’ve been there many times myself when I was a United States Senator.  I hope that Bosnia will continue in its reform efforts and will be able to put together a plan to begin an accession to NATO in the future.

We have other countries that also are supported for eventual membership in NATO in our open-door policy, and we want to expand that as far as we can for countries that want to make the reforms and want to seek membership to NATO.

Moderator:  Thank you very much.

Our next question comes to us from Julian Roepcke from Bild in Germany.

Bild:  Thank you very much, Ambassador Hutchison, for your remarks.

My question is about the German contribution to the threats you were mentioning in NATO.  Right now Germany has a defense expenditure of 1.13 percent, and according to our coalition treaty, only one billion will be spent during the next four years, which means with the same economic growth like we have right now, we will decrease our defense expenditure, not go forward two percent.

What is your stance on this, and what would you expect Germany to do, especially during the upcoming negotiations?

Ambassador Hutchison:  First, let me say that Germany has been one of our strongest members of NATO and I hope that they will continue to increase their expenditures, which they have pledged to do going forward, and I hope that they will meet the two percent.

However, having said that, I also want to point out that Germany is one of the framework nations in Afghanistan and plays a very important role there.  They are also involved in the European Defense Initiative.  They’re involved in helping in the KFOR protection and security in Kosovo.  They are doing very much in Iraq in the De-ISIS Coalition, and will go forward, I think, to help in the stabilization training project that will be looked at as a possible NATO or even a bilateral effort on the part of Germany.  I think the international community as a whole is going to try to be helpful to put Iraq back on its feet, and strengthen and help the people there to have a stable situation and a stable government.

So Germany is doing so much in the alliance, and we have understood during their time of putting together a government after their election, it has taken time.  And now that the coalition has been put together, the things that I have heard that Germany will be taking up as a coalition-agreed plan, will be positive about its contribution to NATO and everything that Chancellor Merkel has said is that they are going to be a strong and productive and contributing member of NATO.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Alexey Gorbachev from Nezavisimaya Gazeta in Russia.  Mr. Gorbachev?

Nezavisimaya Gazeta:  Thank you for your remarks, Ambassador.

I have a question about Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad which were placed some time ago.  Do you think that this kind of a threat for NATO?

And can you please comment on the statement of the Chairman of Munich Conference who stated that erosion of arms control treaties, and also miscalculations and misunderstanding between number of military units between NATO and Russia can lead us, can lead Europe to military clash between Moscow and NATO states.  Do you agree with it?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I’m not sure that I heard the whole question, but it is very important that we continue to strive to come to more agreements with regard to what Russia has done with the takeover of Crimea, with the efforts in the Ukraine and Georgia to occupy parts of those territories, and that we continue to try to work on a plan going forward that brings Russia into the compliance with the treaties that Russia has signed, to try to hopefully, certainly the INF Treaty is one with the United States that we hope Russia will come into compliance to do, and we hope that they will also meet the other agreements that would apply to their relationship with NATO countries.

It would be very important for the dialogue to continue, for the dialogue in a bilateral way and also with NATO leaders would continue.

Moderator:  Thank you.

We will next turn to Deborah Haynes from The Times in the UK.

The Times:  Hi, good morning.  I too keep having problems hearing you, I’m afraid.  I don’t know if anything can be done about that.

Our Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has made some remarks about the threat that he sees that Russia poses to the UK and its allies, saying that there’s a risk that they could kill thousands and thousands and thousands of people.  Do you share that kind of concern?  Or do you think that his language is a big alarmist?

And I have a second question about the nuclear stance.  I couldn’t hear what you said at the beginning, unfortunately, with regard to the nuclear issue, and I was wondering whether the publication of the sort of the new refresh that the United States is doing with its nuclear weapons, how that fits in with NATO and its review of its nuclear posture.

Ambassador Hutchison:  I hope you can hear me.  The nuclear report on the Nuclear Posture Review from the United States will be one of the discussion items for our Ministerial meeting.  And basically that is just refreshing and modernizing our nuclear stockpile while also assuring that we are meeting the New START Treaty obligations that we have with other nuclear countries including Russia.  We will not increase our numbers.  We have met the New START Treaty commitment already and we will keep to that commitment, but we are going to assure that our nuclear weapons are fit for purpose going forward because we are a nuclear defense alliance in NATO and America is a nuclear non-proliferation advocate, but we must have a defense where we see a threat as well.

On the issue of Russia, we are all concerned, and we stand with the UK and our NATO allies about the activities of Russia.  First of all, taking over a sovereign country like Crimea and Ukraine.  That is unacceptable in the post-Cold War era, and we are trying to keep the Ukraine, not we, but we hope that Russia will vacate the parts of the Ukraine that they are taking over.

We hope that Russia will come back into compliance on the INF Treaty that we know they are not in compliance with, not having a medium range ballistic missile capability, which they agreed they would not do.  America is in compliance with that treaty, Russia is not.

Russia has not been helpful in other areas where we would like to have a cooperation with Russia, where we would have a common threat of terrorism, and yet they are not being helpful in Afghanistan, they are not being helpful with North Korea who now is testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities.  So we are all concerned about Russia’s behavior.  We’re concerned about the hybrid activity that Russia is putting out in many parts of our alliance.  And we hope that Russia will come back into compliance.

We would like to have a good relationship with Russia but it will take a change in behavior of Russia and a willingness to come back into compliance with the many agreements that they have made.

Moderator:  Thank you.

Our next question comes to us from Victor Oleynik who is from Metro International in Russia.

Metro International:  Dear Ambassador, I also have a question about Russia.  Multiple reports indicate that Russian military contractors are among the dead in airstrikes launched Wednesday by the U.S. military in Syria.  Could you please comment on that?  And tell how a situation like this happens and what to do to prevent it.

Ambassador Hutchison:  I did not understand the question.  Did the operator understand that question?  I could not understand it.

Metro International:  On the last report showed that Russian contractors were among the dead in airstrikes organized by the U.S. coalition, and how a situation like this can happen, and what do you do to prevent a situation like this?  Do you [interact] with Russian troops in Syria?

Ambassador Hutchison:  The Russian activity in Syria or the shooting down of the Russian plane in Syria?  Let me just say that it is my understanding that there were no Americans involved in that at all, if that’s the question.

Metro International:  Yes.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question we’ll go to Frosina Dimeska from RFE/RL.

RFE/RL:  Ambassador Hutchison, you know that there is a negotiation between Macedonia and Greece.  Macedonia is not a member of NATO because of the Greek veto.  And now there is a serious negotiation between the Foreign Ministers of both countries, and U.S. [mediating] this process [inaudible].  But what if both sides cannot reach a solution?  Is there a Plan B for Macedonia?  Is it real to expect help in the negotiation process from some high-profile people like from Washington, for example?

Ambassador Hutchison:  The U.S. is very supportive of Macedonia to become a member of NATO and we will, I know that we have in the United States worked to be a mediator.  The United Nations has worked to be a mediator to determine the issue of the name, and if that is cleared, then I think Macedonia is certainly supported.  And after that clear path of course we would expect we’d be looking at all of the reforms that are being put in place in Macedonia.  It’s one of the most potential ready countries to become the next member of NATO, and I know that the United States is very supportive of that and has worked to try to help that along.

The name issue is the big obstacle at this point.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our final question we will turn to Sead Numanovic from Dnevni Avaz in Bosnia.

Dnevni Avaz:  Hi.  I hope you can hear me.  I am experiencing also a very difficult and a very low tone of Ambassador, so I don’t know how I could use this.

My question is, today’s Guardian published another story about the rise of the paramilitaries in Bosnia, especially they are focused on the activities in the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska and they are reporting about the special contract signed between the Ministry of Police of that entity and Moscow on training the policy of Republika Srpska by the Russian Special Forces.  Are you concerned the reports of the rise of the paramilitaries and the activities of Russia in Republika Srpska?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I’m not familiar with that story.  We certainly are hoping that Bosnia will be able to put together a reform effort that is inclusive of all of the minority groups as well as the majority together to have a stable democracy there.  I have not heard of any of what you have said, but I will certainly look into it.

Moderator:  Thank you.

Unfortunately, that was the last question that we have time for.  Ambassador Hutchison, do you want to have any closing words?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Well, yes.  I’m very pleased that we have had a number of people who wouldn’t be able to come to the Ministerial to be able to cover it, and we support free press and hope that we will be able to work on some of the issues about which we have talked today.

We would like to have Russia come into compliance with the treaties and obligations that it has made, and I know there are members of the Russian press on this call.  That would be very welcome to all of NATO and our allies.

Going forward, we are going to have a strong deterrence and defense capability to make sure that our allies are able to withstand any kind of common threat, and most certainly the threat of terrorism that all of us have faced in the last few years as well.

So thank you very much for your interest, and we hope to have a very successful Defense Ministerial because this is a very strong alliance, coming together to become even stronger in the face of the threats that are arising now against some of us, and that means all of us.

Thank you very much.

Moderator:  I want to thank you, Ambassador Hutchison, for joining us and to thank all of our participants for joining us today as well, and for your questions.

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