June 23, 2015: Pre-Defense Ministerial Press Briefing

June 23, 2015

Ambassador Lute:  We typically do these Pre-Ministerial briefings as a heads-up for what’s about to happen in the next two days.  I’ve been scooped on this occasion because our Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, is doing the pre-brief himself in a series of visits earlier this week in Europe.  He’ll arrive here tomorrow.

Let me just quickly outline where he’s been and the highlights of what he’s delivered so far, and then I’ll get into the more conventional overview of the next two days.

Secretary Carter arrived in Berlin on Monday where he gave a major speech on Russia, NATO and U.S.-German relations.  I think the big take-away from that speech were his comments on Russia. He emphasized that the U.S.-Russian policy features balance, and what he said was that on the one hand of the balance is a position of strength, a NATO ready to deliver on its Article 5 commitments, but not a return to the Cold War.  And on the other hand – the counter-balance – he emphasized that we’re ready to preserve the potential that Russia some day may wish to return to the fold as a responsible partner.  I think that was the big message coming out of his Berlin speech.

Then in the afternoon yesterday he went with German Minister von der Leyen to Münster where there’s a major German Army facility, and most important, the home of the interim Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.  This is the test bed brigade which was stood up in February and which has, for the last six or eight months, been undergoing tests as a prototype for the VJTF which will come into full operational capacity next year.  So he met with the brigade commander, the VJTF brigade commander.  They were joined by Ministers of Defense from Norway and the Netherlands, who join Germany in leading the test bed brigade this year.

He wanted to go to Münster and actually see and touch the VJTF, one of the most important adaptations that NATO instituted at the Wales Summit.

While he was in Münster yesterday afternoon, he outlined briefly the U.S. contributions to the VJTF.  These contributions come in the form of what we refer to as “high end” or “niche” enablers.  More on that in just a minute.

Today he moved to Tallinn, Estonia.  He met with Estonian leaders.  Obviously he’s visiting the NATO Cyber Center of Excellence in Tallinn, and he’s also meeting with his three counterparts from the three Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  There he’s made an announcement today on his intent as the Defense Secretary to preposition, to base a brigade set, a heavy brigade set of equipment – tanks, Bradley armored fighting vehicles, mechanized artillery, in Central and Eastern Europe, all designed to support the enhanced training program that we’ve now been at over the past year.

This brigade’s worth of equipment will be distributed across six NATO allies.  And as I said, it will facilitate training.  So therefore, it will actually be pre-positioned; it will be based near training locations.  Rotating American training troops can simply fly in, join up with this equipment, conduct their training, leave the equipment behind as they rotate out, and so forth.  It becomes a much more efficient way to do this rotational persistent presence which has been underway more than a year now.

[Secretary Carter] will arrive here tomorrow and will begin the two-day ministerial which I’ll outline for you here in a second.  This will be his first ministerial as the Secretary of Defense.  It also serves, I think, prominently in NATO terms as about the mid-point between Wales and Warsaw.  Wales in September of ’14, Warsaw July of ’16.  We’re about halfway.  So this is an important opportunity over the next two days to take stock of where we’ve gone in terms of implementing Wales and what we still have to do before we arrive at Warsaw.

There will be a total of four sessions in the ministerial, kind of the conventional format.  Beginning tomorrow afternoon, there will be a long session, as we say, at 28. This is a NATO-only session.  The Secretary will be joined by his 27 Minister of Defense colleagues.  They will then move into a dinner session where they will survey the horizon. They’ll look at the challenges for NATO up to Warsaw but also beyond.  Here I think it’s inevitable that they’ll talk about challenges not only in the east but also in the southeast and in the south of the Alliance.

Now we’re on Thursday morning.  We’ll kick off with a NATO-Ukraine Commission Meeting, we call it the NUC.  He’ll meet for the first time the new Defense Minister from Ukraine.  That will be followed by another partner session, this one with Afghanistan and the 40-plus partners who make up the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.  We’ll meet on Thursday in that session the new Afghan Minister of Defense.

That’s kind of the four-session outline.

In terms of substances, let me just really hone in on the first session because this is where the business at 28 is going to take place, and then we’ll have some time here for questions.

I think there are two key outcomes from Wales that we’ll focus in on tomorrow afternoon.  These same two key outcomes from Wales will also be key inputs to Warsaw.

The first one is RAP, so the Readiness Action Plan.  Nine months after Wales we’ll take a view of progress and how far we’ve come in delivering the promise of the Readiness Action Plan.  And of course this is NATO’s response to the new challenges on its periphery.  Challenges in the east, the southeast and the south, and this very much makes up what Secretary Carter has, during the last two days, referred to as the “new playbook for NATO.”  So when he says “new playbook,” he’s essentially, in NATO language, talking about the Readiness Action Plan.

This plan, of course, has several key parts.  Let me just quickly outline this for you.  First, the ongoing assurance measures: These are the ongoing exercises that have taken place since April of last year which feature a persistent rotational presence of allied forces all along the eastern flank, running roughly from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.  These exercises are taking place at sea, in the air, and on the ground.  And prominently, at least from the U.S. perspective, are U.S. ground forces that have been exercising non-stop over the last year across all six eastern-most allies.

Of course, at Wales there was a commitment to do this and to continue it as long as necessary.  So I think one of the things the Ministers will review tomorrow in this session at 28 is how are those assurance measures going?  Are we postured for the rest of this year, and are we ready to renew this commitment for 2016.


The second big part of the Readiness Action Plan has to do with how NATO is actually adapting.  So what’s actually changing here?  Yes, we’re exercising more in the east, but what are we doing internally to reset ourselves for these new challenges?  Here I think most important is the return of Article 5 – the collective defense commitment – to primacy here at NATO headquarters.

Most prominent is the formation of the VJTF, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.  The land brigade, of course, is now set at a force of about 5,000 troops.  It will be ready to move within days.  This is considerably faster, more responsive than the old NATO Response Force that preceded it.  And as I mentioned, the stand-up brigade, the prototype brigade exists today in Münster with a co-lead German/Dutch/Norwegian force.  In fact 2,000 troops out of the interim VJTF, which Secretary Carter saw yesterday, recently returned from exercise where they actually, for the first time, deployed from Central Europe to Eastern Europe in an exercise in Poland.

So this is not just a Wales concept or a paragraph in the communique coming out of the summit in Wales.  It actually is now tangible and it is making progress.

This interim force is a prototype.  They’re running these exercises; they’re drawing lessons, drawing conclusions which will then inform the first full-up VJTF which takes duty in January.  That VJTF will be led by Spain.  The rotation shifts year to year.

While Spain leads the first full-up VJTF next year, seven allies have signed up to do likewise in subsequent years.  So the VJTF is not only tangible today but the concept has depth.  We have seven years’ worth of lead nations lined up to continue in the out years.

What does this show?  I think fundamentally it shows the VJTF is real, it’s not just conceptual.  And second of all, that the European allies – and all these seven lead nations for the VJTF are European allies – the European allies are stepping up in a meaningful way and taking the lead.  That, of course, is very welcome.

NATO has also, since Wales, established the concept and set up the framework to establish six NATO command and control centers across the eastern flank allies.  These are terribly named NATO Force Integration Units, NFIUs, but you don’t have to remember that.  The key is there will be six NATO flags flying from Estonia in the north through Bulgaria in the south, and these small headquarters hosted by these six allies will be prepared to receive the VJTF.  So these are sort of the forward outposts, if you will, of the VJTF, or the reception center where they will facilitate local transportation infrastructure, preposition supplies, and communications in coordination with the host nation ally, and be prepared, in the face of a crisis, to be the receptacle should the VJTF be called to deploy.

Finally, by way of delivery on Wales, we have established now a three star lieutenant general level headquarters.  This is not like one of these small units; it is a major NATO headquarters.  So another NATO flag, if you will, in what is called Multinational Corps Northeast located in western Poland.  This major headquarters will be responsible for command and control, for planning, for Article 5 planning, for watching over this massive exercise program in the coming years.

So those are really the three big pieces on which we’ve already made progress: the VJTF, the six reception centers in the east, and the major headquarters in Poland.

We expect later this year to commission another such major headquarters in the southeast, similar to this headquarters in Poland, to cover the same sort of similar tasks: Article 5 planning, and exercise oversight in the southeast.

On top of all that progress since Wales, at this meeting tomorrow afternoon, Ministers are expected to actually take further steps and add additional important details to the Readiness Action Plan.  Now there are a total of 12 details.  I won’t walk you through all 12, but here’s a sample of the sorts of things we expect them to conclude tomorrow.

First of all, they’ll go beyond defining the land brigade itself, the VJTF, and they’ll agree on the important supporting elements. Air elements, sea elements, and special operations force elements will be added to the VJTF, and the way to think about this is to round out the land brigade with the other forces that it needs to be fully capable.

In that session tomorrow, we expect Secretary Carter to announce a set of U.S. enablers intended to make the VJTF more mobile, more agile and more effective.  I’ll let him speak for himself tomorrow in terms of exactly which enablers he’s going to add, but there’s a very robust set which will really boost the effectiveness of the VJTF.  This is the U.S. contribution.  So if seven NATO allies are providing the lead brigades, what the U.S. is contributing are these enriching or these enabling capabilities.

We’ll also I think tomorrow set the rotation for the VJTF through the next three years.  We know Spain’s going to lead next year, but how will that work for ’17 and ’18?  I think we’ll set up the rotation as well.

Another important step to be taken tomorrow is that we’re going to streamline political decision-making so that the decision-making here at the Council will be well-suited to and it will be fit to purpose with the brigade.  So in other words we’ll have a decision-making process that can be as responsive as the brigade itself.

We will also align with that decision-making. I think they will take the decision to delegate some decisions having to do with commitment in the VJTF to the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General Phil Breedlove.

Ultimately, the deployment of the VJTF will remain a political decision to be taken by the Council but there are decisions before deployment that will be delegated, we believe tomorrow, to SACEUR which is again, a very good step in terms of speeding the response of the VJTF.

We’ll also tomorrow take a decision to create a new set of plans.  These are called graduated response plans.  The way to think of these is as a set of plans that are more detailed to include specifics on forces required so that NATO is better prepared to respond quickly to contingencies.  This is beyond a conceptual plan – it is much more detailed.  And we’ll begin by prioritizing these graduated response plans, the development of the plans, in the northeast and the southeast.  So we’re not only creating the forces and exercising them, creating the headquarters, making our decision-making more responsive, but we’re also going to have more detailed plans.

These adaptation measures will continue to deliver on what was promised at Wales and will set the stage for full delivery of the Readiness Action Plan by Warsaw.

A second major topic tomorrow afternoon, and we won’t go into each session in this kind of detail, but this is the most important session tomorrow afternoon.

The second major topic will be defense investment.  Here you’ll remember back at Wales leaders committed to what was called the pledge on defense investment where, as their economy recovers from the recession, the 28 allies would move towards two percent as a goal of defense spending compared to GDP.  The real key here is that in the immediate term, in the last nine months since Wales, how have we viewed progress?  Frankly, progress is mixed.

On the one hand, there are a good number of allies, and here I think the Secretary General has laid out the details, there are a good number of allies who have begun to abide by the Wales pledge, and that is to stop the defense cuts.  That progress of course is very welcome.  On the other hand, there is more to be done, and partly this reflects how far we had to go from our start point at Wales.

Defense spending over the past decade, but in particular since the 2008 recession hit the alliance has suffered and it’s time to reverse that trend.  So they’ll take stock tomorrow.  There will actually be a data sheet that the Ministers look at that will report progress since Wales and give a forecast for this year as well.  And the next time our leaders will see that sheet is at Warsaw.  So this constitutes an annual review on the pledge and we’ll be very transparent with the 28 leaders of the Alliance in terms of how they are doing with defense spending.

This is actually a commitment that NATO is not imposing on the leaders, but leaders have imposed on the NATO staff.  They told us as part of the defense spending pledge that they wanted Defense Ministers to review progress annually – that’s tomorrow – and that they intended to review progress at subsequent summits.  The next one will be at Warsaw.

They will then go into the working dinner.  Again, the topic is long-term adaptation, over the horizon implications of the changed security environment.

The next day is the NATO-Ukraine Commission the next day with new Defence Minister Patorik.  Here, I think the important thing, while NATO doesn’t have an ongoing mission in Ukraine, will be to get the first-hand perspective of the new Defense Minister on the situation on the ground, and in particular, how are the security dimensions of the Minsk Accords playing out on the ground?

Finally, we’ll welcome Afghan Acting Defense Minister Stanekzai to the Resolute Support session.  Again, this is Afghanistan with 40-plus NATO partners.  Here I think six months into the train, advise, and assist mission in Afghanistan the new Defense Minister will have a chance to reflect on how is that TAA — train, advise and assist — mission working and what should be our plans for the future.

So, I think if you step back and you say what does this all add up to, there will be many hopeful conclusions.

First of all, the sense among the 28 Defense Ministers that NATO appreciates the changes in its security environment, and that it understands that that security environment has fundamentally changed over the last 12-14 months.

Second of all, an appreciation that NATO actually is changing itself.  NATO is adapting to this new environment, to the new conditions on its periphery, and that this process began at Wales but there’s still work to do to deliver it by Warsaw.

Finally, that NATO remains 28-for-28, as we say.  That means that NATO remains cohesive and the organizing concept, the thing that glues NATO together, is the common commitment to our collective defense that is embodied in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.  And that that commitment, Article 5, is as valid today, in this challenging security environment, as it was when our forefathers wrote it in April of 1949.

Let me stop there and take your questions.  We’ve got about 20 minutes.

 The Guardian:  Ewen McCaskill from The Guardian.

Can you tell us something about the plans for NATO to reengage with the Iraq, helping out in training?  NATO pulled out three or four years ago in the training sessions.  It wasn’t all that successful if you’ve seen the performance of the Iraqi forces, so why should it be any better this time?

Ambassador Lute:  Today in the coalition, the international coalition of some 60-plus nations who have organized to counter ISIL or Daesh in both Iraq and Syria, all 28 allies are contributing nationally to that coalition.  So all 28 are already in the coalition.  And then another 26 NATO partners – not members, but partners – are also contributing.  So if you look at it, I think it’s now 62 nations that make up the coalition. By my math 54 of them are either allies or partners of NATO.  So in a very fundamental way NATO’s making a contribution by way of these national contributions but also by way of the interoperability that these partners and allies have gathered by way of NATO operations in the past and NATO exercises.

Setting aside those national contributions, NATO is working on what we call a defense capacity building effort, where NATO as an institution would, on demand of the government of Iraq, offer particular capacity-building assistance.  So for example, helping them write their national security program, helping them work with security sector reforms, helping them work with logistics and command and control and different sort of niche capabilities which NATO has expertise doing.  That program is not yet complete, but it’s nearly complete.  So I would say in the coming weeks we would expect an announcement that NATO has finalized with the government of Iraq this defense capacity building program.

So it’s both a contribution nationally to the coalition, but then as an institution, a specialized program tailored to the needs of Iraq.

The Guardian:  Any better this time than last time?

Ambassador Lute:  I think the hope for a different outcome has to do with the character of the Iraqi government, and I think my government’s been quite clear that we won’t accomplish something on the ground that isn’t reflected in a different character, an inclusive cross-sectarian character, of the Iraq government.  So that’s the key.  That’s not fundamentally something the coalition is going to effect, that’s something that the Iraqis have to effect for themselves.

Latvian Television:  Ilze Nagla, Latvian Television.

About the U.S. plans to deploy heavy equipment and 5,000 soldiers in the Central Eastern European countries, is that a permanent deployment?  And what kind of reaction do you expect that might provoke in Russia?

Ambassador Lute:  Let me clarify.  We’re deploying the equipment of a brigade, what would normally be associated with a brigade, but we’re not deploying the brigade, the soldiers.  So the tanks are empty.  The Bradley fighting vehicles are empty and will be parked, stored and maintained at training areas across the six eastern-most allies for training purposes.  Then the soldiers on exercise after exercise will be flown in, they’ll draw some or all of this equipment, they’ll exercise with their allies, they’ll put it back in parking, and so forth.  So it’s sort of a rental car like arrangement for training equipment.  So it does not come with the soldiers.  The soldiers will rotate on a rotational basis for exercises.

We believe that this move should be seen for what it is.  That is it’s an effort to make our training in the east more efficient, rather than moving the equipment in and out every time.  And also that it completely abides by all our international commitments to include the NATO-Russia Founding Act.  So we don’t think there’s any reason for an adverse reaction from anybody.

The last thing I would mention about not only our ongoing training in the east on NATO territory but also this prepositioned equipment is it’s completely by invitation of the governments of these allies.  So we’re not putting one tank, one armored vehicle or one vehicle, one Humvee, one Jeep, in any allied country that doesn’t invite us to do so.  And we formalized these invitations in explicit diplomatic exchanges so that we’re sure that we are wanted and invited before we go anywhere.

AP:  Hi, Ambassador, John-Thor Dalberg, Associated Press.

How will the new procedure of decision-making differ from what currently is the NATO practice, and what sort of things will General Breedlove be freer to do than he can do now?

Ambassador Lute:  Let me take it in reverse order.  He’ll be freer to take decisions based on indications and warning that precede actual deployment into a crisis setting.

So you can imagine that while this Very High Readiness Joint Task Force is more ready than we’ve positioned it in the past, there are steps preliminary to deployment that can be taken — alerting, assembling, mobilizing and so forth — that precede the actual political decision to deploy the force.  So these are the sorts of things that we imagine Minsters tomorrow will delegate to General Breedlove.

As for the political decision-making that then follows, NATO has a very deliberate step by step procedure for moving towards approving an operation.  In the case of moving towards deploying the VJTF, the idea is to compress some of these steps, eliminate some steps, and essentially streamline the step by step process so that the political decision-making can approximate or match the kind of readiness standards that the force will be stationed in.  So it’s two parts — delegate some to fill and streamline those that remain at the political level.

Ukrainian News Agency:  Ambassador, Irena Sommer, Ukrainian News Agency. Coming back to the weapons, do you see that U.S. government can take a decision to give Ukrainian the weapons?  And what do you think about it personally?

Ambassador Lute:  My personal opinion is irrelevant because I’m not here in a personal capacity, so I’ll have to skip that part.

Look, my government has not yet taken a decision to deploy lethal defensive arms to Ukraine.  That’s simply where the decision stands. In the meantime, however, there are a number of things that my government is doing, and we’ve committed over $300 million in security assistance or other forms of assistance to the Ukrainian government, and most prominently, most recently, we have deployed U.S. troops in a training capacity in Western Ukraine to cycle many Ukrainian formations through this training and try to help the Ukrainian soldiers benefit from the recent combat experience of the American soldiers.  That training by all reports — both Ukrainian reports and American reports — is going very, very well.

Moderator:  Naftali Bendavid from Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal:  I wanted to ask about an additional thing you mentioned that had to do with making decisions regarding the air or sea, special operations type additions to the land brigade part of the VJTF.  And are there any additional details you could give us on that and how it interacts with some of the announcements that Secretary Carter made a couple of days ago about what the U.S. might be doing in those areas?

Ambassador Lute:  They’re actually closely related.  From the outset we knew that we needed more than just a land brigade, and that’s why it was called the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, and the “joint” means air, sea, land and special operations forces.  So we always knew we needed this combination to really make this force potent or effective.

What Secretary Carter will say tomorrow, he’ll delineate what are the U.S. contributions to, not the land component so much, but the air, sea and SOF components.

One thing he mentioned already by way of preview is that the United States has a special capability in terms of air mobility – airlift.  So I would expect he’d go into some more detail tomorrow about exactly the airlift capability that the U.S. would provide, and this is a good example.  Because without airlift, obviously you can have a land brigade sitting somewhere in Central Europe, but it’s not very agile, because it can’t get quickly to a spot of crisis somewhere on the Alliance space.  But with American airlift, on the other hand, it can.  So that’s just one case study of the sort of thing that the United States has that it is willing to commit to the VJTF project.  I think you’ll get more details from him tomorrow, but there are 10 or so enabling capabilities that he’ll specify tomorrow.

Moderator:  I’d like to go to our Afghan guest, Afghan journalist, Mr. Mojahid from OneTV.

OneTV:   First of all, thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador.  I have two questions. My first question is that unfortunately, the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating day by day.  On the other hand, the United States has announced its timeline to withdraw its troops by the end of 2016, maybe starting from the next year.  If the situation remains the same, will the United States extend its troop mission in Afghanistan?

Secondly, NATO is discussing its post Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.  What would be the role of United States in this mission and at which level?

Ambassador Lute:  Whether or not the U.S. adjusts its timeline is a decision to be made in Washington after this fighting season.  Presidents Ghani and Obama agreed — I believe the visit was in February or March of this year — that this would obviously be a fighting season during which the Afghan forces would be tested. I think that’s proving to be true.

In the aftermath of this fighting season, given the current level of support, they agreed that together they would take an assessment as to progress this year and what the challenges of the future lay.

I don’t have a forecast for you on how that assessment will go, but I think we can agree that this is a real challenge.  This will be, has been so far, and will continue to be a challenging year for the Afghan Security Forces.

As to the U.S. contribution to the NATO mission, beyond Resolute Support, so far in the first 13 years of this mission, the U.S. forces have been greater than any other allies.  We’ve been, not only the single largest contributor but, in sum, the U.S. forces have been greater than the sum of everybody else.

I won’t forecast what our numbers will be beyond 2016, but I think it’s safe to say that we’ll still be a major contributor to the NATO mission beyond 2016.  And the numbers, quite frankly, aren’t complete yet.  We’re still working closely with our Afghan government colleagues to define exactly what tasks will be done, and this always begins with the tasks, and then we add the numbers after the tasks.  So we’re still in the process of figuring that out.  But I think it’s safe to say the U.S. will be a major contributor.

Moderator:  Marko Vesovic?

Montenegro:  Excellency, I come from the country of Montenegro.  I work as a journalist for a newspaper from Montenegro. And coming from that country I would like to ask you, do you think that NATO can maintain the open policy door up until the summit in Poland next year?  And what do you think about the chances of Montenegro having in mind that the country still has major problems with corruption, attacks on media, low public support for NATO integration, et cetera.  Thank you.

Ambassador Lute:  The first part is easy, and that is yes, NATO will retain its open door policy.  It’s actually embedded in the Washington Treaty that goes all the way back to 1949.

Article 5 gets a lot of attention in the Washington Treaty — that’s the collective defense article.  Article 10 specifies that NATO will have an open door policy and will consider additional allies over time, and in fact, the history of the Alliance is we’ve done just that, right?  We’ve moved from 12 original to 28 today.

Montenegro is a serious candidate for membership.  The Alliance took the decision last summer that in December of this year, so December 2015, Foreign Ministers will decide whether or not to invite Montenegro.  That decision remains on track.  So we’re tracking carefully, we’re working carefully with your government authorities to track their progress towards membership, and we fully expect that Foreign Ministers will take that decision one way or the other in December.

I think the shorthand is that your government knows what it needs to do to qualify for membership.  It’s making serious efforts to get that work done, and we’ll assess that progress at the end of the year.

Reuters:  Thanks very much, Ambassador.  Adrian Croft from Reuters. NATO’s Strategic Concept talks about NATO-Russia cooperation being of strategic importance and wanting to see a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia.  In view of what’s happened in Ukraine, do you think it’s time to re-write the 2010 Strategic Concept to change those clauses?  Or is a broader overhaul of the Strategic Concept required?

Ambassador Lute:  Just so everybody’s on the same wave length as Adrian here in the question, NATO’s had I think seven, in the course of its 66 years, it’s had seven different Strategic Concepts.  This is the sort of overall organizing document, broad strategic guidance, that sets out the framework for what NATO is about and how it goes about doing its business.

For example, it changed Strategic Concepts when the Berlin Wall fell.  So obviously a major change in the strategic environment caused a re-write of the Strategic Concept.  And there have been occasions like that seven times in NATO’s history.

So the question is, are we at another such point?  The Alliance has not taken that decision yet to reopen the Strategic Concept, but undeniably some of the language in the current Strategic Concept having to do with Russia as a strategic partner of the Alliance is certainly called into question given Russia’s behavior.  So I would argue that since the seizing of, the illegal annexation of Crimea, it’s quite clear that Russia is not today behaving as a strategic partner.

So whether or not that leads to the political decision to open the Strategic Concept and revise it and issue the eighth Strategic Concept in NATO’s history, that decision hasn’t yet been taken, but it’s clear that there have been some changes to the environment.

Moderator:  Deborah Haynes, The Times.

The Times:  Thank you.  President Putin’s been very vocal in his sort of modernization of his nuclear weapons.  How likely is it that the U.S. is going to decide to move cruise missiles to Europe?  Is Britain potentially going to be a base if you ask the British government about that?  And is NATO going to or has it already kind of restarted the sort of thing it used to do in the Cold War times when it had those proper strategic exercises where political leaders would engage in the idea of a nuclear war and the sort of decisions that would have to be taken if they were to sort of engage or press the button or whatever?  Thank you.

Ambassador Lute:  There’s no decision-making underway in Washington to redeploy nuclear weapons that were once deployed back sort of 30 years ago back to Europe.  There is a general assessment underway in Washington and a parallel assessment here in NATO to look at all the possible implications of what Russia says about its nuclear weapons, so its doctrine and so forth.  Its pronouncements, its rhetoric, and what we actually see on the ground in terms of development and deployment.

So, the assessments are going on but we haven’t drawn any conclusions about so what, and what are the actions that are implied in our response.

One case I point is, the United States government has declared that Russia is in violation of one of the cornerstone treaties of the Cold War period which is the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF Treaty.  And while we have declared that Russia is in violation of that, so far our response to Russia has been as series of bilateral dialogues to try to bring them back into compliance with the treaty.  It has not been, so far, it has not gone beyond that.  It has not gone into a conversation of what are our counter deployments.

We’re still in the process, in the early days of trying to bring Russia back into compliance.  That’s sort of the state of play right now.  But there’s no move afoot to reintroduce nuclear weapons to Europe which were removed in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Moderator:  I know Ambassador Lute would love to stay and take your questions all day, but unfortunately I have to end it now because —

Ambassador Lute:  Let’s do one more.

Spanish News Agency:  Thank you so much, Ambassador. Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency. Concerning the prepositioning, can you confirm that the U.S. wants to complete this prepositioning by the end of the year?  And I don’t know if you can tell us how much of the tanks and so forth you already have in Europe.

And a very quick follow-up, the Iraq training program, will that be on the ground in Iraq?  So we will have again trainers on the ground of NATO?  Is that how it will go?

Ambassador Lute:  The location for the Iraq training is not yet fixed.  We’re considering options for out of country training, but we’re also open to the potential in-country training.  But the program, to include that aspect of the program is not yet approved, so we’re not fixed on that.

With regard to the equipment, some of the brigade set of equipment is already here.  I don’t know the exact proportion.  The aim is to have it in place by the end of this year, the complete brigade set, which is I think several hundred armored vehicles complemented by three or four times that number of wheeled vehicles, support vehicles and so forth.  So you’re dealing with in total over a thousand vehicles of different types but only several hundred of those are armored combat vehicles.  And by the end of the year that should be complete across Europe.   Thanks very much.