June 6, 2018: Telephonic Press Briefing with Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison

Kay Bailey Hutchison

U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO

Telephonic Briefing

June 6, 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.  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, Kathy.  It’s great to be able to talk to the press throughout Europe, and I appreciate the interest because we are having our last Defense Ministerial before the Summit that is coming in July with all of our heads of state.  So we’re all preparing for that, and I think we are in very good shape and very good order.

The main point of the Defense Ministerial will be, of course, defense and deterrence.  We are going to continue to work through all of the efforts for the new NATO command structure that is going to reform the defense and deterrence issues.  It has already started in many ways with the Defense Ministerial in February, but now we’re going to add more meat on the bones for the final decision at the Summit.  We think this new command structure will give us a stronger command capability, more efficient, and there will be a proffer of two more headquarters where Germany and the United States have each offered to host, and those final decisions will be made at the Summit.

NATO-EU cooperation is certainly going to be a major area of discussion.  The EU Action Plan on Military Mobility in coordination with NATO is going to be very helpful to streamline processes to ensure that the alliance can respond quickly and decisively in defense of Europe.

Certainly terrorism, fighting terrorism, projecting stability is going to be a major focus as well.  We all know that terrorism is something that all of our countries are protecting against.  We are members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.  That is certainly going on in Iraq and Syria and we hope very much to continue all of our efforts to strengthen the southern borders of Europe and to continue to try to wipe out terrorism where it is so that it will not affect any of our countries and our people.

And the other major area that will be discussed is the 39 allies and partners that contribute to our NATO mission in Afghanistan.  We have a major effort in Afghanistan and I think the offer of an Afghan-led peace process that has been made by President Ghani is now beginning to have an impact.  I think the people of Afghanistan are seeing a way forward that will stop the violence of terrorist groups in their own country and bring their country together, and that stability then will help every one of us be safer from terrorism that could be exported from Afghanistan in the future.

So I think those will be the major points of our Defense Ministerial.

I just want to make one more point before I open it for questions, and that is burden sharing has received a lot of attention in the last year, where everyone is being encouraged by the Secretary General and by certainly my country, the United States, to increase defense spending in their own countries so that they are stronger and safer and can contribute more to our umbrella of security.

We are really looking at a lot more spending that has happened.  Every country now in NATO Has increased its defense spending 100 percent, and I think when we see the final numbers of the budgets and the governments that have passed their budgets, we will see probably the largest increase in defense spending in a single year since the end of the Cold War for 2018.  So our allies are working now, we’re encouraging them to continue to work to increase their own spending so that our alliance will be stronger and more capable to deter any interference from outside sources to any of our member countries and partners.

So thank you, and I’m happy to take questions.

Moderator:  Thank you very much for those remarks.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.

Our first question comes to us from Alexey Gorbachev who is with Nezavisimaya Gazeta in Russia.  Mr. Gorbachev?

Question:  Ambassador Hutchison, last week the media reported that NATO is going to increase NATO Response Forces up to 30,000 people in case of sudden aggression of Russia.  Does that mean that NATO’s preparing or expecting that kind of aggression from Russia?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Thank you for that question because the European Deterrence Initiative started when Russia took Crimea illegally and two provinces in Georgia, and other European allies then began to obviously be concerned if Russia was overtaking other countries illegally that they might be vulnerable.  That’s the whole reason for our deterrence and defense.

We would urge Russia to stop illegally going into other countries and stop the hybrid warfare that we have seen in many of our countries trying to destabilize our alliance.

We would like to have a good relationship with Russia, we would like not to have to gird up for defense and deterrence against Russia, but as long as they continue to occupy Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and continue to spread misinformation throughout most if not all of our countries at one point or another, even interfering in election processes in some of our countries.  If they will stop that kind of behavior, we will not have to add any deterrence to defend Europe against Russian aggression.  But that has not been shown so far.  So until we’ve seen a different attitude from Russia, then we will have to assure deterrence is made to keep from having any more invasions of sovereign nations that are our allies and partners.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Donata Reidel with Handelsblatt in Germany.

Question:  Thank you.

I’ve read some coverage by Reuters about that Mr. Mattis is going to urge the Europeans to increase their deterrence potential towards Russia in the form of having three battalions and, 30 battalions, 30 fighters and ships, 30 ships ready to be moved around the NATO area.  So is this the concrete issue that Mr. Mattis is putting towards the Europeans on this meeting tomorrow?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Well as I said before, the new NATO Command Structure and assuring that we have the deterrence capability that will be needed against any kind of aggression from outside, including from Russia, the specifics are not yet being put forward, but we are making sure that NATO is fit for purpose against the outside intrusion of any country into any of our 29 members.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Bobi Hristov from TV Telma in Macedonia.

Question:  On the name issue between Macedonia and Greece, we are expecting in the next couple of days big yes or no for the solution.  But my question is how do you comment this negotiation, and what if there is no solution?  What is the prospect of Macedonian path towards NATO in terms of our regional aspect and Russia influence in the region?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think that it’s very clear from previous summits that NATO is ready to begin accession talks with Macedonia as soon as the name issue is settled.  And I believe that the Ministers of both countries are working very hard — both Greece and Macedonia are working very hard to go forward with a mutually acceptable name for Macedonia, and when that agreement is made and the final requirements are met, then it is my view that Macedonia will begin accession talks into NATO.

NATO has been clear in saying that Macedonia does meet the requirements except for the name, and once that is settled, we want them to be full partners.

So the United States has been very supportive of Macedonia coming in, and most certainly we hope that it could be done at this Summit, but that is now required by the two countries that are making that last negotiation to clear the path for Macedonia to come in.

Moderator:  Thank you.

Our next question comes to us from Pekka Mykkänen from Helsingin Sanomat in Finland.

Helsingin Sanomat:  Good morning, Madame Ambassador.  I have two questions.

One is, I would like to hear your assessment of what you feel about the tensions in the Baltic Sea region.  I have a sense that there was a lot of talk about that in, especially I guess in 2017 and previously, but now maybe less so?  Would you say things have calmed down or has the tension become a new normal?  What is your feeling about how things go there?

And my second question relates to the upcoming NATO Summit in Brussels.  How do you view the international environment now that there’s been quite a few different things souring the mood between the transatlantic partners, the Iranian deal, the looming trade war and so on?  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  Thank you.

First of all on the issue of the Baltic Sea area, we are I think in a strong position in supporting our NATO allies in the Baltic.  They each have forward present troops from NATO and I think there is strong communication among the Baltic countries about sharing information about any kind of hybrid activities that are maligned influence, and other issues that arise.  But I think that we are well armed in those areas, and well positioned to deter any kind of encroachment, but we are going to remain vigilant until we don’t see a necessity to do so.

On the issue of the transatlantic bond.  In NATO, we have one goal and we are all in agreement on that goal, and that is a security umbrella for Europe and North America.  We are all aware of differences in bilateral relations between some of our countries in NATO.  Differences in some of our governments, having different inner-government issues within our countries.  But that has not affected our one goal, our focus on that goal, and the ability for all 29 of the Ambassadors that represent their country in NATO to work together, to continue to build the strength of this alliance and the commitment to deterrence and defense for all of us.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Duygu Guvenc who is calling in from Cumhuriyet Daily in Turkey.

Question:  Hello.  Thanks for hosting us with such a briefing.

Ambassador, I would like to learn if you do expect a similar declaration at the end of the July Summit as it was the case of Washington Summit in which the alliances for all concepts have been accepted via Russia especially.  All the other challenges.

And my second question is about the terrorism issue.  Would you elaborate a little bit on what kind of a concept do you expect since even U.S. and Turkey is not agreeing on the definition of terrorism today?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I understood the second part of your question.  I didn’t get the first part, but let me answer the second part and then maybe you can clarify if there’s more.

On the Turkey-U.S. relationship and regarding the terrorism, I was very encouraged by the announcement yesterday, the joint announcement between our Secretary of State and the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs in which the Turkey-U.S. Working Group on Syria did provide a way forward, a road map that deals with the disagreement that our two countries have had in Syria.  And I think the road map is a very well-crafted agreement that both countries believe is going in the right direction, which would put the Euphrates, the YPG going to the eastern side of Euphrates and the SDF moving in with locals to set up a stable government in Mandish.

I think that is very promising, and I think the fact that this working group between our two countries could make such a firm partnership just shows that Turkey has been a committed and reliable ally in NATO for many years.  They were among the first group after the founders to come into NATO.  They have been contributors in every way to NATO and that we can work through some of these tough issues, and we do have a few tough issues still left to be discussed.  But I think the fact that we have been able to come to agreement in Syria and the terrorist issues there, is a great beginning for us to bring ourselves together in some of the other issues that are dividing us right now.

So I think we’re in a good place with Turkey.  We have never walked away from the importance of our bilateral relationship as well as our NATO alliance which is very strong with Turkey as a very reliable and committed member.

Now I didn’t get the first part of your question, so if you would like to repeat that, I would be happy to try to answer.

Question:  Let’s forget about the first part, but especially on the second part, my question was this.  What do you expect from the July Summit on terrorism concept?  I mean even though the two countries have agreed the road map, the two countries didn’t agree on the definition of terrorism.  Please correct me.  U.S. doesn’t see YPG is a terrorist, while Turkey sees it.  That’s why I’m asking what do you expect from the NATO Summit in July with respect to the concept of terrorism?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think that the agreement settles the issue without having to define what each of the different groups in Syria is representing.  I think the fact that Turkey believes that YPG had PKK involved with it, I think the United States then, because YPG was helping in the fight against ISIS, we are agreeing with Turkey in that separation that gives Turkey the comfort that their border is secure from the issue of what they consider to be terrorism, terrorist activities, and I think that accommodation was made with the United States in this road map that goes forward.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our final question we will turn to Vladimir Mircheski from 360 Degrees in Macedonia.

Question:  Ambassador, I would like to make a follow-up question on my colleague’s [inaudible] question.  You haven’t answered, what is the final view of administration Plan B if Macedonia does not resolve the name issue with Greece?  How does the U.S. administration plan to stabilize this part of the Western Balkans?  Keeping in mind that so many U.S. administration representatives said maligned Russian influence.  Not only in Macedonia, but also in region.  In Serbia and also in Greece which is one of the most important partners of NATO in this part of Europe?

Ambassador Hutchison:  We will continue, if the name issue is not resolved before the Summit and the accession movement cannot be started, we nevertheless will continue to work and build up the defenses in hybrid warfare and maligned influence.  We have a close working relationship with Macedonia.  And anything that they bring to us where we can be helpful, I can’t respond to something that has not been asked in the future, but most certainly I can say that all of us in NATO want to do everything we can to be helpful for Macedonia to resist any maligned influence from Russia.  Any hybrid warfare.  Any other divisive activity which we know that Russia has been doing in some of the other countries that are on the cusp of wanting to be part of NATO.

We are going to be helpful in all of these countries where we can, in every way that we can, and especially Macedonia which is certainly the next country that has passed many of the tests of democracy and liberal freedoms, treatment of people.  Those things are in a place where we are ready to start accession talks with Macedonia and we’ll do everything to help them until that name issue is resolved, to deter any kind of aggression from Russia.

Moderator:  Thank you.

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

Ambassador Hutchison:  I just want to thank everyone for asking good questions and for being interested again in NATO and the efforts that we are making to not only strengthen our alliance, but to bring in more who want to be part of NATO, who want to have freedom and democracy, who want to have human rights in their country, want to have a judicial system that is fair to all the people.  We want to encourage every country that is in the European border to be a part of NATO if they want to be and we want to help them stabilize ability to deter aggression from Russia or maligned influence from Russia or terrorism from the south, or terrorism from anywhere actually.

So we want to be there, we appreciate your interest, and we will keep strengthening our alliance so that we will protect our allies and partners in the security umbrella that was the founding reason for forming NATO.

Thank you very much for being with me today.  And I will look forward to hopefully seeing many of you in the future and towards the Summit time.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you, Ambassador Hutchison for joining us, and thank all of you for participating and for your questions.