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Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta Holds a Press Briefing En Route to Tokyo

Press Conference

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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: All right, everybody set? OK.

All right, let me just -- let's do a few remarks about the trip and where we're headed and then I'll open it up to questions.

This is my third trip to the region -- Pacific region as Secretary of Defense. And it's an opportunity to further advance our strategy of rebalancing towards the Asia Pacific that I outlined at the Shangri-La conference in June.

As part of this strategy, what we want to do is obviously deepen our engagement in this part of the world, across the entire United States government. This -- this is -- this is a strategy that isn't just a military strategy, it's also a diplomatic and economic strategy as well.

Secretary Clinton, as you know spent the last ten days in the region, Admiral Locklear was in China in June.

Ash Carter, my Deputy spent ten days there in July.

The United States recognizes that the Asia Pacific region is becoming more important in our economic and diplomatic and security interests.

The rebalance is really about maintaining and strengthening, not just our presence but also maintaining and strengthening a system of rules and norms and institutions in Asia that have brought decades of security and prosperity to the region and have allowed many nations to thrive.

During the week, as you know, I will be visiting three countries that have an important role to play in our rebalance strategy.

Japan, I've been to Japan a number of times. This is my second trip there as Secretary of Defense. It is, as all of you know, an alliance that is very much a cornerstone of security and prosperity in the region.

They're making -- Japan is making new investments for the 21st century as are -- as are we; implementing a realignment roadmap, enhancing our cooperation and ballistic missile defense and in talking about roles and missions and capabilities of the Japan self-defense forces.

In China, again, I've -- I've been there in other capacities. This is my first trip to China as Secretary of Defense and the purpose is a chance to deepen our -- our mil to mil relationship and engagement and talk about the rebalance with my Chinese counterparts.

We recognize the challenges that we have in the relationship. We recognize often times the differences that we may have, but I think it is in both our nations interest to work towards a healthy, stable, reliable and continuous military to military relationship.

We've made important progress toward this goal. We've had their leadership visit our country, we've engaged in good discussions. I think we've begun some good efforts to try to move this in the right direction and I look at this trip as an opportunity to advance that relationship even further.

And then we go on to New Zealand which is the -- it is the first trip by a Secretary of Defense to New Zealand in 30 years.

They are, in my experience, a very steadfast and a very valued partner to the United States and we deeply appreciate the role that they've played in Afghanistan and the sacrifice that they've made. They've had some -- some recent deaths that have taken place there and it's been tragic. You know, I've had the opportunity to talk to my counterpart and express our condolences, but at the same time, they -- they are committed to a strong and continuing role in Afghanistan.

The purpose of my trip there is to see what -- what opportunities exist to try to deepen our defense cooperation.

So even as we rebalance to Asia Pacific, the events of this week remind all of us of the need to maintain a strong presence in the Middle East as well.

But our military, thank God, is capable of executing this strategy and dealing with the challenges that we face in both of these critical regions at this time.

So with that (inaudible).

Q: Mr. Secretary on sort of the latter subject about the recent protests, can you give us a more precise picture of where and what U.S. military forces you have deployed or are deploying and are shifting around to meet some of these security threats?

You mentioned, I think, in an interview that they were going to a number of places around the world and I was wondering if you could do that.

And also, can you tell us what you think about the rejection by the Sudanese of the Marine units that went there. Is that normal? Is something being done about them?

Thank you.

SEC. PANETTA: I'm not going to -- I -- I'm not going to discuss our -- our specific deployments but I think it -- it suffices to say that we -- we have deployed our forces to a number of areas in the region to be prepared to respond to any requests that we receive to -- to be able to protect our personnel and our American property.

We have -- we -- when we do this, it is a requirement that the country that we deploy our forces to provide permission for us to be able to go in. And with regards to the Sudanese, my understanding is that they felt that they could provide sufficient security to be able to protect our -- our embassy and personnel there.

And, you know, in many ways as all of you know, the primary responsibility for protecting embassies rests with the host country. And what we do at the Department of Defense is basically await the request of the State Department when they feel that they need additional health. And so we're prepared to respond but in order to respond we do need the permission of the host country.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, a question on the -- on -- on your trip to China, for the longest time, many Chinese officials have talked about a peaceful rise that doesn't threaten the neighbors and countries around the region.

But looking at how they've handled the island disputes with the Philippines and how they're handling the dispute now with Japan, are you concerned that they have abandoned this idea of of a peaceful rise?

And sort of a follow up to that, what will you ask them about why they are behaving so aggressively?

SEC. PANETTA: One -- one of the issues I hope to discuss with them if the -- the issues that relate to the South China Sea and to other areas where there have been disputes and to -- and to urge them as Secretary Clinton did, to -- to engage in a process of peacefully resolving these kinds of disputes.

As you know, the United States does not take a position with regards to territorial disputes. But we do urge, not just China but the other countries that are involved to engage in a process in which they can peacefully resolve these issues.

As you know, the Asian countries, to their credit, put together a code of conduct to try to assist in resolving these issues.

One of the things I will do is urge the Chinese to engage in that process so that they can become part of a forum that, hopefully, can provide the basis on which to resolve these kinds of disputes.

What we don't want is -- is to have any kind of provocative behavior on the part of China or anybody else result in -- in conflict and my -- my purpose will be to urge that -- that they engage in -- in the effort by the Asian nations to try to work out a format for resolving these issues.

David?

Q: Thank you, sorry about that. Sorry Julian.

Mr. Secretary, just a follow up on your comments on deployments, I -- I know you don't want to talk about specific places, but were you suggesting that American forces beyond fast teams, beyond small teams of Marines have been augmented in the region in order to be prepared to respond?

In other words, in existing U.S. bases, and -- and in places where we already have forces, are you suggesting that there has been an augmentation of those forces? And do you see the situation getting to the point where there might have to be U.S. forces sent in to -- to countries to protect Americans without the permission of the host country?

SEC. PANETTA: First, I -- first and and foremost, as many of you know, we -- we deployed a pretty significant force to the Middle East to be able to deal with any potential contingencies in the region and we do have a large presence in that region which gives us, obviously, some capabilities to respond.

By having said that, we have enhanced some of that presence with the fast teams and others so that if they are requested, they can respond more quickly.

As you know, it's a combination of -- of fast teams plus some ships in the region that we have to try to give us the full capability we need in order to respond.

I don't anticipate a situation right now where we would have to, you know, do this on our own. I -- I think our -- our approach right now is to not do anything until we've been requested to do it by the State Department.

Q: All right, sir, I'm sorry is I was back and forth but if I can get back to Egypt, specific for a second.

You know, and the question and your comments on the territorial disputes and bringing this up with China.

As -- as you -- I know the United States urges a peaceful resolution in Egypt (inaudible) size, but as you know, the U.S. does have mutual defense (inaudible) with Japan and the Philippines in particular.

Are you increasingly concerned that the United States could get dragged into some kind of military or security conflict given the events of recent months in the Southside (inaudible)?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, I -- I -- I am concerned that -- that -- that, you know, when these -- these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on -- on one side or the other could result in -- in violence and could result in conflict and that conflict would then, you know, have the potential of expanding.

So it's for that reason that both Secretary Clinton and myself will strongly urge that -- that these countries, rather than engaging in that kind of provocative behavior, engage in an effort to find ways to peacefully resolve these kinds of issues.

And we're going to, you know, we're going to face more of this, countries are searching for resources, there's going to be questions raised as to who has jurisdiction over these areas. There has got to be a peaceful way to resolve these issues.

And to the credit of the Asian nations, they developed a code of conduct to try to provide a format for that. I will -- I will strongly urge the Chinese and others to participate in an effort to not only adhere to that code, but find a way to be able to enforce it effectively.

Julian?

Q: To keep your mind nibble, I'm going to bounce back to the Mid-East.

I want to know what you think so far of the Libyan response to the attack. If you still think is -- is it adequate and is there still a possibility that something -- some U.S. force might be needed against people who are identified as responsible for the attacks, such as a force against Al Qaeda in the Maghreb or the (inaudible) Sharia?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, as you know, I had the opportunity to go to Libya and be able to talk with their leadership and, you know, I'm -- I'm convinced that -- that they want to do everything possible to be able to respond to what happened there. And I think they are taking steps on -- on the security side to provide better security.

But also, with regards to the events directly in Benghazi that they are trying to engage to determine who was involved and to try to bring them to justice.

So I think the answer to your question right now is that I, you know, I -- I -- I think they are making a strong effort to try to respond to this crisis and try to deal with the issues involved.

Q: Just a follow up on Julian's question about the -- the AQIM affiliate, do you see them now becoming a bigger threat give what happened in Benghazi and the situation in Libya?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, I continue to be concerned about, you know, these -- these various element of Al Qaeda that -- that represent a continuing threat in places like Yemen and Somalia, North -- North Africa and elsewhere.

And I think, you know, we -- we have to continue to make every effort to be able to go after Al Qaeda where they are and wherever they try to hide. I think that -- I think it's -- it's clear that, you know, they -- in these other places, they continue to try to inspire violence and to try to undermine stability.

And more importantly, they continue in many ways to represent a threat to the United States and for that reason, we have to continue to go after Al Qaeda wherever they are and whatever affiliates they have that -- that are engaged in terrorism.

Q: Do they have (inaudible).

SEC. PANETTA: That remains to be determined; and I think that's part of what the -- hopefully, the investigation will determine.

Q: Thank you.

Rather than have you bounce back and forth across the world, I -- I'm going to try to knit the Middle East and Asia together, sort of an all (known ?) thought.

World events have a way of imposing on the best laid strategy. The enemy gets a vote, the (inaudible) fan strategy, when you look at the unintended or unexpected need to bolster forces in the Middle East; when you look at the need to counter and deter Iran and the goal of pivoting to Asia in a time of decreased budgets, can the Pentagon do it all? And at what level of risk?

SEC. PANETTA: Tom, you know, I -- I -- I thank God that we are the strongest military force in the world. And we -- we remain a strong military force. And that -- our goal in responding to the budget request that was provided by the Congress in reducing the defense budget by $487 billion over ten years, our goal was to respond to that by developing a strategy that would be able to address the kinds of threats that we're facing in the world and be able to do that effectively.

And right now, I have to say that we are able to respond to the threats that we can fund, both in the Middle East and elsewhere. And we are able to do it effectively.

Obviously, we continue to -- to monitor closely, you know, our -- our resources and the costs involved and to keep the Congress informed of both our resource deployments as well as the costs.

But I have to say right now, we have great support from the Congress for what we're doing and I feel very confident that we can respond to any contingency that we face.

STAFF: We have time for one or two more. Christina?

Q: Thanks.

Could you -- could you describe exactly what you mean by realignment roadmap that you're -- that you'll (inaudible) discuss with Japanese counterparts -- a realignment roadmap?

SEC. PANETTA: You know, because they are a very important ally to the United States in that region and I mean that -- that alliance provides us with a great deal of support in the deployment that we make to -- to the Pacific. They've been -- they've been extremely cooperative in that effort and deeply appreciate what the Japanese have done.

We work with them closely to try to deal with issues on realignment in -- in Okinawa and we were able to work out an agreement on that and we are putting that into effect. You know, we're beginning the process of moving some of the Marines to Guam and what we hope to do is to work with the Japanese to develop the (inaudible) a replacement facility there.

And my -- my goal is to continue to work with them in order to be able to get that accomplished. This thing has been, you know, worked on for a number of years. I'm pleased that this year, we are able to get something done and try to move this in the right direction and I appreciate the cooperation that I received from Japan -- the United States has received from Japan in trying to make that effort work.

STAFF: All right, David, a final question and then we'll go to dinner.

Q: In the -- you want to -- to deepen and broaden the relationship with China. What sorts of steps do you want to take in order to do that and how do you do that when you're also carrying a message along that says we're pivoting to Asia, we're placing more emphasis and which, obviously is going to make them nervous, how do you balance those two?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, it's -- it's a point that I stressed to them when I met with them in Washington which is, we -- we area a Pacific nation, we border on the Pacific. We've had a strong presence in the Pacific going back 70 years or more to -- to World War II.

And, you know, that presence in the Pacific has helped provide a great deal of security for China and for other countries. It's given China the opportunity to pursue its own prosperity.

And so, you know, they -- they represent a power in the Pacific. We represent a power in the Pacific. We have common issues that concern us, issues related to -- to nuclear proliferation, issues related to freedom of navigation, issues related to piracy, issues related to trade, issues related to humanitarian assistance.

These are all areas where we can work together to try to provide a security -- security support for the Asia Pacific region that will -- that will enhance the ability of that region to really be able to prosper in the future. And those are some of the areas that I'd like to work on.

Q: (OFF MIKE)

Q: (inaudible) assessment of the situation at the moment in the Middle East -- where it was a few days ago?

SEC. PANETTA: It's -- the question was on the assessment on the Middle East right now.

You know, we -- we've -- we've obviously gone through some serious turmoil over these last few days that -- that have involved a number of countries that we've watched closely.

Today, you know, there -- there continue to be some demonstrations but it -- it would appear that there's some leveling off on the -- on the violence that -- that we thought might take place.

Having said that, I think we have to continue to be very vigilant because I suspect that -- that this will -- what we've seen is demonstrations are likely to continue over the next few days, if not longer.

And I think we're going to have to be vigilant in watching for those areas and making sure that our personnel and our people are protected and that -- that we don't have a recurrence of what took place in Libya.

STAFF: All right, with that everyone, dinner and drinks.


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