SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: So here we go again.
Let's see. Let's -- let me start with the trip, then we'll get to whatever you want to talk about.
I know you all have received some briefings -- you have the itinerary and have a pretty good understanding of why I'm going.
Start with it's a security conference in Munich. And I have attended that conference as a senator a number of times. Matter of fact, I think I led the delegation, the congressional delegation to Verkunde in 2000. So I'm not unfamiliar with the conference and usually the agenda, which I think it's helpful anytime you can get a group of security leaders together from mainly the European continent, but really all over the world, I think, is helpful and just as sharing of ideas and thoughts and information is important.
So that's what I'm building the trip around.
If we're going to come this far, and spend some time here, then we always try to add something onto the trip.
So I'm going to Poland first and the main reasons I'm going to Poland, first, Poland has been a very significant important strong ally since it joined North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) 15 years ago. Matter of fact, I was in the Senate at the time and was on the Foreign Relations Committee and was a strong advocate of bringing Poland in in the first tranche, right up front.
So I want to go there and acknowledge that partnership, the importance of that partnership, and the contributions they've made to American efforts, certainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, still continue to make contributions in Afghanistan.
They've suffered casualties. So they've really been important contributors to those two wars.
They've been a strong NATO partner. They are one of the few countries in NATO who has one of the higher budgets' percentage of GNP. We're doing a number of things with them. One, as you know, the European Phase Adaptive Approach on missile defense is important. I'm going to visit the Powidz Air Base, where we have a detachment, aviation brigade there, to visit our troops there. Their hosting us at that air base is important.
Their continued commitment to what we're doing in our capacity building partnerships around the world is important. They're, as you know, upgrading their defense capabilities. And it's important to recognize that with them and all the different things they're going to be doing, and they have options. They have options to go in other directions as far as their own decisions on what kind of investment they're going to make in future capabilities.
And I think it's always important, as I said, to recognize partners, have an opportunity to sit down and listen to them and see what they think, a lot going on in the world, a lot of uncertainty. The common interests, the common threats that confront all of us knit this fabric closer and closer together.
NATO itself, as it celebrates many, many successful years and particularly this conference, the 50th anniversary, this conference, I think increasingly becomes more relevant. And I say that because the world is intersecting in more complicated ways than we've ever seen. We're putting more people on the face of the Earth.
I think to have a stable and proven collective security institution arrangement is really an anchor for stability and not just in our interests, but and not just in the interests of our partners in Europe, but I think it represents an important contribution to our -- all of our efforts to help build a better world, build capacity for other countries.
And that anchor of stability crosses all dimensions. It isn't just a defined military security alliance. It's commerce; it's trade. It's keeping sea lanes open and airspace open, enhancement of our cultures' societies, opportunities, so I want to recognize that as well, certainly in Poland. And I will, at the conference in Munich.
I think I'll stop there, because that's the general purpose. As you know, we're not here very long. So we're trying to pack a lot in. I might just add one thing on the Munich stop in Verkunde. As you all know, Secretary Kerry and I are going to do a joint appearance. We'll each make about 10 minutes' worth of remarks and then we will do a Q&A together with Ambassador Ischinger. And I look forward to that.
And the rest of the day -- and I'll stay there all day -- will be taken up with bilateral meetings with my counterparts from a number of countries. And we'll give you a readout on that if you haven't seen those meetings. But I look forward to that like I always do at these conferences, where you have a lot of opportunities to spend some time on an individual basis.
Why don't I stop there and we'll open up for questions.
SEC. HAGEL: Yes, you have dinner coming on.
Q: Secretary, will you be seeing the Russian counterpart at Munich?
Do you have any concerns about relations not only U.S.-Russian relations, U.S.-Russian relations, but also Russia's relations with the European partners at NATO?
SEC. HAGEL: I don't plan at this time to see Minister Shoygu. But I did have a good conversation with him this morning. And I think this -- all of you know -- we keep you tuned in on this -- we have a good relationship where we communicate fairly often. This morning's topic, obviously, was much about Sochi and also we talked about chemical weapons progress, keeping that on track. As you all know, the Cape Ray left yesterday and talked about our partnership and how we're continuing to work together on that.
As to your question, Bob, regarding concerns on relationships with the Russians and the Europeans, that's a decision, and those are relationships, that are bilateral. We're sovereign nations. I think, just as we did after the implosion of the Soviet Union, when we invited the Russians in to -- essentially an observer kind of status with NATO, we're -- we continue to reach out.
You know, we continue to build a relationship based on the common interests that both of us have. There are differences. There'll continue to be differences. And we'll -- we'll continue to work through those.
But I think a big part of anything, especially nation-to-nation responsibilities with each other in relationships, recognizing regional consequences, world consequences, is lines of communication.
And I know General Dempsey has developed a strong line of communication with his counterpart. Certainly, Secretary Kerry has with Mr. Lavrov.
So that's where I'd leave it.
Q: We haven't actually seen, yet, who your bilaterals will be with. But I'm just wondering, how much of the conversation in Munich do you think is gonna be focused on Afghanistan and the fact that the clock is ticking there, and what you -- what other hot topics you expect to be discussing the most, security-wise, region-wise.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I'm sure Afghanistan will be a topic, for obvious reasons. And, as you all know, we -- the -- then we move about 30 days down the line into a NATO ministerial.
So I would assume that will be one topic.
But there will be many, many topics covered here. You all have been to the Verkunde conference before, and you know the panels, the discussion breakouts, the subject matter. It's a pretty thorough scope and range of the big issues of our time.
And I suspect all of these issues are gonna be -- are going to be discussed. And I think they should be, because, as I've said before, everyone knows it, every big challenge facing any nation, the world, is a global challenge.
And, yes, they -- they're pocketed in regions, but terrorism is not indigenous to one, any one region. Certainly, cyber threats. Human disasters. Weapons of mass destruction, the proliferation of those.
So that'll lead us into a lot of breakouts, I suspect, with topics like Africa, North Africa, what's going on there. Certainly, the Middle East would be a topic.
But I think it'll be pretty far-ranging.
Q: The Polish government last month expressed concern about the Russians deploying the Iskander missiles, in the enclave in Kaliningrad. What are you gonna tell the Poles to try to reassure them about the U.S. commitment?
SEC. HAGEL: First, as I've said, one of the reasons I'm going to Poland and certainly on into Munich is to reconfirm America's commitment to the strategic interests and security of Europe and our allies in Europe.
I'll address some of that in my remarks on -- on Saturday. I want to assure the Poles, when I meet with them tomorrow, the next day, that that assurance -- that commitment is there -- will continue to be there. And I think there's pretty clear evidence of that assurance when I mentioned just a couple of the things that we're doing with the Poles now. And we'll continue to work very closely with the Poles, as we will with all our European allies.
So, that assurance should not be doubted, and I don't think it is doubted by any of our European allies.
Q: Can you update us on the discussions you've been having with the White House over troop levels in Afghanistan? And what efforts are being made at this point to get Karzai to make a decision if anything's being done? Or are we just waiting for him to make a call?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, as you all know, the post-2014 issue is being closely examined by the president himself, personally, on down through the National Security Council, and in -- into each of the inter-agencies. That just doesn't -- didn't begin. That's ongoing. But you heard the president's comments last night, that depending on whether the president of Afghanistan signs the bilateral security agreement that was agreed to by President Karzai, and strongly endorsed by the loya jirga that he empanelled, then we are in a position, as I have said before, as are our allies, our ISAF and NATO allies -- where we're -- where it's difficult to plan what exactly it is post-2014 what we can do, but more importantly, what the Afghan people want us to do in some way to continue to assist them.
The president talked last night about train, assist, advise and a counter-terrorism measure. We continue to plan that way. NATO continues to plan that way. But, as I've said before -- and I've spoken with many of our ISAF, in particular, NATO ministers of Defense, who have been in to see me the last two months -- and you're aware of all of them -- that question is usually first on their questions for me.
And then they clearly state, as we know, they have parliaments, they have budgets, they have their citizens. They have accountable factors in their government in their country that they have to answer to. So, you can't just keep deferring and deferring. Because at some point, the realities of planning and budgeting and all that is required -- it collides.
So, as to what we're doing to try to continue to work with Karzai, to do everything we can to support his signature on that BSA -- we -- we talk with him constantly -- Gen. Dunford, Ambassador Cunningham. But he is the elected president of a sovereign nation. And our ability to influence whatever decisions and elected president and leader of a sovereign makes on -- on behalf of their country is limited, so he knows we continue to work with ministry of defense, ministry of interior, support strongly in every way we can elections coming up to do what we can to assure that those are secure, safe, free, fair. But again, our role is very limited in that, essentially as enablers to support their government.
So we'll continue to plan, we'll continue to prepare, just as the president said last night.
Q: Are you surprised by his tone of late? Karzai's?
SEC. HAGEL: President Karzai's?
Well, I think, again, he, as the elected president has to answer for his actions, and if that includes his tone, then that's -- that's something he has to deal with. We have to deal with the realities of what we have, and committing a nation and committing forces and resources is -- is not an insignificant commitment that any leader of any nation makes.
Q: Thanks everybody, thank you. Appreciate it.