SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good afternoon. I very much appreciate the opportunity this afternoon to welcome back my friend, Minister Onodera, welcome him back to the Pentagon. He's been here in the United States most of the week. And he was recently in Omaha and brought me back a Nebraska pin...
MINISTER OF DEFENSE ITSUNORI ONODERA: Yes.
SEC. HAGEL: ... which he is proudly displaying here. And if you're wondering what that flower is, that's the goldenrod, Nebraska's state flower. Now, you don't know everything about Nebraska, but that's a good start. We'll give you a quiz later, but I appreciated his thoughtfulness in recognizing my home state.
This is our sixth meeting in, I think, a little over a year. And I want to thank Minister Onodera for the personal role that he's played in strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship. I also want to thank him for making a trip not just to Nebraska, but to Texas and Hawaii, other locations in the United States, to visit our facilities and get better acquainted with what we're doing, which is important in our alliance and our partnership and our friendship.
And when he was in Omaha on Wednesday, he not only visited our Strategic Command headquarters, but he also got a Nebraska steak. And he, I am told, stopped by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and -- where he visited my Senate archive. He asked to see my old University of Nebraska at Omaha yearbook and examined my picture. I don't know if he asked to see my grades or any other in-depth questions, but we hope not.
Minister, your visit means a great deal. It means a great deal to me personally, but to our two countries and our partnership and our alliance. We're not just partners, but we are friends.
And some of you may know that when Secretary Kerry and I visited Japan last October for our two-plus-two meeting, we were there for, it happened, my birthday. Now, some of you may have been on that trip, and some of you might recall that Minister Onodera gave me a birthday present. He gave me headphones that I can use when I swim. He assured me that they would allow me to swim longer and faster, but, alas, to no avail so far. But I -- I keep trying.
Minister, I know that you're a tennis player and you don't swim very often, so I wanted to present something to you that would certainly help your game. Now, what I am about to present is a -- is this -- this is a University of Nebraska at Omaha tennis shirt.
And you get an University of Nebraska, Omaha, tennis team outfit. So you shall be trim, slim, fast on the court, and you'll live longer because of all that. So thank you. Thank you.
Today, the minister and I discussed in our meeting prior to this conference what the United States and Japan are doing together to modernize our alliance and to ensure it's prepared this alliance to address emerging threats and challenges.
And as you all know, last week, on the day that marked the 60th anniversary of Japan's self-defense forces, Prime Minister Abe's cabinet moved to reinterpret the Japanese constitution to allow for collective self-defense. When Japan's Diet passes appropriate implementing legislation, this bold, historic, landmark decision will enable Japan to significantly increase its contribution to regional and global security and expand its role on the world stage. Our government strongly supports the decision made by Prime Minister Abe and his cabinet.
The Japanese government's decision will also enable historic revisions to the U.S.-Japan defense guidelines. At our two-plus-two meeting with Secretary Kerry and Minister Kishida in Tokyo last October, we announced then a comprehensive review of these guidelines.
I discussed the review with Prime Minister Abe and Minister Onodera at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore at the end of May. And today, we confirm that these new guidelines should be in place by the end of this year.
Together, Japan's collective self-defense decision and the revised defense guidelines will allow Japan to participate more actively in areas such as ballistic missile defense, counter-proliferation, counter-piracy, peacekeeping, and a wide range of military exercises.
The United States and Japan will also be able to work more closely together on maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and other areas. We can raise our alliance to a new level, and we intend to do that.
Today, Japan hosts over 50,000 American troops and their families, and we thank the Japanese people for their continued hospitality and support. This troop presence is critical to our Asia Pacific rebalance, and we are working together to ensure it remains sustainable over the long term.
We are continuing to make progress toward construction of the Futenma Replacement Facility and the relocation of our Marine Air Station from Futenma to Henoko. DOD remains committed to being a good neighbor and to mitigating the impact of our military presence in Okinawa. Next week, we will begin transferring a KC-130 squadron from Futenma to Iwakuni, and Minister Onodera and I discussed additional steps we plan to take.
We also discussed security in the broader Asia Pacific region. We held trilateral meetings with South Korea and Australia in May, and we will build on that progress. And I reiterate America's longstanding position on the Senkaku Islands, which are under Japan's administrative control and, therefore, fall under our mutual security treaty.
As I have said clearly and consistently -- Secretary Kerry noted this, as well -- the United States opposes any attempts by any country to change the status quo through destabilizing unilateral actions, and we oppose any effort to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation.
Minister Onodera and I also discussed the importance of both our nations developing a constructive relationship with China. The U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which concluded yesterday in Beijing, is an example. And so is the Rim of the Pacific exercise currently underway. Both Japan and China are participating in RIMPAC, along with more than 20 other nations from Asia and around the world.
The United States and Japan's treaty alliance has been a foundation for peace, prosperity, and stability in the Asia Pacific region for more than six decades. Minister Onodera and I are committed to ensuring it remains that way for decades to come.
Minister, thank you for your partnership, thank you for your friendship, and thank you particularly for not asking about my college transcripts. Now, I'll ask Minister Onodera for his comments, and then we'll take questions. Thank you.
ONODERA (through translator): So I am delighted for the second visit to Washington, D.C., as a minister of defense and for the sixth meeting with Secretary Hagel. I am very delighted.
And I visited Omaha Sunday ago. And also, I arrived to Washington, D.C., and especially in Omaha, I enjoyed very much a very delicious Nebraska steak, and there is an issue about TPP, but I would like many Japanese people to enjoy this delicious beef.
And also, I was delighted to see a picture of a young Secretary Hagel, and it's very disappointing that I cannot share the picture with you, but he was like a rock star to me. So -- and regarding to his transcript, I guess this is classified information.
And thank you for the beautiful gifts. And I would like to use the training wear so that I can train myself. And I heard that Secretary Hagel swims daily, and I hope that you also the headset, which is by Sony. And I heard that you listen to the Beatles' music, so I appreciate you enjoying them.
So, first, I explained the summary of the recent cabinet decision on the development of security legislation. Specifically, I explained that bearing in mind that U.S. forces and the self-defense forces closely cooperate and respond seamlessly to various situations, the government as a whole will work on issues, such as self-defense measures permissible under Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, as well as legislation to protect weapons and other equipment of U.S. forces engaged in activities for defense of Japan and on logistic support for U.S. forces.
Secretary Hagel supports enhance Japan's role in the U.S.-Japan alliance and contribute to regional peace and stability. Based on the decision, Secretary Hagel and I agreed progress on the revision of the 1997 guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation and that an interim report on the revision will be released at an appropriate timing, so that we can provide transparency for related countries. We also agreed to further deepen specific bilateral cooperation on equipment and technology in accordance, and we'd like to deepen our cooperation in accordance.
With regards to realignment of USFJ and impact mitigation on Okinawa, I explained that progress of construction projects on Futenma Replacement Facility. Secretary Hagel and I agreed to quickly and instantly implement the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, including the relocation of MCAS Futenma to Camp Schwab in Henoko.
Regarding the request from Okinawa, Secretary Hagel and I affirmed that we will closely work together to advance concrete cooperation on impact mitigation on Okinawa and (inaudible) the relocation of KC-130 squadron from MCAS Futenma to MCAS Iwakuni. In this context, I raised an issue of impact of aircraft flying from outside to MCAS Futenma.
Secretary Hagel affirmed that the U.S. is committed to exploring ways to reduce the impact of the U.S. presence in Okinawa.
Regarding regional situation, we agreed to continuously oppose any unilateral course of action to change the status quo in the East China Sea and other areas. I explained updates on relations between Japan and North Korea. And then I gave a thorough explanation about the Japanese abductees with North Korea. And also I explained our position regarding ballistic missiles, receiving the North Korean launch of ballistic missiles just recently.
Through close communication with Secretary Hagel, the Japan-U.S. bilateral cooperation should be stronger, and our Japan-U.S. bilateral cooperation with strengthen our regional peace and then contribute to economical growth of Japan and also the Asia Pacific region.
Thank you very much.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: I think we'll have time for two questions from each side.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a question for you about the Israeli bombing in Gaza. I know that your office put out a statement today saying that you had talked to Defense Minister Ya'alon, in which you had reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel's right to defend itself, while also urging restraint.
Can you be more specific about the acceptable limits of Israeli action in Gaza? Would you draw the line, for example, at their use of ground forces inside Gaza? And, lastly, how do you respond to critics who say that their -- their air campaign is violating international law by targeting civilians?
SEC. HAGEL: Bob, I did speak with Minister Ya'alon for some time this morning. And as you all know, President Obama spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu last night. And we essentially covered the same language and the same issues and got a report from Minister Ya'alon this morning on updates.
As to the questions, first, I think it's important to remember -- and President Obama mentioned this yesterday, and I did today -- that Israel has the right to defend itself. Any country does. That right includes what they think they need to do to defend themselves.
We made it clear, both President Obama last night, as well as in my conversation with Minister Ya'alon, that we want to do everything we can to help stop what's going on and encourage all sides to not escalate and not let this -- these hostilities get out of control any more than they are and that we would be available to play a role in helping -- in helping do that.
It's important that those efforts to rein in any further escalation be worked on, and we are committed to help do that. So we will stay in touch with the Israelis on this. There are possibilities of third parties that could help out in this effort, as well, so we're exploring all options to assist in this effort.
QUESTION: Will the introduction of ground forces change the picture from your point of view?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I'm not going to get into any of the what-ifs. I think I would just let stand what I've said.
MIN. ONODERA (through translator): I will take a question from the Japanese press.
QUESTION (through translator): This (inaudible) from Kyodo News. This question is for both Minister Onodera and Secretary Hagel. The new concept regarding security designated by the recent cabinet decision includes responding to so-called gray zone situations, where infringement from the outside does not amount to an armed attack in areas surrounding remote islands, in addition to allowing use of collective defense.
Japan will revise the guidelines that reflect the recent cabinet decision, while China repeatedly invades the territorial waters of Japan near the Senkaku Islands of Okinawa, and while the tension in the East China Sea increases, infringement like this -- if infringement like this takes place near the Senkaku Islands, will Japan and the U.S. jointly respond to the situation? Also, how and what will the new guidelines change, such responses by Japan and the United States?
MIN. ONODERA (through translator): So I'd like to take the answer. So discussions regarding the revisions of the guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation are currently ongoing. And we're not at an appropriate timing to provide any concrete content yet, but I will continue working on the task vigorously based on the cabinet decision. And then when we evaluate the timing it is appropriate, we would like to release an interim report, of course, within Japan, also the related countries.
The guidelines is to ensure stability and peace in -- in the region, but this is not for putting scenarios of certain responses. But we'd like to consider that Japan and the U.S. to cooperate swiftly and seamlessly from peacetime to contingencies, including gray zones.
So we'd like to achieve regional peace and stability. So I would like you to understand that guidelines are not for specific scenarios, but for ensuring security and safety in the region.
QUESTION (through translator): Secretary Hagel, I'd like to ask -- add one more question, which is, what kind of roles and missions do you expect from the self-defense forces based on the recent cabinet decision, in addition to the previous questions?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think, just as Minister Onodera said, they are in the process of defining those guidelines, what exactly they mean, what are the definitions. And that is the responsibility of the Japanese government and the people of Japan. Thank you.
ADM. KIRBY: Next question, Jeff Seldin Voice of America.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Iraqi military officers are being quoted as saying that Iran and Russia are now actually conducting sorties, hitting both ISIL and civilian targets in northern Iraq. To what extent is this being communicated or coordinated with the U.S.? And if it's not, is it not militarily irresponsible for the U.S. not to try to coordinate with the Iranians and the Russians, given the number of U.S. unmanned and manned surveillance flights, and also the presence of U.S. troops -- assessment teams on the ground?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, the United States is not coordinating military efforts or exercises or missions with Iran or Russia. What we are doing is assisting the Iraqi security forces, and that's what we will continue to do.
As you know, we are just finishing up with our assessment teams there, and they'll be providing some recommendations and guidance based on those assessments. We are aware of -- of the Iranian and Russian efforts to help the Iraqis, but we are not involved in coordinating any missions.
QUESTION (through translator): Secretary Hagel, this is a question regarding North Korea, regarding the abductees of Japanese people. The Japanese government lifted their own sanctions against North Korea because Japan has evaluated that North Korea's special investigation committee on the Japanese (inaudible) will conduct an effective investigation.
But there are some cautious opinions regarding Japan's handling this situation. Can you share opinions on this matter? And also, what kind of opinions did you exchange with Minister Onodera?
And also, other question -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Minister Onodera and I did talk about this issue, and he explained to me, as he and his government have explained this situation and actions taken to our government, as he has explained, and we are aware, the Japanese government has lifted some of the unilateral sanctions against North Korea. We understand that there are humanitarian issues involved for the Japanese people.
But Minister Onodera made clear, as well as we have been told by the Japanese government, that North Korea's nuclear threats, missile threats, are still a threat to all of us. And that doesn't change. And we're in absolute agreement on that point, and we'll continue to work together, as we are with the Republic of Korea.
One of the points that Minister Onodera made on this particular issue, as other issues, was the importance of transparency here, of letting their partners know of what they're doing and why they're doing it, and that, I think, is particularly important and I applaud the Japanese government for taking that approach to this issue.
ADM. KIRBY: Thank you, everybody. That about does it for today. Appreciate it.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.