Media Availability with Secretary Hagel in Cairo, Egypt

Press Conference

By:  Charles Hagel
Date: April 24, 2013
Location: Cairo, Egypt

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Okay, good, good. Good afternoon. How were the pyramids?

Q: Still there, huh.

Q: We wouldn't know.

SEC. HAGEL: You worked, that's right. Yeah, well, let me open up with a couple of comments, and then we'll go to whatever you want to talk about.

I wanted to stop in Egypt to, first, reaffirm American commitment to Egypt's emerging democracy, encourage the democratic and economic reforms that are underway here. Egypt's been an important partner of the U.S. over many years, and I wanted to get acquainted with the new president. I did not know him. I knew many of the military leaders.

So today was -- was a day to get acquainted, get reacquainted, and also reaffirm America's commitment to this emerging democracy. It is not easy. This is a difficult part of the world. This is a large country, an important country. They are undertaking the right course of action, human dignity and freedom and democratic norms and governance. We are committed to helping any nation that does that.

So we discussed, the president and I, many issues this afternoon, had a good meeting. I spent a lot of time with the defense minister and a number of his representatives. Some I've known over the years. So I was -- I was very, very happy that I stopped here and pleased that I spent the day to really take my own assessment of the situation here.

So that's what I was doing here. I'd be glad to respond to your questions.

Q: Question for you about Syria and chemical weapons. We haven't had a chance to ask you that since before the news of the Israeli assessment. What do you make of this new Israeli assessment, that they have used chemical weapons?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, when I was in Israel, they did not give me that assessment. I guess it wasn't complete. So I haven't seen the specifics, haven't talked to any Israeli officials, nor have I talked to any of our intelligence officials specifically about it. As I said, our intelligence agency, our agencies are assessing the information. So I really don't have anything to say beyond that.

Q: Is there -- sorry to follow up -- I'll try -- is there a danger here, a risk that U.S. credibility comes into question? Because there's been this red line declared. And yet you now have the British and the French also very strong suspicions, and now you have this very explicit confirmation from Israeli military intelligence.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I don't think there's any danger. Suspicions are one thing. Evidence is another. I think we have to be very careful here before we make any conclusions -- draw any conclusions based on -- on real intelligence. And that's not at all questioning other nations' intelligence, but the United States relies on its own intelligence and must. So until I can see that intelligence, I really don't have anything else to say.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said that they did not give you that assessment, but you spent a lot of time with Defense Minister Ya'alon. Did -- what did he discuss with you about Syrian chemical weapons? I mean, did he give you other assessments? Did he say they were still pending? Did he give you a different story? Or did he not talk to you about it?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, you know I don't discuss my conversations with any senior officials, nor -- nor do I get into any specifics -- any of our allies' specific conversations I had. We talked about everything. We talked about Syria. We talked about chemical weapons. We talked about the region. We talked about many issues. And we did talk about this issue.

Q: Well, with all due respect, you do talk about what you discuss with senior officials all the time. I mean, did -- it's an important question.

SEC. HAGEL: I don't discuss with you what I discuss with senior officials.

Q: Well, I understand, but I still think it's a fair question. Did the minister bring this up with you or not?

SEC. HAGEL: I said he did. We talked about it. I said we talked about it.

Q: But not that assessment particularly --

SEC. HAGEL: Well --

Q: -- that the IDF came out with

SEC. HAGEL: No, because I -- I think, as I just said earlier, I don't know if that assessment had been completed when I was there. So -- go ahead.

Q: I was going to ask you, do you think that assessment reflects the Israeli government's position at this point? Do you think it was just the IDF wanting to put that out there? And when we talk about a red line, you know, looking down the road, let's say we do find that this was true, that there was chemical weapons used. How do you decide -- does it -- does setting the red line -- does it mean it has to be used to a certain degree, so many people have to be affected in order to cross that red -- how -- how do we define a red line?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, I can't address whose assessment you're referring to was specifically in Israel. I assume it was an Israeli assessment, but I haven't seen it. That's my point. And I can't respond to something I don't know about, nor have I seen.

I'm not sure I understand your question about assessing red lines.

Q: (off mic) what would be a trigger, you know -- I mean, if a small amount is used, that's not the same as a large amount being used --


Q: -- and, therefore, our response would -- would depend on those kinds of factors. Is that the kind of thing that you guys are talking about, in terms of how you would respond, if you were to determine that the line was crossed?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, we're looking at all possibilities, assessing all situations, and until we have intelligence, until we have facts, until we have confidence in those facts, then I have nothing else to say about it.

Q: Has -- has the Defense Department -- has the U.S. government sought clarification on what the military intelligence officer reported in his speech? And do you know, is that -- again, is that the official Israeli assessment on what happened there at Aleppo in Damascus? Do you know that?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first -- first, you all know more about it than I do on official assessments. I have not talked to anybody about the Israeli assessment or report. That's first. And what I rely on is specific U.S. intelligence agency assessments. And any recommendations I would make to the president would have to come from those assessments, from our intelligence agencies.

Q: Do you think there's a risk, sir, that -- do you think that we need to make -- the U.S. needs to make the determination relatively quickly, now that you have three close allies having put out these assessments? Does the U.S. need to make a determination in the next week or few weeks or months? I mean, what are we looking at in terms of a timeline here?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I don't think -- I don't think you judge these kinds of serious matters based on you have a timeline. It's based on the facts. It's based on intelligence. It's -- it's based on what you know, what you don't know, and what you think you know.

But this is serious business. And you want to be as sure as you can be on these kind of things. And until I see our intelligence assessments and the results of those, I can't respond any further.

Q: Sir, you have an intelligence background. How long do these things take? What's the --

SEC. HAGEL: I'm not in the intelligence business. I was on the Intelligence Committee in the Congress, co-chaired the president's Intelligence Advisory Board, but to say I have an intelligence background, I think, is a stretch.

But you don't take intelligence and say, okay, here's the timeframe. We're going to have it done in 24 hours. Intelligence is a matter of many pieces coming together. You look at all those pieces and facts. Sometimes it's easy. Most times it's not easy.

So you take the facts as they are. You get those facts. You do all the things you've got to do to make an assessment based on what you know and the facts, and then you come to some conclusion and some judgment based on that -- it's like a big mosaic. And I just don't have anything more to say until I see what our intelligence agencies have.

Q: How about a different topic?

GEORGE LITTLE: Thanks. That's all right. We've got to run now.

Q: (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: All right. We'll take one more (off mic)

Q: (off mic)

Q: I have an Egypt question for you.

SEC. HAGEL: Go ahead, Bob, and then -- okay, all right.

Q: (off mic)

Q: So, I mean, the U.S. provides $1.7 billion to Egypt by way of military assistance each year. And most of that goes towards upgrading fighter jets and military tanks. But the problem that Egypt seems to face right now is counterterrorism. Is there any thought being given to taking or diverting some of that money towards counterterrorism efforts that Egypt needs right now than upgrading fighter planes and tanks?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, as you know, that's a program that goes through the FMF program, Foreign Military Financing, and Egypt makes assessments on where they think their security needs are.

Q: One more on Egypt, if I could. The Sinai is of interest to Israel, your first stop. I'm curious whether the rise of militancy in Sinai came up today, whether the Egyptians pledged anything to sort of tamp that down, which could be a big problem with the Israelis.

SEC. HAGEL: We did talk about the Sinai. We talked about many issues today and all the big issues that affect Israel's and Egypt's security, affects the Middle East security, stability, regional stability, America's security. Yes, we talked about it all.

Q: Thanks.

MR. LITTLE: Got to wrap up (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

Q: Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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