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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Hagel and Minister Hishammuddin in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Press Conference

Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

DEFENCE MINISTER DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN TUN HUSSEIN: Good morning. Just to report to the press the meetings that we've had this morning with Secretary Chuck Hagel, the U.S. defense secretary, went very well. It is acknowledged that militarily the relationship and the cooperation between the two countries, the foundations are very strong.

But with Secretary Hagel's visit today, we believe that we could not only add value, but -- on a strategic and the unfolding landscape globally, and specifically in our region, it is important for us to have friends who not only appreciate our own concerns, but also the ability to not only share and cooperate in many levels, but also to try and see how and what the future holds for us.

I personally felt that our relationship has gone very well from the first time we met earlier in Singapore, and now after this, Secretary Hagel will be meeting our prime minister, and also everybody knows President Obama will be visiting us in October. I think this is how we're going to set up the groundwork, and I hope it's going to be a very positive approach forward.

Just the opening, sir.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Minister Hishammuddin, thank you. I am grateful for your hospitality, and I look forward to working with you as we go forward here in the future, as we further establish a close working relationship.

I'm honored to be here in Malaysia on my first visit as secretary of defense and the first stop on a weeklong, four-country trip to Southeast Asia. This is a region that is very important to global security and prosperity. In the days ahead, I will also visit Indonesia, travel to Brunei for the second-ever ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus ministerial, and then on to the Philippines.

Minister Hishammuddin and I just completed, as he noted, a very productive and positive meeting on a range of security issues of importance to both our countries and to this region. And I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Najib later today.

Malaysia has been a good friend to the United States, and the close security partnership we've forged holds great progress for ensuring our shared security and prosperity in the 21st century. I know President Obama appreciates the close relationship that exists between our two countries, and I know he looks forward to his visit here in October to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

Malaysia has been playing a more important role in contributing to regional and global security. The Malaysian military has made impressive contributions to counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, to United Nations peacekeeping efforts around the world, with nearly 1,000 troops deployed this past year, and Malaysian armed forces medical personnel are playing an important role in contributing to security in Afghanistan.

The U.S. welcomes these efforts by Malaysia's military, and today I made clear that the U.S. is committed to continuing to assist Malaysia's military as it increases its capabilities in areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping, maritime security, and counterterrorism.

This year, the U.S. will conduct more than 75 activities, exchanges, and visits with the Malaysian military, all designed to boost its capability and help it become a more professional and flexible force. The two of us discussed this morning ways to counter new transnational threats, including trafficking and proliferation. We also discussed future areas of cooperation, such as expanding our defense trade and technology collaboration and expanding information-sharing.

Minister Hishammuddin and I also reaffirmed our shared belief that greater multilateral cooperation and strong regional institutions are essential, essential to greater stability in the region. The United States-Malaysian partnership is strong and enduring, and the U.S. is committed to building on the progress we have made over the last few years and strengthening our partnership.

I look forward to seeing the minister again later this week at the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting in Brunei. I also look forward to speaking later today at the Ministry of Defense, where I will be discussing the importance of the U.S.-Malaysian bilateral relationship and the role of Southeast Asia in the United States' rebalance.

I might also add, in conclusion, that a number of the points that I wish to make today in my remarks will be about the completeness of that rebalance. This U.S. rebalance to the Asia Pacific is about our diplomatic partnerships, relationships, our economic and trade, commercial partnerships, relationships, about security, and, yes, about our military-to-military relationships. And I will amplify on those points in more detail this afternoon in my speech.

Minister, thank you. Wonderful to see you again.

MIN. HISHAMMUDDIN: Thank you very much. Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you very much.

MIN. HISHAMMUDDIN: Just adding to that, I totally agree in focusing on the different dimensions involving Malaysia-U.S. bilateral economic security, diplomacy; it is important that we build enough trust between all the heads of the governments and also those leading the agencies and stakeholders of those that have already been identified.

And on that point, I just would like to add our concern and priority since our recent incident in Lahad Datu, Sabah, is something that we need to address together with the Philippines, and these are landscapes that may be uncharted in a way, but it is not going to be unique to only Malaysia and Philippines. And this is where we have decided to -- to work together.

And, thirdly, is the capacity-building, people-to-people, as far as training and courses. And that understanding, I believe, makes a strong foundation to a new relationship that we are building today.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

MIN. HISHAMMUDDIN: Thank you. One or two questions, maybe.

Q: (off mic) was there any discussion of an expansion (off mic)


Q: (off mic)

MIN. HISHAMMUDDIN: Yeah, I mean, that's part of the --(inaudible)-- and the --(inaudible)-- and Sabah initiative. The details of it we will be discussing at the technical, and the experts will be looking into it. But what we looked at and discussed was even bigger than that.

GEORGE LITTLE: Bob Burns, Associated Press?

Q: May I ask a question -- I'm Bob Burns from AP -- may I ask a question of each of you, starting with Secretary Hagel. After consulting overnight with Washington, are you personally convinced that the Syrian government did, in fact, unleash a significant chemical attack in recent days? And as you consider the potential fallout of an international response, is there a military means to demonstrate effectively U.S. intolerance for the use of chemical weapons without over-committing a U.S. military that's already stretched?

And if I may ask a question of the minister, are you concerned that the U.S. budget crunch will stall or slow the U.S. pivot towards the Asia Pacific?

SEC. HAGEL: Bob, I'd answer your two questions this way. As I noted yesterday, in our conversations, we -- along with our allies -- are continuing to assess the intelligence and the specifics of that intelligence on the use of chemical weapons. And I wouldn't go any further than that until we have more intelligence based on facts.

As to your question regarding military options, also I'd refer you back to our conversation yesterday. President Obama has asked the Defense Department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that. And again, we are prepared to exercise whatever option, if he decisions to employ one of those options. Thank you.

Q: So is it really a question of when, rather than if there will be a U.S. military response?

SEC. HAGEL: I think, again, when we have more information, then that answer will become clear.

MIN. HISHAMMUDDIN: In relation to the budget cuts, I can confirm that it has not affected programs between the two countries, and our [Chief of Defense Forces], Tan Sri Zul, actually thanked and indicated during our bilateral to Secretary Hagel that that is something that we not only appreciate, that that's led also to the basis of our meeting today.

Q: (off mic)


Q: (off mic) the South China Sea?


MR. GEORGE LITTLE: And final question, Gopal Ratnam with Bloomberg.

Q: Thank you. This is Gopal Ratnam with Bloomberg News. First, a question to you, Mr. Secretary. As you weigh all these various options, military, non-military, in consultation with the White House, are you at all concerned about the danger that even a limited military action in Syria might encourage the Assad regime to perhaps unleash whatever's left of his chemical arsenal as a use-it-or-lose-it measure? And so what -- what can you possibly do to protect not only the civilians, but other countries in the region from that kind of a spillover?

And for you, Mr. Minister, last week, Secretary Hagel noted that the U.S. has a very limited influence -- (inaudible) -- for example, in the case of Egypt. As the U.S. pursues this rebalance in this part of the world, I was wondering if that sentiment, that the U.S. has a limited influence, gives you any concern about the kind of role the U.S. might play here, in a region where there's just lots of, you know, conflicts and disputes over territories and so on. What are those concerns that you have about possible diminished influence of the United States?

MIN. HISHAMMUDDIN: Do you want me to go first?

Well, my -- there are no concerns at all. Quite the contrary. The fact that there is sincere admission that there are limited influence indicates the fact that we cannot deal with these complexities in isolation and alone. The fact that Secretary Hagel is here is testimony to the fact that we need to navigate that based on the local circumstances.

The issue of security and defense has now very been blurred, as you can see in Egypt and in Syria. This new landscape and phenomenon, in respect of defense, and the changing requirements based on developing -- what is developing in the Middle East is something that we have to look at very closely.

Now, in this region, that experience that we see in Middle East and what is unfolding in Egypt, I think it has made us all realize that it is not an easy water to navigate, but we can only do that if we have understanding and trust in the way that Secretary Hagel is doing right now with the countries in this region. And that I will give my -- not only my own personal support, but I believe when he meets the prime minister later, that will be the position of Malaysia.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you, Minister.

As to your question, first, there are risks and consequences for any option that would be used or not used. For action or inaction, there are risks and consequences. Always when you are analyzing, thinking through, assessing big challenges and big problems, you have to come to a central point of, what would be the objective if you are to pursue an action or not pursue an action?

And so all those assessments are being made. They will be driven by, as I said yesterday, and I think the president has made the case, the facts, what our intelligence assessment produces, law, legal issues, international support. A number of factors are always in play when any nation analyzes how we would deal with -- with a big challenge.

Thank you.

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