AUSMIN Press Conference
with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Defence Minister David Johnston, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
Ben Franklin Room, Washington, DC
Transcript, E&OE, proof only
20 November 2013
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon. I'm delighted to welcome Foreign Minister Bishop and Defence Minister Johnston to Washington for what has been a very productive Australia-United States Ministerial meeting, or AUSMIN as we call it for short.
I think everybody understands that the relationship between the United States and Australia is really extraordinary, and though we live in different hemispheres and at opposite ends of the globe, the relationship between us really is as close as a relationship can get. To start with, Australia is a vital partner as we strengthen U.S. engagement throughout the Asia-Pacific, and together we are growing closer and closer to finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. That will create jobs and investment on both of our shores, and it will also raise the standards of business transactions within that region and raise them to a higher level which we all aspire to. In addition, it will create, we think, a significant strengthening of the infrastructure between us, promoting democracy and good government and supporting gender equality throughout Southeast Asia.
As we meet today, the United States and Australia are working very closely on the emergency assistance efforts with respect to the Philippines, and we are together bringing significant relief to many, many Filipinos as a consequence of the super-typhoon that caused unspeakable devastation a few days ago.
We also work very closely to address the region's security challenges, including the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we spent some period of time discussing that today.
Just a few minutes ago, as you witnessed, my colleagues and I signed a nonbinding Statement of Principles that will help to guide us as we move to put together a force posture agreement which will strengthen further the U.S. and Australia relationship over the course of the years to come. And we are trying to see if we can accelerate those negotiations and complete that agreement as rapidly as possible.
Our partnership, important to note, extends well beyond Asia-Pacific. In September, I sat in the chamber of the UN Security Council to join the global community in putting an end to the appalling use of chemical weapons in Syria. Australia held the rotating presidency of the Security Council that particular month, and as we signed that resolution, I was particularly proud to look to my left and see where Ambassador Gary Quinlan was sitting to be able to thank Australia for its leadership of the Security Council during that important period of time.
Today, we discussed our shared efforts to reach a political solution with respect to the conflict in Syria. We both share the goal of realizing a peaceful resolution not just for the Syrian conflict through the Geneva discussions, but also for the longstanding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and our efforts – all of us – to try to reach a constructive and acceptable agreement with respect to the threat of a nuclear weapon in Iran. We agreed on each of these that diplomacy is always the preferred approach and that it's important to exhaust the remedies and possibilities of diplomacy.
We have the best chance we've had in a decade, we believe, to halt progress and roll back Iran's program. And I made clear to our friends from Australia, as I have made clear to my former colleagues in meetings on Capitol Hill over this last week, we will not allow this agreement, should it be reached – and I say "should it be reached" – to buy time or to allow for the acceptance of an agreement that does not properly address our core fundamental concerns.
In the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and around the world, the U.S.-Australia partnership contributes significantly to our mutual goal of our search for peace and stability and security on a broader basis. This is, I think for all of us, our first AUSMIN, certainly my first as Secretary of State. I've had the really good fortune to work with our friends from Australia over the years as a United States Senator, as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and I worked very closely with our Australian counterparts on a wide range of issues over that period of time. And when Secretary Hagel and I served in Vietnam, the both of us remember well that we fought alongside our Australian brothers. In fact, American and Australian men and women have fought together in every major conflict since World War I. And this morning, Secretary Hagel and I joined Foreign Minister Bishop and Defence Minister Johnston for a moving ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. There we honoured together the enormous sacrifice that our nations have endured together and in our – and we also paid tribute to our shared efforts now in Afghanistan and elsewhere to promote democracy and peace.
These sacrifices between our countries continue even to this day, and now we honour the remarkable service of all of our men and women in uniform and we reconfirm and restate our commitment to completing the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces by the end of 2014. I'm pleased to say that in a series of conversations with President Karzai in the course of this morning, even interrupting some of our conversations, that we reached an agreement as to the final language of the Bilateral Security Agreement that will be placed before the Loya Jirga tomorrow.
Now, when we open up trade and when we work on our mutual investment throughout the Asia-Pacific, I'm pleased to underscore that the United States and Australia work hand in hand, as closely as possible. When we're providing relief to nations in need, our two nations are side by side. And when we're taking historic steps to ensure that the world's most heinous weapons are never used again, we are sitting and working side by side. And when we're on the battlefield fighting to protect our shared values, we are standing side by side.
The United States could ask for no better friend and no closer ally than Australia. And it's been a great pleasure for Secretary Hagel and me to host the Australian delegation, and we really look forward to continuing our work side-by-side over the years to come. Thank you.
MINISTER BISHOP: First I'd like to thank Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel for their gracious hospitality and for hosting this AUSMIN meeting here in Washington. Both Senator Johnston and I were deeply moved by the arrangements that were made to hold a ceremony at Arlington this morning as we paid tribute to the memories of those who have died in service of your country and reflecting on the fact that, as you say, Mr Secretary, our forces have fought side-by-side in every conflict in which we have been engaged.
Senator Johnston and I took this opportunity to reaffirm the Australian Government's commitment to the bilateral relationship and the ANZUS alliance, which is the cornerstone of Australian foreign policy. But as our wide-ranging discussion today made clear, our relationship is much more than just defence cooperation. We engage on every level, whether it be in education or scientific and research collaboration, whether it be tourism, whether it be the new frontiers of space, whether it be trade and investment.
Indeed, I'm reminded that when you take trade and investment together, the United States is Australia's most important economic partner. And the considerable investment that we see from the United States in Australia and from Australia in the United States means that our economies are stronger, the job opportunities are greater, as our two countries work closely together on economic matters.
We took the opportunity today to discuss a range of issues regarding our region in particular, the Indian Ocean Asia-Pacific. We looked at the challenges – economic, security, strategic – that face the region. We support wholeheartedly the United States rebalance to our region. And it's most certainly the case that countries in our region look forward to more United States leadership in the region, not less. We also focused on the Indian Ocean and the countries of the Indian Ocean, as well as the Pacific Ocean. We spoke more generally about global issues – about the Middle East, Syria, Egypt, Iran. We talked about the need for denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
Specifically, we spoke about our joint force posture initiatives, and I'll ask Senator Johnston to say a little more about that. And we also recognize that the joint membership we have of the regional architecture, the global architecture, including the East Asia Summit, APEC, the G20, means that not only do we work bilaterally, but we also work regionally and globally as partners.
There is no doubt that the relationship we have, the friendship we have, the partnership, the alliance makes us both stronger countries. And I thank our American hosts for having us here. It has been our first AUSMIN. It certainly, I hope, will not be our last.
SECRETARY HAGEL: Secretary Kerry, thank you. Good afternoon. I very much appreciated the opportunity to host, with Secretary Kerry, our friends from Australia, Minister Bishop, Minister Johnston. For me, it also was a personal privilege. As Secretary Kerry noted, we – John and I served together in Vietnam with many Australians. I – as John served in the United States Senate and worked closely with our friends in Australia during those times and visited Australian a number of times. My father served in the South Pacific, including Australia, during World War II. And I celebrated my 22nd birthday in Sydney, Australia. So I am particularly personally grateful for this opportunity to participate in our consultations today.
AUSMIN, as has been noted, is really quite a unique forum that demonstrates how much the United States values its close relationship with Australia and the continued vitality of this important alliance. Today's meeting reflected not only the breadth of cooperation between our two countries, two old and good friends, but also the deep bonds we share – bonds of shared values, shared interests, and shared history. We were reminded of these common bonds earlier today as Secretary Kerry, Minister Bishop has noted, at the Arlington National Cemetery. Australians and Americans have fought side by side in every major conflict over the last 100 years and over this last decade. Australia has been the largest non-NATO troop contributor to the war in Afghanistan. The American people are grateful to the Australians for Australia's continued commitment to that effort. And we deeply respect the great sacrifices made by the Australian defence forces.
Today we discussed America's force posture initiative with Australia. That force posture was announced during President Obama's trip to Canberra two years ago. These initiatives remain on track. Two companies of Marines have rotated through Darwin. And we have increased exercises between our air forces. Next year, our Marine rotational force near Darwin will expand to 1,100 Marines. We reaffirm plans for this rotating force to grow. These ongoing rotational deployments to Australia are important to making the U.S. military presence in Asia-Pacific more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and also politically sustainable.
Our relationships in the South Pacific are historic. The rebalance to this – to the Pacific Asia area that the President announced two years ago are based on our common interests with the nations of Asia-Pacific: trade, commerce, culture, education, stability, security. They'll also help strengthen our capacity and the capacity of our partners in the region, like humanitarian assistance disaster relief efforts currently underway, as Secretary Kerry noted, in the Philippines. The United States and Australia are working side by side in support of the people of the Philippines.
As we continue to implement our force posture initiatives with Australia, we also agreed today on a Statement of Principles that we just signed that will ensure these efforts are closely aligned with both our nations' shared regional security objectives and our future. Negotiations will begin next month on a binding agreement that will govern these force posture initiatives and further defence cooperation. As we adapt our alliance to an evolving security environment, we are also focused on new challenges, including those in space and cyber. We will continue to work closely together on the full range of cyber threats.
We also are continuing to implement previous agreements to expand our situational awareness in space. Earlier today, Defence Minister Johnston and I signed an agreement to relocate a unique advanced space surveillance telescope to Western Australia. This telescope provides highly accurate detection, tracking, and identification of deep space objects, and will further strengthen our existing space cooperation.
All of these steps are helping strengthen our alliance as we continue to work together to face the challenges and opportunities of this new century. It has been an honour, again, to join Secretary Kerry in hosting Foreign Minister Bishop and Defence Minister Johnston and the Australian delegation. And we thank the delegation – their ambassador to Washington DC, their former ambassador, General Hurley and the rest of their very distinguished delegation. I look forward to continue working with all of them to advance our common interests, as I do with our partners in the Pacific Asia region. And I know I speak for General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Locklear was here with us this morning, as other leaders of the defence institution. We look forward to advancing our common interests in our friendships, and a more secure and prosperous future for both our nations. Thank you very much.
MINISTER JOHNSTON: Thank you, Mr Secretary. Can I adopt and support the remarks of my Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel, today is the third occasion I've had the opportunity to discuss Australia's defence relationship with the United States with Secretary Hagel. And I thank him for his leadership and his friendship on this very important subject to my country.
I also thanked him during the course of the meetings for not just his leadership, but for the leadership of his senior commanders – General Dempsey; General Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe; General Dunford, ISAF Commander; and of course, in the Pacific, Admiral Locklear. The leadership that is shown by the United States here and more broadly in our engagements across the world – and obviously, Afghanistan is a very important engagement for Australia – is simply splendid. And I thank him and I thank the United States for that.
This is, of course, the first AUSMIN for all of us. It has been, may I say, a very successful exchange. And I trust that Secretary Hagel feels as I do, that he can ring me at any time on any subject as a friend, and we can discuss important relationship matters as we bring Marines to Darwin, as we further explore interrelationships, interoperability, and of the vast number of contacts and technical operations we conduct together into the future.
This is Australia's most important strategic alliance. The friendship and the demeanour by which we have conducted this have been very effective, productive, and also a very happy relationship in frankly discussing all of the issues that we both consider to be very important. I want to thank Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel for their hospitality, and it has been a delight to be here. I thank you again.
MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Jill Dougherty of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Kerry, thank you. I wanted to – now that you've mentioned that you've reached agreement on the final language for the BSA, the security agreement between the United States and Australia (sic), I wanted to ask if you could clear up some of the confusion about this issue of a letter to be issued by the United States. We believe that that was your idea, and perhaps you can enlighten us. Some of the words that have been used are "appropriate assurances," "express regret." Susan Rice says there's no apology. So is this – if it's not an apology to the Afghans, what is it? Who would sign such a letter? And why is it necessary?
And then also, if there's anything that you could add about details of this agreement, how long – especially how long U.S. forces would remain in Afghanistan. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Jill, thank you. First of all, let me comment that I can't help but look out from this table with the four of us sitting here and see our two delegations facing each other, and I feel like we're judges looking at a tag-team wrestling match or a dance contest or something. (Laughter.) General Dempsey versus General Hurley now. (Laughter.) We'll score you. A diversion.
I don't know where this idea – I honestly don't know where the idea of an apology started, because I think someone in the chain of press or something said something to somebody over there, not here. But let me be clear: President Karzai didn't ask for an apology. There was no discussion of an apology. There will be – there is no – I mean, it's just not even on the table. He didn't ask for it. We're not discussing it. And that is not the subject that we have been talking about.
What we've been talking about are the terms of the BSA itself, which provide the outline of the structure, the process by which ISAF, international forces, the United States forces themselves would be engaged going forward. As I think you know, it is a very limited role. It is entirely train, equip, and assist. There is no combat role for United States forces. And the Bilateral Security Agreement is an effort to try to clarify for Afghans and for United States military forces exactly what the rules are with respect to that ongoing relationship.
It's very important for President Karzai to know that issues that he's raised with us for many years have been properly addressed, and it's very important for us to know that issues we have raised with him for a number of years are properly addressed. The agreement will speak for itself when the agreement is approved. And as we sit here tonight, we have agreed on the language that would be submitted to a Loya Jirga, but they have to pass it. So I think it's inappropriate for me to comment at all on any of the details. It's up to the people of Afghanistan.
When I left Kabul that late night when President Karzai and I had finished the major part of the negotiation, we both said it has to go to the Loya Jirga. There were some people who may have questioned or doubted whether that was going to happen. Well, it's happening tomorrow, and it's happening tomorrow with agreed-upon language between us. And I think it's up to President Karzai to speak to the Loya Jirga, its process, and how it will work and what the results will be, and it's up to President Obama and the White House to address any issues with respect to any possible communication between the President or President Karzai. So let's see where we are.
But the important thing for people to understand is there has never been a discussion of or the word "apology" used in our discussions whatsoever.
MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Nick O'Malley of the Sydney Morning Herald.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, I was wondering, after the revelations that the NSA had conducted surveillance of the German leadership, the response from America was to seek to placate and reassure Germany.
SECRETARY KERRY: Sorry, I couldn't hear your last – the response?
QUESTION: The response from America was to seek to placate German leadership. Do you think that would be a useful approach for Australia to be taking after revelations of Australian espionage against Indonesia?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just say, fundamentally, each situation is its own situation. We have great respect, obviously, for the work we do together with our friends in Australia, as we've said here today. We have an unbreakable and a critical working relationship, and we have worked together in counterterrorism and many activities on a global basis, and will continue to.
Likewise, we have great respect and affection for Indonesia, we work with our friends in Indonesia on many different issues, and we will continue to do that. But whatever has been or not been released or being discussed in the papers, I believe – as I think our friends in Australia do – is a matter of intelligence and intelligence procedures, and we don't discuss intelligence procedures in any sort of public way at this point in time, certainly, unless the President indicates otherwise. But that's where we are.
MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Scott Stearns of VOA.
QUESTION: A question for Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Bishop: We understand where the international community is on Iran's right to enrich uranium regarding the NPT. But can you foresee a resolution to this standoff that includes Iran in any way enriching uranium? Or does access to a civilian nuclear program on the part of Iran mean that it needs to access that uranium elsewhere? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, given that there is no stated right within the NPT, which we have reaffirmed again and again with respect to enrichment, whatever a country decides or doesn't decide to do or is allowed to do and permitted under the rules depends on a negotiation, depends on a process. We're not in that – we're at the initial stage of determining whether or not there is a first step that can be taken. And that certainly will not be resolved in any first step, I can assure you.
So the President has said many times Iran, like other nations that are signatories to the NPT, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, have a right to peaceful nuclear energy. Now, what that contains depends on the standing of that particular nation with respect to NPT requirements and the international community.
So that's what the negotiation is about, and I'm not going to predetermine its outcome except to say to you that no right is recognized or granted within anything that I've seen in the early discussions. It is a subject of negotiation. It would have to be resolved in negotiation and subject to extraordinary standards and scrutiny and process, which is the heart of the negotiation. So there's no way to suggest anything but that it's important to get to a negotiation and see what can or cannot be reached.
MINISTER BISHOP: Australia is monitoring the P5+1 scenario very closely, and I'm grateful to Secretary Kerry for keeping us informed in the context of this AUSMIN meeting as to where the proposed negotiations are, where they're likely to head. But we also reiterate that should a nation require nuclear aspects for the purposes of civilian purpose – for civilian uses, peaceful purposes, then of course, it's subject to international safeguards, it's subject to a range of protocols, and that would apply in this case. But we're not at that stage. We're not at a stage where Iran has convinced us that its use is for peaceful civilian purposes. Should it get to that point, then of course, the appropriate international safeguards and protocols would apply, as they would to any other country in that situation.
MS. PSAKI: The final question will be from Jane Cowan of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Bishop, given the furore now over the revelations of Australian spying on Indonesia, have you registered Australia's displeasure with those security lapses that gave rise to the Snowden leaks that have now caused so much discord in that relationship?
And Secretary Kerry, can you confirm that the spying was done at the request of the U.S.?
MINISTER BISHOP: As I have said on numerous occasions, and as the Prime Minister has said, we do not discuss intelligence matters, certainly not allegations. We do not discuss them publicly, and we will not do so. The Prime Minister has made two statements to the Parliament now on this issue, and I would refer you to those statements.
In regard to our discussions today, we had a very wide-ranging discussion about a whole raft of issues that affect our bilateral relationship, very productive and very fruitful discussions. And long may they continue.
SECRETARY KERRY: As Prime Minister Abbott has said and the comments that he has addressed, and as Minister Bishop has said here today and on many occasions, and as I have said in my previous comments, we just don't talk about intelligence matters in public and we're not about to begin now.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.