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Transcript of joint press conference: AUSMIN: 14 November 2012: AUSMIN; Afghanistan; General John Allen; China; Syria

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Minister for Defence - Joint Press Conference - AUSMIN

14 November 2012



DATE: 14 November 2012

TOPICS: AUSMIN; Afghanistan; General John Allen; China; Syria.

BOB CARR: Well, ladies and gentlemen, it was Dr Johnson who said keep your friendships in good repair. And in that spirit, AUSMIN concluded its meeting today very much in a spirit of business as usual, steady as she goes, no new strategic content or announcements but a matter of consolidation.

If I draw your attention to page seven of the communiqué, you will see reference to the implementation of decisions that were announced last year.

The US force posture initiatives in Australia that were welcomed by president - Prime Minister Gillard when President Obama announced them in 2011. We welcome the success of the first rotation of US Marine Corps personnel to Northern Australia, and look forward to the next rotation in 2013.

The deepening of our Defence cooperation through these initiatives is, as we see it, a natural evolution of our existing longstanding cooperation, and it’s aimed at supporting long-term peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.

We discussed potential opportunities for additional naval cooperation in a range of locations including HMAS Stirling. All of these possible areas of cooperation would require substantial further study and additional decisions by both capitals.

We spoke about the South China Sea, and you can see references to that in the Communiqué. We’re united in seeking a peaceful resolution of the territorial disputes. We share a common interest with other members of the international community in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and unimpeded lawful commerce. We don’t take sides on the competing territorial claims.

We make comment to China’s rise. We want to continue to build positive, cooperative and comprehensive relations with China, and that means through strong economic engagement and encouraging progress on human rights.

There is no language of containment in this, but we both welcome China’s role as a responsible member of the international community.

I thank again our US colleagues for their engagement in East Asia; for their involvement in the East Asia Summit; for their involvement in South East Asia through the ASEAN Regional Forum. We thank them for the number of visits they’re giving the region they focus - the focus they are bringing on the region in which Australia exists and prospers.

Thank you.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well let me begin by thanking Foreign Minister Carr and Defence Minister Smith for hosting these productive sessions today and last night here in Perth. We couldn’t ask for better partners.

Our alliance is an anchor of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and around the world; forged in war but flourishing in peace. And it has bipartisan support in both our countries, under Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Laborites.

We hold these four-way meetings every year because our diplomatic, economic and security relationships are inseparable. That approach drives America’s engagement across the Asia-Pacific and Australia’s strategy as well, as laid out in the Government’s new white paper.

But if you look at what we’re doing, and Minister Carr gave a brief overview, it’s quite extensive. From the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Islands, American and Australian navies protect the sea lanes through which much of the world’s trade passes and, increasingly, our cyber security experts collaborate to keep our networks safe and online commerce flowing freely.

Our diplomats work side-by-side at regional organisations to address shared security challenges and hammer out new economic agreements, and we congratulate Australia upon becoming a new non-permanent member of the Security Council.

Our growing trade across the region, including our work together to finalise the Trans-Pacific Partnership, binds our countries together, increases stability and promotes security.

Today Secretary Panetta and I congratulated our counterparts on a major new achievement that exemplifies this integrated approach; Parliament approving the new US-Australian Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty, and we will move forward together to implement it. This agreement will boost trade, help our companies collaborate more closely and spur innovation. It’s a definite win-win.

We touched on many issues of regional and global importance.

On Iran, we agreed on maintaining unity in the international community to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I commended Australia’s efforts to implement tough sanctions on Iran.

And, secondly, Syria; we agreed today that the formation of the new Syrian Opposition Coalition is an important step forward and will help us better target our assistance. Today I’m pleased to announce that the United States is providing an additional $30 million in humanitarian assistance to help get much needed food to hungry people inside Syria and to refugees who have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, which brings our total humanitarian assistance to $200 million.

Third, in Afghanistan we honour the service and sacrifice of our Australian allies. We are on track to transition full responsibility for security to the Afghan Government in 2014, and we are also focused on the economic and political transitions.

Fourth, we are preparing for the upcoming East Asia Summit, working together on a shared regional agenda including supporting the process that ASEAN and China have begun on developing a comprehensive code of conduct for the South China Sea; supporting continued reforms in Burma; and pushing for the peaceful, verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

So, as you can see, there is a lot to do but we could not be doing it with partners in whom we have more trust and confidence. The length of our agenda reflects the strength of our alliance, our partnership and friendship.

So, again, let me thank the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister for their hospitality and partnership.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’ve been very pleased to join with Foreign Minister Carr to welcome Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Panetta to Australia, and obviously particularly pleased to welcome both secretaries to Perth.

In addition to very productive conversations last night and today, both secretaries have had the opportunity to see the delights of Perth; the University of Western Australia, Matilda Bay, Kings Park, and subsequently later this afternoon Cottesloe. And Leon and I also had the opportunity yesterday of visiting the SAS Regiment in Swanbourne, to pay our respects and regards to the very find work done by the SAS, not just in Afghanistan but over a long period of time.

As Foreign Minister Carr has said, this is very much a consolidation AUSMIN, a business as usual AUSMIN. In terms of the global force posture review initiatives that we have been dealing with the United States since the Melbourne AUSMIN in 2010. We’ve been very pleased with the progress and assessment of the 250 Marine rotation through the Northern Territory. That went very well this year, including the potential for regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises, particularly warmly welcomed by Indonesian President SBYudhoyono.

We’ll have the same number in rotation next year, and we’ve commissioned an economic and social assessment study to see the potential to raise to 1100 over the year 2014, with the ultimate ambition of 2500 over the next five to six years.

We’ve started a conversation on enhanced aviation or aerial access to our Northern Territory airfields; that conversation has begun.

And we’ve also started a conversation on the potential for enhanced naval access to HMAS Stirling, our Indian Ocean port, but also to other naval ports. We’ve commissioned a study, a joint study. But, as I’ve made the point publicly in recent days, we see that very much as third cab off the rank and a number of years away. The importance of HMAS Stirling as an Indian Ocean port will rise and increase as India rises in strategic influence and the Indian Ocean and Indian Ocean Rim also rises.

There are a couple of announcements so far as our cooperation on space is concerned. We first began a conversation about space as early, from

memory, as the 2008 AUSMIN, 2010 AUSMIN in Melbourne. Secretary Gates and I signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on space surveillance. We drew attention then to the particular problem of space debris. Satellite communications are very important, not just from a national security point of view but also fundamentally from a commercial and social point of view.

There is now so much debris in space that being acutely aware of space debris is very important to all nation states, and we’re announcing today that the United States will transfer a C-Band radar from the - from Antigua, from memory, to Australia. We’ll set that up in the north-west of Western Australia at our Exmouth facility, and that will add considerably to the surveillance of space debris in our part of the world.

We’re also in discussions about the possibility of transferring from New Mexico to Australia a space surveillance telescope for use for the same purpose, and we’re in discussion about the best location of that. But, again, the expectation is that that would be in Western Australia to the mid-west or the north-west.

That, I think, reflects the fact that we’re meeting in the modern Perth, the modern Western Australia which has benefited from very substantial United States investment so far as minerals and petroleum resources are concerned. Australia’s analysis continues to be that the alliance has served us very well for over 60 years, that the presence of the United States in the Asia-Pacific has been a force for stability, prosperity and investment, and we see that continuing. And the focus as we’ve seen on the Indian Ocean and the Indian Ocean Rim also adds to the importance of viewing our part of the world not just as the Asia Pacific but also the Indo-Pacific.

We’re also dealing now under the alliance with modern issues: cyber, very important; space, I’ve referred to that. These are the modern challenges and the modern issues which we now deal with on a regular basis, in AUSMIN on an annual basis.

Secretary Panetta and I have also had conversations about Afghanistan and the post-2014 transition presence in Afghanistan. And I again very much welcome and appreciate his very strong and kind remarks about the contribution which Australian Defence Force personnel have made in Afghanistan, consistent with the fine tradition of the Australian Defence

Force working closely with the United States counterpart since World War Two.

Thank you.

LEON PANETTA: I too would like to join Secretary Clinton in thanking our two excellent hosts, Minister Carr and Minister Smith, for their hospitality here in Perth.

Minister Smith is not only the Defence Minister for Australia, he’s also the head of the Chamber of Commerce for Perth.

I truly enjoy the trip here.

The range of discussions that we’ve engaged in have discussed global, regional and alliance issues, and it once again confirms for me that the United States has no closer ally than Australia.

That reality has been demonstrated again and again and again on distant battlefields of Afghanistan where Australian troops have fought and bled alongside American troops for more than a decade.

On behalf of a very grateful nation, I want to express again my deepest appreciation to the Australian Government and to the Australian people for the sacrifices that they have made in our joint efforts in Afghanistan. When one of your own is killed in the battlefield, I make it a point to pick up the phone and call the Defence Minister to indicate my deepest sympathies for that loss because your loss is our loss as well.

The important steps we have agreed to here in Perth to increase the cooperation between our two nations will do much to ensure that this very strong alliance remains an instrument of peace and prosperity for Americans, for Australians, and for all people who reside in this important region of the world.

To that end, the memorandum of understanding that we signed to relocate the C-Band radar to Australia, and the discussions that we’ve had on relocating an advanced space surveillance telescope, and a combined communications gateway that will bring together terminals that will provide information - additional information on space issues, all of that represents a major leap forward in bilateral space cooperation and an important new frontier in the United States’ rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

We also took stock of the successful deployment of the first US Marine Corps detachment to Darwin, as well as increased US Air Force rotations throughout northern Australia. We agreed to continue to build on that success, and we will. And we also agreed to move forward with all due deliberate speed in the further implementation of this important initiative that fosters great cooperation between our forces.

As all of you know, part of our new Defense strategy, we’ve made clear that one of our key focuses is to rebalance to the Pacific. We simply would not be able to do that effectively without allies like Australia.

So let me once again thank our Australian hosts for a very successful series of meetings and for their generous hospitality. I am confident that the alliance that we share between the United States and Australia will usher in a more secure and a more prosperous future.

Thank you.

BOB CARR: Thank you Secretary of Defense Panetta.

The first question is from Ian McPhedran of News Limited.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] would you like to see an ongoing role for Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and, if so, what might that role be?

And part B of my question, were defence budget cuts discussed during your meetings today, and are you concerned at the sharp cuts in both your country and ours may slow down the [indistinct] timetable?

LEON PANETTA: First of all, Minister Smith did indicate an interest in the potential for a Special Forces presence in the - what we call the enduring presence in the post-2014 period in Afghanistan. And I believe that that is worth considering.

One of the missions that we’re going to have to deal with in the post-2014 Afghanistan is the counterterrorism mission; the ability to continue to target al-Qaeda, to target those that would continue to try to conduct terrorism against that country. And therefore, I think, as we design that post-2014 presence, I think we ought to consider the role of not only Australia but other countries in providing the kind of Special Forces capability that I think would be very important to the future security of Afghanistan.

With regards to budget issues, obviously both of our countries are facing budget constrictions and there’s no question that we have to take those into consideration as we design what the future is with regards to our defence forces. We’re certainly doing that in the United States and I know that Minister Smith is doing that with regards to Australia.

We understand the constrictions we’re dealing with but I remain fully confident that, in light of what we’re confronting, that we have the capability to maintain a strong national defence for both of our countries, and that we will be able to meet the threats that confront us not only in this part of the world but elsewhere as well.

BOB CARR: Question from Bob Burns, Associated Press.

JOURNALIST: Secretary Panetta, I have a question for you about the General Allen matter. And if I could direct the last bit of it toward Secretary Clinton, if I might.

Mr Secretary, in the last day or so there have been suggestions that you may have overreacted to this matter based on what so far has been quite vague descriptions. For example, overreacted by holding his nomination and also by launching the IG investigation. For example, the Defense Department has said that his emails may have been inappropriate. Can you explain what inappropriate means in this case?

And for Secretary Clinton, you mentioned in your opening remarks that the situation in Afghanistan is on track. Could you offer any thoughts on whether this matter, the Allen matter, could damage US credibility in Afghanistan.

Thank you.

LEON PANETTA: As you know, after receiving information from the FBI on Sunday regarding the emails, I felt it was important, in my responsibility as Secretary of Defense, to refer the matter on General Allen to the Department’s Inspector General so that the Inspector General could determine the facts here.

No-one should leap to any conclusions, no-one should leap to any conclusions here. General Allen is doing an excellent job at ISAF in leading those forces. He certainly has my continued confidence to lead our forces and to continue the fight.

But his nomination has been put on hold as a prudent measure until we determine what the facts are, and we will.

HILLARY CLINTON: General Allen is a distinguished Marine and Commander who has been an important part of the NATO-ISAF mission in Afghanistan. I don’t have anything to add to what Secretary Panetta has said about how this matter is being addressed.

We have been in touch with our NATO-ISAF allies. The course in Afghanistan is set. We know what the transition requires of us. We are proceeding with that transition and we’ll do so on time.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

HILLARY CLINTON: There has been a lot of conversation, as you might expect, Bob, but no concern whatsoever being expressed to us because the mission has been set forth, it is being carried out.

BOB CARR: Ashleigh Gillon, Sky News.

JOURNALIST: Secretary Clinton, on China, you’ve written in this Communiqué that you’d like to see China exhibit greater military transparency and will encourage that. How will that happen? And, considering Chinese state media reacted negatively to the Northern Territory troop announcement, do you expect China will be uncomfortable with the United States having an increased presence in the Indian Ocean? And, on that front, what exactly is America’s wish-list when it comes to HMAS Stirling, other ports, and increased access to those northern air bases? Do you have a timeframe on that?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me state the obvious; that the United States and Australia have been close allies and friends for decades, and we have not only security ties but commercial ties, personal ties, cultural ties. And our relationship between the two of us is among the strongest of any two countries in the world.

By the same token, we both recognise that increased cooperation with China is mutually beneficial, so this is not a zero sum competition, rather it is up to the United States and Australia to lead the way in demonstrating that the strong relationship between us can also help foster strong healthy relations with China because the entire region will benefit from a peaceful rise of China. And, as I’ve said many times, we

welcome a strong and prosperous China that plays a constructive and greater role in world affairs.

But we also want to see China act in fair and transparent ways that respect international norms and standards, follows international law, protects the fundamental freedoms and human rights of its people and all people. And the Pacific is big enough for all of us, and we stand to benefit from increased cooperation across the Asia-Pacific region as long as there is a level playing field and everybody knows what the rules are and everybody is held to the same standards.

With respect to specific questions, I think that the Ministers particularly, Minister Smith and Minister Panetta, have addressed those questions. But we are very comfortable that our relationship is a positive one that should contribute to greater peace and prosperity in the region and we want all nations to be part of that.

BOB CARR: I’d just add that there’s no news in this Communiqué that would surprise China or any other nation in the region.

Next question, David Brunnstrom, Reuters.

JOURNALIST: For Secretary Clinton please. On Syria, I just wondered if there is any point at which the United States could follow France in fully recognising the Syrian Coalition, and also perhaps in the future to provide lethal aid? Are there any conditions on that?

And on Burma, I wonder if I could ask whether concerns have eased to the extent that the United States can consider lifting more sanctions or are there still worries, for example, about links with North Korea?

And also on the Rohingyan issue, where there are reports that there have been organised killings of Rohingyans.

Thank you.

HILLARY CLINTON: First, with respect to Syria, we congratulate and welcome the new Syrian opposition coalition on the progress that they have made in Doha to broaden and unify the opposition leadership, to make it a more effective representative body that will truly reflect the aspirations of the Syrian people and have credibility with those inside Syria who are doing the fighting and demonstrating, the dying, and dealing with the continuing assault from the Assad regime.

We have long called for this kind of organisation and the United States was deeply involved in the work that went on leading up to and at Doha.

Now we want to see that momentum maintained. Specifically we urge them to finalise the organisational arrangements to support the commitments that they made in Doha and to begin influencing events on the ground in Syria. As the Syrian opposition takes these steps and demonstrates its effectiveness in advancing the cause of a unified democratic pluralistic Syria, we will be prepared to work with them to deliver assistance to the Syrian people.

So good beginning, highly welcomed by us and others, and we want to see the steps taken that have been promised. And we stand ready to assist this new Opposition in standing itself up and representing the Syrian people to the regime and the international community.

Regarding Burma, I very much look forward to returning with President Obama. When I first visited Naypyidaw and Rangoon last December, we pledged that the United States would respond to positive reform steps that were taken by the Government with steps of our own. And the President’s visit next week speaks to how far we have come in this action-for-action approach that we outlined. We have matched the reforms taken by having full diplomatic relations, exchanging ambassadors, allowing new US investment in Burma, as well as the export of US financial services, and supporting assistance from the international financial institutions.

And let me say that Australia has been indispensible and a strong partner in this process.

The reforms have a long way to go. The future is not certain but we are making progress and we want to see that progress continue.

The President will have the opportunity to discuss the path forward in detail. And of course one of the items on the agenda will be the ongoing conflict in Rakhine state. We have condemned that violence. We have called for calm and a meaningful dialogue to address the legitimate needs that are at the base of these underlying issues. And certainly we expect the Burmese authorities to ensure the security and safety of all the people in the area and to act expeditiously both to stop violence and investigate it, and bring those responsible to justice.

So we have a lot to talk about when we visit with the President, and we’re looking forward to it.

BOB CARR: Thank you ladies and gentlemen.