Press Conference by Secretary Hagel and Minister Nicholson at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Nov. 22, 2013

Halifax, Nova Scotia—(ENEWSPF)—November 22, 2013.

MODERATOR: At this point in time, I would like to invite the Honorable Rob Nicholson, minister of national defense, to say a few words. (Speaking in French)

MINISTER OF DEFENCE ROB NICHOLSON: Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m very pleased to be here with United States Secretary of Defense Hagel. Today we are making a positive step to enhance our two nations’ longstanding relationship as partners in defense and security.

There is no greater or closer friend or ally to Canada than the United States. Our two nations have long had a shared interest in the defense and security of our continent. But as the global security environment grows ever more complex, we also continue to seek ways to work together beyond the hemisphere.

Canada has long recognized the importance of Asia. Its continued peaceful rise depends not only upon economic growth, but fundamentally upon its security and stability. Both Canada and the United States share with our Asian partners an interest in promoting stability. And this drives our efforts to maintain and build on our history of joint cooperation.

(Speaking in French)

And so today, we signed the Canada-U.S. Asia-Pacific Cooperation Framework. This framework provides the basis upon which our two countries agree to coordinate activities with our Asian partners in areas of mutual interest. It’s the latest example of how we work together.

Before I give the floor to Secretary Hagel, let me say once again how glad I am to welcome the great many distinguished participants to the Halifax International Security Forum. And bringing together so many key thinkers, policymakers, and practitioners from likeminded nations around the world to discuss ideas and share insights on important global security challenges, it’s clear that Halifax is more than just another conference. It is truly a forum for ideas.

I look forward to the forum and discussions over the next few days. And I would now like to turn over the floor to my colleague, Secretary Hagel.

MODERATOR: Merci, Minister Nicholson. Mr. Hagel?

SEC. HAGEL: Rob, thank you. And good morning.

On a day when all Americans are remembering President John F. Kennedy, I am reminded of his speech to the Canadian Parliament in 1961. He said, “the warmth of your hospitality symbolizes more than merely the courtesy which may be accorded to an individual visitor. They symbolize the enduring qualities of amity and honor which have characterized our country’s relations for so many decades.”

Though spoken at a different time, those words of deep and enduring friendship still ring true today. Canada has long been among the most valued allies of the United States in our bilateral defense relationship, symbolized by NORAD, the world’s only true bi-national command. This command is one of the strongest in the world.

Our partnership extends all the way to Afghanistan, where Americans and Canadians have served side-by-side for more than 12 years. As Rob mentioned, we just signed, as you all witnessed, a defense policy framework that will help guide future cooperation between Canada and the United States in the Asia Pacific region. This is an important step that will continue to strengthen our close-knit defense cooperation and help broaden it beyond our shared borders. And it’s another example of our two nations being able to leverage each other’s strengths in order to help address global challenges.

Like the United States, Canada is a Pacific nation. And in light of America’s ongoing rebalance to the Asia Pacific, we both benefit by continuing to work together. We hope this framework will help strengthen our bilateral coordination and collaboration throughout the region. The United States and Canada will establish an annual strategic defense dialogue on the Asia Pacific within the context of the Canada-U.S. Permanent Joint Board on Defense, which will meet for the 232nd time next month.

This dialogue will help establish clear parameters for more effective coordination of operations among the United States Pacific Command, Canadian Joint Operations Command, and the Canadian Special Operations Force Command. It will also help foster ties among our respective defense attaches in the region, as well as improve coordination for high-level visits and military-to-military activities where appropriate.

One specific area that we hope to improve is our ability to work together on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the Asia Pacific. At a time when both the U.S. and Canadian armed forces are very proud to be providing relief to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, implementing this framework will help us coordinate these activities even more effectively as we go forward.

The Department of Defense remains committed to continuing our rebalance to the Asia Pacific. Yes, I visited the Bath Iron Works in Maine. I wanted to see our new state-of-the-art Navy destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, which we are planning to base out of San Diego so that it can operate in the Pacific Ocean.

As the Asia Pacific takes on greater importance in global affairs, DOD looks forward to Canada’s increased engagement in the region. For many years, the United States and Canada have enjoyed an unmatched level of defense cooperation. Our defense partnership helps ensure security and prosperity for both of our nations and the Asia Pacific.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Merci, Secretary Hagel.

At this point in time, I’d like to invite media to stand if they would like to ask a question. The press assistant will bring a microphone to each of the four journalists chosen to pose a question. I remind you to limit yourself to one question. Please identify yourself and your media agency and to whom you are addressing your question. (Speaking in French)

We’ll start with a French question from Canadian media. One English question will also be asked of Canadian media, and then two U.S. media questions.

Q: (Speaking in French)

TRANSLATOR: What will be the role of Canada in the new framework of collaboration?

MIN. NICHOLSON: Thank you very much. Again, this will build on basically what we do already with the United States. And, I mean, the kind of cooperation that takes place, you know, when there is a disaster, for instance, what’s taking place right now in the Philippines, to make sure there is no overlap and that basically we’re on the same page.

And so this is similar to what we have done in Central America and Caribbean with the United States. And, again, it’s another acknowledgement of the close relationship that exists between the two countries, and it will build on that relationship and ensure that there’s complete cooperation and no overlap.

TRANSLATOR: (Speaking in French. Crosstalk in French.)

MODERATOR: We’ll take a French question. We’ll take another French question. And I would ask that, when you’re asking your question, just please keep in mind that the interpreter is going to have to interpret, so just break it up into small parts, please.

Q: This is a question primarily for Secretary Hagel. Secretary Hagel, after the Second World War, of course, North America was more focused on the Atlantic towards Europe. Now it sounds like you’re trying to shift your focus to the Pacific. Is this in specific response to the increasing military strength of China or the threats coming out of North Korea? Why the shift to focus on the Pacific now? Why build that up?

SEC. HAGEL: First, we have made very clear, when President Obama noted a couple years ago of our rebalance to the Asia Pacific, that we were not retreating from any other part of the world. For example, our commitment to NATO is still as strong and complete as it’s ever been. I have said that in the last two NATO ministerials of defense ministers. The commitment that we have is very clear, and it is enduring. We — in other parts of the world, we’ll continue to maintain relationships, partnerships, in other parts of the world.

As to the rebalance to Asia Pacific, first, the United States has always been a Pacific power. As you look at the demographics, the commercial interests, the dynamics, the geopolitical economic interests that are evolving in the Pacific Asia area, it’s very clear that more and more of America’s interests are going to be in that part of the world.

So as — as any nation does, as it assesses its assets, its strategic interests, you balance. And that’s what the rebalance is about.

Q: Are you concerned then, sir, at all about the increasing military power in China or the threats out of North Korea? Does that concern the United States?

SEC. HAGEL: Our rebalance to the Asia Pacific is about more than just military-to-military relationships. It’s economic. It’s trade. It’s social. It’s cultural. It’s education. It’s security. It’s stability. All of these are part of relationships in an interconnected world that every nation now deals with in the early part of the 21st century.

TRANSLATOR: (Speaking in French)

Q: Lolita Baldor with the Associated Press. Mr. Secretary, this is a question for you. Afghan leaders said again today that they’re not impressed with U.S. deadlines and that they still intend to wait until after April to sign the BSA [bilateral security agreement]. Is that your current understanding of where things are right now?

TRANSLATOR: (Speaking in French)

Q: Have you reached out to any of your counterparts or any Afghan officials about this over the last several days? And can you tell us, at what point does the U.S. start planning to withdraw from Afghanistan if they don’t meet what you said yesterday was the deadline by the end of this year? And have you talked to other allies here? Are they concerned?

TRANSLATOR: (Speaking in French)

SEC. HAGEL: Lita, about three parts to the question. Let me start with this. I don’t set the secretary of defense deadlines for nation-to-nation relationships. That is up to the elected leaders to make those decisions. So that’s first.

Have I been in communication over the last few days with counterparts and others? I’m in constant communication with our leaders, General Dunford, who has been involved in this effort day-to-day, hour-to-hour, for many weeks, many months, with his counterpart, Ambassador Cunningham. I spent the day with Secretary Kerry two days ago. This was a topic that we discussed, and I continue to discuss, with Secretary Kerry and others.

As the current understanding is –as the state of play, I think everyone knows, the comments that were made by President Karzai, we continue to work with President Karzai and his government. Afghanistan is a sovereign nation. As President Obama has said, Secretary Kerry has said, I’ve said, we respect that sovereignty. And if there is to be an agreement going forward with a post-2014 relationship, that bilateral security agreement must be in force before certainly we can plan as to what kind of mission would we have, what do the Afghan people want us to do in helping them with their security and their future, as well as our NATO partners and ISAF partners.

But without a clear understanding in an agreement, it will be very, very difficult for us to plan — certainly for our partners to plan — not only what then would be the acceptable role, if the Afghan people want us there, what would that require in the term — in terms of men and women to conduct and carry out that mission. These are big missions. These are complicated missions. We have talked about — as we have been and continue to plan for a post-2014 presence and train, assist, advise, counterterrorism…I hosted at the NATO ministerial a month ago in Brussels, long discussions about NATO’s continued involvement.

So we need a clear understanding of what is the relationship and what do the Afghan people want us to help them with before we can commit. But that decision and what commitments are not secretary of defense’s commitments. Those will be President Obama’s, and that’s as it should be in elected democracy.

So if that answers your questions and helps — thank you.

TRANSLATOR: (Speaking in French)

Q: Hi, Phil Stewart from Reuters. Thanks for doing this. To both of you, what do you think that Karzai is up to here? What do you think his — what is this brinksmanship all about? And specifically to Secretary Hagel, on Iran, as these negotiations progress, what is — if anything — is the United States going to be doing to change its readiness, its posture, its planning to act? Is there any change? Thank you.

MIN. NICHOLSON: Well, I might say, with respect to Canada’s continuing engagement in Afghanistan, the government of Canada has been very clear that we will be scheduling a pullout in March of 2014 after 12 years of engagement. We have been very clear, the government of Canada has indicated it’s prepared to contributed over $100 million in the years after 2014 to assist the national security force of Afghanistan.

That being said, as Chuck indicated to you in our meetings in Brussels, NATO meetings about a month ago, you know, we’re very interested, very concerned about what’s taking place there. And we are watching very carefully the developments in Afghanistan, with respect to the negotiations on a bilateral security agreement.

SEC. HAGEL: My only additional comment regarding your question, Phil, concerning Afghanistan — and then I’ll address Iran — I think we all respect President Karzai’s representation of his country. It’s a sovereign nation. He was elected. So there’s not an issue there.

But at the same time, if the United States is going to continue to be asked as a result of a mutual agreement to play a role in Afghanistan, then we — the United States, the leaders of this country, on behalf of the people — and in particular the men and women who have served there and who make tremendous sacrifices there and have over the last 12 years — have to be assured that there will be protection for them, as they conduct a mutually agreed upon mission by both Afghanistan and the United States. Without that, I as secretary of defense could not recommend to the President of the United States to go forward, because taking care of our own people always has to be first, as we help others, and any responsibility leader of any government would take that position.

But I must be assured, as secretary of defense, that the essential requirements for force protection for our people that we’re going to ask, if we continue to ask them to continue their sacrifice in Afghanistan, they have assurance and their families have assurance that they will — they will be protected.

And I think that’s pretty clear. I’ve made that pretty clear. The president of the United States has made that very clear. President Obama has said that. So I am hopeful that we will work through this. I am hopeful that we will have a bilateral security agreement that will be recommended with the text that President Karzai and Secretary Kerry agreed to last week, ensuring the protection of our forces and the rights, and that that recommendation is made by the loya jirga, that President Karzai would send it to the parliament for ratification, and I would hope that the president would sign it. And we’ll continue to work in that direction.

On Iran, you know that the talks are continuing. We continue to work with our P5-plus-one partners on an effort to move the next stage to some higher ground. I think it’s been very clear. Secretary Kerry has said it, President Obama, our partners in this, that this is not an easy, simple dynamic. There are many factors involved in this Iranian issue.

But if we can continue to make progress, as we are very clear-eyed in recognizing the dangers and recognizing the threats that are real, with all of that in mind as we are approaching this, then I think we are responsible and should continue to explore the possibilities of some kind of a diplomatic solution that achieves the objectives of our — of our interests and the interests of our allies, not just in the Middle East, but in Europe and the world.

So that process continues. And we’ll see how the results develop.

MODERATOR: (Speaking in French) That concludes our question-and-answer session. As mentioned before, we now ask that media respectfully remain seated and allow the ministers to be escorted out of the building. We thank you for your cooperation with this.