Department of Defense Press Briefing with Secretary Hagel and Minister Siemoniak in the Pentagon Briefing Room
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good morning. I appreciate very much the opportunity to welcome my friend, the Polish Defense Minister Siemoniak to the Pentagon and to Washington, D.C., and in particular, just reciprocate for his very warm and gracious hospitality, and the hospitality of the Polish people during my visit to Poland in January.
So, Tomasz, welcome. We're glad you're here.
Our meeting today was focused on reinforcing our solidarity and our partnership for the future of the Polish-U.S. defense relationship, especially in light of the situation in Ukraine and its impact on European security.
As you all know, Secretary Kerry is meeting now in Geneva with his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine, and the EU. We fully support these efforts to find a political solution and remain deeply concerned about Russia's ongoing destabilizing activities in eastern Ukraine. De-escalation has been our focus and Russia must take steps to make that happen.
The United States continues to stand with Ukraine. And earlier this morning, I called Ukraine's acting defense minister to tell him that President Obama has approved additional non-lethal military assistance for health and welfare items and other supplies.
These supplies include medical supplies, helmets, sleeping mats, and water purification units for Ukraine's armed forces, as well as shelters, small power generators, and hand fuel pumps for Ukraine's State Border Guard Service. The United States will continue to review additional support that we can provide to Ukraine.
In our meeting today, Minister Siemoniak and I agreed that Russia's aggression has renewed our resolve to strengthen the NATO alliance. And as you know, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen announced a series of measures yesterday that the alliance will undertake to demonstrate this resolve.
These measures developed by Supreme Allied Commander General Breedlove include more air policing sorties over the Baltics, more allied ships in the Baltic and in the eastern Mediterranean seas, as well as military staff deployments to enhance NATO's readiness training and exercises. NATO is also updating its defense plans and the United States has offered additional planners to help with that effort.
We're also assessing what additional contributions we can offer to reinforce our allies in central and eastern Europe. These measures are not meant to provoke or threaten Russia, but instead to demonstrate NATO's continued dedication to collective defense.
Article V is clear that an attack against any one NATO ally will be considered an attack against all members of NATO. United States is fully committed to meeting its Article V responsibilities. This is a critical time for the NATO alliance, and for the Polish-U.S. bilateral relationship. It is also an opportunity to capitalize on the strong relationship that our two countries have built together over the last 25 years.
The solidarity and partnership roadmap we discussed today will -- identified new areas where we can work together, including special operations forces, air force cooperation, and additional exercises and training. It will also look at how we can further build onto our joint aviation detachment and air missile defense collaboration.
In recent weeks, the United States has significantly augmented the aviation detachment with 12 F-16s and 200 support personnel from Aviano Air Base in Italy. We're committed to maintaining that augmented presence through the end of the year.
This is a clear demonstration of America's bilateral commitment to Poland, and to our other NATO allies in the region. The United States is also encouraging other NATO allies to contribute to the detachment. Minister Siemoniak and I agreed that it would be useful to open up the aviation detachment so that other nations in the region can participate. One example would be Romania, which is the latest NATO member to acquire F-16s. This regionalized approach will help strengthen both Poland and its neighbors.
Our air and missile defense, I noted that as Poland explores options for its own new capabilities, we should take advantage of the opportunity to work together more closely, leveraging cutting-edge technology and enhanced NATO capability. This will benefit the entire transatlantic alliance.
As Poland continues to invest in defense and military modernization, the United States will increasingly look to Poland as a leader in the region and in NATO. The Polish-U.S. relationship and our shared commitment to NATO remain a critical anchor, an anchor of stability in Europe. Recent events underscore that the alliance and our commitments to that alliance are as important as ever.
Thank you. Now I'll ask Minister Siemoniak for his comments and then we'll be pleased to take some questions.
MINISTER TOMASZ SIEMONIAK (through translator): Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. A few weeks ago, we talked with Secretary Chuck Hagel on the phone when the Ukrainian crisis was rising, and we decided that it was worthwhile talking about the conclusions that that for our cooperation. That is why Secretary Hagel invited me to come to Washington. That is why I am today here and because of that we are talking today.
I would like to thank very much for the position taken by the United States during their current crisis, for a very tough and very clear position taken. And first and above all, for very specific decisions, Secretary Hagel, talked about it is connected with the (inaudible) and of the American F-16 aircraft with pilot for exercise together with Polish pilots.
I would like to thank you very much for the declaration that was announced a moment ago, the declaration that American aircraft will stay in Poland at least until the end of the current year. We talked about the ties (inaudible) military cooperation between Poland and the United States. It is our subsequent conversation about that Secretary Hagel visited me in Warsaw last January.
The current crisis, however, makes us do thing faster and fuller. Today we agreed that we are going to (inaudible) on the solidarity and partnership program between Poland and the United States that is connected with the deepening of the military cooperation. This program will include such elements as defense, including the contacts of the American installation in (inaudible) in Poland in 2018.
Aviation detachment, for the permanent presence of American aircraft in Poland and for the opening of the exercises of the participation of our partners and allies from the region. We are involved in the procedure of the acquisition of (inaudible) missiles. We want to deepen special operations forces cooperation. We are talking about the presence of the American troops in Poland. We are talking about cyber defense. These are the main elements that we talked about today and they will be included in the solidarity and partnership program.
We also would like very much Poland to become an organizer and leader of the regional cooperation with the members of the alliance, mainly in the Visegrad Group countries, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, under the (inaudible) of the United States.
And we also talked with Secretary Hagel about the upcoming NATO summit in the United Kingdom that is going to take place in September. We would like the September summit to bring very strong re-confirmation of the role of NATO and, in particular, we would like the summit to be a moment that will make the allies to increase their engagement in defense related issues. And it is connected mainly with those European allies that, contrary to Poland, in recent years have decreased their defense. But as we cooperate closely in the run-up to the UK summit.
Certainly together with Secretary Hagel, we also talked about Ukraine. Our views are convergent. And different activities that are connected with military cooperation in Ukraine will be coordinated by us.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Folks, we only have time for a few questions. So when I call on you, please identify yourself and your agency when I do.
Q: Thank you.
I'm Inga (inaudible) from Polish Press Agency.
Polish government is calling for a larger permanent significant presence of -- of the -- of the presence of the U.S. and the NATO in Poland like in the size of the brigade. So, actually, I would like to ask, what do you think of this demand? Have you decided something?
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.
Well, as the minister noted, and I said, we had a very full discussion about an entire range of measures and options, starting with what General Breedlove offered to all of our -- our NATO partners. I don't see it as a demand. I think it falls within the scope of where we can cooperate more fully, and cooperate in new areas, new opportunities. As General Breedlove noted, there may be some new opportunities for some rotational basis forces, but no decisions have been made. And we'll continue to discuss these issues as NATO's discussing these issues.
Q: Thank you.
MIN. SIEMONAK (through translator): Yes. This is what Secretary Hagel said. I would like to add towards -- also that today already, in Warsaw, we have both American and Polish military planners. And they are involved in the execution of what General Breedlove presented to the North Atlantic Council.
Thus, today in Washington, our chief of Defense, Mieczyslaw Gocul, will meet his partner -- his counterpart, General Dempsey, who will talk about details, about the short-term perspective, but also, as I said earlier, in the frameworks of the solidarity and partnership program, we are interested in the long-term solutions, as well. And we will work on them.
I am very happy with the significant American openness that Secretary Hagel today expresses.
Q: For both of you, Mr. Secretary, now that a Russian fighter jet has essentially buzzed a U.S. Navy warship, and your own people call it "aggressive and provocative," very specifically, what right of self-defense does the United States Navy have when the Russians do this? Why did you not call the Russians and tell them to cut it out and not do it again? So -- so, what right of self-defense does -- do you have -- does the Navy have against Russia?
And for the minister -- sir, the bottom line for Poland right now -- Poland has been through the Nazis, you've been through the Soviets. Your country -- how concerned are you that Vladimir Putin and the Russians may send troops into your country? All this talk of self- defense -- do you worry they're going to march on Poland?
But, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, I think you know that our military did raise this issue with the Russian military. We have many instruments in our government to deal with these things.
As to the question of what right -- our ship was in international waters in the Black Sea. Nations have a right to defend themselves, and we take that right very seriously, and always have.
Q: Can you tell me what you said -- what was said to the Russians?
SEC. HAGEL: Like I said, we have communicated with the Russian military.
Q: Are happy about this? What did you say?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, we didn't tell them we were happy. Thank you.
MIN. SIEMONAK (through translator): That is true that the history of several hundred years in Poland -- the past several hundred years makes us in Poland focus in particular on what is happening now. On the 25th anniversary of our independence that we are going to celebrate (inaudible), that this is the year when there are no wartime threats anymore.
The events of the recent months aggressive policy taken by Russia (inaudible) things must not be taken for granted. They show to the people of Poland how important alliances are. First and above all our presence in NATO as well as the alliance with the United States.
Today, the opinion of policy were presented -- published in Poland, and they indicate how very much Poles appreciate our membership in NATO and how the ratings have grown and how very much people of Poland expect the military presence of NATO in Poland. So, our response to the current situation is that we want to watch our interest, and we are making the significant effort to modernize our armed forces.
We really care for the alliances and we want Poland to be as close to the West as possible, cooperating with NATO and with the United States, and there is no other way for us to guarantee our own security.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Next question.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Minister, Vladimir Putin keeps repeating over and over again that building a missile defense system site in Poland but also in other countries of our region will start a new arms race, and in fact, he said it again today.
Isn't this a good reason -- a good indicator that this system, this program, should be sped up and finished before 2018?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, we have made it very clear, NATO has made it very clear, that the missile defense system in Europe is not a threat to Russia. It's a defense system. NATO is a defense institution and I think that's the first -- the first point. Second, we are continuing with our schedule with the enhanced adaptive approach to fulfill the commitments that we've made in the interest of Poland, Romania, and our NATO partners on missile defense.
So, we will adjust where we need to adjust. Obviously, the whole point about defensive capability, missile defense, is about real threats. It's not about theory. And so, we -- we will always, in any case, adjust where we need to adjust on timelines or -- or any -- any part of that system.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the arms race, do you perceive it as an arms race? That's what Putin is saying. That it starts a new arms race.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, President Putin says many things. That's ridiculous. It's not an arms race. It's a missile defense system, and we've made that very clear. We've welcomed the Russians to participate in that.
MIN. SIEMONAK (through translator): For us in Poland it is important that the United States and today, secretary of defense, reconfirm very much the world to execute the third phase of the European phased adaptive approach. I would like to note that the -- the construction is underway in Romania and it's going to be ready in 2015. The installation is going to cover a significant part of the European territory and part of the Polish territory. That is why we expect that next year, the works will start so that in 2018, the installation in Poland in (inaudible) was ready.
Secretary Hagel talked about the nature of that installation. I believe that someone must really have very much of ill will to see it in the context of an arms race, especially that has been developed for years not the context of the current situation.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay. This'll have to be the last question.
Q: Quite a clarification, if I may, with Secretary Hagel. Did you say that on the question about U.S. ground troop presence in Poland that that's you considering that, now?
And I have a broader question for both of you. Was that a yes or a no or could you explain what...
SEC. HAGEL: What I said was that General Breedlove made a number of recommendations to NATO. There's an entire range of possibilities and measures that are being considered. Rotational basis of training and exercises are always part of that. That's what I said.
Q: Because you've already got the aviation.
SEC. HAGEL: All forces, yes, yes. But -- but to go beyond that, I was not specific, and we'll see what NATO responds to and what they come back with based on recommendations of General Breedlove.
Q: I've got a question for you, a little bit broader question for both of you in the context of the Ukraine crisis, but looking beyond the day to day developments that have been happening in Ukraine. If you look -- look at the broader landscape of eastern Europe, are you concerned that -- that the Russians -- this may be the -- the start of a -- a longer-term campaign by the Russians to -- to retake territory that lost by the Soviet Union by force -- by means other than, you know, brute military force?
SEC. HAGEL: I think we have to be alert to all possibilities. The actions of the Russians over the last two months is not only irresponsible and violates territorial integrity and sovereignty of a -- of a sovereign nation, but it's dangerously irresponsible.
And the focus of collective security in -- in particular NATO, or any region or nation is to anticipate and to protect themselves and think through what are the possibilities, what could happen?
So yes. We have to look at -- based on past actions, we have to look at every possibility.
MIN. SIEMONAK (through translator): The president of Russia -- while the annexation of Crimea by Russia was taking place, the president of Russia spoke in the Kremlin, and then he formulated a doctrine. That doctrine could give right and it really gave right to concern, especially in the part of the world that was -- that had been attached to the Soviet Union.
President Putin talked about the needs of the Russian minority in different countries, and there is a number of different countries in the region. President Putin also evaluated different actions that took place after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
So, such doctrine gives rise to our concerns. We are also concerned if there are some suggestions that NATO is to be restricted or limited in its efforts to deploy, for example, different installations in the territories of its member states.
It also is concerning what we can see happening in the east of Ukraine. A situation where in the name of the protection of unthreatened interests of the rights of the minority, a brutal intervention is taking place.
And it is true that we are concerned by that and we really count on the activity of the United States and the whole international community. We also are looking forward to the -- to those talks in Geneva that further leads to the de-escalation of the situation. The current status really gives rise to the risk that it will get out of control.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thank you everybody. That's all the time we have for the day.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Thanks.