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Background Briefing En Route to Sydney, Australia


Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
En Route to Sydney, Australia
August 11, 2014

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MODERATOR: So once again, we have the tireless [Senior State Department Official], who will be previewing our trip to Australia and the AUSMIN meetings over the next few days. This will be attributed to a Senior State Department Official. With that, I will turn it over to [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. We are on our way to Australia, a close ally and a fantastic partner to the United States. The AUSMIN is an annual conference between the Defense and Foreign Ministers, so Secretary Kerry, Secretary Hagel will meet with Foreign Minister Bishop and Defense Minister Johnston tomorrow.

Today, we are going first to visit the Australian National Maritime Museum. This event will build on both the cooperation between the U.S. and Australia on maritime security, but it will also build on the Oceans Conference, recently hosted by Secretary Kerry that took up a number of important issues pertaining to oceans, like acidification and so on, that are important to all littoral countries, like Australia.

Oh, yeah, and I think the Secretary, in addition to being able to talk to some high school kids at the museum, which also houses a replica of Captain Cook's four-masted ship, the Endeavour, will meet with a 21-year-old extraordinary Australian woman who sailed singlehandedly around the world for a world's record as the youngest solo sailor.

Following that, Foreign Minister Bishop and Defense Minister Johnston are hosting a dinner for the two secretaries, at which they can have substantive but informal commencement of the AUSMIN. Secretary Kerry and Hagel hosted the two ministers a year ago in the United States for the preceding AUSMIN, which rotates between countries.

So let me talk a little bit about what the AUSMIN looks at and what the four ministers are going to be doing.

First of all, it's an opportunity for them to align their defense policies as allies and to explore ways that they can extend and expand security cooperation, as well as strategic planning. They will be following up on the discussions and the decisions made when Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited Washington in --

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- in June, including an agreement to begin thinking together about cooperation in ballistic missile defense, in space, and increased cooperation in the cyber realm.

Secondly, the ministers will sign the Force Posture Agreement that was reached between President Obama and Prime Minister Abbott, and in concluding this agreement or, rather, in signing this agreement, they will put into place authorities and a framework for pushing forward on the initiative of rotational deployment of Marines to -- to Australia for joint projects and third country training, particularly in disaster relief. The -- that program, of course, dates from President Obama's 2011 visit to Australia, where the decision to deploy a gradually escalating number of rotational Marines was announced.

Thirdly, the ministers will consult on regional issues in Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. That includes maritime security, that includes follow-on from the recently concluded Pacific Island Forum. And of course, it also includes a discussion of Burma, for example, where both Foreign Minister Bishop and Secretary Kerry just visited.

Related to that also is a fourth area, which is consultations on regional architecture. They will discuss the meetings they held with ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, as well as other regional institutions, organizations and frameworks like APEC and like the TPP.

Next, they will discuss northeast Asia and there they will compare notes on respective relations with China. They will discuss the challenge posed by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile -- ballistic missile technology. And I am sure they will also discuss Japan because Australia has a growing cooperative relationship with Japan, and the U.S., Australia, and Japan have for some time now held trilateral coordination meetings and derived great value from doing that.

The sixth area I would mention is a discussion of international hot spots and challenges outside of the Asia-Pacific region itself. That will, without question, include the issues related to Ukraine and Russia, particularly given the active and important role of both Prime Minister Abbott and Foreign Minister Bishop in addressing that crisis, including the good work that Australia did as a member of the Security Council in obtaining the first resolution regarding the downing of Malaysia Air 17. But that discussion will also include areas such as the Middle East, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and importantly Afghanistan, where there is an extraordinary record of U.S.-Australia cooperation.

The last area that I would flag is the discussion that I anticipate on transborder, transnational threats and challenges. That includes counterterrorism, that includes the threat of returning foreign fighters and radicalized citizens, it includes climate change and environmental programs, as well as areas like cyber and space that I mentioned before.

The AUSMIN runs essentially for the better part of a day and I can attest from last year that it is really dynamic and an extremely substantive exchange among like-minded friends with common interests but different strengths and in some cases different perspectives.

MODERATOR: All right, questions? Any questions? (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Will the -- Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel ask Australia for additional support to Iraq, to helping the U.S. in Iraq?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The AUSMIN is a consultation, so I would expect them to discuss the situation and the challenges in Iraq, and in that context they may determine that there are things that Australia wishes to do, chooses to do, is able to do. But I'm not aware of any pending request. And this is not typically the venue where we introduce new asks.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: You know, for years and years, the U.S. and Australia had teamed up to push democracy throughout -- you know, they were leaders on Burma and that kind of thing. Have you all just given up on the ties? You know, I didn't hear it come up once in Burma and I'm just wondering if this is something that would be discussed today or tomorrow here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, I'm sure that the ministers will talk about the situation in Thailand, because Thailand is an important ally of the United States and a major security partner for Australia as well. I know that the Thai participate in a number of Australian-hosted military exercises, as far as I know.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can't speak to the Australian law or Australian policies. But we certainly follow very closely and feel very strongly that Thailand and the ruling council should move briskly and directly towards an inclusive, credible and fair process that will restore democratic civilian rule at the earliest possible time. And we have voiced directly as well as publicly both our hopes, our admonitions, but also our concerns for practices and policies such as the summoning of individuals and the restrictions on journalists, which we think run counter to a transparent and inclusive process.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The AUSMIN generates a communique that characterizes some of the high points and particular areas of focus.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I -- I don't know.

QUESTION: Just a very quick -- quick one. Is Australia among those countries that might keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014 if there is a security agreement, or are they done with it? In other words, does the search for a BSA and then a multilateral security agreement affect Australia? Are they going to play a training and adviser role in Afghanistan? Is that part of it? Or are they finished with Afghanistan?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, Australia has made extraordinary contributions to Afghanistan over the years and has its own thoughts and plans about post-2014 assistance. I know that the Australians intend to support the development and the maintenance of peace in Afghanistan. But as for under what circumstances they would be -- contribute in a military sense, you'll have to ask them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Fiji is slated to hold elections in September and the Australians have been very active in trying to shape that process to be credible and democratic. It's a complicated and difficult situation that both we and the Australians follow very closely. I am certain that that will be a topic of discussion between the ministers.

QUESTION: What is likely to be the follow-up on the ASEAN communique on any discussions between the two countries on follow-ups regarding South China Sea?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The AUSMIN offers an opportunity for Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Bishop to compare notes and to take stock of the discussion of the South China Sea in the ASEAN Regional Forum Ministerial, in the East Asia Summit Ministerial, but also in our various individual meetings with ASEAN as a whole and bilaterally with ASEAN members and with China.

The focus of discussion on the South China Sea this year was squarely on the problems related to claimant behavior. Our view is that that is a significant step forward, inasmuch as the discussion has moved from the abstraction of a long-term process to reach a binding code of conduct to how the claimants and ASEAN with China can implement practical measures, what they call an early harvest of ideas that will ultimately be incorporated in the code of conduct.

We think that the suggestion from the United States, which Australia has encouraged and supported, that Claimants should voluntarily identify actions that are troublesome and tend to exacerbate the situation and create tensions and voluntarily agree, if everyone will, if every claimant will agree to freeze those actions, has contributed to that shift in focus.

The immediate follow-up to the ARF on the South China Sea is to assess the meeting scheduled in a few weeks between ASEAN and China at the working group and the senior official level to discuss what equates to the freeze, namely the implementation of the declaration of conduct, the DOC. We will also be monitoring the actual situation around the rocks, reefs, and shoals in the

South China Sea, both the Spratlys and the Paracels, in order to assess whether the claimants have taken to heart the consensus at ARF and EAS that de-escalatory steps are called for

QUESTION: You said you'll -- you said you'll discuss increased cooperation on cyber issues. Can you elaborate on what kind of increased cooperation you're talking about? What specific new discussions will take place?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The U.S. and Australia consult, coordinate and cooperate on a very wide range of cyber issues. Some of them pertain to defense equities, some of them pertain to intelligence. And, as you know, the United States and Australia have a very close intelligence and national security cooperative relationship.

Some of them pertain to the defense of intellectual property from cyber-enabled theft. And some of the conversations pertain to event response, cyber incident response, and also to the development of rules and norms in cyberspace.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.) Thank you.



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