MODERATOR: Fantastic, so it seems we have a quorum. We’ll go ahead and begin. This is probably the third time that we’ve had [Senior State Department Official] here with us. He’s going to talk about 2019 and looking forward, and so I will turn it over to him at this time. Like the other briefings, this is provided on background, attribution to a senior State Department official.
Sir, go ahead.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay, great. Thank you for joining me here today. Obviously, there’s much to talk about as far as conditions globally and how defense trade and security assistance contributes to the capacity of our allies and partners.
Looking back really quickly on the past year, just wanted to highlight several things. Of course, one of the benefits of being back at State and in this position is to grow and enhance our relationships in defense trade here in the United States to expand our footprint and market, but also grow and enhance our relationships and partnerships with allies and partners on security and burden sharing.
Back in 2019, we certainly had some figures that I am very proud of. I mentioned our industry. When we look at defense industry and aerospace, contributed to a growth of $170 billion in 2019. And then when you equate that to jobs security and job creation, an estimate of 250 million jobs.
Moving forward, of course, this is something that we want to continue, and this is – I look at several instances in the past calendar year where I had the honor and the benefit of being able to be part of that advocacy abroad like the Paris Air Show, like the Dubai Airshow. I could tell you that there will be additional opportunities where I’ll be playing a significant role on behalf of the United States and working with U.S. industry to ensure that we not only make sure our market share is there, but actually expand our markets. And I’ve talked a lot about this publicly and of course privately with partners about why; that we are the partner of choice, and that when we’re looking at a competitive market – and frankly, there is a competitive market, I’m not going to tell you there isn’t; we are cognizant of that – but we are preferred, we are the partner of choice, we are dependable, we’re transparent, and we’re accountable. And there’s a long-term aspect to that beyond a transactional sale.
How that matters to the current context of what we’re addressing, there are a number of partners that we are working with that are certainly encumbered by threats that we have directly faced. And so when we look at recent days, this isn’t just a matter of the U.S. being under threat; this has been internationalized. We have a number of allies and partners who have been addressing this threat, and it’s not new. The Secretary took great lengths to ensure that partners were able to meet and address this threat in concert with the United States so that we were not going it alone, but nor were we leaving partners to have it go it alone either.
So moving forward, looking into 2020, we certainly are not taking our eye off the ball when we’re looking at great power competition. I referenced that at the top. I could tell you, looking back at particular places of travel in 2019, one could anticipate my focus will certainly align with where we are bolstering partners that are seeking to become closer not only with the United States, but more interoperable with other partners. NATO states or NATO aspirants are a good example of that. And then of course, partners in the Indo-Pacific region who are looking to counter the aggression of the People’s Republic of China.
So, a broader perspective: not only building out further opportunities for U.S. industry, but expanding opportunities for relationships with partners who are either sharing a burden of security or sharing and meeting the particular threats that we also are facing.
So with that, I’m happy to take questions.
MODERATOR: Yeah, Michel.
QUESTION: Yeah. Two questions. One, do you think that the tension with Iran in the region will increase the demand for sophisticated arms from the Gulf states, especially?
And on Lebanon, do you have anything regarding the military assistance to Lebanon, anything on its way there or is there any problem?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I’ll go backwards with it. I’ll start with Lebanon first. So the Lebanese Armed Forces or the LAF is the most capable institution – security institution in Lebanon, and it is one that we certainly have been working with and continue to work with. As far as going into the detail on scope, won’t go through that today, but I could tell you that we have collectively, USG, have found that the most credible, viable security institution in Lebanon and continue to meet that assessment. And then —
QUESTION: And after the demonstrations and how the Lebanese army is dealing with demonstrators, will you make any changes regarding the assistance?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t want to get into pre-decisional about any shaping of assistance moving forward, but what I could say is that it’s to date, even with the current conditions, when one looks at security forces, and I’m including defense in it and interior as well, the LAF remains the most capable security institution not only from a performance standpoint, but they also still rate as far as credibility amongst Lebanese as well. So there is a – how they’re perceived by the population, but then there’s actually their ability to perform in the field, and to date they – they’re it right now as far as where we would focus our resources.
You asked about grades on weaponry. Certainly, obviously, all partners, no different than the United States, look at what is available as far as tools for deterrence and tools for defense, and any partner – and you mentioned the Gulf States where they are seeking to build out their defenses – we are certainly going to be a stalwart in working with them to make sure that their defense needs are addressed. Obviously, when a partner is looking at their defense needs, we want them to work with us in partnership not just from an acquisition standpoint, but of course in the implementation standpoint as well.
MODERATOR: Go ahead. Shaun.
QUESTION: Sure. Staying in the region, the situation in Iraq – obviously, there’s the statement from – the decisions of the Iraqi parliament regarding the U.S. bases there. Looking to the future, I mean, what type of demand do you see from Iraq, and what type of relationship do you see on the military front? I mean, do you think the killing of General Soleimani has fundamentally changed that, or do you think that the relationship going forward on the military front will still remain in some form?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the death of Soleimani certainly is a conditional change across the board. It has been a disruptor on the capability of the Iranians. It has also been, to your point about Iraq, it’s been a disruptor on the ability and the lines of communication of the proxy forces that are resident in Iraq.
That said, if we look back earlier this year, what we were seeing in the streets in places like Baghdad, like Basra, like Kirkuk, you name it, were concerns about that influence, exactly that influence. And I think one of the things that looking from where we are at the Department of State or in the USG, I think one of the things that’s been lost in the attention and the cacophony around what has happened in the region has been the Iraqi people’s protesting of Iranian influence not only in the halls of the Council of Representatives, but also in the Security Forces. So when we look at the surrogate forces in Iraq, having that degradation or compromise, so to speak, is certainly a game changer. It has been a concern of a number of states, including the United States, as to the depth and breadth of Iran’s influence in Iraq.
So as far as when we’re looking at the politics, I certainly can’t predict what the Council of Representatives are going to do or say, but I would also offer as a data point, that resolution they put forward was nonbinding, and then ask the question: Who in Iraq would want to implement the removal of U.S. forces? I don’t – I would assess that there’s no one in the Iraqi Government at this date that would want to pursue that.
QUESTION: Can I just press you on that a bit? You mentioned it was a game changer in terms of —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Posture.
QUESTION: Right, but for Iran. But for the U.S. forces themselves in terms of your communication with Iraqi officials, does that make things more difficult? Does it make, for example, the fight more broadly against ISIS more difficult?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The short answer: no. If you want to talk about ministry officials, so MOD, and I would include ministry of interior, right, there’s been a lengthy history with our developing the capabilities of interior forces as well as defense forces. That’s something I did in a previous life, was work with both those entities. So, no. What it does allow for is for us to encourage better behavior amongst Iraqi security officials on the de-integrating or decoupling of these proxy forces that are resident in Iraq. I mean, so an example – the Badr Corps is one of note, Kata’ib Hizballah is another one of note. I mean, there’s a number of those entities there that were a challenge in years prior, but over time became a more greater, heavier, dangerous presence to the point that the general populace in Iraq became concerned.
MODERATOR: Okay, Carol.
QUESTION: Well, you – you said at the beginning that the United States is the partner of choice because you’re viewed as transparent and reliable and accountable. But I’m just following up on what Shaun was asking about with what has happened in the past week. Do you – are you getting any sort of pushback from countries that see you less so that way? Is it really only the pro-Iranian forces that don’t want the United States in Iraq, U.S. forces in Iraq anymore? I mean, it seems from afar like it’s much broader than it was a week or two ago.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s certainly a lot of discourse. We mentioned the COR’s resolution, and one could assess that if one is sitting in Iraq and is not involved in the national security apparatus, does not work in the ministry of defense, does not work in the ministry of interior, does not work in the prime minister’s office, that there would be a general concern about any foreign presence in Iraq. But I go back to if we look at before the attacks by Kata’ib Hizballah on U.S. forces and before our response to the Iranians, there was already a baseline of concern developing amongst the Iraqi populace about Iranian influence that had put them to the streets. And this is something that many in the department and in the NGO community were trying to spell out clearly, is do not confuse the protesters in the streets who are saying “get the Iranian influence out of government and in contribution to corruption” with the disruptive behaviors and the threats coming from these proxy forces.
Unfortunately, some of that even got muddied at the time on the attacks on our own embassy, and that was certainly a challenge, I think, for many to be able to see the difference between who is protesting for good governance in Iraq and who is there to actually disrupt and influence it from Tehran.
QUESTION: Aside from the protesters, what have your contacts been like with Iraqis leading up to this and afterwards?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. So we have a security cooperation relationship with the Iraqis on anything from large, significant platforms to even de-mining. So I would say we’ve talked much in the past about what State does and what PM does specifically on advancing defense trade, in building out security assistance and security cooperation with partners for their capabilities and their being able to work with us. We also do the other end of it, which is actually post-conflict work, and one of the aspects of our post-conflict work is on de-mining and remediation.
So when you say – you ask about PM’s interaction, Iraq – some partners where our focus is solely on building up capacities for particular security forces or I would say particular capabilities. With Iraq, in addition to what has been historically there on security cooperation and assistance, has also been an augmentation in the past year on mine cleaning, minefield remediation, destruction of weapons that may have been left in place from another conflict or the conflict with ISIS. So that was a shift.
There certainly, of course, is the perennial challenges of where de-miners can operate in places that would not put them at risk other than from de-mining operations. But I would say up until the end of December, if one saw an administration focus from President Trump all the way down, and an Iraqi interest or request, there was a seek for increase of de-mining and remediation. So that – and that was in particular places that had been hit very heavy when ISIS had a more robust presence and was actually running amok in Iraq, particularly in places where there had been minority populations that were either not the type of Muslim strain that ISIS approved of or were Christian or were Yezidi or what have you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Conor?
QUESTION: On the Iranian strikes last night, did Iran demonstrate any sort of new capabilities that you can talk about? Are you increasingly concerned about what you saw in terms of their ballistic missile program?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So there – those – there – those were short-range ballistic missiles that were fired, and short-range missiles can go as far as 950 kilometers. I mean, the – so the range of those was not surprising. And not to – not to presuppose what else is on Iran’s plate, but I mean the short answer as far as, like, what are they capable of? That was not new or unique.
If one’s a student of history, one can look back. It is not dissimilar of what they were capable of doing during the Iran-Iraq War. In fact, if anything, the application or the tactic or that – those actual firing of those missiles was almost like a – was retro. I mean, it was like back to the ’80s in some respects, as far as what they were able to do and the capability they were able to do.
MODERATOR: Okay. Here.
QUESTION: Yeah, if I could go to the Asia-Pacific region. Can you characterize how close you are to a new SMA with South Korea? And then a second question, related, is: If you are unable to come to an agreement in 2020, how will that affect the SMA negotiations with Japan? Will that get pushed back or can you negotiate between the two countries at the same time?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We – so I’ll broaden the aperture. We have the senior negotiating team with inside – resides inside PM, inside the Department of State. We have already concurrent multiple negotiations happening at any time. So it isn’t as if there is a linear sequence where we have to execute one agreement. I can tell you we have agreements being worked – some as small as what are called Visiting Forces Agreements, to ones as large as the Special Measures Agreement with the Republic of South Korea – at any given time in every single geographic region, in every single geographic combatant command.
So we annually are always at a churn on those. And sometimes those are just amendments, and sometimes they’re reviews that are required based on what’s been agreed to and have reached expiry.
Specific to Korea, the sixth round of talks is – we’re about to embark upon. I would assess that we are certainly a little further afield than we were during the last round. Why? Probably because the calendar has certainly helped not only in Washington, but also in Seoul. There’s also been, I would say, a little bit more of a recognition or reality check amongst South Korea as to how serious we are and stalwart we are in seeking partnership on burden-sharing.
That said, our alliance with South Korea is ironclad, and I would caution any adversary to think that there is a fissure there in our alliance. And so while we are having a very serious conversation with our South Korean counterparts about what this means as far as their ability to further share the burden on our presence on the Peninsula, it does not mean we’re walking away from our alliance.
But to your – I’m sorry, I was going – on Japan, I would not couple those – like I said earlier, we have – regardless of the status of a particular negotiation, it does not preclude us from negotiating with other capitals despite the region, if they’re in the same region or not.
QUESTION: Okay, if I could just follow up.
MODERATOR: You got two.
QUESTION: When you say they’re realizing —
MODERATOR: You got two. David.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask about Turkey, actually, and the S-400, whether there’s been any movement, positive or negative, there. (Inaudible) Turks, last month, I think they were talking about buying a second installment of the S-400.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So what has not changed with Washington and Ankara’s discourse on this is that they are certainly not in the right space. We have discouraged them from pursuing not only that purchase, but of any other Russian armament, for several reasons. If one looks beyond the bilateral relationship, and we have much invested on a mil-to-mil basis with Turkey, they’re a NATO partner. And as a NATO member-state, they are putting at risk not only what could be introduced by us, a partner, they put – they’ve already put at risk what they could do to be an interoperable partner. That’s why the F-35 program has been removed – that Turkey has been removed from the F-35 program.
We’re still not out of the woods with Turkey. They’re still – they are still at risk for sanctions. They also are still putting at risk other aspects of the relationship. The challenges remain. And I would say if one looks at CAATSA as a whole, that Turkey, of course, has got the most focus because they, as a NATO state and a state that was a member of the Joint Strike Fighter Program, put on their own accord at risk their ability to participate as a member in a particular community. They also put at risk what they could do with us bilaterally.
Those risks still remain, and I would say that what you have as evidence of that is their removal from the F-35. That is the most tangible example that’s there to date, but I would say that the opportunity is still there to reconcile. We still have bilateral mil-to-mil commitments and relationships. They still have opportunity to fix this. And sanctions are not off the table.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up?
QUESTION: Two quick questions. One, on India: They’re also purchasing S-400s. So where is the U.S. on that? And the other thing – I’m sorry if you covered this at the beginning – the New START Treaty. Is there any sign that China is interested in joining this trilateral agreement?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I won’t talk to the START treaty since it’s technically not in my wheelhouse. So – I mean, I’d be happy to, but I don’t want to step on someone else’s – I don’t want to shoot someone else’s fox.
But I can talk about India. The – I would start with it’s been reported in different places, mostly outside of the U.S., that there was an understanding that there’s a blanket waiver. There is not. So I would start with that there is not a blanket waiver. Congress certainly never designed that or anticipated that, nor did the administration. Where I think this gets a little confused is because of India’s particular military status that was designated by Congress several years prior, there are some who maybe misinterpret that as in it’s in a (inaudible) or a protection from any sort of sanctions.
While there’s not a blanket waiver, there’s also not a blanket application. And so what I mean by that is there is a case-by-case analysis on where CAATSA sanctions could be applied. CAATSA sanctions also can range in depth as to how deep-cutting and to the who, the entities and the people. And those options are always there.
Indian officials know that there’s a risk of application of sanctions. Indian officials also know that we want to work with them to find a path forward where they have historic sustainment lines that certainly don’t put them at CAATSA risk. The challenge we have with any state like India is new acquisitions on significant systems that would either put at risk our platforms or expose our technologies to an adversary. And so we said this very simple – Turkey was a perfect example. The S-400 put at risk the F-35. The S-400 also could put at risk other platforms, and so we’ve had these conversations very candidly with all partners. And I know India has expressed valid concerns of they don’t want to have a sustainment line completely shut down that it degrades their defense posture. That’s the last thing we want to do with a significant partner, or any partner. We don’t want to degrade their defense capabilities.
What we don’t want India to do is to introduce something that as we continue to go forward in this partnership makes it challenging or exposes risk to our technology on future acquisitions.
MODERATOR: Okay. Jennifer and then —
QUESTION: Can you update us on the investigation into misuse by Turkish-supported forces in Syria of U.S. arms? And are their concerns or evidence that they’ve done so in Libya with U.S. arms?
And then more broadly, today the President called for NATO forces to do more to support the maximum pressure campaign against Iran. Has security assistance been discussed at all as leverage in trying to pressure these countries?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I was – I’ll go back to NATO. I’ll start with NATO and go backwards. I mentioned earlier on record about the internationalizing. So I mean, this is – starts as early as – well before the Kata’ib Hizballah attacks on partners who are tied with us on CJTF-OIRs. So that coalition entity has an investment of partner states, including NATO states, who want to work with that actual aspect of security in the region. Fine.
When we do look at what’s applicable for security assistance, obviously, that’s always a discussion about who is doing what not only to come to the table to work with us on shared interests, as well as shared adversity. I would scope even further back to say that when we’re looking at security systems, what we’re really, really looking at is where can we encourage growth and partners to be able to not only stand up for themselves and their sovereign security, but where they can actually meet threats on our behalf and also strategically be able to counter adversarial threats.
And so I would say looking at what we did in 2019, as we move in to 2020 we’re looking for greater opportunities to encourage and enhance partners who are seeking to walk away from Moscow, de-couple themselves from Beijing, decide not to work with – and so when I’ve talked earlier about partner of choice, that was very trade-focused, but when I say partner of choice, that is a much broader context as well.
So yes, security assistance certainly factors in. Is a state looking to come closer to the United States, are they looking to work closer to NATO, are they aspiring to be a NATO state? Having things like a foreign military finance grant as seed money to encourage either the purchase of a platform – Bulgaria, I can give you as a 2019 example, is a very good example of a state that is wanting to be closer to the West and closer to the United States and to counter Russia. And we very successfully were able to, as leverage – positive leverage – to say, “Okay, you are meeting the mark when it comes to your GDP commitment on your sovereignty and defense. Okay. There’s been other evidence of you moving closer to the West and away from Moscow. Okay. You have a budget and you’re aspirant for certain capabilities. What can we do to get you to a space where Bulgaria can buy a tranche of F-16s?”
And at the end of the day, as we worked with them and they have – they’re accountable to their parliament the way we’re accountable to our Congress – we ended up working with a grant to get to that sale. So when we look at security assistance, sure, how a partner comes to the table on meeting shared adversity, that factors, what they’re doing to become closer to us certainly factors. But I would say the National Security Strategy remains a very solid baseline, guiding document on great power competition weighs the heaviest when we’re looking at foreign military financing grants and when we’re looking at other types of security assistance and cooperation. That is much broader than just money; that is training, that’s port calls, that’s exercises, that’s a host of available tools that we provide our chiefs of mission.
And in some cases, it could be a posture shift or an adjustment or amendment. Offsets occur, but we’d much rather be in a position of, when we say leverage, it is leverage to encourage positive decisions, not so much leverage in a punitive sense.
MODERATOR: Okay. Two quick questions. Lara.
QUESTION: And the TSO investigation in Syria?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, ongoing. I would add – you mentioned other localities. Certainly, yeah, it’s broader. There is – it’s broader.
QUESTION: Like in Libya? Okay —
QUESTION: So on – just a very quick follow-up to what you were saying about Turkey, have you seen other NATO allies threaten or actually withhold military sales to Turkey in the way that we have – the United States has done with the F-35?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Any of the states that have been members of the joint strike – so that’s a joint program. We’re all in concurrence of their removal. So as far as other individual bilateral decisions —
QUESTION: Or other platforms?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, that’s what I’m saying. So there are still – there are still things that are being sold to Turkey that we would even consider part of their own self-defense. And as I said, we haven’t decoupled our military-to-military relationship. We’ve encouraged other states not to. I would – not to speak on behalf of Ambassador Hutchison, I think one of the challenges we’ve had as the United States is to encourage other NATO partners to still work with Turkey. While they’ve been a challenge to us, European partners have been vexed in different ways. And when we’re looking at a multilateral body like NATO and the responsibilities that other states have, we have played a – I would say a brokerage role, a convening role to ensure that other partners are still talking to Turkey and working with them.
MODERATOR: Last question, Ruffini.
QUESTION: It was already asked. Thanks, though.
QUESTION: On NATO —
MODERATOR: Michel, you get the last one.
QUESTION: Yeah. What role the President wants NATO to play in the Middle East? He was talking about it today.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He was also referring to what’s already there, so it was the – it was – there’s risk that’s been incurred by not only the United States, and we’ve certainly been directly affected by that. There is shared risk and there are some NATO states who have actually acknowledged that. And I don’t want to get into individual diplomatic conversations, but the President was likely referring to what we’ve done historically with NATO partners in the region, and that there are particular NATO states that have actually cited where they have interests and concern that they want to coordinate on.
If we look broader at the maximum pressure campaign with Iran, if you recall earlier in 2019, that was inclusive of things like maritime domain awareness. I would say that’s still something that is very much viable when we’re looking at freedom of navigation and maritime information sharing. There is also some physical aspects when we talk about the access and ability to work with the energy industry. Those are some shared interests that remain.
So much of what was of concern before the kinetics and before the posture shift with Iran, for some of these states, it’s certainly been an augmented of interest, and a different type of risk assessment maybe than what they had six months ago.
QUESTION: Anything new on the Javelins? Because the Ukrainians said they were ready to buy them. Is that – is there a timeline for that sale?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So, I mean, we’ve already completed notification. The Javelin purchase, like any other armament other than our tiered review process with Congress and our formal notification, there’s the actual manufacturing. So I know – I recall there were estimates when we did the letter of offer. I don’t want to guess as to delivery timelines right now, but I would say that when we’re talking about actual delivery dates, there’s several windows, and when it is something like the Javelin, oftentimes industry will deliver in tranches based on whatever requirements we’ve spelled out on schedule with a partner.
MODERATOR: All right.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But we – that’s something we can follow up on.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
MODERATOR: Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.