Acting Secretary Shanahan En Route Press Gaggle - Singapore to ROK

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan


ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK SHANAHAN:  All right.  I've been doing some homework this morning in preparations.  This is like the out-brief, OK.  So you may want to have this on the record or off the record, but it's more just a little bit about the trip. 

So first, thank you.  I think we're -- it's been a good trip so far.  I have to do a special mention to Silvie for the China catch.

Q:  (off mic)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, no, just so that we could make sure for the interaction that you guys were there, and I would just -- this is kind of my, you know, setup for the trip to Brussels.  They're a bunch of things we've probably learned on this trip that we should think about getting incorporated into the next trip.  And I think, Helene, you were saying, like, how do we keep making things newsworthy, and you know, speak to the American, you know, public and a variety of audiences.

But also that, you know, you're work gets placed in the right.  You know, the placement is good and also that your management thinks, you know, this is a good use of resources.

And why I bring this up is that -- we had a whole bunch of opportunity of these -- you know, there's like the photo spray on the front end, where we're just all kind of standing around.

And we ought to think about if we have some of that in Brussels how we do we use some of these segments there to either provide some context.  You know, you're on camera.  And you know, just like, here's what we're going to do in this bilateral.  Or here's something that we've learned, not so much do Q&A, but like at least generate some content, because we had -- we had  time to kill there.  So just -- just a thought there.

I went through the itinerary, just did a little, you know, look at how productive we've been, so since we've left it's been about 114 hours.  We've had three stops, and I added up the time that it took to fly, the logistics between, you know, the airport and the hotel, so that was 25 hours.

So if you look at how much time we've been doing things, 89 hours, but that doesn't include sleep.  So in those 89 hours I've done 27 events, and met with 18 countries.  So I think, you know, these -- these trips are pretty productive.

I thought maybe what I'd do, and then we can do some Q&A is just like, try to summarize, you know, thoughts about the -- those 27 events and the interactions.

You know, on a top level, just from an evaluation standpoint, I thought it was -- this has been productive, in terms of being able to work issues, make decisions.

You know, in these bilaterals, it's -- you sometimes wonder, you know, you're going to go out there and just have happy talk; so it really was working issues, and the candor and the interaction is -- is really pretty high.

And then we also identified, you know, real concrete opportunities.  So there's real follow-up.

The relationship building was very valuable, and then you know just -- you know, I create my own team.  The preparation and the work that went into these meetings was good, or you know, excellent.  Because you know, the policy team does a lot of work in advance, so you get into these meetings and you find out, are we really working on things that are important, or is this just kind of show up and put people in a room.

Not scripted in terms of the talk, but really scripted in terms of, these are important items to discuss and get feedback on and make decisions.

And then it was nice to have the secretary of the Navy there, Richard Spencer, and General Nakasone, obviously, Admiral Davidson.  And respect for INDOPACOM was, you know, just tremendous.

In terms of themes, and this being free and open Indo-Pacific, here were the -- you know, if you had to do the heat map of things that came up -- the value and importance of the U.S., the value and importance of the ASEAN, the criticality of having counter-terrorism capability, the need for increased maritime capability, the importance of rule-based order, and the real value and importance of training and interoperability with the U.S.

And then just inside the meetings that I had, just you think about feedback and interaction, very constructive.  The focus was on activity, not policy.  It means that we -- we discussed policy; it was more on, what are the things that we're -- we're going to go do.

Great appreciation for the U.S. and respect for the U.S. and the Department of Defense.  And then they liked my speech.  You know, they said, the tone -- the tone was excellent, and it really emphasized inclusion.  And that's maybe kind of just an around the world quickly on Shangri-La.

We can answer some questions, but I also have a follow-up on the USS McCain that we can reserve time to go through.  So do you want to go through the...

Q:  (off mic)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  We can do that, and go back to this, sure.  OK, all right.

So we said we'd talk about what we found out, so I wrote it down, so we didn't have to, like, get it incorrect.  I'll put my glasses on here so we don't miss anything.

So the White House military office coordinated directly with the 7th Fleet, and the White House military office gave a directive that the USS John McCain, it should be hidden from view. 

The directive was not carried out.  All ships remained in normal configuration during the visit.  The USS John McCain was not moved.  It remained in its original assigned berth.  The name of the USS John McCain was not obscured.  A paint barge was moved the day prior to the POTUS visit to support ongoing maintenance, and this is routine for ships undergoing maintenance while afloat. However the paint barge did not obscure the view of the ship during the visit.

A white tarp was placed over the stern on the days preceding the visit, but this was for hope, preservation, and not to obscure the name of the ship.

So the tarp was removed prior to the POTUS visit.  The crew of the USS John McCain was not singled out for exclusion from the event or given liberty specifically to keep the sailors out of view of the visit.  The sailor of the USS John McCain and the USS Stethem were on 96-hour Memorial Day weekend liberty, unrelated to the visit.

Sailors assigned to the USS John McCain were not directed to remove their caps.  All participating commands were directed to wear eight-point cover headgear, traditional for this kind of ceremony.

And lastly, my executive office received no correspondence on this subject prior to the visit.  OK.

Q: On that.  You've talked to your chief of staff on this issue.  Have you asked him and your other staff whether they have any previous knowledge at all about this?  Whether they were informed in any way, or there was an e-mail or anything?  And are you -- and did you have a discussion with Admiral Davidson about whether or not he was aware about this.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yes, so -- we'll take one at a time.  So, you know, my chief of staff was not aware.  And I think I shared with the -- shared this with you earlier, that we have this, you know, this scrub of any e-mails sent to my office, and there were none.

And I did not talk to Admiral Davidson about this.  That's -- you know, before I -- it was -- my direction was, go engage with the 7th Fleet -- the CNO, and I'm trying to remember the third -- third party.

But I asked -- maybe say it a different way -- I was using this review to get the information.  I didn't want to get different answers; I want one -- one inquiry.  Does that make sense?  Yes, so...

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Can I follow up too --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Sure.

Q:  -- on one thing.  And this may be something that you're in the process of following up on as well.  I understand with the paint barge, but the tarp situation just seemed a little confusing to me, because it was -- the reasoning that the Navy had told me, as well as that it was hull preservation...

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yes.

Q:  But it was only put on on Friday, and it was removed on Saturday.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  I just didn't understand why...

SEC. SHANAHAN:  We'll have to get the Navy to explain.  I'm not an expert on -- on that.

Yes.

Q:  So you need to follow up; we're interested in that.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- I.G. investigation, or are you sort of going to (inaudible)?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No, I'm not planning any I.G. investigation.

Q:  I'm sorry?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I said no, because there was nothing really carried out.

Q:  (off mic)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Sure.

Q:  -- at least the statement (inaudible) answers a lot of questions that we didn't ask and addresses -- it's almost like striking down strongmen.  You say the ship was never moved -- nobody reported that the ship was moved.  We reported that the ship was -- was hidden, that the tarp was hungover.  Also said that no McCain sailors were asked to remove their hats.  We didn't report that they were asked to remove their hats.  We said they weren't allowed into the speech because they were wearing their hats.

So, that's sort of -- this sounds like -- it reads as if it's been written by a navy that's trying to cover themselves and this -- are answering --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Sure.

Q:  -- They're striking down things that nobody -- that's a classic way that people manage to like go around the (inaudible).

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Again, the only thing I can respond to is, we talked to me going and getting some facts on the situation and these were the facts that were reported back to me.

Q:  Are you satisfied with the facts that they've given back to you?  Do you feel comfortable as (inaudible)?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I think the way I've been approaching this is, for the last 89 hours and 27 events, I've been focused on the activities at hand as well as a lot of other operational issues in the world.  When I get back to Washington DC and I can sit with the people that have, you know, investigated or reviewed this, I'll be able to get a sense for the comprehensiveness and --

Q:  But you just said there wouldn't be an IG investigation.  It sounds like --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No -- no, no.  No, no.  No, no.  If I sit down with somebody, it doesn't mean there's an investigation.  I want to sit down with the people that have done this work.

Q:  Does that mean --

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  They're -- they're -- they're different.  But just sitting down with my chief of staff and asking questions, a little bit like what Helene was saying, just getting some more detail and background when you have a few minutes, that's not an IG investigation.

Q:  I understand but what I'm hearing you say is you want -- you can't say with certainty that you're satisfied with the answers you get until you get more information.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I -- yes.

Q:  Yet, you ruled out an IG investigation; that's what I heard you say.  So, that's what I mean --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No, no, you asked me, am I intending to do an IG investigation?  Which is, right now, with the information I have, no.  I want to sit down with my team and go through and have an understanding of the situation with a full set of facts.  Again, said, hey, look I'm going to go ask for some information and I'll report out to you what I find.  I'll find out some more information and when I do, I'll share that with you.

Q:  What kind of --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  The White House military office sent this directive the 17th.  Who in the White House military office sent this?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I don't have that here.

Q:  Do you want to find out who sent it?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Do I want to -- do you know?  Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

Q:  No, do you want to find out who sent this?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yes, I want to find out -- yes.

Q:  Have you spoken to anybody in the McCain family about this incident?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I have.

Q:  Who?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Cindy McCain.

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No, no.  I called her.  But that is a conversation between her and I.

(CROSSTALK)

STAFF:  Can we do one at a time?  We'll be here to answer your questions.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I'm not going anyplace.

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah.  Those are -- it was a -- it was a private conversation.

Q:  Can you just tell us when it happened?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  What's that?

Q:  When it happened.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Wait, I can't hear.

Q:  When?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  It was a couple days ago.  I've lost track of time, but --

STAFF:  It was about 48 hours ago, sir.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah.

Q:  Sir, it goes (back ?) to the (inaudible).  What can you do to prevent that -- an incident like that occurs -- happens again?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, let's say that these facts, right, that they said -- I'll read you the -- I'll read it to you over again.  The directive was not carried out.  That's pretty good.  The directive was not carried out.  So, that, to me --

Q:  But you know that an order was given to do something, so --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  So, the -- the military did not carry out that directive.

Q:  (Inaudible), you also said that it came from the White House to 7th fleet.  So, that is that there was a political system that didn't go through the judicial chain of command.  These orders don't go directly, usually, from the White House to 7th fleet.  And you said that you want to make sure that the military's apolitical.  How can it remain apolitical if the White House has the ability to communicate directly with 7th fleet?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  There's no restriction on how people can send e-mail.

Q:  The chain of command.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Right.  I'm going to go back and review these -- this information, so --

Q:  Are you angry about this situation overall, (inaudible) White House staffer writing 7th fleet?  Does that anger you?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Politicizing the military -- yeah, I don't get angry so let's be careful about the word.  There's no -- there's no room for politicizing the military.  OK?  So --

Q:  Does that mean you're pissed off?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No, I just -- we don't need that.  Right?

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  (Inaudible) sort of like lumbered over the 27 events and (inaudible) and you have this John McCain and you're halfway around the world, does that disappoint you that this is something that you have to --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No, I -- you know, look.  Reality -- these things happen.  We -- I think to your point, we don't want to politicize the military.  I'll deal with this in an appropriate manner.  We take these incidents seriously and my office and others will deal with it directly.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, what is your biggest -- what is your biggest concern about this?  What is the question -- key question you want answered, you haven't gotten an answer to yet?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, I think the question all of you have.  When this information came in, how was it dealt with?  And it's a big organization, there's lots of avenues, there's lots of people with initiative that might do some outreach but when people received the information, how did they treat it?  And then that'll give me, you know, understanding of what would be the next steps.

Q:  At this point, no IG investigation (inaudible)?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Because I want to follow through with -- with the facts.

Q:  (Inaudible)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I haven't spoken with the president about the issue.

Q:  (Inaudible)

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Why -- why should we switch now?

Q:  (Inaudible) 27 engagements.  The reporting we got on the ground was that your speech was received different views.  What were some of the skeptical points about American policy?  Some of the people that we spoke to like the Malaysian defense minister said that, in some ways, your actions may divide with your policies in the region.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Can you -- can you say?  I mean, you said the Malaysian?

Q:  He said it was a normal speech and it was about studying America's policy, explaining it, but it doesn't sort of go -- it doesn't resolve the tensions that exist between China and the United States in the South China Sea and Indo-Pacific.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Right.  Well, the intent wasn't to resolve.

Q:  (Inaudible)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I mean, the -- the intent of the speech was to explain what we're doing.  You know, in terms of -- it wasn't to describe the strategy.  It was, what is our -- what are our intentions, what are we actually doing in the Indo-Pacific to make sure that it's free and open, and the real kind of the undertone was inclusivity.

Q:  (off mic)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  One of the things we should really emphasize that the Shangri-La dialogue is it's about a free and open Indo-Pacific and it's not about China.  So --

Q:  It was on everybody's mind.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  And then that -- and then that's why I tried to really emphasize what kinds of behaviors are inappropriate that are really creating friction and divide in the Indo-Pacific.  And for us to go address some of these problems or things that create friction, we should be very candid and transparent about what's happening in the South China Sea.  What are some of these influence operations?  What's happening with the theft of intellectual property or maritime operations?

And that was a theme also inside these bilaterals.  All right, let's start to address what the problems are.  Let's not kind of skirt the issues.  And for some people, that's a little intimidating.  But if you don't talk about some of these hard issues -- these have been ignored.  I mean, that's the reality of the situation.  They've really been ignored.  So.

Q:  Do you see the region dividing --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No.

Q:  -- From (China ?) --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No, I don't.  I don't.

Q:  Can I ask you a couple questions about your trilat?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Which -- with --

Q:  The one that was today?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah, yeah.

Q:  Yeah, what was your key take away from that today?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, the biggest takeaway for me was the level of cooperation and interaction between the Republic of Korea and Japan.  I mean, the -- Minister Iwaya and Minister Jeong have a very good relationship.  Cohesion there was quite high and they're very good to work with.  And when you think about the situation with North Korea and really being able to not just pick up the phone but address concerns and issues, having that type of open and warm relationship makes, in a very dynamic environment like we have, gives you confidence that we'll be able to stay aligned.

There's real differences politically, so how do you keep the defense organizations together?

Q:  The Japanese defense minister, he pointed out that there was no tangible evidence of denuclearization.  It almost felt as if he was frustrated.  He also said we don't need to be sending -- we as a team do not need to be sending North Korea a false message, something to that effect.  Did you sense any frustration in your trilat?

(LAUGHTER)

Q:  Did he express that frustration in the trilat?  Did you sense that from him?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No, I think he's -- he's been very consistent on his messaging and I think the Japanese have been very consistent on their messaging.  And I think he wanted to be on record as, you know, this is how Japan views the current situation with North Korea.

Q:  Are things at --

Q:  (Inaudible)  How does something like that affect your thinking about the ongoing negotiations with North Korea and what we're trying to do?  Does it even matter?  Or is it just, fine, we'll send somebody else and just deal with whoever they send?  How do you (inaudible)?  I'm still trying to get my head around that.  I'm curious --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah, no, no, no.  I -- first of all, I haven't seen or heard anything that confirms that -- so, a little bit like the USS McCain.  Get some facts before -- a few more facts.  The conversation -- that did not come up in any conversation.

Q:  (Inaudible).

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I know.  But it didn't -- it didn't come up.

Q:  Are you going to miss the (Inaudible).

SEC. SHANAHAN:  But the --

(LAUGHTER)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  But it didn't come up.

Q:  (Inaudible).

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah, the --

Q:  Does it matter?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, we'll find out if -- it -- the negotiations matter.  That's -- that's the really important issue is, how do we make progress on the negotiations?  Secretary Pompeo, that's his role.  My role is to support diplomacy and focus on readiness and the enforcement of the U.N. sanctions.

Q:  So you were with your Chinese counterpart yesterday and you said it was (inaudible) constructive.  And then today, he gave a speech that was quite bellicose.  Do you think your sort of interaction with him had any sort of impact, was helpful?  Because it doesn't seem like he took any of the words on-board.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, I've asked the policy team to get me a writeup and an assessment of what he said.  So, rather than comment on it -- we'll have time tomorrow, I'll give you some thoughts on the content.  I really don't know what he said or how he said it, so (inaudible).

Q:  You said in your speech that you spoke (inaudible) about promises not respected.  And he said he was very clear, we make no promise to renounce the use -- the use of force about Taiwan.  Is US ready to go to war?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, I think in my speech I was really clear.  We're not about conflict, we're about, you know, following the rule of law.  We didn't -- we didn't talk about Taiwan.  My interaction with -- with General Wei was really about, how do we establish more military-to-military interaction.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, can you address -- so that you're going into Korea now and you're to see (inaudible) commanders there.  What are your thoughts on any additional military exercises with South Korea this year and can you -- what is your assessment or what are you hoping to hear about the missile launches?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yes, I wasn't so much interested to talk about the missile launches, not from the standpoint of -- and I've got a lot of background on that.  I do want to talk about our readiness and, you know, ensure that the things that we need to do to be prepared if diplomacy fails, that we have them in place, but also this continued enforcement of the U.N. sanctions.  So it's really -- the visit is to be very operational.  You know, it's a little bit of go kick the tires, and then -- that's the value of a lot of these trips, you get dedicated time on a particular subject we have -- I'll be with General Abrams and, you know, really the leadership there in Korea.

But it'll be -- it'll be like you described.  I want to focus on, you know, our military operations there and our integration with the Koreans.

Q:  Are you open to (inaudible) some of the larger exercises this year based on what you hear about the U.S. military and South Korean   

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Our -- our discussion is really to talk about our current readiness.  We're not -- yes, I would say -- I don't think that's our intent, is to say do we need to go grow and expand our exercises.  But I -- you asked the question am I going there to talk to them about growing and expanding, I'm going there --

Q:  (Inaudible) --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Restoring.  Yes, no, I want to make sure that the plan we put in place is sufficient. 

Q:  So you -- you don't have -- you don't want to - you're not thinking that this --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I don't think it's necessary. 

Q:  You don't think it's necessary to restore any of the major exercises?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Correct.

Q:  (Inaudible) the readiness level has not been effected at all the entire year that we had no large scale military exercises?  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I'm confident that we have the readiness that we are required to have, the operational forces and the posture.  And this has -- this has been reaffirmed to me by the chairman, General Abrams, Admiral Davidson.

Q:  But doesn't that sort of enforce the point, then (inaudible).

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I didn't say that.  I think the question was are you going to expand --

Q:  Because they were canceled last year --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yes. 

Q:  -- as part of the negotiations --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Right.

Q:  -- there's been sort of an ongoing debate about --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well let's --

Q:  -- whether they should or should not --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well let's do this.  Let's ask this question tomorrow and say based on what you've learned, what's your, you know, assessment of the situation.  And then how do we relate it back to some of the things that we were doing before.  I think, Helene, that's where you're going, is have you had a deterioration or is the change really more in the publicity but the capability that's required has been retained and the readiness level is appropriate.  We're also doing work with the Koreans in terms of transferring operational control.  So I want to also go through those -- those exercises.

Q:  So I think the next big one is August, (inaudible).  So just so I'm clear in my mind, at this point you don't have any intention of restoring it, but it's something you talk about with your counterpart and General Abrams.  Is that fair? 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Let -- me see what we cover tomorrow, all right?  I don't have the exact script of the things that are on there, but I can answer that tomorrow.  Good?

STAFF:  All right, last question here.

Q:  You've been getting (inaudible) --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I have.

Q:  (off mic)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Nothing new to report, but I have very, very regular updates on not just a daily basis but multiple times a day.

Q:  Where are we on getting the -- the classified information declassified, sir?  Oh, just -- just on Iran.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Where are we?

Q:  Yes, because we -- we still want to see evidence.  We still see nothing that --

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No, no, I know.  It may take some time.  OK?  All right?  OK?  Good everybody?