Joint Media Availability with Secretary Carter and Minister Eriksen Søreide in Oslo, Norway

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide


STAFF: I have the pleasure of introducing the U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and Defense Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide.

Welcome.

(APPLAUSE)

NORWEGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER INE MARIE ERIKSEN SOREIDE: Thank you.

I've had the pleasure of hosting Secretary Carter for a visit in Norway for almost two days. It's been wonderful to have him here. We have been discussing and also developing our already very close relationship. I call Ash a true friend and a very good colleague, and that's no coincidence.

The U.S. is our most important ally. And one of the things that we have been doing today is actually showing Secretary Carter a piece of what Norwegian armed forces is and what they can do. And we've had a wonderful trip to Bodø, and we have been experiencing some of the things that we do with our armed forces.

We have also, of course, been discussing a range of issues from the security situation in the north, specifically challenges in the North Atlantic. We have been discussing in depth also the Middle East and our common endeavors in Operation Inherent Resolve. And we also have been going quite deeply into our new long-term defense plan.

It's important for us to take security and defense seriously. And we show that also through the new long-term defense plan with an historic increase in funding and also combined with necessary reform and also investments in strategic capabilities.

It's been great to have Ash here and I of course hope that he has -- is coming back with (inaudible) impressions and of course cooperation and relationship that we can build on even further. Of course, also other issues of pressing concern in the world have been on the agenda and I know that Ash will comment on them just a couple of minutes from now.

What we have is built on decades of strong cooperation; intelligence within the armed forces, we have been operating abroad for many, many years. And that solid relationship is what we're building on and we're now deepening it further.

So it's been a wonderful pleasure to host you, Ash, and I hope that some of the things that we have discussed also will be things that we will work on in the future together. I know that we have a couple of points that we will work through for the next couple of months, so thank you.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Thank you very much. Good afternoon everyone and thank you all for being here. It's a real pleasure for me to be here in Norway and I want to give a special thanks to my colleague and my friend, Minister Ine Søreide, for having me here and for everything she does for our common defense. And also, for showing me this beautiful as well as incredibly capable country and its military.

And I'm going to discuss that visit, but as she and I were talking about earlier today, and she just mentioned, I need first to provide you, if I may, with an update on the situation on the Korean Peninsula. I just spoke to the minister of Defense of the Republic of Korea, Minister Han, about the latest North Korean nuclear test.

This nuclear test constitutes a direct challenge to the entire international community. It is another destabilizing and provocative act by North Korea that further heightens anxiety on the Korean Peninsula and throughout the vital Asia-Pacific region.

I confirmed to Minister Han that we stand with our South Korean ally in strongly condemning this action, and I reaffirmed our ironclad commitment to the defense of South Korea and our other allies in the region.

As you know, U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula are always ready, and this is true every single day, to fight tonight. I assured Minister Han that the United States and the Department of Defense are standing with North Korea (sic Republic of Korea), standing guard 24/7 to deter and defend against the North Korean threat with all aspects of our extended deterrent capabilities, including conventional capabilities, missile defense and the nuclear umbrella.

We also agreed that the international community, the United Nations Security Council and especially the other Six-Party powers must hold North Korea accountable for this latest act and heighten the pressure on North Korea, especially through tightening of sanctions commensurate with the gravity of this act. I will continue to remain in close contact with Minister Han and our other allies and partners in the region and with our commanders as we monitor the situation and assess our next steps.

Now, as I said, this was an excellent visit for me, inspiring visit for me. North Korea -- North Korea (sic Norway), oh Jesus. Norway -- Norway is a --

(Laughter.)

Norway is a strong, indispensable security partner on many, many fronts to the United States. In the North Atlantic and Arctic, in Afghanistan as part of the counter-ISIL campaign and a strong partner in many ways bilaterally within NATO, and as I mentioned, in other ways like the counter-ISIL campaign.

Norway's taking seriously the challenges of this new strategic era and adapting its armed forces, some of whom I observed in action today up in Bodø. The United States appreciates this commitment, admires this skill and stands by to assist in any way we can.

The ministry of defense's recent long-term plan is an important step in this effort. And I wanted to commend it. I've read it, benefited from it. It's an impressive plan, and one that will help Norway continue to contribute security in Europe and beyond. And it -- what it recognizes is that technology changes, and as threats change, the optimal defense posture for all of us changes.

And our nation, speaking for the United States, is also similarly striving to innovate, to keep ahead of all the threats. And I appreciate the efforts here.

We know and observe that Norway's investing in the right way. It's already one of eight NATO -- NATO nations spending at least 20 percent of its defense budget on equipment. That's important. And it's investing in new capabilities that will strengthen both Norway's national defense and NATO. For example, F-35s will replace the (inaudible) F-16s and help further and improve our interoperability.

On the eastern flank and in the high north, Norway's dedicated leadership has been a crucial part of NATO's response to and deterrence of Russian aggression and coercion. For example, Norway will contribute a company to NATO's persistent enhanced forward presence battalion in Lithuania.

In Afghanistan, Norwegian personnel make important contributions to NATO's Resolute Support Mission as mentors to Afghan security personnel and as first responders, especially after recent -- the recent attack on the American University in Kabul.

And as a member of the counter-ISIL coalition, Norway has been a stalwart leader, making vital contributions to the campaign that will deliver to ISIL the lasting defeat that it deserves. In fact, Minister Søreidewas part of a core group of members that I convened last year from the counter-ISIL coalition to make the campaign plan that you've seen unfold this year and to make the commitments we all needed to make to accelerate the accomplishment of that counter-ISIL military campaign plan.

And Norway's consistently answered the call to do more and more, as we have tried to do too in the United States, authorizing over 150 personnel to enable and support the Iraqi security forces and authorizing Norway's personnel to take part in operations in Syria.

Thanks to Minister Søreide's leadership, Norway's contributions and the work and sacrifice of our local partners and services members from the United States, Norway and across our coalition, our campaign has accelerated pressuring and squeezing ISIL, and rolling it back to Mosul in Iraq and Raqqah in Syria.

And Norway, thanks to leaders like Minister Søreide and its professional and principled military personnel, (inaudible) continue to play a leading role in bolstering collectively security and making a better world for all of us. And we appreciate it. Thank you.

STAFF: Thank you.

Then we'll open up for some questions. We'll start with alternating Norwegian and American press. And we'll start with NRK -- (inaudible). We've got a microphone. We have a live broadcast, so we ask that you use the microphone. Thank you. The floor is yours.

Q: So Mr. Secretary, Norway's traditional role in NATO has been to strengthen security in the North Atlantic. But we are also now engaged in the fight against ISIL. On which of these fronts do feel Norway has the most to contribute?

SEC. CARTER: I can't really say because their contribution -- Norway's contributions are invaluable in both cases. I'll just take the two and give you the reasons why.

In the case of the North Atlantic and the Arctic region, it is the part of NATO that is highly exposed because of the vast ocean area here, and of course, that affects Norway's territory and territorial defense of the country itself, as well as that part of NATO. So that's a very important part of geography for the NATO alliance.

And Norway has both the knowledge of this region, the proximity to it for purposes of deployment and so forth. And then amazing capabilities of maritime surveillance, maritime control, and so it has it all when it comes to that mission for NATO.

And as far as the counter-ISIL campaign is concerned, this is something we must do to protect our societies. We have to destroy ISIL in each of the ways that it needs that. We need to do that in Iraq and Syria because that's where it all started. And we need to destroy the fact and the idea that there could be a state based upon the ideology there.

And then we need to destroy it everywhere it has metastasized and then we need to protect our homelands. And we work very closely in all three of those and in no case can we do all that without the cooperation of others who bring to that capabilities that are necessary to do it.

So they're both necessary. I know that's a long answer, but that's because Norway does a lot.

STAFF: Next question from Phil Stewart with Reuters.

Q: Hello?

Minister, could you give us a sense of where discussions are at on the acquisition of P-8A aircraft? We have been told earlier this year that you were thinking about buying five to six of them. How are advanced are those discussions? And to the secretary of North Korea, you said that North Korea needs to be held accountable. Is a military response on the table?

MIN. ERIKSEN SØREIDE: I can start with the P-8s. We have -- as you know, we are operating right now the P-3s and they are aging and we made a decision in the long-term defense plan to continue having that capacity, which means that we have to renew the capacity. And that's not only about the airframes, it's also, of course, about technology.

And we are not yet at a stage where we can say what kind of platforms we will require and the number of platforms, but that will be done in due course. We have presented to parliament a suggestion that we do still operate (inaudible) and it's important for the defense of Norway, it's important for NATO.

And we are, as we like to say, NATO in the north and that's why we have to make sure that we have eyes and ears, that we have a good situational awareness, and operating (inaudible) is one of those strategic platforms for us.

SEC. CARTER: Thanks. And Phil, if I can just comment on that as well, obviously it's -- it's Norway's decision, its own acquisition decision that I can't say anything about that.

I -- I will just say how much we appreciate the accomplishment of that mission by Norway, that maritime surveillance mission which carried out by those aircraft is very, very valuable to all of us who are partners and allies and it's just one of the many things that is done with very high levels of technology and skill by Norway.

But their -- their airframe, we obviously have chosen the P-8. We're very happy with it. But that's entirely their decision.

With respect to North Korea, the -- this test and other North Korean provocations confirm and -- and -- and strengthen our resolve to get on with all the things that we're doing to be able to defend ourselves from and deter North Korean aggression against both ourselves, South Korea, Japan and elsewhere.

And those things range from improvements to our deterrent capability on the peninsula to capabilities like missile defense capabilities of all -- against missiles of all ranges, to include THAAD, which we're adding now which has the particular mission of the defense of the southern part of the peninsula. We also have missile defenses oriented at the defense of the northern part and of Japan and the United States. All of those in the process of being modernized both qualitatively and quantitatively. And then, I mentioned the nuclear umbrella as well, which is always there.

I think we need to, as I said, redouble the pressure on North Korea and that connection in addition to the sanctions which are so important. I guess one other thing I'd -- I'd single out is the role of China. It's China's responsibility. China has and shares important responsibility for this development and has an important responsibility to reverse it.

And so it's important that it use its location, its history and its influence to further the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and not the direction things have been going.

STAFF: Thank you. Then next on the list is (inaudible) -- (inaudible).

Q: This is to Mr. Carter. The Russians, they have decreased (inaudible) for this year between five and 10 percent. Isn't this a good opportunity for NATO to do the same, to sort of lower the level of tensions between Russia and NATO?

SEC. CARTER: No, it's time for NATO to stick with the commitments that it's made, and there are two reasons for that.

The first is that the Russian military buildup continues both qualitatively and quantitatively and simply must be checked in order for deterrence in Europe to remain stronger -- strong. And that's a trend that's been going on for quite some time and we need to take reasonable steps to do that, and that's what the goals that NATO and its individual members have set for themselves reflect.

Secondly, not everything that these nations do to protect themselves, whether in NATO or not, is about Russia. Sadly, we all have other things to be concerned about as well. I mentioned the campaign to protect ourselves against ISIL. That takes real capability. It takes commitment, it takes readiness of forces, it takes highly trained forces, it takes capable, technologically proficient forces.

All of that and those different things are foreseen in your strategic review. And as I said, I read it, I admired it and it seemed that it was laying forth a path for Norway that makes a lot of sense. But it is going to cost money to protect ourselves. And we need to do that in a reasonable way. We're all committed to do it in the most economical way possible, but there are a lot of dangers out there and we've got to protect our people.

STAFF: Next question comes from Paul Sonne of The Wall Street Journal.

Q: I have two questions.

One is for the minister, which is about -- would you consider a -- (inaudible) -- presence for NATO or the U.S. in Norway? Is that something you've considered in the past or is under consideration or would you consider that in the future?

And for the secretary, on North Korea, is it important that North Korea believe that there is a credible military threat in order to -- regarding these nuclear tests -- in order to induce diplomacy? The United Nations has imposed probably some of the most comprehensive and toughest sanctions that it's ever imposed and those seem to have not had an effect or have not -- the regime in North Korea has proved impervious to them.

So is it important that the regime in South -- excuse me -- in North Korea know that there is a credible military threat on the table?

MIN. ERIKSEN SØREIDE : Well, we have considered and that's also laid out in the long-term defense plan is the fact that we see a need for and we want more allied presence during training exercises in Norway.

We have a biannual big exercise called Cold Response. We're very grateful for all nations participating, some of them like the U.S., with quite large contingents and that's something that we highly appreciate. It's a multinational exercise, so we have a lot of countries coming in.

And I think that when we now lay out the long term defense plan, one of the issues that we also have been discussing is more training exercises would be good for the defense of Norway, it would be good for NATO and it enhances what we actually are working on on a daily basis in Afghanistan or other theaters, the interoperability, which is so important for an alliance like NATO. If something were to happen, then it's important that we have that interoperability, we know each other and so forth.

And we have a long-standing close relationship, but also, amongst other things, a prepositioning program in -- (inaudible) -- Norway. It's been there since the beginning of the '80s. And it's been modernized and it's one of the important factors and -- and important milestones we have in our good and solid and constantly growing bilateral relationship.

SEC. CARTER: Well, let me just second that and just say, after having been in the beautiful high north personally, I would like a -- a permanent (inaudible) there, at least during the summer. But that's just me speaking about myself.

With respect to North Korea, we don't wait for developments to take military protective action. So I'll just remind you we have been working on modernizing the conventional deterrent on the Korean Peninsula for some time. There are a number of ways that is being transformed and improved as we speak.

I mentioned missile defenses. We embarked some years ago on the -- increasing the number and the quality of the ground based missile defense in the United States, specifically in anticipation that we always want to be ahead of the threat. That's why also we plan to position as soon as possible. And I'm sure this strength -- this development strengthens everyone's resolve to do that quickly.

The deployment of THAAD, Patriot and other capabilities, radars and so forth, in the Korean Peninsula aimed at missile defense. And then I've already mentioned the nuclear umbrella and a safe, secure and reliable nuclear deterrent, which the United States is also investing in. So we don't wait for things to happen. We anticipate that things will happen. And one of the things we try to do always in the Korean Peninsula is stay ahead of the threat.

As far as pressure of the -- of other sorts, I mentioned the -- especially the importance of tightening sanctions and closing loopholes in sanctions enforcement, especially by countries that have -- the very few that have economic relations with North Korea. And then I also emphasize the importance of especially China, given its historic role there, applying pressure to North Korea and using the influence it has. Has -- it has great responsibility for these developments.

STAFF: Thank you very much.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you. Thanks again.

MIN. ERIKSEN SØREIDE: Thank you.