Media Availability With Secretary Carter en route to Trinidad and Tobago

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

STAFF:  (inaudible) -- The Washington Times, Carlo Munoz.

STAFF:   Hi.

STAFF:  So Laurie's -- (inaudible) -- recorder.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  So I just got off the phone with the Colombian Minister of Defense Villegas, had a nice long conversation with him.  I won't have the opportunity to see him at this ministerial.  He is working very hard on the path to peace and the peace process in Colombia.  He has important responsibilities in that regard.

And I was unable to go to Colombia, as I had originally planned this weekend, because we were watching the hurricane and I was really focused on our preparations for that, making sure every -- DOD was doing everything that it could.

I will meet with his vice minister in the course of this ministerial, but I wanted to touch base with him personally.

I commended him and wished him luck in the pursuit of a path to peace in Colombia.  I thanked him, especially for the -- and appreciated the role of Colombia, not only in seeking peace within its own borders, but it's become an exporter of security to the region, and indeed, not just to the region, but the world, by contributing to U.N. peacekeeping.  It's now discussing a relationship with NATO, and so this is a country in the region with which our military very much enjoys working and they find them very capable and it's a -- it's good to have partners in today's world and Colombia certainly stands out, including in our own hemisphere.

I was able to tell him one thing that I think is important.  You may or may not know that Colombia has a tremendous de-mining problem as a consequence of the years of conflict there, second only to Afghanistan actually, in terms of the danger it poses to the civilian population.  So it's an enormous problem.

And I was able to tell the minister that the United States is going to be able to provide an additional $10 million dollars to Colombia to assist them in that purpose.  And I think that's important, both to go after the problem itself, but also to signify to the population the recognition that their safety is extremely important.

I now am on my way to the Defense Ministerial of the Americas, which is an enormously important meeting begun a couple of decades ago.  I was in the Department of Defense at the time.  As it turns out, I remember it well.

I remember the inauguration of this very well.  And it's an important forum for the ministers of defense in this, our hemisphere, to get together and talk about not only the security issues we face, but the great opportunities that we have.

In terms of issues, we're all trying to deal with our security problems dealing with violent extremism, counter narcotics and other things that affect the whole region and that are regional in their scope and therefore are best combated as a region.

But we also have great opportunities, one of which is to improve the way that our ministries function and perform and deliver security to our people.  You know that's a strong interest of mine and the U.S. Department of Defense.  Wherever we can share best practices and tradecraft, it's important to do so.  And many of these military of course are coming out of a history that is complicated and that doesn't -- and where the military doesn't quite match the needs of their society today.  And my colleagues are trying to make that transformation.  It's one I very much respect.

So that's another opportunity for us to seize at this ministerial when we talk.

I guess the last thing I'd say is that the region that we inhabit, the hemisphere that we inhabit, isn't in the news a lot.  But to me, that doesn't mean that it doesn't get a lot of attention by us, the Department of Defense, it doesn't deserve a lot of attention.  But it's the good kind of attention in which we're working on problems together, looking for new opportunities together and it's a region that is, by and large, blessed with peace and prosperity.  And nobody should take that for granted as you look around the world.  And I don't.  And I'm sure my colleagues and friends, the fellow defense ministers, don't.

So we have lots in our hemisphere to be proud of and happy about and pleased with.  But we do have challenges and it's our job as defense ministers to take them on.  But we're stronger when we work together and we can also learn from one another.

STAFF:  Okay, a question or two?

Q:  Yes, sir, just to -- to follow up quickly on the call that you had with the defense minister.

So in that conversation, did you get an understanding or a sense of where things sort of stand now?

Is it Colombia being almost forced to having -- going back to sort of square one with these talks after the referendum or what was your sense of where things are -- are, moving forward?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I think that they're trying to find a path forward that everyone can agree to.  And that involves internal conversations with which my colleague is very much involved in and I'll let them speak for themselves about what that path might look like.  I don't think that we're in a very good position to see that path for them.

Obviously, we're extremely supportive of the search for a path to peace there.  It, you know, brings a many decades old tragic conflict to an end that's successful or to a conclusion that's successful.  But it's something that only the Colombian people can, in the end, decide.

The only thing I can say is that they have in my colleague, Minister Villegas, President Santos has someone who is extremely knowledgeable about security affairs and so has the experience and a lot of capability to rest upon.  I think his president is fortunate in that regard.

Q:  Hi, Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering if you can give us any additional details about the extent that the U.S. has -- (inaudible) -- that it was potentially targeted and -- (inaudible) -- that intercepted a cache of weapons that they thought were perhaps -- (inaudible)?

Has there been any other similar sort of intercepts that the DOD is aware of since then?

SEC. CARTER:  We're -- well, we've been -- we're always, there and everywhere, highly aware of any risks and threats to our forces.  Our forces are always aware that they -- and they were aware yesterday, these strikes failed to hit them.

But I need to say that the United States forces there and everywhere around the world remain and always are very well prepared to defend themselves.  We will find out the origins of this.  We certainly don't take anything like this lightly.  No one should.  We're determined to preserve freedom of navigation there and everywhere else.

So we're going to get to the bottom of what happened yesterday.

But it's very important to say that our ships are safe and they're, of course, awesomely capable of defending themselves and we are very capable of taking action against anybody who takes action against our warships there or anyone else -- anywhere else, sorry.


Q:  Just a quick follow up on that point.

This is the second ship to have been targeted -- (inaudible) -- many weeks with the -- the Emirati ship that was actually hit by one of these missiles, it seems like there's almost an escalation going on within Yemen right now, very recently.

Has that prompted any consideration of changing the U.S. sort of footprint, or lack thereof, in the country?  I mean --

SEC. CARTER:  (inaudible) -- adjusting our force posture in that area in reaction to the entirety of things that are going on in Yemen and the waters surrounding Yemen.  And again, we remain ready and always prepared for every eventuality.  And our ships are very capable of defending themselves.

STAFF:  Thanks, everyone.  I've got to make sure we get --