SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good afternoon, everybody. And I appreciate the opportunity to welcome my friend and counterpart, the defense minister from France, Defense Minister Le Drian, who I have had the opportunity to work with over the last year-and-a-half dealing with many issues in many locations.
And he is no stranger to the Pentagon, been here a number of times. So, I appreciate him taking some time today to join us.
We have a strong partnership, friendship, the French people, the American people, our two nations. And these historic bonds were reflected I think once again in our meeting today. We covered a very full range of issues, a range of security challenges confronting both our countries. And we reaffirmed our shared resolve to address these challenges together.
On the threat of violent extremism in the Middle East, I thanked Minister Le Drian for France’s leading role in the international coalition to destroy ISIL. As you know, France was the first coalition nation to join the United States in conducting airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq, which are enabling the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish security forces to take the offensive against ISIL.
American and French forces will continue to work side by side to support Iraqi forces on the ground, as French aircraft patrol the skies over Iraq and provide valuable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance on ISIL targets. And we welcome the United Kingdom and other nations’ participation in these efforts as well.
The minister and I discussed how we can continue to build our coalition, strengthen our coalition, and support the new government of Iraq. And I appreciate his insights from his recent trip to Baghdad. The United States and France recognize the grave threat that ISIL poses to our shared regional interests and to our citizens. The recent murder of a French hostage in Algeria was another stark reminder of the deadly threats that ISIL presents to our countries.
Our discussion today also focused on security challenges in North and West Africa where we face surges of violent extremism, instability and deadly infectious disease. France’s leadership in confronting extremist threats in the Sahel is particularly important as the United States continues to provide support to French operations in Mali, including airlift, refueling and intelligence cooperation, as we’ve done since early last year.
I updated Minister Le Drian on the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola crisis and the U.S. military’s operations in Liberia in support of this overwhelming effort. As the French military assists its government responses to Ebola in Guinea, we agreed to continue to coordinate our efforts across the region.
Finally, the minister and I discussed the situation in Ukraine and its impact on European security. Following our discussions at the NATO summit in Wales, we agreed on the importance of reinforcing NATO allies in Eastern Europe and strengthening the readiness and capabilities of the NATO alliance. A strong and united NATO will be critically important to assuring a Europe whole, free and at peace.
That goal remains a cornerstone of America’s approach to global and trans-Atlantic security.
I want to again thank Minister Le Drian for his leadership and for his friendship. I look forward to continuing our work together to strengthen this special alliance.
Thank you very much.
Minister Le Drian?
MINISTER OF DEFENSE JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN (through translator): Thank you, my dear Chuck, first of all for the kind words that you just said for me, and also at the same time for your invitation to come here in Washington in order to talk about all the different facets of the cooperation between both our countries in terms of defense. In fact, this is my fourth visit to the Pentagon since I’ve been named minister in May 12.
We also saw each — each other in other places. Chuck just mentioned the NATO Summit in Wales. We also saw each other not long ago in Normandy for the anniversary of the Normandy landings.
I came here several times to meet Chuck Hagel. And every time, we have had complicity in our analysis, and we understand each other as to the fundamentals. And I wanted to underline that. It has been recalled (inaudible).
During these talks today, we mentioned Sahel. You know that in the heart of Africa, from Mauritania to Libya, terrorist groups of jihadists type are a threat for the security of the Liberian state and for Europe. And in this area of cooperation between Africans, Americans and French people is a determining factor in order to keep maintaining pressure on groups such as Al Qaida in the Maghreb, Ansar al-Dine, al-Murabitun — groups that keep on trying to come back from the zones of their past actions. And the intervention of France has managed to push them back.
We have set up a wider system, a wider positioning since August. It’s called Operation Barkhane. Around five African countries. It allows us to contain and prevent terrorist attempts. And we’d like to thank the United States of America for their support in our action in this area, both, as you said, thanks to the exchange of intelligence, financial support and the sharing of different capacities. And we agreed that this cooperation is going to go on.
As to the Sahel region, I told Chuck Hagel, once again, how worried France is about the situation in Libya. Jihadist groups are getting better in zones that are not organized, and they pursue all kinds of illicit, illegal traffics. And we hope that the international community is going to face this problem soon, and do so that this deployment stops, because it favors recruitment and the development of terrorism in this zone of the Sahel and Sahara.
I told Chuck Hagel that my concern, the concern of France, is the risk of a connection, of a network between all these different terrorist groups that are acting all over the area, from Nigeria to the Middle East. And we have to prevent of all this risks of networking.
And, finally, we — of course, we mentioned the situation in Iraq and in Syria. France is facing its responsibilities in the indispensable fight against ISIL. France is an active partner in international coalition. Our armed forces are busy on the theater of operation, both to support Iraq and the Kurds against the so-called ISIL. And since September 15th, the French Air Force has been carrying out strikes in the framework of the coalition to support Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces. And both — this allows for intelligence and the destruction of certain targets.
The president of France has decided yesterday in a defense council to strengthen this positioning with three more fighter planes, and with more intelligence assets, especially the sending of a French frigate in the area.
And I told Chuck Hagel that in this anti-terrorist struggle, we must together think about the long term. And that in the long term, France will keep all its place.
STAFF: We’ll start two questions each side. We’ll start with Stan.
Q: Thank you very much for the question. First question is for Secretary Hagel. There was so far two rounds of strikes by the French air force. They were reported in the French press that most of the strikes planned by the French air force were vetoed by the U.S. chain of command.
Would you be able to confirm that? And I guess the question goes as well for Mr. Drian.
Q (through translator): Second question, for Mr. Drian. We have information that’s saying that some French intelligence allowed American strikes in Aleppo, in Syria, on the Khorasan group. Do you confirm this? Has the French intelligence been used by the United States?
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. As to your question for me, we coordinate, the United States and France, all of our strikes. And the specifics of those coordinating dimensions, I don’t know the specifics of any of them.
But be assured that the focus, the objective of those strikes is to be effective against ISIL. And we work together. That means we share intelligence, we share all of our assets on our focus of those assets to make sure that those strikes are effective, and that includes the best intelligence we can share on targets.
MIN. LE DRIAN (through translator): Thank you. As to the questions about the attack on the Khorasan first, it is true, we have an excellent cooperation in this field of intelligence, and this good cooperation means also that we don’t give third parties, even great journalists, any details about intelligence. This is part of mutual trust.
I answered. No, he answered as to a veto against strikes, no we have an excellent cooperation, constituting strikes, and it’s very transparent as well.
STAFF: Next question will be from Lita Baldor, Associated Press.
Q: Hi. Thank you. Mr. Secretary, so far France has not participated in actively in strikes in Syria. Did that issue come up during your conversations, and considering the gains that the Islamic State has made, particularly in Kobani, where the situation is quite desperate, as well as in Anbar. Do you need additional assistance from countries like France and other allies to beef up the campaign against the Islamic State? Because things aren’t moving as rapidly as maybe you might have thought.
And for — for the minister, do you expect that France will decide to participate more actively in airstrikes in Syria, or do you rule that part out completely?
SEC. HAGEL: Lita, your first question, yes we did discuss possibilities of France’s involvement in Syria. And I think the minister noted that in his remarks. ISIL’s threats to all of us do not reside just in — in within certain boundaries of certain countries. So, it was an issue we did discuss.
As to your second question, I would go back to what president Obama said and what I have said — I think what Chairman Dempsey and others, this effort against ISIL with our coalition partners, both in Syria and Iraq, is going to be difficult and it’s going to be long. And there were no misconceptions when we started this that there would be any quick finish.
So, the strikes have been effective. We know they’re being effective. They continue to be effective. But again, as the president said, as I’ve said, this is an enduring, long, and difficult effort.
MIN. LE DRIAN (through translator): As to the questions that you asked me from the outset, we are the very beginning of this coalition. It has just started being formed. It is acting, but it’s just being formed. And therefore we are in a long-term process.
Secondly, France intervened as a support to the authorities of Iraq, which requested it, applying Article 51 of the U.N. charter. And France is there because of that request. And we are in the coalition because of that request. And of course, we are sharing tasks.
STAFF: Next question would be Valerie, France 2
Q (through translator): Hello my first question to Chuck Hagel and to the minister. You said that the intervention in Iraq would take a long time. According to you, training the Iraqi army is going to take how long? That’s my first question.
Second question, do you share the fear of the French minister of the networking of the connection between the terrorists in Sahel and the terrorists in the Middle East? And if yes, what practical consequences do you draw from that, both of you?
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. As to your question on how long, I don’t know how long. We know that as we have said that we are in the process, as the minister noted, of putting together a very effective coalition to strike at ISIL in Iraq, of over 40 nations.
All 40 nations will be participating in some way. This, as I have noted, again, is not easy. It is difficult. But we have every confidence that in fact we will degrade and destroy the capabilities of ISIL.
As to your second question, on the interconnection of terrorists, whether they’re in North Africa or the Middle East, extremists, terrorists of any kind, anywhere, always share a certain common dimension of their effort. They are not there to build or to encourage or to make a better world. They are there to tear down and destroy and brutalize and kill innocent people.
So, in many respects you cannot disconnect what’s going on in North Africa with the Middle East. As you know, there are many dimensions to terrorist groups. Many are affiliated with Al Qaida. There are independent off-shoots from Al Qaida. But all share the same brutal objective.
So, no, you can’t discount that reality.
MIN. LE DRIAN (through translator): As to the question of the links between different groups, very often I draw the attention on this particular point with a new angle from now on because of the very composition and the very attractivity of ISIL. Since there are around 10,000 foreign fighters today within ISIL, and they come from France, from Belgium, from Britain, but also from Tunisia, from Morocco, Saudi Arabia. But also from Chechnya, Caucasus, Indonesia.
So, there is a capacity for growth and spreading, which is obvious. Second remark that I wanted to make on this particular point, is that we have noticed that weak states are very propitious to the growth of this terrorism. They are good soil for that. And also thirdly, we’ve discovered that the porosity of some borders brings about more dangers.
And the question was how to fight. We have to do it both on the military side and, of course, without neglecting any theater of operation. Also, we have to prevent. And finally, we have to support countries so that they are stronger and we have to defend borders.
All this is a global job. And I think it’s the international community, which has to take into account the globality of what is at stake.
STAFF: Dan De Luce, AFP
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you have a reaction to Turkey’s decision to enter the fray against ISIL? And is the U.S. government seriously considering creating a buffer zone in northern Syria that would alleviate the plight particularly of the Kurdish population?
And then to you, Mr. Minister, did you discuss today with Mr. Hagel the planned sale of French naval ships to Russia? If the French government is not going to cancel that sale, what else is the French government prepared to do to penalize Russia for its actions in Ukraine?
SEC. HAGEL: On your questions, regarding the Turkish parliament’s vote today, we view that as a very positive development. We appreciate the parliament’s overwhelming vote. We will continue to consult with the Turkish government on the specifics of how the implementation of that authority would be carried out. And we welcome it very much.
As to the buffer zone, we are not currently planning any such development. As I said I think last week, we continue to talk with the Turkish government about many options. But there are no plans for that option right now.
MIN. LE DRIAN (through translator): As to the questions that I was asked about, the delivery of command ships which are being built in a French shipyard, this delivery should take place to Russia, which is the client of these shipyards. The decision will be taken at the time of delivery. And that’s when it was supposed to be taken also. And that should be at the end of October, beginning of November.
The French president in September announced that if the question had been asked then, the conditions were not such that he could allow this delivery. And he mentioned two elements for the conditions. First, a lasting ceasefire. And on the other hand, the start of a serious political process. And it is — we’re looking at both conditions and he’s going to take his decision at that time.
STAFF: Thank you very much, everybody.