U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
|Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook||August 25, 2015|
PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY PETER COOK: Afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the Pentagon.
I've got a statement off the top here, and update regarding the secretary's schedule before I open it up to your questions, which I know you're eager to ask a few questions. So, looking forward to that myself.
First off, an important development in the fight against ISIL. The United States and Turkey have finalized technical details for Turkey's full inclusion in the counter-ISIL coalition operations. This includes full integration into the coalition's air tasking order, which tracks, coordinates, and deconflicts all coalition air operations.
It could take a few days to put these technical arrangements into place at the operational level. We believe that Turkey is committed to fully participating as soon as possible.
Turkey is a NATO ally, close friend of the United States, and an important partner in the international coalition against ISIL. As you know, Turkey is already allowing the use of Turkish bases for U.S. strike and supporting aircraft. That's been a very important force multiplier, as we expect it will continue to compliment our efforts to pressure ISIL on a number of fronts.
Beyond air operations we continue our dialog with Turkey to evaluate options on the most effective means of countering ISIL, including along its borders in a manner that promotes Turkey's security and regional stability.
Now, an update to the secretary's schedule for this week, Secretary Carter will travel to three states starting on Wednesday, highlighting some of his key priorities as secretary at each stop along the way. On Wednesday morning, he will travel to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, the home of TRANSCOM, to take part in the assumption of command ceremony for General Darren McDew. TRANSCOM is the backbone for military operations around the world, and the secretary will highlight the command's vital importance.
That afternoon, the secretary will head to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada where he will get a firsthand look at the ongoing Red Flag exercise: the premier air to air training exercise conducted by the Air Force in cooperation with some of our key international partners. He will also meet with airmen there on the ground.
And on Thursday, he's going to head to California. He's going to be at Camp Pendleton, where he will witness an amphibious training exercise that highlights the Marine Corps' mission as our global rapid response force.
On Friday, the secretary heads to Silicon Valley to continue his effort to build bridges between the Defense Department and the tech community. He will meet with top business leaders in the area, host a round-table at the newly-created Defense Innovation Unit X at Moffett Field, building on his visit back in April, and he will separately announce DOD's participation in a major new economic initiative in the area.
He will fly back to Washington on Saturday morning.
And before I do take your questions, a quick personal note. If you don't mind, I want to express my sincere thanks to Secretary Carter for putting me in this position, for having the confidence in me to take on these responsibilities. I want to thank the many people in and out of this building who have offered me some sound advice on how to carry out those responsibilities, including several people who occupied this podium previously. I sincerely appreciate their thoughts.
And I want to single out Colonel Steve Warren and Captain Jeff Davis and the other members of the press operations team here at the Pentagon who have effectively been doing double duty the last few months.
And I want to express my thanks as well to you all for showing me some patience during this transition period. I know it's been a long time since you had someone up here able to answer your questions, and again, I appreciate your -- your patience.
As someone who's spent his entire professional career as a journalist up until this point, I sincerely respect what it is you all do every day and the importance of your work.
It's my goal to do what I can to help you report on the Department of Defense and the dedicated men and women who work here every day to the best of my abilities.
And with that, I'm going to open it up to questions. I'll start with Lita and AP.
Q: First, thanks, Peter, for doing this. We appreciate it.
Number one, last week, the secretary made it pretty clear that he wanted Turkey to do more. Does this agreement answer in full what he was looking for, particularly some of the border enhancements?
He was very strong on the fact that he wanted Turkey to do more in sort of shoring up its border. I'm wondering if this agreement addresses that and if you can sort of also say maybe, more specifically, how soon we can expect them to do any sort of air operations.
My second very quick question is, today, the French --
MR. COOK: Let me write these down. Hold on.
Q: This is an easy one.
The French have said that they're looking into the train incident as a terror investigation. Does this open up the door for any additional awards for the two service members?
MR. COOK: All right, let me take that in order.
First of all, the fact that Turkey is now going to be flying alongside with other coalition aircraft is a significant step forward, one we've been waiting for. We've been trying to work out these logistical details. We've been able to do that. We think this will be an important step forward.
That being said, our cooperation with the Turks and -- and the expansion of that corporation remains a work in progress at this point, and so we see this as a step forward, but we also see that there's opportunity for Turkey and the United States and the rest of the coalition to further refine exactly what that cooperation looks like going forward.
So we're still talking and working closely with the Turks going forward.
Specifically with regard to the -- your second question and the -- the French, I can't say from this podium right now exactly what might happen with regard to awards.
I know that you all heard from the Air Force secretary yesterday that -- that Airman Stone has been -- has been nominated for an award within the Air Force, and I think we'll just have to wait to -- wait and see exactly what -- what the French discover and how that might relate to their awards here in the United States or any potential medals here in the United States.
Q: But does the agreement address border issues?
MR. COOK: This agreement that we've talked about is specific to the air tasking order and those flight operations. We're continuing to talk with the Turks with regard to -- to border issues going forward.
But this is specific to the -- to the flight operations, and again, this is -- we see this as a important step forward in terms of coordinating, working with the Turks going forward and -- and delivering a blow to ISIL from the air. We think this'll be -- this'll be a help.
Q: Hi, Peter. Justin with ABC.
To follow on Lita's question, what do -- we've heard a lot about these heroes and their actions, which is great. Do we know anything -- is there anything you can say about this guy, Khazzani, the attacker, the would-be attacker, his possible affiliations with ISIS, any travel? Do you have anything you can share on this guy's background?
MR. COOK: Justin, I -- I don't have anything from here at the Defense Department to share with on -- on the suspect in this case. I'd refer you to the -- the French authorities who are leading this investigation. It's just not something that we've been involved with here at the DOD.
Q: OK. Just one quick follow-up. Can you say if he was any -- on any sort of DOD watch list, any sort of watch list that you know of here?
MR. COOK: I'm going to refer you, for that question, to the intelligence community. It's just not something that -- that I've had to deal with here from the Pentagon.
Q: Mr. Cook, the Turkish foreign minister has talked about that the agreement is about a wide, comprehensive operation against ISIL, and also that the agreement leads to create a safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. Are you on the same page with what the Turkish minister has said?
MR. COOK: I think we are on the same page with Turkey, and we've talked about this expanded cooperation not just in terms of the flight operations here, but again, talking with Turkey about how we can expand this cooperation going forward, including areas how best to secure the border. The secretary talked about this himself, at his news conference on Thursday.
This is a work in progress. We're working with the Turkish government towards that end.
Q: So you have agreed to launch a wide comprehensive operation and also --
MR. COOK: We've been in agreement with Turkey for some time and the rest of the coalition in going after ISIL in whatever way we can. And that's what we're going to continue to do.
Q: And what about the creation of a safe zone along the Syrian border.
MR. COOK: Again, we haven't mentioned or discussed a safe zone from -- from our approach. This is about going after ISIL and the best means possible. And that includes working with Turkey in trying to address issues along the border, working with moderate Syrian opposition forces, which we continue to do even as we speak, and that's part of this ongoing effort.
So again, we appreciate the cooperation with the Turks. We've made advances here with regard to the air operations. And we think we're going to continue to expand that cooperation.
Q: The Pentagon --
Q: Excuse me, last follow up. Last follow up.
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: Are you on -- are you on the same page when it comes to the YPG? The Turks have different views than the Pentagon when it comes to supporting the YPG. How could you address that?
MR. COOK: We continue to support moderate Syrian opposition forces that are taking the fight to ISIL, and there are several groups in that category. We are going to continue to support those kinds of groups. We continue.
We continue to support moderate Syrian opposition forces that are willing to take the fight to ISIL, and I'm just going to leave it at that. We've got a host of groups we're working with over there. We've been training our own force, the New Syrian Forces, as well. And that remains a focal point of our effort going forward.
Tom, in the back.
Q: You say you're on the same page. If they're calling it a safe zone, and you're not willing to call it a safe zone, how are you guys on the same page?
MR. COOK: Listen, we're working with the Turks cooperatively with regard to these flight operations. We're working with them in terms of trying to secure the border. I'll leave it to the Turkish government to describe that cooperation to the extent they want to, and I'll refer you effectively to them. We're working with them closely, and we see an opportunity for further cooperation when it comes to these border issues, when it comes to taking the fight to ISIL, and we'll continue to do what we can working with the Turks or other coalition members in terms of strengthening that fight and ultimately degrading and defeating ISIL.
Q: Do you plan on sending more U.S.-trained rebels in?
MR. COOK: I can tell you that we continue to support that program. You've heard from the secretary himself the difficulties it's had, but he still firmly believes that that program is worthwhile, it is necessary to -- to take the fight to ISIL and to hold territory there, and the secretary, again, his own words here on Thursday, continues to support that program. We're not going to get into the specific disposition of where all those forces are at this particular moment in time, but that program will continue.
And we'll go Carla.
Q: Thanks for doing this.
I'm curious, what's the Pentagon's take on the political turmoil in Kurdistan, and how is this election crisis affecting the relationship between the Peshmerga and the United States in the fight against Islamic State?
MR. COOK: Well, listen, we've been cooperating with -- with a lot of the forces there in -- in northern Iraq and that region, and some of the best fighters so far that we've seen in the fight against ISIL include the Peshmerga.
So I'll leave it to -- to the government there, to the forces -- to the -- to the officials there on the ground, to sort out their domestic politics. That's not necessarily an issue for us here at the Department of Defense.
Q: So it's not affecting any of the coordination between the two groups?
MR. COOK: I'm just gonna say they need to sort out their domestic political issues and we're going to continue to work with those partners that are willing to partner with us in the fight against ISIL.
Q: Who are we working -- who are we coordinating with now? Are we still coordinating with the -- the former president?
MR. COOK: Well, I'm gonna leave you to the State Department to deal with heads of state and the relationship there. That's more their -- their lane, at this point.
Q: Two questions. One on Silicon Valley trip in a minute. But first, Russia appears -- Russia appears to be on the verge of signing the S-300 air defense deal with the Iranians. As that deal may now go through, what concern does it pose to the U.S. military if Iran has an S-300?
And on -- the Silicon Valley trip raises a question in my mind: you're -- you're going out there at a time when many of those companies and that part of American business is certainly reeling from some of the precipitous declines in the stock market that we've all seen this week.
Is -- does the secretary have -- or you -- have an assessment on how the -- the stock market -- market declines this week may be impacting Silicon Valley? A sort of difficult time to get their attention on your agenda, and also impacting the front-line defense and aerospace sector?
MR. COOK: I feel like I'm back in my Bloomberg days, with the stock market questions.
Q: Well, that's why I felt you could answer.
MR. COOK: Well, thank you. Thank you, Barbara. Let's -- let me start -- let me start first there, if I could.
The stock market fluctuations that have taken place do not impact the secretary's trip, or the conversation -- the kind of conversation he's gonna have with members of the tech community. This is a much longer conversation, not about this week, but a long-term change, if you will, in the relationship between Silicon Valley and the Defense Department going forward.
So I don't see these short-term fluctuations in the market having anything to do with the long-term message, the long-term relationship the secretary hopes to build. As -- as you know, Barbara, this is a secretary who has unique relations with some of the folks in that part of -- of the country, in the technology community.
He talks their talk, he understands a lot of their issues, and he's trying to forge a -- a stronger relationship with the tech community that's going to benefit this department going forward.
Q: What is your assessment of short-term fluctuations nonetheless that have had a serious impact this week? Your -- your assessment on the impact on the -- the -- the impact on you guys. This -- the defense and aerospace establishment is a huge part of the economy, and the oil companies that you do business with.
MR. COOK: Well, this is -- these are issues for these companies, that they need to sort out. We obviously are hoping for a robust and healthy economy -- a robust and healthy corporate America out there that can support this department and the needs this department has going forward, whether it's defense contractors or -- or others.
So economic tides affect the business community, they affect the Defense Department and our suppliers. We have concerns about that. We'd like for budget certainty. We think that would be helpful for a lot of these companies that do business with the -- with the Department of Defense going forward.
So about the only thing we can control might be the budget situation and what's happening up on Capitol Hill and here in Washington. So our message would be, if we can resolve that, then maybe some of these companies might have a better future as well.
Q: And the S-300?
MR. COOK: Specifically on the S-300, we've long expressed our concerns of reports on the -- this possible sale of this missile system to the Iranians. We take the safety and security of our allies in the region seriously.
And not going to speculate on any responses from -- from the Department of Defense, but this is something we've been tracking, and in general, we're confident in our capabilities, even if that system is sold.
Q: What's the impact on -- on the U.S. military in the region if Iran is -- if the sale goes through, which it looks like it's going to, and Iran fields an S-300, what is the impact on the U.S. military in the region?
MR. COOK: We feel confident that the president's going to have all the options he needs.
Q: Peter, can I ask you about the training of Sunni fighters in Iraq? We were briefed about the operations in Ramadi. We were told a small number of -- of Sunni fighters were trained and equipped or advised by the United States.
I'm wondering if you can update us on what kind of progress they've made in that Ramadi operation in terms of bringing in more Sunni tribes?
And also, more generally, how -- how is that effort going overall in Iraq in trying to bring more Sunni fighters into the -- into the battle?
MR. COOK: Jamie, I'll be honest. I -- I know that they've made progress in that effort in reaching out to -- to the tribes and -- and trying to forge more of an opportunity for those folks to join the fight against ISIL. They've made progress.
But in terms of more specifics right now, let me get back to you on that, because I'd like to give you some -- some substance to it.
I know they've made progress. Don't want to quantify it in such a way that I lead you to believe that we've made more progress than we have, so let me check on that.
But I can tell you that the fight in Ramadi overall remains much as it has been over the last couple of days. This is a situation where the Iraqi security forces continue to --- to isolate, if you will, Ramadi, try and isolate the supply lines and disrupt the supply lines for -- for ISIL in that part of Iraq, and we've seen some signs of progress on that.
But again, this is a -- this is a slow developing process, and we don't expect a breakthrough it at any particular moment.
Q: Why -- why is it taking so long?
MR. COOK: Well, in part, because the Iraqi security forces want to make sure that they have everything adequately prepared for that fight, and also, they want to reduce civilian casualties.
They could -- if they were to move precipitously, we could have a situation where -- where people in Ramadi, innocent civilians in Ramadi, could be -- could be affected, and I think that's one of the considerations that's -- that's out there for them.
Q: A couple questions.
One, on the Silicon Valley trip, the secretary's going to be in office basically until end of next year. He has to plan for that, anyway.
What tangible bridge spans, to use your analogy of building bridges there, does he hope to lay in the next seven or eight months so these are not bridges to nowhere, but maybe bridges to Microsoft County, so to speak? What are some accomplishments he's got in mind to take this from potential bumper sticker to actual -- building some bridges with a skeptical community?
MR. COOK: Well, Tony, maybe you should come on this trip, and maybe you'll find out what some of these bridges might be.
This is a secretary who's -- who's very serious about this. This is not bumper stickers, as you talked about; this is an effort to seriously engage part of the U.S. economy that could help this department in a significant way and at the same time benefit a lot of the companies out there.
There've been reservations about, for some companies, doing business with the Department of Defense. It's too complicated. Maybe it's not worth the connection. This is a secretary who hopes to break down those barriers.
I can't point to specific pieces of equipment or technology that might come here in the Defense Department, but that's something worth watching and keeping careful track of.
He's going to meet with a number of business leaders while he's out in Silicon Valley, a range of different businesses. Some may not even seem all that comparable with the Department of Defense.
This is a secretary who's interested not only in technology and innovation for the force of the future, but also ideas. What are these people working on that could ultimately, down the road, benefit the Department of Defense?
Can you give a couple examples of companies you might not normally think of as interested in defense that he's going to court?
MR. COOK: Let me -- let's get a little bit closer to the actual events in Silicon Valley, and we'll try and get you the full list.
Q: Can I just ask an F-35 question? The biggest program in history, the biggest program in the Pentagon's portfolio. General Dunford made some news at his nomination hearing last month when he said in his written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the number of F-35s is being looked at, this 2,443 number. What is the status of that review? And is that part of the 2017 budget cycle?
MR. COOK: Well first of all, the program right now, as you know, Tony, 2,443 aircraft. That's still the -- the program of record. We haven't changed that in any particular fashion, and we're not making any formal evaluation or revisit to those objectives at this particular moment in time, but as with all programs going forward in the FY '17 budget process, every program is going to be reviewed. Obviously the budget situation here in Washington will have a big impact on that. But there's nothing at this point to indicate any formal review of that number, but there will be this standard budget review of all programs going forward for FY '17.
Q: (off mic) question.
MR. COOK: I'm sorry, you're talking about General Dunford?
Q: General Dunford, referring to in his written questions -- written answer, excuse me, to the SASC?
MR. COOK: Well, I'd refer you to General Dunford to -- to clarify exactly what it was he was responding to there.
So, best I'd leave – best I leave it to General Dunford.
Q: So no formal review of the overall number right now, in terms of whether to pare back or keep it?
MR. COOK: No formal review. It is still the same number today as it was yesterday, but as I said, every program is going to be under review, F-35 and otherwise, but I wouldn't suggest to you that there's been any change in the outlook for the F-35.
Q: Thank you. There have been news reports that Turkish intelligence was behind keeping off the -- the Al Nusra Front to the presence of the first batch of Syrian rebels that went into Syria, the ones that were trained by the U.S.
I wonder if you're aware of those reports, if anybody's looking into them for the DOD, if there's any concern that in fact that might be true?
MR. COOK: Yeah, I've seen some of those reports. And we have no indications that the Turkish government was involved in tipping off the Nusra Front to the location of those -- those trainees. Just not something we've seen.
Q: Did DOD specifically ask the Turkish government, though? Was there some communication specifically asking whether the Turks -- and not even necessarily the Turkish government, the Turkish military, some elements may have?
MR. COOK: I’m just -- Courtney, just from our perspective here, we have no indications that the Turkish government alerted Al Nusra Front to the location of those trainees.
Q: So you can't say for certain though whether the U.S. actually asked the Turkish this direct question, whether they were involved in this?
MR. COOK: I know that I personally didn't ask the Turkish government about this, so I can't speak to other members of the – of the government, but I can just tell you what I've heard back when we saw those reports.
Q: Does it involve communication with your Turkish counterpart?
MR. COOK: I haven't yet, but I look forward to in the future.
Q: Going back to Russia, is the Pentagon concerned that Russia has not stopped its activities inside Ukraine? And what is the Pentagon planning to do to stop Russia?
MR. COOK: Lucas, as you heard the secretary himself, maybe even been in response to your question, I'm not sure, describe the situation with Russia and the situation that we face right now and our own response to it, and he described it as strong and balanced; strong in responding to Russia, where we've seen aggressive behavior. Their behavior, for example, in relation to Ukraine being one example of that; having to adjust our own capabilities as a result of what Russia's doing around the world and at the same time, a balanced approach to Russia that -- in those instances where we can work with the Russians, case in point, as the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal, we'll work with the Russians.
And we'll leave the door open to working with the Russians on more than -- in other areas of cooperation, but we continue at the Defense Department to see what Russia is doing in places like Ukraine, and having to respond accordingly and this secretary is going to maintain that strong and balanced approach in dealing with Russia going forward.
Q: Going back to the S-300 missiles, the State Department objects to the sale of the -- of Russia selling the missiles to Iran, and you just said the Pentagon is concerned. Can you explain the disconnect?
MR. COOK: Well, I'll refer you to the State Department on the actual negotiations. That's more their lane. But we obviously have problems. We've expressed those concerns to the Russians.
We don't see this as a positive development. At the same time, here at the Defense Department, again, the president will have options available to him, even if that system is put into place.
Q: Options to do what, Peter? Can you just clarify that? You've said that, and I'm not sure I understand.
MR. COOK: The secretary -- as the secretary has talked about on this issue, that we're confident in our capabilities if the Iranians were to get this system.
Q: Right, but you've said that --
MR. COOK: I'm gonna leave -- Barbara, I'm gonna leave it at that.
Q: -- the president will have options, but what options -- with what -- options to do what?
MR. COOK: Military options. We understand that system, and we'll be -- the president will have his options if that system is put into place. I'm going to leave it at that.
Q: Peter, can you please give us an update on the secretary's comments from last week about his piece of the effort to close Guantanamo? Is he any closer to authorizing the transfers of some of those detainees? How are the assessments going of Leavenworth and Charleston and some of the other sites that he talked about? And can you give us any other names of those facilities in the U.S. that DOD is looking at as potential homes for these people?
MR. COOK: I don't have an update for you specifically on the transfer of detainees, other than what the secretary told you, that -- that is a work in progress, just as the assessment teams are a concrete step in progress towards ultimately trying to responsibly close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
With regard to the assessment teams, the -- we've had teams in Kansas and in Charleston (sic: planned but not yet occurred). I don't have an update for you as to where they might go next, but there will be additional facilities they'll -- they'll visit, and I also don't have a list for you as to exactly what those facilities are at this point, but I do expect we will, in the course of time.
Q: Do you have a timetable that you're working with, even internally, for when this work will be done, and there'll come a day when secretary --
MR. COOK: The secretary would like to have this wrapped up as quickly as possible. This is something that he and the president both believe needs to happen on his watch. On the president's watch. This is not something the next president, Republican or Democrat, should have to inherit.
That's the view of this secretary and this president, and he's trying to work as quickly as possible through a difficult interagency process dealing with very difficult decisions here, and he's going to be deliberate about it.
The safety and security of the American people will be topmost in his mind throughout this process, but he also wants to move expeditiously, and we're trying to do that here at the Department of Defense.
James ? I'll get to you in one sec, miss.
Q: Thanks. Welcome, Peter.
MR. COOK: Thank you.
Q: Just to follow up on Joe's question about the safe zone. I believe that the Pentagon has been on record repeatedly as opposing a safe zone for reasons of cost, logistics, several different reasons. Relationship to the Assad regime.
When you -- when Joe asked you about it a couple times, unless I misheard you, I didn't hear an opposition. I thought you said that this is a part of what's under discussion. So can you -- can you tell me what is -- today --
MR. COOK: What's -- what's under discussion with the Turks continues to be the overall fight against ISIL. That is the focus of our cooperation with the Turks in this area, evidenced by the coalition airstrikes that are now taking place. And thanks to the agreement we now have with Turkey, we'll involve Turkish aircraft as well. And we continue to work with the Turks on trying to take the fight to ISIL and trying to stabilize the border situation that promotes security along that border and enhances the fight against ISIL.
Our focus is the fight against ISIL, and it's going to continue to be that, both with Turkey, with the moderate Syrian opposition forces, and that is our central focus.
Q: Is there a reason why you won't restate the Pentagon's past clear opposition to a safe zone? Is that now -- is that now an open question?
MR. COOK: I wouldn't read anything into that, Jim. We -- we're working with the Turks, as I mentioned. Areas of the focus of the border, security along the border remains a concern for us. And so that's where I'll leave it.
We're working with them. We're working with them well. We see opportunities for -- to make even more progress.
Nancy, I promised to come back on Gitmo.
Q: I'd like to follow up on Phil's question. Can you tell us, have any other -- has the DOD received permission to view any other sites besides Charleston and Fort Leavenworth? And also, have you made an assessment of the cost of holding the detainees in the United States? The White House estimate for holding a detainee costs -- holding a detainee at Gitmo is $3.4 million. Do you have a similar assessment, were you to say have a detainee at Leavenworth, what that cost would be, the transfer cost?
MR. COOK: Well, I think you highlighted one of the key things that these assessment teams are there to determine, and exactly what retrofitting might need to take place at these facilities, are they the appropriate locations for these detainees? And that ultimately will drive the cost question. I don't have an estimate for you here, and I think that's part of what we're doing is looking at sites that might be feasible, viable, safe, secure and also most cost-effective for the American taxpayer.
Q: So that assessment, has that cost assessment hasn't been made is what I'm hearing you say?
MR. COOK: Well, we haven't even completed our assessments of location, so it's hard to compare facility versus facility until we're able to do that.
Q: And have you received permission from -- to visiting other sites besides Leavenworth and Charleston?
MR. COOK: I don't have any indication. I don't have anything for you on that. We haven't identified those other locations, so I'm not in a position to tell you whether we've got permission or not.
Q: Can I just ask broadly then? I think a lot of what is confusing to the American public is you talk about this commitment to closing Guantanamo Bay by the end of the year. There's not -- there's still sights to be seen. There's still basic cost assessment that need to be made. The secretary has not moved at an expeditious manner to move detainees out. At this rate, he'd have to move someone once every two weeks to get enough of the 52 detainees out.
MR. COOK: First of all.
Q: But if I can finish, I guess my question is: can you help us understand why should the American public be confident that the facility is going to close when we are now a few months away and these basic questions haven't been answered and we can't even get any specifics on the path to closing it?
MR. COOK: I can only tell you that this secretary, acting on the behalf of this president, is moving forward as expeditiously as he can to not only deal with the transfer issue, but also find a suitable facility here in the United States to house these detainees. And this -- arguably that is -- there are two equal components to this plan going forward. You cannot close the detention facility at Guantanamo until you have a location here, a suitable location here in the United States.
So these visits will go forward. This is not an easy situation. This had been -- if this was easy, it would've been done, handled perhaps previously, but this is difficult. This is hard. Everyone acknowledges that. And this secretary is trying to do it in the most responsible way going forward, and I would say that's the message that I would deliver to the American people.
Q: Just one last question. Do you have a date specific of when you're going to deliver your closing plans to Congress and the American public?
MR. COOK: I don't have a specific date for you. I just-- I just know that we'd like to do it soon.
Q: Bill Gertz with the Washington Free Beacon and Washington Times.
MR. COOK: Welcome.
Q: I have a security question. Since the Pentagon is the custodian of most of the government's classified information, is -- is there concern about the compromise of secrets on the former secretary of state's e-mail server, and are you looking into that?
MR. COOK: I'm gonna refer you to the State Department on that, Bill.
Q: Last time I checked, they weren't controlling satellite intelligence.
MR. COOK: Just -- I think this is an issue best left to the State Department. They've had to address this, and also Secretary Clinton. It's not something that I think makes sense for me to get into from right here at this podium.
Q: Peter, quick process question on Gitmo, is -- forgive me if you've said this, but are the assessments that are being conducted at Charleston, Leavenworth, and then whatever follow-on, will they be folded into the Gitmo closure plan whenever it is finally presented to Congress or the White House?
MR. COOK: I think it's safe to say that the -- finding a facility will be part of that detention plan. Whether or not a facility has been selected by the time the plan is presented, I'm not sure we'll be -- at that particular point in time, we'll be able to do that.
But certainly finding a location and explaining the rationale for why certain locations might be considered would be part of the plan. We would expect, going forward, to explain to members of Congress, to the American people, exactly what the department is doing to try and find a suitable location.
Q: Got it. And then, also, separate subject. There are reports during the height of the tensions between North and South Korea that you guys were taking kind of a re-look at the war plan, as it were. Recognizing you're not gonna speak to intelligence issues, but can you speak --
MR. COOK: Definitely not.
Q: -- broadly to -- did you guys see things that you felt like you hadn't seen before that caused you a greater level of concern that will trigger, potentially, a new sense of looking at how they could act in the future and how the U.S. might respond?
MR. COOK: Well, definitely some of the best advice I got from people who used to occupy this position before me was "don't talk about intelligence up here." So I'm going to abide by that. Even if I had some to -- to discuss.
I'm not aware of any full reassessment of capabilities, or anything like that. Obviously, this was a tense situation. We're pleased with the agreement that was reached between North and South Korea, welcome that. Anything to de-escalate the situation. And this is something that, obviously, caused concern, and just reaffirms our commitment to the South Koreans in that alliance, going forward.
Q: (off mic)
MR. COOK: I've got time for about two more, because I know -- I know you all have been pent up for a long time, but I actually do have to get to a meeting.
Q: Just a quick one on North Korea and a quick one on Gitmo.
The -- there were some reports that the North Koreans sent out about 50 subs over several days. Are those reports that you can say anything about? Are you concerned at all about these reports that North Korea -- (inaudible) -- may have sent out 50 subs into the -- who knows where world?
MR. COOK: I'm not gonna --
Q: -- military term, by the way: "who knows where world." (Laughter.)
MR. COOK: Thanks. Thank you. I'm writing them down as I go. What's the acronym? I'll need to learn that.
I'm not going to respond to that specific report. I saw something along those lines in some publications. All I can tell you is that as this agreement's moved forward, that we have seen, at least on the part of the North Koreans, some efforts to de-escalate that we've been able to see, both on land and at sea, and I'll leave it at that.
And -- and it doesn't mean we're back to normal, but -- just, we feel better about this situation.
Q: And then just one thing you -- on the Gitmo, you said that -- that the U.S. hasn't identified other locations -- civilian locations, presumably -- in the U.S. to look at.
When you say that, do you mean that you haven't -- that the government hasn't actually identified other locations, or you haven't identified them and shared them with the public and Congress? Are there -- are you saying that they still are picking out other locations to go and do site surveys on?
MR. COOK: I think it's safe to say that they're still evaluating what would be the most suitable locations, and some may be closer to an assessment than -- than another, but we're just not at that point to announce them. There're lots of considerations that go into that.
Again, most importantly, the suitability, the feasibility, the cost -- these are difficult -- difficult decisions, and these assessment teams are taking -- are going to take their time to do this professionally, to look exactly what is needed, particularly in terms of retrofitting and whether or not communities are indeed able to do this on a safe and secure fashion.
Q: Or some locations have been selected and you just haven't shared them with us?
MR. COOK: I don't have them with me here, and -- but we look forward to sharing them with you at the earliest possible opportunity.
I'll close out here, Aaron.
I wanted to ask about the economic situation in China. Obviously, there's a question about how it's going to impact the U.S., but China has been a big focus for the U.S. in the Pacific.
How is this going to impact your strategy plan going forward, especially as you're looking to develop the FY '17 budget?
MR. COOK: Well, I'd just say in broad terms, obviously, the secretary's talked a lot about the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, how important that is for him. It's a priority for him and -- and how, of course, we are keeping an eye on what's happening in China, its military development as well as, obviously, economic factors in the region that might affect it.
But I can't tell you that there's anything specific to the FY '17 budget that's -- that's changing right now as a result of the most recent economic downturn or problems that China's having. So I think it's something that we'll just continue to watch.
But what won't change is, again, the focus on the Asia-Pacific, the secretary's focus on it, and -- and I think that's going to be a priority for the remainder of -- of his time in office.
Q: (off mic) strategic impact (off mic) what looks to be a big economic downturn there?
MR. COOK: I don't see anything at this point, but again, this is a building that is -- I've learned a lot about -- there're a lot of meetings here, and we do a lot of planning. And -- and this is one of those things that certainly will be on the radar of this department going forward, as we keep our eye on the Asia-Pacific, not just China, but our -- our partners and friends in the region as well.
So I'm -- I -- I really got to leave it, but I'll be back. I promise. You have someone to -- to -- to question – alright , Lucas. Quickly.
Q: Are you concerned that the Chinese and the Russians are conducting joint naval exercises in the Pacific right now? Is that a growing alliance you see and a possible threat to the United States?
MR. COOK: Lots of countries do exercises. We do exercises all the time with other countries.
We don't see any particular challenge posed by that, and I'd -- I'd refer you to the Russians and the Chinese as to what they hope to get out of it. But it's not unusual for countries to engage in military operations, and I'll leave it at that.
Thanks, everyone. I look forward to doing this again soon, and for those of you coming on the trip, we'll see you tomorrow. Thanks.
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