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Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, and Australian Minister of Defense Linda Reynolds at a Press Availability

Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
New South Wales Parliament House
Sydney, Australia
August 4, 2019

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much, David, and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. In this oldest of parliaments in Australia, let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

Let me also welcome our good friends and colleagues, Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Esper, to Australia for this AUSMIN. Let me congratulate Secretary Esper on his appointment and say I know from experience there's nothing like a good AUSMIN mere days after an appointment to really focus yourself on the alliance, an experience I enjoyed in 2015.

Colleagues, let me also express Australia's most sincere condolences at the tragedy that has unfolded in El Paso today and convey our sympathies to those who have been lost and their families, and our very best thoughts and prayers to those who are dealing with their injuries.

I also want to acknowledge our senior officials who are with us today: my very good friend Joe Hockey, Australia's ambassador to Washington, and his team; Ambassador A.B. Culvahouse, every moment of your four months here has been a joy, and we hope that that continues – #nopressure. (Laughter.)

To our defense leaders and our departmental officials, thank you for the support that you have given us to bring today together. It's a lovely winter's afternoon here in Sydney. This is winter in Sydney, colleagues. It's not too shabby, as we would say. Secretary Pompeo and I have just come from Bangkok, where we joined ASEAN foreign ministers there – again in a slightly different climate – to discuss the strategic issues that face our region and our nations. Our ability to engage in those critical fora outlines – underlines the shared vision that we have, both there, spending that crucial time with our counterparts from our region, from the Indo-Pacific.

It is important to reinforce that without strong U.S. engagement, the region that we all want, the region that we indeed need, can't be achieved. That's a region in which all states are respected regardless of size and power. It's a region that continues to enjoy peace, security, and prosperity underpinned by the international rules that have kept us safe for decades. And our alliance is now strongly orientated towards ensuring that shared vision for the Indo-Pacific.

We've talked today about our work together in coordination, in collaboration, to contribute, for example, to sustainable, resilient infrastructure; to promote adherence to international law; to further cooperation with key partners around the region, and there are many, but for example India and Japan and Indonesia. The strong Australia-U.S. alliance can be the basis for deepening our friendships elsewhere, and the tapestry of relationships that we have across the Indo-Pacific and we continue to build is a foundation for openness and prosperity. We see that practically in the trilateral infrastructure partnership between our two countries and Japan, for example. Australia continues our Pacific step-up, and increasingly you'll see our commitment to infrastructure also in ASEAN countries, including the vulnerable Mekong region.

The mateship between Australia and the United States has lasted more than a hundred years and, thanks to the initiative and the drive of Ambassador Hockey and his team and many Australians and many Americans, it's now part of our language. And what's more, we're in our second century. In cricketing terms, that would be a very good thing if we could achieve that just at the minute.

But as technology transforms our economies and our lives, the values on which it's based – values such as individual freedoms, human rights, and sovereignty free from coercion – will continue to shape the world for the better in new frontiers such as space and cyberspace. The values that underpin this alliance, this relationship between our two countries, are indispensable to stability, to prosperity, and to the security of our region.

So thank you, Mike and Mark. Thank you so much for the productive discussions we've had today that reiterate all of our shared commitment to those values, and I will ask Mike now to make some opening remarks.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Right, thank you. Thank you, Foreign Minister Payne, and thank you, Minister Reynolds. I'm honored to pay my first visit here as Secretary of State to Australia, and I'm touched by the warm welcome. Thank you, too, for your expression of sympathy for those who were killed in El Paso, Texas.

It's only fitting that we just held our annual 2+2 meeting at the New South Wales Parliament House, your very first parliament building here. Thanks for the tour. It was great to see another place. Having served in Congress, to watch how you do combat politically was quite something. It was a beautiful piece of architecture; it's a landmark to democracy and to constitutional government.

Prime Minister Morrison and President Trump had a great meeting last month in Osaka, and we four have now had great conversations this morning as well. As we discussed today and as I'll talk about later this afternoon in my remarks, the time is right for the United States and Australia to do much more together in the region and beyond.

Let me be clear: The United States is a Pacific nation. We care deeply about what happens here and we're here to stay. And I want all Australians to know they can always rely on the United States of America. And just as we talk about Britain as a special relationship, we think of this as an unbreakable relationship. It's grounded in our shared values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

I – as Foreign Minister Payne said, I just wrapped up a series of regional meetings in Bangkok, where ASEAN partners reaffirmed our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. We're thrilled to have Australia as a close partner in this effort. In particular, we're working closely to increase our engagement with partners throughout Southeast Asia. The United States and Australia want our friends to achieve prosperity through trade and investment, and we're committed to creating the conditions for that to happen responsibly. Talking about basic things, about respect for national sovereignty, openness, transparency, property rights, the rule of law, and a healthy respect for human rights. Australia's $2 billion infrastructure financing facility for the Pacific is a great step forward.

We're not asking nations to choose between the United States and China, because that's not how we operate. Cooperation with the U.S. and our Australian friends brings mutual benefits, not zero-sum deals where one side wins and the other risks losing. We have a proven formula for prosperity which includes property rights and the rule of law and competition. These qualities are on display in our bilateral relationship and our economic ties, the extent of which is often underestimated. The United States invests nearly $170 billion in Australia each and every year. The United States is by far the largest investor here in Australia, accounting for more than 25 percent of all foreign direct investment.

It's easy sometimes to forget that the amount of private investment in the Indo-Pacific far surpasses the amount of government investment here. Judging how private enterprise has been the engine for driving the astounding prosperity in this region over several decades, we hope all countries will welcome more of it.

Moving beyond economics, we Pacific powers agree it's important to shine sunlight on bad behavior, however and whenever it occurs. Australia courageously and independently raised the alarm about the risk of China's 5G ambitions even before we caught on. We're both concerned about China's militarization of their man-made islands in the South China Sea, and we're both keeping an eye on investment that mires our friends in debt and corruption.

Our multilateral work together matters too. Today we discussed greater cooperation with partners like Japan to help us build a network of alliance and partners all across the region. The United States welcomes Australia's increased engagement with India, another democracy, including through the Quad format, and we'll actively explore ways our four countries can increase cooperation.

Finally, our global cooperation has massive potential. We hope Australia will partner with us in some of the pressing foreign policy challenges of our time, like efforts to stabilize Syria, keep Afghanistan free of terror, and confront the Islamic Republic of Iran's unprovoked attacks on international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

This is all very possible. Our equal partnership has blessed the world for more than a century. I'm confident it will continue to do so for a long time to come. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Thanks very much, Mike. Linda.

DEFENSE MINISTER REYNOLDS: Thanks very much, Marise, and let me join you in welcoming our two very special and most welcome visitors, Secretary Pompeo and also Mark Esper.

The Australia-U.S. alliance is and continues to be our most important defense relationship, and it's – also remains the cornerstone of our defense and our security policies. As we enter our much-discussed second century of mateship, or friendship, and also close defense cooperation, the alliance is in excellent shape. And as Secretary Pompeo has just said, it is unbreakable, but we must never, ever take it for granted. It is an alliance based on mutual values of trust and deep, deep friendship. Our defense cooperation in particular – in operations, in intelligence capability and defense science and technology – is simply unparalleled, and it delivers great benefits to both sides.

But as strong as our relationship is, however, we have a compelling reason now to strengthen it further. Our region is becoming more prosperous, but it is getting more nervous. Australia is a three-ocean nation. All are becoming increasingly contested, and our discussions today touched on all three.

In the Indo-Pacific, we are stepping up our defense cooperation, and today we agreed to continue working together through enhanced defense engagement and capacity building with key partners in the Pacific region. And in the Pacific, we reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen cooperation with Pacific Island partners to realize their own vision for a prosperous and secure region.

Further afield, today we also recognized the contributions that our servicemen and women make standing side by side in many operations and in many parts of the world. And they continue to make an enormous difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and right across the Middle East.

But today we also noted our shared concerns regarding the threat to freedom of navigation and also the uninterrupted passage of maritime trade in the strategic sea lanes of the Middle East and also in our own region, including in the South China Sea. We also reaffirmed our collective desire for the verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea, and also our support – our ongoing support – for the international community's sanction efforts.

But it's not just what we do together abroad and have for a hundred years, but also today what we do together across Australia. Today we focused on leveraging the United States force posture initiatives to build on capacities and also to strengthen our interoperability. We noted the enormous success of our largest combined biennial exercise, Talisman Saber. We also discussed how joint facilities such as Pine Gap play a critical role in safeguarding our nation's security and also in maintaining global peace.

Finally, today we reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen capability, science and technology, and also our defense industry cooperation, particularly our cooperation with the United States on emerging and leading technologies, including hypersonics, space, cyber, and now in critical minerals. And we also highlighted programs we are partnering on already with research and development for new capabilities, including the P-8, the Triton, and the Joint Strike Fighter.

So, in conclusion, my summary of today is this: that the Australia-United States alliance is stronger than ever, and it is evolving to meet the strategic challenges that confront us today. I very much look forward to meeting again with Secretary Esper very shortly to continue these discussions on defense cooperation at our next bilateral meeting. This afternoon these discussions will continue to deepen the cooperation that underpins our great alliance, and welcome and thank you both for being here today and engaging in such rich and diverse conversations, and occasionally even a little humorous conversation, so thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much, Linda. Secretary Esper. Mark.

SECRETARY ESPER: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Minister Payne, Secretary Pompeo, Minister Reynolds, thank you for today's insightful discussions. I am proud to visit Australia on my first visit as the United States Secretary of Defense, particularly as we start our second century of mateship. Our military bond began with the diggers and the doughboys in the trenches of World War I, and it continues to this day. The shared courage and commitment of our alliance has sustained our security in every major conflict for the last century, and we continue to draw upon our close relationship in today's complex international security environment.

In fact, we just completed our annual Talisman Saber exercise here in Australia, as was mentioned. It went exceedingly well, demonstrating the relationship between our militaries remains strong and our capabilities are robust. I want to thank Australia for its strong partnership and its numerous commitments to security throughout the world, to include contributions to the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, continued support to the missions in Iraq and Syria, maritime enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea, and their work to expand security cooperation throughout the region. The U.S. Department of Defense is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Australia's armed forces in support of a safe, prosperous, free, and open Indo-Pacific region.

I am very encouraged by our conversations today. We discussed a wide range of issues regarding our cooperative efforts to advance our shared security interests across the region. I'm pleased to note we've recently reached our milestone of 2,500 United States Marines at the rotational force in Darwin. Our partnership there enables great combined training between U.S. and Australian troops and marks a significant step forward for both countries.

We are continuing to expand our partnership with other Pacific Island countries through our security cooperation in places like Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Palau. We commend Australia's Pacific step-up, which mirrors our own increased engagement in the region, and together we remain committed to maintaining the openness of the global commons. The United States will continue to fly, to sail, and operate wherever international law allows.

The United States is a Pacific nation, and our national defense strategy makes clear this is our priority theater. We are here to stay and we are here to strengthen our security networks to uphold shared values such as respect for sovereignty for countries large and small, peaceful resolution of disputes, free and fair trade, and adherence to international rules and norms. These are not just American principles and they aren't just Australian principles; they are Indo-Pacific principles. We firmly believe no one nation can or should dominate the Indo-Pacific, and we are working alongside our allies and partners to address the region's pressing security needs.

We also stand firmly against a disturbing pattern of aggressive behavior, destabilizing behavior from China. This includes weaponizing the global commons, using predatory economics and debt for sovereignty deals, and promoting state-sponsored theft of other nations' intellectual property. In the Indo-Pacific, power should not determine position and debt should not determine destiny. The United States will not stand by idly while any one nation attempts to reshape the region to its favor at the expense of others, and we know our allies and partners will not either.

In closing, I want to thank our Australian counterparts once again for a great day full of productive discussions. This was an excellent first stop on my trip through the region, and I'm looking forward to the next few days as I visit a number of other allies and partners. The Indo-Pacific is home to a strong network of like-minded nations who are willing to stand up to protect the rules-based order that has preserved the peace and enabled prosperity for the past 70 years. The United States is one such nation, and we remain committed to the region's future. In partnership with our mates here in Australia and alongside our friends throughout the Indo-Pacific, we will continue to build a security environment that will ensure peace and stability for generations to come. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Thanks very much, Mark.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you all. We'll now move to Q&A. We'll alternate between the Australian and American journalists. I'll introduce the Australians and Morgan Ortagus, who's the spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, will introduce the Americans. First up we have Greg Jennett from the ABC.

QUESTION: David, thank you. My question is directed in the first instance to the visiting secretaries, and it draws on Secretary Esper's thoughts about intermediate missiles expressed on your way here to Sydney. Assuming you would need the support in the Asian region of allies to expand such a network, and as range improves, can you rule out locating any of these missiles in your ever-expanding establishments in Australia's north?

And to our own ministers, do you see any risks associated with the inevitable perception that this may be a hostile course of action – provocative, even – directed towards China? Do you see risks of destabilization and instability in the region because of it?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Let me start, then Mark, I'll turn it over to you. So our decision of this past week was one that evidences our mission set. We had entered into a treaty with the Russians, they proceeded to violate it, and we spent years working to convince them to return to the treaty – to treaty compliance. You had a treaty with exactly two signatories, exactly one of whom was complying. It no longer made any sense.

Remember why it was created. It was created with a vision of deterrence. That's always been our mission set and it will continue to be so. To your point about how we will proceed with respect to this class of weapon systems in all, it is of course the case that when we employ these systems around the world with our friends and allies, we do so with their consent, we do so with respect to their sovereignty. We make decisions based on good decisions, mutual benefit to each of the countries that work on those particular sets of systems, much in the same way we work alongside with our great partners across multiple pieces of our collective security efforts.

Mark, do you want to add –

SECRETARY ESPER: And what I would add is this: As Secretary Pompeo just highlighted, the – our exit from the treaty on August 2nd was a result of Russian noncompliance over many, many years, and what that did in the meantime – we complied with that treaty up until its last day, which was August 2nd. We now are free, if you will, to develop that range of weapons – 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers – that have not been available to us from a ground-based deterrent posture. And again, we're talking about conventional weapons now, not nuclear.

So I think to the degree that allowing us to design and develop, test, and eventually deploy systems, whether it's in Europe, whether it's in the Asia Pacific or elsewhere, gives us and continues that deterrent posture we want to deter conflict in any region in which we deploy them in consultation with our allies and partners.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Thanks very much. Let me say, and in doing so remind us all, that the presence of the United States and its military forces in this region has been a force for stability for decades, and that Australia has consistently welcomed that force and that presence.

Now, having been in Mark's shoes and where Linda is now, I would always expect a secretary of defense to be considering the posture of U.S. forces. That is of course the job of that particular role, but with regards to our regional engagement, let me also assure and remind that for China and for Australia, we see China as a vitally important partner for Australia. We are strongly committed to our comprehensive strategic partnership, which continues to grow, and in these meetings today we've of course discussed our respective engagement with China, and self-evidently we each have areas of difference with China.

As I mentioned and have mentioned in the past to counterparts, I can't think of a single bilateral relationship in the world that is perfect, in which there is no point of difference on which countries might engage. It's how you deal with the differences that of course is very important. We both want productive relationships. It's in no one's interests for the Indo-Pacific to become more competitive or to become adversarial in character. So we work closely with our key partners – with our strongest alliance partner, the United States, and our key partner, China – to pursue those issues of stability and security and prosperity that I think in one way or another we all spoke about in our opening remarks.

MS ORTAGUS: Okay, from the American side, we're going to have Francesco Fontemaggi from AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you. I would ask a question on Afghanistan to Secretaries Pompeo and Esper. Do you think, or at least do you hope, that a deal with the Taliban can be reached during the current round of talks in Doha that started yesterday? And is Ambassador Khalilzad ready to meet with the political ship of the Taliban to finalize such a deal? And if there is a deal, does the withdrawal of five to six thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan sound like a realistic option to you?

And to Minister Payne and Reynolds, do you think the conditions are there for the U.S. withdrawal and – or do you think this is premature? Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So let me talk about our work to create a reduction in violence and peace in Afghanistan. Ambassador Khalilzad, at my direction and at the President's direction, has been engaged in this for a long time now. You talk about conversations with the Taliban; Ambassador Khalilzad has talked with all of the elements of Afghan authority. He's talked with civil society groups, he's spoken with women's groups, he's spoken with President Ghani and CEO Abdullah. He's spoken with other Afghan institutional leaders, all of which are aimed at the singular purpose of creating an environment where U.S. resources and, frankly, Australian resources and all those participants in Resolute Support can expend fewer resources both in terms of treasure, in terms of life and blood in Afghanistan.

After 19 years, President Trump has made very clear that his desire is that we develop a diplomatic resolution that permits us to reduce the resources that are located there in country while simultaneously ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a platform where terror can strike the United States of America. That's Ambassador Khalilzad's mission set, and we are closely synced up with the Department of Defense to see if we get the right political resolution, we can get the right force structure in the region as well.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Senator Reynolds has recently visited Afghanistan; I think she's well placed to respond to your question.

DEFENSE MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, thank you very much. As Marise has said, I recently had the great privilege of visiting our men and women in Kabul and seeing firsthand the enormous difference that they are doing in Operation Resolute and some other activities they're doing, hand in hand with our American servicemen and women. And it was very clear to me there that a negotiated settlement is the only way forward for peace in Afghanistan.

Our position is under constant review, as you would expect, and we are now waiting to see what happens with the 28 September election and also with the next round of peace talks. We are of course looking forward, but we have yet – not yet made any decisions, and we will of course take any future considerations in Afghanistan in terms of our other regional priorities and issues. But again, whatever we do there, it's got to be at the behest of the Afghan Government.

MODERATOR: All right. The next question from the Australian side is Brad Norington of The Australian.

QUESTION: Thank you. Brad Norington from The Australian newspaper. To Secretaries Pompeo and Esper, have you had an affirmative answer to your request for Australian assistance in the safe escort of shipping in the Persian Gulf? Why is it considered necessary, given that Europe may mount its own operations? And would Australian naval and/or air forces come under U.S. command if such an operation proceeded, and when could we expect commencement?

To Ministers Payne and Reynolds, have you agreed to a request on Gulf escorts? And if so, could you give an indication on timing and also the chain of command that could be expected? And what resources might be committed to the Straits of Hormuz?

SECRETARY ESPER: So I'll take the first part, and I'll actually let Minister Reynolds answer the first question. Let me just say this: From the get-go, the United States has been very clear that the purpose of our proposed operations in the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman has been twofold – first of all, to promote the principle of freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce through all waterways, particularly that one, number one. Number two is to prevent any provocative actions by Iran that might lead to some misunderstanding or miscalculation that could lead to a conflict.

And so when we first advanced this idea several weeks ago, we had a good response from some of our allies and partners. We continue to develop that idea. Just last week I was in Central Command in Tampa, Florida, where we had a resourcing conference. Over 30 countries attended that. We got various degrees of response. I think there'll be some announcements coming out in the coming days, but needless to say, I think the purpose remains the same whether it's an operation conducted under United States command and control or conducted by somebody else – a European partnership. I think both fulfill the same purpose: a unity of effort with regard to ensuring freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas, and also deterring provocative behavior so that we get any type of discourse between the international community and Iran back on the diplomatic path, back on that track, and not on one headed toward conflict.

DEFENSE MINISTER REYNOLDS: Thank you. What I'd say up front is, to make the Australian Government's position on this very, very clear, we are deeply concerned by the heightened tensions in the region and we strongly condemn the attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Oman. The request that the United States has made is a very serious one and it is a complex one. That's why we are currently giving this request very serious consideration. We will ultimately, as we always do, decide what is in our own sovereign interests, and we certainly discussed this issue during our ministerial consultations. But again, no decision has yet been made.

MS ORTAGUS: Okay, we're going to have Idrees Ali from Reuters.

QUESTION: Pompeo and Esper, you both have been talking with your allies around Asia and Europe about the maritime initiative that was just mentioned, but their response, at least publicly, has been lukewarm at best. Germany and Japan have both said that they're not going to send warships for this initiative. So what makes you confident that you're actually going to be able to fill out the request that you've made, and is there a specific deadline by which you want to fill that request out, given the imminent nature of some of the threats that you've talked about in the past?

And for the Australian ministers, there's been talk about increase in U.S. military infrastructure in Australia. Are you considering deeper military engagement or more military engagement with the United States? Will that be more troops, military exercises or infrastructure? And will that be based out of Darwin or will that be somewhere other than that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Let me take the first part of your question. So you made an assertion about certain countries that have made decisions. You shouldn't believe everything that's reported in the press. You – you simply shouldn't believe everything that's reported in the press. There's lots of conversations taking place amongst all of the countries. As with Australia, they are all taking this request seriously. They understand that they have goods that flow through this region that are important to their own economies, and so deterrence in the strait is incredibly important to their citizens and to their countries.

And so I am confident that when we begin to build out this process and begin to develop the operational concept, which will be run by Secretary of Defense and his team, I am very confident that we will have a global coalition that does what Secretary Esper spoke to, which reduces the risk of conflict in the region and enables the freedom of navigation. Just as we spoke about the freedom of navigation in the straits in this region that the United States participates in, it's very important that every country that has an interest in that region and has goods and services that flow, energy that flows into places like Japan and Korea, that they participate in a way that protects the interests of their own economies.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you for your question. I'm going to invite Senator Reynolds to answer it in detail, but let me say, as someone who has an abiding interest in the Australia-U.S. relationship and its defense aspects, particularly over the last few years, if you contemplate the depth and breadth of the relationship as it stands, let alone in the context of your question, it is one of the most significant that Australia enjoys. When I was first talking with Ambassador Hockey about our defense engagement in the U.S., doing the math, as the U.S. would say, required us to assess that over more than 30 states of the U.S., over 600 Australian defense representatives in various capacities are embedded, are engaged, are working together in the pursuit of the values that we both support and that we prosecute consistently around the world, and most particularly in this region.

And as Senator Reynolds observed, the achievement of the full rotation of the Marine force rotation in the north of Australia is testament to that. But in your detailed question, I'll ask – invite Senator Reynolds to say more.

DEFENSE MINISTER REYNOLDS: Thanks very much, Marise. I suspect you're referring specifically to that Marine Rotational Force, and we're getting to that or we now have got to the 2,500. In relation to your question, are we looking at additional measures? Not in terms of facilities new, but we have had recent media here in terms of the $2 billion the Australian and the United States governments have committed towards the force posture initiatives. And so this money is actually going towards filling out our current arrangements, so both for the Marine Rotation Force Darwin and also our enhanced air cooperation. So it includes things like enhancing airfield accommodation, training areas, and also ranges that we both use.

So I understand that the money is now going through Congress, and far be it from me to predict what the Congress will do, but we warmly welcome the progress of that funding through the Congress and look forward to investing that money in facilities that we both use in the north of Australia.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much, everyone.

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