78 F
New York
Saturday, June 22, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defense Richard Marles, And Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong At a Joint Press Availability

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES:  Well, welcome, everyone, this afternoon.  The 2023 AUSMIN has been conducted with heavy hearts, given the news that we woke up to this morning.  I know I speak on behalf of all four of us when I say that our thoughts and prayers are very much with the missing air crew and their families.  As we’ve been meeting today and as we speak to you in this moment, Australian and U.S. defense force personnel are working closely together in the search and rescue.  Exercise Talisman Sabre involves a number of countries, but it is fundamentally a bilateral exercise between Australia and the United States.  It’s jointly planned by our two countries and jointly run by our two countries.

It is so important for both of our defense forces.  It’s serious.  It is dangerous, and it does carry risk.  And as we have contemplated that during the course of our deliberations today, we are reminded that as our defense force personnel have been side by side today, they have in fact been side by side with each other for more than a century, during which Australians and Americans have fought together in every conflict during that time.

The alliance is built upon that.  It’s built upon the shared values which underpin that.  And all four of us, in our conversations today, feel the legacy of that history.  When we met in Washington last December, we agreed on a number of initiatives and measures, and the very first observation that we all made today was that what we agreed last December since then we have done, we have put into practice.

And today we have had a very fruitful and rich conversation about the state of the alliance, about the state of the world in which we are both operating – its complexity, its volatility, its threat.  And as we engage in that world together, all of us have felt that the alliance has never been in better shape than it is right now.  We’ve made important steps forward in respect of American force posture initiatives in Australia, building on what currently exists. 

There is a commitment to increase American force posture in respect of our northern bases, in respect of our maritime patrols and our reconnaissance aircraft; further force posture initiatives involving U.S. Army watercraft; and in respect of logistics and stores, which have been very central to Exercise Talisman Sabre.

We spoke about the optimal pathway by which Australia will acquire a nuclear-powered submarine capability, which we announced in March of this year, and this is our first meeting since then.  And that continues apace and continues as well in terms of an increased force posture of America within Australia.  We will be seeing an increased tempo of visits from American nuclear-powered submarines to our waters as we look towards the establishment of a U.S. submarine rotation, H.M.S. Sterling later in this decade.

And importantly, in terms of force posture initiatives, we agreed that space cooperation would now form a key part of what we do in our military and defense cooperation, and this is a critical step forward.  We are really pleased with the steps that we are taking in respect of establishing a guided weapons and explosive ordnance enterprise in this country, and doing so in a way where we hope to see manufacturing of missiles commence in Australia in two years’ time as part of a collective industrial base between our two countries.  And this represents a very, very significant step forward in our relationship and in the relationship of our defense industry.

We are very grateful to the efforts which have been undertaken by the Biden administration in respect of export – defense export control legislation and creating a more seamless defense industrial base between our countries.  We are enormously grateful of the presence of Lloyd and Tony in Australia today.  I think Penny and I both feel that as we do these meetings with countries across the world, we can stand here hand on heart and say that Australia at this moment has no better friend than America, and that the relationship between the four of us is one of friendship and trust which embodies the relationship between our two countries and gives us an enormous sense of purpose about how we take forward the alliance in a very complex world.

Penny.

FORFEIGN MINISTER WONG:  Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister.  And I also wish to start by saying my thoughts today are with the families and the search and rescue crews searching for those onboard the helicopter that ditched during the Talisman Sabre exercises.  We are reminded that those who serve our country do so recognizing the risk that that service entails and demonstrating every day the courage to take on that risk on our behalf.  And we thank them for it.  It’s – it certainly has meant we’ve met with heavy hearts today.

This is our second AUSMIN and it’s good to be here in Brisbane.  We’ve had not only productive discussions but deep, warm, engaged, open, honest, and transparent discussions.  The U.S. is our vital ally.  It is our closest global partner, our closest strategic partner.  And Richard spoke about our history.  I would also speak about our future because the work that we are engaged in in these discussions today is about operationalizing our alliance, our partnership, for these times, these times with many challenges.  And it is about operationalizing the alliance in order to ensure peace, stability, and order in which prosperity can be attained and built upon, and a region and a world which respects sovereignty.  And we know how important the United States is to that shared endeavor.

Richard spoke about the fact that much of what we have spoken about on the last occasion in Washington has, in fact, been operationalized.  We’ve seen action on it, and we acknowledge the work that our friends, the United States, have undertaken to ensure those outcomes have been delivered.  And we thank Australian officials as well for their work.

In addition to the legislative matters and policy matters that Richard’s alerted to in in defense, I would just make this point: that we will be signing an MOU that sees USAID and DFAT work together to pre-position humanitarian supplies, both here in Brisbane and also in Papua New Guinea, to enable more effective humanitarian responses in the regions.  That was actually announced by the leaders in May, and we’re already signing legal documents to make that happen.  We are committed to making sure we not only announce, but we work on the ground to ensure we deliver.

We’re also pleased that there will be consideration of what more the U.S. Coast Guard can do in the region.  We know how important to our region illegal fishing and maritime security is.

On climate, you will recall that the prime minister and the President announced at Hiroshima the third pillar of the alliance, the focus on climate and clean energy.  We spoke about that again today.  We are focused on ensuring we work together both globally but also on the transition to renewable energy in our two countries and in our region.  U.S. engagement on this issue is so critically important.

We look forward to the next milestone in the history of the alliance, which of course is the prime minister’s state visit to Washington, and I close by reiterating again we do live in a world of many challenges, and we are very clear that the region we want, the interests we have, the values we share, require and call for our two nations to work together, and that is what we are doing.  And we thank you so much for your work with us today and for coming here to Queensland for the AUSMIN talks.  Thank you. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Richard.  First, for Lloyd, for me, being here with the both of you, with not just the important professional relationship that we have but, as you both said, the genuine friendship makes all the difference in the world.  Penny, to your point that we’re living in incredibly challenging times, that only underscores how vitally important it is for the United States to have this remarkable alliance, this remarkable friendship with Australia.  We have no greater or more valuable ally; I think that’s only been reconfirmed by the talks we’ve had over the last – the last couple of days.

Like my colleagues, I also have to start by saying that our hearts are full, full of concern for the four Australian servicemen whose helicopter crashed last night.  And our hearts are full too because they were performing their duties alongside American servicemen and women to further strengthen our alliance, our partnership, and the work we’re doing together around the world.  They have been on our minds throughout today; they remain very much on our minds right now.

I’d also like to say, for me, as a point of almost personal privilege, returning here to Australia has real significance.  My late stepfather, Samuel Pisar, went to secondary school in Australia and received his undergraduate degree at the University of Melbourne.  His time here profoundly shaped him.  He was literally saved, rescued, by Australia after the Holocaust, having survived concentration camps.  And so this country will always hold a very special place for me and for my family.

It holds a special place in the hearts of so many Americans.  Indeed, in Australia, Americans know they have one of their dearest friends, one of their staunchest allies, one of their closest partners.  For over seven decades now, we have worked closely together as allies – and, indeed, this is our 33rd such consultation.  And I agree very much with what Richard and Penny both said: Our relationship has never been stronger or more important for us and, I would argue, for the world.

Chief among our discussions today was the shared commitment that we have to advance a free, open, secure, prosperous, resilient, and connected Indo-Pacific.  But what do we actually mean by that?  We mean a region where countries are free to chart their own path and to choose partners – where issues are dealt with openly, transparently; rules are decided together, they’re applied fairly; goods, ideas, and people can flow lawfully and freely.

The Joint Statement makes clear that both the United States and Australia are committed to that goal, to that vision, and to realizing it through the work that we’re doing together bilaterally as well as through revitalized and in some cases new coalitions and partnerships that we’ve established throughout the region.

We’re deepening our collaboration through the Quad, where – alongside India and Japan – we’re actually delivering concrete results for our people on priorities like promoting health security, shaping the future of critical and emerging technologies in a way that aligns with our values and interests, enhancing maritime domain awareness, the capacity of countries to understand what’s happening in the waters around them, and connecting more people to the Internet and to telecommunications infrastructure.

One of the ways I’d note that we’re doing that is through the Quad Partnership for Cable Connectivity and Resilience, where Australia’s leadership is helping to connect more people to trusted and secure underseas cable systems.  This is really the world’s “information superhighway,” and is critical to growth and prosperity.

We’re elevating our engagement with Pacific Islands Forum, where we’re partnering on shared priorities like promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth and making our communities more resilient to climate change.  The United States is committed to broader and deeper cooperation with Pacific Island countries – which is why Secretary Austin, Second Gentleman Emhoff, Secretary Haaland, and I have each visited different Pacific Island countries just in the past week alone.

On AUKUS, we are building on the momentum from President Biden, Prime Minister Albanese, and Prime Minister Sunak’s meeting in San Diego in March.  Earlier this month, the first group of Royal Australian Navy officers graduated from the United States Navy’s Nuclear Power School, where they’ve been trained to safely operate conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines.

At the same time, our two countries are defending the international rules-based order, which has underwritten peace and security for decades, and which ensures that each country can make its own sovereign decisions, free from any coercion.

We’re doing that in part by engaging China, but also, as necessary, opposing its efforts to disrupt freedom of navigation and overflight in the South and East China Seas, to upend the status quo that has preserved peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, to pressure countries through economic coercion or threats to their citizens.

We’re also united in supporting Ukraine against Russia’s brutal war of aggression.  Australia’s assistance continues to be critical to the fight for Ukraine’s sovereignty, for its territorial integrity, for its future.  Today we discussed and condemned Russia’s weaponization of food, including its recent decision to end its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative and its continued bombardment of Ukrainians’ export infrastructure.

I’d just note that over 35 million tons of food products had been exported through the Black Sea Grain Initiative – that’s the equivalent of 18 billion loaves of bread – with nearly two-thirds going to the developing world.  The decision made by Russia to tear up this agreement is hurting millions who depend on Ukraine’s grain and wheat, as well as those, even if not directly receiving that grain and wheat, who benefit from the fact that with that wheat and grain on markets, prices are kept in check, kept lower.

Finally, a major focus of our discussion today was on combatting the climate crisis and accelerating the transformation and transition to clean energy.  And this is where the prime minister and President Biden have together built the third pillar of the U.S.-Australia alliance, alongside our defense and economic cooperation.

Just last week, Australia joined the First Movers Coalition.  This is a group of now 13 countries and 85 companies driving clean energy solutions across historically emissions-intensive sectors – shipping, trucking, aviation.  We’re looking forward to Australia, home to growing hydro, solar, and wind energy sectors, bringing its resources and innovation to bear.

As President Biden has said, the United States “has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia.”  Today AUSMIN builds on our successful past and guides our work together to build a stronger, more secure, and more peaceful world for everyone.

Penny and Richard, again to you:  Thank you for the partnership, thank you for the friendship.  I’m also gratified that we benefit here in Australia from a remarkable ambassador, Caroline Kennedy.  Glad to be with her.  And of course, a not bad Australian ambassador in Washington, either.  It’s wonderful to be with you as well. 

So thank you again for very productive ministerial. 

Lloyd.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Thanks, Tony.  Deputy Prime Minister Marles and Foreign Minister Wong, thanks for the incredible hospitality.  It’s great to be back in Brisbane.  It’s great to be back in Australia, especially at this historic moment in the progress of our relationship here.  It’s a relationship that’s really, really strong between two strong democracies. 

Let me add my voice to all of my colleagues here in saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the Australian Defence Force and the four Australian servicemembers who were involved in the helicopter crash earlier today while supporting Exercise Talisman Sabre.  The United States is assisting with search and rescue efforts, and we will continue to help in any way that we can.  And I’ve told the deputy prime minister that whatever he needs, we stand ready to provide assistance.

Our meetings today reaffirm the strength of our unbreakable alliance, and the strategic alignment between our countries has never been greater.  We share a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we’re committed to investing further in our alliance to uphold this vision. 

The results of today’s discussions represent yet another major step for our alliance as we work together to enhance stability and deterrence in the region.  We’re deepening our force posture cooperation with Australia, upgrading critical air bases in the Northern Territory, and pursuing important infrastructure projects at new locations. 

And taken together, these initiatives will strengthen our ability to respond to crisis in the region while enhancing our interoperability.  And we continue to increase the rotational presence of U.S. forces in Australia.  This includes maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, which will enhance our maritime domain awareness in the region.  We’re also introducing new rotations of U.S. Army watercraft and expeditionary submarine visits to Australia.  These efforts will bolster deterrence by strengthening our interoperability and enhancing our sustainment and logistics capabilities for critical missions. 

Meanwhile, we’re establishing an enduring logistics support area to further expand our logistics and sustainment cooperation, and we also agreed to advance our defense ties with other regional partners.  We endorsed plans for enhanced trilateral cooperation with Japan and Australia, which will include F-35 training and cooperation.  We further agreed to expand our cooperation in space and to improve our ability to coordinate more deeply with Australia in this new domain and an important domain.

Yet success in all these areas will require that we sharpen our technological edge and strengthen our defense industrial bases.  And that’s why we’re pursuing several mutually benefit initiatives with Australia’s defense industry.  These include a commitment to help Australia produce Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or GMLRS, by 2025.  And we’re racing to accelerate Australia’s access to priority munitions through a streamlined acquisition process. 

We’re also thrilled to announce that we’re taking steps to enable Australia to maintain, repair, and overhaul critical U.S. and U.S.-sourced munitions. 

Now, that’s an exceptional sort – set of achievements, and it reflects the strength and the ambition of our alliance.  So again, Deputy Prime Minister Marles and Foreign Minister Wong, thanks for your tremendous hospitality and for your unwavering support for our great alliance.  And thanks for hosting this year’s AUSMIN, and Tony and I have agreed that the next five meetings will be held here as well.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That would be good.

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  We’re up for that. 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES:  Thank you, Lloyd.  So now we are taking questions.  Vivian Salama of the Wall Street Journal

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you so much for having us, for hosting us, and Secretary Blinken, thanks for bringing us along for the ride.  Secretary Blinken, I’m going to start with you.  On Wednesday – sorry – in Niger, General Abdourahamane Tchiani has declared himself the country’s leader and said that the constitution is suspended.  Technical issue.  Okay, all right, we’ll start again.

In Niger, General Abdourahmane Tchiani has declared himself the country’s new leader and said the constitution is suspended.  You spoke with President Bazoum today and you declared the ongoing U.S. support; however, the U.S. provides millions in assistance to Niger, and right now we don’t really know who’s running things, I mean, considering that the U.S. is still supporting the detained leader.  And so is the U.S. planning to designate this as a coup and cut off aid to Niger, or at least announce any kind of review of that aid?  And also if you can update us on the status of the embassy there.

And really quickly, please, if you can also just tell us, with regard to Haiti, evacuation of nongovernment personnel, nonemergency personnel and family members from Haiti, you have talked about the importance of a UN – a UN-backed military multinational force to Haiti.  What is the status of that effort, and particularly in light of the department’s recent announcement? 

Secretary Austin, on to you.  On Wednesday, Russian fighters used flares to damage the wing of a U.S. drone that was flying over Syria.  It was the second time that a U.S. drone has been damaged by Russia just this week alone, but the Pentagon hasn’t acknowledged the drone, that damage on Wednesday, or has not released any kind of footage about that confrontation.  So are you going to release any video of that?  And do you plan to continue drone flights in northwest Syria, and if so, what is the longer-term plan to deter any kind of Russian attacks on U.S. drones over there? 

Minister Marles –

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  Is this one question?  (Laughter.) 

QUESTION:  If I could — 

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  Is this one question?  I just want the Australian journalists to know we’re not adopting this as a modus of operandi.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  One extended question. 

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  Ah yes, a multi – it’s lots of paragraphs. 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES:  We’re impressed. 

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  We’re impressed. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  I think Secretary Blinken is quite used to it, at least.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’ll tell you about it later.  (Laughter.)

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  Okay.  (Laughter.) 

QUESTION:  I just wanted to ask you about the pushback in Congress at the moment with regard to – particularly with regard to export controls.  Do you feel confident that you’ve at least secured enough short-term commitments and deliveries from the U.S. to offset any potential delays that might come about because of – as this makes its way through Congress?

And Minister Wong, are you concerned that U.S. politics is getting in the way of your national security, and what assurances have you received today that this deal will proceed, particularly given the apparent political divisions in our chambers of Congress and a presidential election next year?

Thank you, I’m done. 

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  Yeah, congratulations.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So let’s see.  Starting from the beginning, I think it started with me.  Thank you, Vivian. 

First with regard to Niger, I spoke again this morning here with President Bazoum.  I’ve spoken as well with former President Issoufou.  I’ve spoken with other colleagues, including our French colleagues.  Our team has been deeply engaged with multiple countries in the region as well as critical organizations like ECOWAS, like the African Union.  And we are united in condemning the actions that have taken place in Niger, calling for the immediate release of President Bazoum, calling for the immediate restoration of the democratic order in Niger. 

And let me be very, very clear about this, as I have been in my phone conversations.  Our economic and security partnership with Niger – which is significant, hundreds of millions of dollars – depends on the continuation of the democratic governance and constitutional order that has been disrupted by the actions in the last – in the last few days.  So that assistance, that support, is in clear jeopardy as a result of these actions, which is another reason why they need to be immediately reversed.

We very much support the efforts of ECOWAS, of the African Union, other governments in the region, to mediate this crisis and, again, to make sure that the democratic order is restored.  That’s our focus.  I can’t get into specifics about what might be assessed as a legal matter; but regardless of what we call this, the fact remains that the very significant assistance that we have in place and that’s making a material difference in the lives of the people of Niger is clearly in jeopardy, and we’ve communicated that as clearly as we possibly can to those responsible for disrupting the constitutional order and Niger’s democracy.

With regard to our embassy, of course we’re always focused on the security of our embassy, of our personnel.   We released a security alert that advises U.S. citizens to limit any unnecessary movements, to avoid the affected area, until further notice as this situation develops.  The embassy itself immediately conducted an accountability check to make sure that all official members of our community, family members, were accounted for.  They are.  And we’re taking, as always do, every necessary precaution to make sure that everyone is safe and secure.

With regard to Haiti, we have very deep concern for the situation there, particularly with regard to violence and the activities of the gangs.  We are, as I think you know, the largest humanitarian donor to Haiti, but we are also very focused on working together with partners to try to help the Haitians restore security, restore stability.  That really is the necessary foundation for being able to make progress on a political way forward as well as making sure that humanitarian assistance can actually get to those in need. 

So we’ve been very focused on trying to put in place what’s necessary for a multinational force, including finding a lead nation to take this on, and my expectation is that we will have some progress to report on that very soon.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  On the – regarding the irresponsible and dangerous behavior on the part of the Russians, we call upon the Russian leadership to make sure that they issue guidance to their troops to abide by the laws of the sky and make sure that they cease this irresponsible behavior.  We’ll continue to engage using the established channels to convoy our concern, and we’ll continue to engage senior leadership, as appropriate.

But again, we will continue to operate as we have always operated in the air spaces, and we will protect our interests and our resources.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES:  Well, perhaps the starting point is that in addition to our roles as ministers, Penny and I are both legislators, and so we very much understand the heat and light that comes with the passage of legislation through parliament.  And we are completely sanguine about what we are seeing in America and understand that that is just part of the process.

We are absolutely assured by Tony and Lloyd, but also in fact by the efforts that we’ve undertaken ourselves in speaking with those on the Hill, that there is a bipartisan commitment to Australia acquiring the capability to operate nuclear-powered submarines because what that – because of what that will mean, and in terms of advancing the American strategic interest, but obviously the joint strategic interest between our two countries.  And we couldn’t be happier with the progress in which the optimal pathway is being walked.

We are going to see, in the very near future, increased visits.  And we already have seen, but we will see more visits of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, which is really the first steps in walking the path of Australia developing the capability to operate nuclear-powered submarines ourselves.  We are working closely with the U.S. in relation to training, as Lloyd referred to earlier, and in terms of developing our own infrastructure and industrial base.

So we’re really confident about the progress of this.  The way in which Congress operates is the way in which Congress operates, but in fact we’re actually encouraged by the progress of this legislation through the Congress.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Could I just reaffirm that confidence?  Because I think it is important to note this is a process.  Congress has a vital role to play in that process, and we’re working through the details.  But there is robust bipartisan support and a commitment to move forward.

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  Well, I think the question to me has been answered.  I’d simply again reiterate we are confident in and gratified by the clear bipartisan support which has been articulated in respect of AUKUS, including from senior congressional leadership.  And the second point I’d make is the point that we’ve all been engaged with, which is this is in both our countries’ interests.  And so we understand, as Richard said – we’re both legislators – as always, some attention paid to discussions during negotiations, but ultimately what is before us is a shared endeavor that is in both nations’ interest.

MODERATOR:  Matthew Knott.

QUESTION:  Deputy Prime Minister Marles, just the two questions.  (Laughter.)

Following on from that topic, but really to you, Secretary Austin, to the substance of Republican senators that they’ve raised in the letter, they say that there just simply isn’t enough domestic capacity for shipbuilding of submarines in America.  Is the administration willing to provide potentially billions of dollars of more funding for domestic capacity to ensure that the support for AUKUS and the submarine transfer to Australia is genuinely bipartisan?

And secondly, to Minister Wong and Secretary Blinken about the Julian Assange case:  Did you raise this with your counterparts, Minister Wong, and is Australia becoming frustrated from publicly what we see as a lack of progress on this issue?

And from Secretary Blinken, I think Australians would be very interested in the American perspective on this issue.  We have heard our prime minister say that he thinks it’s time for this matter to be brought to a close.  This involved sensitive diplomatic and military information, but many Australians, I believe, think that it’s frankly unfair that the American military officer who leaked the information is free while an Australian is still being prosecuted through the justice system.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Regarding AUKUS, I am confident that there will continue to be strong bipartisan support for this initiative.  This initiative, as you know, creates a generational capability, and again, it helps us to realize our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.  And so I think it’s recognized across the board that this is a capability that will add value to all of our efforts.

In terms of our investment in our industrial base, as we embarked upon this endeavor, we are confident that we were placing the right amount of investment into the industrial base.  But again, we will continue to make sure that all the pieces are in place as we proceed, and I have great confidence that we have the ability to create the capability that we’re going after.

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  The question in relation to Mr. Assange:  I have answered this question, I think, probably also from you, Matthew, on a number of occasions.  I would make three points.  The first is we have made clear our view that Mr. Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and our desire that it be brought to a conclusion.  And we’ve said that publicly, and you would anticipate that that reflects also the position we articulate in private.

I’ve also said that, obviously, that we do what we can government to government, but there are limits until Mr. Assange’s legal processes have concluded.  And as a footnote, I would make this point that the case you reference had a – had got to a different point in terms of legal proceedings.

And my final point is that I understand Mr. Assange has filed a renewal of appeal application in the UK.  The Australian Government is not party to these legal proceedings, and nor can we intervene with them.  Having said that, we will continue to offer him consular assistance and to convey our expectations about his treatment.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, as a general matter of policy, we don’t really comment on extradition matters, extradition proceedings.  And so I really would refer you to our Department of Justice for any questions about the status of the criminal case, whether it’s with regard to Mr. Assange or the other person in question.

And I really do understand – I can certainly confirm what Penny said about the fact that this matter was raised with us, as it has been in the past, and I understand the sensitivities.  I understand the concerns and views of Australians.  I think it’s very important that our friends here understand our concerns about this matter. 

And what our Department of Justice has already said repeatedly, publicly, is this:  Mr. Assange was charged with very serious criminal conduct in the United States in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country.  The actions that he is alleged to have committed risked very serious harm to our national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put named human sources at grave risk – grave risk of physical harm, grave risk of detention.

So I say that only because just as we understand sensitivities here, it’s important that our friends understand sensitivities in the United States.

MODERATOR:  Liz Friden of Fox News.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for doing this.  My first question – and I have a question for all four of you.  My first question is for Deputy Prime Minister Marles:  Do you believe China will invade Taiwan in 2027, and is the point of these Talisman Sabre war games to train to act on a potential invasion?

My second question is for Foreign Minister Wong:  Are you concerned about the timeline of the AUKUS agreement since Australia won’t get the nuclear-powered subs until 2027?  Will these nuclear-powered subs still help deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan?  Kind of bounces off the first question.

For Secretary Blinken:  Is the Russian defense minister in North Korea to buy weapons for Ukraine – for Russia to use in Ukraine, that is?  And have you seen any signs that China is providing weapons to Russia?  An ODNI report that came out recently said that China has sent millions of dollars worth of drones and drone parts to Russia to use in its war.  Where do you draw the line between sending these drone parts and drones and sending actual weapons?

My last question is for Secretary Austin.  The first presidential drawdown for Taiwan was announced earlier today.  Do you have any concerns transferring air defense systems to Taiwan could impact weapon supplies for Ukraine? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES:  Well, thank you, Liz.  Firstly, I’m not going to speculate about the future in the way that you have asked.

Exercise Talisman Sabre has been around for a long time.  You can’t have a capable defense force without it being match fit, and it can’t be match fit unless it engages in training and exercises.  And Exercise Talisman Sabre is the most important exercise that the Australian Defence Force engages in on a biennial basis.  It began its life many years ago as a bilateral exercise between the United States and Australia, and as I mentioned earlier remains as such albeit that it now involves a number of other countries. 

Fundamentally, Talisman Sabre is about us.  I mean, it’s about the Australian Defence Force and the U.S. defense forces, about making sure that we are capable in terms of the various skills and capacities that our defense forces have by, importantly, that we are capable in terms of the way in which we operate together and that our interoperability is at the highest level possible.

We greatly value exercise Talisman Sabre.  We greatly value the opportunity to work with the United States defense forces through it and the commitment that they make to it.  And at the end of the day, what it is about is making sure that Australia, and obviously America, has the most capable defense force `that we can possibly have. 

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG:  I’ll pick up that last point, the most capable defense force we can possibly have, because it really goes to your question.  So the work that we do, the work that we have done today, the work we do every day, the four individuals here and the very many wonderful individuals who are officials in the departments in the nations we represent, we work to ensure peace and stability in our region.  We work to ensure that our region enables prosperity.  We work to ensure a region – I think we use the phrase in which sovereignty is respected.  Tony talked about nations being free to choose, but that is the logic.  And so whether it’s the development, the acquisition of the AUKUS submarine capability or all of the other capabilities in which we are engaged, both in Richard and Lloyd’s portfolios or the work that we do in the diplomatic area, we are focused on that objective.

So I’m not going to, like Richard, get into the sort of scenarios that you’ve plotted out, but what I’d say to you is we see this as increasing the capability of our nations across many domains, of which one critically important one is submarines, but it is not the only. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Let me just, say before responding to the question you’ve addressed to me, I think what you’ve just heard and the question you’ve raised with my colleague just underscores the absolute imperative of working to maintain the status quo when it comes to Taiwan and making sure that no one engages in actions unilaterally that could disrupt that status quo.  That’s what all of us are focused on.

With regard to reports of the Russian defense minister in North Korea, I strongly doubt he’s there on holiday.  So what are we seeing?  We’re seeing Russia desperately looking for support, for weapons wherever it can find them, to continue to prosecute its aggression against Ukraine.  And we see that in North Korea.  We see that as well with Iran, which has provided many drones to Russia that it’s using to destroy civilian infrastructure and kill civilians in Ukraine.

China has assured us repeatedly – and not just us, many other countries – that it is not providing material lethal assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine, and we take those assurances very seriously.  We do have concerns about individual entities providing technology, dual-use technology that can be used, among other things, for drones and other kinds of weapons to be used in Ukraine.  It’s a concern that we’ve shared with Beijing and look to them to do whatever they can to make sure that that doesn’t happen. 

SECRETY AUSTIN:  So, Liz, your question was whether or not the air defense capability that we look to provide to Taiwan puts at risk our efforts to support Ukraine.  The short answer is no.  You will recall that the work that we’re doing in support of Ukraine is an international effort.  Every month, as you know, we gather some 50 or so countries together to really drill down on what Ukraine’s needs are and generate support, security assistance, as quickly as we can.  And that support is focused on what their pressing needs are.

With respect to Taiwan, the capability that we are providing them is defensive capability.  As you know, in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, we are committed to helping them get the capability they need to defend themselves.  And so this is no change from what we’ve done in the past.  So again, defensive capabilities, and it doesn’t put at risk anything that we’re doing in support of Ukraine. 

QUESTION:  Why not send the weapons to Taiwan as an emergency declaration?  (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  To Taiwan.  It – I think it’s important to use every instrument that we have available, every mechanism that we have available – FMS, other things, other things in addition to PDA.  So it’s really using every tool that we have in the inventory. 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES:  Stephen Dziedzic of the ABC. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, all of you, for your time.  Secretary Austin, could I perhaps just ask you – you referenced yesterday what you called China’s coercive behavior in the South Pacific, amongst other places.  Are you concerned by Beijing’s growing police cooperation agreement with Solomon Islands?

And can I ask:  Does the administration also support this government’s, the Australian Government’s, declaration that it would be willing to support Solomon Islands to establish its own military forces if Solomon Islands chooses to go down that path?

And Deputy Prime Minister Marles, you flagged deepening space cooperation in this statement.  Can I ask:  Will you work together on offensive capabilities, or are you largely focused on domain awareness?

And Secretary Austin, if you would care to speak at all about what role you see Australia playing in this area, that would be welcome too.  Thank you. 

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Thank you.  Let me just reattack on your first question there.  What was the first part of that?

QUESTION:  The Solomon Islands. 

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Yeah.  So I think it’s important to note that we don’t ask countries to choose between us and other countries.  So because you have a relationship with us doesn’t prohibit you from having relationships with other countries, and we clearly recognize that that’s going to occur.  That’s not a condition that we place on any country that we have a relationship with.

Our relationships are based upon mutual respect.  And in terms of whether or not we would – we support our ally’s effort to provide assistance to partners in the region, absolutely.  We see things alike.  We have a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.  And again, there are a number of things that we’re going to continue to work together on and build greater capacity and capability for our partners and allies in the region, and I look forward to working with Australia on those. 

DEPUTY PRIME MINITER MARLES:  Well, I suppose can I firstly start by expressing my concern about the evolution of cluster questions from the Australian media.  (Laughter.)  We have a deep working relationship where we share much between each other as governments.  We’d prefer there was less sharing going on down here.  (Laughter.)

Look, in respect of space, space domain awareness will form part of the cooperation that we engage in between our two countries in terms of our force posture arrangements in this area.  That’ll probably be the extent of what any of us will ever say about what else we do in respect of cooperation involving space. 

We obviously do have a long history of working with the United States in relation to space, so it’s actually pretty natural that as space evolves as a domain of human contest, that it becomes one of the key areas of force posture initiatives of America within Australia, and we think that obviously the opportunities that arise – it gives rise to in terms of our own national security – are very exciting.  But the opportunities that it’s going to give rise to in terms of developing technology in this country is also really exciting as well.

With that, Tony and Lloyd, thank you very much for being with us.  It’s been an honor on behalf of Penny and I to have you here.  And ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this afternoon.  Thank you all.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-secretary-of-defense-lloyd-j-austin-iii-australian-deputy-prime-minister-and-minister-for-defense-richard-marles-and-australian-foreign-minister-penny-wong-at-a-joint-pr/

- Part of VUGA Media Group -digital marketing best company

Latest article