the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

Search form

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deptuy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes and NSC Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel

Parliament House
Canberra, Australia 

7:00 P.M. AEST

MR. CARNEY:  Good evening, my friends.  Thanks for being here.  We're going to have a slightly unusual briefing.  I have with me Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications; and Danny Russel, Senior Director at the NSC for Asia.  Ben is going to start the briefing with an embargoed discussion of the speech tomorrow.  And if you have questions about the speech, ask them right away and we will just embargo that section.  We were going to embargo the whole briefing, but that doesn't make sense, so once we get through the speech, if you have other questions on other subjects that would be fine and that would be usable right away.  Make sense? 

Q    Embargoed until he starts speaking?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, until he speaks. 

Q    And will you have excerpts?

MR. CARNEY:  We're working on that. 

MR. RHODES:  Yes, we're working on getting you some excerpts tonight. 

MR. CARNEY:  And those would be embargoed as well.

Q    So he speaks East Coast time or Australia time?  (Laughter.)  Sorry, I'm confused.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, you are. 

And with that, here is Ben Rhodes.

MR. RHODES:  And just to reiterate, I'll walk through some of the points in the speech.  We'll have excerpts on some of the key issues; take some questions on that particular content.  Obviously, there's overlap with other issues, so we can discuss those in the context of your other questions.

But as I mentioned earlier, this is a speech that will be both an opportunity to highlight the alliance between the U.S. and Australia and its importance, while also having the President lay out a vision of the U.S. role in the Asia Pacific region more broadly going forward. 

So he will begin the speech with a strong reaffirmation of the alliance between the U.S. and Australia.  He will underscore the fact that that's been rooted in shared interest and shared values -- that in many respects America and Australia share common characteristics among our peoples, just as we share a common experience.  And we've, of course, been together in every major war, and in that context, he'll speak about the sacrifices we're making in Afghanistan, as well as the work that we do together on a range of priorities around the world.

After that, he'll focus on the Asia Pacific more broadly.  I think he will underscore I think what is a core message of this entire trip, which is that as we end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we are refocusing our attention in a substantial way on the Asia Pacific region.  We see this very much as a rebalancing of the U.S. commitment and footprint in the world, manifested in our diplomatic efforts, our security efforts, and our economic efforts.  And so the context for this speech is very much this pivot that we've been undertaking since the beginning of this administration, really, to turn our attention to the

Asia Pacific region across a range of areas.

Now, the speech will hit upon three major areas:  security, the global economy, and democracy and human rights. 

On the security section, the President will underscore the fact that he has made a strategic decision that the United States is going to play a larger role and a long-term role in shaping the future of the region.  Associated with that -- and you heard the President speak to this a little bit just now -- he will discuss the ongoing review of our defense budgetary priorities that have been taking place in discussions that the President has had, of course, with his national security team.  And he will address directly the question that was posed today, actually, about the role of the United States in the context of reduced budgets. 

We also see it in the context of ending the wars, because the U.S. essentially has a force that has been focused overwhelmingly on Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 10 years, so even as we make these budgetary choices we're also making choices about priorities going forward and about capabilities that are needed to meet those priorities.

In that vein, he will make it clear that he has directed his national security team to make our presence and our missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority, that reductions in defense spending will not come at the expense of the Asia Pacific region. So he'll be sending a message about the prioritization of this region in the context of those defense budget cuts and decisions. And that will be, I think, as robust a statement as the President has made about his view of the future of defense spending to date.

Associated with that, he will discuss the various ways in which we are going to be focused on allocating our resources to maintain our presence in the region.  We'll want to preserve our unique capability to project power in the Asia Pacific region.  We will of course have to keep our commitments, including all of our treaty obligations to allies like Australia.  We will be strengthening new capabilities to meet the challenges of the 21st century, whether it's through joint exercises with our partners, the ability to train and partner with a range of nations, and the ability to respond quickly to contingencies, and the ability, of course, of the United States to continue to be the anchor of security in the Asia Pacific region that we've discussed throughout this trip.

And so the bottom line is he will be making a strong statement that the United States is a Pacific power, and we intend very much to maintain our presence here and to build upon it going forward.  And you, of course, heard today a very important announcement associated with that, with the Marine Air and Ground Task Force that will be positioned here in Australia in the coming years as emblematic of that effort.

I think he'll be speaking about the need, again, to also maintain our strong presence in Japan, on the Korean Peninsula, while we are also enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia.  And I think you heard Admiral Willard speak to this the other day -- our presence in the Asia Pacific has very much been weighted in Northeast Asia.  Given the importance of this part of theAsia Pacific region, we want to make sure we're enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.  Today's announcement was a part of that, and we'll continue to, of course, build on those capabilities going forward.

We'll also, of course, be talking about how we're going to help our allies and partners build their capacity.  We do that in a range of ways, from port calls to training to joint exercises.

He'll also discuss a range of the security challenges in the region.  He'll reiterate America's policy on North Korea as it relates to their proliferation activities and their international obligations.  He'll discuss a range of security commitments the U.S. has in the region, very much in line with what Admiral Willard talked to you about the other day.  And then he'll also look forward to the East Asia Summit, particularly underscoring our focus on shared challenges, such as proliferation and maritime security, to include cooperation in the South China Sea. 

Then we will discuss the second area, being economic issues. I think there you will see him very much build on the message he’s had throughout this trip, that we are seeking to take advantage of the enormous growth that’s taking place here in the region, that we conduce* in a way that produces win-win outcomes for nations and businesses and workers; that we’re invested in a future where economies are open and transparent, trade is free and fair, and there’s an international economic system where there are clear rules of the road that everybody plays by.

As a part of that, of course, he’ll hold up and underscore the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as an ambitious trade agreement that does set these types of high standards.  He’ll talk about, again, the types of core commitments that are necessary to sustain the type of trade we’d like to see:  trade where workers’ rights are respected; businesses compete on a level playing field; intellectual property and new technologies are protected; currencies are market driven; growth is broad and sustained.  And also, he’ll touch upon the importance of clean energy in the context of both combating climate change and fueling economic growth.

Beyond that, then he will talk about the third broad category of the U.S. commitment to the region, and that is our support for democracy and human rights.  Of course, we share these values with Australia.  And I think he’ll very much underscore the importance of the U.S. speaking up for these rights, where we feel that they are threatened; empowering and supporting emerging democracies -- and we have models of emerging democracies across the region, including in South East Asia; strengthening civil society and open government, which has been a key priority of our administration; advancing the rights of women and minorities and indigenous cultures going forward.  And here, of course, he’ll welcome the steps that Australia has taken in recent years -- historic steps to recognize the rights and importance of their indigenous population.

In that context, I think he’ll also be able to touch upon some issues in the region, such as Burma, where we of course have had extraordinary concerns about the human rights situation within that country -- although, we have seen some positive steps taken in recent days.  And he’ll underscore the importance of the Burmese government continuing to go down that path to pursue a better relationship with the United States. 

So that’s a broad overview, again.  It really covers the core areas of concern on this trip and the core areas of concern that we have in the Asia Pacific region, and lays out a very broad and robust role for the United States going forward in shaping an economic architecture of cooperation, shaping a security environment that is conducive to the interest and rights and responsibilities of all nations; and, of course, being a force on behalf of democracy and human rights.

We see our engagement in these regional organizations, like APEC, East Asia Summit, and our engagement at ASEAN as a critical way of advancing those interests.  So this speech, again, will frame our approach throughout this trip and our approach going forward.

So I’ll take any questions on the speech and then we can pivot to other issues.


Q    Ben, you mentioned that in a time of budget cuts, the President will make clear that this region -- it’s not going to come at the expense of this region, which raises the question of we’ll lose.  I mean, is it -- it is kind of a zero-sum with less money to work with.  Are you contending that the Afghan and Iraq drawdowns will be enough?  Or are we looking at potential cuts in places like Europe?

MR. RHODES:  I’d say a couple of things.  First of all, the Afghan and Iraq drawdowns are part of this picture, but they’re not the complete picture.  And we’ve acknowledged that there are going to have to be defense cuts that go beyond simply the savings that are gained from the wars.

And as a part of that, the military leadership and civilian leadership of our national security team is looking at the broad array of defense priorities that the United States has.  We recognize that that involves choices and prioritization.  And I think what the President is doing is laying down a marker about a core priority and a top priority, as he said, of the United States being an Asia Pacific region.

I wouldn’t -- I think that leadership at the Pentagon is going to have to continue to speak to this going forward about where other cuts will come from.  They’ve already, of course, identified a significant number, but are in the process of identifying more.  Certainly that means there are going to be cuts in other places, so I wouldn't get ahead of that and identify precisely where they're going to end up other than to say that the President has laid down a marker that it's going to be a priority to preserve our role in the Asia Pacific region and to build upon that role going forward.

Q    -- troops that are going to be in the Northern Territories, is that not sending a message to China?

MR. RHODES:  It's about sending a message to the entire region about the U.S. commitment to be present in a robust way in the South Pacific and Southeast area, as well as Northeast Asia, where we have a significant presence.

So in terms of specific capabilities, that will allow us to work cooperatively with the Australians.  It will also allow us to work with and conduct doing exercises with and training exercises with a host of nations in this part of the Asia Pacific region to strengthen their capabilities.  It gives us a more rapid deployment response capability to different contingencies. It could run the gamut from humanitarian to disaster relief, to any other challenge that may emerge in this part of the world. 

So it’s a part of the U.S. sending a signal that we’re going to be present, that we’re going to continue to play the role of underpinning security in this part of the region.  Part of that context is a rising China.  That’s one part of the context for the future of this region.  But either way, the United States is going to stay present and it’s going to be able to, again, I think assure the nations of the Asia Pacific that we’re going to be a guarantor of security for our allies, and we’re going to be a force on behalf of international standards and norms, like the President spoke about today.


Q    Back to the prioritization of this area in terms of budget, two questions:  One, are you saying that essentially the military spending for Asia Pacific will not be cut as the Pentagon makes these tough choices and, in fact, will be increased?  And how much money are we talking about?  I mean, I’m not really clear on how much it costs to put 250 Marines in Darwin and ramping up to 2,500.  I mean, just -- since you’ve kind of put on the table the idea that in tough budgets this is the priority, could you kind of address both of those?

MR. RHODES:  Well, they’re separate issues.  I think in terms of the tough -- in terms of the budgetary priority, I think what you’re going to see is a number of choices are going to have to be made about where to find more savings in the defense budget -- where we can cut spending in the defense budget, and the involves setting priorities.

And this is a statement of priority by the President in the first, I think, significant statement that he’s made in that context since he -- these discussions began, and with his national security team.  So I don’t think we’re at a stage where we can set a dollar amount on it because they’re still working through the full range of budgetary choices.

But I think what he is saying is our ability to conduct the roles that we play in the Asia Pacific, and our ability to develop the capabilities that we need going forward are going to be prioritized and protected in the context of those budgetary choices.  So it’s a statement of prioritization and principle --

Q    You’re not saying that the budget will be cut for Asia Pacific?  You’re just saying maybe it won’t be cut as much as someone else’s.  

MR. RHODES:  Well, again, I can’t put a dollar amount on it at this point.  But we can say that this region and the capabilities we have in it are going to be prioritized in the context of our defense budgetary review. 

Q    -- a top priority?  Or, I mean, just prioritize?  I mean, you listen to government people talk sometimes and everything is a priority.  So it’s hard to understand what that means.

MR. RHODES:  I think this -- the President said himself that this is a top priority.  And that’s a very clear signal to the region and also to his own government about the fact that as we review a range of choices that the Asia Pacific is going to be a focal point of our efforts going forward.

Part of that is that the spending and capabilities are recovered by ending the wars.  But part of that is going to be the broader defense choices that we’re going to be making going forward.

Q    You can’t say, though, whether total spending will rise, stay the same, or fall?

MR. RHODES:  I can’t give you an exact number because they still have to work through entire defense budget for the coming years in a very -- which involves obviously very significant expenditures.  But, again, I can tell you that this is the first statement that he’s made of this nature about what his priorities are, and the fact that he sees this region as a focal point for U.S. efforts going forward.

Q    And about the cost of the Darwin --

MR. RHODES:  Yes, the Darwin -- so first of all -- and you guys should be getting the joint statement we had with Australians, and the Prime Minister described it, 250 Marines going up to 2,500.  This will be a Marine Air Ground Task Force at Darwin.  It will also include increased rotations of U.S. aircraft.

Q    This part is probably not embargoed, right?

MR. RHODES:  No, this isn’t -- no, no.  The stuff that’s not in the speech is -- also includes U.S. aircraft rotating into northern Australia.  These are coming out of our global force deployments.  So this in and of itself is not in -- and this question was asked before by Jackie -- is not new money.  This is actually money within the global force deployment that the Marines have, and they’re prioritizing it to Darwin.

But, Danny, do you want to say anything about the Darwin functions and capabilities?

MR. RUSSEL:  Sure.  Well, let me start, if I could, with a more general point, which is the President has been working hard to invest in all of our alliances in Asia.  And that was evident both in the state visit by President Lee of South Korea, the work that the President did in Honolulu with Prime Minister Noda, but particularly the fact that here in Australia he chose to demonstrate that we are, as Ben Rhodes said the other day, we are all in, in Asia. 

The President came to Australia with a message with regard to this forward rotational force posture that we are investing, we are not liquidating, our security presence in Asia -- number one.

Number two, as the President said earlier, Southeast Asia is coming into its own.  We’re rebalancing not only in the global sense, but within Asia as well.  We are maintaining our security capabilities and our alliances in Northeast Asia, and we are enhancing in Southeast Asia.

As the region grows and changes, so, too, does our security and defense posture.  So there's great significance to the announcement today that's not denominated in the number of Marines that it begins with, and not denominated in the dollars spent to fund them. 

This is a new step forward in the U.S.-Australia alliance.  We have Marines who will be operating and training jointly with their Australian colleagues, on Australian soil, and who will be rotating both jointly and unilaterally to cooperate with other security partners, allies and friends throughout Southeast Asia. These are countries who want to have U.S. and Australian help in developing their own capacity, and increasing their capacity to deal with contingencies and to deal with disasters benefits us and benefits the entire region.

Q    How will the President be talking about China in his speech?  Will he be singling out China when he talks about intellectual property, currency, and then balancing?  Or will he just sort of be speaking more generally?

MR. RHODES:  I think it will be quite similar to what he said today and what he's said throughout this trip, which is that what we are doing with our strength and influence in the

Asia Pacific is empowering positive models with clear rules of the road that benefit everybody.  On the economic side, it's high standards of trade.  On the security side, again, it's clear rules of the road to deal with issues like maritime security.  On the regional architecture side, it's developing institutions where everybody can work cooperatively to resolve challenges.

That is a standard that applies to every nation.  Now, China -- so China is not singled out by the fact that we are empowering international rules of the road in these areas.  China is welcome to be a part of these initiatives.  At the same time, again, that means that they're going to have to be adhering to rules and standards that all nations themselves need to abide by in order for the international system to work, in order for this region to continue its positive trajectory.

So I think there's -- the basic message of this entire trip is we are investing the focus of the United States and the resources of the United States in positive models.  All nations, again, are welcome to join with us in that effort.  It doesn't come at the expense of any one nation, but, again, there's a single standard that everybody needs to meet in order for the economic future and the security future of the region to be as positive as it should be.

Q    Will he be mentioning China?

MR. RHODES:  Yes, he'll certainly mention China, and he'll do it in that context of welcoming the progress that they've made while making it clear that, in that context, we would like to see all nations adhering to clear rules of the road. 

MR. CARNEY:  I want to say, we only have a few more minutes because we have to go to this dinner. 

Q    Jay, could you just analyze just a little bit, with a little bit more specificity, this military preference -- 200 to 250 Marines by mid-2012, ramping up to 2,500 -- when and who?  She said, that's Marine, air and ground.  So where does "ground" come in --

MR. RHODES:  It's a Marine Air and Ground Task Force.  It's called a MAGTF.  And the initial deployment starts at 250, and then the military will be building up from that to a full complement of 2,500 Marines, which is the normal complement for a Marine Air and Ground Task Force.  So that will begin next year, and it will ramp up steadily in the coming years with the, again, 2,500 being the full complement of the MAGTF.  And then --

Q    When?

MR. RHODES:  We don't have a specific date on that, but it will be a steady buildup from the initial complement of 250 up to 2,500.

Q    That does not include the U.S. Air Force --

MR. RHODES:  No, then the second joint -- that's one joint initiative.  The second joint initiative is the air piece.

And, Danny, do you want to talk about that a little bit?

MR. RUSSEL:  The second piece to the announcement the President made is the decision to expand the number and the frequency of aircraft coming to Australian bases, and widen the number of bases on which they operate in the northern part of Australia.  The benefit to the United States from this initiative is, among other things, in terms of increased interoperability between the U.S. and the Australian air forces. 

This is a program that enhances our flexibility and the versatility of U.S. forces.  I think that's true also with respect to the MAGTF, because as U.S. and Australian Marines train together, operate together, and mentor third countries together, we'll be standardizing operating procedures, we'll be increasing familiarity with technical aspects of security cooperation.  And as Ben said, we'll be setting standards that others can live up to that will be of tremendous benefit in response to the range of contingencies, including natural disaster and humanitarian response, which is a high priority for Australia, for the U.S. and for the region.

Forward-deployed forces are one of the key tools also that the U.S. military uses to engage friends and with allies.  In addition to building partner capacity, our ability to conduct exercises throughout the region increases our familiarity with them and their familiarity with us, so that when there is a crisis, we're able to be there quickly, know what to expect, and our partners are able to know how to cooperate with us from the get-go. 

Q    -- the U.S. Air Force can already use some Australian Air Force facilities, this is just expanding that?

MR. RUSSEL:  Correct.  This is a significant expansion --

Q    From what to what?  How many bases?

MR. RUSSEL:  It's not decided as an absolute number, but it is a ramping up of the program that will see a significant increase in both the number of airfields and in the quantity of U.S. aircraft.

Q    So you can't give numbers?

Q    What type of aircraft?

MR. RUSSEL:  I don't have -- a variety of aircraft.

Q    Planes?  There's no sea element to this, more ships rotating through or anything?

MR. RUSSEL:  This particular initiative doesn't involve a ramping up of ship visits or naval cooperation.  However, you should remember that this decision is the byproduct of a series of meetings at a high level both between the President and the Australian Prime Minister, but also the annual meetings of the U.S. and the Australian defense and foreign ministers.  These were the initiatives that were worked out by the AUSMIN, as it's called, in September of this year.  But they were the product and were two of a variety of options that were developed at the initiative of the President and the Prime Minister more than a year ago, as we conducted our respective force posture reviews and completed the first year of a joint U.S.-Australia force posture review.  So there may be more to come.

MR. RHODES:  Jake, I'd just say, the way to think about this also is as a force multiplier, right?  Because these are Marines that will be based here, but also deploying out, training, partnering with other militaries in the region -- Australia and others -- therefore, increasing capacity across the region.

So we see it as an essential platform going forward for our U.S.-Australian alliance, but also the ability to build out capacity among partner nations in Southeast Asia.

Q    -- agree to rotate through, or --


Q    -- they won't be permanently attached.

MR. RHODES:  There will be a constant rotation, so there will be -- this will be a regular presence of the U.S. Marines in Australia.  They will be deployed for different periods of time as a part of that.

MR. CARNEY:  We've got about five more minutes.

Q    There's an AFP alert that just crossed, and it says that China says increased U.S.-Australia military cooperation may not be quite appropriate.  I was just wondering if there's any reaction that you have to this.

MR. RHODES:  Well, we think it's perfectly appropriate, and I'd highlight two things.  First of all, this is one of our closest allies in the world, and we're doing this initiative with them.  As Prime Minister Gillard said in the bilateral meeting and in the joint press conference, this is a big deal and a significant step for them, to take this relationship to the next level through this deployment of Marines and increased aircraft.

Secondly, it's in response to demand from within the region. As we've said, the nations of the region have signaled they want the U.S. to be present; would like, again, in many respects and instances, increased partnership with the United States.  The ability of the United States to help respond to contingencies is something that has been welcomed in recent years, whether, again, it was work that we're doing in the Philippines to counter violent extremism, work that we're doing to counter piracy in the region, the response to the tsunami in Indonesia. 

So in other words, there's a demand signal from the nations of the region, and this is something that we're doing in concert with one of our closest allies.  So we believe it's not just entirely appropriate, but an important step to dealing with the challenges of the future of the Asia Pacific region.

Q    Can we have that not embargoed, that response?

MR. RHODES:  Yes, anything about the Marine contingent is -- that's announced, so you can take all that.

Q    When the President came here three years ago, he was talking about China in a way that he wanted to cooperate across a broad range of areas.  Has the experience since then -- in currency, geopolitics and everything else -- convince you that China really is a genuine strategic competitor of the U.S. and that's the way it's going to be from now on?

MR. RHODES:  No, we believe there are elements that are cooperative and elements that are competitive.  On the economic side, we've had some progress with the Chinese in rebalancing global demand and having them strengthen demand in their economy and having them work with us to sustain the global economic recovery.  On security challenges, we've worked with them on proliferation issues, whether it was the sanctions put in place on Iran, our continued efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

So we've been able to work with the Chinese on a set of issues.  Then there are other issues where we have not -- where we've had differences, and the President has enumerated, I think, particularly the economic differences on issues like currency, intellectual property, that are of concern to us.  And similarly, on the security side, again, what we want to see is a clear structure where nations in this part of the world are playing by the rules of the road.  We believe China can be a part of that. 

But there are elements of the relationship that are going to be cooperative; there are elements that are going to be competitive.  Our preference, again, is a China that rises peacefully, successfully, and that is able to partner with the United States and other nations in the region, provided it's in the context of clear rules of the road.

Q    Thank you.  Just real quickly -- can you clarify whether you consider either of these new initiatives to constitute a permanent U.S. presence?

MR. RHODES:  Well, it's going to be a -- what I'd say is it's going to be a sustained U.S. presence going forward.  It's going to be the presence of U.S. Marines and aircraft on Australian bases.  So it's a slight distinction in that it's a regular deployment that is envisioned to be ongoing and sustained, but it's Australian facilities versus, say, bases that we have built in countries like South Korea, for instance.

So, again, we envision it as sustained going forward, but making clear that, as the President said, these are Australian facilities that will be hosting U.S. Marines.

Q    Do you envision permanent bases here?  Could it lead to that?

MR. RHODES:  No, I don't think -- again, the Australians have a robust capability, obviously, through their own military forces.  What this is about is enhancing our ability to partner with them and to partner with other countries in the region.  Therefore, it can be a deployment of U.S. Marines, a deployment of U.S. aircraft onto Australian facilities, rather than the United States having to come in and develop some separate infrastructure.  So this is something that we're perfectly -- we believe that the appropriate and best way to do this is, is how it's designed, which is U.S. forces coming to Australian facilities, partnering with Australian forces, and then being able to be more forward-deployed in the region.

I'll take one more in the back there.

Q    Thank you.  What kind of impact do you expect to Marines in Okinawa, Japan as a result of this initiative?

MR. RHODES:  We see this as distinct from that issue.  In other words, that this is not a substitute for the ongoing presence that we have in Japan, in Northeast Asia.  It doesn’t affect our commitment to move forward with our agreements with the Japanese government on issues like Futenma. 

So this is a separate and additional U.S. step that’s being taken in concert with the Australians.  And it doesn’t impact any of our other basing agreements that are existing in the region.

Q    Can I just touch on the democracy part?  Are there any other countries besides Burma that will be mentioned in that section?

MR. RHODES:  Well, I think the President will focus on Burma in that section.  And I think he’ll mention in the context of our relationship with China that we raise human rights issues in that context as well.  And then I think he’ll be mentioning also the positive models that they’re -- countries like, for instance, Indonesia, where we’re going, where you’ve seen the emergence of a strong democracy that its gone through many challenges but provides -- as the President said last year when he went to Indonesia -- an inspiring model that you can have strong economic development and a thriving democracy, even in a very diverse and dynamic country like Indonesia.

Thanks, everybody.  So basically, any -- the speech stuff, I think you can disaggregate from the other stuff.  But anything on the Marines and Darwin is all open news now.

7:38 P.M. AEST