Background Briefing on the Australian-United States Ministerial Consultations

Special Briefing
Senior Administration Officials
San Francisco, CA
September 15, 2011

MS. NULAND: So we are at the AUSMIN ministerial. We have two Senior Administration Officials to talk about the morning that Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta had with their Australian counterparts. Senior Official Number One.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Great. Good. And it’s good to see you all. I’ll turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Two] in a moment. Let me just give you guys some comment. I’ve done about (inaudible) AUSMINs over the years by an order of magnitude (inaudible) that was very substantial. And I think it reflects a growing strategic convergence and a broadening of the agenda between the United States and Australia. Also, there is just – there is a reservoir of respect and longstanding personal connections.

And, frankly, the fact that Secretary Panetta and Secretary Clinton were both politicians in a previous life helps in the context that in the Australian system both their ministers are politicians. And so they’re able to talk about complex issues like the future of our defense relationship within a larger context of how domestic politics play in both of our countries.

We talked a little bit on the airplane yesterday. In the past, our discussions had been primarily –

STAFF: Okay, great. They’re all about to be (inaudible).

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. In the past, our discussions were really on rather narrow bilateral issues. What we are now experiencing is the deepest possible conversations on every issue of strategic importance. This morning, for instance, we talked deeply about our shared approaches to China, what some of our areas that we wanted to cooperate, areas that we thought that there could be further transparency, and our respective strategies for how we will work together in a variety of institutional settings like the East Asia Summit; talked about Afghanistan and our need to work together on the upcoming transition. And I think as importantly, we talked about a range of new issues, a major agreement today about how the United States and Australia will work together on cyber security and ensure that we have a much deeper connectivity between our two – yes, someone’s off.

PARTICIPANT: On instead of recording (inaudible).

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I think that’s – but anyway. So [Senior Administration Official Two] will talk about that as well.

Virtually every subject – the mutual desire to engage India as a Pacific partner, the increasingly important role of Indonesia, the desire to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, to work together on a broad range of issues – I think all reflects the fact that not only does the U.S.-Australian relationship punch far beyond and above its weight, we are working together in a global context now that reflects the fact that the United States and Australia really appreciate and understand our – sorry, our – the stake that we have in a variety of areas.

Let me turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Two] to just jump in here.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. And I’d echo everything that [Senior Administration Official] says except that I haven’t been to quite as many AUSMINs as he has, which I think proves I’m only younger. (Laughter.)

I think it is a remarkable dialogue that we have with the Australians every time we get together. And the leadership that both of our sides at the ministerial and secretary level have displayed in terms of ensuring that we think carefully about the key issues that face our countries together and how we can work together towards addressing those interests, objectives, throughout the region, and frankly globally, it is impressive every time you get to see it.

From the defense realm, we talked, as I told many of you earlier, about some of the specific areas where we’re looking forward to cooperation. Right now, they’re talking about where we’re currently cooperating, which is in Afghanistan, and the great contributions and sacrifices that the Australians have made in that conflict. Also, earlier there was discussion, as my Senior Administration Official said, on cyber, on space cooperation, on missile defense, and on force posture along the lines that we’ve discussed earlier.

And again, just a tremendous commonality of approach and an incredible desire to come up with combined solutions that best serve our interests. And I think we have come out of this, both [Senior Administration Official One] and I, with a lot more things to do, as we often do out of good discussions, that we’ll have to take advantage of and put – and discuss in the broad range of contacts, both formal/informal, that we have with our Australian counterparts all throughout the systems below just the ministerial and secretary level.

MS. NULAND: And we are holding these guys from the official lunch where the discussion continues, so let’s just take three or four questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: And try to be as specific as (inaudible).

QUESTION: Phil Stewart from Reuters. Is there anything you can say at this point about our direction on force posture in Australia, anything that’s being decided or close to being decided about rotation of U.S. forces there?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think just that they have discussed the current plans and are committed to continuing efforts towards being able to really put some tangible meat on the bones, some real progress towards this cooperation with Australia from now and through – in to the end of the year.

QUESTION: Can you mention at least some of the bases or facilities that are involved since it’s been out in the joint press anyways? (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: More when I say it than – (laughter).

I think the combined locations are ones – I mean, the key is where are the ones that the Australians – where Australia already has facilities. We’re not looking to create any new bases. And we’re really looking at a range of options. And there’s a temporal nature as well. There may be some things that we’re doing in the near term, but there will be things that we’ll continue to explore beyond that. So I really don’t want to get into any specifics.

QUESTION: Is there a hitch on the timing --

MS. NULAND: Can I just offer the State Department folks a chance? State team, anything? Can you hear us? Okay.

QUESTION: Was there some sort of hitch in the agreement for sharing bases, or at least putting U.S. personnel and equipment on them? Because there was some thinking that there would be an agreement – there would be more concrete details by now.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: No hitch at all. And anybody that gave you the impression that there was going to be an agreement coming out of AUSMIN, it wasn’t any of us.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I think that’s fair to say. And this is – in many respects, this is a continuation of work that’s begun over the course of the last few years. We have taken the next steps in these deliberations along the lines that [Senior Administration Official Two] laid out, and I think you will see further details later this fall.

QUESTION: What is the next step?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I mean, the Secretary – last week, the White House announced President Obama would be going to Australia. I mean, I think there will probably – we have a full range of issues to discuss when we’re in Australia, but I would imagine that one of the important topics will be on defense-related issues. And so I think we’re trying to be as careful as we can. I think you all have worked in these arenas a long time. So the job of ministers is to take the next step to prepare the ground for major political deliberations and announcements.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. NULAND: Hold on a second, please. State team? Anything from the State team, please.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Let me – I’m sorry. Let me also add that what’s important is that the ministers have directed us to continue to do work towards getting closer to understanding what we can do and what we want to do.

QUESTION: Would you say that Australia’s status as an ally has become even more important given the rise of China and the changed environment in Asia?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, but I would say it’s broader than that. It’s just the importance of Asia as a whole. We are particularly advantaged by the strong knowledge and background that a person like Kevin Rudd brings to the table – remarkable knowledge in China. And it is also the case that the institutional contacts that Australia has in a key country like (inaudible) are unparalleled. So they bring a lot to the table for us and they help us. Probably no country has more shaped our views on our strategy about architecture, about overall engagement, and indeed as [Senior Administration Official One] indicated, on force posture, as our Australian friends.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Let me try this one more time. Do any of the State journalists have a question for our two briefers?

QUESTION: Victoria, this is Arshad from Reuters. I have a question. I apologize if it’s already been asked, since I’m only able to hear about two words out of three.

Were you asked if the ministers had discussed missile defense cooperation? And if so, did you make any progress on that issue today?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Once again, they absolutely discussed missile defense and they talked about the cooperation that is ongoing between our two scientific and defense agencies in this regard, and committed to continuing to work together to deal with what they discussed in length – in depth – was a real current and present threat from ballistic missiles.

MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s just do one more because we’ve got – we’ll have a chance (inaudible) later.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, did you actually discuss the possibility, for example, of Australia contributing radar data toward such an eventual system?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We talked about the range of activities that each one of our countries could undertake to cooperate in missile defense. I’m not going to get into the specifics of that.

MS. NULAND: Good. Okay, one more from our table here and then we’ll let these guys go back to lunch. Anybody else?

QUESTION: You mentioned shared – that you discussed your shared views on China, shared approaches with China. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that? What is it that Australia and the U.S. are doing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We both have a robust mil-to-mil program. We align our goals and objectives in those discussions. We both play active roles in critical multilateral fora that, for instance, focus on key issues like maritime security. We share our views about what’s the best way to promote our interactions in North Korea, in Burma, and in countries like Pakistan, where China plays an important role. And we also are keenly interested in Australian insights with respect to ongoing political developments as China heads into the party congress in 2012.

So really, our discussion is across the board, understanding what’s transpiring in China, what motivates Chinese foreign policy, and how best to work with likeminded countries on a shared objective, which is to see China as a strong, stable, secure, contributing partner to the Asia Pacific region.

MS. NULAND: Good. Thanks, everybody.

# # #

PRN: 2011/1515