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Press conference at NATO – MilTech

Source: imported from this press release.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, good afternoon, everything. It's really a pleasure to be back in Brussels. Someone reminded me that this is my seventh trip to Europe already this year. But it's great to be back. I had a great visit with our tri-mission here in Brussels. These are the people who represent the interests of the United States here in NATO, but also with the EU and here in Brussels. Really working hard. And I had the opportunity to meet his new member of his family, a two-week-old son who was born to one of our people who is here from the USA. UU

And, of course, to be with Ambassador Hutchison, who is – whom I have known for a long time, and we have a very deep and strong friendship and a deep respect for others, in terms of her service in the Senate of the United States for many years, and really proud that she leads our NATO mission here as well.

The United States, obviously, I believe that we have now affirmed on many occasions our support for the NATO mission. We know that the security provided by NATO protects Western democratic principles, protects our right to live in freedom. To that end, the United States is anxious that our NATO allies exercise their sovereignty and assume greater responsibility for our shared deterrence and our defense burden. I believe that, as each one of us contributes, we will be able to dissuade and better defend ourselves from the threats on the borders of Europe, which can also become threats to the United States.

We commend the many countries that have made additional commitments and greater contributions. This year, Romania joined the United States, Greece, Estonia, the United Kingdom and Poland as six allies that spend at least two percent of their GDP on defense. And two other allies, Latvia and Lithuania, will join that club in 2018. We expect 26 allies to increase their defense spending budgets this year and another five NATO allies have set plans to reach the 2 percent target by 2024

However, a greater expense is not enough. It is really about increasing capabilities. And we've spent a lot of time in the sessions here at NATO for the last day and a half talking about that. It is interesting, since NATO was formed as the main cause of loss of life within NATO due to threats such as terrorism. And I think that President Trump, as you all know, has made it clear that stopping terrorism must be a growing focus of attention for NATO. And we had just completed a session on the subject.

Yesterday we discussed how to further exploit the action plan to strengthen the resistance of the allies against the terrorist attacks and, in particular, to build on the long-standing commitments of NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan, to increase their cooperation when the President announces his new strategy for South Asia. We appreciate the commitments of NATO members to the efforts of the United States to defeat ISIS worldwide, as well as our other anti-terrorist efforts.

The original mission of NATO, obviously, remains relevant. We have made it clear to Russia that we can not return to normal relations between NATO and Russia, as long as Russia continues its illegal occupation of Ukraine. And Russia's continued use of hybrid warfare seeks to undermine Western institutions, and this represents a significant obstacle to normalizing our relations, too.

Russia's aggression in Ukraine remains the biggest threat to European security, and demands a continuous transatlantic unity in the confrontation that threat Our NATO allies stand firm in our support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity . We do not accept Russia's efforts to change the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine or to recognize the illegal occupation of Crimea by Russia.

Earlier this morning we also had a productive conversation with the Georgian Foreign Minister, Janelidze. Georgia is a great contributor to our joint efforts in Afghanistan. In fact, they are the largest per capita of any contributing nation, and we strongly support Georgia's aspirations to become a member of NATO.

Looking forward to our final session, which will be during today's luncheon, the United States supports the opening of the NATO open-door policy, and our commitment that any European and Atlantic country wishing to join the alliance and meet the requirements to do so must be able to do so. And no third party should have something to say about that search for NATO membership.

As we have done for decades, the United States will continue to maintain our clear and direct commitment to Article V. We will continue to work for the common defense and preservation of peace that is required in the NATO charter, and do so with the confidence that our allies will continue to do the same.

Thanks. Happy to answer questions.

MODERATOR: The Secretary has time for some questions. Josh Lederman, AP?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. On several occasions, thanks. On several occasions, the President has publicly undermined his diplomatic efforts. In recent days, White House officials have said they will be expelled. And these are not media inventions. These come from the White House.

Many Americans see these efforts as humiliating for you. You have had an illustrious career. Why do you hold it? Why do not you give up?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: This is a story that continues to appear every six weeks. And I would say that everyone needs to get some new sources, because their story is still incorrect.

MODERATOR: Teri Schultz from Deutsche Welle, right in the middle.

QUESTION: Hello, here. Yesterday, the German chancellor came to the meeting saying that there was a growing division between the United States and Europe, that Europe should take on more responsibilities, that it is not just the issue of financing, and that the transatlantic was suffering. So, I am particularly interested in knowing if you have heard it in your meetings with allies (yesterday you met with them about Iran) and expressed with the same firmness that we heard the differences with the administration over Iran's policy.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I heard the statement of Foreign Minister Gabriel, and Sigmar and I have become quite close. I think I've probably met him so many times and had as many telephone conversations as any of my counterparts. And look, Germany is going through a very difficult political process right now. Sigmar is part of that. And I do not want to say anything that suggests any inclination or other.

In terms of the support we have received in our conversations about our approach to Iran and our meeting of the Quadruped yesterday, it was a very productive meeting. We share a common vision of the threat posed by Iran in terms of its destabilizing activities in the Middle East region, especially in Yemen and Syria, its support for terrorist organizations such as Hizballah, its export of lethal weapons, including missiles and rockets. And that: we are all very worried about how to approach that problem, and that was the debate that we held at our Quad meeting yesterday. They were very productive discussions.

MODERATOR: Dave Clark of AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Much of the world is holding its breath when President Trump declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Europe's main allies say he is wrong, and Middle East partners and even some in his own department are warning of possible acts of violence and unrest. Is this part of a strategy designed to improve the prospects for peace, or is President Trump fulfilling a campaign promise? And how can he pretend to be a neutral intermediary in the Middle East conflict?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I want to be respectful that the President has not been able to address this issue himself, which he will do later today, as you know, with a speech he will give. So I do not want to go too far in terms of getting ahead of his speech.

What I encourage people to do is a couple of things. First, listen carefully to the entire discourse; listen to the full content of the speech. The president is very committed to the Middle East peace process. He has a team that he put into practice almost immediately after entering the White House. That team has been working diligently on new approaches to the peace process. They have been silently involved with many in the region around that process. They have shared it with me so I can guide them on certain elements of the process, give them guidance on areas that I think it would be a challenge to address, and they have left, they have done the hard work to try to address them.

So, I would simply say that, in spite of everything, we still believe that there is a very good opportunity to achieve peace, and the President has a team dedicated to that completely. And I would – with regard to the decision on Jerusalem, I would really leave it until I heard the President's full statement on that.

MODERATOR: Julian Barnes with The Wall Street Journal

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal ] Ukraine. Is Russia's peace-keeping proposal real? Is there a possibility to negotiate something that the United States could support that would put the peacekeepers on the border and return control to Ukraine? And related, do you support the expansion of the Russia-NATO dialogue or is the current type of NATO-Russia High Level Councils the right way?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: We have been engaged with the Russians for some time, as you know, I named Ambassador Volker as our point of contact with the Russians to find a way to break the jam in Ukraine. We have prioritized the elimination of violence as our first priority, and we think that in order to do so, we have to put in place a peacekeeping force. Russia has long resisted a peacekeeping force, but they have now agreed, and as you point out, they presented the first proposal for peacekeeping personnel. I think it's significant that we're talking about the right thing.

We have a significant difference between the mandate that would be given to a peacekeeping force and the scope of its mandate, and that is what we continue in the talks with the Russians as the peacekeeping force . We hope we can close those gaps. We believe it is vitally important to stop the violence in eastern Ukraine. People are still dying every day because of that violence, and that is our goal, is to stop the killing, stop the violence, and we still have a lot of work to do to address all the elements of the Minsk agreement, and include the government in Kiev as well. He has an important job to do. But this is a continuous process, and the maintenance of peace and the arrest of violence was our first and main objective.

Regarding the dialogue with Russia, we had a lot of debate during this NATO meeting, and in particular around last night's dinner, on what is the appropriate compromise with Russia. And I think there is a broad consensus among all NATO members that today there is no normalization of dialogue with Russia. What dialogue happens, either through regular meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, and I say periodic because we are not going back to the regular calendar meetings. If there is a reason to meet, if there is a dialogue with an expected result, then we should meet and support the dialogue to produce results. But having a dialogue to talk about and try to regularize or renormalize this relationship can not be carried out until some of these actions I have addressed – in particular, Ukraine, the hybrid war – until Russia begins to address those actions that we not only consider unacceptable but intolerable.

So I think we support dialogue when there is a purpose, when there is a substance, when there is a result that we are trying to achieve.

MODERATOR: Carol Morello, Washington Post .

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you have often said that each meeting begins on a day-to-day basis asking about the safety of diplomats abroad. It has been more than a year since their diplomats began to be attacked in Cuba, and they have not yet publicly presented a single proof, however, they have taken some quite drastic steps in response that have seriously damaged the Cuban economy and reputation, and La Havana has complained that they will not share even the basic information they need to investigate. So, are you still convinced that these were attacks and you will tell us what you know about what happened to them?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: We are convinced that these were targeted attacks. We have shared information with Cubans, and there are two restrictions that I have put to share information. One is respect for the privacy of people and their medical conditions, and the second is not to provide those who orchestrated these attacks with information that is useful for their effectiveness. What we have told Cubans is a small island, they have a sophisticated security apparatus, they probably know who is doing it, they can stop it. It's as simple as that. So, that is what we have asked the Cubans. We understand that Cubans do not like the actions we have taken. We do not like our diplomats being attacked.

MODERATOR: Essia Bouguerra, Al-Sabah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary. I'm Essia from Tunisia. My question is related to: does the Secretary of the United States believe that the two-State solution is still available or still present in the … in his priorities?

But the second, on the meeting of President Putin and President Bashar al-Assad: What role does the Syrian regime have at this time in the next negotiation on Syria in the future? Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: With regard to everything related to Jerusalem, I would really like to let the President make his statement before commenting. So we will be happy to comment later today or tomorrow, after you have had the opportunity to draw the full contours of the decision you have made.

With regard to the Syrian regime and the role of Bashar al-Assad in peace talks in Geneva, and this is a process that will follow UN Security Council Resolution 2254, we have told the Russians that it is important that the Syrian regime be on the table and be part of these negotiations and part of the discussion. We believe it is important that, as long as Bashar al-Assad continues to be the leader of that regime, he participates directly in these discussions and negotiations. We have let the Russians hand them over to the table, and we had a delegation from the Syrian regime that attended the first week of talks that resumed in Geneva. We hope they do, to return to these discussions. These talks have a process, as you know, that establishes the development of a new constitution, which moves towards an electoral process where all Syrians will have the opportunity to express their views on the future of Syria, including all the Syrian diaspora that can have status – may have had to leave the country due to violence. This is all, as required by the resolution of the UN Security Council.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Thank you.

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