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  • The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Assistant Secretary R. Clarke Cooper discusses the latest developments in U.S. security assistance, defense trade, peacekeeping capacity building and humanitarian mine action.  This includes recent historic sales to the Indo-Pacific region, changes to the export policy for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), continued support for allies and partners responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and additional regulatory relief for U.S. industry to help them adapt to remote work.


MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome.  My name is Melissa Waheibi. I’m the deputy director of the New York Foreign Press Center and the moderator of today’s briefing on U.S. security cooperation and defense trade.  Today’s briefer is R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs here at the Department of State.  Thank you, sir, for giving us your time today for this briefing. 

Assistant Secretary Cooper will begin shortly with opening remarks, and then we’ll have time for Q&A.  If you have a question, please go to the participant list and virtually raise your hand.  When you’re called on, we will unmute you so that you can ask your question.  Also you may type your question in the chat box and I will ask it on your behalf. 

If you have not already done so, please take the time to rename your Zoom profile with your full name and the name of your media outlet.  And with that, sir, I will pass it over to you.  Thank you. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  All right.  Well, thank you.  It is a pleasure to have the opportunity this afternoon to finally get back with you all virtually with the Foreign Press Center.   

It’s been several months since we’ve provided an update.  I wanted to catch everyone up on some activities in the space of security cooperation and what we’re doing on defense trade.  Certainly want to talk to you about how we’ve been navigating and addressing the impacts that the COVID pandemic has affected all of us and how we’re approaching all of that. 

Essentially everything in the Political-Military Affairs portfolio – defense trade, security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian, demining, et cetera – all of it has been touched or impacted by the pandemic, just like the rest of us.  But what has not changed?  What’s not changed is the programmatic medium requirements that this portfolio serves.   

And what I – what we’re talking about is supply chains, while they may have been disrupted for defense industry and for defense requirements – some of our foreign partners, we understand their budgets remain uncertain in certain quarters, particularly on defense budgets – both the United States Government and the defense industrial base have worked to continue to make sure that we meet and honor those commitments to all of our partners.   

We also continue to process our cases, our arms transfer cases, approximately at the same pace we were doing prior to the pandemic.  That is significant in that we’ve been able to meet mission despite an altered posture.  And U.S. defense industry, they continue to fulfill contracts – again, at a pace that is recognizable prior to the pandemic. 

Our security partners have also affirmed that they are going to continue with their pending purchases.  So if we look at what had been identified in 2019 to come online in 2020, that is still moving at pace.  In fact, if we just look very recently, back in July of 2020, just last month, this was our second-highest yielding month in defense trade for the history of the Department of State.  Not just for the year 2020 or – ever.  A very significant milestone for us.   

Now, how did that notification reach that number when we talked about overall and total sales to Congress?  Well, this is inclusive of more than $32 billion in proposed sales.  And if we look at that $32 billion in proposed sales, of that is the 23.1 billion in the ballpark for the F-35 program for Japan.  And again, that is, in itself, is what boosted those numbers of July.  But as I said, not just significant for 2020; significant for the history of the Department of State. 

This demand is not new, nor is it really new to the pandemic, either.  Again, these are pre-existing defense requirements that we are continuing to fulfill with our partners.  But it also shows that – our partners that we’re going to continue to march forward; we’re going to continue to still work with them on their defense requirements.  And we’re going to continue to work together to make sure that the United States and our security cooperation partners are interoperable with each other. 

Another example of our ability to continuously meet mission was, just this past week, Secretary Pompeo signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with Poland.  This reflects a shared vision that had been outlined by President Trump and President Duda in their joint declarations that were signed just in 2019 when Duda was visiting in Washington.  It also was reaffirmed with the president’s visit, and the agreement is going to deepen our defense cooperation and commitments to each other.  This is a NATO member state that we are heavily reliant upon their greater role in burden-sharing on security for the continent, but also our shared security interests. 

We also want to make sure that this agreement deepens not just our cooperation but deepens this expanded – an expanded support infrastructure for an increased U.S. military presence.  Some of you on the call may be aware of the plans for us to have rotational forces on the ground.  And what does that mean by rotational?  These are not PCS, or permanent change of station forces.  These are TCS, temporary rotations.  This would be anywhere from like 5,000 to about 4,500 on the low end of forces on the ground.  Having this defensive cooperation agreement signed enables us to be able to have that in play. 

It is also a sign that, despite the pandemic, the PM team remains very active, engaged.  We’re on the field, be it in a virtual format, like what we’re doing today, or still on the road, working with our colleagues at our embassies and consulates and making sure that we’re still being able to communicate and work with our foreign partners.  Regardless of if it’s in our traditional means, which frankly I prefer the face-to-face, or if we’re having to do it in a virtual context, we are still moving out sharply and working on behalf of our national security interests.  

And another thing if we want to look at some significant things – last week was a banner week, if we’re looking at it from the frame of national security and defense cooperation.  We very much welcomed the historic announcement of the Abraham Accord last week with the seeking to normalize the relationship between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.  This was significant.  It also opens up the doors to further opportunities, not only between these two partners, but also us.  So there’s a trilateral aspect to this. 

And as Secretary Pompeo noted on August 13th, this agreement is a remarkable achievement.  Well, when you specify that, it’s remarkable in that you have the two most forward-leaning technologically advanced states, and it reflects their shared regional vision for an economically integrated region – again, looking at this broader than just two states.  The Secretary also noted it illustrates their commitment to confronting common threats.  And this is something that the United States has done bilaterally with Israel and with the United Arab Emirates.  There’s a shared understanding about common threats.  

So regardless of their size, as the Secretary noted, they’re strong nations.  And we have an extensive, robust, close security cooperation with both of these states.  We’re going to continue to seek opportunities with both of these states together, or in some cases bilaterally.  We want to further our partnerships with them.  And we want to make sure that we do meet those shared security challenges that we all are facing today.   

It heartens all of us that – not just here at PM, but the entire national security enterprise in the United States sees this as an opportunity to not just fully normalize these relations, but actually expand them, not only bilaterally, but again, trilaterally.   

And also let me take – if we’re looking a little bit in the last week or two, do want to quickly take a moment to address the Office of the Inspector General’s report of last week.  The department welcomes the OIG’s findings, and we particularly welcome them because it put out what we’ve been saying all along:  The Secretary had been – has been and continues to operate within his statutory authority with the Arms Export Control Act.  And this was specifically requested for addressing the Secretary’s issuance of emergency declaration in May of 2019 where the United States, with the Department of State, was able to further advance and meet a commitment with our Gulf partners, with Saudi Arabia, with the United Arab Emirates, and with Jordan.  This was in a frame of about $8 billion or $8.1 billion in sales.   

The OIG report also confirms, as we’ve long maintained, not only did it align with the statutory authority of the department and the Secretary, it also recognized what we were addressing from a foreign policy and security objective.  Iran’s aggressive and malign behavior and activities was on an increase, on a crescendo, during that time through the year 2019.  And frankly, since then, their behavior has further validated the necessity for the Secretary to take that emergency action in May of 2019. 

So in July of this year, we were also able to roll out an update on a 2018 policy.  Some of you have been – may have been aware that there’ve been significant work in the multilateral fora to address the export of unmanned aerial systems.  Many, many countries are interested in how they can be applied not only in defense but also in law enforcement and commercial needs.  The United States sought to essentially catch up to the needs and requirements of our partners.  We were able to do this with a revision to make sure that we invoke our national discretion on the implementation of the MTCR.  This is the Missile Technology Control Regime.  We wanted to make sure that that strong presumption of denial for transfers of Category 1 systems were to treat a carefully select subset of Category 2 in a way that we can modernize our approach.  As I said, we needed to catch up to the pace of application of UAVs and make sure that we are – we continue to implement our MTCR commitments.  This makes this more reflective of those realities and technology that are available today.  It also helps make available to our allies and partners some capabilities that can address their urgent and emerging security requirements.  ISR or Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance platforms are a perfect example.  As a former end-user of ISR, I can tell you how valuable that tool is, again, not just for border integrity and defense needs, but also for law enforcement applications. 

And then I mentioned defense trade earlier and how we had a terrific month in July.  Our Directorate of Defense Trade Controls – they’re the ones who’ve been able to really figure out how we can not only keep apace, but actually really move in a quick step that is required to fulfill these agreements that had been reached well before the pandemic approached any of us. 

They continue to work on their support for the defense industry and our foreign partners by putting in some flexibilities.  I’ll give you a few examples.  I won’t hit you with all them, but one of them was some temporary changes to the ITAR.  This is the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.  What we wanted to do is we were recognizing the reality that many of us, including our colleagues in the industry, are teleworking.  Most of you are teleworking today.  And we wanted to make sure that factoring that, ensuring that continuity of operations, making sure that practicing of social distance, and that there was not a burden on industry and these IT systems. 

So while safeguarding national interest and protecting data, what we did is we applied a temporary suspension on the requirement that regular employees work on-site.  This meant that we were able to allow trade and industry employees to do remote work and do this in a way that will continue.  We initially had set that to expire July 31st.  We quickly assessed that we needed to push that out further, so we extended that suspension of on-site requirement to the end of the calendar year, to December 31st of 2020.  And of course, we will continue to assess that requirement as we get close to the end of the year. 

And then to further demonstrate our support for remote work, we actually held our first DTAG –our Defense Trade Advisory Group – in a virtual format in May.  This is normally a convening of individuals who are either from industry, academia, or our NGOs, and we’ve always done this in-person, except this year.  Turns out that it actually worked out in a very fulsome format.  Some of the feedback was to do that again. 

We’ve also done some in-house training seminars historically where people would come to Washington to learn about tricks of the trade and how to coordinate and work with DDTC.  Those, too, have been put in a virtual format.  And the numbers of participation actually increased in July vice what we normally would have had in in-person registration.   

So let’s talk a little bit about the impacts of the coronavirus on security assistance, peacekeeping capacity building, as well as our humanitarian demining programs.  Many of these activities have been impacted not just because of the virus, but also because there’s been varying degrees of lockdowns.  There’s been varying degrees of border access or closed borders, varying degrees of do-not-travel orders either on the civilian sector or military enterprises not allowing their personnel to move or engage, and of course, as some maybe have already experienced, extremely limited civilian air travel. 

All of those have been challenges for logistics, but government funding and the commitment to these programs has not changed.  The funding has not abated, it has not been reduced.  And as the global response evolves, we will continue to deliver on peacekeeping and security sector capacity building.  We want to make sure that we enable our partners to not only meet those – that urgent domestic requirement that has emerged with the pandemic, but that they can also still meet and maintain their broader national security requirements.   

So apart from that brief operational pause that seemed to be really impacting the entire globe in the April-May period, our crucial work to protect civilians from UXO, unexploded ordnance, IEDs, landmines, that has continued unabated.  So again, there was that pause there, but the work has gone back at a pace.  Our demining implementers are continuing to closely coordinate with the host nation governments they’re working with and host nation health officials to ensure that we don’t inadvertently create further risk or exposure with COVID, so we put in some protocols there in the field. 

And then if we look more recently at the very tragic occurrence at the port in Beirut on August 4th, we fortunately, despite the tragedy, we already had a team on the ground working on securing of weapon stores and working with the weapon depots in Beirut.  And there already was work in place to clear some legacy explosive hazards.  And so we, of course, have turned that up a notch, so to speak, and are working to add to those efforts. 

Inclusive of that was providing additional medics to further support the Lebanese Red Cross, as well as help Lebanese officials do some of that initial damage assessment that occurred after the blast.  So I share all those things, but it shows the flexibility, the adaptability of not only PM as a bureau, but of the United States Government being able to adapt and overcome the challenges and adversity that have been placed not only before us, but the entire globe, and making sure that our foreign assistance investments are focused on security capacity building to help our allies, to help our partners make sure that they get those key capabilities to safeguard themselves, safeguard their sovereignty, and work with us together on shared adversity, work together with us on shared threats.  

And we do understand – and I think probably the pandemic is a good reminder – that when we’re looking at long-term investments on security cooperation that it is a long-term proposition.  It is a marathon; it’s not a sprint.  It is not a quick hundred-meter race.  And in some ways, the pandemic has actually really reminded us of what we need to do in the long haul. 

So I appreciate you allowing me to give you some highlights.  Like I said, the last week has been a significant week on foreign policy objectives.  July, banner month on U.S. defense trade for the history of the department.  I am certainly happy to take questions and further the conversation.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir, for those opening remarks.  This will now be the time for Q&A.  For those of you who have a question, please raise your digital hand in the participant list, and you also may ask your question via the chat function, and I will ask that on your behalf.  And if you are not indicated in your proper name on your screen, you may not be able to ask your question, so that’s a heads-up. 

Our first question goes to Raj Yashwant, and please – sir, please state your name and organization before you ask your question.  Thank you.  Yes, our first question to Raj. 

QUESTION:  Hello.  Yeah, can you hear me? 

MODERATOR:  Yes.  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for doing this, and Assistant Secretary Cooper, thank you so much for taking the time to – for the briefing.  Could you speak a little bit about upcoming arms sales to India, especially in the light of recent changes in UAV export regulations, which you referred to briefly in your opening remarks?  Thank you. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah.  So our defense cooperation relationship with India is, of course, expanding.  I mean, this is something that has been a focus of a number of conversations and dialogues, including some upcoming dialogues with India.  Your question regarding MTCR and the ability to make available a certain category of UAS, it is a policy not to discuss what has not yet been announced or notified to our Congress.   

But what I would say is that as we are offering further advanced capabilities to partners like India is a furtherance of our confidence in that relationship with a partner.  But yes, the policy change that was announced this summer does essentially open up the possibility for further capabilities that may have not been available in that menu of options for partners just a few months ago. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Ben Marks with NHK.  Ben, when you’re unmuted, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Yes.  Thank you, Assistant Secretary Cooper.  This is Ben with NHK.  I’d just like to ask you, with Mr. DeHart’s recent appointment to the U.S. Arctic Coordinator, who will be leading negotiations with Japan on a new cost-sharing agreement?  And do you have any update to when those talks might begin?  Will it be before the upcoming presidential election? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah.  So thank you.  So I am thrilled to share – so very happy to have Jim move into a space to be the Arctic coordinator for the United States, and I am thrilled to have had a hand in that.  But I also got to handpick Jim’s successor.  Donna Welton is a fantastic colleague.  She has 25 years of experience with the Foreign Service.  For those who have worked with Donna bilaterally, they will recognize her from her time on the East Asia portfolio.  She has spent a significant amount of time in Japan as well as South Korea.  She is fluent in Japanese.  She has a significant amount of relationships in Tokyo that have been built up over the years.  I am thrilled to have her come on board at this time.  So the timing worked very well, as we were closing out agreements like the Poland DCA, and, as you said, looking into 2021, preparing for those talks and the host nation support agreement. 

And the Japan agreement, the expiry on that is March of ’21, so surely, yes, we are doing work to prepare for that now, and we will be moving out on that before the end of this calendar year.  But I’m not going to talk about the clock at this point.  I just wanted to flag that the current senior advisor for senior negotiations for the United States is Donna Welton, and she is currently in place, and that was a very smooth transition.  And again, I’m very happy that I was able to select her to be Jim’s successor. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  The next question I’m going to read to you from the chat function, sir.  I’m going to try to do it verbatim.  It’s from Dong Yu with China Review News:  “Hello, this is Dong Yu with China Review News Agency of Hong Kong.  My question is:  You met with Taiwanese new representative to the U.S. recently.  Do you have any readout of that meeting?  It was reported that the U.S. and Taiwan are talking about selling advanced drones and CDCM to Taiwan.  Would you like to confirm that?  Are there any changes of arms sales policies and procedure towards Taiwan comparing with several years ago?  

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Thank you for the question.  So as mentioned to our Indian colleague on an earlier call, we don’t preview sales or notifications that have not yet been announced to our Congress.  Our processes are very transparent and accountable with the Executive Branch communicating with our Legislative Branch.  So I don’t want to get ahead of that.  What I would say is – is that our relationship with Taiwan is rooted in our commitment in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.  So while that may seem like yesterday for some of us, that has been several decades, and it is a platform for our commitment to make sure that Taiwan meets its self-defense capabilities and meets their self-defense requirements.   

In that, if we look back at 2019, there was a significant amount of defense articles that we were able to notify and move forward on those – it was about in the ballpark of $10 billion in 2019.  So what I would say is that in addition to our commitment to their self-defense, there is also a very deep and abiding interest in making sure that there is cross-strait stability, and making sure that we maintain that deep and abiding interest in the cross-strait peace.  So if the question is:  Has there been a change of policy?  No, there hasn’t.  If the question is:  Are we working closer with Taiwan to meet their defense needs, then yes, we are making sure that we are going to address self-defense capabilities for Taiwan.  

MODERATOR:  Okay, our next question to Ali from ARY News TV.  Ali, if you could state your full name and organization, and then ask your question.   

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for doing this.  This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan.  I’m the Washington correspondent.  Sir, the United States suspended security assistance to Pakistan in January 2018 for not taking action against Taliban military’s targeting U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.  So now when Pakistan is mediating in Afghanistan and kind of playing important role for the peace process, what is the status of that security cooperation?  Thank you.  

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yup.  Yeah, so one thing to remember is that the lines of communication with Pakistan and the United States are continuous and remain.  And with any security cooperation relationship that may adjust over time.  So what – why?  Well of course, the intent is to make sure that we get back into a place where we are closer partners.  So there has been also a continuum when it comes to certain security requirements regarding border integrity, regional counterterrorism requirements.  That has certainly been met and are continuous with Pakistan and the United States.   

I would just – again, without getting ahead of bilateral conversations in that space, is that we continue to have those lines of communication with Pakistan.  The doors are always open, and again, we know from previous precedent with partners that there’s always the space to move forward into a closer relationship.  That said, as you mentioned, the issue, the challenge of the Taliban, and I would say other extremist elements, that is an issue that is remaining regardless of one’s posture in the region.  And being able to disrupt that facilitation and being able to actually mitigate any sort of roots of that extremism also remains of necessary interest.  But I would offer that we still continue to work with Pakistan on a number of defense requirements even though the relationship is not the same, but we still need to continue to work with each other.  We still need to continue to communicate.  

MODERATOR:  Next question to Alex from Azerbaijan.  Please, state your name and organization once you’re unmuted.   

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you, Melissa.  Great to see you both.  This is Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan.  Clarke, thanks for making yourself available this morning.  The United States is present in the South Caucasus with three strategic partnerships focused on regional security.  And these partnerships, however, are tailored on the three countries with different security challenges, if I may – Georgia and Azerbaijan are challenged in their sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Given recent escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, I’m wondering how much it’s going to affect your security cooperation in both countries, particularly given the fact that, according to your own office, Azerbaijan and Armenia are in violation of Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty.  So there are concerns that U.S. security assistance – to both countries, actually, to emphasize – could enflame the standing conflict between the neighbors.  

And my second question, if I may, is about Belarus.  I just noticed the Secretary’s statement.  Are you planning to respond by using U.S. security tools in the event of further escalation in process or Russia’s interference?  How can we arm decision makers with the right tools needed to prioritize actions?  Thanks so much.   

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah, I’ll start with the question about tools.  So we had talked a little bit today about some tools that are available that are either of a defensive nature, protective nature; we talked about some tools that are of defensive nature.  There are also tools that are of a resilient nature of being able to provide a partner state the ability to push back or mitigate – there are some tools that may be of a less kinetic space.  And there are two accounts – and you mentioned some regional focus – when we look at foreign military financing, our embassies abroad look at how that works in the context of providing resilience and readiness for the host country.   

And in Europe, a good example is we have an account called the CRIF, the Countering Russian Influence Fund, that can be applied in many ways.  That could be applied in a defensive toolkit.  It could be applied in a cyber domain defense posture.  It could be applied to support some defense materiel.  So to the question as to what are we looking at as to what is available, we have certainly identified for our embassies the host of tools that range from either the kinetic to the non-kinetic, and where those accounts could be applied, specifically, as you mentioned, countering Russian influence.   

I would also offer:  We have a new global account that’s called CCIF, and that’s the Countering Chinese Influence Fund, and that one has a little bit of a broader parameter than the CRIF, the Countering Russian Influence Fund, but it – again, further additional tools.  We talked about some of the others today – humanitarian demining, conventional weapons destruction.  There’s a host of what’s available that we can provide a country to supplement what they’re doing for their own national security interest, and in some cases, as you mentioned, neighboring states, working with them together on where there could be some joint elements or efforts, especially if we’re talking about border integrity or we’re talking about an area or region, a trans-regional space that may be impacted by something like unexplored ordnance.   

So again, in a general frame, what are we doing with our embassies is we – we’re informing them of what’s available here for them to apply there.  And it certainly does take a broader department effort; even though the tools may reside in PM, we certainly work with our regional counterparts and our embassies to make sure that they are – those are essentially pushed out the door for our partners. 

QUESTION:  And regarding the South Caucasus, is there any change we should expect given the recent escalation in – between Azerbaijan and Armenia?   

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  I’m not going to get ahead of current deliberations, but of course, let me say this situation is closely of notice to a number of my colleagues, including myself.  It would be – to put it in the frame of the communications are not just at the post level, they also are very here in Washington as well.  

QUESTION:  Thanks so much.  

MODERATOR:  Okay, we have a couple questions in the chat function.  Let me just get to them for us.  Okay, sir, so this says:  “Hello, Mr. Assistant Secretary.  This is DK Byun from Yonhap News Agency, South Korea.  My question is about the deadlock in defense costsharing discussions between South Korea and the United States.  Recent reports suggest that talks resumed earlier this week with Donna Welton via phone.  Can you confirm if there had been any progress made through that phone conversation and if there will be a face-to-face meeting in the near future?”  

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah, I’m not going to talk about any deliberations or specific bilateral communications, but what I can talk to is of course we are committed to actually getting to a mutually acceptable space for Seoul and Washington.  I may have mentioned earlier, I mean, Donna not only is fluent in Japanese, she is quite familiar with the Korean language as well.   

But the mutual acceptable agreement for the Republic of South Korea and for the United States has been a continuous conversation.  It’s never ended.  While there was a pause, we are certainly re-approaching with them on not just – it’s not just cost sharing, again, it’s the burden sharing of the security of the Korean Peninsula, again, from a regional context.   

But the communication hasn’t stopped.  I cannot talk to the specific deliberations that have been addressed, in part because we want to make sure that those warm lines of communication are just that, and we don’t want to disrupt what we’ve done.  We certainly have, I would say, we have shown significant flexibility in recent weeks on our – on the need to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.  I’ve emphasized that several times because we have to do this for each other.  This is not an either/or proposition; this is definitely of shared interest for both nations. 

MODERATOR:  We have a question from Tejinder Singh.  Sir, if you could state your name and full organization and then ask your question once unmuted. 


MODERATOR:  Yeah, we’ll give it a few moments and maybe come back to Tejinder.  In the meantime, there is a question in the chat function, so I can ask that.  This is:  “Hello, this is Artur from Russian Information Agency.  Could you confirm that there is an option to export F-35 fighters to the UAE now that the country has reached a peace deal with Israel?” 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah, thank you for that question.  So I mentioned earlier – there was some other questions about other systems with other states.  So as a matter of policy, the United States doesn’t comment nor do we confirm on any kind of conversations that we may be having of something that has not been notified to our Congress.  So there’s that first of all.  And then second, I would refer that inquiry to the Governments of Israel and/or the United Arab Emirates. 

MODERATOR:  I’m going to – Tejinder, if you are able to unmute yourself, you can ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Can you hear me? 

MODERATOR:  Yes.  Thank you so much.  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  This is Tejinder Singh from IAT [India America Today]and Dainik Bhaskar.  The – my question is that if the Secretary can address the question of whether India’s current procurement strategy of buying a mix of systems from multiple countries, including Russia, how does – how is it working from a U.S. perspective?  And it goes – like in most of the capitals, this is a saying that it goes to U.S., it goes to other countries, finally, it goes to Russia and buys the weapons.  So what is your take on that? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Well, yeah.  So earlier I was talking about the deepening relationship with India.  So I mean, if one looks historically from where we were about 10, 12 years ago – I mean, there’s been a significant increase, right, so there was about zero investment in 2008 with India to U.S. systems.  And if we fast-forward to about now, 2019, 2020, we’re talking about $18 billion investment, and that’s growing. 

We also recognize the historic legacy sustainment line that New Delhi had with Moscow and that, to use a metaphor, it’s not a light switch to turn on or off.  And we don’t want to put at risk India’s sovereignty or India’s national defense as there’s a maturation toward future modernization of their systems.  That said, there is a risk when significant Russian systems are brought forth that put at risk interoperability with not only the United States, but with other partners that India may be seeking to work with that are either of NATO status or NATO-aligned.  And then there’s also the risk of potential exploitation of technology when we’re looking at significant Russian platforms. 

So to your question about it:  Is it an either/or proposition?  Is it completely binary?  I mean, the short answer to that is no.  There are probably elements and components that may be integrated well into India’s defense forces that they want to keep.  I mean, again, as a former end user myself, I mean, there are certain weapons systems that I’m quite comfortable with that I would not want to depart with in my previous capacity.  But when we’re looking at modernization and we’re looking at interoperability, the key point that has been shared with Indian counterparts in what we’re looking at their future capabilities, is do not put at risk future opportunities that may be impeded by significant Russian defense articles.  Again, it’s not everything, but there – but something like the S-400 would be a challenge.  Something like the Sukhoi Su-35 would be a challenge. 

But we also are looking at it from a historic time frame.  Like I said, it’s not lost on anybody in the Department of Defense or the Department of State that India has had a lengthy, historic legacy line there.  And it’s not an overnight proposition.  And like I said, the metaphor I like to use: It’s not a light switch.   

QUESTION:  Can I just have a quick follow-up?  It’s you mentioned about 10 years ago or 12 years ago what was going on.  If you remember that time, the Pakistan and U.S. were very close also.  Today Pakistan is, as they say, in the lap of China.  So how does that change the equation in Southeast Asia? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Well, you mentioned China.  I mentioned earlier from – it’s a global perspective, right.  It’s not limited to that part of Asia.  It’s not limited to South Central Asia.  It is a conversation and a consideration for all states.  I mean, we have said, when looking at particularly the Indo-Pacific region, that we are seeking a region that is free from coercion; we are seeking to work with a region of sovereign states that respect each other’s sovereignty and that is free and open to all, that the region is also free and open to all for trade, and not victim to either coercion, pressure, or in a place where they’re seeking to degrade or erode another’s sovereignty.  

So is it a factor from a regional/transregional context?  Yes, of course it’s a factor.  And – but China also has the opportunity to be a responsible state themselves.  It isn’t – it is not impossible for them to also recognize their sovereignty, but also recognize the value of the sovereignty of their neighbors.   

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  All right.  We have a follow-up question for you from Mr. Byun from Yonhap News Agency out of South Korea.  And the follow-up is:  “Mr. Assistant Secretary, you just mentioned the U.S. being extremely flexible recently.  Does that mean the U.S. has backed down from what was earlier said to be a request for a 50 percent spike for South Korea?”   

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  I’m not going to speak to the particulars of the deliberations.  Again, as I mentioned earlier, even before Donna, before I was able to bring Senior Advisor Welton on board, we had maintained warm lines of communication between Washington and Seoul, but I am not going to go into the deliberative process. 

MODERATOR:  The next question will go to Ken from Nikkei.  Ken, when you’re unmuted, please state your full name and org. 

QUESTION:  All right.  Can you hear me? 

MODERATOR:  Yes, you’re — 


MODERATOR:  Well, you just re-muted yourself, but why don’t you unmute it.  

QUESTION:  Sorry. 

MODERATOR:  There you go.  Thank you.  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  Right.  Thank you very much for this.  In the invitation email we got about this event, it talked about the record defense sales to the Indo-Pacific region, but in today’s briefing you said that most of it was the F-35s to Japan.  My question is:  Is there a policy or a strategy to increase defense sales to the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the rise of – well, to counter China largely?  Also, could you explain, for instance, some examples of sales to Southeast Asian countries, especially now that Secretary Pompeo has laid out his plan on the South China Sea?  Thank you.    

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Sure.  Yeah, so going back to – I mean, I was talking about one particular sale of the F-35s to Japan.  It certainly doesn’t preclude any other pending sales.  But specific to Japan, we have this – the United States has an unwavering treaty commitment going back to 1960, and Japan does have a very particular strategic role in the region.  So with the shared responsibility that Japan has with the United States, there are states that take particular leadership roles in the Indo-Pacific.   

To your question about specific sales, what I can offer is that when we are working with partners – and Japan would be included in this – there is a shared assessment on what particular requirements need to be met to be able to, again, if one looks at it, maintain sovereignty and to be able to project force.  Those requirements are always going to be bespoke per state, per partner.  Some states may require a more conventional approach.  Some may require more of an asymmetric approach.  Some may require a mix of conventional and asymmetric.   

Regardless, to your question about prioritization, it is based on where a state may be in alignment with their commitments to burden sharing.  We talked about this earlier regarding the Korean Peninsula.  We talked about this earlier regarding NATO and European states facing Russian aggression.   

So as far as prioritization, I would put it in this light: What states are taking on a significant amount of shared burden, shared adversity when it comes to not only their own sovereignty, but where we have shared interests and where we’re meeting a shared threat, and then also where they have requirements that may either be evolving – emerging requirements – or essentially, in some cases, catching up to modernize a certain capability that may be dated.  Again, it’s going to vary from state to state, but if one is looking globally, not just at one particular region, and looking at the context of great power competition and looking at what states are meeting particular challenges, this is certainly where we are focusing our attention and energy. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  And anything on Southeast Asian countries?   

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  I mean, we – again, I don’t want to talk about things that have not yet been announced, but safe to say, I mean, we could certainly – I’m happy to share with you or any of your colleagues what we have announced.  I do understand that for some in the media, when we rollout congressional notifications, it may not be the first thing you look at in your inbox, but what I can do is share what we have announced.  I just – as I said earlier with several questions, particularly on India and on UAE, we don’t preview sales that we’ve not yet announced to our Congress.  

QUESTION:  Okay, thank you.  

MODERATOR:  Sir, I’m going to read another chat question for you.  It’s a follow-up from Tejinder of India:  “Can the Secretary say a few words why India should go for U.S. systems?”   

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Oh, absolutely.  Well, they’re the best, and I don’t just mean that from capability requirements.  I mean, you’re – this is the top quality.  We provide the cutting edge in technology.  But there’s actually more to that.  It’s not just materiel; it isn’t just the actual system, the article itself.  There is a long-term aspect to this.  It’s an investment.  It’s an investment in the relationship.  It’s also – it comes with a certain amount of what I would call extras or benefits that come with the materiel.  With it comes training; with it comes sustainment.  With it comes other security assistance and programming that is far superior to what’s available by others – that may provide a system but may not provide that long-term sustainment and commitment that comes with that particular system.   

It is also easy to sell an article or good that is, say, off the shelf.  The earlier question about requirements for partners – the United States takes a very unique approach to make sure that whatever is developed and designed for a partner is bespoke to that partner’s requirements.  That is unique, and why is that unique?  Well, again, it’s easy to buy something off the shelf.  It’s easy to buy something off the rack.  But our procurement programs, our defense trade programs are designed to be just that: designed to build, designed for the partner, built for the partner, sustained for the partner, better quality, better commitment.   

MODERATOR:  That’s great.  At this time, I’m going to give a brief moment for those who have called in on the phone.  If you’ve dialed into the Zoom and would like to ask a question, you can press *6 to unmute yourself.  I will see that you’ve unmuted yourself and I will call on you based on your area code.  So I believe we have a question from 646, so go ahead.  Please state your name and organization.   

QUESTION:  Hi.  Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary – Mr. Assistant Secretary.  This is Waj Khan from the Nikkei Asian Review in New York City.  I had a quick follow-up to what you said about, again, India.  You said certain weapons will form a redline, like the Su-35, and some will not because it’s not a light switch, and it will take years to integrate.  Which weapons beyond the Su do you think are a no-go area for the U.S. and for the Delhi-Washington dyad versus your light switch option, which is understandable, long-term, and integrated?  Thank you.  

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Right.  Yeah, so again, we’re all wanting to avoid the light switch – and why I mention that is going to – as a student of history, pardon me for citing this for some of our colleagues – not you, Raj, you already know this – but if we go back to the early ’90s and the fall of the Soviet Union, one of the things that we observed here in the United States was countries that maintained, were dependent on a sustainment line from Moscow suffered greatly because that light switch did happen, it did turn off.  And that was quite catastrophic and disruptive for any country that had – was dependent on particular articles and materiel, if not sustainment, right?  So knowing that, we don’t want to put any partner – and that would be including India – in a situation that occurred like in the early 1990s.  That’s not what we want to do.   

To your question about what would those redlines be, I would say that we certainly don’t want to pre-judge any specific transaction or potential transaction.  I mentioned two examples that have been problematic for the United States – the S-400 and the Sukhoi, the Su-35 – but it’s safe to say is that this is part of the conversation that the United States, that the Political-Military Affairs Bureau here at the Department of State, as well as our Defense colleagues at the Pentagon, why we make sure that we have these ongoing conversations with our partners.  Because, to your question, we certainly don’t want to find anybody in this space (inaudible) surprise about there being an issue.   

So it’s important when talking about meeting requirements, regardless if it’s an air defense requirement or if it’s a border requirement, what can we do collectively to address that?  And if there is a particular defense article that may not be of U.S. origin or Western origin, if it meets the requirement and is not disruptive to interoperability or does not put at risk unique U.S. technologies, that could be a different conversation.   

But the reason why there is a concern about certain platforms is it does make it challenging for interoperability, again, not just with the United States but other states that we may be interoperable with.  So looking at it from a future aspect of modernization, maturation of defense capabilities, this is why there’s candid conversations in capitals about what’s possible and what could be putting modernization at risk. 

QUESTION:  Right, thank you.  And just a quick follow-up, sir, about – do you have a comment about the F-35 sales to the UAE and the spat which is developing there?  

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Yeah, that was asked – a colleague of yours asked that question earlier.  So as I’ve said – if I had a dollar for each time I’ve said this today – a sale or any kind of consideration that we’ve not processed or notified our Congress to, we don’t – as a policy we don’t comment on.  In particular that one, I would refer you to the Governments of the UAE or Israel.  But again, on a macro, we don’t confirm or comment on any, any proposed defense article that we have not yet noted to our Congress.  

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir. 

MODERATOR:  We – our assistant secretary only has a few more moments.  We have – sir, do you have time for two more questions? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Oh, yes.  Yeah, that’s – yeah.   

MODERATOR:  Okay, great.  Yeah.  So we’ll go – we’ll start with Alex and then end with Raj.  So Alex, you can go first. 

QUESTION:  Thank you so very much.  Assistant Secretary, I do want to ask about one last question on Section 502-B of the FAA.  In other words, how does the U.S. policy guidance on arm sales address human rights consideration?  I did talk about Belarus and Azerbaijan earlier.  Are you prepared to take this chance and address your partners international that do not engage in human rights violations or else?  Thanks so much. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  So yeah, I would add to not just the Arms Export Control Act.  So in 2018, President Trump issued guidance to the Department of State to update and to actually bolster our arms policy.  And so this is – the acronym for it is CAT.  It’s the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy.  And when this was updated by the Trump administration, it included a host of factors, and you named one of them. 

So in that calculus of burden sharing, in that calculus of addressing shared threats, in that calculus of providing capabilities and bolstering the sovereignty of a partner, is human rights.  And I could tell you that that calculus factors in with we’re looking at how a country applies those resources not only for their sovereignty, but how they’re able to do that in a way that mitigates the risk of civilian harm, that mitigates the risk of civilian casualty.  And we didn’t talk much today about it, but some of our partners are also troop-contributing countries to either UN-mandated peacekeeping operations or other multilateral peacekeeping operations.   

When we’re talking about human rights and performance measures of troop-contributors, and we’re talking about human rights of host country citizens, there is a consideration there.  I know that there are some partners that question that and have pushed back at that, and you can say in a very general sense that myself and colleagues and Secretary Pompeo himself have had to address with counterparts.  So it very much – if one’s looking at – we have – anyway, I’d say there are two considerations in the interagency calculus and analysis on meeting – as I called it earlier – “bespoke” defense capabilities and requirements for partners.  There’s the statutory factors that you referenced earlier with our Arms Export Control Act, and then there is on a policy side the President’s Conventional Arms Transfer Policy.  There’s more than that, but those are the – I would call them “bookends” that we have on how we’re able to assess what could be available and what we would offer to a partner. 

QUESTION:  Terrific.  Thanks so much. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  So we’ll end with our final question with Raj.  Raj, you can ask your follow-up. 

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for giving me another one.  Assistant Secretary Cooper, thanks again for taking another one from me.  In response to questions about S-400 and Su-35, I just wanted to ask if there have been any conversations with India on U.S. offer of THAAD and the Patriot missile defense systems, and also if there have been any conversations on F-35.  Thanks. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Raj, thanks for trying.  (Laughter.)  I’m not going to get ahead of our deliberative conversations, but I appreciate you asking.  So yeah, again, as I said earlier, we don’t talk about things that we have not yet either fully – and/or, more importantly, notified to our Congress. 

But I’m glad you asked, and this goes back to several other questions.  What we can do – because I fully appreciate why many of you would not see or pay attention to our congressional notifications or CNs – we can through the press center make available what we’ve announced to date for particular states or regions, and I’m happy to provide that  .  And you can include that in either whatever you’re filing today or future stories, if that’s helpful. 

QUESTION:  Oh, Andy keeps sending us those, so we have them. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Okay, okay.  (Laughter.)  Good.  Raj, thank you.  I will – I’ll tell Andy you told me that. 

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Yes. 


QUESTION:  Yeah, you have a safe one. 

MODERATOR:  Well, that’s it.  I’m glad to also know Andy’s doing a great job getting everybody what they need.  That’s it for questions.  Assistant Secretary Cooper, thank you so much for briefing us today. 

To our participants, transcript and a video will be posted on our website.  That’s at  If you publish your story as a result of this briefing, please share it with us.  And you can send that to, or even send it directly to Andy, as many of you are already in touch with him.  

Well, this concludes today’s event.  I wish you all a good afternoon. 

U.S. Department of State

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