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  • The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Assistant Secretary R. Clarke Cooper discusses how the bureau is using its tools of security assistance, defense trade, peacekeeping capacity building and humanitarian mine action to help allies and partners respond to the coronavirus pandemic and ensure that America remains the security partner of choice for nations around the world.     


MODERATOR:  Welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s video conference with Assistant Secretary [R.] Clarke Cooper on the Political-Military Affairs Bureau’s support for global COVID relief efforts and on how the U.S. is helping allies and partners responding to the pandemic.

I believe that all the microphones are muted now.  You may record the briefing by clicking on the record button at the bottom of the Zoom screen, and one of my colleagues will grant permission for you to record the briefing.  If you have technical problems during the briefing, you can use the chat feature to chat directly with the meeting host who will try to assist you.  If the Zoom session fails or disconnects, please click on the link and try to sign back in to rejoin.  The ground rules are that this is on the record.

And I’d like to then introduce our briefer, R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs who has been in his position since April of 2019.  Immediately prior to taking on his present role in the Trump administration, Mr. Cooper served as the director of intelligence planning for Joint Special Operations Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force for the National Capital Region, which is the D.C. region.  And Mr. Cooper brings to Political-Military Affairs over two decades of experience in both diplomatic and military roles.  His full biography was linked in the meeting invitation rather the briefing invitation, and the assistant secretary will now give an opening statement.  When he concludes, I will come back on and open the briefing to questions and answers.  Thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  All right, good morning, everybody.  Cheryl, thank you for the introduction.  Good to see you again, if not virtually.  As always would prefer all of us to be in person.  I appreciate everyone’s patience as well as fortitude to get us linked up and stitched up together today.  So thank you very much for being here.

The first thing I wanted to talk about was the posture, our operating posture at the Political-Military Affairs Bureau and how we’ve been able to meet mission during the coronavirus pandemic.

I want to begin with where we’ve adjusted.  In light of that, our operations worldwide have not ceased.  If anything, we’ve been able to meet mission despite the challenges that are met not only in our capital but with our partners’ capitals across the world.

And as Secretary Pompeo has noted in multiple fora, the United States is proud to be the world’s number one provider when one’s looking at health and humanitarian assistance to countries worldwide.

In response to the pandemic, we have provided more than $900 million in humanitarian, health, economic, and development assistance to now more than 120 countries.  When times are tough, one can rely on a friend like the United States of America.  We provide a helping hand to partners and allies and even to those who may not be as close to us but are in need.

For the Political-Military Affairs Bureau, this means that our allies and partners need defense articles.  Our partners and allies need training.  Our partners and allies need security assistance more than ever for them to be able to meet their readiness and their requirements, and America remains their global security partner of choice.

Now, from a posture standpoint, everything, absolutely everything – defense trade, security assistance, peacekeeping capacity building, humanitarian demining, et cetera – all the things that fall under the portfolio of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau have been impacted by the virus such as everything else has been impacted by the coronavirus.

But what has not changed is the programmatic needs.  What has not changed are those defense requirements.  So far none of our partners to date have asked to cancel a contract; however, over the course of the past few months, we do know and we have assessed supply chains and revenue streams are disrupted.  Budgets are uncertain, and in some cases defense budgets are truncating or shrinking.

But both the United States Government and U.S. industry continue to honor our commitments to our partners.  We remain able to process cases at approximately a pace and volume as we did prior to the onset of this pandemic.  This is very significant simply because as you see we’ve adjusted to alternate means not only in our way of communicating in open fora, we’ve adjusted our means to be able to conduct business day to day.

And so while our physical presence in the office space may not be the same, our capacity and our ability to do our work has continued forward.  I’m extremely proud of that.  I’m very proud that our bureau has worked very closely with the interagency, the national security enterprise, and the defense industrial base to continue to deliver on contracts, deliver on continuity, and make sure that there are actual arrival or deliveries despite transportation challenges.

Our partners have told us they want to continue their pending sales.  Some partners have actually sought new or additional arms transfers or sales.  Industry, to their credit, has been very candid through this entire process about where they do need our assistance and where they do need flexibility on processes.  That is at every level of the PM Bureau: myself, my deputy, my deputy assistant secretaries, and everyone at the operational level.  We’ve all been involved in leaning forward on where we could adjust and where we could actually find opportunities in this new posture.

Just late last month, the PM Bureau’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls responded with a number of temporary changes that will allow flexibility on the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, commonly known as ITAR, to help industry ensure continuity of operations, practice social distancing, maximize telework, and reduce the burden on IT systems while still safeguarding national security and protecting technical data.

Though I mentioned that these are temporary, I will say that my charge has been and my lean on my colleagues has been to seek further evolution on additional reforms.  And I’m actually looking at this not just from an immediate response.  We are looking at where there may be opportunity for further reforms further afield well past the pandemic.

And what are these measures?  Well, I will share some of those today.  Reducing registration fees to $500 for applicants in tiers 1 and 2, which will save these firms, which will include many small to medium size firms.  These enterprises are usually referred to in industry as the subs to the large, significant industry entities.  And that will save about an estimated $20 million over the course of the coming year.

Also seeking and have put in place temporarily extending ITAR registrations expiring between February and June for two months.  This allows some flexibility in recognizing latency in some of the processes that have impacted all businesses.  Temporarily suspending the requirement that regular employees must work at the companies’ facilities to allow for telework – remember, we have all adjusted.  Everyone on this call has adjusted their work posture.  We’ve adjusted our work posture here at the Department.  Industries adjusted this work posture. What we want to make sure is that regulations in place prior to the pandemic are not punitive to businesses that are now having to do telework like all of us.

Of course, there are caveats.  The suspending the requirement – work at a facility allows for telework as long as those telework is being done in countries that are not prohibited, like Russia, for example.

We have similarly eased requirements of sharing of technical data during remote work while carefully balancing the need for remote access, again with the responsibility to protect U.S. technical data.

Extending for six months of licenses that would normally expire between March 13 and May 31 so long as there are no changes in scope or no changes in the value of the license or to the name or the address of the parties.  This measure was heavily sought after by industry, again particularly by our medium and smaller-sized enterprises as it struggles to cope with the personnel and administrative disruptions that we’re all facing imposed by this health crisis.

And finally, I’d also like to highlight that it changes how we transmit notifications to Congress.  No surprise to many of you who have worked with the Department, there are some processes that would be recognizable in the 19th century – the way we move paper.  But as we’ve moved into more electronic means, one of the reforms we’ve done was the transmission of congressional notifications to Congress via electrons.  I know that sounds like something we should have done a while ago, but we’re doing it now.

And I also do want to give opportunity as far as on these modernization efforts that this is not just solely within our PM – Bureau of PM family.  I do want to take appreciation, very much so, of our committees of jurisdiction.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Office of the Speaker, the Committee on House Foreign Affairs – all have worked to help us put this protocol in place.  This was not a unilateral measure.  And I would like to see more of this in the future.  As I said earlier in the call, some of the reforms that we’re putting into place we are trying to find opportunity in the adversity of this pandemic and we’d like to see where we could lean further forward.  I think you’ll see more of this in the future.

And then I also want to talk about the initial February launch of our Defense Export Control and Compliance System.  We refer to that here in the bureau as DECCS.  Our industry partners usually refer to it as DECCS.  And it is a modern, cloud-based system for processing of export licensing applications.  Our ascension to DECCS predates the pandemic, but if anything our current operating conditions certainly amplify the need for us to have had a more modernized, cloud-based system for export license processing.

Also want to turn to some other aspects beyond the defense base and defense trade.  Do want to talk further about security assistance and how that’s been impacted and some of what we are currently assessing and how we’re reapplying that.  And this is also inclusive of peacekeeping, capacity building, and humanitarian mine action programs.  Many of these activities are already impacted by partner nation lockdowns, their closed borders.  And like us, their military has do not travel orders in many places, as well as the limits on commercial civilian air travel that impact all of us.

However, as I noted earlier, the need for these crucial programs remain.  The programmatic requirement has not gone away.  And there’s certainly no changes to how we would apply funding for these programs.  We still see and assess the requirement, and we are still looking at how those could be best applied.

In general, our partnerships with military and law enforcement on hard security issues are actually the least affected right now, but it’s the pandemic’s secondary, tertiary effects that are difficult to really anticipate or mitigate at this point.

As in other areas of life during the coronavirus, there is opportunity again with this adversity, and spurred on by the global pandemic, we are now working with our Department of Defense colleagues to find new ways to provide classroom-based, professional, technical, and human rights training either entirely virtually or enhanced through social distancing.  There are already models for this.  In many areas, we refer to it as DL, or distance learning.  You probably will see an expansion of that, and this is something that we have actually contributed toward.

To meet the urgent demands of medical needs, the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and our regional bureaus have worked with Congress to authorize partner countries to utilize equipment previously delivered to train and prepare personnel for deployments on international peacekeeping missions.  We are repurposing what is already in the field.  This equipment, including field hospitals and ambulances, and in some cases personnel trained to utilize such equipment as well, are working in the front lines in places like Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal, and Uganda to bolster the global response and treat the infected and slow the spread of the COVID virus.

In doing so, we’ve built on the success of similar efforts in response to the 2014 Ebola crisis.  This is not a reinvention.  This is actually lessons learned that are being applied now at a later date.  We captured those lessons and see those as a reference point on how we’re applying assistance today and what we can take to the field and reapply in the field to help mitigate regional medical crises.  U.S. foreign assistance investments focused on security capacity building help our allies, help our partners acquire key capabilities essential to safeguarding their countries and work together more effectively to meet our shared security challenges.

Some of those challenges are not limited to one particular partner.  As we all know, there are transregional and transnational threats.  One could look at the COVID virus as yet another transnational, transregional threat.  And through investments in such security assistance programmings – programs – we enable our allies and our partners to respond quickly and decisively to unforeseen crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrate why the United States remains the global security partner of choice.

As global response evolves, we continue to seek opportunities to temporarily repurpose previously delivered U.S. peacekeeping and security sector capacity building assistance to enable our partners to meet domestic needs as required or if required.  We have notified Congress – and that we have authorized the temporary use of a field hospital purchased for counterterrorism purposes, for example, in Mauritania to apply it toward COVID response.  We’ve notified Congress of plans to authorize partners in Sierra Leone, Chad, Mauritania, and Northern Macedonia to temporarily use other types of previously delivered equipment, including field hospitals, ambulances, and other items toward their domestic COVID-19 response, as well as maybe address other efforts that may be impacted by COVID response.

Such equipment was purchased for mostly counterterrorism purposes at the time, along with some for peacekeeping purposes.  We have notified Congress we’ve authorized the temporary loan of this equipment, including tents, cots, mattresses, you name it, from the regional logistics equipment depot in Sierra Leone, and this would be applied in Sierra Leone’s military’s case toward COVID response.

Elsewhere, NGOs that implement our land mine awareness programs are also delivering COVID messaging to the rural communities they serve.  In other places still, our demining NGO partners are also using their substantial logistics capabilities to get medical supplies to – delivered in areas where they’re the most needed or in areas that are not well or easily attainable.

This clearly shows how long-term U.S. foreign assistance investments focused on security capacity building help allies and partners acquire key capabilities essential to safeguarding their countries and work together effectively to meet shared security challenges.  We will continue to seek opportunities, as I mentioned, and we will continue to utilize previously provided assistance to enable allies and partners to help meet global needs as we respond collectively to the coronavirus pandemic.

And lastly, let me close with an admonition that I think probably everyone here today has already heard before, but I’m going to say it again:  Caveat emptor.  In this difficult time, there sadly remain unscrupulous state actors and their proxies as well that will seek to take unfair advantage of coronavirus-stricken nations.  And so the question for our partners should ask:  Is this an altruistic measure coming from particular state actors?  Assistance that comes along with the loss of sovereignty; assistance that comes along with resource extraction or debt trap diplomacy, the signing away of the rights of critical physical or IT infrastructure, or the exploitation of intellectual property either due to espionage or outright theft, is not aid.  It’s not assistance and should rightly be refused.

Going forward, America will continue to aid allies and partners in need, and we will always do so without harmful strings attached.  The United States wants partners, not clients.  Thank you very much.  Look forward to the conversation today.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, Assistant Secretary.  I believe everyone can hear me.  So with that we will open it up to the question-and-answer portion of the briefing, so to ask a question, please click on the raised – raise hand button at the bottom of the participant list screen, and I will call on you.  If you haven’t found that yet, please open the participant tab and you’ll find the raise hand feature there at the bottom of the participant screen next to the buttons that say yes, no, go slower, go faster, and more.  And if you have dialed in, it’s much preferable for you to log into Zoom using the link provided.  And if you are asking a question, please make sure that your name and outlet show in the participant list.

So with that, let’s see who we have.  Let’s see.  First we have Gabriela Perozo of VPI-TV Venezuela, and I believe you are already unmuted, Gabby.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you so much for this opportunity.  The U.S. is working with nations to provide relief from the coronavirus pandemic.  How are things progressing in countries like Venezuela, with a regime that it’s clearly not cooperative with the U.S. and these world allies?  There are still American citizens who can return home and others wrongfully imprisoned there.  What is being done in this situation?   And if you can tell us more about the meeting that you have today with SOUTHCOM, if it’s related to Venezuela?  Thank you so much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Thank you.  So I’ll start with – you asked or mentioned American citizens abroad.  Those operations have not ceased.  While we have crossed an interesting threshold of over 80,000 Americans returned home, it doesn’t mean that we have stopped.  What it has meant is it has meant for – from a consular aspect and a citizen services aspect is focusing on regional hubs to get people home.  Understandably, there are some American citizens based on familial or business commitments that are not leaving places, but we have not ceased our operations.

As to getting aid into places, there is a challenge where some states are not as acquiescent or interested in receiving aid, but that has not stopped our work, our assessment.  As we all have looked, be it in an open source fora or available in official reporting, there are waves of where this pandemic is contracting or expanding in certain places, so we don’t anticipate any kind of abatement on pushing out assistance.

There’s certainly an ongoing assessment on where those assistance needs may occur, and as I said earlier, we’re looking at where we would be adaptive on taking assistance that may exist in other accounts to reapply.  One way to do that is to – if some countries, as we – I enumerated some, not all – where we would reapply peacekeeping efforts or resources, that would allow them or free them up to be more focused on COVID.  So we’re also looking at it from an offset standpoint.

And as far as SOUTHCOM is concerned, that is a hemispheric conversation that a number of folks will be participating in.  It won’t be limited to Venezuela, of course, though Venezuela, of course, is part of the Western Hemisphere and part of South America, so we – it’ll be a healthy conversation with all the posts.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  I’m sorry, I keep getting muted.  So next we’ll take Haye-ah Lee from Yonhap News South Korea, and let me unmute you.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Assistant Secretary.  I have a question for you on the Special Measures Agreement negotiations.  Why has the U.S. asked South Korea to pay $1.3 billion knowing fully well that South Korea won’t accept that sum?  And are there plans for the two sides to meet again soon to continue the negotiations, because thousands of Korean workers currently remain furloughed as of the beginning of April?  Could you address those questions, please?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Sure.  Yeah, thank you.  The negotiations actually have not ceased.  And as you noted, there has been some back and forth that has actually been revealed outside of government channels in Seoul or in Washington, but we’ve actually come a very long way since we embarked upon negotiations a year ago.  And so there’s little – I would consider them like snippets or snapshots that are out there, but all parties have continued lines of communication.  From where we are in Washington, we’ve certainly seen ourselves as very flexible on being able to adjust as we proceed through the negotiations.  And what isn’t visible is the coming back and forth, that discourse between Seoul and Washington, between our foreign ministries, which is ongoing.

That said, it’s recognized that we still need to get to a place that is fully acceptable for both governments; that is, fully acceptable for President Moon and for President Trump.  But we’re going to keep working this, and why?  The main reason why is because our alliance is a tremendous investment, and both parties have commitment toward the alliance.  And that is certainly a foundation, that, if anything, the commitment to our alliance is the bedrock of the negotiations and allows for us to have a candid discourse about burden sharing and shared responsibility.  So while there is a shared adversity that we face in the region, there is also a shared responsibility of meeting that.  But again, we are still there.  We are still communicating, and it has been a healthy back and forth.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Okay.  So next we will take – let’s go to a different region – Elena Lentza from Lusa News Agency, Portugal.

QUESTION:  Hello.  Good morning.  Thank you very much for taking my question.  I am from the Portuguese news agency, but I wanted to ask about Portuguese-speaking countries from Africa, like Guinea Bissau or Mozambique or Angola, but especially Guinea Bissau, who his dealing with a lot of drug trafficking and now during the pandemic is a little more difficult to analyze that, and Mozambique has a lot of violence also coming in, like from terrorists.  Although these regions, these countries, are not so affected by the coronavirus like other countries, like Europe, what is the United States planning to do in connection to that?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Thank you.  And Elena, you’re referencing transnational crime.  It is clearly recognized by all central governments, any national security enterprise, that transnational crime, transregional crime, certainly there’s an overlay.  In many cases there are similar facilitation lines associated with terrorists, terrorism, nonstate actors, and criminal enterprises.

And why are we talking about that here?  Well, earlier this morning I said the programmatic requirements have not gone away, so when we’re looking at the need to bolster capabilities and capacities for security forces that is inclusive of law enforcement.  And it is why, when we’re looking at the funds on security assistance that are applied toward those hard elements of security, they haven’t gone away.

But what has changed is that there has certainly been – when I say that the United States is taking opportunity to identify reforms and refine processes and reapply some resources, adversaries are also opportunists here, as I noted.  We – there are some state actors that are seeking to be – impose upon other states through their assistance, but nonstate actors are doing this as well.

So yes, if you’re looking at a place like Mozambique, where there are ISIS affiliates, if you’re looking at a place like Guinea Bissau, where there are the traffickers, the capacity building to push back, to mitigate and respond to either a terrorist threat or a transnational criminal threat has not stopped.  If anything, when one looks as we forecast resources in the United States towards security assistance, those hard requirements haven’t gone away.  What we’re doing, though, is assessing and factoring how to continue that but also allow for some flexibilities for security partners or security cooperation partners that they can adjust where they need to.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Next we’ll go to Roj Zalla with Rudaw TV, Kurdistan, Iraq.  Go ahead, Roj.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Cooper, for doing this.  I have two questions, actually – one on Syria and one on Iraq.

On Syria, where you have a number of soldiers there, I was wondering if you could tell us how you’re helping your SDF partners there.  And also a second leg of that question, what are some of the obstacles, because we know there are a number of actors – Russia, Syrian Government, even Turkey might not be happy with delivering assistance to your SDF partners?

On Iraq, Iraqi officials are saying U.S. has already helped Iraq with about $15 million in combating COVID-19.  Of course, a lot of my questions are for combating COVID-19, but – so for Iraq, what else are you helping Iraq, if any?  And also, resource sharing is a problem in Iraq between communities in Iraq.  How do you ensure that your assistance to Iraq is distributed as intended?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Right.  So I’ll start with Iraq and I’ll go backward from the last question to the first.  Similar to other partners – so it’s not limited to Iraq when we look at assistance application.  So this could be – I mean, my focus is security assistance, but this could also be applied on humanitarian assistance as well as health and other aid.  It is incumbent upon our department, our ministerial oversight – it is also incumbent upon our embassies in the field, not just in Baghdad – to be able to have ability to measure and assess where that’s going.  It’s not unique to any particular partner.

It is actually expected in part for several reasons:  One, we want to make sure that the assistance gets to where it needs to be applied, that it’s not under-utilized or wasted.  Two, it also helps us gauge or measure where we may need to adjust in future cycles.  We are right now in our current budget cycle, looking into Fiscal Year 2022.  Helping us make that adjustment isn’t just looking at it from a strategic perspective.  There is an operational aspect of how are these funds applied, where have there been lessons learned, is there an augmented need in certain places.

COVID has certainly played a factor in that, but if one is looking at it from the frame of a security context, then when we’re looking at Iraq, it’s the – what are those external threats and influences that would be a challenge for the central government in Baghdad, or what are those non-state actor threats that, while have abated, haven’t completely disappeared?  And what are the external pressures that may be applied on ministerial functions or military functions that need to be addressed.  So all of that factors in as far as not only the monitoring, but what we’re looking for for future application.

Specific to Iraq, though, having the – having a new central government in place certainly is a stabilizing application, very helpful.  But what hasn’t changed, looking at the challenges for the region?  And it’s also not gone unnoticed that there’s a significant amount of, one could say, metaphorical weight on Baghdad’s shoulders not only just for Iraq, but also from a regional context.

To your questions about Syria, one of the challenges there that has not changed, but has probably been augmented by COVID, is Russia’s disruptive presence there, and certainly the challenges with the regime blocking delivery of assistance.  That is well known.  That actually preceded the COVID pandemic, but with regime-held areas and also the disruption of lines of maneuver or communication, those disruptions are starting to and have impacted civilian populations in a way that is making it a challenge for NGOs to be able to help get assistance where needed.

I mentioned demining.  That’s a perfect example of where we’ve had to adjust some of our operations to address gaps that have been created, if not by the pandemic but gaps that have been created by disruptive actors.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Thank you.  So next we’ll take – we have time, maybe two or three more questions depending on how long the questions are.  We’ll take Sangmin Lee from Radio Free Asia.  I’m trying to un-mute and you might be trying to un-mute at the same time.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Go ahead.  Yes, we can now.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you for taking my question.  U.S. has been suggesting to North Korea U.S. ready to help North Korea combat COVID-19.  So I want to know, is there any progress?  Have you received any response from North Korea about helping to COVID-19?

And second question is:  Do you have any information that North Korea has confirmed case of COVID-19?  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Were you able to hear the questions, Assistant Secretary?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  I think so, yes.  So, I mean, no surprise to anybody who follows, the Korean Peninsula reporting out of Pyongyang is extremely limited, very tightly controlled.

So one can look at it this way:  There is nowhere on the globe that is completely absent of impacts of COVID, either by cases or effects of the pandemic, hence it’s a pandemic.  But yeah, anything that’s come out of North Korean channels officially has been extremely limited.  But to say that there’s no cases there would be inaccurate.  I think that was the question.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Let’s see.  And next we’ll go to TASS from Russia.  We have Sapozhnikov, if I have – and I believe you’re un-muted already.


MODERATOR:  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hello, sir.  Please – let me please clarify.  Recently, Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Lavrov discussed next steps on arms control issue.  And do you have any updates on the U.S.-Russian negotiations on the renewed New START Treaty?  Because Russia said today that have no indication or signals about the U.S. readiness to extend this treaty.

And let me please – the second one:  Yesterday, Ukrainian ambassador to U.S. said that Ukraine plans to purchase at least three shipments on armaments.  Let’s – let – please clarify.  Are the negotiations in progress?  Please.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Right.  So again, like I did with another question, I’ll work backwards.  So specific to Ukraine, if one looks historically, recent history – go back to 2014 – the United States has committed well over $1.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, and that’s in response to Russian’s aggressive actions.  And that is – that crosses several administrations.  This includes enhanced defense capabilities for Ukraine not only to monitor, but actually also to secure their sovereign borders, deploy their forces more safely, effectively, and also make progress toward interoperability with NATO member states.

Now, for example, you mentioned recent sales or acquisitions.  The Ukraine now has acquired 360 Javelin missiles.  Those were purchased in ’18, and they also purchased – we finished that in 2019 with a combination of national funds and through our FMF, or what we call the Foreign Military Financing program.  The Government of the United States – we also delivered two former Coast Guard Island-class cutter patrol boats to the Ukrainian navy last year.  This is through our Excess Defense Articles program .  It’s a very popular program globally, and the Ukraine was definitely a beneficiary of that.  And we will also provide three additional Island-class vessels.  These will be delivered in the future.  We anticipate a delivery of those Island-class vessels in 2021.

And of course, we’re going to continue to support and work closely with the Ukraine on maintaining their capacities for sovereignty and meeting their military requirements, but nothing further to announce at this point.

And then your first question regarding START or New START, yes, obviously Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Pompeo are in communication, and there are certainly efforts in both parties to actually continue that dialogue.  But at this point, I don’t want to preview what has been reviewed here, and I will pass that for another colleague, particularly those who are working specifically on that portfolio.

MODERATOR:  So I want to call on Pearl from Open Parliament, Zimbabwe.  Pearl, did you have an additional question?  I believe he already answered on Mozambique.

QUESTION:  Oh, you did, okay.  Well not really, but thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Cooper.  I really appreciate your time here today.  I guess I might just ask you:  Is there anything new over and above the work that you’re doing?  Because this public health crisis is an evolving crisis, so are you innovating anything new to improve upon your policy specifically to the southern African region, to those specific countries – Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe – they’re all landlocked countries, vulnerable countries, fragile economies.  Are you thinking of new ways?  Do you know any policy changes perhaps that might be upcoming?

MODERATOR:  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  Right.  I will start with operational.  And Pearl, as I mentioned earlier, we inside just our part of the Department, inside the Political-Military Affairs Bureau, had done some self-identification on where we could adjust, what we could do immediately.  And so what I shared today were anecdotal examples of where we adjusted not only on security assistance, but where we adjusted on defense trade processes as well.  I caveat in that those were immediate responses, because it was things that we could do very quickly.  In some cases, of course, we needed to do inter-ministerial interagency consultations, and in most of this we also needed to notify and work with our Congress.  That said, it doesn’t mean we stopped.  So the key word I think here – and you said it – is “evolve.”

We understand from a pandemic standpoint that there is evolution of work that may either rise or decrease, and there will be likely be a change in posture on requirements for partners.  And it’s not just because their defense budgets have truncated.  The threat in some of these places may evolve as well.  So the nutshell or brief answer to that is – is that we are acutely aware of the evolving posture of the pandemic, but we’re also acutely aware of the evolving posture of other threats and the evolving posture of our security partners.

MODERATOR:  Okay, we have two final questions if you have time, Assistant Secretary, to take them really quickly.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  I need to be on the phone in five minutes.

MODERATOR:  Five minutes, okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  No, no, I mean I need to be – I need to be on my secure call in five minutes.  (Laughter.)

MODERATOR:  Oh, okay.  All right.  A short one.  Let’s see if Liz Kim with Voice of America has a short question.  Liz?

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Mr. Cooper, has North Korea accepted U.S. offer to help its fight against coronavirus?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER:  I am not aware that there has been an acceptance.  I would say generally that there have been a number of states that have not accepted our offers, but I would caveat that.  There is a difference between an active non-acceptance and non-reply.  I’ll leave it at that.  I mean, the challenge with Pyongyang is they have not been as forthcoming, not only to us but to any other state in the world, as to the true nature of what they’re dealing with.

MODERATOR:  Okay, thank you, and with that, the assistant secretary is out of time.  We have one or two more questions.  If you will please e-mail any remaining questions that you did not get to ask to, we will pass those on to the assistant secretary and his staff for follow-up.  A transcript of this briefing will hopefully be ready this afternoon, and we will post it on our website as soon as we are able to post the final transcript and the video.  Thank you all for joining us, and that concludes our briefing for today.  Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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