Defense Secretary Hagel to Cement Indo-US Ties

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Washington, DC – The review of Indo-US ties ordered by former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is still on the back burner for incumbent Chuck Hagel, but the secretary told journalists on Wednesday (June 26) at a Pentagon briefing that the Obama administration will work for a closer relationship between the two countries.

“I can tell you that the India-US relationship is a very important relationship. I think the President has made that clear, Secretary Kerry recently noted that in his visit,” Defense Secretary Hagel said, when asked about a review made by Deputy Secretary Ash Carter to find ways to reduce bureaucratic red-tape while working with Indians so that the bilateral defense trade could flourish.

“We believe that and we will continue to work toward a closer and closer relationship,” declared Hagel, while noting that he has not had a chance to review the efforts being made by Carter.

SNOWDEN

On the ongoing saga of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor and now fugitive who has admitted to revealing highly classified US government surveillance programs, Hagel said, “I would hope that the Russians do the right thing here and turn Snowden over to the United States.”

Addressing journalists at a Pentagon news conference, Hagel said the fugitive is believed to still be at the Moscow airport, adding that he did not know if Moscow has made a final decision on what to do with the man now charged with espionage.

The Defense Secretary called the Snowden affair a negative in US-Russian relations, but nevertheless one that both nations must work through.

Hagel, along with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that Snowden’s decision to reveal details about the NSA’s gathering of phone records of millions of Americans, as well as a separate classified program that involved eavesdropping on Internet activity by foreigners overseas, did uncalculated damage to US national security.

“We are assessing that now. But make no mistake. This violation of our laws was a serious security breach,” Hagel said. He added that he was in the Senate when the laws approving the programs were passed.

“They are legal,” Hagel said of the laws, “and they do protect the United States.”

He also commented on the decision by the Chinese government to let Snowden go to Russia, saying, “We’re very disappointed in the Chinese government in how they’ve handled this.”

Hagel lamented that during the Snowden affair, the governments of the US and China could have worked together. “And this was an occasion, I think, where we had an opportunity to do that,” Hagel added. “But that was the decision of the Chinese government.” Even so, Hagel said, he did not foresee a disruption in Sino-US military relations.

While steps are always being taken to evaluate insider threats and to counter them through upgraded systems and improved technologies, Hagel said that, in the end, little can be done if someone with a top-secret security clearance is willing to break the law.

“I don’t know how you can ever completely 100 percent guard against someone who wants to break the law and violate the statutes and the interests of our nation,” Hagel said.

 SYRIA

In an effort to help prevent the violence in Syria from spreading to its neighbors, the Defense Department is focusing on building partner capacity in the region, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a joint Pentagon news conference with Hagel.

“Militarily, what we’re doing is assisting our partners in the region, the neighbors of Syria, to ensure that they’re prepared to account for the potential spillover effects,” Dempsey said.

As part of these efforts, the US will leave some Patriot missile batteries and some F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft in Jordan and is working with its Iraqi counterparts, the Lebanese armed forces, and Turkey through NATO, the chairman said.

“And we’ve made a recommendation that, as we look at the challenges faced by the Lebanese armed forces, the Iraqi security forces with a re-emerging Al-Qaida in Iraq, and the Jordanians, that we would work with them to help them build additional capability,” he added.

The assistance would take the form of training teams or accelerated foreign military sales of equipment, the chairman said.

“This is about building their capability, not ours,” he added.

These actions are in addition to the recent decision to provide military aid to opponents of the Assad regime, Dempsey said.

The defense secretary acknowledged that delivering the military aid raises a number of challenges.

“The opposition represents many different groups,” Hagel said. “And we will always be and have to be assured that assistance we give to the Syrian military council gets to the right people, and that isn’t a decision that can be answered quickly. It’s a constant process of assessment.”

One option under consideration, a no-fly zone, would be difficult to impose, the chairman told journalists.

“My concern has been that ensuring that Syria’s airplanes don’t fly addresses about 10 percent of the problem, in terms of the casualties that are taken in Syria,” Dempsey said.

“The Syrian air defense system is sophisticated and it’s dense,” he noted, adding that implementing a no-fly zone is essentially an act of war.

“I’d like to understand the plan to make peace before we start a war,” Dempsey said. But, he added, if the decision is made to impose a no-fly zone, “We’ll make it happen.”

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