Acting Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Charles E. Summers Jr.
ACTING ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHARLES SUMMERS: Good morning — or afternoon, I should say.
Okay, before we get started, just have a couple things to put out.
I want to thank you for joining us right before the holiday weekend. I know, I’m sure you all have plans, but I appreciate you being here.
Earlier this morning, Acting Secretary Shanahan was at the White House, and he attended the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride. At 2 o’clock today, the secretary is hosting the Albanian minister of defense here, and you’re all welcome to attend the arrival outside.
Tomorrow, Secretary Shanahan and Secretary Pompeo will host Japanese — the Japanese foreign minister and the defense minister at the State Department for a Security Consultative Committee two-plus-two meeting. And I know that there will be remarks and a joint press availability after that meeting at 9:50 (a.m. EDT), which of course you are welcome to attend.
And with that, I’d be happy to answer any questions.
Q: Charlie, let me ask you a few questions about the report from North Korea — by North Korea yesterday, that they had tested a “tactical guided weapon,” seems to be the phrase.
Can you say what that test was or was not? In other words, can you rule out that it was a ballistic missile? Or can you say anything about whether it was a cruise missile or any other kind of missile? Shed any light on what actually happened?
MR. SUMMERS: What — what I can tell you is, we’re aware of the reports that North Korea conducted a missile test yesterday.
Q: It was a missile?
MR. SUMMERS: Yes. I mean, we’re aware of those reports.
Q: Well, they said it was a weapon. (inaudible) — but do you have any information that it was a missile?
MR. SUMMERS: All I’ve seen are the reports.
Q: Okay. So no U.S. government information —
MR. SUMMERS: No.
Q: — about what it was?
MR. SUMMERS: No.
Q: Okay. Do you have any comment on President Putin getting involved in discussions with Kim? Apparently Kim’s going to visit Moscow to discuss the situation.
MR. SUMMERS: I don’t have any comments on that.
Q: If the testing of whatever this might have been, a missile or artillery, you — does the Pentagon consider that a provocative action?
MR. SUMMERS: Again, what I can tell you is we’re aware of the reports. And I — you know, I can tell you that STRATCOM and NORTHCOM, for the last 24 hours, have been at operations normal.
Q: Have been at what?
MR. SUMMERS: Operations normal.
Q: What does that mean?
MR. SUMMERS: It means they’re going through their normal — their normal routines. Nothing has changed.
Q: Nothing has changed?
MR. SUMMERS: No.
Q: Kurdistan 24. Two questions regarding Turkey.
First, could you tell us the status of the S-400? And have you — to what extent that has been resolved or not resolved regarding Turkey’s purchase of it?
MR. SUMMERS: Well, as we’ve said many times before, we remain very hopeful that Turkey will abandon its desire to obtain the S-400. And we are in ongoing discussions and consultations with them to get beyond that issue.
Q: But nothing has change with the suspension of the F-35 program, the possibility of sanctions?
MR. SUMMERS: I don’t have any updates for you on that.
Q: And regarding Syria — the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Syria, Erdogan’s adviser Ibrahim Kalin said today that Turkey expects the U.S. withdrawal to continue, and a safe zone to be established under Turkish control. Is it your understanding that a safe zone will be established under Turkish control?
MR. SUMMERS: Well, all I can tell you is that our Turkish allies and our SDF partners, you know — we know that they have legitimate issues that they’re discussing. And those discussions are ongoing.
Q: Tony Bertuca, Inside Defense.
Can you tell us what the Pentagon’s rationale was for departing from 10 years of policy in not declassifying the size of the nuclear stockpile for F.Y. ’18?
MR. SUMMERS: I’ll have to take that — I’ll take that for you, okay?
UNKNOWN: Can you send that to everybody? That response?
MR. SUMMERS: (inaudible) Lucas?
Q: Charlie, can you rule out that North Korea didn’t launch or fire anything?
MR. SUMMERS: All I can tell you is that we are aware of the reports about North Korea conducting a missile test.
Q: The North Koreans never mentioned a missile. I’m just wondering if you knew what it was that they fired off?
MR. SUMMERS: (inaudible).
Q: Hi. Yang with Xinhua News.
On — the Wall Street Journal reports yesterday saying Admiral Davidson has requested Congress to allocate more resources to Indo-Pacific Command, so I was just wondering, what is the DOD’s position on such a request, and if it will take actions upon them to address the admiral’s concern?
MR. SUMMERS: Well, I — as you know, the budget process has not been gone through yet. And as that works its way through it will address not simply the PACOM, but the entire DOD budget.
Q: And also, another question on the (inaudible) meeting between acting Secretary Shanahan and his Chinese counterparts. Are they currently in any dialogue to meet on any upcoming dates?
(UNKNOWN): I don’t have an update for you on that.
Q: Thank you.
Admiral Stavridis recently wrote an op-ed for Time Magazine saying that DOD’s policy of not having televised briefing is self-defeating. I just wanted to see if you would like to respond to that.
MR. SUMMERS: You know, nothing different than I’ve said in the past. I can only address what has occurred since the 1st of January, and, you know, I can tell you that last week, the secretary was before cameras probably four or five different times. We continue to engage with members of the media, and we’ll continue to do so.
Q: And what is the current status of Michael Flynn? Is he still in the Army? Has he been — is he out? Do you have any update on that?
MR. SUMMERS: I’d have to take that for you, Jeff.
Q: Yes, regarding Turkey and the S-400, is — has DOD weighed in at all? The Erdogan spokesman said on Monday or Tuesday that they were expecting a potential waiver from President Trump to get the S-400. Does DOD have a position on this? And has this come up in the conversation between Shanahan and the MOD this week?
MR. SUMMERS: Well, of course, the conversation between the secretary and — and his Turkish counterpart is not something that I’m prepared to get into. But I can tell you that we are encouraging the ongoing dialogue to get beyond the issue of the S-400.
Q: But specifically on the waiver, do you have anything?
MR. SUMMERS: I don’t. I don’t.
Q: Is the U.S. participating with Japan in the search for this F-35 that crashed? And are you concerned at all about — that there might be a safety problem with the plane, or whether — secondarily, whether the — some of the technology might fall into the wrong hands?
MR. SUMMERS: Let — let me take the question for you, Jamie.
Q: And can we ask that all the taken questions be given to everybody?
MR. SUMMERS: Of course, yeah.
Q: (inaudible) everybody else’s taken questions.
MR. SUMMERS: Absolutely.
Q: Thank you.
Q: You said the Turkish allies and SDF have legitimate concerns that they are discussing. Are they discussing with each other?
MR. SUMMERS: I’m sorry. I said what?
Q: In — in response to, I believe Lori, you said Turkish allies and SDF partners have legitimate issues that they are discussing. Are they discussing with you, or are they discussing with each other, or is there a kind of communication with (inaudible)?
MR. SUMMERS: I — the — yeah. I wouldn’t have anything for you on that because those — those are ongoing discussions.
Q: Sorry, did you have a follow-up, Kasim?
Q: Can we get an update on the situation with additional forces to the border? Secretary Shanahan kind of hinted last week that something was coming soon, but there seems to have been no movement on that. What’s the delay — has there not been an official request from DHS yet?
MR. SUMMERS: We don’t have an additional request from DHS at this time.
Q: Do you have an update on — has the — or this military seen a change in Iran’s posture in the region following the designation of the IRGC?
MR. SUMMERS: You know, as far as the department itself, our position, nothing has changed on that. It’s an immigration and nationality act, and there — you know, therefore, that falls outside of DOD.
Q: There’s been no threat to U.S. troops in the region, or you’ve seen no changes?
MR. SUMMERS: No.
Q: Yeah, thank you.
The — there’s reports out this week that the Pentagon is going to cancel or suspend this contract with the group commonly known as the JASON, the scientific expert group. Any explanation for what the thought process is on that?
MR. SUMMERS: I – at this time, I don’t have any updates for you on that. And as those — as anything comes out, I’d be happy to share it with you.
Q: Yeah, I’m confused when you say about North Korea that you are aware of reports. So are you saying that — that DOD has just read news reports, and there’s no official statement about what that incident was, or any reporting by the DOD about what they observed? Did they observe anything, or just that they read news reports about it? I’m confused about what you mean by reports.
MR. SUMMERS: Well, again, we’re aware that reports that are coming out regarding North Korea. And again, I will tell you, as far as STRATCOM and NORTHCOM are concerned, there’s been no change in — in their operation levels at this time.
Q: You don’t have an — a statement on anything observed on that?
MR. SUMMERS: I do not.
Q: I mean, because I should probably know this, but when they — after the — after North Korea would launch a ballistic missile, would STRATCOM and NORTHCOM change their operation levels?
MR. SUMMERS: Again, I — we don’t have any indication of what it was that was launched. So to respond to your question directly like that would indicate that it was —
Q: I’m trying to — that — that’s just a different kind of response than I can ever remember getting when there’s — when, like, North Korea would launch a ballistic missile, I don’t remember anyone ever saying, “Oh, NORTHCOM and STRATCOM are now at level — whatever — high, or red, or whatever.”
So I mean, I’m just trying to figure out exactly what that means, that they’re at operations normal. That means they didn’t actually detect anything, so they haven’t had — gone — they haven’t changed their operational status. Is that what that means?
MR. SUMMERS: I think that — I think it’s — that’s fair to say, yeah.
Q: They didn’t detect a — any kind of launch, or —
MR. SUMMERS: I can’t speak for NORTHCOM and STRATCOM specifically on what they may or may not have detected, but we do know that they’re running at normal operations.
Q: So why can’t you speak for them? You speak for the Defense Department. They’re part of the Defense Department. (inaudible)
MR. SUMMERS: Look, I — well, Bob, it’s the level of the question that she’s asking, the specificity of the question.
Q: It’s the obvious first question: Did they detect a missile?
MR. SUMMERS: Right.
Q: And so that’s why I tried to ask you, and you didn’t — didn’t give me an answer. I wondering whether you’re now saying, “No, they did not detect a missile.”
MR. SUMMERS: Well, why don’t I take that for you and — and I’ll get a clearer answer for you?
Q: Or detect the firing of anything, even if it wasn’t a missile. Did they test, like, a cruise missile? (inaudible)
MR. SUMMERS: Yeah, I’ll get a clearer answer for you.
Q: You just said there was no indication of what was launched, so —
MR. SUMMERS: I’m sorry?
Q: You just said there was no indication of what was launched. Was something launched?
MR. SUMMERS: What — what we can confirm is we’re aware of the reports that they — they have conducted some tests.
Q: I guess, whose reports? Was it news reporting, or is it government reporting, or is it military reporting?
MR. SUMMERS: There’s a wide range of reports (inaudible).
Q: Can I just get back to the border for one second? At this point now, can you rule out that U.S. military troops will not be used to run any facilities that have migrants? Can you rule that out; they will not be used to run those facilities?
MR. SUMMERS: What I can tell you is historically, we have not run those — any facilities like that. We’ve had requests from Health and Human Services to identify facilities or land to shelter up to 5,000 unaccompanied individuals, children. And if requested. But at this point, there are no requests for housing.
Q: So what I’m — just to be very clear, not asking about identification of facilities, building or construction. Solely to the question of running them, since, of course, the U.S. military cannot be involved in security activities inside the United States.
MR. SUMMERS: The only thing, Barbara,that we would do is — is provide facilities. That would not be —
Q: And you can rule out, then — is your answer yes, that you can rule out that troops will not be used to run facilities?
MR. SUMMERS: We would not be running those facilities.
Q: So you’re ruling that out?
My… can we just go back one more time on North Korea?
Look, on background, officials from many different parts of the Defense Department and the military have said, so far, they see no indication of a launch. The question is, was there any test of anything? Or is this just something the North Koreans are claiming with no truth to it?
Can you — can you — you started by suggesting there were reports of a missile. The North Koreans never even said a missile. All they’ve talked about is testing. So —
(UNKNOWN): We’ve seen the same reporting that you’ve seen, Barbara.
Q: But you must, (inaudible) you know, coming up on — least closer — I don’t know, 18, 20 hours, wherever we are, the United States has to know. It would be a very significant intelligence failure, I would presume, if you didn’t have at this point a darn good idea of what the North Koreans had done, or if they had done anything.
So really pressing the point, can we — you know, what do you guys know about this?
MR. SUMMERS: What I can tell you is — is what I’ve said. We are aware of the reports. And I’ll emphasize that STRATCOM and NORTHCOM have been at normal operations for the last 24 hours.
Q: Suggesting that there was no launch of anything that would fall under their need to respond or be involved this?
MR. SUMMERS: They’ve been at normal operations for the last 24 hours.
Q: Are you still taking the question to try and get us an update on what you —
MR. SUMMERS: I will absolutely take that that. Yes.
Q: You said that you have not been asked any — you didn’t get any requests for housing children in a (inaudible). Did you identify the military construction that could house the children?
MR. SUMMERS: We have a request to identify facilities and/or land. At this point, I know that those assessments are going on. But we have not — at this point, we have no requests for housing.
Q: So the assessment is still going on? It’s not — not over?
MR. SUMMERS: Right. But we’ve had — I want to be clear. We’ve had no requests for housing.
Q: There was a news report earlier this week that there could be as many as 9,000 to 10,000 troops going to the border. Can you deny that report or provide any clarity to what you expect at this point would be the number of troops that could deploy?
MR. SUMMERS: I can tell you, you know, if we have — there’s no RFA (request for assistance) — new RFA coming into it. And there are no plans to deploy anywhere near 9,000 to 10,000 troops.
Q: (Off mic)
MR. SUMMERS: I can’t get into numbers with you on that.
STAFF: We’ve got time for one or two more.
MR. SUMMERS: Oh, sure.
Q: Is the Defense Department concerned by the reach of Russian intelligence as shown by the Mueller report?
MR. SUMMERS: I don’t have anything for you on that.
Anyone else? If not —
Q: One last question.
MR. SUMMERS: Sure.
Q: Just to follow up my previous question, is it conceivable that Ibrahim — to the Pentagon that the statement of Ibrahim Kalin, the adviser to President Erdogan in Turkey, that this — Turkey would control the safe zone in northeastern Syria, that is being discussed, is that within the realm of possibility that would fall under Turkish control?
MR. SUMMERS: I can’t comment on what the ongoing discussions are between our Turkish allies and our SDF partners.
Q: Would you take that question?
MR. SUMMERS: Take that question, Tom? Okay?
Q: Thank you.
Q: Can you give a list of what taken questions you have —
(UNKNOWN): That’s got to be about a dozen.
Q: Well, I’d like to hear them (inaudible) actually. And specifically —
MR. SUMMERS: I’m sorry, (inaudible).
Q: I’d like to hear the list, please, of taken questions so that we’re all on the same page, particularly when it comes to North Korea.
MR. SUMMERS: Of course.
Q: Would you mind sharing with us what the list of taken questions are, please?
STAFF: Sure. I’ll get it to you here in just a moment.
Q: Can we share with the group, or —
STAFF: I’ll read it out. Yes.
Q: Thank you.
MR. SUMMERS: All right. Thank you all very much. I hope you have a great Easter