Press Conference by French Minister of Defense
SECRETARY CHARLES HAGEL: Good afternoon. Good afternoon, everybody, and I appreciate the opportunity to welcome my friend and counterpart, the defense minister for France, Defense Minister Le Drian, who I have had the opportunity to work with over the last year and a half dealing with many issues in many locations. And he is no stranger to the Pentagon, been here a number of times. So I appreciate him taking some time today to join us.
We have a strong partnership, friendship, the French people, the American people, our two nations, and these historic bonds were reflected, I think, once again in our meeting today. We covered a very full range of issues, a range of security challenges confronting both our countries, and we reaffirmed our share resolved to address these challenges together.
On the threat of violent extremism in the Middle East, I thanked Minister Le Drian for France’s leading role in the international coalition to destroy ISIL. As you know, France was the first coalition nation to join the United States in conducting airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq, which are enabling the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish security forces to take the offensive against ISIL. American and French forces will continue to work side by side to support Iraqi forces on the ground as French aircraft patrol the skies over Iraq and provide valuable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance on ISIL targets. And we welcome the United Kingdom and other nation’s participation in these efforts as well.
The minister and I discussed how we can continue to build our coalition, strengthen our coalition and support the new government of Iraq, and I appreciated his insights from his recent trip to Baghdad. The United States and France recognized the grave threat that ISIL poses to our shared regional interests and to our citizens. The recent murder of a French hostage in Algeria was another stark reminder of the deadly threats that ISIL presents to our countries.
Our discussion today also focused on security challenges in North and West Africa, where we face surges of violent extremism, instability and deadly infectious disease. France’s leadership in confronting extremist threats in the Sahel is particularly important as the United States continues to provide support to French operations in Mali, including airlift, refueling and intelligence cooperation, as we’ve done since early last year.
I updated Minister Le Drian on the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola crisis and the U.S. military’s operations in Liberia and its support of this overwhelming effort. As the French military assists its government’s responses to Ebola in Guinea, we agreed to continue to coordinate our efforts across the region.
Finally, the minister and I discussed the situation in Ukraine and its impact on European security. Following our discussions at the NATO summit in Wales, we agreed on the importance of reinforcing NATO allies in Eastern Europe and strengthening the readiness and capabilities of the NATO alliance. A strong and united NATO will be critically important to assuring a Europe whole, free and at peace. And that goal remains a cornerstone of America’s approach to global and trans-Atlantic security.
I want to again thank Minister Le Drian for his leadership and for his friendship. I look forward to continuing our work together to strengthen this special alliance. Thank you very much.
Minister Le Drian.
MINISTER JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN: Thank you, my dear Chuck, first of all for the kinds words that you just said for me, and also at the same time for your invitation to come here in Washington to talk about all the different facets of the cooperation between both our countries in terms of defense It’s my fourth visit in the Pentagon since I have been named minister in May ’12. We also saw each other in other places. Chuck just mentioned the NATO summit in Wales. We also saw each other not long ago in Normandy for the anniversary of the Normandy landings. I came here several times to meet Chuck Hagel, and every time we have had complicity in our analysis, and we understand each other as to the fundamentals, and I wanted to underline that; it has been recalled by him also.
During these talks today we mentioned Sahel. You know that in the heart of Africa, from Mauritania to Libya, terrorist groups of the jihadist type are a threat for the security of the United States and for Europe. And in this area of cooperation between Africans, Americans and French people is a determining factor in order to keep maintaining pressure on groups such as al-Qaida in the Maghreb, Ansar al-Dine, Al-Morabitoun, groups that keep on trying to come back on the zones of their past actions. And the intervention of France had managed to push them back.
We have set up a wider system, a wider positioning since August — it’s called Operation Barkhane — around five African countries. It allows us to contain and prevent terrorist attempts. And we’d like to thank the United States of America for their support in our action in this area, both, as you said, thanks to the exchange of intelligence, financial support and the sharing of different capacities. And we agreed that this cooperation is going to go on.
Concerning the Sahel region, I told Chuck Hagel once again how worried France is about the situation in Libya. Jihadist groups are getting better in zones that are not organized, and they pursue all kinds of illicit, illegal traffics. And we hope that the international community is going to face this problem soon and do so that this deployment stops because it favors recruitment and the development of terrorism in this zone of the Sahel or the Sahara. I told Chuck Hagel that my concern, the concern of France, is the risk of a connection of the networking between all these different terrorist groups that are acting all over the area, from Algeria to the Middle East, and we have to prevent all these risks of networking.
And finally, we touched on the situation in Iraq and in Syria. France is facing its responsibilities in the indispensable fight against ISIL. France is an active partner in the international coalition. Our armed forces are busy on the theater of operation, both to support Iraq and the Kurds against the so-called ISIL. And since September 15, the French Air Force has been carrying out strikes in the framework of the coalition to support Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces, and both this allows for intelligence and the destruction of certain targets. The president of France has decided yesterday in the defense council to strengthen this positioning with three more fighter planes and with more intelligence assets, especially the sending of French frigates in the area. And I told Chuck Hagel that in this entire terrorist struggle, we must together think about the long term, and that in the long term, France will keep all its place.
(source Departement of Defense)