Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 5, 2016
PETER COOK: Good afternoon, everybody.
A brief statement, and then I’ll be happy to take your questions.
The secretary is closely monitoring the aftermath of the brutal terrorist attacks over the past few days in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Responsibility for these attacks has not been established in all cases, but speculation has centered on ISIL.
These tragic events once again highlight why it’s so important to accelerate the coalition campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat in Iraq and Syria to further limit the group’s ability to carry out attacks in other parts of the world and to do all we can to prevent the spread of its hateful ideology.
The attacks come as the counter-ISIL coalition has made progress in eroding ISIL’s so-called caliphate, recapturing key terrain including major cities, infrastructure and economic nodes that provide ISIL with revenue and fuel its claims of legitimacy.
Today, ISIL has lost the city of Fallujah, from which it has controlled much of western Iraq and launched attacks into Baghdad. Iraqi security forces are making progress in clearing key terrain on the way to Mosul. Manbij, the final way station between ISIL’s so-called Syrian capital and the Turkish border, is surrounded by a tightening cordon of Arab troops.
At the same time, ISIL’s affiliates in places such as Libya, Afghanistan and East Africa are under intensifying pressure. This is notable and important progress from a year ago or six months ago, but as the tragedies in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq and Saudi Arabia demonstrate, there is still much work left to do.
In fact, the military — the military defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, while absolutely necessary to protect innocent lives from ISIL’s brutality, is only one part of a strategy that calls for defeating ISIL in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, targeting its cancerous spread elsewhere in the world and strengthening security in the homeland against attacks planned or inspired by ISIL.
This week, NATO nations will convene in Warsaw, where discussions among the leaders assembled will include discussions on how to strengthen the campaign against ISIL. Secretary Carter will attend, along with President Obama, and looks forward discussing the latest in the effort to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.
And later this month, Secretary Carter will also convene fellow defense ministers from counter-ISIL coalition nations here in Washington to assess the campaign’s progress and how to further accelerate it. And every day, the brave men and women of our armed forces are working alongside partner forces to end ISIL’s ability to threaten innocent lives in the Middle East and around the world. And we remain committed to that mission.
With that, I’d be happy to take your questions. Bob?
Q: Peter, you mentioned the counter-ISIL meeting that’s going to be held in Washington. Is there a date set for that?
MR. COOK: It’ll be later this month. We’ll have more details for you to come.
Q: Okay. So after the —
MR. COOK: That’s right. It’ll be later in July. We’ll have specific details for you when we’re ready to announce them.
Q: My main question is regarding the — the big attack in Baghdad. Is there — is the secretary concerned that an attack like that, at such a huge cost in human lives and political fallout from that, makes it even more untenable for the Iraqi security forces to go as far as Mosul, which is — you alluded to as a coming operation, when the capital itself is apparently not well defended and vulnerable?
MR. COOK: The secretary, as you know, obviously very concerned by what happened in Baghdad, as we all are. We’ve seen the — the devastation, the loss of life there. This was a significant event.
Yet, I — I know that the secretary remains just as convinced that preventing those kinds of attacks from happening, the best way to do that is to take ISIL on in Iraq and to remove ISIL from the country to the extent possible. And that’s what the coalition effort working alongside the Iraqis is trying to do, that’s — tightening the noose around ISIL in Iraq will make it harder for them to carry out attacks in places like Baghdad, in places in other parts the world.
And this was clearly a devastating attack and a painful reminder of the lethal capabilities of ISIL. But it does not alter the strategy here, and that is to go after ISIL in Iraq, in Syria as — at an accelerated pace as aggressively as possible to try and limit their capabilities, their ability to carry out those kinds of attacks.
Q: Is it possible that as Prime Minister Abadi devotes more resources to defense of the capital that it would require more U.S. assistance in the Mosul operation in terms of either resources or people?
MR. COOK: Well, Bob, obviously we’re working closely with the Iraqi government. We’re constantly looking at capabilities, needs that might be present or might be needed going forward in terms of delivering ISIL that — that defeat. But I’m not aware of any change in — in that plan at this point as a result of what’s happened in Baghdad.
The Iraqi security forces and Prime Minister Abadi’s been clear about the need to not only conduct the operations in Fallujah, but also to continue the push to the north, while at the same time trying to maintain security in Baghdad.
We’re confident, working closely with the Iraqi Security Forces, the Iraqi government,that we can continue to — to pressure ISIL on multiple fronts at the same time.
Obviously, we — we’re very cognizant of what happened this weekend and — and the concerns the Iraqis have about security in Baghdad.
Q: Has the secretary talked to his defense counterparts in Iraq since the bombing? And is there concern in this building that you’ve already seen the interior minister resign that there might be additional political fallout that will make, you know, a greater U.S. presence in Baghdad harder to sell?
MR. COOK: The — secretary, I don’t have a conversation to read out to you here. If he does have a conversation, we’ll let you know.
The secretary, and obviously we have General MacFarland, we have people on the ground in Iraq right now who are coordinating every single day and communicating with their counterparts every single day on the security situation in Iraq.
So we have excellent communications with the Iraqis on a — on a daily basis. I think the secretary’s view is that this, what happened in Baghdad over the weekend, should unite all Iraqis in support of the effort to defeat and — and eliminate ISIL.
And we’re going to do what we can to support the Abadi government, the Iraqi Security Forces and their efforts to do that and — and Prime Minister Abadi has been clear on his desire to make progress in this campaign, to accelerate this campaign, and we certainly will support his efforts.
Q: How many U.S. assets have been used to assist with either, you know, securing the site or adding additional layers of protection around Baghdad?
MR. COOK: Yeah. I won’t discuss force protection issues, but just to say that we’re, again, in constant communication with the Iraqis about the security situation, that includes Baghdad as well. And of course we’ll continue to have those conversations.
Q: Just one more thought. Do we know if General MacFarland has talked to his counterpart since the bombing?
MR. COOK: I — I can’t tell you specifically each and every one of his conversations, but I can characterize that General MacFarland is constantly talking to the top Iraqi officials, — his — the military counterparts, and — but I can’t tell you specifically who he’s spoken to.
But obviously the ambassador has been involved. I’ll let the State Department speak to that, but there’s been extensive communications as — you would expect as we — we have extensive communications every day with the — with the Iraqis. We did before. What happened in Baghdad and certainly afterwards as well.
Q: Peter, you mentioned at the podium you want to accelerate the campaign. The secretary wants to accelerate it. We have been hearing this for many months from this podium, yet the campaign doesn’t seem like it has been accelerated of late and here the —
MR. COOK: Lucas, we just had the Iraqi Security Forces take Fallujah. We’ve had progress in — in the last few days and the move to the north and the effort to further isolate Mosul. We’ve had progress in Syria.
Again, these are all part of a larger strategic campaign to — to isolate ISIL and to — and to take back territory and that continues to happen.
Q: Then why do you keep asking, demanding the secretary says he wants to accelerate the campaign? Every time — you address us here from the podium, you talk about accelerating —
MR. COOK: I think — Baghdad should be a perfect example of that, Lucas.
We — the threat posed by ISIL, it is a serious threat, and we think that the sooner that — that they can be eliminated from territory in Iraq and Syria, further — the sooner they can be dealt that lasting defeat, the less likely it is that something like what happened in Baghdad can happen again.
And it does not remove the threat entirely, as we’ve seen, but we do think taking the fight to them is the best way to try and achieve that ultimate goal.
Q: Was the secretary surprised about the bombing in Baghdad?
MR. COOK: I think the secretary was obviously — felt a great degree of sadness over what happened, the loss of life that the Iraqis have suffered tremendously. And this weekend was a perfect example of that. But I think the secretary has also been quite clear that the kind of threat that ISIL poses; that a military campaign alone will not be enough to defeat ISIL; that there needs to be a full range of steps that can be taken outside military — the military campaign to ultimately defeat ISIL.
And so, I — sadly, we’re not surprised that ISIL is able to — to strike in some fashion like this, but the goal here is to put enough pressure to take the fight to ISIL so that they’re less capable to carry out these kinds of attacks.
Q: Thanks, Peter.
Along those same lines, is there more urgency to accelerate the military campaign against ISIS after the attack in Baghdad?
MR. COOK: I think there’s more urgency every day to, as you’ve heard from the secretary, just alluding to what Lucas has mentioned. The secretary would like to accelerate this campaign. The coalition would like to accelerate this campaign. What Baghdad does is serve as a reminder about the lethal capabilities of ISIL and that they pose a very serious threat. And it’s all the more reason why there should be a sense of urgency to try and get rid of this kind of enemy as soon as possible in Iraq and in Syria.
Q: And is the Pentagon considering adjusting its strategy as ISIS appears to go from a — more of a conventional threat to a counterinsurgency?
MR. COOK: Well, we’re going to continue to assess the situation with our local partners on the ground; do what we can to adjust if needed. But our basic strategy remains the same. And again, that’s to get rid of ISIL and its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria; to deal with the spread, to try and prevent the spread of the cancer of ISIL, the metastasis to other parts of the world; and to do what we can, working with our partners here in the United States and in other parts of the world, to protect the homeland.
And those three steps remain the strategy that we have in place and will continue to be.
Barbara, I see you in the back.
Q: I wanted to follow up on what Kristina was just asking because not just analyzing and assessing, but since Baghdad, and even just before that, is there any single thing you could point to that the administration is doing to try and actually help the Iraqi improve the security situation in Baghdad? As I say, not just assessing, but is the Pentagon doing — offering, can you point to anything? Or has anything changed since Baghdad?
MR. COOK: Again, I’m not going to talk force protection measures. I think it’s fair to say, Barbara, that we are — have been even before what happened in Baghdad over the weekend, been in constant communication with the Iraqi authorities about the security situation in the country and in Baghdad in particular.
And a good example of that is for — the fight for Fallujah. The Iraqis felt very strongly that some of the threat posed to Baghdad originated from Fallujah. We assisted the Iraqis with that fight for Fallujah. Certainly, the air support that we provided. All in an effort to try and reduce the threat posed to Baghdad and the rest of the country from the ISIL presence in Fallujah.
That’s just one example of many that highlight the kind of coordination we’re doing with the Iraqis on a daily basis.
Q: Of course no one suggests that Baghdad could totally be sealed up. But the administration has talked about Fallujah as being, you know, a measure of success against the threat to Baghdad and clearly we saw that completely disintegrate in this — literally in this latest attack.
So again, is there anything — is there anything since all of these attacks we’ve seen over the last several days that are ISIS-linked that you are, one, doing to improve security in Baghdad?
And more broadly, why not take a look at changing strategy? Why not see if there’s something else, if there’s something different that could be done?
Because you’ve mentioned a couple of times, you know, the administration’s going to stick with the strategy and has. Why isn’t it time to take another look?
MR. COOK: We believe the strategy to ultimately defeat ISIL is a sound one.
Obviously what’s happened in Baghdad is a — is a terrible tragedy and it doesn’t alter our basic strategy, Barbara, but it does highlight why we’re in constant communication with Iraqis, why we’re working with Prime Minister Abadi, to see if there are needs and capabilities that need to be met going forward. That’s an ongoing conversation.
Whether it’s the effort to ultimately take Mosul, whether it’s the securing of Baghdad, whether it’s the holding of Ramadi, these are things that we’re in constant communication with the Iraqis over.
And obviously the prime minister — my understanding is he’s announced some changes of his own with regard to the security situation in Baghdad. We’ll continue to support the prime minister to the extent we can. As will other coalition nations. It is not just the United States providing some of the security and stability to the Iraqis.
And so, we’ll continue to have that conversation.
Q: Sure. And you’ve always said — the Pentagon has always said the security of Baghdad is one of the top priorities in Iraq, if not the number one priority. How do you currently assess the security in Baghdad?
MR. COOK: Obviously this was a terrible tragedy, what took place over the weekend. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who suffered.
It is — Iraq remains a dangerous place. And —
Q: How do you currently assess the security situation in Baghdad?
MR. COOK: The security situation in Baghdad remains — as you’ve seen over the weekend, it remains a dangerous place. It remains a place where the Iraqi security forces have shown capabilities. Their ability to protect Baghdad in the midst of what’s been going on nearby in Fallujah and elsewhere has shown some of their capabilities. But there are obviously some deficiencies.
And we’ll continue to try and support the Iraqis to the extent we can in trying to address some of those deficiencies providing the kind of advice and assistance that we’re able to do in Iraq.
The Iraqis — this is — securing the country is ultimately the Iraqis’ responsibility. We’ll do what we can, along with the coalition, to help them in any way we can.
Q: Very, very quickly, the battle of Abu Kamal over the last many days — I know it’s a fairly technical, localized question, but can you tell us was there any U.S. military, coalition military involvement in Abu Kamal? Did you use helicopters? Did you use any U.S. military air power in and around that battle for Abu Kamal?
MR. COOK: Barbara, I’m not going to be able to walk through every single minute-by-minute tactical situation.
But this is an effort — an area where we have — the coalition has provided support in the past and will continue to do so.
So I think that’s consistent with what we’ve said previously about that — that area and our interest in — in supporting opposition groups, groups that are taking on ISIL, and we’ll continue to provide support to groups that are willing to take the fight to ISIL, and those include some of the — the groups in that area.
Q: But that’s on the ground inside Syria in Abu Kamal.
MR. COOK: There are — I’m not going to characterize —
MR. COOK: I’m not characterizing whether it’s on the ground or air support. We continue to provide support to groups that are taking the fight to ISIL. That includes groups in that area.
Yes, Goyal. Welcome.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Two questions. One as far as terrorism in South Asia is a concern India had been fighting for over 20 years, and now, it is spreading into Bangladesh and the Bangladesh government had been fighting local —- those militants. But this came as a surprise, big terrorism.
And secretary meets with the leaders like Indian leader, like Prime Minister Modi and others in the South Asia and others, do they discuss about this terrorism? Because as far as the military-to-military, I know they discuss, but also terrorism?
MR. COOK: Yes. I mean, it’s a regular topic of conversation for the secretary as he meets with his counterparts and with world leaders because of the global threat, that we all have an interest seeing groups like ISIL defeated. And this is a regular subject of conversation.
Obviously, the secretary has looked to other countries to provide support for the coalition efforts, so I think you’re going to expect that the secretary will have this conversation on a regular basis with world leaders going forward.
Q: Did this come as a surprise, that this kind of terrorism in Bangladesh likely to happen in Mumbai?
MR. COOK: I think it’s unfortunate, Goyal. We — we’re seen this happen all too often in — not just in the — in Asia and Southeast Asia, we’ve seen it now — just look at the locations over the last few days. We’ve seen Istanbul, we’ve seen in Bangladesh, we’ve seen it in Saudi Arabia at some of the holiest places in Saudi Arabia, and we’ve seen it in Baghdad.
And unfortunately, we’ve seen ISIL-inspired attacks in other parts of the world and this is a — remains a concern. This is — this is — this is why we need to defeat ISIL, this is why we’re doing what we’re doing. And the — if you — if you strike it ISIL’s heart in Iraq and Syria, if you make it harder for them to wage these kinds of attacks in other parts of the world, we think that is — is the most effective thing we can do at this time.
Q: As far as the military-to-military India and U.S. relations are concerned now, several developments took place as far as several nuclear (inaudible). At least one U.S. company, Westinghouse, has decided to build six nuclear plants in India and more may follow.
So what role do you think DOD or Pentagon is playing as far as this deal is concerned or during Secretary Carter’s meeting with the Indian defense minister and all of that? So what is the future?
MR. COOK: I will leave the Westinghouse and those involved with the civilian nuclear arrangement to — to speak for themselves.
I will just characterize it, as you know, Goyal, that the secretary’s been very pleased with his conversations with the defense minister and about the military-to-military relationship between the United States and India and looks forward to having that relationship grow even — even more in the future.
MR. COOK: Yes?
Q: Peter, I wanted to ask you about FBI Director Comey’s comments following the conclusion of the investigation into former Secretary Clinton’s e-mail server. He talked about how hostile actors likely hacked her server or the people that she was communicating with.
Given that she noted she was communicating with senior members of the Department of Defense at the time, has the FBI given this building any indication that any information, or indeed any access to DOD servers were also compromised? Or have — has the DOD been looking into that?
MR. COOK: I’m not aware of any exposure or anything that we’ve been made aware of as a result. I know that the Justice Department had asked for e-mails and for information and that we’ve been as cooperative as we could be. But I’m not aware of any risk highlighted by the Justice Department investigation.
Q: Do you have any idea of who these hostile actors are?
MR. COOK: I don’t. I’ll leave you to Director Comey and the FBI to find out exactly what it was he was talking about — referring to.
Q: Who are the hostile actors that DOD is concerned about with cybersecurity?
MR. COOK: Well, there are a number of possible actors that we’re worried about there. They are potentially nation-states. They are terror groups like ISIL. That’s why cybersecurity and defending our own networks is job one in terms of cybersecurity.
Q: What nation-states? Which ones specifically?
MR. COOK: I’m not going to get into details here, but you know that we’ve had — we come under threat all the time. We — our — our networks are challenged all the time. And we have to do what we need to do to protect ourselves. And we’re — it’s a significant investment that we’re making. You can look at it in our budget. And we need to be up to the task, whether, again, it’s individual actors or those acting on behalf of nation-states.
And we need to maintain our edge when it comes to cybersecurity, and we’re going to continue to do that.
Q: Thank you, Peter.
Shifting to the South China Sea, there is an op-ed published in a state — Chinese state-run newspaper today saying that the Chinese military ought to prepare for a military confrontation with the United States in the South China Sea. Given kind of the increased patrols by the U.S. of that area and the naval buildup there, can the Pentagon assure the American people that it’s taking steps to decrease rather than increase the chance of a live conflict with China in that region?
MR. COOK: I think you talked about increased patrols. What I would refer to is what we’re doing in that part of the world is consistent with what we’ve been doing for decades and the stabilizing presence of the U.S. military there, the U.S. Navy more specifically. There’s nothing new about what the United States is doing.
We, as the secretary has pointed out on multiple occasions, we do not seek any confrontation with China. We’re looking for a situation in which the success in the Asia Pacific, the success of so much — so many countries in that part of the world, and the growth in the economy there, the flow of trade, that that continues and continues to grow.
And that countries in that part of the world will continue to participate in the — in the network of security that is so critical to that — to that part of the world, and that China be part of that. And so the — we’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing, because it’s been a stabilizing presence in that part of the world and nothing different about what we’re doing today than we were decades ago.
Q: Does the rhetoric that — that newspaper, the op-ed kind of seems to be using increasingly we see, does that concern the Pentagon about the chances for some sort of military confrontation?
MR. COOK: Well, I haven’t read the op-ed in full, and so I won’t weigh in on particular reports. But anything that — anything that escalates tensions in that part of the world, we think is — is counterproductive. We’ve made that clear. We’ve pointed to the diplomatic route for resolving these issues with regard to the South China Sea and territorial claims.
The United States does not take a position on those claims. We just think that they should be resolved peacefully. This UNCLOS ruling that we — coming up soon is — represents an opportunity, again, to resolve some of these issues in a diplomatic and peaceful fashion and we would suggest that that is a — the proper pathway. That is a good example, the proper pathway, for resolving these kinds of disputes.
Q: Let me ask some questions about that. There has been a newspaper report that the U.S. and Korea have reached a decision on where to place THAAD batteries in South Korea and that location is the South Korea southeastern town of Chilgok. Is this report true?
MR. COOK: I — I can’t confirm any reporter of that kind. I can just tell you that the conversations that we’re having and the negotiations that we’ve been having with the South Koreans that continue to make progress and no final decisions have been made.
Q: So can you give us a little bit more sense of how close you are to a decision?
MR. COOK: Yeah. Um — I — I don’t want to characterize — I’m not in — in the room with the parties having these conversations, but I think it’s safe to say that, again, in — these have been good conversations from the beginning. We made this alliance decision to move forward with these talks and, again, we — no final decisions have been made but I think we look forward to seeing the outcome of these conversations.
Q: Peter, over the last two weeks there have been two incidents involving a Russian navy ship in the Mediterranean. There were concerns expressed about their behavior toward U.S. Navy ships.
Have you communicated any concerns? How have you done so with Russia about these two incidents?
MR. COOK: Um, we have, as you know, Luis, regular diplomatic channels to — to express our concerns about incidents at sea like this — these kinds of — unprofessional conduct and we’ll continue to — to use those avenues to express our concerns.
I know the most recent incident that you’re referring to, our crew considered it an unprofessional maneuver by a Russian navy vessel and communicated that as — as — at the time.
Q: (inaudible) — any other incidents since that one, given that we’re seeing a greater frequency inside the Mediterranean towards the — these kinds of incidents by Russian ships towards U.S. ships?
MR. COOK: I’m not aware of — one, I don’t know — I’m — do you have one in particular that you’re aware of? You seem to know a lot about them. I’m not aware of one more recently.
MR. COOK: Yeah. Okay. Sometimes you do, Luis. I’m impressed.
Yes — (inaudible).
Q: Thank you. In the National Defense Authorization Act, which is – under that — secretary needs to certify that Pakistan is taking enough steps against the Haqqani Network and this will release $300 million to Pakistan under CSF.
Has the secretary given that certification to Pakistan?
MR. COOK: So you’re referring to the previous — previous NDAA. My understanding that there has been a decision with regard to reprogramming some of the — those funds for other purposes at this time.
Q: And second, when the secretary went to India, he described the relationship as a strategic handshake and when the prime minister met President Obama here — there was a joint statement in which U.S. recognized India as a major defense partner. Can you tell us what’s the difference between the two and what does it mean in concrete terms for the India-U.S. defense relationship?
MR. COOK: Well, I think the secretary’s reference highlights his own view about the — how so much of what India is working towards in terms of both its economic policies and its security policies mesh so well with U.S. policies in the same vein. I think that’s what the secretary was referring to with that handshake. It’s very consistent with our rebalance to the Asia Pacific. And I think he was trying to make that point in a very illustrative way.
And I think, as I mentioned earlier, the secretary is very pleased with the progress that we’ve made with regard to the military-to-military relationship with India, and he’s very much enjoyed his ongoing work with Minister Parrikar and looks forward to having that relationship grow even further.
Q: Thank you. So just a couple of general questions, general assessment questions about recent bombings.
When you look at the bombing in Baghdad, in Istanbul and in Medina, do these bombings suggest a change in ISIS strategy from the Pentagon’s perspective, from a group that sought to conquer areas into a group that is basically more interested, just like Al Qaida once was, in causing terror through bombings and…
MR. COOK: I mean, the sheer numbers of the attacks recently would suggest that ISIL is looking to carry out these kind of attacks at the same time that it is losing territory, losing leadership, losing its finances, losing its messaging capabilities in Iraq and Syria.
And it is — we’ve always said that there would be this threat, that the ability to carry out isolated terrorist attacks would remain a capability that ISIL would have. But the best way to go after ISIL and to limit its ability to carry out these kinds of attacks, and at the same time, end any suggestion of a so-called caliphate, was to take the fight to ISIL in Iraq and Syria. And we’re continuing to do that.
We have seen that they do have a very lethal capability to carry out terrorist attacks and we want to do everything we can to minimize that as well.
Q: Do you feel — (inaudible) – the reason they’re resorting to these sort of bombings is a result of their failure to conquer more territory or the setbacks — (inaudible)?
MR. COOK: I’m — far for me to try to get into the minds of ISIL leadership as to what they’re thinking. They’ve carried out these attacks. They still control some territory in Iraq and Syria and we’re doing everything we can to reduce that. We’ve made progress on that front. We’d like to make even more progress. And we think in doing so, we will limit their ability to carry out these other attacks.
But they — again, this is a lethal capability that in the case of Baghdad may have been a single truck loaded with explosives. Very hard to protect against that. But we’re going to continue to do everything we can to try and reduce those threats as well, working with our partners in the region, including the Iraqis.
Q: Peter, can I just —
MR. COOK: Let me — can I go to Thomas and then I’ll come back?
Q: Sure. Thank you.
Q: I just wanted to follow up on that actually.
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: It must be quite a strange disconnect for you to be explaining that the more you hit ISIL in the heartlands, the less they’re going to have operational capabilities overseas. But we’re seeing the exact opposite of that. So how do you, kind of, explain that to the public?
MR. COOK: Well, I guess, Thomas, you could look at — would we feel any better if they had as much territory as they did a year ago when they were carrying out these attacks, you know?
We — we have gone after ISIL at its core, at the — the parent tumor, as the secretary refers to it, in Iraq and Syria in a way that we think has done significant damage to the group, to the organization. But at the military campaign alone, as we’ve said from the start, will not eliminate ISIL’s ability to carry out terrorist attacks. So it is — it is a reality that they retain a lethal capability, but that’s not going to deter us from trying to do everything we can to try and reduce that capability, and that’s what we’re doing in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere.
Q: Are you concerned that they appear to be having a broader appeal, like the — the guys in Bangladesh were middle class and — you know, the ones who carried out the attack in the cafe.
MR. COOK: Of course that’s a concern that their hateful message is resonating anywhere in the world. I do think, though, if you look — and I know that my colleagues in the White House have spoken to this and at the State Department — but if you look at the people who are responding to — to their appeals on social media and elsewhere, there’s a case that can be made that maybe their message hasn’t been as well received in recent months as they’ve lost territory, as they’ve lost some of their stature, they’ve lost some of their leadership.
It’s harder for them to message right now than it was a year or two ago. So yes, we do think there’s been progress made and there is momentum in terms of the campaign in Iraq and Syria, but that does not eliminate the threat that ISIL poses, and we’ve seen over the last few days the very painful reality of that.
Q: Can I just ask on a different topic, NATO this week. What are — what are some of the secretary’s hopes for the summit?
MR. COOK: Well, the secretary’s looking forward to the summit. It’ll be his first Leaders Summit as secretary of defense. Of course, the president will be there and he’ll be in support of the president.
In addition to talking about ISIL, this will be another chance to — to highlight the importance of the NATO alliance at this particular moment in time, a chance to look at the solidarity of the alliance right now and to discuss a range of issues that are critical to the alliance and to the member nations.
Barbara. Promised I’d come back.
Q: Actually, follow-up on Russia. So Putin apparently sent Obama a July 4th message; he said he wanted to get relationship back on track with the United States. But you see all of these Russian military activities near U.S. planes, near U.S. ships, stepping it up again in Eastern Europe.
So what is the secretary’s view going into the NATO summit? Just how much does he believe that Putin actually wants to get the relationship back on track? How trusting is the secretary of the Russian military at the moment?
MR. COOK: I think you’ve heard the secretary say on numerous occasions, including even here in the briefing room last week while I was away, that if there is a chance to — that there — there are areas where U.S. and Russian interests align and we can work with Russia potentially in those areas. But there are obviously activities and conduct by the Russians in recent years that causes concern and cause the NATO alliance concern, and I think that’ll be evident from — from the summit in Warsaw.
And — well, you can look at Ukraine, you can look at the activities there and it’s just one example of some of the things that causes concern and have caused the Department of Defense to reassess Russia and to reassess where we’re going in terms of the relationship with Russia. We had hoped some time ago that there would be a better relationship going forward. We didn’t anticipate where we’d be today, but it’s a reality of where we are.
Q: So what does the U.S. military think the Russian military is up to when they come within feet of your ships and your airplanes? What does the Russian military, you know —
MR. COOK: I’m going to — I’m going to leave it to you, Barbara, to check with the Russian military as to what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. We’re making it clear to them our concerns about that kind of behavior — the unprofessional behavior, unsafe in some cases, of behavior. That’s not how we conduct business.
And — and as with any other nation in the world, when you act in an unprofessional and unsafe manner, we’re going to voice our concerns about that and we’ve done so.
Q: But what is the U.S. military assessment about that activity right now? You must — there must be some kind of conclusion or assessment as to what you — you guys think the Russian military is out there trying to do to you.
MR. COOK: Well, we’re acting with our alliance colleagues and partners in NATO to strengthen, for example, our security posture in — in eastern Europe as a result of what we’ve seen Russian activities with regard to Crimea and Ukraine. So, we’re responding with our partners and allies, Barbara, to what we see as actions by the Russians that we think are — are not promoting security in the region. And we’ll continue to do so.
Q: Just to follow up to Barbara’s question, is it time for a new message to Russia? You’ve been saying now for over a year that Russia’s actions are unprofessional, yet they continue to do what they’re doing. Is it time to send another message to Russia?
MR. COOK: Lucas, we will continue to carry out as the most important — act on behalf of the American people in the best national security interests of the American people. And that’s with regard to Russia. It’s with regard to other threats out there. The secretary has identified five challenges that we’re dealing with right now, all at the same time. They include Russia and its activities.
And he’s made clear that if there are areas where our interests and Russia align, we’re prepared to work with the Russians. But there are instances in the past few months and years that have given us concern. And we’ll continue to respond to them, as we will — as evidenced by what’s going on in Warsaw with our alliance, with NATO, to try and address those concerns collectively.
But the United States is doing its part and you can look at investments we’re making in our budget as a reflection of the seriousness with which we take the challenge posed by Russia and others.
I’m going to go to Tara, and then Phil, who just snuck in.
Q: Back on China —
Q: Does — does the U.S. intend to abide by China’s requests or direction to the various countries in the region not to enter the South China Sea between Vietnam and the Philippines while they conduct their military exercises over the next couple weeks?
MR. COOK: I’ll just say broadly, the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. And we don’t — we’ll just continue to hold by that. As you know, we’re conducting exercises ourselves right now, including exercises with the Chinese. And we’ll continue to do that as well.
Q: Peter, could you just bring us up to date on the contribution or potential contributions from Gulf allies — Saudi Arabia and UAE — in Syria? When Secretary Carter spoke to us back in late January or early February, he indicated there were potential contributions to the campaign there. And as you’ve seen progress in Syria, are you expecting that those contributions will come on-line? Is that proposal sort of dead right now? Did it — can you not talk about it because it’s too —
MR. COOK: Well, I mean, as you know, Phil, they’ve been part of the air campaign and — and I’ll let those governments speak for their own contributions beyond that. But the secretary did have good conversations, continues to have good conversations with leadership in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE about the fight against ISIL and about what role those two countries can play.
Remember, there’s both the military role which we think is critically important, but there’s also other roles that those countries can play that would be positive in terms of reconstruction in Iraq and Syria, trying to do their part with regard to that.
There’s more than just the military component, but I would say that the military component is part of ongoing discussions between this building and our counterparts at the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Q: Has there been any development on the land role in these last four months?
MR. COOK: I’ll just say there have been excellent conversations going on and those will continue. And I’ll let those countries speak for themselves with regard to the role they’re playing in terms of any ground operations.
Okay. Thanks, everyone.