Presenter: General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Commander, U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe
Q: So I -- I was -- so I wanted to start by asking you a couple of questions about the situation in the Ukraine in the Azov Sea, as it has been developing within the last 24 hours, I guess. I guess -- I guess -- I guess you are much better briefed than I am on that, so a few questions on that, sir.
STAFF: Can -- can I have you at least speak on your left here (ph)? Yes? OK.
Q: So general, thank you for doing this. So I wanted to begin by -- by asking you a couple of questions about the situation in the Azov Sea. I mean, you’re a four-star general. Give me an idea of how serious this incident is and -- and how you view it.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, you know, first of all I would tell you that, you know, we’ve been monitoring this very closely yesterday afternoon, into the evening, and throughout the day today and we’ll continue to do that. And I would just say that I think it’s a serious incident, but it’s one that we’re calling for restraint and de-escalation here from -- from both parties.
Q: NATO has repeatedly over the -- over the last years reiterated its support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. This seems to be an incident that is jacking up the tension between Russia and Ukraine. What is NATO’s response to this?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well you know NATO is meeting now, I’ll leave that to the -- to the -- those who decide policy, it’s not mine to decide. You said it, and that is that NATO has been, you know, very public and stated their support for Ukrainian sovereignty, territorial sovereignty, etcetera. I’m sure that will stay the same and I would just encourage you to watch and see the NATO response here as they meet on it today.
Q: Just briefly, what is the level of cooperation nowadays between NATO and Ukraine?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: It’s very close. We have a number of -- of efforts that we’re doing the Ukrainians in terms of building capacity within their military as well as defense and security reform.
Q: And that will continue?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: That will continue, yes.
Q: But this is a serious situation as -- I’m sorry -- but this is a serious -- I’m sorry -- hang on just one...
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah, I...
Q: No, no, no, hang on.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, frankly, here’s where I’m at...
Off the camera here...
Q: OK -- OK.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah, no this is a policy issue at this point.
Q: Right, I know it...
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: And that’s where I stand is -- what I said is true but -- but really I’m not going to go much further because I’m going to let -- I’m going to let those above me determine what I do in the military.
Q: OK, fair enough, sir -- fair enough. About Iceland, you’re here as the SACEUR and as the U.S. Commander in Europe -- you know, four-star generals don’t make courtesy calls, what -- what is the purpose of your visit?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well it’s just great to be here, first of all. The purpose of the visit has to do with the significance of Iceland, its strategic location. Iceland is a -- is a founding member and a valued member of NATO and a long-time ally of the United States. So on both counts -- the reason I’m here is because of that and I’ve had very substantive meetings so far today from a range of issues that have to do with, you know, our security environment, our capacity building and -- and actually Iceland’s role and contributions to NATO -- and as an ally of the United States.
Q: You talk about capacity building; the traffic off surveillance planes from the U.S. around Iceland has been increasing in -- in recent years. You are investing in -- and added (ph) today improving your facilities in the Keflavik (ph) Airport Security Area. And there are, you know, unconfirmed reports that NATO has been looking at its facilities in Iceland in order to prepare for possibly having to use them. Oil -- oil storage and such. Is NATO and the U.S. increasing its -- well if not presence then at least preparedness in Iceland because of increased tensions in the North Atlantic?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well, Iceland is in a geo-strategic location, always has been, obviously. And given this changing security environment which is more dynamic -- once again we have a peer competitor in Russia -- this is a critical sea line of communication that you’re ascribed (ph).
And so we are doing what I think is prudent. One in terms of increasing some rotational forces through here to make sure that we do and we can provide the security of the Euro-Atlantic that’s expected of us in NATO and of the U.S.
But we’re also doing a prudent planning and analysis with your country, as we do with all the other European nations, so that we are prepared. We have a good idea of where our resources are at, what are infrastructure capabilities are. That’s what we’ve been doing.
And whatever we choose to do it’ll be done in conjunction with and you know full work alongside of your nation and its decision makers.
Q: But you are increasing your preparedness here, you are investing in -- in facilities. You must be -- I mean the reason must be that you are increasingly concerned about the Russian activities in the North Atlantic?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: We’re concerned about their modernization. And over the years they’ve modernized their force, their maritime forces and their air in particular that we remain dominant in both those domains. And to do that we have invested, in the United States through European Defense Initiative, our European Deterrent Initiative, as well as within NATO to ensure that we have the infrastructure here we need for those rotational forces to be able to provide capabilities. And your nation has been, you know, very helpful and a strong part of -- as in the past, a strong part of the defense here in the Euro-Atlantic.
STAFF: Urgin (ph), we have time for one more.
Q: OK. You just finished NATO’s probably largest military exercise since, I guess, the end of the Cold War.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah.
Q: You know the Trident Juncture, which took part in Iceland’s -- partly but mostly in Norway. Lessons from that exercise as it relates to what we’ve been talking about, the increased concerns that you have about Russian activities in the North Atlantic?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Well you know what I say is is that one, Trident Juncture was an exercise at the operational and tactical level. It was against a peer competitor, first time we’ve done that in a number of years as a result of the change in the environment.
So the first thing is that we tested ourselves against a higher standard and we were quite successful. I was very pleased with the ability to move 50,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines -- that number of aircraft. To conduct the exercise we did here, the one further north, and to logistically support it and safely execute it. So you know it is a -- it is a demonstration of a capability that NATO has and I think, particularly for Iceland it’s a -- it’s a demonstration of the significance the role you play in NATO as well.
Q: All right. Thank you, sir. Can I just get like 30 seconds of you and me talking together so I can use it for the story?
You know what I mean? So just -- so I was just going to tell you that I was in Afghanistan...
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: I was going to ask you, somebody said you were.
Excellent, and when were you there?
Q: ’15, ’16...
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: OK.
Q: I was -- I was a PIO in the office when Campbell was there and Nicholson.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah, yeah.
Q: You know Iceland sends -- has two representatives...
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: That’s right. Still do, yeah.
Q: Well we have three now.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Good, because we could use some help there with experienced people in poking the bears (ph).
Q: I think I’ve paid my dues there. Two years was enough.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: You can always come back. Plenty of work to do.
Q: Well thank you. We had some good people though. I know, there was a woman who works in the PI office she is a professional producer on the video and -- you know -- so I did that as well.
And we also have a person in the CJOC (ph).
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah -- yeah.
Q: I’m sure you know all this.
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: It was significant -- significant mission.
Q: You were in RC East?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: I was just there. I was in RC East and then I was the IJC commander as well.
Q: Oh you were IJC as well?
GEN. SCAPARROTTI: Yeah I was in RC East in ’09 and ’10 and then ’11 and ’12 I was...