Press Conference with Secretary Panetta

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - November 18, 2011

             MR.     :  Ladies and gentlemen, the United States secretary of defense, Leon Panetta -- (in French) -- and Peter MacKay, ministre de la Defense nationale.

             MINISTER PETER MACKAY:  Thank you.  (In French.)  Good morning.  Thank you very much for joining us here.  And I want to begin by both welcoming and extending my thanks to my counterpart, United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who joins us on the eve of the opening of the International Security Forum hosted here in Halifax. 

             And so, Secretary Panetta, I really want to tell you how grateful we are for your presence.  We've had a great bilateral this morning, a chance to discuss some very salient issues for both our countries -- issues that relate to our collective continental defense.  I'm talking about subject matters such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and our mutual interest in the procurement of this 21st-century aircraft to protect North America, to continue to be interoperable and to work together in international missions, as we've seen most recently in the mission Unified Protector in Libya.

             We also had the chance to discuss in the broader concept continental security, our collective interest in working together through NORAD, through the Joint Permanent Board on Defense, and our collective efforts both in Libya and the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, and Canada assuming a more prominent role on the training side with the recent promotion of Major General Mike Day, the role that we have assumed there with 900-plus Canadian trainers in and around Kabul figures very prominent in the further transition of responsibility for security to the Afghan people, the Afghan government.

             And so Canada, U.S. are working very closely in the defense relationship and partnership here in North America, but certainly around the globe.  Our collective efforts around global security are extremely important.  It's a high priority for Canada.  And this is why, again, it's a great honor to host Secretary Panetta here in Halifax at this international security conference.

             Over to you, Leon.

             SECRETARY LEON PANETTA:  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Minister MacKay, Peter.

             It's a tremendous honor for me to have the opportunity to be here on the minister's home turf of Nova Scotia.  As a former member of the U.S. Congress, I know how important it is to maintain a close connection to your constituency.  And on that basis, I would -- I would invite you to come to my constituency of Monterey, California, when you get a chance because that's another beautiful part of the world as well.

             This is my first trip to Canada as a secretary of defense, but I've had the opportunity to come here a number of times in other capacities, both as a member of Congress, as a chief of staff to President Clinton, as a CIA director and now as secretary of defense.

             I believe very deeply that this is a special relationship, a very special relationship between our two countries.  We share more than a -- than a border with our Canadian allies.  We share a common history, we share common values, and we share a common approach to advancing our security interests.

             All of this has led to a defense relationship that we enjoy today, one of the strongest defense relationships that we have in the world.  We share a vision for extending peace and prosperity through a very broad alliance structure, both as NATO allies and as advocates for an enduring, multilateral engagement here in North America and around the globe.

             And today we had a chance to discuss a number of ways to expand that cooperation in tackling some of the most pressing challenges that we face not only around the world, but here in the Western Hemisphere.  So we talked about working to improve our coordination in this area as well, dealing with the trafficking of narcotics, with weapons, with people, with the ability to try to secure borders, et cetera.  One of -- one of the key ways to approach these problems is by fostering regional security forums such as the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas and by building the capacity of our neighbors to counter these kinds of threats.  And I look forward to working with Peter MacKay in trying to expand that cooperation.

             We also discussed a NATO summit that we'll be having in Chicago.  And obviously, it'll be a full agenda there.  And our efforts there will be to declare the interim capability for NATO's European territorial missile defense, the next steps on Afghanistan and, obviously, further ways to strengthen the trans-Atlantic alliance that we enjoy.

             For more than 50 years, more than 50 years, we've been partnered together on homeland defense through NORAD.  The headquarters I had a chance to visit, and it is incredible to see Americans and Canadians standing side by side in that operations center.  It is -- it is a singular signal that Canada and the United States stand together when it comes to the security of our countries.

             And along those lines, you know, I did see press reports that indicated that somehow we were not committed to the F-35.  Let me make very clear that the United States is committed to the development of the F-35 and to a cooperative relationship with the F-35 with our Canadian friends.  The F-35 is going to be an essential fighter that will help in NORAD and will be the future in helping us with the security challenges that we face.

             Our troops have stood shoulder to shoulder not only here but in Afghanistan and elsewhere throughout the world.  And in Libya we had the chance to work together to give Libya back to the Libyan people and try to protect those people from a brutal regime.

             Just as our men and women in uniform have partnered together so effectively, Minister MacKay and I have really, I think, continued and strengthened a very warm relationship between our two countries when it comes to security.  We had the opportunity to meet two months ago in Washington, and we saw each other at the NATO ministerial.  And we've committed to continuing a dialogue that will hopefully strengthen that cooperation and relationship.

             As I did in Washington, and I want to do here, I want to thank Canada in particular for the contributions in Afghanistan.  You've had 150 Canadian heroes who've paid the ultimate price. 

             And in Libya, where the -- where I met the Canadian general, Bouchard -- someone who is incredibly capable and instrumental in leading those successful operations -- all of that reflects the fact that we fight together and we bleed together as one.

             I'm very much looking forward to participating in the security forum here this afternoon.  And finally, let me just extend my thanks to the people of Canada for the warm hospitality that they've provided me in the visit I've had.  I've had cousins who've come through Canada and -- as part of my Italian heritage.  And Canada for me is a very special place.

             Together, we are a powerful voice, the United States and Canada.  We represent a very powerful voice for peace, for freedom, for democracy and for security. 

             And Mr. Minister, you have my commitment that I will do whatever I can to ensure that we continue to strengthen that voice not only in this hemisphere but in the world.

             MINISTER MACKAY:  Thank you very much, Leon.

             MODERATOR:  So to begin -- to begin questions, I will start with Reuters.  Stewart.

             Q:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.  Given U.S. assurances that the United States will not reduce its military posture in Asia or in the Middle East, what kind of cuts are being considered for the U.S. military in Europe?  And is it something that will come up in your talks here in Halifax?

             Thank you.

             SEC. PANETTA:  In reviewing, obviously, the budget that we're dealing with and the budget requirements on savings that we've been given, the total number is about 450-billion-plus that the Congress has asked us to reduce the defense budget by over the next 10 years.  And we've begun an extensive process within the Defense Department to review all of the areas involved.

             There are three or four guidelines that are extremely important to me.  Number one, the United States is going to protect the best military in the world.  We are the strongest in the world.  We intend to remain the best military in the world.

             Two, I do not want to hollow out the force, which is something that's happened with past cuts, where cuts have been made across the board, weakening every area of defense.  We are not going to do that.

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