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May 17 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - May 17, 2012

            GEORGE LITTLE:  Good afternoon.  Before taking your questions, let me preview the next few days.  This weekend, as you know, Secretary Panetta travels to Chicago for the NATO summit.  At the summit, Secretary Panetta will participate in discussions with heads of state and will attend three North Atlantic Council sessions -- the first on 21st-century NATO capabilities, the second with ISAF nations on the long-term commitment to Afghanistan, and the third on NATO partnerships involving partners in the Libya operation and discussing how NATO can work with these and other nations in the future.  In addition to these sessions, the secretary will have the opportunity to convene a working dinner of his fellow defense ministers. 

            This summit comes at an important and historic time for the alliance.  NATO nations have come a long way together in recent years, and allies and partners can take stock of that and look for ways to strengthen cooperation in the future. 

            On Afghanistan, which as you know is a major focus of the summit, the secretary is confident that the alliance will demonstrate its commitment in finishing the job in that country.  That means implementing the Lisbon framework in accordance with the principle of "in together, out together. "

            Last year was a turning point for that effort in Afghanistan, and progress has continued this year.  The Taliban have been weakened. Al-Qaida's organization has been decimated, and violence levels are down across the country, including in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south. 

            The third tranche of transition will bring three-quarters of the Afghan people under Afghan security lead.  All of that has sent a clear signal that the campaign is on track and that the international community remains committed to helping Afghanistan secure and govern itself. 

            Secretary Panetta looks forward to discussing with fellow ministers how to continue the transition to Afghan lead, to support sustainment of the ANSF and to determine the long-term relationship NATO will have with Afghanistan.  All of these steps will help define how we can responsibly conclude the war in Afghanistan while achieving our objectives and building a long-term partnership with the Afghan people. 

            Also while in Chicago, the secretary will join Secretary Shinseki for a visit to the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, which is the first of its kind, joint DOD/VA hospital.  The DOD and VA health care systems continue to expand and integrate their services. This visit provides an opportunity for both secretaries to meet health care professionals and continue their dialogue about how to deliver the best possible treatment and care for our service members and veterans. 

            Following the visit there, there will be a joint press conference with the secretaries.  And we will send out a media advisory with additional details as well. 

            With that, let me open it up to your questions. 

            Lita. 

            Q:  George, two things.  One, can you talk anything -- any more about the discussions that the secretary had with Minister Barak specifically about Iran ahead of nuclear talks that are going to start next week? 

            And there's been a couple, I guess, estimates of how much the new Pakistan ground routes are going to cost, from like 1,500 to 5,000 [dollars] a day.  Can you provide any reality into some of these numbers and talk about when you think this may be a little bit more enlightening? 

            MR. LITTLE:  Sure. 

            On the first question, Lita, the secretary and Minister Barak had a very positive meeting today.  You've seen the statement that came out of that meeting on Iron Dome.  I think that Secretary Panetta has met with Minister Barak more than any of the other defense ministers since he became secretary of defense.  They've met here at the Pentagon, they've met, of course, in Israel last fall, and they've met in Canada.  So they have a very good working relationship.   

            And the clear message that these meetings send is that we have an unwavering commitment to the security of Israel that's reflected across the range of challenges that we both confront.  And of course, you saw the announcement on Iron Dome today, which signals our continued commitment to Israeli missile defense capabilities.  While I can't get into the specifics of their discussion, I can say that the -- they, over the course of their dialogue over the past several months, have discussed global and regional security challenges.  And I think that reflects their discussion today.   

            On the issue of Pakistan and the discussions we're having with the Pakistanis on the ground lines of communication, those discussions continue.  And I don't want to get into the specifics at this stage, but we remain hopeful that the ground supply routes will remain open. And of course that's very important, we believe, to our effort in Afghanistan.  Our supplies are sound in the country right now, but it would be helpful, you know, to have those routes reopened. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Spencer.   

            Q:  A follow-on on Iron Dome; is the department looking for any applications that you -- that Iron Dome might have for the United States for either protecting, you know, site installations or perhaps Navy ships there? 

            MR. LITTLE:  The focus of Iron Dome is, of course, on Israel at this stage.  If there are applications elsewhere, I can't rule out the possibility that we'd be looking to, you know, transfer that knowledge elsewhere.  

            But this really is about Israel and our commitment to that system.  As you know, in March that system was responsible for, you know, taking down 300 -- or excuse me, 80 percent of several hundred rockets directed toward Israel.  So it's a proven system that works, and that's why you saw today's announcement.  It's a proven system. Missile defense is important to Israel, and we're committed to supporting the Israelis. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Tony. 

            Q:  I need to ask a little bit more on this, because $70 million in fiscal '12 -- is that what you're providing? 

            MR. LITTLE:  That's what we're proposing as a reprogramming effort. 

            Q:  And yet Congress -- and for the fiscal '13 budget as budgeted, $680 million versus $70 million -- it does seem like a bit of a David and Goliath mismatch financially.  Why so little money?  And are you going to be supportive of the $680 million? 

            MR. LITTLE:  What we're supportive of is a very structured approach with the Israelis, and they agree with us, as we saw from Minister Barak's statement today, 70 million [dollars] this year, and then at the end of the year we'll assess where we are.  This is about assessing new technical challenges that may come our way, threats in the future.  So we may need to make adjustments going forward.  But I think it's safe to say that we have an enduring commitment to Israeli missile defense.  What the number will be in the out-years, I don't know for the moment.  But we expect to have a continued commitment to missile defense in the future.  So this is about -- this is about preserving a structured approach that's prudent and measured. 

            Q:  Last week Secretary Panetta complained about the adds from Congress that they will take from other needed programs.  Six hundred eighty million [dollars] was not requested by the Pentagon. 

            Are you going to oppose that money to Israel?  Or is that pretty much off the table in terms of opposition, because it's Israel?   

            MR. LITTLE:  We're talking about proposed reprogramming, Tony, here.  And that's -- you know, 70 million [dollars] is not a small sum, but it's certainly not as large as 680 million [dollars]. But this is, again, about a prudent, measured approached toward supporting Israeli missile defense.  And I don't see this having a major impact on our budget proposals.  This is perfectly consistent with our defense strategy and our commitment to the alliance with Israel. 

            Q:  (Inaudible) I'm talking about the 680 million dollars -- 

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