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Press Conference w/Secretary Panetta & New Zealand's DM

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - September 21, 2012

            DEFENCE MINISTER JONATHAN COLEMAN:  Good afternoon everybody.  To the American press corps here welcome to Auckland, New Zealand (inaudible) our New Zealand press people here. 

            Officially a very warm welcome to the U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.  It's a very significant visit, the first time in 30 years we've had a U.S. secretary of defense visit here in New Zealand.  

            And it just underscores the very warm phase of a relationship between our two countries, reflected in the Wellington Declaration and subsequently the Washington Declaration and reflected in the way our people have been cooperating in the (inaudible) internationally for a decade now in Afghanistan, but increasingly also now in our area -- in the South Pacific. 

            And I would like to say that I (inaudible) welcome the huge U.S. emphasis in our part of the world.  It's going to be create opportunities for our military people to increasingly get to know each other over time. 

            It's very important in terms of developing our own capabilities as we (inaudible) that we are able to exercise with like-minded partners.  And I think the future ahead for cooperation is very, very good. 

            We've had already a -- a very extensive cooperation in planning of exercises around humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  We have a common interest in maritime security, maritime surveillance and of course as Pacific Rim nations we are both very, very interested in what's happening in this part of the world. 

            So for us, this part of our engagement with a whole range of partners who have an interest in this part of the world and it certainly (inaudible) builds on the excellent and warm historical ties between the U.S. and New Zealand, as exemplified actually by the visit of the U.S. Marines earlier this year to mark the 70th anniversary of the 1942 deployment here and the subsequent exercising of our troops together in New Zealand and subsequently in the U.S. 

            I have had an excellent discussion.  The secretary is a very easy man to engage with, and it's been great to get his views on the Asia-Pacific region, to talk about the path ahead for cooperation and (inaudible) and also to hear about his recent travels in China, as well as to discuss our key interest in Afghanistan. 

            And I've taken the opportunity to thank the secretary for the great help we've had from the U.S. in repatriating our dead and wounded from Afghanistan and also would like to take this opportunity to pass on my condolences for the death of Ambassador Stevens and the other diplomatic staff recently in Benghazi. 

            So, Mr. Secretary, welcome to New Zealand.  The floor is yours. 

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA:  Thank you very much, Mr. Coleman.  Thank you for your kind remarks and for your condolences.  I deeply appreciate that. 

            New Zealand is a very good friend.  And it's a -- it's a -- it's a great opportunity for us to -- to continue to strengthen the friendship. 

            Let me -- let me begin by saying just how delighted I am to be here in Auckland.  It's also a -- Auckland has a great flavor of San Francisco, which is very close to my hometown of San Francisco "“ in Monterey - and -- and having -- someone born in a coastal town in California, close to the Pacific, I think we share, in our blood, a deep feeling for the Pacific. 

            This is my first visit to this country and, as pointed out, the first visit by a U.S. secretary of defense in 30 years.  I've long understood and appreciated the close bonds that exist between the United States and New Zealand. 

            These are bonds of shared history, bonds of shared values and bonds of shared interests of two Pacific nations.  These bonds extend to our two militaries who have fought alongside each other in every major conflict of the last century.  And we continue to do so in Afghanistan.  

            In my meeting with Minister Coleman, I expressed my profound appreciation and I conveyed the appreciation of the American people for New Zealand's contributions to this international effort. 

            In Bamiyan Province where New Zealand leads the Provincial Reconstruction Team, we have been able to begin transitioning to Afghan security control because of the improvements that New Zealand helped bring about in security and in governance. 

            I know that this progress has come at a heavy price, heavy price for New Zealand and a heavy price for the New Zealand people.  Last month was particularly difficult with the loss of five service members. 

            And I join Mr. Coleman and the people of New Zealand in mourning for these heroes.  And they are heroes who gave their lives for their country and for a cause greater than themselves. 

            I am very moved by the determination of New Zealand to continue pressing ahead and contributing to the shared effort to build an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself and that never again becomes a safe haven for al-Qaeda or its extremist affiliates. 

            This week, let me point out, an ongoing effort in Afghanistan marked a very important milestone.  The United States military has completed drawing down the surge forces President Obama committed in December of 2009, reducing our presence by 33,000 troops, and it was done on schedule. 

            As we can reflect on this moment, it's an opportunity to recognize that the surge did accomplish its objectives of reversing Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increased the size and capability of the Afghan National Security forces. 

            That growth has allowed us and our ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) coalition partners to begin the process of transitioning to Afghan security lead, which will soon extend across every province and more than 75 percent of the Afghan population. 

            At the same time we have struck enormous blows, as many of you know, against al-Qaeda's leadership, consistent with our core goal of disrupting and dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda and, as I said, denying it safe haven. 

            There's no question that there will continue to be difficult days ahead in this campaign for both of our countries.  But the fact is we -- we have had wars before, and we are fighting wars together now. 

            And I have tremendous respect for the New Zealand defense forces and their capability to be able to work with us to achieve the mission that -- that we -- we are embarked on in Afghanistan. 

            For the past several years our militaries have begun building a deeper partnership to tackle a wider range of security issues, resulting recently in the Washington Declaration that Minister Coleman and I signed at the Pentagon this June. 

            Together the minister and I have identified several areas where the possibility exists for closer cooperation between our militaries, particularly as the United States rebalances to -- to place a greater emphasis on its (inaudible) role in the Asia-Pacific region.

            These include increasing cooperation in the South Pacific, building New Zealand's amphibious capacity in order to tackle some common challenges and by working multilaterally to build the capacity of other security partners in peacekeeping efforts and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, all important missions in this area. 

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