Panetta Hosts Italian Counterpart at Pentagon
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 30, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta met today with Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola at the Pentagon, where the two discussed mutual defense interests such as the upcoming NATO summit, Afghanistan and the Arab Spring.
Panetta reaffirmed the strong U.S.-Italian bilateral defense relationship and lauded Italy as a trusted partner and ally, said George Little, acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
Panetta thanked Italy for its contributions to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, noting the battlefield casualties Italy has experienced during the fight to defeat al-Qaida and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, Little said.
Italy has contributed troops to the Afghanistan mission since July 2003, with more than 3,800 Italian service members currently serving there.
Panetta reiterated the U.S. commitment to developing the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter and the two defense leaders discussed the technology advancements both nations will receive as a result of fielding the fifth-generation fighter, Little said.
Italy has partnered with the United States on the fighter since 1998, when the program was in its concept and development phase. Other international partners include the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Turkey, Israel and Singapore. The Japanese government announced in December 2011 it will purchase 42 of the fighters.
Panetta noted that the short-takeoff, vertical-lift variant of the jet recently came off probation after catching up to the other variants' testing milestones, Little said. The joint strike fighter’s other two versions are a conventional takeoff and landing design and a carrier variant.
The secretary said he looks forward to seeing Di Paola again at the NATO summit next month in Chicago.
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