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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Press Secretary George Little January 15, 2013

Press Conference by Secretary Panetta in Madrid, Spain

(UNKNOWN): (Speaking in Spanish)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.

Good afternoon. Buenas tardes. It is an honor for me to be able to be here in Spain on my final overseas trip as secretary of defense. As the minister mentioned, I am the son of Italian immigrants. And as a result of that, I feel a deep kinship with Europe and in particular with the people of Spain.

Over the past 18 months, I've developed a real friendship with my friend, the minister, and a very effective working relationship. We've had the opportunity to deal with a number of issues, particularly in the NATO context, and I've always found him to be very receptive and very cooperative in the effort to try to address those difficult issues.

Spain has long been a very trusted ally and a friend of the United States and a very valued security partner. Spain's leadership in NATO, its significant contributions to the mission in Afghanistan, and its efforts to promote security in the Mediterranean basin have been critically important over the last decade of war.

I believe continued Spanish leadership will be essential to the future success of the transatlantic alliance. Spain is extremely important to our ability to maintain and strengthen that very important alliance.

In our meeting, the minister and I had the opportunity to consult on a wide range of shared security challenges, including the continued progress of our troops on the ground in Afghanistan. And let me just say, on behalf of my country, I want to extend to the people of Spain our deepest condolences on the fact that you buried today, as I understand it, the 100th casualty of killed in action that Spain has endured in that conflict. You've paid a high price.

And I thank you for the sacrifices you've been willing to make, and our hope is that, along with the many sacrifices of my country and other countries in ISAF, and in particular the sacrifices of the people of Afghanistan, that those sacrifices will be worthwhile in achieving an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself and ensure that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorism.

Because of the work that has been done by all the nations involved to help build the Afghan national security forces, I've said in the past -- and I'll say again -- that I believe we are on track to meet the goals that our nations agreed to last year in Chicago. As President Obama announced last week, Afghan forces will step into the lead for security across the country sometime in the late spring of this year, and they will assume full responsibility for security next year.

Looking past 2014, the minister and I discussed plans to develop and sustain the Afghan national security forces over the long term, which will be the major focus of next month's NATO ministerial in Brussels. The long-term commitment NATO has made is critical to fulfilling the mission that brave men and women from our two nations have fought and died to carry out.

And as we reach a turning point, after a decade of war, over a decade of war, I want the Spanish people to know that America is forever grateful for your friendship, for your cooperation, for your partnership, for your sacrifices, and for your steady commitment to this strong alliance between our two countries.

Beyond Afghanistan, our discussion today focused on how to expand the defense cooperation in new ways to meet the challenges of the 21st century. For example, we discussed the potential for greater cooperation in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity, as I've often mentioned, I think is the battlefield for the future.

What can we do, both bilaterally and through NATO, to try to strengthen our capability in the cyber arena? The threats posed to our economic well-being, to our critical infrastructure from attacks and intrusions in cyberspace are real. These are real. We are today the target of literally hundreds of thousands of cyber attacks aimed at both the private sector, as well as the governmental sector. And for that reason, it is important that we work together to strengthen our capabilities in this wider area.

Another promising area for further cooperation is maritime security, building on the forward deployment of U.S. naval forces at Rota. The home-porting of four Aegis-equipped destroyers to Rota, which I announced on my first trip to Europe as secretary, is a key U.S. commitment of NATO.

But more broadly, Rota is a critical gateway for naval and aerial operations into the Mediterranean and beyond. And as our forces deploy there, we will look to increase our bilateral naval cooperation with Spain. Our decision to move ahead with this new deployment at a time of significant fiscal pressures that we're confronting, as well as other countries are confronting in this part of the world, but the fact that we are making this commitment reflects our belief that the transatlantic alliance will remain critical for global security in the 21st century, and we must make investments in order to keep it strong for the future.

One of the key elements of our new defense strategy is that we must maintain a presence in the world, a presence here in Europe, a presence in Latin America, a presence in Africa, and a presence in other parts of the world. And the best way to do that is through making commitments, rotational deployments that will develop the capabilities of other countries, ensure that they strengthen their security, ensure that they become a partner and an ally in providing security for the future.

That is the future. And that's what we're hoping to do. The United States and Spain are confronting economic challenges. We're -- we're confronting fiscal pressures. But I know this economic crisis has been particularly difficult on the Spanish people. I understand that.

Yet we still face -- in spite of that, we still face a full range of challenges around the world. That's reality. That's the world we live in. From terrorism to nuclear proliferation to the destabilizing behavior of regimes like Iran and North Korea, these are challenges that require us to be ever vigilant and ever ready and, above all, to be leaders in helping to forge a safer and more secure future for the 21st century.

I want to thank the minister once again for his friendship and for his deep commitment to that vision.

I used to ask my Italian parents when they came to the United States why they did that. And they said the reason they did that is because they believed they could give their children a better life. That is the dream that all of us for our children, the dream of giving our children a better life in the future. And it is to that dream that we, the United States and Spain, are fully committed, now and in the future.

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

(UNKNOWN): Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

(UNKNOWN): (off mic)

(UNKNOWN): (Speaking in Spanish)

GEORGE LITTLE: (off mic)

Q: Oh, Mr. Secretary, excuse me. If you could just -- to go back to Mali again from this morning, if you could give us your assessment of any progress you think the French are making in Mali and if you could tell us what you think the biggest challenge they face in that conflict.

SEC. PANETTA: I think, you know, obviously, we're continuing to follow the events now and -- you know, and trying to get a read as to what -- what efforts they're committed to taking there and what their objectives are. That's something we're continuing to get information on. So I can't really give you a full analysis as to just exactly what they're targeting and how successful or not successful they may be in that effort as of this moment.

This is a -- any time you confront an enemy that is dispersed and that is -- you know, is not located necessarily in one area, is -- makes it challenging. And the ability to go after that enemy and be able to stop them from moving forward represents, you know, a difficult task. But it is a necessary task. And for that reason, we've commended France for taking that step, and I believe the international community will do all we can to try to assist them in that effort.

(UNKNOWN): (Speaking in Spanish)

SEC. PANETTA: With regards to the nature of the assistance that we provide, we are -- we are in discussions with the French, and we are discussing in Washington some of the requests that have been made to determine exactly what assistance we can provide. Our goal is to try to do what we can to provide whatever assistance is necessary in order to help them in that effort. But specifically in what area, that’s still something that is under discussion.

With regards to the objective in Mali, as far as I'm concerned, the fundamental objective is to make sure that AQIM, al-Qaeda, never establishes a base for operations in Mali, or for that matter, anyplace else.

(UNKNOWN): (Speaking in Spanish)

MR. LITTLE: David Alexander with Reuters.

Q: Thank you. Excuse me. David Alexander from Reuters. Secretary Panetta, what message are you bringing to the NATO allies about the size of the -- the post-2014 force in Afghanistan? And is there a concern among the -- among the allies that if it is too small, they may not participate?

And, Minister Morenes, a similar question. Is Spain planning to participate in a post-2014 force in Afghanistan? And if -- is there any concern that, if it is too small, it could erode gains and represent a jeopardy to foreign forces there?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, the message that I have brought is along with what Spain and the United States and the other countries and ISAF all agreed to in Chicago, that we are implementing the fundamental agreement that we made in Chicago with regards to what would happen in Afghanistan.

And I basically briefed the minister, and I briefed the minister in Portugal, and I'll do that in the other countries that I'm visiting, on the visit that President Karzai had in the United States, because fundamentally the message is that, as a result of that meeting, we are going to continue to implement the agreement in Chicago.

We've made an agreement that we would transition Afghanistan into the lead in combat operations in 2013. We're able to do that with General Allen's recommendation on an earlier timetable, which would probably be the late spring. We'll obviously have to continue to be there to provide support, particularly during the fighting season and then through the fifth transition of provinces that will complete the transition in Afghanistan.

And then we will begin a process of drawdown with recommendations from General Allen as to what that pace should look like. And then, obviously, maintain a stable force there through the elections, to ensure security through the elections, and then, obviously, then complete the process of a drawdown through the end of 2014, moving towards an enduring presence at that time.

We have committed to an enduring presence. We have an agreement from President Karzai that he will provide -- (inaudible) -- bilateral security agreement that we -- (inaudible) -- to maintain that presence and are thankful for that. And the exact size of that enduring presence is a decision that the president has not made at this point, but we do have clear missions that we have to implement as a result of Chicago.

We have a counterterrorism mission. We have a mission with training and assist. And we have to provide some -- (inaudible) -- capability, and so we will need to have a presence there. And ISAF I think understands that they will be part and parcel of that effort at that time.

(UNKNOWN): (Speaking in Spanish)

Q: (Speaking in Spanish)

SEC. PANETTA: I recognize that countries like Spain and others are going through serious budget constraints. So is the United States. The Budget -- under the Budget Control Act, I was given a number of $487 billion to reduce the defense budget in the United States over the next 10 years. That's the largest cut in the defense budget in quite a while.

We did that. However, recognizing that we have to develop the strategy -- a defense strategy that can be in place not just today, but in the future, to deal with the threats that we have in the world. I mean, the reality is that the minister and I have a responsibility as defense ministers to keep our people safe. That's what -- that's what we do. We have to keep our people safe.

And we still live in a dangerous world. We're still having to deal with a war in Afghanistan. We still have to confront the threat of terrorism from al-Qaeda. We still have to deal with threats from countries like Iran and North Korea. We still have to deal with threats in the cyber arena. We still have to deal with turmoil in the Middle East, that could impact on our own security.

So there's still a number of threats that are out there. And it's for that reason that each of us, obviously, has to make decisions as to how we deal with those threats and, at the same time, meet our responsibilities to fiscal integrity.

I don't think you have to make a choice. I really don't. I don't think you have to make a choice between whether or not we can meet our responsibilities to fiscally discipline our defense budget and, at the same time, do what we have to do in order to protect our countries. And I think that Spain has to, obviously make the decisions that fit Spain's priorities, but I am absolutely confident that in the end countries will make a decision that ensures that we do everything possible to provide for the security of our countries.

(UNKNOWN): (Speaking in Spanish)

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