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American Forces Press Service

Hagel Praises Romania as Steadfast U.S. Ally

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 5, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today praised Romania as a "steadfast friend and ally of the United States," noting several of its contributions to regional and world security.

At a joint news conference with Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa, Hagel thanked his counterpart for Romania's hospitality for U.S. service members at MK Air Base and aboard the USS Vella Gulf, which is making a port visit in Constanta, Romania.

In a meeting before the news conference, Hagel said, he and Dusa reaffirmed the strong partnership between their nations.

"I wanted to visit Romania to make clear that the United States appreciates Romania's contributions to security in the region and around the world," he added. "Romanian troops served with honor in Iraq. Some 1,200 remain deployed in Afghanistan, … and the United States is grateful for Romania's steadfast commitment to the NATO mission there, especially as your nation marks 10 years of NATO membership. America recognizes the sacrifices of Romanian troops -- and their families -- over the past decade of war."

Today, the secretary said, Romania continues to provide critical support for shared strategic objectives by permitting U.S. and coalition troops to transit in and out of Afghanistan through MK Air Base. "Well over 50,000 U.S. troops transited MK in the first 100 days of operations," he added, "and later today, I look forward to seeing the full scope of our operations at MK, which includes soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines."

MK Air Base will remain essential for the new phase of efforts in Afghanistan when the current mission concludes there at year's end the secretary said. "It also demonstrates the United States' and Romania's broader defense cooperation," he added, "which is becoming even more important in the wake of Russia's actions in Ukraine. Minister Dusa and I discussed those actions and the situation in Ukraine."

At a NATO defense ministers conference in Brussels earlier this week, Hagel said, he reaffirmed America's commitment to the collective security of all NATO allies. He also noted that President Barack Obama visited neighboring Poland this week. The Vella Gulf's port visit in Romania, he added, is "a clear expression of this commitment."

Another example, Hagel said, is Obama's announcement this week that he will ask Congress for up to $1 billion to enhance the readiness of U.S. and allied forces in Europe, including more U.S. troop rotations for exercises and training and a stronger presence of U.S. ships in the Black Sea.

"The U.S. has maintained a regular naval presence in the Black Sea since mid-March, with the USS Truxton, the USS Donald Cook and the USS Taylor all conducting port calls in Romania, and we will sustain this tempo going forward," he said. "We are also stepping up our cooperation with other partners and allies surrounding the Black Sea, including Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, and Ukraine."

In Brussels, the secretary said, he emphasized that as the United States increases its commitments to European security, it wants European allies to do the same. "Romania has already decided to increase investment in its defense enterprise," he added. "The United States also appreciates the kinds of investments Romania is making … in infrastructure, advanced capabilities, and modernization."

One important example of Romania's increased defense investments is its purchase of F-16 fighter jets, Hagel said, noting that Romania already has had several training engagements with the United States and Portugal in preparation for receiving the F-16s. "As I told the minister," he said, "the United States intends to continue working with Romania to strengthen its military aviation capabilities. Having seen the results of America's joint Aviation Detachment in Poland, I hope to begin similar cooperation between the U.S., Poland and Romania."

Missile defense is another important area of cooperation between the United States and Romania, Hagel said. "Following a successful recent test, we are on track for the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system to be installed in Romania next year," he said. "And Vice President [Joe] Biden reviewed our missile defense cooperation when he was here last month."

This new system will be part of Phase II of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, Hagel said, and once operational, it will mark another milestone in the U.S.-Romanian defense relationship "and another major achievement as Romania fortifies its position on the front line of regional security."

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