(Note: Minister Parkanova's remarks are provided through an interpreter.)
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, this afternoon, representatives of the United States government and the government of the Czech Republic will sign the agreement, between the United States of America and the Czech Republic, on the status of the United States forces present in the territory of the Czech Republic.
They will also sign the declaration on strategic defense cooperation between the United States of America and the Czech Republic. Prior to the official signing of these documents, Secretary Gates and Minister Parkanova will make brief remarks.
I invite Secretary Gates to proceed with his remarks.
SEC. GATES: Madame Minister and members of the Czech delegation, today is a milestone in the history of relations between the United States and the Czech Republic.
Earlier this summer, Secretary Rice and Minister of Foreign Affairs Schwarzenberg signed a ballistic missile defense agreement. In a few minutes, we will sign a status of forces agreement and declaration on strategic defense cooperation.
These will finalize the framework for stationing U.S. personnel in the Czech Republic in connection with the missile defense radar site.
This is the culmination of a process that will draw our nations closer and help protect Europe from limited missile attacks.
It is no small responsibility to take the lead in protecting the Euro-Atlantic Alliance from future threats, so I thank the Czech government for its leadership on this issue. I know that the Czech Republic is up to the challenge. These agreements will soon be submitted to the Czech Parliament for ratification. It is my hope that they will pass so that we can continue working toward our goal of a stronger and safer Europe and NATO alliance.
I would close by thanking the minister and also the people of the Czech Republic for their steadfast friendship over many years and for the sacrifices they have made in Iraq and Afghanistan. I look forward to the next chapter in our relationship.
MODERATOR: Minister Parkanova.
MIN. PARKANOVA: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Secretary, dear Bob, our American friends.
I am very happy to live up to see this day, which basically concludes the negotiations which have been going on for several years. As Mr. Gates has already mentioned, I firmly believe the agreement that we are going to sign here will be a significant contribution to the security of our own country, to the security of the Euro-Atlantic region and, as declared at the Bucharest summit, also a significant contribution to the security of the alliance.
We have September now, and this event is a follow-up of the signature of the intergovernmental agreement that was signed by Secretary Rice and our minister of Foreign Affairs, Karel Schwarzenberg, on the 8th of July in Prague.
It may seem that we have taken quite a lot of time to finalize and conclude the two documents; namely, the status of forces agreement and the declaration on strategic defense cooperation. I think this is indicative and proof positive of one fact; namely, that the negotiations were tough but fair, and that both parties concerned were able to carry through their respective requirements.
I would also like to thank the American people for everything they have done for our country, for our nation since its birth.
If this act is going to be a step forward to a next level of our future cooperation, then I must say this day is a happy day for me.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Gates and Minister Parkanova will now sign the agreement on the status of United States forces present in the territory of the Czech Republic.
MODERATOR: Secretary Gates and Minister Parkanova will now sign the second document, the declaration on strategic defense cooperation between the United States of America and the Czech Republic.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Gates has a brief press availability.
Could I ask for questions from the floor?
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: We have a study under way, a technical study that is expected to be completed in November. And I think once that study is completed, we'll have a better idea of exactly when the construction could begin and then when the project would be completed.
This NATO meeting of defense ministers was about transformation of the alliance. And I think there was general agreement that the kinds of measures that we discussed and the actions that the ministers had mandated are aimed at improving NATO's capabilities across the board.
And I think if we are able to follow through on the transformation initiatives that we have discussed, that NATO's ability to meet all of its commitments will be significantly enhanced.
Q Mr. Secretary, in your discussions with your NATO colleagues, did you raise the matter of sharing the costs of further expanding the Afghan National Army? And what sort of response did get?
SEC. GATES: There was discussion of the importance of the expansion of the Afghan army and recognition of the added costs that would be involved. And on the margins of the conference, I let a number of my colleagues know that we would be in touch in terms of the importance of sharing the cost of the increased size of the Afghan army. Because, after all, the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces, and particularly the army, in the long term is NATO's exit strategy.
Good governance, civic development and so on are equally important, but turning security responsibilities over to the Afghans themselves at some future date is really the goal that we all have in mind, and we need to be prepared to share the cost of making that happen.
Madame Minister, I leave you to the tender mercy of -- (inaudible).
MIN. PARKANOVA: Thank you.
SEC. GATES: Thank you very much.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2008, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE. NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL CARINA NYBERG AT 202-347-1400.