SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Well, let me -- let me welcome Minister MacKay to the Pentagon. This is our first meeting together. I've had the opportunity to meet him before, but this is the first time we've had a chance to sit down and talk about our relationship and the areas where we cooperate.
Canada and the United States are neighbors, but we are also friends and allies, and we are partners. And that's true in a number of areas. And we've had a chance to talk about some of the areas where we have developed a real strong partnership.
In Afghanistan, the Canadians are doing tremendous work, providing trainers -- training. They have a presence in Kandahar. Canada is one of the NATO countries that suffered the most in terms of those who lost their lives. And we pay tremendous respect to Canada for the sacrifice that they've made, but for the -- for the continuing strong partnership that they give us in Afghanistan.
Secondly, in Libya, we work very closely with them and NATO in that effort. And that represents -- I think both the minister and I would agree that that represents a really effective use of our NATO partnership in that kind of conflict.
The third area that we are looking at is how can we improve our bilateral partnership and presence in the hemisphere and try to work with other countries in this hemisphere to try to promote better security, issues like drug trafficking, issues that relate to security, issues that relate to our ability to respond to disasters. If we can develop better capabilities and partnerships throughout the hemisphere, that's something that I think both of us consider to be a real step forward in our relationship.
And the last area is obviously we both face budget constraints. And as we address those budget constraints, I think we also recognize that the more we can partner in capabilities, the more we can work together, it can ensure that as we constrain our budgets, we continue to protect our countries and provide the best defense possible for our people.
So thank you, Mr. Minister, for coming. We've had a great discussion, and I look forward to a continuing partnership with you and with Canada.
And I also have a chance to go up to Halifax at a conference that he will sponsor. This is his home area. And as a former politician, you can understand how important it is to be able to go to his hometown and be able to be with him there in Halifax. I look forward to that and look forward to continuing to work with you.
MINISTER PETER MACKAY: Well, let me begin by expressing my gratitude to Defense Secretary Panetta for the invitation and the opportunity to speak about these important issues and to emphasize, again, the enduring and special relationship that Canada and the United States share not just at the defense level, but really across the board, whether it be trade, whether it be our economies, whether it be our mutual desire to help in other parts of the world, including in our hemisphere.
But most importantly for all of us is the defense of continental North America. And whether it's the institutions of NORAD, our Permanent Joint Board on Defense and other security cooperation efforts, Canada and the United States, in my view, have the best relationship on the planet that really sets the gold standard for other countries around the world.
Of course, our relationship through NATO has also been one of the foundations of the defense partnership that the defense secretary spoke about. And in Afghanistan, in Libya today, Canadian and U.S. forces are shoulder to shoulder and in lockstep in the efforts to bring about peace and security in those two troubled nations, with great success, I might add. And the training piece that will enable in particular Afghans to take over those responsibilities and to assume that important security element for their own country, their own population is what we strive to achieve.
I'm very, very grateful for the incredible sacrifices that have been made by Americans in pursuit of those objectives. And as Secretary Panetta has mentioned, there is, in my view, opportunity for further growth in the relationship. To work towards greater cooperation here at home and abroad is a shared objective.
These are times where we are looking at defense budgets, and that calls for even greater effort to find efficiencies and to find ways where we can mutually reinforce and support one another on a number of important projects and initiatives.
So these discussions are beneficial and ongoing, and I look forward to hosting Secretary Panetta in Canada very soon and an opportunity to again reinforce what has been just an outstanding example of how two nations share their national and international responsibilities.
So thank you very much for being here.
SEC. PANETTA: Thank you.
STAFF: Our first question will be from Barbara Starr of CNN.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what can you tell the American people about the role of the U.S. military in tracking and killing Anwar al-Awlaki? Were there U.S. military boots on the ground? And any information you can give us about the specifics of the attack.
SEC. PANETTA: Well, this has been a bad year for terrorists. You know, we -- we just have seen a major blow -- another major blow to al-Qaida, someone who was truly an operational arm of al-Qaida in this node of Yemen. And, you know, we had always had tremendous concern that after getting bin Laden, that someone like Awlaki was a primary target because of his continuing efforts to plan attacks against the United States.
As we know, he was involved in the Detroit bombing, he was involved in the cargo bombing efforts. He continued to try to inspire people to terrorize this country and to attack this country. And so this country is much safer as a result of the loss of Awlaki.
As far as the operational elements here, I'm not going to speak to those except to say that we've been working with the Yemenis over a long period of time to be able to target Awlaki, and I want to congratulate them on their efforts, their intelligence assistance, their operational assistance to get this job done.
STAFF: (Off mic.)…NBC
Q: Minister MacKay, did you -- was there any discussion today about the F-35 unit price at all -- (off mic) -- there needs to be more information released on that?
MIN. MACKAY: We did speak briefly about the F-35 program of which Canada is a full participant. It's still our intention, as you know, to purchase 65 of these aircraft, which are the conventional take-off aircraft. But I want to be very clear. There are three different variants. Canada is buying one variant, which is the conventional aircraft, which, from my own experience in visiting Lockheed Martin and speaking with their officials, is on time and on budget. We are purchasing those aircraft pushed out to about 2016 -- between 2016 and 2022 to replace our entire fleet of F-18s.
Now the program itself I know has received a lot of scrutiny here in the United States and in Canada, and the reality is this is the best and only fifth-generation aircraft available to Canada.
And by being part of a larger group of nations, we hope to share in the industrial benefits of that aircraft. But most importantly, we know the importance to North American security of being interoperable, through NORAD, through the United States Air Force and our own Royal Canadian Air Force.
Having that ability to communicate and ability to defend North America is of critical importance and it helps us in international missions, as well, as we are seeing currently in Libya. We are flying aircraft and working very much with the United States Air Force on refueling, on patrol, as well as for strike missions.
I would take the opportunity just to congratulate the defense secretary on a very successful recent outcome of that ongoing mission. And it is becoming clear that it is an occupational hazard to be in a leadership position in a terrorist organization. And so with the elimination of Osama bin Laden, today's news, this is good news not only for the United States and North America; this is making the world a safer place.
STAFF: (Off mic) -- Wall Street Journal.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the attack in Yemen, why now? Is this part of the Saleh government trying to hold on by stepping up its cooperation?
And after the bin Laden raid, you talked about the cooperation between the CIA and the military. Is this part of a further proof of that cooperation, this strike today? Is this a sign of closer cooperation between the agency and this department?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, there's no question that in the last few years the intelligence community and the military community have really come together as partners in going after terrorism. The president of the United States has made very clear that our primary mission is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida. And that has been the target of all of these efforts.
And what happened to bin Laden, what's happened to the top leadership in al-Qaida and what happened today with Awlaki is the result of a lot of efforts coming together. In this instance, the Yemenis themselves have long cooperated with the United States in this effort. It goes back, frankly, to before some of the turmoil we've seen there, that the relationship in sharing intelligence and going after this target was something that involved a tremendous amount of cooperation between the United States and the Yemenis, and today it paid off.
STAFF: Final question from Lee-Anne Goodman, Canadian Press.
Q: (Off mic) – Did you take the Challenger here today?
MIN. MACKAY: Certainly didn’t.
Q: Why not?
MIN. MACKAY: Pardon me?
Q: Why not?
MIN. MACKAY: Because there's commercial flights available.
It's wonderful to be a reliable, robust security partner with the United States of America. And more than anything else, we want to signal through not just words but actions that our interests are common and that our goals are similar. And we -- we are very, very grateful for the level of cooperation, certainly in the security community and the defense community, that we enjoy. So again, thank you very much.
SEC. PANETTA: Thank you. Thanks very much.