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Media Availability with Secretary Panetta en route to Ottawa, Canada

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta
March 26, 2012

             SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA:  This is going to be a quick one.  It’s an important trip to Ottawa.  I think the main reason it’s so important is that this is the first trilateral meeting we have had between the United States, Canada and Mexico.  That’s unprecedented.  I’ll be meeting with Minister Peter Mackay, with General Galvan, Secretary of the Army, Mexico.  And with Admiral Sinez (ph), who is the Secretary of the Navy.           

            The purpose, obviously, is to strengthen the partnership between our three countries with regards to the security of North America.  That’s the goal.  We’ve got some common challenges.  The challenges we face, obviously, are counter-narcotics, organized crime, terrorism, border security, humanitarian disaster relief and, you know, the whole issue of trying to ensure that we deal with issues like cyber and other challenges that are out there. 

            The main topics we’re going to focus on are we’re going to try to focus on counter-narcotics because there is a, in terms of the military, a real focus on those issues in conjunction with law enforcement; disaster relief, humanitarian aid.  I want to develop mil-to-mil relations with these countries.  We already have them, but to develop better assistance and better coordination, and also do better threat assessments.  I really – which means better intelligence-sharing with regards to threat assessments. 

            And what I’m hoping to do is to establish within a format a forum here where we can have regular sessions that focus on an agenda and we do this on a regular basis.  It fits the strategy that we built into the defense budget, to try to establish partnerships, alliances and to have our rotational deployments in these areas.  So it’s a very good fit to try to implement the strategy we put in place with our defense proposals. 

            So important step, important meeting and one that I hope can really set a standard for the future in terms of cooperation between our three countries. 

            Q:  Sorry to take you off-subject for a minute, on Afghanistan.  There was a third killing today, green on blue.  There were two British who were killed and then there was another one.  I’m just wondering if you could talk a little bit about how this threat is growing, and as this threat grows with the Afghans, what concerns do you see as you move ahead to efforts like coordinating with them on night raids and other issues where you may have to put more trust than right now it may seem appropriate.

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, you know, I’ve had some very good discussions with General Allen on this issue and, you know,  I feel very confident that he’s putting in place the kind of steps to ensure that we do everything possible to try to protect against this kind of thing happening.  This is – this is not easy.  There are going to be those that, you know, that are vengeful, there are going to be those that decide to use this as a way to express their anger and their concern. 

            But you know, these still are sporadic incidents and I don’t think they reflect any kind of broad pattern.  But having said that, I think we’ve got to take every step possible working with the Afghans to make sure that these kinds of incidents are controlled.

            Q:  (Off mic.) – threaten negotiations on things like night raids, where you were you talking to them about giving them some advance notice.  Does that impede the trust factor? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  You know, as I’ve said, this is – this is a war zone and these kinds of things are going to take place.  But I don’t think they ought to detract from our main strategy here from where we want to go with regards to night raid agreements, as well as with our strategic partnership agreement.  And also with regards to the strategy that we want to put in place to implement Lisbon. 

            I think these incidents will occur but we have to keep our eye on the fundamental mission here, which is to accomplish our main strategy of trans – being able to make the transition to Afghan control and security. 

            Q:  This being sort of the third incident this year that’s kind of tarnished U.S.-Afghan ties, what can we do to get around this and move forward, put this sort of thing behind?

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, you know, I think it’s really important for us to treat each incident seriously, as we have here, to – you know, when these cases occur to show that we’re going to hold people accountable, that we’re going to take action to make sure that justice is served here, and that the victims are – you know, that we provide relief to the victims.  That’s exactly what we’ve done here and I think the result is that, you know, the Afghans recognize that, you know, we don’t take these incidents lightly any more than they do. 

            Q:  Also, we’ve had two or three weeks of budget hearings on the Hill now, defense budget hearings.  How do you think its going? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  I think it’s going pretty well.  I mean, I – you know, they’ve obviously tried to find some cracks in the seam here in terms of the Defense Department, but everybody up there has basically – has taken a very strong position in support of our budget, in support of our strategy.  The service chiefs, all the undersecretaries, the department as a whole I think has made very clear that this is a strong strategy and one that we all strongly support. 

            And I think as a result of that, I think, you know, I haven’t seen the Congress really been able to score any kind of hits in terms of the basic strategy.  They have their concerns.  We know what their concerns are, but I think our strategy is one that every day I feel a lot more comfortable with. 

            Q:  Question on the nuclear summit.  Today in Seoul the President Obama raised the possibility of fresh nuclear cuts because he said the U.S. had too many weapons.  So is it time to stop negotiating about – with the Russians about the nuclear weapons?  Is it time to get rid one of the triad, of the nuclear triad? 

            MR.     :  (Off mic.) 

            SEC. PANETTA:  I mean, I think, you know, we – we have a strong nuclear deterrent.  I think we have to maintain the nuclear triad.  That’s an important part of our policy and our strategy.  Having said that, I think the president is always interested in trying to see what we can do to reduce our nuclear arsenal.  We’ve gone through a nuclear review and presented obviously options to him. 

            But let me be very clear that those options are in no way unilateral.  They’re all based on potential bilateral negotiations with the Russians, and that’s the way it should be.  That’s the way it’s been in the past. 

            Q:  Are you any closer on settling on options on that?  Have you narrowed the – (inaudible)?

            SEC. PANETTA:  We’ve presented options, it’s in the President’s court. 

            MR.     :  OK, thank you.  Appreciate it. 

            SEC. PANETTA:  OK, guys.  Thank you.