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Press Conference with Secretary Panetta at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta
October 10, 2012

            GEORGE LITTLE:  Good afternoon, again. 

            The secretary is pleased to answer some questions, so we'll go ahead and get started right away. 

            Lita Baldor of the Associated Press. 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, you mentioned the (inaudible).  Did you get any indication from any countries today that they are willing to do so?  And how much more is the U.S. willing to do in this regard? 

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA:  I think our -- we have a gap of about 58 teams that we're -- we're continuing to recruit for.  And the discussion I've had both on a bilateral basis and then broadly with the ministers I think, you know, I certainly received positive response that they would do everything possible to try to provide those ISAF teams. 

            You know, I think, you know, we -- we are now putting those ISAF teams in place.  They're beginning to work very effectively.  What we really need to do is to make sure that all of those teams are in place as we complete the transition.  That's what I'm, you know, that's what I'm pushing for.  And, you know, I -- I've gotten a lot of support from all the countries that have participated and I remain very hopeful that we'll be able to fill that gap. 

            Q:  (off mic) 

            SEC. PANETTA:  And the U.S.?  

            The U.S. we're -- you know, we're obviously continuing to deploy our teams.  We've got ISAF brigades now that are training.  Our ISAF team is working very effectively to provide those teams on that basis.  And, you know, we're going to continue to add some of our own as well. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Yes, ma'am? 

            Q:  Teri Schultz with NPR and CBS.  

            Mr. Secretary, you've mentioned your concern that the -- that the conflict in Syria would spread beyond Syrian borders, as we've seen to some degree in Turkey.  What can you tell us about the team that's now been sent to Jordan to plan for a possible spillover?

            Thank you. 

            SEC. PANETTA:  We -- we have been working with Jordan for a period of time now to work with them on, you know, a number of the issues that have developed as a result of what's happening in Syria.  We've been working with them on trying to meet the humanitarian needs that are developing from the refugee flow that's going into Jordan -- obviously, there's a refugee flow into Turkey as well -- and trying to do what we can to assist them in that effort. 

            We have also been working with them in the effort to monitor the CBW sites and try -- try to determine how best to respond to any concerns in that area.  And we've also been working with them to try to develop their own military and operational capabilities in the event of any contingency there. 

            And that's the reason we have our -- you know, a group of our forces there.  They're working to help them build a headquarters there and to ensure that we make the relationship between the United States and Jordan a strong one so that we can deal with all of the possible consequences of what's happening in Syria. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Yes, ma'am? 

            Q:  (inaudible) -- FRANCE 24 Television.  

            Secretary Panetta, are you also looking to assist the Turks along the border there with Syria? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  No.  No, we've -- we've reached out to Turkey as well and been in discussions with them on the very same issues, assisting them on the humanitarian side.  They also obviously are concerned about the CBW sites, as well.  And so we've worked with them as well to do what we can to monitor that situation. 

            And we are providing whatever assistance they need to deal with the problems that they are incurring, as well. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Yes, sir? 

            Q:  Tobias Helman, at the Danish Newspaper Information. 

            A lot of people are asking for dialogue with the Taliban as well as -- (inaudible) -- supplement to the military effort.  Are there any -- any efforts going on right now?  What kind of channels are you working or are you planning after the election to -- to have some sort of dialogue with Taliban -- the Taliban? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  The -- you know, obviously, that's -- that is a process that's Afghan-led.  And we are -- we are following it closely.  We clearly are open to any opportunity to be able to further reconciliation. 

            We believe that the ultimate solution in Afghanistan is going to -- is going to have to involve a political settlement and -- and that -- that should be fully pursued.  And so even as we continue the battle, even as we continue to implement the campaign plan that General Allen put in place, we are also continuing to look at opportunities for reconciliation.

            MR. LITTLE:  Yes, sir?

            Q:  (inaudible) from Al Arabi News Channel – Mr. Secretary. 

            The Syrian opposition is asking or requesting, let's say, a specific military equipment.  Can you tell us your approach?  Does United States doesn’t it allow, let's say, its allies like Qatar or (inaudible) to provide the Syrian opposition with sensitive arms like portable missiles? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  As -- as I've stated before, the United States is really operating in three important areas related to Syria.  Number one - -and this is in addition to the diplomatic efforts working with our allies to try to apply as much diplomatic pressure as possible to get Assad to step down.  But in addition to that, there are three areas that we are continuing to work at. 

            One is the humanitarian aid.  We've done -- provided funds for humanitarian assistance, and we also have provided other facilities that are needed in order to be able to support the -- the large number of refugees that have gathered in these different camps.  So we're continuing to provide humanitarian assistance and we will do that.

            Secondly, we are monitoring the CBW sites that are in -- in Syria.  We continue to be concerned about security of those sites.  We want to ensure that that security is maintained and we also want to be very sure that those CBW and chemical weapons do not fall into the wrong hands. 

            And so we are continuing to work -- to work with regional partners to not only monitor the situation, but to continue to evaluate what the status is with regards to their security. 

            The third area is assisting the opposition.  And we have been providing nonlethal support for the opposition.  I know there are countries in the region that are providing lethal support, but our effort is aimed at trying to work with the opposition to try to work with them in every way possible to assist them in the effort to try to develop their capabilities as well. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Dave Alexander of Reuters? 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, did the BAE-EADS merger come up in your conversations here at NATO?  And does the Pentagon -- the Pentagon have any concerns about such a merger? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  They did not directly come up.  You know, there were some side conversations with regards to it, but I have to tell you that our position was that until, you know, the deal actually came together, that we really had -- had no comment to make with regards to whether we were for or against the effort to bring those two companies together. 

            MR. LITTLE:  We have time for two more questions.  We'll start with this gentleman here. 

            Q:  Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence Weekly.  

            Mr. Panetta, back to Afghanistan, in your view, do you think the Afghan security forces will have all the equipment they need by the end of 2014?  And secondly, in the nonmilitary sphere, does the U.S. government have any plans to shore up the borders around Afghanistan, not only in the east, but elsewhere, just to maintain the country's security? 

            Thank you. 

            SEC. PANETTA:  I -- I met with Minister Mohammadi and we had a very good conversation.  I've worked with him before in his prior capacity.  I think he'll provide very good leadership with regards to the Afghan army. 

            But one of the things we discussed is what can we do to make sure that his army is well equipped in order to be able to provide security.  We've already been providing, obviously, equipment and supplies and support.  We've enabled them in a number of ways to be able to fulfill their security mission. 

            Our goal, frankly, is to try to develop their enabling capability as well, to be able to do medevac, to be able to do air support, to be able to do all of the other support systems that are critical to them providing full security for their country in the future.  That's going to take some time, but we're going to continue to work at that. 

            As we -- as we make this transition, we will continue to respond to their needs so that they can effectively deploy their forces in a way that secures the country.  So, they're aware of, you know, our cooperation here.  They're aware that we will do everything we can to make sure that -- that they can do what -- the job that they're committed to doing, which is to be able to secure their country. 

            With regards to the borders, obviously there is concern.  There's been increasing concern over the last few weeks over the exchange of fire between the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  And obviously, it is going to be critical for a country like Afghanistan to be able to be sovereign, to be secure, to be able to govern their country, that they're going to have to protect their borders as well. 

            And I think the ability to protect those borders, the ability to secure those borders I think is going to be part and parcel of the challenge that they will confront as they try to establish their independence.

            MR. LITTLE:  And a final question in the back.  

            Yes, ma'am? 

            QUESTION:  Hello Mr. Panetta, I would like to ask you about the agreement that you are going to sign in an hour ago about missiles defense with Spanish minister of defense, about the Rota base.  I would like to have your comments on that.  Thank you. 

            SEC. PANETTA:  Oh, okay.  Thank you. 

            We, you know, one of the things we have been working on is the whole effort to promote missile defense throughout NATO.  And we -- we've had very good cooperation from countries in that effort.  And in particular, we are very pleased that Spain has accepted the Aegis destroyers, and that we will be able to deploy them to Rota.  They have that capability.  

            And I think it not only strengthens the missile defense for Europe, it strengthens the relationship within NATO to bring together the capabilities we need in order to better secure and defend not only this area, but to promote peace in the world.  And this is a key to that. 

            So I'm -- I'm very grateful to -- to Spain.  I'm grateful to my counterpart in the Ministry of Defense for his willingness to be able to provide that opportunity to deploy this missile defense system to defense through the use of the Aegis. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Thank you, everyone.  Good afternoon.