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Press Conference with Secretary Panetta and Minister of Defence Sukampol in Bangkok, Thailand

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Minister of Defence Air Chief Marshal Sukampol Suwannathat
November 15, 2012

            MODERATOR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  Minister of defence, secretary of defense of the United States of America, the (inaudible) secretary for defence, distinguished participants, executive commanders, may I now invite the Minister of Defence Air Chief Marshal Sukampol Suwannathat and Honorable Secretary Panetta, United States Secretary of Defense, to please proceed on stage. 

            May I now invite the minister of defense of the Kingdom of Thailand and the secretary of defense from the United States of America to please sign the Joint Vision Statement 2012 for Thai-U.S. Defense Alliance.  (Applause.) 

            May I now invite Ambassador Kenney, (inaudible), General Waldhauser, Mr. Lippert, Mr. Little and Mr. (inaudible) to please proceed on stage for a photo session. 

            May I now ask those in the photo session to please proceed back to their seats. 

            Next will be a press statement. 

            MINISTER OF DEFENCE AIR CHIEF MARSHAL SUKAMPOL SUWANNATHAT:  (UNTRANSLATED) 

            (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  I now invite Secretary Panetta to please deliver a press statement. 

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA:  Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.  

            Good afternoon.  It is truly an honor to have this opportunity to visit Thailand as the United States secretary of defense.  

            I want to thank the minister for his gracious hospitality and for hosting me here in Bangkok. 

            I also want to come here as secretary to affirm very strongly that the United States-Thailand Defense alliance remains strong and it remains one of our great alliances in this region.  And also because of the recognition that Thailand will be increasingly important in the collective security efforts to promote peace and prosperity in this region. 

            I also wanted to come here to personally express my appreciation to the minister and to the Thai military for the close cooperation and generous support they have provided American forces over the years.  This has been an historic relationship and an important relationship between Thailand and the United States.  

            Recognizing that our future prosperity and future security are closely tied to that of the Asia-Pacific region, President Obama has committed the United States to working even more closely with our friends and allies in this region, deepening our engagement through diplomacy, through trade and through stronger military-to-military relations.  I know he looks forward to further discussing these issues when he arrives here later this week. 

            America's engagement with Thailand is a crucial part of these broader efforts.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Rusk-Thanat Communique which committed our two nations to halting the spread of communism.  

            Today, the minister and I move this alliance into the 21st century by signing a joint vision statement that will help pave the way for even stronger military-to-military ties as we adapt to the shared threats and challenges that we will face together in this region and in the future. 

            As this vision statement makes clear, our defense cooperation will focus on four key areas. First, partnering for regional security in Southeast Asia, developing that -- that strong partnership in order to ensure better security. 

            Secondly, supporting stability in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.  Thirdly, enhancing the readiness of our forces and their ability to operate more closely. 

            And, finally, strengthening our bilateral defense relationship, our coordination and our collaboration at all levels. 

            As we focus on these areas of cooperation, I want to convey that the United States remains committed to helping the Thai military further develop its already impressive capabilities, so that it can assume even greater security responsibilities in this region, particularly in maritime security and in humanitarian relief and in peace-keeping operations. 

            Let me once again deeply thank the minister for our discussion.  We discussed a number of areas that concern both of our countries from a security point of view. 

            I want to thank him for his hospitality.  And I want to convey my deepest thanks for the outstanding defense alliance that will benefit both of our nations for many years to come. 

            Thailand is an important ally in the Asia-Pacific region, and we look forward to strengthening that alliance to ensure the friendship and security of both our nations in the future.  Thank you. 

            We have to answer questions. 

            MODERATOR:  (UNTRANSLATED) 

            (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  Next will be a question-and-answer session with two questions from each side.  The Thai side will begin. 

            Q:  Good afternoon, -- (inaudible) -- minister of defence and -- (inaudible).  I don't know for sure that you have talked just recently about the U-Tapao Naval Base of Thailand, about -- HA-DR -- center relief -- you have -- I mean that U.S. have any plan to set up -- I mean, humanitarian and disaster relief center at U-Tapao Naval Base of Thailand?  You any have any plan there? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  No, we do not have any plans. 

            Q:  No.  Do you have any -- any plan to do something with a military purpose?  I mean U.S.-- 

            SEC. PANETTA:  No, we don't. 

            Q:  Okay.  I'm sorry.  And another question is for everybody.  You have any plan to up the scale of the Cobra Gold exercise?  I mean, to -- to add more scale up Cobra Gold exercise with Thai? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  No, we don't. 

            Q:  No, everything -- (inaudible) -- 

            SEC. PANETTA:  No, we -- you know, we're very, very proud of our Cobra Gold exercise the way it is, and we intend to continue that. 

            Q:  Yes, concerning Petraeus and his activities.  Are you concerned that the Taliban in Afghanistan can use that for their propaganda advantage because, as you know, the Taliban take adultery as a serious crime, death by stoning?  Are you concerned about what the Taliban could do with that? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, you know, I mean, obviously, you're never quite sure what the Taliban may or may not use for propaganda purposes to try to advance their cause. 

            And, you know, obviously, you know, this is a possible area for them to explore.  But I think, frankly, that, you know -- that if they want to have an impact there are probably other issues they could focus on besides the Petraeus matter. 

            MODERATOR:  We'll take the next question from the U.S. side. 

            Phil Stewart? 

            Q:  Yes, Mr. Secretary.  A two-part question on General Allen. 

            Are some of the e-mails between General Allen and Jill Kelley sexually explicit in nature?  And we've seen General Dempsey suggesting that he hasn't seen anything to derail Allen's nomination at this point.  Do you agree with that? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  Are they sexually explicit and will -- you think -- do I think they'll derail his nomination? 

            Q:  General Dempsey saying he doesn't see anything at this point. 

            SEC. PANETTA:  Yes.  You know, again, as I mentioned, you know, when this was brought to my attention, I thought it was important to refer it to the Defense Department's Department [Office] of the Inspector General in order to determine what the facts are here. 

            And what I don't want to do is to try to characterize those communications because I think I don't want to do anything that would impact on their ability to conduct an objective review of what -- what was contained in those e-mails. 

            As I said, I have tremendous confidence in General Allen, certainly his ability and his leadership, and I don't think anybody ought to jump to any conclusions as to where any of this will lead.  But I do think it's important for the inspector general to conduct this review so that we can get to the facts and determine what exactly happened here. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post. 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, federal law enforcement officials now say that General Petraeus' mistress sent warning e-mails about the other woman not only to General Allen but to other senior U.S. military officials as well.  

            Are you concerned that more people who work for you could get drawn into this scandal?  And is there any evidence so far that other military officials may have exhibited potentially inappropriate behavior? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  I have -- I am not aware of any others that could be involved in this issue at the present time.  

            Obviously, as this matter continues to be investigated both on Capitol Hill and by the inspector general, I'm sure that, you know, that we'll have to await and see what additional factors are brought to our attention. 

            I do think that -- that it is important that -- that we ensure that the public understands that the vast majority of our military officers -- and let's not forget we have 1,000 -- 1,000 officers -- 1,000 general officers and admirals who lead our forces.  And they do it with distinction and they do it with courage and they do it with good leadership, and they do it on an ethically high standard. 

            And I don't think we ought to forget that as we -- as we discuss what's occurred in these last few weeks. 

            I do think it's important that we recognize that our fundamental mission is to protect this country and that one thing I -- I do demand, and I think we all demand at DOD, is that those who seek to protect this country operate by the highest ethical standards. 

            MODERATOR(THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  This concludes the questions-and-answers session. 

            We ask the dignitaries to please proceed downstairs for a farewell of the Guard of Honor.  Thank you.