Panetta Discusses Defense With Top Officials in Peru
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Oct. 6, 2012 The United States is committed to deepening its defense relationship with Peru, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, left, speaks with Peruvian Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano Bellido in Lima, Peru, Oct. 5, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
During his first visit to the country as defense secretary, Panetta discussed areas of common interest with Peru’s highest political and military officials, including President Ollanta Humala and Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano Bellido.
“We were able to build on significant progress that has … strengthened the bilateral relationship between our two militaries,” Panetta said during a press briefing in Lima at the Peruvian Ministry of Defense, known locally as the Pentagonito.
“Peru is a strong democratic partner of the United States, and I’m pleased that the relationship between our two militaries continues to grow closer, especially in recent years,” he said.
The visit to Peru is the first stop during a weeklong trip for the secretary to South America and to NATO headquarters in Brussels to meet with his counterparts and other officials in both regions.
This morning, as he left the hotel for meetings at the presidential palace, Panetta took photos with and shook the hands of U.S. Embassy staff members and Marines who gathered in the lobby to see him.
After meetings at the palace with the Peruvian president and other officials, Panetta shared a stage with the Peruvian defense minister, the U.S. Ambassador Rose Likins and Peru’s Ambassador to the United States, Harold Forsyth.
“Our two countries are friends; our two countries are partners in trying to advance the prosperity and security of this region … and the prosperity and security of Latin America,” Panetta said. “My goal is to do everything I can to strengthen that partnership ….”
About his hour-long meeting with Humala, Panetta said, “I told him in particular that the United States is embarked on a new era in the relationship with this great hemisphere. The principal thrust of our new defense strategy is aimed at reaching out and developing partnerships and alliances throughout the world, particularly in this region of the world.”
The United States is part of the family of the Americas, all of which face some common challenges, the secretary said, including terrorism, drug trafficking, meeting the needs of victims of natural disasters and protecting maritime rights.
To Humala, Panetta conveyed the regards of President Barack Obama, who indicated that the United States will do whatever it can to work with its friends in Peru.
“I ended the meeting with the president using the words of my Italian father,” the secretary said, speaking a phrase in Italian that means, ‘step by step we can go a long way. ’“And that’s what I hope to do in the relationship between the United States and Peru,” he added.
Later in the afternoon, Panetta traveled to the Peruvian Defense Ministry, where Peruvian service members held an arrival ceremony for the secretary.
They stood in military formation while Panetta reviewed the troops, and then a military band played the Star Spangled Banner and their own national anthem.
During a press conference there with Cateriano, Panetta said he and the Peruvian leaders in their meetings had a chance to discuss areas of common interest where opportunities exist for more collaboration, including humanitarian assistance, internal security, defense reform, U.N. peacekeeping and regional security.
An example of cooperation in humanitarian assistance, Panetta said, is Joint Disaster Response training provided by a recently completed New Horizons exercise that involved 420 U.S. and 100 Peruvian service members.
The exercise also provided nearly $8 million in humanitarian aid to vulnerable communities recovering from the country’s 2007 earthquake, he added.
“I want you to know that 26,000 Peruvians were able to receive medical and dental care as a result of that exercise and our strong partnership,” the secretary noted, adding, “We want to be able to continue to build that capacity for the future.”
In terms of internal security, Peru has conducted successful operations against narcoterrorists, illustrating the value of joint operations in close coordination with the Peruvian police, Panetta said.
“The United States stands ready to work with Peru on joint planning, information sharing [and] trilateral cooperation with Colombia to address our shared security concerns in this area,” he added.
On defense reform, the United States is committed to working with the Peruvian Ministry of Defense in this area, he said. “I believe our two militaries can exchange important lessons on ways to improve the functioning of our respective defense establishments.”
Peru has been a regional leader in contributing to U.N. peacekeeping operations, Panetta said.
“I want to commend the Peruvian military for its contribution with an all-female unit in Haiti,” he said. “That is a groundbreaking step and one that demonstrates Peru’s commitment to deploying effective peacekeepers across the region and beyond.”
The secretary said he and the Peruvian defense minister together will attend the 10th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas this week in Uruguay, offering that venue as an example of cooperation in regional security.
The conference, he said, “is a very important mechanism to discuss issues of common concern for all the nations in this hemisphere, such as enhancing coordination in the area of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Peru will host the CDMA in 2014 and I want to thank Peru for its willingness to serve in that capacity.”
Each of the five areas offers opportunities for greater collaboration between the U.S. and Peruvian militaries, the secretary said, adding that the nations can bolster such cooperation by working to update their Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in 1952.
“The U.S. is committed to working with Peru to do that, and it will improve our ability to conduct joint activities and do training and other exchanges, and ultimately help us deal with shared security challenges in the future,” he said.
After the press conference, the Peruvian officials honored Panetta by presenting him with the Peruvian Military Order of Ayacucho, awarded mainly to military, civil guard and republican guard personnel for distinguished service in positions of command. During the ceremony, the defense secretary received a red and white sash and the Grand Cross, a bronze gilded and enameled medal.
Panetta said he was honored to receive the award and accepted it on behalf of the brave men and women who serve in the U.S. military and who are part of the Defense Department.
“I consider [the honor] a reflection of the very close relationship and bonds that we have between the people of the United States and the people of Peru,” the secretary said.