SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: Thank you, Mr. Minister, and good afternoon. And buenas tardes to everyone. I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to the minister and to the Chilean people for showing me such warm hospitality on my visit here to Santiago. This is my first trip to Chile as the United States secretary of defense.
I come from the central coast of California. I was born in Monterey and I am the son of Italian immigrants. And so both in blood and in spirit, I feel a strong connection with this country. Like California, Chile has a vast Pacific coastline, immense natural resources and a dynamic economy that has brought prosperity to its people.
The United States and Chile are neighbors. We are friends. And we have built a longstanding defense relationship founded on mutual respect, on shared values and on the goal of advancing peace and stability in this hemisphere and beyond. This shared goal has been the focus of my meetings throughout Latin America and it was the focus of my meetings today with President Pinera and Minister Allamand.
In my meeting with the minister, we continued a discussion that we began last month in Washington about how can we enhance collaboration in areas of key interest to us both: building up the security capacity of nations in the hemisphere, countering illicit drug trafficking, meeting humanitarian needs, working together on issues like cyber, confronting those who would undermine the stability of our countries, and defense institutional reform.
Let me mention an example of a common effort to confront narco-trafficking that just took place in an operation called Operation Martillo, a multinational and interagency drug interdiction effort targeting trafficking routes in the Caribbean and the Pacific, waters near Central America. Chile is making an important contribution to this effort.
Earlier today, the United States announced that as part of Operation Martillo, our forces conducted a major drug bust off the coast of Panama and seized $362 million worth in cocaine. I’d like to commend the United States Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service who were in the lead in the effort, with the support of the United States Southern Command.
These are the kinds of results that strong partnerships can deliver. And today’s operation shows how important it is for countries in the region to cooperate and work together to confront these kinds of threats and to build even stronger mechanisms of regional security cooperation.
Another example of that is the effort to strengthen regional security cooperation, particularly as we look ahead to this year’s Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas in Uruguay, which both the minister and I will be attending.
A particularly important initiative in this year’s forum, which the minister and I discussed, is humanitarian assistance and disaster response coordination. This initiative I believe will improve our ability to respond to natural disasters by creating a framework to share information, share expertise and deliver the life-saving capabilities that we absolutely need to help save lives for our people more quickly and more effectively.
This country clearly understands what it means to respond to natural disasters. And, the critical lessons that have been learned here, we need to provide to the rest of the hemisphere. I commend Chile’s leadership in helping advance this proposal and I look forward to working with them to try to make this a reality. The 2010 earthquake and more recently the forest fires that afflicted the Torres del Paine have demonstrated the country’s tremendous capability in meeting these challenges with fortitude and resilience.
And I commend the Chilean government and the Chilean people because they are an inspiration to the United States and to the world in how to overcome adversity and emerge even stronger.
Chile and the United States share more than a hemisphere in common. We also share the Pacific Ocean and are both Pacific nations. The security and prosperity of both the United States and Chile depends on Asia-Pacific. That’s where many of the key challenges and opportunities in the 21st century lie. The stakes for both nations are great and we need to work together as Pacific partners to confront these challenges and to seek additional opportunities in this area.
The United States recently developed a new defense strategy and that strategy focuses on several important elements, obviously the importance of agility and flexibility and technological advances. But we also stress the importance of the Asia-Pacific region, and we also stress the importance of building innovative security partnerships with countries, particularly in this hemisphere, partnerships that can help be able to provide and meet the challenges that we confront in this area.
The U.S.-Chile defense relationship in many ways is a fulfillment of the strategy that we laid out. It is exactly the kind of partnership we need under the strategy to help advance global peace and global security. So I’m very grateful to the minister and to the president and to the Chilean people for their friendship, for their shared commitment to building a safer world for the future.
We are one family in this hemisphere, una famiglia, as we say in Italian. And like any family, we must work together to give our children a better life, a more secure life and to protect our people.
CHILEAN DEFENSE MINISTER ANDRES ALLAMAND: (Translated from Spanish.) Very well. On behalf of the government of Chile, I would like to thank the secretary of defense, Mr. Panetta, for his presence here. And as he has stated, between Chile and the United States there is a very deep, longstanding and fruitful relationship at the bilateral level.
Not only do Chile and the United States share important values such as the respect for democracy, for social justice and for individual rights, but also we have a common vision in terms of the need to make progress towards a world at peace with good governance and open, competitive economies. I should note that Chile of course has been the first country in South America to sign a free trade agreement with the United States as well and (inaudible).
In the area of defense, our relationship is equally fruitful. Specifically, we have a shared vision that is expressed both in the strategy of security and defense that the United States has just released as well as in the strategy for defense that we here in Chile are in the final stages of drafting.
We share with the United States the idea that the world today is confronting what are called new threats, and among those new threats we have trafficking, organized crime, cyberattacks, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons.
However, the point on which we dovetail the most with the United States in this area is the certainty that in order to make progress toward a world in which peace reigns globally and regionally, we must establish innovative forums and forms of cooperation, partnerships among the different countries and the different regions. It is the belief of the government of Chile is that all countries must make their contribution to peace and security across the globe.
Specifically, we’ve had an opportunity with Secretary Panetta to address two topics that are particularly important to Chile, one that has to do with peacekeeping operations. As you know well, Chile has always had an active presence in PKOs and most recently President Pinera has authorized the deployment of two Chilean observers, one in Lebanon and one in the Golan Heights so that they can participate in the mission of observers that at this time is operating in Syria, so they’ve been redeployed from their previous locations to Syria. We are showing our willingness to contribute in the peacekeeping operations where our participation is needed.
And also, as Secretary Panetta has said, we have a profound interest in continuing to work with all of the countries across the region in securing an organization and a structure that will enable us to respond globally and throughout the hemisphere so that we can effectively grapple with natural disasters or need to engage in any form of humanitarian aid across our region.
I’m going to say in English that between the Chile and the U.S., we share a lot of principles in terms of what is a need in terms of having a more safe world. As you know, Chile is by now in the final stage of the development of its national -- of its first national security and defense strategy and there exist a lot of similarities between both countries, the U.S. and Chile, in this regard.
We share the concerns about the risks of what are called the new threats to security, such as drug trafficking, organized crime, civil attacks, terrorism and arms proliferation. We agree on the importance of the Pacific and in the need to safeguard the value of peace in a regional and in a global level. And we also agree that in the future, the global security of the world demands cooperation and innovative alliances between our countries.
Q: (Inaudible) -- Martinez for 24 hours of national TV of Chile. Mr. Panetta, a few days ago, congressmen here in Chile criticized and denounced U.S. military interests present in Chile in regard to a military base in the city of Concon. The Chilean navy has denied that and said that it is a PKO training facility for the United Nations. Could you confirm or deny the presence of the U.S. forces in Concon specifically and across the region in general?
SEC. PANETTA: There is absolutely no truth to that charge. The base that’s referred to is a peacekeeping base that is being operated by the Chilean government and the Chilean defense ministry in order to train those who that are involved in peacekeeping. My understanding is there’s about 12 nations that are involved in the training effort that participate in the training and obviously we help provide some support, but this is completely an effort that is being conducted by Chile and not the United States.
DEF. MIN. ALLAMAND: Let me simply supplement the secretary’s remarks in saying that that statement is completely groundless. Chile has a transition of operations in peacekeeping operations and (inaudible) the Chilean center that is recognized by the United Nations to provide training, both to Chilean forces, as well as foreign forces that will then subsequently under the support and at the orders and the request of the United Nations be deployed to different places across the globe.
In this case the U.S. contribution has been one solely for the purpose of improving the installations, of those installations, providing the (inaudible) only for the installations. And this training is led fully by Chilean military officers, in conjunction with officers from 12 other nations, including Brazil. I have a full list here -- Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Belize, Uruguay, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Canada, and of course Chilean forces.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, there’s new information about Secret Service being involved in possibly another episode of bad behavior about a year ago in El Salvador and that there may have been some military members also involved in that. Can you say whether or not there is any investigation by the Defense Department into other possible such instances of bad behavior over the last several years?
And also, how would you respond to some complaints from members of Congress yesterday that they were unhappy with the amount of information they’re getting from the Defense Department and also they’re concerned that six members of the military were allowed to continue working after the latest scandal was -- parts of that, at least, had become known to some of their supervisors?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, again, with regards to the investigation in Cartagena, we deployed an officer there to conduct that investigation and to find out exactly what the facts were. And that officer is in the process of completing that investigation. And it would -- the purpose of an investigation like that is, one, to obviously protect the rights of those involved, but it’s also intended to ensure that should a prosecution follow from that investigation that that prosecution is not jeopardized in any way by any kind of early revelation. So that information was presented to the Congress that the investigation is ongoing. When I get the results of that investigation, obviously, we’ll then determine what appropriate action ought to be taken against those if that is what the facts show, and then we will share that information with the Congress, as well as with all of you. So as soon as I get that report, you can be assured that we will present what the results of that are.
With regards to this other rumor that I was made aware of. We have no investigation -- ongoing investigation at this point in time with regards to those allegations.
Q: Good afternoon. I’m -- this is a collective question -- a collective question that is taken from several colleagues and it has to do with the new U.S. military strategy. I’d like to know how that new strategy would be applied in Latin America and I wonder whether the United States would be sending any troops to any countries in the Americas, as has been done previously in Panama when you felt that your interests are threatened and in that case, what would the role of Chile be?
SEC. PANETTA: The purpose of developing the new defense strategy in the United States was really for two reasons. Number one, obviously, we were responding to a direction from the Congress to reduce our defense budget by almost $487 billion over 10 years. But more importantly, we felt it was appropriate in light of that to look at what kind of strategy should the United States have that would not only provide a defense force for today, but also a defense force for 2020 and looking at what is it -- what is the kind of defense that we -- that the United States ought to have in the 21st century?
And we did that in conjunction with all of our service secretaries and our service chiefs, reviewing all of our defense areas to determine what would be the appropriate strategy. That strategy is made up of five elements. Number one, that we will have a smaller and leaner force as a result of drawing down in Iraq and ultimately in Afghanistan. But that force needs to be agile. It needs to be deployable. It needs to be flexible. And it needs to be technologically advanced.
Secondly, that because we thought it was important to focus on where the largest problems are that may confront us, we have a major focus in the Pacific and also a major focus in the Middle East.
In addition to that, we felt it was important to develop partnerships and alliances in other areas such as Europe, Africa, and Latin America. And what we are looking forward to there is to develop innovative security partnerships that make use of the capabilities that are being developed in the countries here. What kind of assistance we can provide, joint exercises, whatever other help and guidance that we can provide we believe would be important not only for those nations, but important for the United States to be able to develop those kinds of partnerships so that we can deal with the challenges that I talked about that we all share -- the challenge of narcotrafficking, the challenge of dealing with the cyberattacks that all of us are now experiencing, the challenge of providing humanitarian aid and disaster assistance when necessary, the challenge of confronting the threat of terrorism. All of these are common challenges that we share and we want to work together in a partnership with these countries in order to be able to deal with that.
This is no longer -- as I pointed out in a speech yesterday in Brazil, this is no longer an approach by the United States, where we’re saying to countries, don’t develop your military; the United States can take care of you. That’s no longer the case. Countries in Latin America are developing their own capabilities. We think that’s good and we want to work with them in that effort.
The fourth point I would make is that the United States feels that we have to -- if we have to confront more than one enemy, that we can confront them in the world and be able to defeat any enemy that tries to confront the United States.
And lastly, we think it’s important to invest in the technologies of the future, to invest in cyber, to invest in unmanned systems, to invest in space, to invest in special forces operations, and to invest in the ability to mobilize quickly. Those are all the key elements of our defense strategy.
DEF. MIN. ALLAMAND: I’d like to make a comment in addition to supplement that question. In Latin America, the time (inaudible) interventions, military interventions, whether internal or external, have come to an end. Today, Latin America is a region where democracy is the rule as is respect for individual rights. And it is particularly important to understand what Secretary Panetta has said. And that is that today all countries to a certain extent, and certainly Chile is one of the countries that interacts the most with the international community, we are present on the international stage. We have a very large number of free trade agreements. We are one of the most open economies in the world. But that as well demands of us, to the extent that we can do so, that we must provide our support to global issues in security that exist across the globe. If at any time we believe that some country alone, in an isolated fashion, whether it’d be the United States or any of the developed countries could have guaranteed global security (inaudible) to believe that is no longer the case.
Today, the proper term is cooperation in Latin America. We are a region of peace. Our countries have developed capacities, strategic capacities, military capacities that must be placed at the service of global threats and particularly at the service of humanitarian aid and the protection of our population. That is why we support the initiative that is being undertaken today in the conference (inaudible) of the Americas to be able to have an organization that is hemisphere-wide, that is strong and robust that can respond quickly to the needs of the region whenever we confront, emergencies of any nature, especially humanitarian aid.
Q: This is for Secretary Panetta. Benny Gantz, the head of the Israeli Defense Forces was quoted in Haaretz this morning -- this is on a different topic -- saying that he thought the Iranian leaders were rational and that they were going to hold off on building a nuclear weapon. Would you agree with that assessment and has your assessment, as quoted in the Washington Post, changed from February, when you said that there was a strong likelihood that Israel would strike Iran in April, May, or June of this year?
SEC. PANETTA: I read his statements and I guess I would say, you know, I would hope that he would be correct. Maybe he knows something more than I do with regards to Iran’s intentions. My view is that it’s important to make clear to Iran that they should not make that decision and that if -- if they proceed to make that kind of decision that obviously there would be serious consequences. On the other hand, we have the opportunity now, hopefully, to try to determine whether or not diplomatically we can find some resolution to the concerns that we have with Iran and hopefully that effort will produce some progress in this area. But I have -- I do not have any specific information that indicates that they have made a decision one way or the other with regards to developing a nuclear weapon.
Q: (Inaudible) do you think that the situation has calmed down from where it was, say, three months ago?
SEC. PANETTA: I’d like to hope so that the situation that appeared to be on the edge of -- you know -- of some kind of a conflict that because of the leadership of the United States, because of the leadership of the international community, hopefully because of the leadership of Israel that there is a willingness now to keep the international community unified in the effort to bring maximum pressure on Iran so that they can make the right decision with regards to joining the family of nations, backing away from any kind of nuclear capability that would violate international rules, and joining in a diplomatic solution to what is a very real crisis in that part of the world.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.