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Secretary Panetta and Canadian Minister MacKay hold a Joint News Conference

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Canadian Minister of National Defense Peter MacKay, and George Little, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
September 28, 2012

            It's -- it's always an honor to be able to welcome Minister Peter MacKay to the Pentagon.  This is the second time I've had the privilege of hosting Peter here in Washington and it's the seventh time that we've met since I became secretary of defense. 

            I think it's fair to say we've built a very close working relationship between our two countries.  We're not just neighbors.  We are very close allies and we are working together on a number of issues. 

            Our close working relationship, I think, testifies to the importance of the larger U.S.-Canada relationship and to our defense partnership.  Our countries, as I said, are neighbors.  We're friends and our militaries are working closely together not just for the security of our two countries, but for the security and stability of the Americas and of the world. 

            This morning, Peter and I had the opportunity to discuss a range of important issues in advance of next month's conference of defense ministers of the Americas, which both of us will be attending.  I look forward to joining him in Uruguay as we try to develop, you know, a future course of action with regards to this hemisphere. 

            We have shared our perspectives on the need for greater security collaboration across the Western Hemisphere, particularly regarding humanitarian assistance in disaster relief.  We think that's a real potential for bringing countries together in a common effort, and we will be discussing that further at the conference. 

            We also discussed the upcoming NATO defense ministerial, which will take place right after that, and how we can work together to implement the Chicago summit priorities. 

            One of these priorities is obviously building modern, integrated capabilities on the part of NATO forces and the -- the NATO forces' 2020 goal. 

            On Afghanistan, I thanked Peter for Canada's critical contributions to training Afghan forces, particularly as we continue to transition to an Afghan security lead. 

            And lastly, we discussed regional security challenges in the Middle East, including Iran, and some of the common concerns that we share about dealing with Iran. 

            On a personal note, later today, I want to point out that Peter will be accepting the William J. Perry Award from the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies for his contributions to security cooperation in the Western Hemisphere. 

            It was then Secretary Perry who helped establish the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas.  So the award, I think, is truly a fitting tribute to Peter for all that he has done to advance security in this hemisphere. 

            Thank you, Peter, for your leadership.  Thank you for your friendship.  And thank you for your continuing cooperation with the United States in trying to deal with the security issues that both of our countries face. 

            I really do believe that the close ties between our two militaries and the tremendous contribution of the Canadian forces is helping us provide greater security not only between our two countries, but across the world. 

            So, Thank you very much. 

            MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENSE PETER MACKAY:  Thank you very much.  Thank you for those -- those kind words and your gracious hosting of myself and our delegation -- the Canadian delegation here at the Pentagon once again. 

            And to echo your sentiments about the close and abiding working relationship between Canada and the United States, I don't think it's overstating it to say that there are not two more closer peoples on the planet when it comes to our values, when it comes to our commitment to global security.  And our efforts are lasting, resilient.  We continue to work closely in so many sectors, but first and foremost security. 

            And like yourself, I've traveled a great deal in recent months, recent years, in fact.  And I know the grueling schedule that you keep.  And we're very cognizant of the fact that your leadership is having effect.  What we have seen in Afghanistan in particular, our close working relationship there, while it remains a challenging mission, there is -- is progress and there is hope.  And this is what we had always anticipated is the eventual turnover of security responsibility will allow this country -- allow Afghanistan and hopefully the region to spread that security and spread that hope. 

            I also know that our experience in joint operations, as well as joint training exercises like RIMPAC allows us to improve our interoperability, and NORAD remains the primary security apparatus for North America.  And our shared responsibilities for North American security is something that Canada is deeply committed to, including the -- the facility at -- at Colorado Springs. 

            So we're -- we're very grateful for the remarkable and enduring security relationship that we have established over the years, and, as well, spreading that security effort further into the region, into the Americas. 

            Our humanitarian relief efforts, our efforts to continue to work both bilaterally and multilaterally with -- with countries in the Americas is a shared commitment. 

            And as we prepare to attend the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, this is, again, an opportunity for us to unilaterally reach into the neighborhood, into -- literally into our backyard, and improve the partnerships and reemphasize our commitment as two nations in North America, working with our partners throughout the region. 

            And I'm very much looking forward to that conference.  I think that this is a chance for Canada and the United States to up our game and demonstrate that commitment in tangible ways. 

            So I'm, again, personally very, very grateful for the strong working relationship that we have enjoyed and continue to enjoy.  Having hosted you in Canada, along with our Mexican counterparts, as well the many, many NATO meetings we've attended in Brussels, but in other locations as well, and your hosting in Chicago this past summer, and throughout -- throughout both our time in office, I dare say that we have seen the defense relationship reach new heights. 

            And so, once again, Secretary Panetta, I really do appreciate your leadership, your friendship and -- and your advice, because I know one of the areas where Canada does hope to establish greater credentials -- if I can put it that way -- is in the Pacific.  And so we take very close note of -- of recent decisions and pronouncements that have been made about the United States intentions to continue their presence in the Pacific.  And Canada is similarly making decisions in that regard. 

            So thank you once again. 

            SEC. PANETTA:  Thank you very much. 

            GEORGE LITTLE:  Mr. Secretary, Mr. Minister, thank you. 

            We'll take two questions per side.  We'll start with -- (inaudible). 

            Q:  Secretary Panetta, do you agree with where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew his red line, literally, yesterday at the U.N.?  And are you any more assured now about -- that there may will not -- that there will not be an imminent Israeli strike on Iran? 

            And to Minister MacKay, if you could elaborate a bit to us here -- I know this has been discussed in the past -- about the decision to withdraw the mission from Iran? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  You know, I think we've made very clear what the policy of the United States is with regard to Iran.  And the president has made it clear, I've made it clear that the United States' position is that we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.  This is not about containment; this is about prevention.  And so that has been and remains the policy of the United States. 

            And with regard to what Israel will or will not do, you know, our -- I think -- our hope is that both the United States and Israel and the international community can work together to try to ensure that we achieve the same end, which is that Iran does not attain a nuclear weapon and that, hopefully, we can try to resolve these issues peacefully as opposed to militarily. 

            MIN. MACKAY:  Canada along with the United States, international community continues to have these deep concerns.  Our prime minister has called Iran the most dangerous place on the planet.  He underscored those comments again in New York yesterday and talked about the clear and present danger that Iran poses to the world.  And after a great deal of deliberation and discussion with our allies, including the United States, we took the considered opinion that our embassy staff could no longer be exposed to risk, given the circumstances inside Iran. 

            It also was intended, and I believe did send a clear signal to the Iranian regime that the sanctions and decisions of countries like Canada are a reflection and a repudiation of their action.  Their posturing, their threats to their neighbors to the world, won't be tolerated.  And so our decision to close the embassy was in keeping with increased sanctions, messaging, and a direct delivery of -- of further importance that we place on Iran abandoning its nuclear ambitions and working in a more collaborative, cooperative way with the international community. 

            GEORGE LITTLE:  Keith of the CBC.  

Q:  Mr. MacKay, on the same topic, with regard specifically to the question of a red line, there seems to be a disagreement between Netanyahu and the United States.  Where is Canada on that? 

            MIN. MACKAY:  Well, Keith, to be frank with you, I think that there have been a number of red lines placed already, and Iran has edged closer and stepped over those red lines on a number of occasions, now particularly when it comes to cooperation around the subject of inspections.  And the rhetoric that continues to come from the regime, particularly from Ahmadinejad, is unnerving in the extreme.  And even his comments this week continue to cause tremendous consternation in capitals around the world. 

            So Canada, I think, has been consistent.  I think our decision to close the embassy is in keeping with clear signaling and communication that we want to send to the regime, and Minister Baird and the prime minister, I think, have made Canada's position very clear.  And that is, we have a different expectation of Iran than their current behavior. 

            Q:  Does that mean that the red line argument is a sterile argument because -- (inaudible)? 

            MIN. MACKAY:  Well, I think people, you know, can interpret where and -- and what the red line is.  But the achieving of nuclear capability is the red line.  When and where that kicks in, I guess is open to interpretation. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Barbara, CNN. 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you about Syria's chemical weapons.  You have spoken extensively about your broad concern about it.  I want to ask you with some specificity this morning.  Rebel groups are claiming that they have captured some military sites in Iraq -- in Syria -- where, in fact, they have found chemical weapons components, capability, whatever it may be, at some of the areas they now control. 

            So do you now believe that rebels have essentially found -- do you have concerns that they have found some of Syria's chemical weapons capability? 

            Do you believe that Syria's chemical weapons have been moved beyond the initial incident of many, many weeks ago?  And what concerns does this now pose in the equation? 

            Does it raise a concern that Iranian Al-Quds inside Syria could also be getting their hands on chemical capability there? 

            SEC. PANETTA:  First and foremost, as I've -- as I've expressed, obviously we -- we continue to have a concern about the security of the CBW sites, and we continue to monitor that.  We're working with -- with the countries in the region to ensure that -- that we have the best information possible with regards to the sites and how they're being secured. 

            At -- at this stage, with regards to, you know, the major sites that we're looking at, we do believe that those sites still remain secured by -- by the Syrian military. 

            There has been intelligence that there have been some moves that have taken place.  Where exactly that's taken place, we don't know.  I don't have any specific information about the opposition and whether or not they've obtained some of this or how much they've obtained and just exactly what's taken place. 

            But with regards to, you know, the movement of the -- of some of this and whether or not they've been able to locate some of it, we just don't know. 

            The main point I would make, though, is that we still believe that, based on what we know and what we're monitoring, that the principal sites that we are concerned about still remain secure. 

            Q:  I'm sorry, sir, can I just ask you to clarify?  You have for the first time, I think, are saying moves, multiple moves of chemical weapons.  We knew of one incident many, many weeks ago. 

            Can you elaborate?  And you're not talking about the main sites.  So are you seeing things move?  Just tell us what you mean. 

            SEC. PANETTA:  What -- what we mean is that there has been some intelligence that -- that, with regards to some of these sites, that there has been some movement in order to -- for the Syrian to better secure what they -- the chemicals.  And while there's been some limited movement, again, the major sites still remain in place, still remain secure. 

            But as to, you know, the movement of some of these -- these materials and what, you know -- whether or not they've been exposed to -- to possession by -- by the opposition or others, that's something we -- I -- I really don't have any firm information to confirm that that's taken place. 

            Q:  But if they're still secure -- that if -- if you're saying they're secure -- 

            SEC. PANETTA:  The main sites -- the main sites, as we've determined and monitored, still remain secure. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Paul -- (inaudible). 

            Q:  Thanks very much. 

            Minister MacKay, go back to your suggestion that the red lines are open to interpretation.  I'm interested in yours.  The Israeli prime minister drew a very clear one yesterday.  Is that a valid red line in the opinion of the government of Canada to warrant Israeli attacks on Iran? 

            MIN. MACKAY:  I think the more important question, Paul, is it -- is it the red line in the minds of the Israelis.  And so Canada has been consistent in saying that we continue to encourage the international community, the United Nations, to keep the pressure on the Iranian regime; to pursue the sanctions; to pursue diplomatic pressures and interventions where and when we have those opportunities.  And unfortunately, those opportunities are becoming less and less obvious and less and less effective. 

            So, you know, the preferred options always will be and remains these alternatives to keeping the pressure on Iran to bring about more acceptable behavior.  But, you know, trying to shift the attitude of this regime and their leadership has proven to be enormously challenging. 

            Q:  Okay, but my question was, do you or don't you endorse the prime minister of Israel's red line? 

            MIN. MACKAY:  Well, the Israelis are going to make their own decisions.  They're going to consult with their allies.  They're going to continue to signal very clearly their alarm over the -- the nuclear ambitions of Iran.  And we are going to continue to work with them. 

            But these are sovereign decisions.  I think it's fair to say that the United States, Canada still believe that the effective use of sanctions and diplomacy will be the preferred option in trying to bring about corrections in the direction that the Iranians have been headed. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Thank you, everyone.