SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: This trip is -- is one to South America for the conference of defense ministers of the Americas and then, as you know, we go on to Europe for the NATO meetings and consultations with our allies to look at strategies and policies involved with NATO.
I just returned, as many of you know, from Asia Pacific and now I'm visiting Latin America and Europe to affirm our support for a strong defense cooperation in those regions.
We are as you know, implementing our defense strategy in this hemisphere but also throughout the world.
And in this hemisphere, we just announced to the department's Western Hemisphere defense statement which summarizes our strategy for this -- for this region.
But let me just read you a quote from the conclusion of that document. "During the past decade, a remarkable transformation has taken place in the Western Hemisphere. Across the region, countries are doing more than they ever have before to advance peace and security within and beyond their borders. Their efforts are promoting security and stability not only in the Americas, but across the globe and providing the United States with an historic opportunity to renew and strengthen our defense partnerships across the region."
That comes from a statement that I'd made with regards to that -- this hemisphere and I think it points out that we think that we are -- we are now in a -- in a different era when it comes to the security in the Americas.
The U.S. is no longer the sole provider of security in the hemisphere, as I made clear before. We're not interested in establishing bases in the hemisphere. Our goal is to work with the other nations of the region to help develop their capabilities and provide for their security.
The United States wants to encourage that -- that effort through forums such as the defense ministers forum and by developing innovative, low cost small footprint approaches to our shared objectives.
A little bit on each area, first stop is Peru. It's a very strong democratic partner for us in South America. The purpose of the visit is to pursue close cooperation between our militaries in our two countries on a range of bilateral and regional defense issues such as counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, humanitarian operations and information sharing.
The next stop is Uruguay and that will be the place where we have the 10th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas. And one important goal is to deepen our bilateral defense relationship with Uruguay to enable greater cooperation between our militaries.
And with regards to the conference, we are going to be discussing a range of important topics including a very important proposal to more effectively coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster relieve.
This is -- this is a -- a very important step for this conference to take. It's the first time all of the defense ministers will have come together on taking a step toward implementing humanitarian relief.
Final stop is in NATO at the ministerial in Brussels. I'll meet with NATO ministers for the fifth time and again; we'll discuss the progress that's been made since the Chicago Summit in May.
I'll convey U.S. support enhancing alliance capabilities, missile defense, cyber security, counterterrorism, countering WMD.
I'll also reassure our allies of our strong commitment to finishing the job in Afghanistan alongside our allies.
So with that…
MR. GEORGE LITTLE: OK, with the sizable press contingent here we'll go one question per person, so, Lita, why don't we start with you?
Q: OK. Well (inaudible) you've had a -- why don't we just go off topic. There were some arrests in Tunisia; they possibly have to do with the attack in Libya.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what you think that signals and what, if any, further information you might have about whether this is connected to AQIM or (inaudible) to other extremist groups in the area?
SEC. PANETTA: What I can tell you at this point is that we are -- we are following up on the -- the arrests that have been made and we're doing everything possible to make sure that we go after those who are involved in the attack in Libya.
As the president has said, our goal is to make sure that we bring those involved to justice and that's what we'll do.
And it involved, obviously, a very broad effort to try to make sure we can identify and capture those that were involved and bring them to justice.
Q: Do you -- do you think this was -- these people are -- these two who were arrested -- do you think they're related possibly to AQIM or do you think it's...
SEC. PANETTA: It's -- it's too early to tell. I mean, you know -- we know -- we know there's some connection, but frankly, we really don't have all the specifics.
Q: I've got a two tier question actually, two essentially.
Two questions, one regards to Latin America, the U.S. wants to deepen the relationship and defense cooperation, but at the same time, the foreign aid and the defense foreign aid is decreasing.
How can you tell the South Americans we want to do more with you with less?
My second question regards Syria and as the conflict drags on, the rebels are saying that Syrians might turn their back on the West for the lack of involvement in countering the Assad campaign. I want to know what you -- your comment on that.
SEC. PANETTA: OK. The first part was...
Q: How to to do more with less.
SEC. PANETTA: Oh yeah, how can I forget.
I think, you know, that the Defense Department, fortunately, has an -- an array of programs that can provide assistance in developing capabilities from these countries and, you know, at -- at this point, we -- we feel as a result of the -- not only the budget we submitted, but the budget that's making its way through Congress that will have sufficient resources to be able to follow through on the agreements that we're making with these various countries.
I do think that there is a legitimate concern about the cuts that could be made in foreign aid and the programs that the State Department administers and that -- that is a concern because the best way to approach our effort at developing these new partnership and alliances is to have a broad-based effort that not only includes what the Defense Department can do, but also what the State Department can add to that as well.
SEC. PANETTA: On, you know on...
No I know.
On -- on Syria, the -- the concern, you know, is obviously that we try to do as -- whatever we can to try to assist the opposition in trying to bring down Assad and be able to complete a political transition to the future.
This is not easy, it's difficult and it's challenging, but I -- I do have to say that, you know, the opposition is more than holding its own and the United States, working with other countries in the region is providing -- we are providing nonlethal assistance, but others are providing lethal assistance to try to help them.
We -- we have just -- we have to continue the international effort to do everything we can to try to make sure that Assad steps down then I think, ultimately, the will recognize that -- that the United States is doing everything we can to try to assist them in this effort.
GEORGE LITTLE: David?
Q: We're -- we're starting to see signs of currency disruption and unrest in Iran as a result of the economic sanctions and I wonder what you think the security implications are for this kind of instability, and the prospects for it spilling over beyond the borders of Iran.
We heard from -- we heard from President Karzai yesterday that he's frustrated -- angry that -- that ISAF hasn't done more to deal with the problem of -- of insurgency coming from Pakistan.
(Inaudible) and do you expect it to come up at NATO?
SEC. PANETTA: With regards to Iran, you know, we -- the whole purpose of applying the sanctions has been to put pressure on the regime in Iran to come to the table and negotiate our concern with regards to their nuclear program.
And these are -- these are tough sanctions and they're having a serious impact within Iran and I think the fact that there are these demonstrations reflects that, you know, people are feeling the impact of these sanctions.
I would hope that the combination of all of this would convince the regime and the government there to engage in serious negotiations to try to resolve the concerns of their nuclear program.
On Karzai, what we have -- we have made progress in Afghanistan because there are men and women in uniform who have been willing to fight and die for Afghanistan's sovereignty and their right to govern and secure themselves. We've lost over 2,000 U.S. men and women. ISAF has lost forces there and the Afghans have lost a large number of their forces in battle.
Those lives were lost fighting the right enemy, not the wrong enemy. And I think it would be helpful if the president, every once in a while expressed his thanks for the sacrifices that have been made by those would have fought and died for Afghanistan rather than criticizing them.
Q: Secretary General Rasmussen also mentioned cyber and he just mentioned cyber in the -- about -- for what will happen in Brussels. I wonder if you could say that -- a little bit more about that.
SEC. PANETTA: Yeah, as you -- as I'm sure you're aware, cyber's a growing concern. It's true in -- in the NATO countries, it's true in the United States, it true for nations throughout the world that cyber is increasingly being used in ways that can -- can undermine the security of countries. And for that reason, I think it's important for NATO to take steps to discuss what can be done to provide cyber security and also to discuss what steps can be taken to ensure that we -- we do everything possible to deter those countries that engage in cyber warfare.
GEORGE LITTLE: All right. That about wraps it up. Thanks everyone.
Q: A quick question on the NATO meeting.
SEC. PANETTA: Sure, we have such a big contingent here.
Q: You once said that you're considering the insider attack-- obviously that would be a big issue among the NATO allies, there's a lot of concern among the allies about this. Do you think that (a) what are you going to say to them about how it's being handled and do you think that you will also have to convince and reassure them on the timeline for withdrawal because there may very well be some people who think that now is the time to get out a little faster.
SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, General Allen will be there as well and General Allen has put a number of steps into place to confront the insider threat issue and he's done that alongside with the Afghans to try to make sure that we do everything we can to protect against insider attacks.
My goal is to make clear to NATO and to our allies that we are taking all steps necessary to confront this issue and that it should not be allowed to deter us from the plan that General Allen put in place.
STAFF: All right, thank you everyone. Thank you.