Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta Holds a Press Conference with Peruvian Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: Thank you very much Mr. Cateriano. And good afternoon to everyone.
It is truly a pleasure to be here in Lima. This is, although I've before, this is my first visit as United States Secretary of Defense. But I have to tell you, Panetta feels very comfortable with a Cateriano and then I had Bolognese outside, so I -- I feel very comfortable here.
Today I have the opportunity to meet separately with President Humala and the minister and we were able to build on the significant progress that has been made to strengthen the bilateral relationship between our two militaries.
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.
My trip here underscores the fact that the United States remains committed to deepening our defense relationship with Peru.
We had a chance in our meeting to discuss several areas of common interest where opportunities exist, we believe, for more collaboration.
First humanitarian assistance; one example is that, of that cooperation is the joint disaster response training that was provided by a recently completed New Horizons exercise. That exercise, which involved 420 American forces and 100 Peruvian forces, provided nearly $8 million in humanitarian aid to vulnerable communities recovering from the country's 2007 earthquake.
And 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. We want to be able to continue to build that capacity for the future.
Second, internal security; I know that Peru has conducted successful operations against narcoterrorists, which has illustrated the value of joint operations in close coordination with the Peruvian police.
The United States stands ready to work with Peru on joint planning, on information sharing, trilateral cooperation with Colombia to address our shared security concerns in this area.
And the third area for collaboration is defense reform. The Department of Defense is committed to working with the Peruvian Ministry of Defense in this area and I believe our two militaries can exchange important lessons on ways to improve the functioning of our respective defense establishments.
A fourth area that I mentioned is the cooperation of -- that we see with Peru in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Peru has been a regional leader in this area. And I want to commend the Peruvian military for its contribution of an all female unit in Haiti. That is a groundbreaking step and one that demonstrates Peru's commitment to deploying effective peacekeepers across the region and beyond.
And lastly, another clear area of common interest is regional security. An example of this is our work together, the Minister and I will be going to the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas and we will attend that in Uruguay early this week. As a matter of fact, I leave from here to go to Uruguay for that meeting.
The Conference of Defense Ministers is a very important mechanism to discuss issues of common concerns for all of the nations in this hemisphere, such as enhancing coordination in the area of -- of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
I know that Peru will host the CDMA in 2014 and I want to thank Peru for its willingness to serve in that capacity.
As I mentioned, each of these five areas offer opportunities for greater collaboration between our militaries. We can bolster that cooperation still further by beginning a process of working towards a defense cooperation agreement that we feel needs to be updated. The last one was in 1952 and it's important that we update it.
The U.S. is committed to working with Peru to do that, which will improve our ability to conduct joint activities, to do training and other exchanges. And ultimately that will help us deal with shared security challenges in the future.
It was interesting that the president mentioned that there are some 50 cadets who are going to Fort Bragg to attend the cadet school there; a school, incidentally, that the president attended when he was in the military. And I think that's symbolic of the close relationship that we want to develop with Peru.
So Mr. Minister, let me thank you for hosting me today. Thank for your efforts to build on this rich history of security cooperation between our two countries.
Q: Mr. Secretary -- Mr. Secretary, for the fourth day in a row, Turkish and Syrian troops have traded artillery fire across the border, feelings being Turkish Prime Minister said that they are moving closer to war.
Do you think this is empty rhetoric? Do you think there is a great danger or greater danger here that there will indeed be -- see an escalation to some sort of warfare and has the United States or you or any other top leaders of the United States reached out to Turkey to talk about this?
SEC. PANETTA: The situation in Syria is a serious situation that concerns all of us. The fact is, there is a war going on in Syria between the opposition and the regime forces and it's one that has cost a large number of lives.
Whether or not that conflict begins to extend into the neighboring countries such as Turkey remains to be seen. But, obviously, the fact that there are now exchanges of fire between these two countries raises additional concerns that this conflict could broaden.
I'm not -- I'm sure that the United States is using diplomatic channels to convey our concerns to the parties with the -- with the hope that a conflict there does not broaden.
Q: In the meeting -- you said that you were meeting with Mr. Humala -- President Humala -- and had discussions about the work that the U.S. has with Peru and my question has to do with narco-terrorism and whether President Barak Obama views Peru as a strategic partner in this fight.
The second question, what issues do you have on your agenda for the CDMA?
SEC. PANETTA: The reason I'm here as Secretary of Defense is because we clearly do believe, and President Obama believes that Peru is a strategic partner in this area.
The goal of the new defense policy that we have developed is one to reach out to countries like Peru and do whatever we can to be able to provide assistance, guidance, whatever else is necessary to make sure that Peru can develop the capabilities that it needs to deal with the threats that challenge the security of Peru.
And for that reason, we -- we've completed these meetings with a firm commitment that we will do everything we can between our two countries to strengthen that relationship, to strengthen that alliance, to strengthen that partnership so that Peru an effectively deal with the threats that it confronts.
And more importantly, provide a Peru that can be prosperous and secure in the future.
With regards to the Defense Ministers meeting, I hope that -- one of my hopes is that working with the other Defense Ministers that we can begin to work together on the challenges that confront this hemisphere.
I talked about the challenge of terrorism. I talked about the challenge of narco-trafficking. I talked about the challenge of maritime rights, the issues that confront all of the countries with regards to securing freedom of navigation.
I've also discussed a very important element regarding humanitarian assistance with the disasters that have faced some of the countries here. It is very important for all of the nations of this region to be able to work together to provide humanitarian relief.
And one of the proposals that we will be dealing with there is a proposal to further develop and strengthen the relationship between countries in responding to humanitarian crises. And I look forward to supporting that.
Q: Secretary Panetta, the E.U. is starting to discuss its broader economic -- broader sanctions generally against Iran. Given the financial turmoil (inaudible) will the US go along with more (inaudible) sanctions?
SEC. PANETTA: One of the thing I said is that I think one of -- one of the important efforts that the United States has engaged in is working with the international community to bring pressure on Iran so that it would be brought to the table, the negotiating table, to try to resolve our concerns over its nuclear program.
The international community has been unified in that effort and has agreed, as a result of that unity to impose probably the most serious sanctions, economic sanctions, that have been imposed on a nation. Those sanctions have been put in place, they are having a significant impact on the economy in Iran as evidenced by some of the demonstrations that have taken place within the last few days.
The United States will continue to work with the other countries in this international community to see if additional steps need to be taken.
Our hope would be that Iran would get the message that the most important thing that they could do at this point is to engage seriously with the international community to try to resolve these issues. That's the whole point of these sanctions.
Hopefully they will do that, but if they don't, make no mistake the international community will continue to impose additional sanctions.
Q: Good Mr. Secretary, (inaudible) figures shows that Peru is (inaudible) share responsibility with other (inaudible)?
SEC. PANETTA: As I -- as I pointed out, one of the common concerns we have is the -- the problem of drug trafficking. It is -- it is one of the more serious threats that we face in this hemisphere and Peru understands that. And our goal is to work with Peru to provide whatever assistance they may need to help be able to deal with that threat.
So the purpose of my visit is to listen to the concerns here and to determine whether or not there is any additional help we can provide in their effort.
This is -- this is something that I think all of the nations of this region have to work together to confront because it's a -- it's threat -- it's a threat to the -- the security of these countries. It's a threat to people and their families, the damage that can be done through drug addiction and it is a threat in many ways to the security of the region.
So we will work with every nation that is willing to confront this. We've done it with Colombia; we've done it with Mexico; we've done it with others and we will do it with Peru.