Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg discussed helping Ukraine defend itself from Russia's brutal invasion, expansion of the NATO alliance and the need for swift support for Turkey in the wake of devastating earthquakes in that country.
The two men met at the Pentagon in advance of next week's NATO Defense Ministerial Meeting and the upcoming meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
Austin and Stoltenberg share a close working relationship, and Austin thanked the secretary general for all he has done to encourage NATO unity in the face of the challenge from Russia.
"Thank you for your outstanding partnership and your bold leadership," Austin said. "You've helped to keep NATO united and strong through the most serious threat to transatlantic security since the end of World War II. You played a key role in helping nations of the world rally to contribute to Ukraine."
In opening remarks, Austin expressed his "deepest condolences for all those affected by the terrible earthquake." NATO ally Turkey lost thousands of people when two earthquakes hit in the southeastern part of the country Feb. 6. News reports say that more than 13,000 people are dead from the quake, which affected Turkey and adjacent Syria.
Austin spoke with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar soon after the quakes to offer help. U.S. Air Force helicopters transported first responder teams to some of the hardest hit areas. U.S. Transportation Command has flown U.S. civilian search and rescue teams to Turkey. The Agency for International Development is working closely with Turkish authorities and DOD is standing by to help however it can, Austin said.
Stoltenberg commended the United States and other NATO allies for stepping up to help Turkey with the rescue work and to mitigate the consequences of the earthquake. "This demonstrates how we support each other," he said. "It is part of the NATO spirit to help when NATO ally suffers."
NATO itself is stronger and more united, Austin said, and he added that it will be even stronger and more united with the addition of Sweden and Finland.
"Today, I look forward to discussing how we build momentum and continue to strengthen transatlantic security," the defense secretary said.
The two men discussed the acute threat from Russia, the need to replenish and sustain equipment and munitions and the need to deepen investments in defense.
Stoltenberg thanked Austin for his leadership of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which is coordinating and mobilizing support for the embattled nation. "This support makes a difference on the ground every day," the secretary general said. "It is critical for Ukraine and their self-defense."
Stoltenberg said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin wins his war against Ukraine, it will not only be a tragedy for Ukrainians, but a green light to other autocratic leaders who will believe they can use military force to achieve their goals. "That will make the world more dangerous and more vulnerable," he said.
To that point, the two leaders also discussed Asia. "What happens in Europe matters for Southeast Asia, and what happens there matters for North America and for all of us," Stoltenberg said. "That's the reason why we need to address also the security consequences of China's heavy investments in new military capabilities and how China poses a challenge to our interests, our security and our values."