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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks Welcoming Lithuanian Minister of National Defence Dr. Arvydas Anušauskas to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Minister Anušauskas, it's a pleasure to host you at the Pentagon. I look forward to a very productive discussion on a range of issues in this - the strong U.S.-Lithuania defense relationship. Lithuania has become a beacon of democracy in the region, and that includes hosting exiled Russian and Belarusian opposition leaders, which sets an important example for others - other allies to follow.

Now, we understand the challenges that you face. The regime in Belarus has been cynically using migrants as a hybrid tactic against Lithuania and its neighbors. And meanwhile, Russia is conducting a continuous hybrid campaign of its own. And now, China is increasing its pressure on Lithuania. I commend your government for its firm policy regarding China and we know that you have faced reprisals for your principled decisions. 

But Lithuania doesn't face these challenges alone. For decades, U.S. and Lithuanian service members have stood shoulder to shoulder against common threats and adversaries, working together to advance our shared interests and values.

And today, the United States again stands with Lithuania and we'll keep working together to strengthen the Lithuanian Armed Forces. So I'm especially pleased that we'll sign a reciprocal defense procurement agreement between our - our countries to improve conditions for the acquisition of defense items and to increase interoperability between our Armed Forces.

Mr. Minister, I want to personally thank you for your strong leadership. And again, welcome to Washington and I look forward to some good discussions.

MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENCE DR. ARVYDAS ANUŠAUSKAS: It is my honor, Mr. Secretary, to meet with you. It is great to be in the capital of the free world. Our meeting is especially important in the current security space in - on the eastern NATO border and in the world in general.

As a representative of one of the most exposed to Russia threat regions, I would like to underline how much the U.S. friendship and support mean to us. Our countries are united by common defense commitment and common values, which are challenged every day. 

I was born under (inaudible) Soviet repressive regime. I witnessed its brutality. I also saw how fragile such regime and how fearful dictators are of their own people. I believe that our close relationship with the U.S. serve as - as the best deterrent against such leaders and their intentions. I am very happy that the U.S. had made the decision not to lower the number of troops in Europe. That is the main security guarantee for European continent.

Today, we have U.S. military presence on our soil, which is crucial, is denying possible aggressor thought of (inaudible) action. I can only hope that (inaudible) of U.S. support will prevail persistently. U.S. presence is extremely important now, when we see Russia deploying their troops to the border on Ukraine. The situation is getting more and more tense.

Let me assure, Mr. Secretary, that we do everything in our powers to provide excellent conditions for U.S. rotational battalion in Lithuania. I believe your troops come back home more ready. It is also clear that Lithuania personally needs to increase our fighting power. We invest in it, spending no less than two percent of our GDP on defense. A big chunk of that goes towards the modernization of our Armed Forces capabilities.

Today, we will sign a - a reciprocal defense procurement agreement that will enable easier cooperation between our defense industries. It will also pave the way for more government to government procurement projects. We invest in cyber, right along you, around the world, assisting Ukraine. We are spending more than a half billion dollars to procure U.S.-made equipment. We stand with you, Mr. Secretary. 

Let me make clear - dictators like Putin, Xi and Lukashenko will test us again and again. We shall not shy away from answering these threats with strength. Our common response needs American leadership and we're looking at you, Mr. Secretary, at the U.S. Administration to provide such leadership. I sincerely believe that we are on right side of history. 

Let me thank Mr. Secretary for this opportunity.

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, thank you very much, sir.