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Remarks Before Start of NATO Defense Ministerial

Secretary General Stoltenberg:  Secretary Austin, Lloyd, welcome to NATO.  It’s great to see you here again.  Thank you for your leadership and thank you for your strong commitment to our alliance. This is even more important now when Europe is in the midst of a critical security situation with the Russian military build up in and around Ukraine.

We are of course ready to engage in dialogue with Russia to seek a political diplomatic solution but also prepared for the worst.  Therefore I am grateful for U.S. increased presence in Europe with more troops in the eastern part of the alliance.  I met some of them in Romania on Friday and it’s always impressive to see the commitment and the professionalism of American troops as they conduct duties here in Europe.

I also welcome the increased readiness of 8,500 U.S. troops ready to support the NATO Response Force.

Your commitment not only words but deeds - our alliance is of great importance and very much welcomed.  I look forward to the meeting today with all the other Ministers to discuss the challenges that we face today.  Welcome.

Secretary of Defense Austin:  Mr. Secretary General, thank you for those kind words.  It’s great to be back in Brussels.  It’s great to have an opportunity to sit down with you and my colleagues here and discuss very important issues.

I think we’re very lucky to have you in the seat of the Secretary General right now.  This is a very challenging time.  Of course the alliance has only grown stronger here in the recent past and I think part of that is a credit to your leadership.  So thank you very much.

You’ve heard us say a number of times that we’re committed to Article 5 and also the principles of collective security.  So you can expect that commitment will remain rock solid going forward.

You’ve laid out a very aggressive and meaty agenda for us in this meeting and I look forward to working with you and my colleagues in addressing some very, very important issues for the alliance and for the region.

So glad to be here, looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.  Thank you.