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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks Welcoming Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Minister Černochová, it's a real pleasure to welcome you to the Pentagon, and it's great to see you again after our meeting in February at the NATO Defense Ministerial.

I also understand that this is a solemn trip for you, and that you've come to repatriate the ashes of General Moravec and I know that your nation remembers him for fighting the Nazis as a brave son of Czechoslovakia. Yet we also remember him here as a proud American citizen who in his later years actually became a valued advisor for the Pentagon.

We're meeting at a critical moment for European security. After Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Democratic values and the rules-based international order are under threat. President Biden has announced -- just announced that he's authorized another presidential drawdown of security assistance of up to $800 million more for Ukraine's self-defense, and this is all tailored to meet the Ukrainians' urgent needs for this changing fight.

Now, I applaud the Czech Republic's leadership in standing up against Russian aggression and standing strong with our fellow NATO Allies to defend peace and security in Europe. I know that the Czech people hear history's echoes today, and we remember the bravery and the determination that the Czech people showed in 1968, when as a part of Czechoslovakia, you faced down invading tanks from Moscow.

So it's no surprise that you've stood up for Ukraine's sovereignty and self-defense. And Madam -- Madam Minister, I commend the Czech Republic for your whole-of-government approach to providing security assistance and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. I also applaud everything that you've done to enhance deterrence on NATO's eastern flank, especially serving as a framework nation in our new NATO battlegroup in Slovakia. Thank you very much for volunteering to do that.

And so our agenda today goes beyond just the crisis in Ukraine. I'm also looking forward to discussing ways to further deepen our strong bilateral defense relationship, and that includes our proposed defense cooperation agreement, which I hope that we can swiftly conclude.

We're also proud to be your partners through defense industry cooperation and through your two state partnership programs with the Texas and the Nebraska National Guards.

So Madam Minister, thank you again for making this trip, and I certainly look forward to a great discussion.

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER JANA ČERNOCHOVÁ: Thank you. Good morning. First of all, thank you very much, Secretary Austin, for the opportunity to meet you here. I'm looking forward to discussing multiple important issues such as our continuing assistance to Ukraine, our opportunities for cooperation in our armed forces modernization efforts.

My intentions are to assure United States that the Czech Republic is a reliable Ally, and that we will fulfill our pledge to reach two percent GDP in defense spending by 2025. I want to thank our U.S. partner for the cooperation between our forces in building up the NATO battlegroup in Slovakia. I would like to officially confirm the Czech intention to sign the defense cooperate -- cooperation agreement that will strengthen our position as a good ally of the United States. We believe the -- the DCA will deepen our mutual cooperation not only as NATO Allies, but a -- but at the same time, in the field our -- field -- field of our armed forces' modernization efforts.

We -- we are interested in deeper cooperation regarding the modernization of the Czech Armed Forces. We seek to replace obsolete Soviet equipment with modern military system and stop our dependence of Russia. It's very important. We are in the middle of negotiations to get more Bell helicopters, but at the same time, we need to address the future of our heavy brigade and fighter jets. That is why I would like to inquire about the possibilities of cooperation in these areas specifically.

I want to use this opportunity to say that the Czech Republic is consistent in its help to Ukraine. We take care of 300,000 refugees. The Czech Republic have 10 million people. It's too much. We support Kyiv diplomatically, provide Ukraine with military materiel. We can't yield to the Russian aggression and war criminal, Putin. I want to assure, Secretary Austin, that the Czech Republic is ready to send more military equipment to Ukraine.

Thanks to our (inaudible), the Ukrainian forces -- Armed -- Armed Forces know how to use Czech military equipment, and that is a huge advantage. We want to use this opportunity to sign the Reciprocal Defense Procurement agreement that will enable Czech defense industry to participate in the defense procurement program -- programs in the U.S. and allies (inaudible). I believe it is yet another confirmation the Czech Republic stand as one -- the closest U.S. allies.

Dear Lloyd, last, but not least, I would like to extend an invitation for you to visit the Czech Republic and my hometown of Prague. It is great pleasure to be here, and I'm looking forward to our future cooperation. Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Madam Minister, it's a delight to have you here, and I look forward to our discussion here. Thank you very much.