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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Czech Minister of Defense Jana Cernochova Hold a Press Conference in Prague, Czech Republic

STAFF: So good afternoon. Good afternoon. Madam Minister, Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to today's press conference of the minister of defense of the Czech Republic, Jana Cernochova, and the secretary of defense of the United States of America, Lloyd James Austin.

First, Madam Minister and Mr. Secretary will summarize their negotiations, and then we will take four questions.

And now let me hand over to Madam Minister.

CZECH MINISTER OF DEFENSE JANA CERNOCHOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): So Secretary Austin, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank Secretary Austin very warmly for accepting my invitation to come to Prague, to the Czech Republic, and that he visited at the Ministry of Defense, and that we had an opportunity earlier today to visit what is one of the most memorable places of our nation, and that is the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius, where we pay respect to the memory of our brave soldiers.

The United States is our most important ally, and they provide a cornerstone of our collective defense in NATO, as well as they underpin the current effort of the situation in Europe. The massive support that the United States has been providing to Ukraine proves yet again that America is an indispensable leader of the free world, and I would like to thank sincerely to Secretary Austin and to citizens of the United States of America for their continuing willingness of -- to defend free world and to defend Europe.

The Czech Republic stands ready to support the U.S. in this effort, and we are increasing our defense investment and accelerate the development of our military capabilities, including key armaments projects. And our goal is to increase the Czech-American defense cooperation to a level higher than ever before, and we want to seek specific projects. To that effect, we are negotiating a bilateral defense cooperation agreement, which we have already started during my visit, during -- in Washington, D.C., and to provide for practical cooperation between our Armed Forces.

Today, with Secretary Austin and I have reconfirmed that both sides see this agreement as really important, and that it will be soon, and the Czech Republic is one of the top five military suppliers to Ukraine, and it is therefore logical that we touched on this topic very strongly, including because the -- the discussions we had yesterday in Ramstein. We discussed the options and ways ahead for our nations, for us to, again, stay united and manage to defeat the aggressor, and for Ukraine in this war because it is completely unprecedented because they were attacked by Russia, for Ukraine to be victorious.

The Czech Republic significantly contributes to the defense of NATO's eastern flank, and among other things, we lead the NATO Multinational Battlegroup in Slovakia, where American service personnel are deployed, along ours, and we need to have a modern, well-equipped military, and I am very glad to -- to have the United States on our side for the capability development.

In conclusion of our meeting, I thanked, again, Secretary Austin for the donation of eight units of the Venom and Viper helicopters, and at what we discussed during my visit in Washington, D.C. that Secretary Austin kept his promise what -- on what we outlined back then, and we are very grateful on behalf of the government of the Czech Republic that we will have in total 20 units of U.S. helicopters that will strongly reinforce our defense posture.

Thank you, Secretary Austin. Secretary Austin, you have the floor.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, good morning, everyone. Minister Cernochova, thank you for hosting us here in Prague.

This is my first visit to the Czech Republic as secretary of defense, and it's been a very productive one. I thought it was especially important to be here at this critical time for European security, and I'm honored to be here while the Czech Republic holds the European -- European Union presidency.

I think that many of you are tracking that the Czech Republic will host NATO Days in Ostrava next week, and that's going to be an important opportunity to reinforce the Czech Republic's strong commitment to alliance interoperability.

I'm here today because the Czech Republic is a vital NATO ally, and as you've often heard me say, the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the defense and freedom and sovereignty of our allies. And that's especially important as Russia continues its cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine. The Ukrainian people are fighting heroically to defend themselves from Russian aggression, and they are rightly demanding to live in freedom and to shape their own future, to not have it be dictated by Russia.

Now, the minister and I saw each other yesterday at Ramstein Air Base for the most recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group session. We're all determined to help Ukraine defend itself for the long haul, and nations for -- of goodwill from around the world are standing united in support of Ukraine's right to defend, its citizens and its territory.

At the Madrid Summit in June, NATO leaders, including President Biden, recognized that Russian aggression is the most significant and direct threat to the security of our allies, and to -- and to peace and stability in Europe. So today, the minister and I had a highly-productive discussion on strengthening our collective defense in response to Russia's reckless aggression. We also discussed our bilateral defense cooperation, as well as the Czech Republic's defense modernization work to enhance its interoperability with its NATO allies, and I applaud the Czech Republic's commitment to increase its defense investments and to develop its capabilities.

At the same time, NATO is -- NATO is strengthening its forward defenses and enhancing its battlegroups in the eastern part of the alliance up to brigade level, and the Czech Republic is playing a leading role in that. As you heard the minister say, the Czech Republic is a framework nation for the new NATO battlegroup in Slovakia, and the Czech Republic is also contributing to NATO missions in Latvia and Lithuania, as well as conducting NATO air policing.

Now, I want to be clear that NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia or pose any threat to Russia. But our defensive alliance, as it always has, will protect every inch of NATO territory.

And Madam Minister, we both stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and their democratically-elected government.

So we will continue to work together to provide Ukraine with the military equipment that it needs to defend itself, and we'll continue to stand strong with our NATO allies, and we'll continue to stain -- stand against Russia's assault on democracy, sovereignty and the rules-based international order.

So thank you, and I look forward to taking a couple of questions.

STAFF: (UNTRANSLATED) Thank you very much, Secretary Austin, and let me ask Czech TV.

Q: (inaudible) opportunity. Mr. Secretary, just yesterday, your colleague from the American government, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, announced additional help to Ukraine in amount of $2 billion. First billion goes directly to Ukraine. The second one is for 18 European countries, including the Czech Republic. Can you specify what this aid contains in relations to the Czech Republic? Thank you very much.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I will ask the Czech minister for the reaction, as well.

SEC. AUSTIN: (inaudible) the Department of State will make the announcements in the near future on how those will be directed. But I think what this – what is important about this announcement, it – it encourages additional investment in modernization in – which increases interoperability. We're delighted to see this, and certainly I know the countries that receive that assistance will invest wisely so we look forward to working with them. 

MIN. CERNOCHOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yes, also on behalf of -- of the Czech Republic, I -- we welcome this decision, and the Czech Republic stands ready, including by the means of its enterprises and private businesses to be involved in continuous supplies of military materiel to Ukraine, and also to assist with renovation and reconstruction in a postwar effort. We also stand ready to take part in the maintenance and sustainment of the equipment that is being forwarded to Ukraine.

STAFF: Ellie Kaufman, CNN?

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, you said the focus of the meeting was preparing Ukraine for long-term security against Russia. What is the endpoint of this conflict, in your mind? What's the best-case scenario for Ukraine by the end of the year and by the end of 2023?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, I -- it's -- it's always dangerous to make predictions about -- about a -- a war or conflict, and so I think, again, our goal is to support Ukraine and help it defend its sovereign territory.

And in terms of defining -- defining final states or outcomes, we know that the Ukrainian leadership will have the strongest voice in -- in that respect. And -- and so our -- again, our goal is to continue to support them as they -- as they continue to work hard to defend their sovereign territory. And we -- we've all been impressed by what we've seen: their -- their willingness to stand up to a much larger, much stronger force and be effective in their efforts. So we've been inspired by their courage and their commitment, and -- and I think, you know, coming out of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting yesterday, I think we were -- we continue to be inspired by -- by what we see from the international community in terms of a willingness to support Ukraine.

You've heard President Biden say and you've heard me say a number of times that we're going to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, and -- and I clearly get that -- that -- that same strong sentiment from the participants of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. And as you know -- you were there yesterday -- there were some 50 participants in that group, so this is -- this is bigger than NATO. This is an international effort to support Ukraine.

So we can't really predict how long things are going to last or what the outcome is going to be. We can only do what we've done thus far in continuing to support Ukraine so that it can have the strongest hand on the battlefield, and if it -- when it goes to negotiations, have the strongest hand at the negotiating table. Okay.

MIN. CERNOCHOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Let me just add to what Secretary Austin just said, that on behalf of the countries forming the top 10, the -- which include the Czech Republic, I can promise on our behalf that we will continue to support Ukraine militarily, as well as otherwise, and from the -- yesterday you fence -- Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, we -- I have the impression of a strong unity more than ever before.

STAFF: Televize Prima?

Q: (inaudible) We might see the intensification of relations between the USA and the Czech Republic, so these bilateral visits are going to be more frequently? And the second question: How far is DCA? Thank you very much.

SEC. AUSTIN: What was the second part of that question?

Q: How far is the Defense Cooperation Agreement?

SEC. AUSTIN: How far along is it? Okay.

Q: (inaudible)

SEC. AUSTIN: So we've had an initial meeting on the Defense Cooperation Agreement, and we will -- and we have -- conduct our second meeting later on this month, 21st or the 23rd. And you've heard the -- the minister say that -- that we are both interested in concluding that agreement as quickly as possible because it will facilitate our -- our ability to operate together, and these are the kinds of agreements that we typically negotiate with -- with our NATO allies. So again, it increases interoperability. It -- it facilitates our ability to -- to get things done quicker, and I think it's -- it's a -- it will provide benefit for both of us.

In terms of our relationship, you know, my goal, my personal goal is to make sure that – is to make sure that we take this very strong bilateral relationship and work every day to make it even stronger. And you know, I have been thoroughly impressed by what I've seen from the Czech Republic's military and its leadership in terms of being able to get things done and being able to contribute not just to -- to the Ukraine piece, but to -- to a number of issues and operations around the globe, so --

MIN. CERNOCHOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Our goal -- our goal is the same, and I can say on behalf of the Czech Republic that my colleagues from the MOD and the Czech Armed Forces have already taken part in the meetings that move the DCA agreement forward, and we concurred with Secretary Austin that we will do our best to bring the DCA to conclusion as soon as possible. And I will appreciate if Secretary Austin could visit the Czech Republic next time so perhaps that we can sign the agreement in Prague or in Washington, D.C. to have another opportunity to move our cooperation forward, because we see one another on regular basis in NATO defense ministerial meetings, and we are also in the Ramstein Ukraine Defense Contact Group, so we have an excellent cooperation, and I highly appreciate that. And I would like to thank very much to Secretary Austin for his open attitude to the Czech Republic.

SEC. AUSTIN: (inaudible) back to -- to Prague to sign the agreement. I accept.

(Laughter.)

Thank you, Madam Minister.

MIN. CERNOCHOVA: Thank you, too.

STAFF: Thank you, and the last -- the very last question.

Q: Hello, Mr. Secretary, Mrs. Secretary (sic). Thank you so much for being here. So over the last couple of days, we've heard from you and we heard from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, on how effectively and responsibly Ukraine is using Western-supplied weapons, particularly HIMARS. Given that and -- and everything you've said today about the necessity of those and their effectiveness, why is there still reluctance to give Ukraine longer-range rockets like ATACMS that they've said they'd need as part of their counteroffensive?

And for Minister Cernochova, your government has been a very stable supporter of Ukraine. There have been protests over the last couple of days challenging that support and there is a presidential election approaching. How confident are you that the government of the Czech Republic will be able to continue a policy of support of Ukraine through 2023 and beyond? Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Hey, Pat, thanks for your question. As you've heard me say on a number of occasions, you know, I am in constant communication with Minister Reznikov, the Minister of Defense, about how the fight is going, about the resources that they need to -- to be successful in their efforts, and -- and that communication and things like the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meetings, which you attended yesterday, have enabled us to really speed a lot of capability to the Ukrainians in a very short period of time, and that capability has -- has been effective.

And to the point that you just made, the HIMARS, using the GMLRS rockets, have been extraordinary in terms of enabling the Ukrainians to -- to service the targets that they need to service inside of Ukraine. And so they've used those munitions and things like HARM missiles to begin to shape the battle space in such a manner that they are changing the -- the dynamics on the battlefield.

So we see success in -- in Kherson now, we see some success in -- in Kharkiv, and -- and so that's very, very encouraging. But it's not just about one particular weapon or weapons system, Pat, it's about how you integrate these systems and how you integrate the efforts of -- of various elements in the inventory to create effects that provide advantage to the Ukrainians. And we're beginning to see that.

And -- and so I think -- I think they have -- they have great capability, they're using it -- the right way, and we'll stay engaged and make sure that we're giving them what they -- what they need to be successful. Thanks.

MIN. CERNOCHOVA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Certainly, from the -- from the protest demonstration that took part at a place on Saturday, the lesson learned for the Czech government is that we need to have a better communication about the energy crisis, to explain to the people what has happened, that Putin -- Putin attacked Ukraine, and that is how his -- how he mitigates the countries concerning the discontinuation of gas supplies and the growth of energy prices. This is a homework for the Czech government, to improve communication.

We have no changes whatsoever in the foreign policy of our country, and from this place, I would like to thank to -- the President, whom we will visit with Secretary Austin later on, that his foreign policy on the -- Putin's aggression of Ukraine is completely identical to the policy exercised by our government, that he condemned the aggression, and as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the President had -- expressed a full support of the government of the Czech Republic and he supports the policy that we exercise on Ukraine.

And I would like to use this statement of -- by the -- by the Czech President, that "there are no negotiations of a terrorist, there is only fighting by the terrorists," unquote. So this is -- we have a pro-NATO and strong policy and it will continue that way.

And after the change of the President and there will be presidential elections coming, I don't expect any changes, any candidates having a good chance of becoming the President of the Czech Republic. And the question of NATO membership, membership in the European Union, have the same -- basically the same positions and I don't think anybody have to be afraid of change -- us changing the course.

STAFF: Well, I'm afraid that's what we have time for. So thank you, Madam Minister, thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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