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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks Welcoming NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Mr. Secretary General, welcome back to the Pentagon. It is indeed a pleasure to host you here today. 

Before I begin, I wanted to express my deepest condolences for all those affected by the terrible earthquake that hit Türkiye and Syria. I know that we've all seen the images of devastation. Our hearts go out to our NATO allies in Türkiye during this unimaginably difficult time and to all who are suffering from this tragedy.

I spoke with my Turkish counterpart on Monday and promised our swift support, and yesterday, U.S. rotary wing assets based in Incirlik began transporting first responders to the hardest hit populations. We've also transported two search and rescue teams from the United States to Türkiye and the department will continue working urgently with USAID, the State Department, and our interagency partners to respond to Türkiye's requests for support.

Now, Mr. Secretary General, over the past two years, I've had the privilege of working closely with you and your team. So thank you for your outstanding partnership and your bold leadership of the alliance. You've helped to keep NATO united and strong through the most serious threat to transatlantic security since the end of World War II and you've played a key role in helping nations of goodwill rally to contribute to Ukraine's self-defense.

It's almost been a year since Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and NATO stands stronger and more united than ever. And I hope that NATO will become even more capable soon with the accession of Finland and Sweden. 

And our NATO allies have stepped up to support Ukraine's fight for its very existence. We've seen some outstanding contributions in just the past month. And so today, I look forward to discussing how we'll build on that momentum and continue to strengthen transatlantic security as we look to next week's defense ministerial in Brussels.

Now, deterrence and defense remain job number one for NATO and the alliance has taken important steps to adapt to today's challenging security environment. So we've got a big agenda and that agenda includes candid discussions about the acute threat from Russia, replenishing and sustaining the equipment and munitions that we've donated to Ukraine, deepening our investments in defense, and other shared challenges, including security concerns regarding the People's Republic of China.

So Jens, as always, we've got a lot to talk about. Thanks again for making the trip. It's great to have you here. All yours.

SECRETARY GENERAL JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much, Secretary Austin, and thank you for once again welcoming me and my delegation. 

Let me start by joining you in expressing my sincere condolences to Türkiye and to all those who lost loved one in its devastating earthquake. And also let me commend the United States and also other allies for stepping up very quickly to provide support to help Türkiye with the rescue work and to mitigate the consequences of the earthquake.

This demonstrates how NATO allies stand together, how we support each other, and therefore, it is part of the NATO spirit to help when a country, a NATO ally, suffers a terrible earthquake, as Türkiye did a few days ago.

Then, let me also commend the United States and you personally, Secretary Austin, for your leadership, your unwavering leadership in providing support for Ukraine, not least through the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which is coordinating and mobilizing support for Ukraine. And this support makes a difference on the ground every day and is critical for Ukraine in their self-defense. 

Ukraine is invaded and Ukraine has the right to defend its own territory. The right of self-defense is enshrined in the UN Charter and what NATO allies and partners do is to help Ukraine uphold that right.

We need to be prepared for the long haul to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes while (inaudible) clear commitment from the United States, from President Biden, from the U.S. administration, but also the bipartisan support which I actually saw myself today in my different meetings in the Congress, in the United States to continue to support Ukraine.

If President Putin wins in Ukraine, it would be a tragedy for the Ukrainians but also dangerous for us. It would send a message to authoritarian leaders, not only President Putin but also in Asia and other places, that when they use military force, they can achieve their goals, and that would make the world more dangerous and also more vulnerable. So this is our national security interest to ensure that Ukraine prevails -- win and -- and prevails as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe.

Then, I welcome also your strong support for the enlargement of the alliance. All allies made an historic decision when they decided at the NATO Summit in July last year to invite Finland and Sweden. The time has now come to finalize this ratification process and I hope that we can see both Finland and Sweden as full members as soon as possible.

Let me also say that you and I, we were almost at the same time in Southeast Asia, and I think that demonstrates that security is not regional, security is global. What happens in Europe matters for Southeast Asia, for Asia, and what happens there matters for Europe and for North America and for all of us. And 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.

Many issues to be discussed. I look forward to our meeting. And thank you so much again for hosting me and my delegation.

SEC. AUSTIN: We're delighted to have you back, Jens. I look forward to a good discussion. Thank you. Thanks, everybody.