SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Minister Cernochova, welcome back to the Pentagon. I had a great trip to Prague last September, and so it's a pleasure to host you here today, and to continue our important work together.
Our strategic partnership has never been stronger, and that's especially true after Russia's cruel and unprovoked assault on its peaceful neighbor, Ukraine, and I know that your citizens hear the echoes of Moscow's invasion in 1968. So we are very glad that the Czech Republic has committed itself to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, and I look forward to continuing our work to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty today and at the next Ukraine Defense Contact Group later this week.
Madam Minister, we also are very grateful for your contributions to enhancing NATO's deterrence -- enhancing deterrence on NATO's eastern flank. The Czech Republic is leading the way as a framework nation in the new NATO battlegroup in Slovakia. So thank you, Madam Minister, for your contributions to the alliance, and for being a strong, clear voice for NATO unity. I look forward to talking about our priorities ahead of the NATO Summit in Vilnius in July. I'm also eager to discuss ways to strengthen our bilateral defense relationship even more, and I'm proud that we'll sign the Defense Cooperation Agreement today. It will deepen our defense ties even further, enhance our interoperability, strengthen NATO and increase stability in Europe.
I'm also excited about the pending delivery of the first Viper attack helicopters next month. And finally, I'm proud to note that July marks the 30th anniversary of the Czech Republic's unique state partnership with both the Texas and the Nebraska National Guard.
Madam Minister, thanks for being here, and I look forward to a great discussion today.
DEFENSE MINISTER JANA CERNOCHOVA: Thank you, too, dear Secretary. Thank you again for the invitation. I'm glad to be in (the) Pentagon again.
In the past, central Europe was strongly affected by the expansion on non-democratic powers; because of that we were often unable to decide on our fate freely. Given this history, signing the Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Czech Republic and United States has a deep meaning for us as this other instrument to deepen the practical defense cooperation between our countries.
The United States was at the birth of our modern state group. Without its support, Czechoslovakia would not have been established. Without American determination, the Axis powers would not have been defeated in World War II, and the democratic-led (inaudible) not had prevailed in the Cold War. I'm glad that today, the United States is still deeply engaged in Europe's security, and is our most important ally.
The Defense Cooperation Agreement will make our cooperation even stronger, even though it's a bilateral agreement, (it) will become a part of the network of defense cooperation among allies in NATO as a whole. The Russian effort to usurp control over a sovereign country is linked to our own historical memory, which is why the Czech Republic has been one of the top supporters of Ukraine globally. It is clear that the Czech Republic's military support to Ukraine would not be as large without the U.S. support.
Secretary Austin, I would again like to thank you, the U.S. government and the U.S. Congress for your decision last year to donate eight Bell helicopters to the Czech Republic. Thank you. Thank you. These helicopters that are now operating by the Czech Air Force can be delivered to Ukraine once the U.S. aircraft arrive.
I'm proud that today, the relations between the Czech Republic and the USA are in their best shape ever since Vaclav Havel was our president. I intend to further develop his legacy in building a robust partnership with the United States in all areas of defense. Thank you.
SEC. AUSTIN: Madam Minister, again, welcome. It's a real delight to have you here, and I look forward to a great conversation.