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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks Welcoming Croatian Defense Minister Mario Banozic to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Mr. Minister, welcome to the Pentagon. It was great to see you in Brussels last week at our most recent meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and our regular gathering of NATO defense ministers. And I'm glad to see you on this side of the Atlantic. So we're delighted to have you here.

Croatia has made impressive progress over the last 30 years, moving from the ravages of war in the 1990s to becoming a fully integrated member of NATO and the European Union, and that kind of progress doesn't just happen, it takes hard work and sound policy and it takes a willingness to set aside differences and to look to the future.

Now, we all know that one of the bedrocks of a democracy is the strength of its institutions. Croatia's Minister -- Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces have both played pivotal roles in your country's transition, and that transition was to a peaceful and stable democracy.

Now, I look forward to your perspectives on the challenges posed by Russia's cruel invasion of its peaceful neighbor Ukraine. We appreciate Croatia's steadfast commitment to help Ukraine, and we can see that in your numerous military equipment donations, including all of your Mi-8 helicopters and the forward deployment of your forces to NATO battle groups in Poland, Lithuania and Hungary, and your donations to humanitarian assistance. And all of that is making a real difference in Ukraine's fight for freedom.

Now, I also look forward to talking about Croatia's defense modernization and your continued investments in your Armed Forces and your ongoing partnership with Minnesota's National Guard.

So Mr. Minister, Croatia has become a lot -- a reliable defense partner and a valued NATO ally, and your visit today is a symbol of the strength of our partnership. And we're grateful for all that you're doing for our shared security.

Again, thanks for making the trip and I look forward to a great discussion.

DEFENSE MINISTER MARIO BANOZIC: Thank you, Secretary Austin, dear Lloyd. Thank you for this warm welcome and kind words, as well as for hosting us today. The United States is Croatia's strategic ally and most important partner, especially in the area of defense.

My purpose as a Minister of Defense is to maintain operations and work on ways to deepen that. The United States always stood by Croatia and when we needed a friend and ally, and I thank you for that. On the other hand, Croatia stood shoulder-to-shoulder by you to face common security challenges.

[Inaudible] security architecture, we work together bilaterally and through NATO to defend the democratic values and the international rule-based order. Your personal leadership, most visible in joint efforts to assist Ukraine, has defense on Russia's aggression, represent our ability of building a better role for us and our nation for generations to come.

The Croatian people and our government understand this and we are committed to the part for as long as it takes.

SEC. AUSTIN: Again, Mr. Minister, welcome. We're absolutely delighted to have you and your delegation here, and I look forward to a great discussion. Thanks, everybody.