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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks Welcoming Latvian Defense Minister Andris Sprūds to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, good morning. Good morning, Mr. Minister, and welcome to the Pentagon.

I had a great visit to Riga in 2022, so I'm glad to be able to return the favor and host you here today. You're here at a vital time for European security and global security. Two years ago, Putin launched his all-out invasion of Ukraine, and he assumed that Ukraine's friends would give in. But instead, we still stand strong against Putin's aggression. And together we're helping Ukraine fight back against the Kremlin's war of choice. And we must not let up.

Now, Latvia has given Ukraine tremendous support, including both security assistance and humanitarian aid. In fact, relative to the size of your economy, you're among the top contributors of military assistance to Ukraine. Latvia is donating more than 1 percent of GDP to help Ukraine defend itself. And that just proves that countries of all sizes can make a big difference to all of our security.

Let me also commend Latvia for your investments in your own defensive capabilities. And this includes your recent purchases of HIMARS and naval strike missiles, as well as your defense systems. Now, these systems are crucial for your security and for NATO's collective deterrence and defense.

We just welcomed Sweden as NATO's 32nd member. So, I should note that Latvia graciously hosts NATO forces, and we'll continue to maintain a persistent rotational presence of U.S. forces in the Baltics.

The United States remains fully committed to the defense of Latvia. And our commitment to NATO and to Article 5 remains ironclad.

So, thanks again for making the trip today, Mr. Minister. We couldn't ask for a better ally or friend. And I look forward to a great discussion. Over to you, sir.

DEFENSE MINISTER ANDRIS SPRŪDS: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for welcoming me, welcoming us. It is a great pleasure. I highly appreciate the visit and to meet you and exchange thoughts. You, of course, the United States have taken a leading role in unifying the alliance and, of course, supporting Ukraine.

You, personally -- we're also very grateful for your personal leadership in this regard, for your support for uniting the alliance in our support for -- supporting Ukraine.

Yes, of course, we are facing quite a number of challenges. Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a major challenge. And, of course, in this situation, we support Ukraine as much as we can. And of course, we should stand also unified and united. NATO has proven its viability again, with a strong U.S. leadership. And of course, also, Sweden and Finland joining, I think this is also just once more a demonstration that our alliance is strong and efficient and is willing to deal with those different challenges, the global ones and regional ones.

Of course, the continued for Ukraine is absolutely indispensable and instrumental. And I think we've done a lot together. Of course, Latvia believes that the steady, unwavering support, continued support, absolutely must be there. And we've done a considerable part, of course, how we can contribute, but of course, again, the U.S. and your personal leadership has been highly valued and very, very instrumental and important.

Yes, of course we believe that also such aggressive countries like Russia could be contained, that we should be united in front of dictatorships, dictatorships such as Russia. And of course, here, I think the alliance once more has proven its unity and its efficiency.

Latvia, of course, is doing our important homework to contribute to the strengths of the alliance, of course, for our own defenses, but we do it together with our indispensable allies, of course with our NATO allies.

The NATO presence in Latvia is extremely important, and it is also, of course, showing the NATO flag is important, but at the same time, among allies, we very much appreciate our partnership with the United States. The United States presence in Latvia is, again, very instrumental for us. The United States is an indispensable nation. We have a trans-Atlantic linkage, and of course we are happy to be here once more to strengthen, underline and add additional momentum to our, I think, very productive, very strong, very solid partnership which has been established. But, of course, we are very much looking, also, for additional opportunities, even, to strengthen it more.

So, thank you so much, once more, Mr. Secretary, for welcoming us, for hosting us, and of course for, also, your leadership once more. So, thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Again, Mr. Minister, thank you so much for coming. We're delighted to have you. And we look forward to a great discussion.