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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks Welcoming Norwegian Defense Minister Bjorn Gram to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Minister Gram, welcome back to the Pentagon. It was great to see you a few weeks ago at Ramstein at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. I'm honored to host you here today at this key moment for European security.

Norway is one of our most capable and long-standing allies. We know that we can always count on Norway, from your partnership with the Minnesota National Guard to the Norwegian-developed NASAMS providing air defense for our Ukrainian partners. Norway has stood with the United States to support our shared security interests and democratic values.

Our bond is especially important today as Putin continues his ruthless war of choice against Ukraine, and Mr. Minister, we're deeply-grateful for Ukraine's — for — for Norway's leadership in providing long-term assistance to Ukraine. We salute you for stepping up to co-lead the Contact Group's maritime — maritime — Contact Group's Maritime Capability Coalition alongside the United Kingdom. You've also given significant support to both the Air Force Capability Coalition and the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Capability Coalitions.

Now, since your last visit to the Pentagon, Finland and Sweden have each joined NATO. They've made NATO stronger and more capable, and we're proud to have these two great democracies as allies.

As a founding member of NATO, Norway has long served as its eyes and ears in the Arctic. The alliance must be ready to deter aggression, and if necessary, fight it together in all conditions, including Arctic ones, and exercises like Nordic Response, which Norway hosted last month with Finland and Sweden, allow our troops to train together and strengthen our collective deterrence in the High North.

And finally, we commend Norway for your plan to reach our shared NATO commitment to spend at least two percent of your GDP on defense during this calendar year. Our deterrence across the region will grow stronger because of your landmark decision, and I look forward to hearing more about Norway's new long-term defense plan.

So Mr. Minister, thanks again for making the trip, and I look forward to a great discussion.

DEFENSE MINISTER BJORN GRAM: Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary, dear Lloyd. Thank you so much for the warm welcome at the Pentagon, and I — I really look forward to our discussion here today.

We meet at a challenging time, and when times are uncertain and you're faced with instability it's more important than ever to have close friends and allies. Our relationship with the United States goes beyond defense cooperation. It's a deep, strategic partnership.

Russia's brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally upset the European security architecture. The situation in Ukraine is grave, and I would like to express my deep gratitude to the United States and to you, Lloyd, for your leadership in supporting Ukraine. Continued U.S. leadership is crucial. Northern Europe have stepped up and has to do even more, and we will do that.

The situation in the Middle East is another area of concern. We condemn the Iranian attack on Israel. It's important that we avoid further escalation.

To meet our common challenges and the deteriorating strategic situation, the Norwegian government has recently announced our defense plan, as you mentioned, and my government had de- — has decided to increase defense spending and with that, reach the two percent goal this year, and we will almost double our defense budget during the next decade, and this puts us on a path towards three percent and beyond. We do this for our own security, but also, for our common security. This is a contribution to better burden sharing in NATO.

Regarding our bilateral cooperation, I am grateful to America for the substantial U.S. presence in Norway and in our region. Our bilateral relationship is stronger than ever. It's based upon mutual interests and benefits, but also on the values we share. Standing up for these values is more important than ever. Our cooperation is particularly important in the High North, where we operate together regularly. This region is of growing importance, where we face a Russia that is more unpredictable and aggressive. Maintaining good situational awareness is a key part of this.

I look forward to discussing how we can develop our partnership even further both bilaterally and in the framework of strengthening transatlantic security.

SEC. AUSTIN: Mr. Minister, thanks for coming, and I look forward to a great discussion. Thanks.