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Remarks by Acting Secretary Shanahan at an Enhanced Honor Cordon and Meeting Welcoming Austrian Defense Minister Kunasek to the Pentagon

April 10, 2019
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan; Austrian Defense Minister Mario Kunasek

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK SHANAHAN:  All right.  Minister Kunasek, Ambassador -- Waldner, yeah (inaudible) 
 
(LAUGHTER)
 
... all members of your delegation, thank you for coming.  And I know this is your -- your first visit to the Pentagon, and I'm hoping it's the first of -- of many.  I just wanted to point out the relationship between our nations stretches back many centuries.
 
Today, we reinforce those trans-Atlantic bonds, as you've worked the defense shared values to protect mutual security interests.  The United States appreciates Austria's commitment to global peace and stability, demonstrated in particular by your peace-keeping contributions to more than a dozen important E.U., U.N. and NATO operations.  That includes Austria's leadership in promoting Western Balkan stability and Euro integration through commanding E.U. forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and your role as the largest non-NATO troop contributor to the force in Kosovo.  The U.S. also deeply appreciates Austria's continued presence in Afghanistan, where our troops stand shoulder-to-shoulder.
 
In our meeting today, I look forward to exchanging perspectives on these shared security challenges and more, including those posed by Russia and China.  Together, we must be clear-eyed on these threats.
 
I agree with your foreign minister's recent sentiment on China's growing influence in the Western Balkans.  China is not only an investor; it's acting as a global and geopolitical player to a reality which we must contend and respond.
 
Today, I also look forward to further strengthening our defense cooperation as we explore new opportunities for our forces to train and learn together, including in the areas of mountain operations and disaster response, where your military's expertise is unmatched.
 
To close, let me thank you and your delegation once again for coming.  We're honored to have you here, and welcome today's discussion.
 
AUSTRIAN DEFENSE MINISTER MARIO KUNASEK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  So first of all, Secretary, I'd like to thank you very much for taking the time for me and for my delegation here today in order to meet and discuss particular security-related policies and topics.
 
And the last time that the -- that our previous holders of these offices, the Austrian ministry of defense and the American secretary of defense, met was, in fact, a 2012 visit over seven years ago.
 
SEC. SHANAHAN:  Too long.
 
(LAUGHTER)
 
MIN. KUNASEK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  And that's why I'm all the more so happy that we have the opportunity to meet today in order to strengthen, and also expand and deepen our bilateral dialog on these topics.
 
And I believe that our discussions today are, in fact, a continuation of the beginnings of the dialog that was held between President Trump and our federal chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, (inaudible), on his visit here a few weeks ago.  And I'd like to thank you, as well, of the -- for -- in particular for your engagement commitment in the Western Balkans.
 
This is not only important for Europe, but in particular, for Austria, given also our security and also the stability in the region.  And I'd also like to thank you very much for your cooperation in many different areas that we have seen, in particular -- and continue to see the potential for -- in particular, this was the second of our conversations and dialogue yesterday, as well as today, and in particular, there was a meeting with the National Guard.  We hope to continue the cooperation in the future.  Thank you very much.
 
SEC. SHANAHAN:  Welcome.  We -- any questions for the Minister?
 
(CROSSTALK)
 
QUESTION:  ... Mr. Secretary, would you explain Vienna's position more precisely please, sir, in regards to the ISIS trials and tribunals being held in the Middle East as opposed to the ICC in the Hague?
 
SEC. SHANAHAN:  Answers are optional.
 
MIN. KUNASEK:  OK.
 
(LAUGHTER)
 
MIN. KUNASEK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  First of all, I'd like to thank, in particular, the Secretary for his efforts that have been undertaken by the United States to combat ISIS.  And of course, this question of returning to combat is one that is of particular concern to Austria.
 
And of course, I think it is all of our concern that we have just punishment for these persons, but I do believe that this is a subject of further talks and -- that we will hold in order to then get to a just solution.  
 
QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, on the border wall, the Army Corps of Engineers announced nearly a billion in awards contracts.  When do you expect more brief programming money to go towards the border wall?
 
SEC. SHANAHAN:  Oh, I would -- I would say here in the near term.  I don't -- I can't give you an exact date, but you know, we'll be back -- we're reviewing.  I expect an analysis back from the Joint Staff shortly, and that will initiate the next step of the review process.
 
So I'd like to give you a date, but it's been work and it's a -- it remains a high priority and focus of the department, OK?  Thank you.
 
(CROSSTALK)