Transcript

Acting SECDEF, Lithuanian Minister of Defense Participate in Bilateral Negotiation

Nov. 13, 2020
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller; Lithuanian Minister of National Defense Raimundas Karoblis

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHRISTOPHER C. MILLER: Be seated. Thank you so much.

I'm going to have a -- a little water. If you don't mind, I'll have my mask off while I speak.

LITHUANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RAIMUNDAS KAROBLIS: Yeah, we -- we too wear masks because of optic.

SEC. MILLER: Thank you so much for visiting. Minister Karoblis, it is a pleasure to welcome you and your team to the Pentagon as we continue to strengthen the defense relationship between our two countries. This is my first in-person meeting with a foreign leader as acting Secretary of Defense, and like I said downstairs, I couldn't have planned for a more appropriate and important visitor.

Over the past few days, I've spoken with my foreign counterparts in Germany, France, and the United States -- oh, sorry, the United Kingdom. I'm going to speak with a lot in the United States. I'm going to cover them in a moment. This afternoon I'll talk with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, who's just doing a remarkable job all around. I've also talked with our partners in Congress, including Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committee.

I want to assure the American public and our allies and partners that the Department of Defense remains strong and continues its vital work of protecting our homeland, our people and our interests around the world. We do that in concert with steadfast allies like Lithuania.

For decades, our two nations have stood arm-in-arm in defense of our shared values. I understand there is a plaque -- I -- I want to come see this soon, as soon as we're able to travel safely again. I understand there's a plaque in the center of your capitol to commemorate President George W. Bush's remarks upon your invitation into NATO in 2002. One of our officers who has served there wanted to make sure that it was in there, and that was just such a powerful, powerful symbol when I heard about it. That plaque reads, "Anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America."

I also think it is important to note that the first American to cement this relationship was the acting Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, who refused to accept Soviet domination of Lithuania in the summer of 1940.

President Bush's words ring true today. We remain firmly committed to the NATO alliance, and we share Lithuania's concern regarding Russia's malign behavior.

In light of this and other challenges, we are working closely with Lithuania and other allies to strengthen our security cooperation, enhance deterrence of Russia and bolster Baltic defense. Likewise, Lithuania continues to play an active and important role in NATO operations while protecting the alliance's eastern flank.

The United States is truly grateful for Lithuania's extraordinary host nation support, as demonstrated by the deployment of 500 U.S. military personnel from the U.S. Army's famed First of the Ninth (1-9) Calvary during the nine-month Atlantic Resolve rotation. This is one of the largest examples of sustained U.S. presence in your country, and hopefully, that will continue well into the future.

Further, we look forward to the upcoming rotation in December of 2-8 Calvary Battalion to one of the best training areas in the world in Pabrade. We also appreciate your contributions to the alliance and your commitment to defense modernization and NATO interoperability. We've come so far in the last 20, 30 years.

We commend you for your recent purchase of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and your upcoming acquisition of UH-60 Black Hawks, the best utility helicopter the world has ever seen; couldn't ask for a better helicopter. Well done, sir. We appreciate it, and we look forward to interoperability exercises in the future.

This is the -- expected value is $243 million. This is the largest nationally-funded investment through foreign military sales in your country's history. Your continued investments in defense set a strong example for other allied and partner nations, and we applaud you for maintaining defense spending consistently at or above two percent of GDP. I encourage all allied nations to follow your lead in meeting the two percent spending target to make needed investments to enhance their capabilities and capacity while strengthening our collective defense.

As you know, two percent should be a floor, not a ceiling. I know we've -- great line. It's really true. That's -- that's -- that's just common sense, and that's how partnerships work.

The United States is proud to stand with Lithuania as steadfast allies, and we remain committed to deterring Russian aggression -- you know that -- boosting readiness and strengthening our mutual security together.

Let me close up congratulating you your -- upcoming Armed Forces Day celebration on November 23rd. Best wishes to you and all of your military members and families.

On a personal note, one of the most legendary figures in our Army Special Forces' history is Major Generally -- Major General Sidney Shachnow, who immigrated from Lithuania after World War II. Unfortunately, -- we lost Major General Shachnow a couple years ago. He was the epitome of a gentleman, an officer, and a warrior. He was a mentor of mine at an extraordinary degree. I only wish he was here with us today. I know he's here in spirit, though.

Thank you, Mr. Minister, for your visit today. Really look forward to our discussions.

This is a just fabulous day for the United States Department of Defense, and I know for Lithuania, too. This is a critical partnership, an important partnership, and I think we're -- frankly, I think we're setting the tone and setting the procedures for future cooperation throughout NATO. 

So thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.

Over to you, sir -- Mr. Minister -- sorry.

KAROBLIS: (inaudible) --

MILLER: You may be prime minister -- may be prime minister soon, but we don't want to put that out just yet.

KAROBLIS: Yeah.

Mr. Secretary -- Mr. Secretary, thank -- thank you for -- for receiving to me and my delegation, very busy days for you, indeed, and I'm very much encouraged by your words, including the plate on the municipality and reading the -- quoting the -- the words of President Bush. And -- and yes, we have -- never have doubts about -- about the U.S. position (inaudible) historic and (inaudible).

And first of all, I would like also to congratulate, with the Veteran's Day, which was two days ago, and also with -- with -- to express condolences for the U.S. servicemen died in -- in Egypt. Yes, it's unfortunate that happened, so sincere condolences for -- for -- for you and for the families.

Well, speaking about our relationship, indeed, the -- so Lithuania is staunch for American alliance, the region in Europe and with the absolute support from the society regarding the presence of U.S. in -- in Europe and the U.S. leadership. We have served and fought together in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are working to contain Russia. We are protecting together the eastern flank of NATO, supporting Ukraine and other activities.

On the other hand, Lithuania being frontier country, we are investing to other security ourselves, also, and during the years from -- the year from 2014 to 2020, we increased defense spending three times, reaching for two -- well above the defense financement, well above two percent in 2020.

We have very great preparation in -- in different areas and in this classical military preparation, but also there are also other areas which have good cooperation. For example, with cyber, one example is the creation of the Joint Regional Cyber Defense Center in -- in -- in Vilnius, which will -- I believe, will start its functions very soon, and also to be important for all region -- wide region, including allies and partners. But we believe it's -- it's -- it's support of national but we believe it's also for the United States.

And of course, so this -- another issue, and the main reason regarding the timing why I'm here, so it's certainly a historic moment because we are signing the agreement to procure Black Hawks, UH-60 helicopters. It's not only about the equipment, but for, which is very important for our armed forces, but it's most symbolically with this project we will be able to -- to quit with the last legacy of -- of -- of Soviet equipment. So in the (inaudible) -- in -- in our armed forces in general in -- in -- in the forces.

So it's important, very, we continue cooperation with you on -- also on this issue, but also on other issues. You -- you -- you mentioned another weapons systems like (inaudible), munition and Javelins and similar systems, and in general. So during next five years, we (inaudible) plans to -- to buy -- so, the weaponry systems from the United States so within the amount of half a billion dollars, when -- of our total defense budget is -- is -- is one billion (inaudible) half euro.

So we really thank you very much, and for -- for -- for the possibility to be here with this -- this -- this visit, and also even more for the cooperation, -- which great cooperation between the United States and -- and Lithuania.

Thank you very much. Looking forward for the discussion.