Panetta Attends Historic Trilateral Defense Meeting

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03/27/2012 09:30 PM CDT

Panetta Attends Historic Trilateral Defense Meeting

American Forces Press Service

OTTAWA, Canada, March 27, 2012 - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta attended an historic trilateral meeting here today with defense leaders from Canada and Mexico to discuss common challenges and improve continental security.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, left, walks with Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay as they proceed to trilateral meetings with defense ministers from Canada and Mexico in Ottawa, Ontario, March 27, 2012. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

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"This is the first trilateral meeting of defense ministers from the United States, Canada and Mexico and it's a real honor for me to have this opportunity to be here in Ottawa to participate in this historic event," Panetta said during a post-meeting news conference.

Panetta said the meeting provided the defense ministers with "an unprecedented opportunity to try to bring together our nations in a common approach to continental security."

The ties between the North American nations "are deep, and they are abiding," not just because of shared geography, he said.

"We share a similar identity rooted in the principals of liberty and democracy," Panetta said. "American and Canadian forces have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Afghanistan for the last decade.

"The United States and Mexican forces have long cooperated in a number of areas, especially in the fight against illegal drug traffickers," he added.

Panetta expressed his gratitude to Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay for Canadian forces' partnership in Afghanistan.

"The mission there is on track, thanks largely to the efforts of countries like Canada and their tremendous contribution and sacrifice," he said. "I can't tell you how much we appreciate what the Canadians have done to be part of this effort. And I understand and recognize the sacrifices that have been made on behalf of this effort."

MacKay said it was important for the three nations to work together to improve continental security for North Americans.

"When it comes to the security of North America, none of us can afford to work in isolation, and that has been an easy conclusion to arrive at," he said. "Our discussions today began with what I believe is an important dialogue on security and defense in North America that we will continue through regular meetings."

MacKay, speaking in English, French and occasionally Spanish, discussed the importance of the trilateral meeting.

"Through our discussions today, we were able to better identify a number of opportunities to better coordinate our efforts on issues related to national defense," he said. "We discussed the need to advance a common understanding of the threats facing North America."

The three leaders also will be exploring ways to cooperate more closely on humanitarian assistance and disaster response, MacKay said. "We have defined a way forward and now is the time to go to work to operationalize ... some of the discussions and the agreements that we've had today," he said.

The leaders also discuss the need for a common threat assessment on challenges facing the area, better military-to-military relationships and improved regional engagement, Panetta said.

"Looking ahead, the U.S. is exploring other ways to improve our defense collaboration and to focus on areas like cyber security and defense support to civil authorities," he added. "We continue to take steps on a bilateral basis as well."

Panetta said he discussed the fight against drug cartels, disaster relief training and exchange programs with his Mexican counterparts. He also had "very constructive" talks with McKay, he said, about capacity building in Central America, NATO's long-term approach in Afghanistan, ongoing NATO reform efforts and America's commitment to the F-35 program.

"All of these steps herald a new era of defense cooperation on this continent," he said. "A new effort that I believe will advance security in the Western Hemisphere and around the world."

"Our nations are more than just neighbors," Panetta said. "We are friends, we are partners, we are one family – una familia, un famil – committed to forging a better and more secure future for our people."
 


 
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta talks with Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan before initiating trilateral meetings with defense ministers from Canada and Mexico in Ottawa, Ontario, March 27, 2012. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett
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