Panetta Praises U.S.-Turkish Alliance, Pledges More Support

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2012 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta deliv­ered keynote remarks dur­ing the 31st Annu­al Amer­i­can Turk­ish Coun­cil Con­fer­ence din­ner here last night reaf­firm­ing the U.S.-Turkish alliance and pledg­ing fur­ther sup­port for shared secu­ri­ty goals.

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“As some of you may know, I’ve just returned … from a nine-day trip to the Asia-Pacif­ic region,” Panet­ta said. “The main pur­pose of it was to explain the new defense strat­e­gy … to our allies and to our part­ners through­out the region. In many ways, my appear­ance here tonight con­tin­ues that mis­sion.”

The defense sec­re­tary reflect­ed on the “his­toric” U.S.-Turkey alliance, and not­ed 2012 marks 60 years since Turkey joined NATO.

Through this alliance, and a bilat­er­al mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship, Turkey and the U.S. have built “strong coop­er­a­tion and con­nec­tions” across their armed ser­vices, Panet­ta said.

“Our troops fought along­side each oth­er in the Kore­an War, our troops helped stem the blood­shed in the Balka­ns, and they worked togeth­er to pro­tect the Libyan peo­ple as they stood up to a bru­tal dic­ta­tor,” Panet­ta not­ed.

“Just as crit­i­cal­ly, Turkey con­tin­ues to make vital con­tri­bu­tions in Afghanistan, where more than 1,200 Turk­ish forces are cur­rent­ly deployed,” he said. “We deeply appre­ci­ate the deter­mi­na­tion and resolve of the Turk­ish peo­ple to assist the inter­na­tion­al mil­i­tary effort, even in the face of the chal­lenges that we have to con­front, and even in the face of tragedy.”

Panet­ta said he was “deeply sad­dened” by news of a March 16 Turk­ish heli­copter crash in Kab­ul, Afghanistan, which killed 12 Turk­ish sol­diers.

“In the after­math of that tragedy, Turkey stayed focused on the mis­sion,” he said. “In the lead-up to the Chica­go Sum­mit, Turkey played a lead­ing role with­in NATO to ensure that we affirmed our endur­ing com­mit­ment to the secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty of Afghanistan.”

“Just as Turkey has shared in the effort to deny al-Qai­da and its mil­i­tant allies safe haven in Afghanistan, the Unit­ed States has expressed its strong sol­i­dar­i­ty in Turkey with their fight against the PKK,” he said.

Panet­ta assured atten­dees his dis­cus­sions with his Turk­ish coun­ter­parts have been clear in the com­mit­ment to con­tin­ue help­ing Turkey counter the PKK “threat.” The Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Par­ty, also known as the PKK, is a ter­ror­ist group that has been fight­ing the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment since 1984.

“I’ve reit­er­at­ed, obvi­ous­ly, our long-term view, that mil­i­tary force, alone, while impor­tant, can­not solve this prob­lem,” Panet­ta said. “There should be a polit­i­cal process involved as well. But let me be clear — so long as the PKK threat­ens Turkey and threat­ens its peo­ple, we will con­tin­ue to pro­vide Turkey with the capa­bil­i­ties need­ed to counter that threat.”

“Our shared com­mit­ment to these efforts reflects our shared aspi­ra­tion for a peace­ful, sta­ble and pros­per­ous future for our chil­dren, and our shared val­ues as two democ­ra­cies,” he said.

Panet­ta said as some threats recede, more arise such as vio­lent extrem­ism, desta­bi­liz­ing behav­ior from Iran and North Korea, ris­ing pow­ers in the Asia-Pacif­ic region, tur­moil in the Mid­dle East and North Africa, and chal­lenges in the cyber domain.

Panet­ta said as the U.S. deals with these chal­lenges and fis­cal pres­sures requir­ing near­ly half a tril­lion dol­lars in bud­get cuts over a decade, the Defense Depart­ment is putting forth a new defense strat­e­gy.

“[This] strat­e­gy rec­og­nizes ‘yes’ we’re going to be small­er, we’ll be lean­er, but we have to be agile, we have to be flex­i­ble, we have to be quick­ly deploy­able, we have to be on the cut­ting edge of tech­nol­o­gy for the future,” he said. “We rec­og­nize that the Asia-Pacif­ic and the Mid­dle East are where the most press­ing secu­ri­ty chal­lenges lie, and we must increase our focus on these key areas.”

Panet­ta said the strat­e­gy rec­og­nizes the need to main­tain a U.S. pres­ence through­out the world with “inno­v­a­tive rota­tion­al deploy­ments that empha­size alliances” and new part­ner­ships, and invest­ments in the realms of cyber­space, unmanned sys­tems, spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, and the abil­i­ty to mobi­lize quick­ly.

The defense sec­re­tary not­ed as part of this effort, the U.S. also wants to encour­age nations like Turkey “whose val­ues we share” to help advance peace and secu­ri­ty in these regions.

“As part of a shared vision for secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty in the Mid­dle East, the Unit­ed States strong­ly sup­ports Turkey’s grow­ing and vital lead­er­ship role as a pros­per­ous, demo­c­ra­t­ic nation that is an anchor of secu­ri­ty, and an engine of growth for the region’s econ­o­my,” Panet­ta said.

“Togeth­er, Turkey and the Unit­ed States are work­ing close­ly to sup­port the his­toric wave of demo­c­ra­t­ic change that is sweep­ing the Mid­dle East and North Africa,” he added.

Turkey and the Unit­ed States, Panet­ta said, are con­fronting nations block­ing change and desta­bi­liz­ing behav­ior in the region such as Syr­ia and Iran.

The defense sec­re­tary said the U.S. and Turkey will con­tin­ue to work togeth­er with the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to bring pres­sure on Syr­ia and Iran, because “there is no sil­ver bul­let here.”

“We are more effec­tive in achiev­ing that objec­tive when the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty stands togeth­er as one,” Panet­ta said.

Panet­ta also stat­ed he believes Turkey has an impor­tant lead­er­ship role in solv­ing future secu­ri­ty chal­lenges as part of NATO Force 2020.

Through the decades, Panet­ta said, the part­ner­ship between the Amer­i­can and Turk­ish peo­ple has grown stronger, and the two nations have been made stronger and more pros­per­ous because of it.

The chal­lenges and threats both nations face today are com­plex, dan­ger­ous, and desta­bi­liz­ing, he said.

“But our two nations under­stand that in that kind of world, nations that have com­mon val­ues and are not afraid to lead will pre­vail,” Panet­ta said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)