Panetta to Reinforce Strong U.S.-Turkey Partnership

ANKARA, Turkey, Dec. 15, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta arrived here today to rein­force the Unit­ed States’ strong rela­tion­ship with a crit­i­cal secu­ri­ty part­ner with­in the region and NATO.

Panet­ta trav­eled here after cer­e­monies in Iraq mark­ing the end of the U.S. Forces Iraq mis­sion, with stops also in Afghanistan and Dji­bouti.

In Ankara, the sec­re­tary will meet with Pres­i­dent Abdul­lah Gul and Turk­ish defense lead­ers to thank them for their country’s lead­er­ship dur­ing a peri­od of tran­si­tion and change with­in the region.

“Turkey rep­re­sents a key ally in the Mid­dle East,” Panet­ta told reporters trav­el­ing with him.

In addi­tion to being a strong NATO ally, Turkey is “extreme­ly impor­tant to the abil­i­ty to try to keep what is hap­pen­ing in the Mid­dle East head­ed in the right direc­tion,” he said.

“They can have an influ­ence on what hap­pens in Egypt, what hap­pens in Iraq, what hap­pens in Iran, what hap­pens in Syr­ia,” the sec­re­tary said.

Panet­ta not­ed that Turkey has tak­en a strong posi­tion in con­demn­ing Syria’s vio­lent crack­down on pro­tes­tors and call­ing for Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad to step down.

“Turkey is com­ing on very strong in recent weeks in full align­ment with our efforts and those of our key Arab and Euro­pean part­ners,” a senior defense offi­cial trav­el­ing with Panet­ta told reporters.

The sec­re­tary also said he will com­mend Turkey’s deci­sion to host the for­ward-based radar for the NATO mis­sile defense sys­tem. Panet­ta also is expect­ed to thank the Turks for their con­tri­bu­tions to the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force in Afghanistan.

Also dur­ing the vis­it, the sec­re­tary is expect­ed to express the Unit­ed States’ sol­i­dar­i­ty in its fight against the PKK ter­ror­ists and ways to con­tin­ue that sup­port as U.S. forces com­plete their draw­down in Iraq, the offi­cial said.

Echo­ing a theme he raised ear­li­er this month, the sec­re­tary is like­ly to encour­age Turkey to strength­en and, where nec­es­sary, build rela­tions with key neigh­bors, includ­ing Israel, Arme­nia and Cyprus, the offi­cial said.

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

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