By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met today with French Defense Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian to address shared interests and security challenges both nations face and to reinforce the oldest U.S. alliance.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters during a joint news conference with Le Drian, Hagel expressed his appreciation for “the important relationship and the big issues” both countries must navigate.
“We reinforced the deep and enduring security relationship between France and the United States,” he said. “France is America’s oldest ally. Our defense partnership continues to be one of great importance. It’s important both in Europe and around the world.”
Hagel announced that earlier this week, U.S. Strategic Command and the French Ministry of Defense signed a space situational awareness agreement. “This will enhance information-sharing between our two countries in this critical domain,” he said. “This is an important step that we’ve taken with some of our closest allies, and now with France.” It also will help to bring the U.S.-French alliance closer into the 21st century, he added.
In recent years, the defense secretary said, French and U.S. troops have served side by side around the globe, from Africa to Afghanistan.
“One area of focus today was our continuing cooperation and support of our international efforts in Africa, including significant French contributions in Mali and the Central African Republic,” Hagel said. “I commended Minister Le Drian for France’s leadership and taking decisive action in Mali, as well as other locations, to displace extremists that were gaining a foothold there.”
Hagel noted the United States has provided support to operations in Mali since early 2013, including continued airlift support, refueling for French aircraft, and intelligence cooperation.
“I also commended France’s leadership in helping the African Union’s international support mission to provide humanitarian assistance in the Central African Republic,” Hagel added. “The United States has been and remains committed to supporting efforts to protect civilians, prevent further atrocities, and provide humanitarian assistance in the Central African Republic.”
About six weeks ago, the secretary said, U.S. aircraft, in coordination with France, began transporting some 850 peacekeeping troops from Burundi to the Central African Republic to help in quelling the violence in that area.
“Last week, we extended the support to peacekeepers from Rwanda,” he added. “Today, the minister and I discussed ways we can continue working together in Africa, and other locations, to address shared interests and challenges going forward, including its support of crisis response and counterterrorism efforts.”
The United States and its European allies, he said, have taken the threat of violent extremism seriously since 9/11. “We are working together to find new ways to combat this threat in Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” he added.
The defense secretary said he and Le Drian also discussed other critical issues, such as objectives for the NATO summit in September, better facilitation of cadet exchanges between service academies and cooperation in areas such as space flight safety and operations.
The French defense minister, speaking through a translator, noted that another reason for his visit was to prepare for an upcoming visit from French President Francois Hollande.
Franco-American cooperation has never been as important, he said, noting that both countries share the same analysis of threats, proliferation risks, terrorism and the same determination to fight extremists and violent groups.
“In our talks, we emphasized the questions linked to Africa,” Le Drian said. “I thank Chuck Hagel for the important support — the indispensable support — that the United States gave, both for France, but also gave to the U.N. missions [and] the African missions during these operations both in Mali … and the Central African Republic.”
Both defense leaders agreed on the need to pursue cooperation in dialogue on Africa, Le Drian said, which is a question both of development and security in Europe and the international theater.
The French defense minister said he and Hagel agreed to create a high-level group with a representative of each of country to discuss their analysis and common initiatives in Africa. Also, Le Drian said, he explained the new positioning of French forces in Africa to better identify and target terrorists in areas from Mauritania to the Horn of Africa.
He and Hagel also discussed the future of the NATO summit, the conclusion of the European Council and other topics they will readdress in February during a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Le Drian said.
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallAFPS)
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