By DoD News
By David Vergun
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said the efforts of the countries known as the “Quad” — the U.S., Japan, Australia and India — are important in countering the malign influence of China in the region, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said at Thursday’s press briefing.
Kirby discussed Austin’s commitment to allies and partners around the world and noted that the secretary spoke by phone today with several key defense leaders, including Ukrainian Defense Minister Andrii Taran.
In the call with Taran, Austin reaffirmed unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and condemned recent escalations of Russia’s aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine, Kirby said.
Austin reiterated the U.S. commitment to building the capacity of Ukraine’s forces to defend more effectively against Russian aggression, Kirby added.
In turn, Kirby said that Taran expressed gratitude for the open dialogue and continued support.
In a conversation with Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Austin underscored commitment to the U.S.-Turkish bilateral defense relationship and collective security through NATO, Kirby said.
The secretary thanked Akar for the significant role Turkey is playing as part of the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and in support of the ongoing peace process there, Kirby said.
The leaders also discussed the positive diplomatic developments and efforts to reduce all tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, where the secretary welcomed ongoing exploratory talks between NATO allies Turkey and Greece and the commitment of both governments to this process, Kirby said.
In addition, Austin highlighted cooperation among allies and partners in the Black Sea region, including recent exercises that comprised U.S. Navy and Turkish naval assets, Kirby said.
And Austin and Akar discussed the instability along NATO’s eastern and southern flanks, including challenges posed by Russia, he said.
Kirby said Austin noted the importance of working to strengthen U.S-Turkey military-to-military cooperation, and he urged Turkey not to retain the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
In a conversation with Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, Austin reaffirmed the strong and deepening security partnership between the United States and Greece, Kirby said.
Austin thanked Panagiotopoulos for hosting U.S. forces at Souda Bay in Crete and expressed appreciation for Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s visit to the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower on March 23, Kirby said.
The secretary highlighted strong bilateral defense cooperation marked by an expansion of the presence of the United States in Greece during the past year and the homeporting of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams expeditionary mobile base at Souda Bay, he said.
Austin also noted that “our deepening relationship is a dividend of the 2019 update of the U.S.-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement,” Kirby said.
In addition, Kirby said the two leaders discussed the positive diplomatic developments and efforts to reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean; the secretary welcomed ongoing exploratory talks between NATO allies Greece and Turkey and the commitment of both governments to this process.
Kirby added that the two leaders committed to being vigilant regarding threats to stability in NATO’s southern flank, including from Russian malign influence.