By Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense
Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here. This is my first meeting here at NATO as secretary of defense and I am particularly delighted to be here alongside President Zapatero and Secretary-General Rasmussen to join them in announcing this very important agreement to station United States Aegis ships at Rota Naval Base in Spain. I’d like to thank President Zapatero for making the trip to Brussels in order to make this important announcement. The American people greatly appreciate his work and his efforts to help forge a deeper bilateral security relationship between our two nations and his strong support for the NATO alliance.
Today that security partnership takes a major step in the right direction. With four Aegis ships at Rota, the alliance is significantly boosting combined naval capabilities in the Mediterranean, and enhancing our ability to ensure the security of this vital region. This relocation of assets takes place as part of the United States ongoing effort to better position forces and defensive capabilities in coordination with our European allies and partners.
This announcement should send a very strong signal that the United States is still continuing to invest in this alliance, and that we are committed to our defense relationship with Europe even as we face growing budget constraints at home. This is too important not to continue to invest in this partnership. In this challenging fiscal environment, partnerships like NATO are even more essential to protecting our common interests. Our work together to boost NATO’s naval presence in this critical region will help us to better achieve the goal of safety and security for all member states.
These ships will also support NATO’s critical efforts to build effective missile defense. Alongside important agreements that were recently concluded with Romania, Poland, and Turkey, Spain’s decision represents a critical step in implementing the European Phased Adaptive Approach, as our leaders agreed to in Lisbon. For its part, the United States is fully committed to building a missile defense capability for the full coverage and protection of all our NATO European populations, their territory and their forces against the growing threat posed by ballistic missiles.
Beyond missile defense, the Aegis destroyers will perform a variety of other important missions, including participating in the Standing NATO Maritime Groups, as well as joining in naval exercises, in port visits, and maritime security cooperation activities.
By hosting these ships, Spain will continue its vital role in enhancing the security of the European region, the Mediterranean Basin, and the Atlantic Ocean. The agreement also enables the United States to provide rapid and responsive support to the U.S. Africa and U.S. Central Commands, as needed.
Again, I’d like to close by thanking President Zapatero and Secretary-General Rasmussen for their vision for their support of this important effort, and for their shared commitment to the continued strength and vitality of this NATO alliance. Thank you.