American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta met today with Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa to further their relationship as NATO partners while discussing important issues both countries face.
“It was my honor to be able to welcome Minister La Russa from Italy here,” Panetta said to the Pentagon reporters and Italian media. “As a fellow Italian, it’s nice to have another Italian visit in that capacity.”
The secretary noted he met with La Russa in Brussels at a recent NATO defense ministers conference. “I think we enjoy a very warm friendship,” he added, calling Italy one of the United States’ most important partners and allies.
“I think it’s obvious by virtue of the missions that they’ve helped us with time and time again,” Panetta noted. “They have a large presence in [Regional Command West] in Afghanistan. They’ve done a remarkable job there. They continue to provide security and training in that part of Afghanistan, and we view them as one of our NATO partners that has really assumed responsibility, hopefully, for ensuring that Afghanistan heads in the right direction.”
The defense secretary also expressed his gratitude to Italy for the sacrifices it has made.
“We know that lives have been lost, and we share in the agony of those lost lives,” he said.
La Russa, speaking through an interpreter, shared his appreciation for the defense secretary and his efforts to continue building their partnership.
“My most heartfelt thanks to Secretary Panetta,” he said. “We have confirmed how close our relationship is also in several other fields. We want to strengthen this collaboration in both the political and military field, and, if possible, … we want to take a positive approach to several problems on the table – namely Libya and Afghanistan.”
Panetta cited Italy’s support to NATO missions in Libya.
“We really appreciate the mission that they’re conducting in Libya,” he said. “Frankly, if it were not for the Italians, we really don’t feel that we could have completed this mission. They provided important bases – Aviano, Sigonella, and Naples and elsewhere. As a result of that, NATO was able to conduct important missions into Libya.
“So Italy has been, again, a very good partner with regards to that effort as well,” he added.
La Russa said another issue he and Panetta discussed was the mission in Afghanistan.
“We have considered putting an end to our military operations in Afghanistan by 2014, also, based on the conditions in the field,” he said. “But we’ve [also] examined the possibility to continue our presence in the area under other forms – namely training and other forms of nonmilitary support.”
Panetta said he expressed his “greatest thanks” to Italy for the support it provided during a recent visit to the country.
“Bottom line here is Italy is a good partner, good friend and a good ally,” he said. “We continue to work together to try to make sure that we can advance the common causes that we’re involved with.”