Anders Fogh Rasmussen: It is my pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Zapatero back to NATO Headquarters, and to welcome Defense Secretary Panetta on his first visit in his new role.
Today, Spain and the United States have agreed to port U.S ships in Spain in support of NATO’s missile defence system. This annoucement reflects the commitment of both countries to our Alliance and to trans-Atlantic security cooperation.
This agreement marks an important step forward in our common efforts to defend NATO populations, forces and territories against missile threats. Following on the commitments of several other nations, this agreement takes us one step closer to our goal of operational capability. And it reinforces the ties of mutual commitment, mutual cooperation and mutual trust which bind our Alliance together across the Atlantic.
This is cooperation in action. And it is Smart Defence at its best: nations working together and sharing together, to provide something which benefits us all.
I welcome today’s announcement. And I thank you for your commitment to making it happen.
Prime Minister, you have the floor.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: Good morning,
First, I would like to convey to you a positive assessment of the meeting that the Atlantic Council just held today in Brussels.
This meeting marks a step forward on the path that we set for ourselves less than a year ago at the Lisbon Summit, aiming to make NATO an Alliance that is “more effective, engaged and efficient than ever before", in the words of Secretary-General Rasmussen.
At that historic Summit, decisions of enormous importance for the future of the Alliance were taken, such as the New Strategic Concept to face the new challenges of the 21st century, and the establishment of a new command structure that is leaner and more flexible, and improved.
Besides these two important innovations, and as a consequence of them, the allies decided to develop an Anti-Missile Defence System. This deterrent initiative is solely defensive, and is not directed against anyone. With it, the Alliance seeks to safeguard the protection of all European territory and its citizens against the growing threat of missile proliferation in countries that do not respect international law.
As you will recall, as a consequence of this new structure launched in Lisbon, Spain obtained an installation of great importance within NATO's Command and Control Structure: the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain.
This Centre, together with the Centre in Uedem, Germany, will form part of the air command and control system which is to include the anti-missile defence that the Alliance is going to implement.
Together with this land-based component of the new air defence system, I can inform you that Spain is also going to support, starting in 2013, an important part of the system's naval element.
In recent months, the different options have been studied, and finally, it was decided that Spain should be the site for this component of the system, due to its geostrategic location and its position as gateway to the Mediterranean.
Specifically, the United States is going to deploy, as its contribution to NATO's Anti-Missile Defence System, a total of four vessels equipped with the AEGIS system, to be based in Rota.
This means that Rota is going to become a support centre for vessel deployment, enabling them to join multinational forces or carry out NATO missions in international waters, particularly in the Mediterranean.
Spain, out of solidarity as a member, and fully committed to the collective defence of Europe, is going to participate in and support an initiative whose purpose is to improve our citizens’ defence and security.
We are doing so, therefore, convinced that this commitment to collective defence is a guarantee for the defence of Spain and of the Spanish people.
Moreover, this initiative will have a positive impact, in socio-economic terms, on our country, and most especially on the Bay of Cadiz.
Permanently basing four vessels in Rota will require investing in the Base's infrastructure, and contracts with service providers, thus generating approximately a thousand new jobs, both directly and indirectly.
For the shipyards, and for Spain’s defence industry, the foreseeable impact will also be highly positive, as the USA is considering conducting the vessels' maintenance and upkeep at the nearby San Fernando shipyards, in the province of Cadiz. In addition, there will be significant transfer of state-of-the-art technology, from which Spain can benefit.
I should tell you that I informed the opposition leader last week of what I am now announcing.
All in all, I believe that NATO’s expansion of its protection against the threat of a possible missile strike on the Alliance’s members is very positive.
And Spain is going to contribute significantly to this effort, just as it has been doing, as a dedicated member, committed to the security of our continent.
Thank you very much.
Leon Panetta: Good afternoon. I am particularly delighted to be here alongside President Zapatero and Secretary General Rasmussen, and 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 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 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, port visits, and maritime security cooperation activities.
By hosting these Aegis 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 again thanking President Zapatero and Secretary General Rasmussen for their vision and support for this effort, and for their shared commitment to the continued strength and vitality of this alliance.