SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good afternoon. Thank you for coming out. Let me address what we just witnessed here, first briefly, and then make a couple comments about why I'm here, and then we'll open up to questions.
First, what this memorial means. This is a pretty special monument to a country that participated with the allies, with the United States, Mexico, in World War II, a brave thing that Mexico did. The service record represented here with this memorial should be remembered.
I feel very honored, privileged to be part of this. I know what memorials mean to countries and how they reflect their history and their sacrifices.
In fact, the 201st group of aviation that represented the expeditionary force of Mexico was attached to an Army Air Corps unit in the Pacific that my father served in, in World War II. It was the 13th Army Air Corps.
So I have some family and special recognition as to what this unit meant and also a personal appreciation on -- and on behalf of the United States, I want to thank the country of Mexico for their contributions to all of our efforts in World War II.
Now, today, we just finished the second North American defense ministerial here in Mexico.
We agreed, the three trilateral nations that make up this conference, that we would go forward with a third meeting that I will host in Washington, D.C., in 2016.
In the meantime, we have tasked our defense agencies to go forward and put together plans and programs based on initiatives that we agreed to here today.
Working groups in different areas like cyber. We spent a lot of time focused on disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, and other areas.
These kinds of dialogues and conferences are important for many reasons, but especially important, it gives the ministers themselves an opportunity to personally exchange ideas and thoughts about our world, about our common interests, and about our common challenges.
Why don't I go now to questions?
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. The Ukrainians have launched a new offensive to assert government control in the east of the country, and the leadership has indicated that they have U.S. support. Can you talk a little bit about what sorts of assurances of support the U.S. has given? And is there any concern that this may be destabilizing?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, I've been here today, obviously, but I have been given updates and reports on activities on the Russia-Ukraine border. First, I've asked my staff to reach out to Russian Defense Minister Shoygu's office to set up a call, where I want to talk with Minister Shoygu.
As I have been updated on the specifics of this -- I don't have all of the facts -- but, in fact, if these reports that I've received are accurate, then this is dangerously destabilizing. And it's very provocative. It does not de-escalate. In fact, these activities escalate. They make it more difficult to try to find a diplomatic, peaceful resolution to that -- to that issue.
I think if you go back just to what happened a week ago in Geneva, where there was an agreement signed by the Russian government, the United States government, Ukrainian government and the European Union, to take certain steps to continue this de-escalation, this, in fact, goes the other way.
So until I know more about it, that's all I've got.
Q: (off mic) what you're referring to (off mic)
SEC. HAGEL: The Russian -- about going the other way. But what you just asked me about, if, in fact, all of that's accurate, this goes the other way from what the Russians signed in the agreement they signed last Thursday.
MODERATOR: The next question will be David (off mic)
Q: TRANSLATOR: Mr. Hagel, during this meeting with (inaudible) secretary of defense and the secretary of the Navy, did you discuss the Merida Initiative and the type of support the United States offers Mexico through this initiative, in particular against drug trafficking? And what type of challenges do you see in the future facing together against the scourge of drug trafficking?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, we discussed all the different issues that are of our common interests. We share a 2,000-mile border. It's important for both countries, for our people. We have a lot of common interests, as I've mentioned. And we have common threats.
And international crime syndicates and crime and illicit drug traffic is one of those threats. And it's not just unique to the United States or Mexico. It is a threat and a reality to this region. And we spent a lot of time today talking about the regional focus of our partnership, going beyond even the trilateral relationships, but also the ways we can work together, capacity-building for all of the countries of this area. They want security. They want stability. They want opportunities for their people to grow. And when illicit drug traffic undermines that and international crime syndicates threaten governments, destabilize countries, that's something we all have to deal with. So, yes, we discussed all those issues.
MODERATOR: This will have to be the last question.
Q: TRANSLATOR: It's a similar question, more or less. What was the most important issue that you discussed during the meeting? And when do you think we can start seeing progress from resulting issues that you discussed during the meeting?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, I think, if you look out over the last three years, in the trilateral relationship between Canada, Mexico and the United States, it has been astoundingly productive. In fact, I think there's been over the last three years something like a more than 500 percent increase in exchanges between our militaries, different areas of cooperation and possibilities. So that is ongoing. It didn't start this morning, and it won't just be a result of this morning's meeting.
We, as I said, left the meeting today with an agreement that over the next six months our defense ministries would be focused on a number of agreements that we made to go forward in certain areas to make progress. And I mentioned cyber, for example, as one, a new working group on cyber. There will be other working groups.
So I look forward to those relationships, as we continue to strengthen and build and deepen those relationships. But, again, they didn't just start. We're building onto what has been ongoing for the last few years.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you all very much. Thank you.