SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: (inaudible). Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciated very much being with you at the NATO Defense Ministerial meetings in Brussels earlier this week, and I'm particularly glad to be here with you today in Romania.
I also appreciated your comments regarding the strong -- (inaudible) -- endorsement in -- (inaudible) -- system. (inaudible) -- your attitude. Thank you.
(inaudible) -- in a sense, specifically regarding Romania's -- (inaudible). I want to congratulate -- (inaudible) -- of Romania for -- (inaudible) -- each year. And what your country's been proven to represent is a very reliable partner in defense, with and for the United States. I'm very proud of that effort to -- (inaudible) -- many other United States, -- (inaudible) -- with the other leaders are strong supporters -- (inaudible).
I want to state how much President Obama and Americans appreciate the -- (inaudible) -- of Romania's people, and I particularly appreciate the people of Romania's warm hospitality and -- (inaudible) -- on the -- (inaudible) -- of the hospitality given the women who serve here at (inaudible), some 500 people, -- (inaudible).
I want to -- (inaudible) -- there are 34 countries -- (inaudible) -- that have troops -- (inaudible).
I appreciated the -- (inaudible) -- speech -- (inaudible) -- development -- (inaudible) -- specifically both our countries are dealing with and my trip I really wanted to tell you we have grown -- we have grown a lot stronger -- (inaudible).
I specifically wanted to speak with Romania -- (inaudible) -- the United States appreciates Romania's contribution to security, for their troops in the Iraq war, Romanian troops, as you all know, served with honor in Iraq. Some 1,200 remain deployed -- 1,200 Romanian troops still -- (inaudible) -- in Afghanistan. And the United States is grateful for Romania's steadfast commitment to the NATO mission there, especially as you mark the important anniversary to your entering of NATO.
America recognizes the sacrifices your troops and your people, your families, with the -- (inaudible) -- of war -- (inaudible).
Today, Romania continues to provide critical support for our nations' shared strategic objectives by permitting U.S. and coalition troops to transit in and out of Afghanistan through MK Air Base. Well over 50,000 U.S. troops transited MK in the first 100 days of operations. And later today, I look forward to seeing the full scope of our operations at MK, which includes soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
MK Air Base will remain essential -- essential -- for the new phase of our efforts in Afghanistan. It also demonstrates the United States' and Romania's broader defense cooperation, which is becoming even more important in the wake of Russia's actions in Ukraine.
Minister Dusa and I discussed those actions and the situation in Ukraine this morning, as we did at our NATO ministerial.
This week, President Obama was in neighboring Poland, as we all know, and I spent two days at NATO. Each of us reaffirmed America's commitment to the collective security of all of NATO's allies.
The presence of the USS Vella Gulf is a clear expression of this commitment. Another example is President Obama's announcement this week that we will ask Congress for up to $1 billion to enhance the readiness of U.S. and allied forces in Europe, including more U.S. troop rotations for exercises and training, and a stronger presence of U.S. ships in the Black Sea.
The U.S. has maintained a regular naval presence in the Black Sea since mid-March, with the USS Truxton, the USS Donald Cook, and the USS Taylor all conducting port calls in Romania, and we will sustain this tempo going forward.
We are also stepping up our cooperation with other partners and allies surrounding the Black Sea, including Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey and Ukraine.
This week in Brussels, I emphasized that, as the United States increases its commitments to European security, we are also looking for our European allies to do the same. Romania has already decided to increase -- increase its investment in its defense enterprise. The United States also appreciates the kinds of investments Romania is making in infrastructure, advanced capabilities and modernization.
One important example of Romania's increased defense investments is its purchase of F-16 fighter jets, and Romania has already had several training engagements with the United States and Portugal in preparation for receiving its F-16s.
As I told the minister, the United States intends to continue working closely with Romania to strengthen its military aviation capabilities as well as other capabilities. Having seen the results of America's joint Aviation Detachment in Poland, I hope to begin similar cooperation between the U.S., Poland and Romania.
Another important area of cooperation between the United States and Romania is missile defense. Following a successful recent test, we are on track for the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system to be installed in Romania next year. And Vice President Biden reviewed our missile defense cooperation when he was here last month.
This new system will be part of Phase II of the European Phased Adaptive Approach. And, once operational, it will mark another milestone in our bilateral defense relationship, and another major achievement as Romania fortifies its position on the front line of regional security.
Minister Dusa, the United States is committed -- we're committed to strengthening our partnership and friendship with the people of Romania as we work together to shape a more secure and a more prosperous world.