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By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Feb. 1, 2014 – On the sidelines of the 50th Munich Security Conference in Germany today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with leaders from Germany, the United Kingdom, Israel, Georgia and India to discuss military relationships and common interests.

The MSC, held from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, is a key gathering for the international strategic community and an independent forum dedicated to promoting peaceful conflict resolution, international cooperation and dialogue in dealing with present and future security challenges.

The conference was called the Internationale Wehrkunde-Begegnung when it began in 1963. Wehrkunde, pronounced “verkunda,” literally translates as “military science,” and many attendees on both sides of the Atlantic still call the meeting the Wehrkunde.

As part of the MSC, Hagel had his first meeting with incoming German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby wrote in a readout of the discussion.

“The two leaders confirmed their strong commitment to the NATO alliance, and in particular to the mission in Afghanistan,” Kirby said. “Secretary Hagel thanked Minister von der Leyen for Germany’s leadership in [the International Securiy Assistance Force] and for the service and sacrifice of Germany’s troops.”

Both leaders noted the vital importance of securing a U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement to allowing proper planning for any international troop presence after the NATO mission ends this year, Kirby said.

Hagel made clear that without such an agreement the U.S. military soon would need to begin planning for the complete withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan, leaving none behind for a long-planned train, assist, advise and counterterrorism mission overseen by a limited number of NATO troops, including Americans, after 2014.

Hagel praised Germany’s Framework Nation Initiative as a terrific example of how the alliance can capture lessons learned from the interoperability it has fostered over more than a decade of war, and the potential model for better burden-sharing moving forward.

The Framework Nations concept is one in which clusters of nations with some in the lead each are responsible for different defense areas of competence. Such a distribution of effort, the secretary said, also could help NATO plan and invest more efficiently.

“Secretary Hagel also thanked Minister van der Leyen for Germany’s willingness to contribute to international missions in Africa,” Kirby said, adding that the secretary invited the minister to visit him in Washington and van der Leyen agreed to work a visit into her schedule.

Next Hagel met this morning with U.K. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond. Both leaders stressed their shared commitment to each other and to the two nations’ close and abiding military relationship, Kirby said.

“They talked about military capabilities most important to the future of the alliance and to U.S-U.K. bilateral cooperation,” he added, “including unmanned systems and the Joint Strike Fighter.”

The admiral said both men expressed their desire to stay in touch leading up to the NATO Summit in September.”

This afternoon Hagel met with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and their conversation covered a wide array of regional security issues, including ongoing developments in Iran, Syria and Egypt, Kirby said.

Hagel reiterated the United States’ commitment to defend Israel, the admiral added, “and pledged to continue working closely with Minister Ya’alon as together our two militaries confront the common challenges of violent extremism, regional instability and declining defense spending.”

Also during the meeting, Hagel had productive discussions with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon.

“Any time you can get a group of security leaders together, mainly on the European continent but really all over the world, I think the sharing of ideas and thoughts and information is important, Hagel told reporters traveling with him as the trip began.”

Of the Munich Security Conference itself, Hagel said, “It’s a pretty thorough scope and range of the big issues of our time. I suspect all these issues are going to be discussed and I think they should be because … every big challenge facing any nation in the world is a global challenge.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinAFPS)

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