The United States and the United Kingdom are looking for ways to deepen an already close military-to-military relationship, American and British defense leaders said following a Pentagon meeting May 2.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told Pentagon reporters that they discussed the situations in Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.
The two men also discussed shared acquisition programs and ways to operate in fiscally constrained times.
With respect to Syria, the U.S. military continues to examine all options, including arming those opposed to the regime of Bashar Assad. “That’s an option,” Hagel said.
The international community’s objective in Syria is to stop the violence, promote stability and help the Syrian people transition to a post-Assad government, Hagel noted.
“Any country, any power, any international coalition, any partnership is going to continue to look at options, how best to accomplish those objectives,” he said. “This is not a static situation.”
U.S. officials constantly are evaluating the fast-changing situation in Syria and one of those options — among many — is arming the rebels, Hagel said.
The two men agreed that a diplomatic solution in Syria is preferred.
“We continue to believe that a diplomatic solution is needed to end the bloodshed and that Assad and his close associates can have no place in the future of Syria,” Hammond said. “We in the U.K. are stepping up our support to the national coalition and remind the regime that nothing has been taken off the table in the light of the continuing bloodshed.”
There is some evidence that someone in Syria used a nerve agent, and both men said they are concerned about this.
“We remain increasingly concerned at the emerging evidence of the use of chemical weapons, and we demand that the regime allow the U.N. to investigate these allegations,” Hammond said. “Assad should be in no doubt that the world is watching and will hold him … and anyone else to account who is found responsible for the use of chemical weapons.”
Hagel voiced his sympathy to the British people for the loss of three soldiers in Afghanistan’s Helmand province yesterday. He and Hammond discussed the ways the United States and the United Kingdom will work together through the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan in December 2014 and the way the two countries will support Afghanistan after that.
Hammond got a chance yesterday to see a British pilot flying the F-35B joint strike fighter being tested at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.
“The United Kingdom’s continued commitment to this program, and our growing cooperation in new priority areas like cyber, is helping ensure this alliance has the kind of [cutting-edge] capabilities needed for the future,” Hagel said.
“The U.K. and the U.S. remain in lock step on these projects, and as we take them forward, we will ensure the continuity of those vital capabilities,” Hammond said.
The two men will meet at NATO next month.