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14 janvier 2013 1 14 /01 /janvier /2013 12:50



13 Jan 2013 By Raf Sanchez - telegraph.co.uk


The US defence secretary will arrive in London this week with a warning that neither Britain nor America can afford to "weaken our defences in the process of solving our budget woes", a senior Pentagon official has told The Daily Telegraph.


Washington - Leon Panetta's last trip as a member of President Barack Obama's cabinet will take him to four European nations at a time of severe military budget cuts on both sides of the Atlantic.


While European members of Nato rein in defence spending as part of widespread austerity drives, Mr Panetta's own department faces deep cuts within weeks unless Congress can agree on a compromise to avert them.


Derek Chollet, US assistant secretary of defence for international security, said the Pentagon chief was making the journey to "reaffirm the importance of the transatlantic security partnership" but also to compare notes on defence at a time of economic hardship.


"Clearly the UK in the last few years has been going through its own exercise of dealing with a difficult economic situation and budget cuts and giving a lot of thought to future strategy, as have we," Mr Chollet said.


He said Mr Panetta's meeting with Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, would be "a valuable opportunity" for Britain and the US to discuss "where we see the world going and where we see our mutual defences going".


"It is in neither Europe nor America's interest to weaken our defence in the process of solving our budget woes. That is a message Secretary Panetta is adamant and energetic about making at home and I'm certain he will make in Europe," Mr Chollet said.


Mr Panetta, 74, will travel to Portugal, Spain and Italy before arriving in London on Thursday for the first visit by a US defence secretary since June 2010. He is due to step down within weeks and Mr Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, to replace him.


Mr Panetta has used his last weeks in office to urge Democrats and Republicans to find a compromise to avert defence cuts, describing them as a "meat axe" and warning that their implementation could leave America with a "hollow force" for a military.


Defence planners in Whitehall are concerned that the US cuts, known as "the sequestration", could lead to America cutting its order for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the stealth jet being developed for US and European air forces.


Experts have warned that if the US reduces its order then Britain and other European nations are likely to face higher costs, already estimated at around £57 million per plane. Mr Chollet could not confirm that the Pentagon's $396 billion (£245 billion) JSF programme would face cuts as part of the sequestration but said "a lot would be on the table".


Despite austerity drives across Europe, Mr Chollet said the US saw "hope and opportunity" for European armed forces and that the fiscal hardship may force restructuring into "more modern and more capable" forces.


Mr Panetta and Mr Hammond are expected to discuss the White House's announcement of an accelerated US withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as Syria and the broader picture in the Middle East.

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