U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian hold a joint press conference following a meeting at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. of the United States, Jan. 24, 2014. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met here Friday with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, pledging to reinforce security and defense cooperation between the two sides.
"We reinforced the deep and enduring security relationship between France and the United States," Hagel told Pentagon reporters during a joint news conference with Le Drian.
"France is America's oldest ally. Our defense partnership continues to be one of great importance. It's important both in Europe and around the world," he said.
Hagel announced that earlier this week, the two sides signed a space situational awareness agreement. "This will enhance information-sharing between our two countries in this critical domain," he said.
In recent years, French and U.S. troops have served side by side around the globe, from Africa to Afghanistan, the defense secretary added.
"One area of focus today was our continuing cooperation and support of our international efforts in Africa, including significant French contributions in Mali and the Central African Republic," Hagel said.
"I commended Minister Le Drian for France's leadership and taking decisive action in Mali, as well as other locations, to displace extremists that were gaining a foothold there," Hagel said.
The U.S. defense secretary also commended France's leadership in helping the African Union's international support mission to provide humanitarian assistance in the Central African Republic.
The French defense minister, for his part, said he agreed on the need to pursue cooperation in dialogue on Africa, adding that he and Hagel agreed to create a high-level group to discuss their analysis and common initiatives in Africa.
Le Drian also explained the new positioning of French forces in Africa to better identify and target terrorists in areas from Mauritania to the Horn of Africa.
Meanwhile, the French minister said that another reason for his trip was to prepare for an upcoming visit of French President Francois Hollande.