Joint Statement of the June 16, 2015, U.S.-Portugal Extraordinary Meeting of the Standing Bilateral Commission
- The United States and Portugal share a close political, economic and strategic alliance, grounded in centuries of friendship between our people and governments. We cooperate across a host of areas, including international peace and security, human rights, shared social challenges, law enforcement, science and technology, and trade and investment.
- The Lajes Air Base, its military personnel and its Portuguese workers, have played an essential role over more than six decades in support of United States and Portugal operations in the framework of NATO and other international organizations and missions in pursuit of our shared objectives and principles. The United States and Portugal remain committed to the strategic use of Lajes Air Base for their mutual benefit and in line with the shared goal of contributing to global security.
- On January 8, 2015, the United States announced a significant reduction of forces at Lajes Air Base in the context of the European Infrastructure Consolidation process. At the February 11, 2015, Standing Bilateral Commission (SBC) meeting in Lisbon, acting in our shared desire to reach a mutually agreeable way forward on the streamlining of the U.S. presence at Lajes Air Base in the Azores, the United States and Portugal resolved to hold an extraordinary meeting of the SBC to focus solely on this crucial aspect of our relationship.
- In the context of the relevance of Lajes Air Base to the relationship between Portugal and the United States, both Governments acknowledge the importance of the positions expressed on this issue both by the U.S. Congress and the Portuguese Parliament.
- On June 16, 2015, representatives from our two countries gathered in Washington, DC for the third extraordinary SBC meeting to realize a way forward on personnel, joint operations, infrastructure, environmental issues, and mitigation measures for the Azores, associated with the streamlining and to discuss the future uses of Lajes Air Base by the United States.
- Recognizing the importance of the airfield at Lajes, the United States intends to ensure support to the airfield by continuing to provide high-frequency communications capacity; air operations, including specific 24-hour full support to contingency operations of the Portuguese Air Force for search and rescue and medical evacuation missions; and 100 percent of the dedicated 24-hour emergency firefighting, crash, and rescue support to all air missions, including Portuguese military and civilian use of Lajes Air Base. The United States also intends to continue staffing the Air Traffic Control facilities with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)-qualified operators to work jointly with the Portuguese Air Force to maintain current operational standards.
- In keeping with the U.S objective of matching resources to mission at Lajes Air Base while also acknowledging the significant impact of the planned downsizing, the United States intends to retain a total of at least 405 Portuguese-filled positions, up from the 378 previously announced for retention after the streamlining is complete. The United States also intends to increase the number of retained U.S. positions to 168.
- The 65th Air Base Wing intends to provide detailed information to the Portuguese Air Force concerning its transition to the 65th Air Base Group, in order to prevent disruptions and anticipate difficulties.
- In order to mitigate the economic and human impact of the Lajes Air Base streamlining, the United States intends to give Portuguese employees the opportunity to declare their preference to separate by mutual agreement. The U.S. Air Force plans to give fullest consideration to all declarations of intent to separate by mutual agreement before effecting involuntary separations. This process is to be conducted in consultation with the Azores Air Zone Command and Committee of Employee Representatives, as provided in the Labor Agreement and Work Regulation.
- The U.S. Air Force also intends to optimize the opportunities for Portuguese employees whose positions the streamlining eliminates, but who will transition into other positions on the Base, and plans to provide a retraining package for those employees. In addition, the U.S. Air Force intends to develop a transition program for separated Portuguese personnel, similar to that for U.S. employees departing U.S. Department of Defense employment.
- The United States and Portugal are to cooperate in the process of certification of job skills and professional experience of the Portuguese employees who will not be retained.
- Employees subject to involuntary separation are to have one-year priority placement directly into 65th Air Base Group vacancies for which they qualify or can be trained. After the one-year period, involuntarily separated employees will have follow-on priority consideration for Portuguese position vacancies.
- Furthermore, the United States does not plan to separate any Portuguese employees involuntarily as part of the streamlining process before March 2016.
- The U.S. House of Representatives version of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as well as the House of Representatives versions of the FY16 Defense and Military Constructions Appropriations bills, collectively direct the Secretary of Defense to conduct an analysis of the possible location of the Joint Intelligence Analysis Complex or any other identifiable critical communications or intelligence capabilities to Lajes Air Base, and restrict the use of funds to realign U.S. forces at Lajes Air Base until a certification is made to address this course of action. While this proposal is under consideration, the United States is to maintain and secure the facilities at Lajes it no longer requires for future operations. In the interim, Portugal intends to provide the list of facilities it would want to use for its own purposes.
- With regard to cottages built by former U.S. airmen that are not on the U.S. property register, the two countries plan to convene an experts working group to assess the situation and consider options to address it.
- Portugal indicated its willingness to authorize pending U.S. infrastructure projects on the Base. The United States remains committed to employ local contractors and construction workers in the execution of these projects to the extent possible, in accordance with the Agreement on Cooperation and Defense (ACD).
- The United States and Portugal intend to continue discussions of shared environmental concerns on Terceira Island, arising from U.S. facilities or operations at Lajes Air Base.
- The United States reiterates its intention to work with Portugal to deepen our common understanding of the current environmental state of Lajes Air Base and sites on Terceira affected by U.S. operations and on appropriate remediation measures.
- To meet this goal, the United States plans to inform Portugal of the results of the Environmental Baseline Study currently underway. Additionally, the United States intends to share information with Portugal regarding future environmental studies the United States conducts on Lajes Air Base.
- Portugal intends to conclude a comprehensive assessment on the different environmental impacts of the U.S. military presence on Terceira Island and will inform the United States of its results.
- The United States and Portugal intend to reinforce the Technical Committee with experts in order to push forward collaboration and information sharing to find solutions to identified environmental concerns.
MEASURES FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE AZORES
- The United States and Portugal seek to mitigate the effects of the U.S. streamlining at Lajes Air Base on the Azorean economy and plan to work together to develop new economic opportunities for Terceira Island and the whole of the Azorean region.
- The United States plans to continue identifying priorities and opportunities for mutual collaboration to spur economic development in the Azores and to analyze other proposals put forward by the Regional Government, in consultation with the Azores Cooperation Committee, chaired on the Portuguese side by the Regional Government, with the participation of the municipalities of Terceira Island.
- The United States and Portugal are committed to maintaining and expanding their relationship, including in the fields of business, science, defense, education and culture. The United States and Portugal intend to explore additional initiatives to increase bilateral trade and investment, and professional, educational, technological, and scientific exchanges that could benefit the people of Portugal and specifically the people of the Azores.
- The United States and Portugal reiterated their desire to maintain open channels of communication on future personnel, joint operations, infrastructure, and environmental decisions related to Lajes Air Base, and future uses of Lajes Air Base by the United States, and to continue studying and implementing economic initiatives of benefit to the Azores. The two nations underscored the long and positive history of the U.S. military presence in the Azores and the strategic relevance of Lajes Air Base in pursuit of shared international security objectives and the continuously evolving and expanding nature of our bilateral relationship.
- The United States and Portugal intend to hold the next ordinary SBC meeting in November or December 2015, in the Azores, to take stock of developments on the wide range of areas of our relationship. The United States and Portugal intend to include on the agenda of this next SBC meeting an item dedicated to a Portuguese proposal to amend the ACD.