Panetta: US needs ‘bipartisan spirit and leadership that Dick Lugar embodies’ [VIDEO]

Nicholas Ballasy Senior Video Reporter
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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar a “statesman” in “every sense of the word,” adding that it would be a “great legacy for him” if the U.S. could ratify the law of the seas treaty before he leaves Congress.

Lugar lost his primary battle Tuesday night against Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. His popularity waned amid a residency scandal, first broken by The Daily Caller in January, concerning his failure to actually live in the state he represented.

But Panetta was supportive. Lugar, he said, is “a friend and a tremendous friend to our national security and a friend to our nation’s oceans.”

Panetta appeared Wednesday at a forum on the United Nations treaty on the Law of the Sea. The event was sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Atlantic Council.

“He is an every sense of the word, a statesman. … The most important thing is those that are willing to reach across and to try to see if they can find solutions to the problems that confront this country,” Panetta added. “And he often reached across the aisle. … Our country needs that kind of bipartisan spirit and leadership that Dick Lugar embodies.”

Panetta was, in fact, supportive enough of Lugar that he suggested the treaty should become law as a testament to the Indiana senator. (RELATED: Mourdock credits ground game for victory)

“What a great legacy it would be to him if we could ratify the convention on the law of the seas on his watch. I think that would be a wonderful thing to be able to do.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey also addressed the forum, echoing Panetta’s call for the U.S. to ratify the treaty.

The United Nations argues it’s a needed international measure to govern “navigational rights, territorial sea limits, economic jurisdiction, legal status of resources on the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, passage of ships through narrow straits, conservation and management of living marine resources, protection of the marine environment, a marine research regime and, a more unique feature, a binding procedure for settlement of disputes between States.”

“We have the world’s largest and most capable navy, [the] largest economy, and the largest exclusive economic zone,” Dempsey said. “We will become the leader within the convention as soon as we enter it. And that’s never been more important.”

Panetta added that the U.S. is the “only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that is not a party” to the treaty, adding that 161 countries have approved it.

Many conservatives oppose the Law of the Seas treaty, noting that president Ronald Reagan first refused to join its signers in 1982. Reagan said then that it was the product of unfriendly nations whose goal was to redistribute the world’s riches from the United States and other developed nations to the Third World.

It would also hand jurisdiction over most of the world’s ocean mass to a UN body, and subject the United States to mandatory dispute resolution, even with countries that have no diplomatic ties with the U.S.

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