Hagel’s visit to Asian capitals included Mongolia’s, in the landlocked country between China and Russia. Mongolia has become a more valuable strategic partner to Washington in recent years, has among the world’s fastest-growing economies and supplied troops to coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both Mongolia and the United States pledged to strengthen military cooperation at the end of Hagel’s visit.
Hagel arrived Thursday, and after ceremonially sipping milk curd from a silver bowl as he stepped off his airplane, was presented with a 9-year-old horse as a welcoming gift.
He named it Shamrock, after the mascot of his Nebraska high school, and said, “It’s a handsome horse. Unfortunately I will have to leave Shamrock here for the time being.”
Before departing, Hagel put a cloth on the horse and thanked its caretaker. The Mongolian hosts assured him no one would ride the horse until Hagel’s return.