US defense secretary makes first public appearance, virtually, since hospitalization

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made his first public appearance, virtually and from home since his secret hospitalization, during a meeting on Ukraine’s military needs on Tuesday but skipped over prepared remarks that would have addressed his health.

Austin, 70, was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland on Dec. 22 to treat prostate cancer. He returned to the hospital on Jan. 1 due to complications, including a urinary tract infection. His hospitalization was not revealed until four days later, and the Pentagon did not specify why he was being treated until Jan. 9.

Austin’s failure to tell President Joe Biden he was hospitalized drew criticism from lawmakers and caught the White House by surprise.

Austin appeared on the live stream for a few minutes as he made his opening remarks. Austin was sitting in front of a white wall with what appeared to be a security system keypad on his left and a Department of Defense seal on the right, with small U.S. and Ukrainian flags on top of a printer next to it.

While there was a slight break in the live stream, Austin did not address his health, even though the topic was in his prepared remarks.

He is not expected to take part in a joint press conference with the top U.S. general after the meeting, something that has become routine after such gatherings.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Mark Porter)