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Gates Returns From Around-the-World Trip

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2008 – The plane that carried Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on a grueling nine-day around-the-world trip touched back down at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., tonight delivering an exhausted, yet positive Pentagon leader.

The trip was aimed at strengthening ties throughout Asia and took the secretary to Australia, Indonesia, India and Turkey. It was his first trip as secretary to Australia and Turkey and his first altogether to Indonesia and India.

“If there is a common thread in all four stops, it has been to look for ways to strengthen and expand military-to-military relationships with four democracies who are all on the international scene in different ways,” Gates said.

During the visits, Gates met with defense officials, prime ministers and presidents. He talked about counterterrorism, missile defense and defense trade. He laid wreaths at the memorials for the countries’ war dead. He spent more than 50 hours in the air traveling from country to country.

In Australia, Gates was the first senior U.S. official to visit the country since the newly elected administration of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was installed.

In Indonesia, Gates pledged U.S. support to help the country continue its military reforms and build its airlift and maritime capabilities, and in India he talked about expanding the two countries’ military-to-military relationships.

In Turkey, the secretary talked about communication and counterterrorism as the country works through difficult and politically charged military operations in northern Iraq.

In the end, Gates said, the trip wasn’t about sealing any big deals or launching programs, but about simply showing that the U.S. was still engaged in those countries. It wasn’t so much any one thing about the trip that was important, rather the trip itself, Gates said. Ankara, Turkey, for instance hadn’t seen a visit by a U.S. defense secretary since 2002.

“I think we’ve moved the ball forward in several of these countries in terms of specific arrangements. We haven’t signed or finalized agreements, but I think we’ve pushed some things ahead that will come to fruition in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

While the secretary’s visit to the countries sent the signal of the trip’s significance, what added to the message was that he pressed on the exhausting schedule with his right arm in a sling. Gates broke his arm recently after slipping on ice during an ice storm in Washington. He was unable to shake hands, unless it was with his left, and the pain took its toll at times, but he said that the trip was important enough not to cancel.

“To put it plainly, I think they were surprised I went ahead with the trip having broken my arm,” Gates said. “I think the fact that I felt it was important enough to stick with the trip and visit these places maybe had some impact as well.”

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Web special report: Travels with Gates

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