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DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates From Brussels, Belgium

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
January 15, 2007 12:00 PM EDT
            SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Good morning. 
 
            It is a great pleasure indeed so soon after his appointment, with which I heartily congratulated Secretary Gates, that he found the time to come to NATO; underlining first of all of course the importance the Alliance; and secondly the subject we have discussed as you will not be surprised about in the run-up to the meeting we'll have very soon at the beginning of February, the Defense Ministers meeting of NATO, the informal one, in Seville in Spain. 
 
            And you know and it goes without saying the subjects which will be discussed there were also the main body, the main part, of our conversations. We spent of course some time on Afghanistan where it first of all is important that NATO delivers, that NATO lives up to expectations; that it is important that we embark on a comprehensive strategy and that means the involvement - you know my mantra - the full involvement of the international community, first of all of NATO, but also of the Afghan government and of the international community as a whole. You know at the 26th we'll have a meeting here of the NATO Foreign Ministers and that fits very well together I think with the Defense Ministers meeting in Seville. 
 
            We discussed Kosovo, another very important NATO operation. Both on Afghanistan and Kosovo I commended Secretary Gates, I commended the United States, on the very important fundamental contribution the U.S. makes to both operations. In Kosovo you know the key element is support for the proposals which are going to be made soon by President Ahtisaari. It's important that KFOR is up to strength, that they will see no change in the operational strength of KFOR, KFOR being prepared for all eventualities in Kosovo, but there the key element is support for President Ahtisaari. 
 
            The second important topic of course we discussed, apart from our operations, where I should add that we also discussed Iraq and the NATO training mission in Iraq which is running well. I would hope that training mission can be expanded in the near future; that is at least the wish of the Iraqi government. 
 
            On the transformation side of NATO, the way NATO is changing, the way NATO is adapting to global threats and global challenges, we discussed the items which will be on our agenda in the Seville meeting where Ministers will discuss the ongoing transformational activities of NATO. 
 
            So in all it was a very fruitful and productive meeting. I know that all the defense ministers are very much looking forward to meeting Secretary Gates in Seville and I was glad and happy to meet him here this morning. Mr. Secretary once again a warm welcome to you. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Thank you very much. Good morning. 
 
            It was a pleasure this morning to have the opportunity to meet the secretary general and to have conversations about a NATO that has changed a great deal over the years. We talked about the current state of the Alliance, its missions, as well as the future. The last time I was in government service in 1993, NATO was a very different organization. At that time it was still unclear what role the Alliance would have in a post-Soviet world. Today the Alliance that never fired a shot during the Cold War is leading six missions on three continents and in the Mediterranean with partners from all over the globe. 
 
            At the recent NATO summit in Riga we declared the NATO Response Force operational; an important milestone, but we must continue to improve the NRF, as well as make progress on other goals such as the strategic airlift capability, a global partnership alliance, the special operations forces initiative and the training co-operation initiative. NATO was formed in the belief that together we are stronger than when we act alone. That belief has sustained the Alliance now for nearly six decades and it sustains us today as we face a new series of challenges and threats. 
 
            The mission in Afghanistan, the first outside NATO's traditional European borders, is a model of the organization's potential in this new era and success in Afghanistan is our top priority. 37 NATO partners and allies with over 30,000 men and women in uniform are working side-by-side with the people of Afghanistan to ensure a more stable and prosperous Afghanistan. We've made a lot of progress since 2003. It's important that the members of NATO fulfill the commitments that each has made to one another. I'm confident we will overcome and meet all the challenges that we face in future. 
 
            Thank you very much. 
 
            Q     A question for Secretary Gates. This is Bob Burns from AP.  
 
            Mr. Secretary, with your recent decision to deploy Patriot missiles to the Gulf and to move a second aircraft carrier into that region, is the United States moving toward confrontation with Iran; and if it's not, what is the purpose of those deployments? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that what we are trying to communicate to all of the countries in the Gulf area is a reaffirmation that the United States has had a strong presence in the Gulf for a long time. Multiple presidents have affirmed that stability in the Gulf is in the long-term strategic vital interests of the United States and we are simply reaffirming that statement of the importance of the Gulf region to the United States and our determination to be an ongoing strong presence in that area for a long time into the future. 
 
            Q     (Inaudible) -- what do you expect from NATO, especially in Afghanistan, when it comes to the fights we see at the moment in the south of Afghanistan? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well one of the subjects we've been talking about was the increased level of violence last year and some indications that the Taliban want to increase the level of violence in 2007. And one of the subjects we've been discussing is how we will respond to that and perhaps try to act to avoid it. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary David Cloud with the New York Times. 
 
            Just to follow up on Bob's question: there have been calls by the Iraq Study Group and others for more diplomatic engagement with Iran. One of the thrusts of the administration's new Iraq strategy appears to be more confrontation with Iran. You've talked about going after Iranian networks inside Iraq; the Patriot deployments, the carrier deployments, do seem to be aimed, in part at least, at Iran. Is that the case and can you explain the thinking behind that? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well I had, as you probably remember, I co-chaired a council on foreign relations study on the United States relations with Iran in 2004 with Dr. Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Advisor, and our conclusion at that time was that it would be useful for the United States to engage with Iran and it appeared to be promising because the Iranians clearly were concerned by the presence of American troops on both their eastern and western borders and there was some evidence they were actually doing some things to be helpful inside Iraq. None of those conditions apply any longer. 
 
            The Iranians clearly believe that we're tied down in Iraq; that they have the initiative, that they are in a position to press us in many ways. They are doing nothing to be constructive in Iraq at this point. In addition, they have supported Hezbollah's efforts to create a new conflict in Lebanon and so the Iranians are acting in a very negative way in many respects. My view is that when the Iranians are prepared to play a constructive role in dealing with some of these problems, then there might be opportunities for engagement. Secretary Rice already has said that she would sit down any time, any place with her counterpart from Iran if they would commit not to enrich uranium. 
 
            So the opportunity is there for engagement, but I would say that the initiative needs to rest with the Iranians and we are simply trying to communicate to the region that we're going to be there for a long time. 
 
            Q     Thank you. Youssef Magdy from Egyptian Television. Secretary General of NATO first question is for you. 
 
            You said that you hope to extend your mission in training in Iraq, the training mission in Iraq. Does it mean that the Iraqi government do not ask for anything else besides the training? And for Secretary Gates, do you have any comment in hanging today to other person from the system of the ex-President Saddam Hussein? Thank you. 
 
            SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Let me briefly answer that the focus of the Iraqi government, as far as NATO is concerned, is on training and equipping the Iraqi Armed Forces. That is what we are doing as we speak and I express the hope and that is I know very much the wish of the Iraqi government that we can expand that training mission in Iraq. 
 
            SEC. GATES: With respect to the hangings I'm aware that they took place. It was a matter under the auspices of the Iraqi government. I really have no further comment. 
 
            Q     I'm from Danish Broadcasting and I would like to ask Mr. Gates now you are about to send in more troops Iraq the U.S. and at the same time the U.K. and Denmark are discussing when to pull out their troops - can you do without the Danish and the British troops? And what are your reactions to this discussion? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well I met with the British secretary of defense last night. They are making a draw-down, planning a draw-down at some point this year in their forces in the south. The situation in the south and particularly in Basra is different than the situation is Baghdad. Our increase in forces is aimed very much and targeted in particular at the violence in Baghdad and we think that situation is a different situation than prevails in the south and therefore the different response. 
 
            STAFF: Last question.
 
            Q     Barbara -- (inaudible) -- AP's German Service. 
 
            Mr. Gates the German government specifically has been asking for a stronger civilian component in Afghanistan. So which way will your government go in this aspect? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that there is clearly a need for both a military response in Afghanistan, but also a civilian response. Clearly the reconstruction, economic development, strengthening the Karzai government and its ability to render services to its citizenry are all very important of the long-term stability of the government of Afghanistan and ultimate peace in the country. So it's not either/or. There has to be both a strong civilian and a strong military component to our support for that government. 
 
            STAFF: Thank you.
 
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