Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace, and Commander of the Pacific Command Adm. Timothy Keating at Shangri-LA International Security Conference, Republic of Singapore
SEC. GATES: (Off mike) -- taking some questions. I feel like we had a very good visit in Singapore, meetings -- (off mike) -- dialogue. I feel like it's been a very helpful few days for me and particularly in getting to know some of my counterparts that I have not met yet from the region, and continuing discussions with those that I already knew.
We obviously discussed a full range of issues here in Asia and a number of other issues where we have mutual interest and concerns, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, the security situation in Asia generally. We had very good bilateral meetings. Those continued this morning with the Indonesians, with the Australians, and the Mongolians. Those were very productive and very helpful to me as well.
I don't know if General Pace wants to make any general comments.
GEN. PACE: It's been a great conference, and I had a chance to be with -- collectively and individually with -- (off mike) -- my counterparts in this unique opportunity to see so many people in such a short period of time, to be able to do bilateral work, but also using multilateral discussion in a way that, I think, is very, very useful for common understanding.
SEC. GATES: Admiral Keating.
ADM. KEATING: Thanks, Mr. Secretary.
My first visit to Shangri-La. IISS has done a terrific job, and the hospitality of our host in Singapore has been great, and the conversations have been for the Pacific Command very beneficial.
Q Mr. Secretary, there have been growing rumblings over the last couple of days about the possibility of a Turkish invasion in northern Iraq to go after the PKK. I'm wondering whether you see that as a real possibility, and if this were to happen, what would it mean to the overall effort to stabilize Iraq and to keep it intact?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think, first of all, the Turks have a genuine concern with Kurdish terrorism that takes place in Turkish -- on Turkish soil, and so it's -- one can understand their frustration and unhappiness over this. Several hundred Turks lose their lives each year, and we have been working with the Turks to try and help them get control of this problem on Turkish soil.
I think our view would be that if -- we would prefer that we continue to work this problem with them to try to safeguard Turkey and would hope that there would not be a unilateral military action across the border into Iraq.
Q Mr. Secretary, what more would you like the Asian countries to do in your continued engagement in Iraq -- (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think what we -- first of all, I think it's important to underscore the number of Asian countries that are involved with us and working with us in both Iraq and Afghanistan. At the defense ministers' luncheon yesterday, there was a protracted discussion of Afghanistan and what more other countries could do, what more all of us could do and how better to coordinate our activities.
We have not made any requests for new commitments in Iraq from Asian countries. We have encouraged those who are already there to sustain their presence and to sustain their help.
Q Mr. Secretary, what commitments did you get, if any -- what specific commitments from your Asian counterparts here to your call for more aid for Afghanistan? And if you haven't gotten any commitments during these meetings, what does that, in conjunction with the difficulty that NATO has encountered in getting some of the allies to commit more forces to that country -- what does that say about the global commitment to Afghanistan?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think first of all it's important to understand that the people who have been at this conference have been defense ministers and representatives of defense ministries. Additional commitments to Afghanistan in virtually every case require a political decision on the part of their governments. And so what I would say is that in the conversations we've had, I've encountered great receptivity to both continuing efforts that are already under way in Afghanistan by many of our partners and a willingness to consider some new additional commitments, but obviously they have to go back to their capitals and deal with their governments in terms of those -- of making any firm recommitments.
GEN. PACE: I might add, this is not only about troop commitments; in fact, not necessarily about troop commitments but also about economic support, also about helping -- to help the ministries and the capacities of the ministries. So there's many ways that nations can help but without committing ground troops to this.
Q Secretary, yesterday the General -- (inaudible) -- of the PLA expressed some serious concern about the U.S.-Japanese missile defense initiative. And meanwhile, you visited Moscow and offered Russians -- asked cooperation for the missile defense. Would you consider a similar offer to the Chinese?
SEC. GATES: I haven't thought about that. I think if the Chinese were to express an interest in it, we would certainly take it seriously. I think it is worth reaffirming that the missile defense that we are planning, both at home and abroad, both in Europe and in Asia, are intended to deal with the acquisition of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction by either rogue countries or rogue governments or terrorist groups.
The capabilities that we're talking about are not designed to deal with the large-scale threat such as would be posed by either the Russians or the Chinese. So in neither case is ballistic missile defense aimed at either at weakening the deterrent of either China or Russia, and that's the basic -- well, that's just the basic technical characteristics of the systems that we're talking about. And so anything we can do to provide transparency on that point and help people understand the capabilities and characteristics of these systems, we're prepared to do it.
Q I'd like to direct a question to General Pace and Admiral Keating. Mr. Secretary, you're welcome to weigh in.
SEC. GATES: Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q It's been reported that sophisticated EFP, explosively-formed projectile, was found in Kabul, in Afghanistan. And I'm just wondering, what you think the implications of that are. What do you read into that? What does it tell us about how the threat is changing in Afghanistan? And does it indicate more unhelpful influence of Iran?
GEN. PACE: First of all, it indicates that, you know, our enemies are adapting and learning, and that they are understanding that those particular devices are effective in many ways. And as you would expect, they are known to use their most effective weapons in whatever way they can. So we need to adjust our tactics, techniques and procedures, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, to that. It is true that we have found inside of Afghanistan weapons that have been manufactured in Iran. We do not know the direct source of how they got there, but there are Iranian-manufactured weapons in Afghanistan.
Q Admiral Keating, could you just comment on what you think the implications are? Does this reflect a changing threat in Afghanistan?
ADM. KEATING: Yes, I think it does. I mean, if there is a different weapon system introduced into a theater that has not been there before, it will be sufficient cause for coalition forces to look at alternating tactics, techniques and procedures.
Q Secretary Gates, you said during your speech yesterday that there was a growing perception, perhaps, in Asia that the United States has somehow become disengaged because of commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Did you find those concerns at any of your meetings over the last two days? How did they manifest if you did? And what does the United States specifically have to do to counter this perception.
SEC. GATES: Actually I think, and perhaps one result of summarizing in my remarks yesterday the different kinds of engagement that the U.S. has underway in Asia served as a reminder to people of the breadth and depth of our commitments and our activities in this region. Whether because of the speech or not, concerns about our continued engagement here in Asia did not come up in any of my bilateral meetings with other defense ministers.
Q Mr. Secretary, I was wondering if you've been briefed on that operation in Somalia and whether you can shed some light on what that was all about, whether it was successful and what the target was.
SEC. GATES: I think that's possibly an ongoing operation, and I'm not going to be able to talk about that.
Q Can I ask you about maritime cooperation? A lot has been achieved in the last couple of years. But is America satisfied with the level of security and -- (off mike) -- cooperation?
SEC. GATES: Let me ask Admiral Keating.
ADM. KEATING: Much improvement has been made throughout the Pacific and Indian Ocean in the area of maritime security cooperation. And there have been thankfully no significant terrorist incidents related to maritime security. That said, in the discussions Mr. Secretary, the chairman and I have had here at Shangri-La, we have discussed at some length with countries like Indonesia, and the chairman's going to go to Malaysia this afternoon. I go to Indonesia tomorrow.
We've discussed enhancing the maritime security throughout the region. It is a matter of significant importance to us at Pacific Command. So we're not satisfied with the current state, but we're pleased with the progress we've made.
Q If I could follow on Bob's question about Turkey, are we using our contacts with Turkish officials, and in particular with Turkish military officials, to try to dissuade them from moving across the border into Kurdistan?
SEC. GATES: We have had ongoing discussions with Turkish officials. Of course, you know, General Ralston is our envoy to Turkey to deal with this issue. And General Ralston has continued to be deeply engaged, yeah.
Q Do you think that message has gotten across, that you don't want them to go?
SEC. GATES: I think so.
Q General Pace, you mentioned your meetings with your counterparts. I believe one of them was General Zhang yesterday. Can you talk a little bit about your discussion there, particularly if you discussed at all the China power report, his reaction to it, if there was any discussion about the ASAT test, whether they gave you any further explanation of what that was all about?
GEN. PACE: Yeah, we talked about -- he raised the issue of the China power report. He was -- the Chinese are not happy with our depiction of their armed forces. We had a very open dialogue about -- therefore, transparency is important. If they have disagreements with what's in the report, I recommended to them that they have more and more opportunities with us to have open dialogue. I recommended to them that they go ahead and invite the authors of the report to China to sit down and have discussion about what it is that they we think we see about them that they don't see about themselves, and just get on the table, in a very open way, the discussion.
So it was very good, open discussion between two professionals. And the way ahead, from my standpoint, is more discussion, more transparency, if they want to have an impact on the reports of the future.
Q Did you broach the topic of the ASAT test?
GEN. PACE: No, I did not this time.
Q Mr. Secretary would you describe, in your view, this meeting as a breakthrough in terms of U.S.-China bilateral relations, especially in terms of military-to-military relations?
SEC. GATES: I don't think I would describe it -- both Admiral Keating and General Pace have more continuity in this than I do. But I don't think I would describe it as a breakthrough. I think it was a breakthrough in terms of having senior Chinese military representation at the Shangri-La conference. And in that respect, I think that is a new thing, to have them represented at such a senior level.
In terms of our bilateral relationship, I wouldn't describe it as a breakthrough but as a next step in a process of military-to-military conversations and dialogue that has been going on and will continue in the future.
Q Mr. Secretary, on -- following on that question, General Zhang was very forceful on ballistic missile defense. He said that he saw what the U.S. and Japan are doing as destabilizing and not good for the future of Asia. He obviously referred directly to Taiwan. Given what you are saying about missile defense -- (inaudible) -- to the extent it could seriously destabilize China, what is your view of what China is suspicious of? Why are they so worried about missile defenses and what you are doing with Japan?
SEC. GATES: Well, I'm not sure why they're so worried, and that's why I responded to the earlier question that, just as with the Russians, we would be pleased to sit down with them and talk about the capabilities, the technical characteristics of this system and its limitations. There may just not be a clear understanding on the part of the Chinese about what this -- what we have in mind, can and cannot do.
Q General Pace, as to one question at the table here, who was were last year at the dialogue and is back again this year, we have two new players. What do you see as the biggest difference in the take-away, of the pressure --
GEN. PACE: I don't think there's a difference in take-away. I think that what's important is that the level of participation of each country increases each year from what I saw, certainly from last year -- much more senior-level representation.
The dialogue this year was as good as it was last year, and very open. The plenary sessions, especially, were presented exceptionally well by all the participants, and that the level of dialogue was matter of fact, professional. This is how whoever was speaking sees the world from their viewpoint. And that, to me, is extremely beneficial to all of us. We don't have to agree with everything that's said, but if people can come to these conferences and lay their ideas on the table openly and honestly, as has happened at this conference, it's very useful to all of us.
Q Was there any specific assistance you were seeking from the Chinese with regard to Central Asia and Afghanistan particularly?
SEC. GATES: No. We didn't discuss that at all.
Q Secretary Gates, there has been a lot of speculation, especially in the British press, that the new prime minister thinks he'll be under intense pressure to bring British troops home from Iraq, particularly with Britain's commitment in Afghanistan. Have you gotten any sense of what Britain's intentions are? And if Britain withdraws most of its troops from Iraq, is that going to be a problem, do you think?
SEC. GATES: In my discussions with senior British defense officials, apart from the drawdown that they've already made public, I have not gotten any indication of an intention for any further significant changes in their deployments. Obviously, with a new prime minister coming in in a couple of months, that could change, I suppose. I certainly would hope not and have not received any foreshadowing from anyone that that might happen.
STAFF: One more question, please.
Q Mr. Secretary, following your meeting with the Indonesians earlier this morning, to what extent are you satisfied that the government have gotten under control the extremist element that the United States has said it was worried about, such as Jemaah Islamiyah?
SEC. GATES: I think that they have made real progress. I think that one of the things on the other side of the ledger that we've been pleased about is that they are making headway in the reforms of their special forces and in their attentiveness to the behavior of their soldiers and so on. And I think having these well-trained special forces capabilities that abide by international standards is an important step forward in being able to take on the terrorists in an effective way.
I'd just invite General Pace if he wanted to add something.
GEN. PACE: I think that the secretary has it exactly right. In my dealings with the military in Indonesia, with Air Chief Marshal Suyanto, they clearly understand their recent history. They clearly understand the need to transform and reform their military. Their leadership speaks about that publicly and is taking action inside their government. So I think that the way forward for their military, their reform and for our opportunity to cooperate is very solid.
STAFF: Thank you very much.
Q Thank you.
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