Media Availability with Secretary Gates at the NATO Ministerial Meeting in Brussels, Belgium
SEC. GATES: A few opening remarks, and then I'll take some questions.
This has been a first formal NATO ministerial. We had good discussions on a range of issues dealing with NATO capabilities and ongoing operations. I conveyed today how important it is that allies follow through on the commitments made by our heads of state and government at Riga.
We discussed ongoing shortfalls in key capabilities such as the NATO Response Force and airlift, as well as the need to modernize and streamline the alliance headquarter's structure. There is the persistent problem of resources. At this time, only a fraction of alliance -- of the alliance meets the standard of spending at least 2 percent of GNP on defense.
The missile defense systems proposed for Central Europe comprise NATO's overall complement, NATO's overall capabilities and mission in that discussion. I told the representatives that I appreciated President Putin's recognition of the potential missile threat from the Middle East and welcomed his proposal last week to share radar data from Azerbaijan. And I repeated in the session with ministers, with Minister Serdyukov our willingness to work and partner with Russia on missile defense.
During this -- during my first NATO meeting in Seville, we were concerned about a spring offensive by the Taliban. In the past four months, it is NATO and the coalition that have taken the initiative in Afghanistan. We need to sustain what has been achieved in Afghanistan and so far by meeting commitments the allies have made in areas of security assistance and development.
We emphasized the need to maintain allied unity on the next steps for Kosovo. And finally, we commended Ukraine for their defensive reform efforts and their contributions to NATO operations in Afghanistan and Operation Active Endeavor.
I'd be happy to take some questions.
STAFF: And if you would be so kind to identify yourself and your news organization.
Q Andrew Gray from Reuters. Mr. Secretary, in your discussions in the NATO-Russia Council today, did you make clear to your Russian counterpart that you do not see the Azeri radar station as a substitute for that in the Czech Republic?
SEC. GATES: Yes, I was very explicit in the meeting that we saw the Azeri radar as an additional capability, that we intended to proceed with the radar, the X-band radar in the Czech Republic.
STAFF: Let's go right here.
Q (Name inaudible) -- the Czech Republic. Mr. Secretary, do you think that the experts, the U.S. and Russian experts can come up with some kind of conclusion before Presidents Bush and Putin meet in the U.S. next month?
SEC. GATES: I would be skeptical that they could -- that the arrangements for an experts meeting and to further explore the Russian offer could actually take place before that meeting.
STAFF: Right here.
Q Lolita Baldor with the Associated Press. Mr. Secretary, do you -- how do you interpret the debate on the missile defense system today by NATO? Do you believe that this is a general approval by NATO of the system? And can you comment also on some of the remarks that the Russians have made today, one calling for a freeze on U.S. movement on the missile defense system, and another suggesting that the Russians might target locations in Poland and the Czech Republic?
SEC. GATES: Well, I would say that in the session there were no criticisms by any of the NATO allies of our missile defense proposals or of our moving forward. There obviously is interest in trying to encourage the Russians to participate with us, to make the system complementary to NATO shorter-range missile defenses and for transparency, but as I say, there were no criticisms from any of those who spoke, and quite a number of the ministers did speak.
Q And on the -- (off mike) -- by the Russians?
SEC. GATES: One of the -- one theme of several of the representatives from the alliance during the meeting was the need to modulate rhetoric and for us to deal on a businesslike basis with one another.
STAFF: Let's go back -- right there.
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible) -- Belgrade. Mr. Secretary, I would like to ask you, did you notice the difference in the position in -- between NATO country (sic) about Kosovo issues, in approach to Kosovo, and in speed -- how much is need speed to resolve this question, and how much is important, from a military point of view, Kosovo for United States?
SEC. GATES: We will not discuss Kosovo until tonight. So there really was virtually no discussion of Kosovo during the course of the day today.
STAFF: Right here with Jim.
Q Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. I was wondering what the reaction of the Russian Defense minister was to your making it clear that the United States intends to go ahead with the facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, and whether he gave you any indication how the Russians would be prepared to cooperate on missile defense if in fact the United States goes ahead with that.
SEC. GATES: Minister Serdyukov spoke before I did and did not speak again during the session.
STAFF: Let's go right there, the man in the white --
Q Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. Can you tell us a bit about the offer of missile defense cooperation that you made to the Ukrainian Defense minister today? How far would that go? Would it go so far as to include basing components of the system in Ukraine?
SEC. GATES: No, we didn't talk about basing part of the system in Ukraine and actually didn't discuss it at all in the bilateral. During the luncheon that -- or the meeting of all the representatives with Ukraine, I indicated a willingness to share information, data with Ukraine, and if it were agreeable to the government of the Czech Republic and the government of Poland, also to have site visits. And that was pretty much the extent of the conversation.
STAFF: Right here. Al.
Q Al Pessin from Voice of America. Mr. Secretary, to follow up on Lolita's question, does the NATO decision to now study focusing on short- and medium-range missile defense amount to an endorsement of the U.S. missile defense system? And if this becomes essentially a NATO-endorsed system, could that make it easier for Russia to accept it and for the Czech Republic to host the radar?
SEC. GATES: I don't know the answer to the second part of the question. As this is my first formal ministerial, I don't know what constitutes endorsement and whether there will be something potentially more formal. We are going to continue discussing the complementarity of the systems and how the U.S. and the NATO systems will work together. But there was no formal vote or anything like that. I just -- as I indicated, of the number of ministers who spoke, there was no criticism.
STAFF: Right here in the front, please.
Q Thank you. A question from The New York Times. I wanted to ask about Afghanistan and the ISAF commitments. Was any progress made today toward fulfilling NATO's commitments to ISAF? And there have been some ideas floating around about perhaps drawing on the NATO Reaction Force and some of those commitments to fill in the shortfalls in ISAF personnel.
SEC. GATES: The two subjects for discussion at dinner tonight are Afghanistan and commitments, and Kosovo. So more tomorrow.
STAFF: We have one in the back row.
Q Hi. I'm Terri Schultz (sp). I'm a freelance American journalist here in Brussels. I wanted to see if you could provide any clarity on two statements made by the administration -- one from you and one from Under Secretary Burns yesterday regarding shipments of weapons to Afghanistan, to the Taliban, through Iran. The Afghan defense minister here seemed to discount that weapons were coming, at least from Iranian authorities. And I know you were very careful in your statement, but could you provide any clarity between yours and Secretary Burns' statement?
SEC. GATES: Well, I would just note two things. First, I mentioned yesterday in discussing this at Ramstein that President Karzai, at our press conference in Afghanistan last week, stressed the importance of good relationships between the governments of Iran and Afghanistan. And that may have had some influence on Minister Wardak's statement.
I can't go any further than I did in the earlier statement to the effect that we have -- I have seen analysis suggesting a considerable flow of weapons and support from Iran. And I have not seen information that would directly tie it to approval by the government of Iran.
That said, as I indicated, I think that it's -- the quantity that we're seeing makes it difficult to believe that the Iranian government doesn't have some indication or some knowledge of it.
Q Has NATO actually intercepted some of these shipments, as far as you know?
SEC. GATES: I would rather not go into that.
STAFF: Okay, thank you very much.
SEC. GATES: Thank you all very much.
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