Media Availability with Secretary Gates at the Pier for the USS Russell, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
SEC. GATES: Just had a great visit to the USS Russell. The Russell was one of the backup ships for yesterday's operations. (Off mike) -- radars. Met a lot of the crew. Went through some of the -- saw some of the training exercises that they performed in connection with the operation. Just another reminder, as with other ships that I've visited, military facilities in the theater, of the incredible quality, dedication, skill of the men and women in uniform who carry out these tasks for us.
I would like to express special thanks to the people of Hawaii for their support for our military and for military families. Without your help and support, everything would be a lot more difficult for them. So we really appreciate local support.
Finally, I'd just like to congratulate General Chilton and those in Strategic Command, as well as the Navy, for what appeared to be a very successful operation yesterday.
I'll take your questions.
Q Mr. Secretary, what does the test yesterday tell you about the United States' missile defense capabilities? And what do you say to China, who -- they've asked for some data, when the U.S. can provide it, about the test.
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, we provided a lot of information about the test before it took place. Our whole approach to this was one of complete transparency, prior notification and letting everybody know what was going on and the purpose of the activity. And we are prepared to share whatever appropriately we can.
Q Mr. Secretary --
Q Missile defense?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that -- I think the operation speaks for itself.
Q Mr. Secretary, the U.S. embassy in Belgrade has been (torched ?). Can you give us a sense of your assessment of the situation, how dangerous it is, and whether or not -- (off mike) -- U.S. military forces?
SEC. GATES: I just heard about it for the first time walking down the pier. So I don't know anything more at this point.
Q Mr. Secretary, the Turks have asked the U.S. (for their battlespace in Iraq ?) kind of in several areas -- (off mike). Yesterday -- (off mike) -- they're amassing troops on the border. It appears they're going to need some more ground troops. Will there be a (crisis if we were to ?) do that?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think the key here is close coordination, not only with us but also with the government of Iraq. This is sovereign Iraqi territory. By the same token, the Turks do face a serious terrorist threat. So I think the key to all of this is close communications, close coordination.
Q Mr. Secretary, a question about the tragic collision of the two F-15s yesterday. Does this make you reevaluate the number of F- 22s that the Pentagon is planning to buy as replacement for the F-15?
And does it say anything about the equipment --
SEC. GATES: No, we're keeping the production line open. We have the money in the budget for that. Again, I think that the decisions that have been made over the last couple of years in terms of what the overall buy should be is -- (off mike).
STAFF: Two more, two more.
Q Mr. Secretary -- (off mike) -- test of the missile strike and launch yesterday, do the counterclaims by critics of missile defense -- (off mike) -- does work?
SEC. GATES: Well, you know, I think that actually the question of whether those capabilities work has been settled. The question is, against what kind of a threat, how large a threat, how sophisticated a threat? We've had a number of successful tests, and the fact that the Congress pretty much overwhelmingly the last two or three years has voted billions of dollars to continue with the missile defense program is testimony to the fact that I think the issue of whether it will work is behind us. And we just need to keep improving the capability --
Q Is this another milestone?
STAFF: Last one, last one, please.
Q Mr. Secretary -- (off mike) -- on your trip, can you tell us when you expect to gain out of the visit in Australia? Will you be asking them to reevaluate their role in both Afghanistan and Iraq, now that -- (off mike) -- combat, and more so -- (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: This is an annual meeting in Australia. It's Defense and Foreign ministers on both sides. And we have a very broad agenda. It's not just limited to the bilateral relationship. We'll be talking about developing -- (off mike) -- obviously Iraq and Afghanistan. So it's pretty much a broad consultation. I think that this -- it comes at a useful time in terms of a new Australian government, to give us an opportunity to sit down and talk with them about their view of the world. (And so I need to be there ?) -- (off mike).
STAFF: Thank you all very much.
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