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Media Availability with Secretary Gates

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
July 29, 2009

SEC. GATES:  (In progress.)  in the south, the brigade that was re-missioned about five months ago, and I was very encouraged by the nature of the Iraqi and American cooperation and the degree to which they were working together and had a clear understanding of each side's obligations and responsibilities, under the security agreement, and really no incidents. 

 

                And what I found especially interesting was the comment by the U.S. brigade commander that his operations actually had increased in effectiveness since we began this partnering, subsequent to the 30th of June. 

 

                Clearly talked in Baghdad about the implementation of the agreement.  And I must say that one thing that came through loud and clear is that the success of this agreement has depended, to a considerable extent, on the degree to which both American and Iraqi commanders have educated and trained their subordinate commanders in the terms of the security agreement. 

 

                And I would say it certainly has been the view of General Odierno and based on my conversation with the troops and other commanders, that overall the whole thing has gone considerably better than our expectations before June 30th.  There will clearly be the occasional hiccup by somebody who doesn't get the word.  But on the whole, we're quite pleased. 

 

                The meetings with the Iraqi officials yesterday afternoon had a lot to do with the security relationship going forward, talking about additional equipment for the Iraqis, what we might be able to transfer to them, other vehicles for getting them additional equipment and training, as well as the importance of resolving some of these outstanding issues inside the country with respect to borders, hydrocarbons, security and so on, and the importance of doing that while we were still in a position to be helpful. 

 

                And that really was the same message in Erbil this morning with President Barzani and the prime minister and other Kurdish officials, was the importance to -- as I emphasized with folks in Baghdad, the importance of resolving all these issues peacefully and doing so sooner rather than later.

 

                Q     What sort of -- what sense did you get back from the Iraq -- from both the Iraqi government officials and the Kurdish regional government officials?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think -- I at least took from both that they shared the view that it was important to try and make progress and get some sustainable compromises while we were still in a position to be helpful.

 

                Q     In Erbil did you get much pushback on doing that fast?  I mean, they've -- there's an election year for both Barzani and Maliki.

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think their view also was, it was important to move as quickly as possible and, I think, from their standpoint, particularly while we have -- still have a sufficient presence in the country, to be able to influence the process, or at least help it, to be able to facilitate the process.

 

                Q     What would be the best way for the U.S. to facilitate the process?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think really Ambassador Hill and General Odierno and, I must say, also the vice president, I think, have played a very constructive role in trying to encourage these guys to keep talking about these issues and avenues through which they might be able to resolve some of these issues in the months ahead.

 

                Q     They don't like the U.N. plan that you told them today you endorsed.

 

                SEC. GATES:  The -- we didn't really -- the U.N. plan, the only U.N. plan that I discussed was I -- when I did have a brief conversation with the prime minister, Maliki, about the Iraqi-Kuwaiti situation and told him that it seemed to us that the de Mistura plan offered the path forward in terms of dealing with those problems, with both the border situation but also the revenue stream that goes from Iraq to Kuwait. 

 

                In terms of Kirkuk and the U.N. proposals there, we really didn't discuss that in Erbil.

 

                Q     Sir, you mentioned the high-level task force. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Did -- did encourage them to continue participating in the high-level task force, and that was a real opportunity to get that issue resolved.  But we really didn't talk about the specifics of it beyond the importance of that group.

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary, yesterday General Odierno told us that you are seeking "creative solutions," quote, unquote, in getting the Iraqis the -- (off mike) fighters as soon as they would like before 2011.  Can you discuss what kind of creative solutions you may be able to work?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, most of the solutions that would give them some capability sooner than a number of years from now would undoubtedly involve working with the Congress.  But it involves everything from figuring out a way to provide more flexible financing, to seeing if there are some of our aircraft that may be excess to our needs that could be transferred. 

 

                But all of that would have to be worked out with and through the State Department and the -- and with congressional approval.  But if it did work out, it could provide them with some bridging capability in the relatively near future compared to buying brand-new aircraft.

 

                Q     But do you support the idea of selling them F-16s?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Yeah, we've been supportive of that.

 

                Q     President Barzani, I guess a few weeks ago, said that he felt tensions between the KRG forces, the Pesh and Iraqi army were higher than he had remembered in the past, or higher than they had been since the new government.  Did you get the feeling that things were still tense, or that things had ratcheted down a little?

 

                SEC. GATES:  He didn't say anything along those lines this afternoon, and I did not get anything like that from the Iraqi officials or, I must say, General Odierno either.

 

                Q     Could you characterize how big a problem you see the north-south tensions -- (off mike)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think these are some fundamental issues.  And I think that it's important that both the government in Baghdad and the Kurds have pursued them through political means and seem -- and both seem to understand the importance of continuing to do that. 

 

                But they are tough issues.  The Iraqis have elections coming up in January.  I think it remains to be seen whether important progress can be made before those elections.  But if the issues can -- if they can continue the dialogue on the issues and perhaps narrow their differences, then perhaps solutions could come pretty quickly after the Iraqi -- after the Iraqi elections.

 

                Q     Did you use the term blood and treasure?  I just want to make -- hear it from you, that you said that we've made too many -- there's been too much lost in blood and treasure for the Iraqis and the Americans and the Kurds to -- (off mike) -- gains they've made in Iraq, at this point, in terms of their dispute. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Yeah.  

 

                Q     How did you put it? 

 

                (Cross talk, laughter.) 

 

                SEC. GATES:  He was the one -- he was the one taking notes.  I wasn't taking any notes but I did use that, that we'd all spent too much blood and treasure to lose the gains that have been made.  

 

                Q     On your visits yesterday, in the south with Tallil and in Baghdad and in the north, the advisory role going on in the south, was that presented to you?  Or do you give it as what you sort of expect to see coming in Baghdad or in the north later on?  Or is it going to be somewhat different, a somewhat different set of expectations? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  I think it's kind of -- I think it's kind of a test of this new model of the role that we will play increasingly, through 2010, as we pull our combat units out and consolidate into these five or six advisory and assistance brigades.  And I must say that based on everything that I heard in Tallil yesterday, I'm very encouraged. 

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary, did you -- you hear what's going on, in Iraq, in the Pentagon.  But then when you go out, do you see things differently?  I mean, did what you see jive with what people have been telling you in the building? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Yeah, pretty much.  I mean, it jives better than with most reality that I hear about in the Pentagon.  (Laughter.) 

 

                I get -- I get fewer differences between what's going on in Iraq, when I'm in the Pentagon, than I do on what's going on at American military facilities, when I'm in the Pentagon.  The troops in America tend to have a different, somewhat rosy -- less-rosy view of how wonderful all of our programs are than we at the Pentagon do. 

 

                And that's one of the reasons I make those visits, is because often the policies that we're implementing, and I'm referring now to a lot of programs we're working on, with families and so on, the right policies have been put in place in Washington.  But their implementation at the local level has been more uneven.  And that's what I hear more about.  But that's kind of an excursion. 

 

                I mean, no, I've found -- I do feel it's necessary to come out here and talk to subordinate commanders and talk to the troops and compare that with what I'm told back in Washington.  And I must say, I found a great deal of consistency. 

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary, did you see anything during this trip that might give you any reason to think of any changes in the troop withdrawal plans, for Iraq, any either acceleration or slowdown for that matter? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  I don't think there's anything in the cards for a slowdown.  I think there is at least, and I'm not going to get into any specifics, but I think there's at least some chance of a modest acceleration. 

 

                But because of the way General Odierno sees things going, that remains to be seen. 

 

                Q     Before the election or after, sir?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Possibly before.

 

                Q     All right.  Fine.

 

                Q     What markers would you --

 

                (Cross talk.)

 

                SEC. GATES:  (Chuckling.)  I just said I'm not going to say anything further. 

 

                Q     So much for not making news.  (Laughter.)

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- before January.

 

                Q     You were doing so well.  (Laughter, cross talk.) 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Rats.  (Laughter.)

 

                Q     What's the current --

 

                SEC. GATES:  No, I mean, he -- there isn't any -- nothing's going to happen very soon, but he's looking at all the possibilities and he's very encouraged by things so far. 

 

                Q     Around Christmas?  (No audible reply.)

 

                Q     What's the current glide path between now and January, possibly -- the current plans--

 

                SEC. GATES:  I think the original plan was to go from 14 to 12 BCTs.  Is that right?

 

                STAFF:  That probably is right.  I'm not quite -- (off mike) -- I think it is -- (off mike).

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- by January. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  That was the original laydown, I think.

 

                STAFF:  Right.

 

                Q     And what would an acceleration -- (off mike)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Maybe one earlier -- one more earlier.  But I don't want to put the general into a corner, because it really depends on circumstances, and it may or may not happen.

 

                But I mention it only because I think it is an indicator of his view that things are going pretty well, post-June 30th.

 

                Q     Then, one, you apparently agree with him; you wouldn't --

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I mean, my view on things like that is, that's his call. 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- things going well, with the general overall level of violence down, as well as --

 

                SEC. GATES:  And the cooperation between the Iraqi security forces and the Americans, the division of labor after June 30th, the withdrawal from the cities and so on.  I think he feels like that's all going, as I said, better than expected.

 

                STAFF:  All right.  Last question.  We're about to roll.

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary, you said yesterday that you sensed a different chemistry down in the south between the Iraqis and the Americans.  Is there a different chemistry now post-June 30th with you and your opposite number?

 

                SEC. GATES:  I didn't sense that.  I mean, I feel like I've had a very good relationship with Abdul-Qadir all along, and we've worked together very closely.  So I would say we had a very good relationship before, and its remains to be a very good relationship. 

 

                Q     Thank you.

 

                Q     Thank you.

 

                STAFF:  Thanks a lot. 

 

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