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Press Conference with Secretary Gates from India

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
January 20, 2010
                SEC. GATES: Good morning, and thank you all for being here. I’ve just come from a meeting with the Minister of Defense and last night met with the External Affairs Minister and the Prime Minister. These discussions just two months after Prime Minister Singh’s trip to Washington were an opportunity to continue strengthening ties that are indispensable to the future peace and prosperity of both our nations.
 
                The emergence of India as a global power and the development of the U.S.-India relationship is one of the great success stories of the last two decades. The last time I came to New Delhi was as part of the Bush administration. Now as a member of the Obama administration I am struck by how much our commitment to India over the last two years has grown, demonstrating that our shared values transcend any changes in our respective governments.
 
                On defense matters I continue to be impressed by our increased cooperation, cooperation that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago. Whether the issue is joint training exercises or counter-terrorism efforts, the United States and India have a tremendous amount to learn from one another and continue to look for areas to expand our engagement, maritime security being one.
 
                These efforts are bolstered by our military exchanges. For example, one of my military assistants with me on this trip was an exchange officer in India in the 1990s.
 
                During the meetings we also talked about larger regional and strategic issues including China. I appreciated the insights I heard, especially with regard to Afghanistan. As you know, last month President Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that recognizes the importance of getting the mission there right. More than anything, the President’s strategy represents a long term commitment to the Afghan people and to the people of all South Asia.
 
                I expressed my appreciation for India’s contributions to the mission and my belief that India’s ongoing economic development support in Afghanistan is vital.
 
                The scale of what we are trying to do requires many nations working in concert. Going forward, India can be an anchor for regional and global security.
 
                Although my visit has focused on deepening our long term defense relationship, this is only one part of a larger strategic partnership that involves all elements of our governments and many convergent interests. And as our nations grow even closer in the coming years and decades, I am confident that together we will be able to meet any and all challenges.
 
                As President Obama has said, this will be a defining partnership for the 21st Century. 
 
                Thank you, and I’ll take some questions.
 
                Q     Mr. Gates. My question is about the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum that you have signed. How different is it from the existing Defense Framework Agreement that you had? And will it include weapon systems, nuclear weapon systems and cyber security as well?
 
                SEC. GATES: The communications, part of the growth in the relationship between the United States and India has been the sale of high technology weapons and military equipment. Associated with that, with those sales, are additional agreements associated with protecting the technology within that equipment or those weapons.
 
                For example, the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement is an agreement that would allow the highest in U.S. cryptologic information to be provided along with the C-130Js that India has bought. 
 
                The agreement that has to do with basic exchange cooperation in the geospatial area is about providing the aircraft that India has bought with the highest technology possible in terms of navigational capability, not to mention targeting.
 
                So these agreements, which we believe are preponderantly in India’s benefit because they give high tech systems additional high tech capabilities, are enablers, if you will, to the very highest quality equipment in the Indian armed forces.
 
                I think we have not done an adequate job on the American side in spelling out for our Indian partners the benefits to India of signing these agreements. The agreement that you mentioned, the Communication Interoperability and Security agreement, is an agreement we have with dozens of our closest allies including some here in Asia. And so this is not an out of the ordinary request, it is not an unreasonable request, and really at the end of the day is focused on protecting the technology of both India and the United States. I’m not aware that the agreements bring any specific new weaponry to the systems that we’ve sold. My sense is that it’s principally about giving them additional capabilities.
 
                Q     Mr. Secretary, are you satisfied with the status of relief efforts in Haiti a week after the earthquake? And is there something else additional that you would like to see the United States military doing?
 
                SEC. GATES: Well I think as long as more than two million people in Haiti are still struggling to get food and water and fuel and medical care, it would probably be a mistake for anyone to say they’re satisfied with the level of effort. That said, I think that the United States in particular has, it is hard for me to see what more the United States could make available or how we could make it available faster in trying to deal with the tragedy there.
 
                The Coast Guard was on site literally within hours of the earthquake providing limited support, and with each passing hour more and more American forces and ships and capability have flowed into the area.
 
                Getting around the city has been a challenge, and the hope is that today and tomorrow that will begin to ease, but you cannot fully meet the needs of over two million people just using helicopters. Although there has been significant relief brought on a local basis and a number of landing zones established where security was able to be provided and the orderly distribution of food.
 
                We are looking at a variety of other capabilities. I signed deployment orders this morning that would begin to move ships such as a port clearance ship with cranes that could within a week or two perhaps begin to get the port back into operation. We’re trying to look at what other alternative routes there might be to bet bulk food and bulk supplies in there.
 
                So I think the commanders on the field, working with the government of Haiti under the auspices of the UN and MINUSTAH, everything I hear is that the three have established a good working relationship in terms of establishing priorities for what actually flows into the country. I think that supplies are beginning to get out to the people. There is a concern that if you are unable to get significant supplies out that in their desperation people will turn to crime and violence. We have not seen much of that yet, happily, and my hope is that as we get these trucks out on the roads with supplies and people see patrols, that that will help prevent any significant violence from taking place. But I would say given the magnitude of the disaster that has taken place, I think that Americans in particular can be very proud of what, not only what their government has done, but what so many of the non-governmental organizations and doctors organizations and others have done in terms of trying to bring relief there.
 
                Q     Secretary Gates, you’re fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and Taliban camps on the eastern side of the Duran Line still exist. And for all the sound and fury, they continue to flourish. Have you spoken to Pakistan about it? Because this appears to be a critical problem that your country is facing.
 
                The other point is in your meetings with the Indian government, have you ever suggested that perhaps Indian military cooperation with Afghanistan could be stepped up?
 
                SEC. GATES: First of all I think it’s important to recognize the magnitude of the threat that the entire region faces. Secretary Clinton and I discussed this in our testimony before the American Congress early in December.
 
                What we have in the area of the Afghan-Pakistan border is first of all, al-Qaida. It’s its primary home and safe haven. You also have the Taliban who are active in Afghanistan. You also have the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan that are focused on Pakistan. You also have Lashkar-e-Taiba, LET, that is focused on Pakistan but also on India. And what we see is that the success of any one of these groups leads to new capabilities and new reputation for all. A victory for one is a victory for all.
 
                What I see happening is these groups operating under the umbrella of al-Qaida in the Northwest Frontier Province, probably in North Waziristan, is orchestrating attacks using one element in Afghanistan, using another element of the Taliban in Pakistan to attack targets in Pakistan to try to destabilize Pakistan, and again, working with al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba, planning attacks in India.
 
                I believe this operation under the umbrella of al-Qaida, working with all of these different groups, is intended to destabilize not just Afghanistan or not just Pakistan, but potentially the whole region by provoking a conflict perhaps between India and Pakistan through some provocative act or terrorist act, or provoking instability in Pakistan itself through terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
               
                So I think it’s a very complicated situation. I think it’s very dangerous for the region as a whole. I also think it’s dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say if we could beat that group that will solve the problem.  Because they are, in effect, a syndicate of terrorist operators intending to destabilize this entire region. That’s why it is so important for all of us to be engaged, to understand the magnitude of this threat and to be engaged in trying to reduce the threat, and wherever possible eliminate it. And it does require a high level of cooperation among us all.
 
                Q     I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your discussions with India on China, whether there is a joint cyber threat that both India and the U.S. face from elements within China, and what you see as India’s role in sort of a counterweight to China in Asia.
 
                SEC. GATES: We didn’t talk about China at length. We did talk in more generic terms about a common interest in security of the Indian Ocean and security of the global commons, and the global commons meaning the air, sea, space, and if you’re talking about the internet, the ether, I suppose.
 
                There was a discussion about China’s military modernization program and what it meant and what the intentions of that military buildup were. And a desire, I won’t speak for the Indian side, but certainly a desire on our part to engage China in a more routine, in-depth dialogue about our strategic intentions and plans so as to avoid any miscalculations or misunderstandings down the road. As I’ve long said, I was involved with the strategic arms talks with the Soviet Union for many many years. I’m not sure those talks ever actually reduced any arms, but the dialogue over a long period of time with great candor about nuclear capabilities, thinking about nuclear options, thinking about how each side looked at nuclear weapons and at their military modernizations, I think played a significant role over time in preventing miscalculations and mistakes in the relationship between these two super powers during the Cold War. I think that kind of a dialogue with China would be most productive and frankly in the best interests of global stability.
 
                Q     With regard to the Logistics Support Agreement, there seems to be some reluctance on the part of India to go ahead with it. During the course of your meeting with the top Indian leadership have you been able to convince them of the benefits of this agreement?
 
                SEC. GATES: The Logistics Support Agreement was the third of the agreements that we talked about, and it is, and what I promised the Prime Minister last night was that we would do a better job of putting on paper and using concrete examples of the benefits to India of all of these agreements. 
 
                No agreement between sovereign states and especially I would say sovereign democracies is going to be worth the paper it’s written on if it isn’t of real advantage to both sides. I think what we need to do is be more concrete and more persuasive about the benefits to India of these three agreements.
 
                These three agreements have been laying around for quite a while at this point. This is not some new requirement that has just emerged. The Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement, was first put on the table in 2002. I remember discussing it with the Defense Minister here during my last visit in 2008. So this is not a new requirement that has just come up, but has been known for quite some time.
 
                I just think we need to - these agreements I see as enablers to allow a defense trade and a defense cooperation relationship to expand significantly, because it will lead to greater interoperability and a greater capability of our forces to work together, whether they’re working together to provide Indian Ocean security, whether they’re working together in a humanitarian assistance, disaster relief activity or any number of other military operations, these agreements will provide additional technology to India and additional benefits that I think will then enable the broader defense relationship between the two countries.
 
                Q     Mr. Secretary, on the flight over you talked about India’s restraint after the Mumbai attacks. Referring to your comments a moment ago about the syndicate of terror groups, do you think that another Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on India is likely in the near future? And have you been trying to convey to India a request for further restraint in the event of such an attack?
 
                SEC. GATES: I think there is very close cooperation not only between the United States and India, but other powers as well, to provide any warning information to India that any of us acquire about whatever planning might be going on.
 
                We did actually, I’m sorry, what was the last part of your question?
 
                Q     If you were conveying any request for --
 
                SEC. GATES: Oh. I think that the, as you say, I told all of the Indian leaders that I met with that I thought that India had responded with great restraint and statesmanship after the first Mumbai attack. The ability of any state to continue that, were it to be attacked again, I think is in question. I think I have to leave the answer to that question to the Indian government and its officials, but I think it’s not unreasonable to assume that Indian patience would be limited were there to be further attacks.
 
                Q     Secretary Gates, I’d just like to take on from what my colleague Srinjoy asked. It was the second part of his question.
 
                Is potential Indian military cooperation in Afghanistan that involves either training and/or deployment, could that really upset U.S. plans in the region?
 
                SEC. GATES: I think that, frankly, the kind of support and extraordinary support that India is providing in Afghanistan now is really ideal. It is significant support. It’s about $1.3 billion in development assistance. I think it plays an important role. And let’s be honest with one another here. There are real suspicions in both India and Pakistan about what the other is doing in Afghanistan. So I think focusing, each country focusing its efforts on development, on humanitarian assistance, perhaps in some limited areas of training, but with full transparency toward each other in what they’re doing, would help allay these suspicions and frankly, create opportunities to provide greater help for the Afghan government.
 
                Q     Secretary Gates, did the Indians ask you to press Pakistan more to crack down on the extremist groups on its borders? And did you talk to the Indians about that and your concerns about the Pakistani lack of will in some areas?
 
                SEC. GATES: What we talked about at some length was the syndicate of different terrorist groups that I talked about at the outset and how they put all of the countries here in the region - Afghanistan, Pakistan, India - at risk because of their activities. And as we’ve talked about, clearly one of the subjects of discussion for my next visit is how to allay their concerns so that they can focus on what has become, in my view, a real existential threat to Pakistan which is these different terrorist groups operating within its territory.
 
                Thank you all.

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