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Press Conference with Secretary Gates from Ankara Turkey

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
February 06, 2010

                Spokesman Morrell:  Thank you all for coming today.  Sorry, we are running a little bit late.  The meetings have run long.  So, we are going to have a little less time.  No more than a half hour.  So, let's move quickly and I want to get as many of our Turkish friends as possible.  So, without further ado, the Secretary and then to the Turkish press and if there's time, we will go to the American press.

                  Secretary Gates:  Fire away.

                 Q:  Good morning sir.  My name is Murat Yetkin and I work for Radikal.  Perhaps you would like to tell us about your contacts with the Defense Minister and the Chief of the General Staff.  We're interested on the cooperation in Iraq and against terrorism, including the PKK.

 

                Secretary Gates:  Both meetings ran long.  As a matter of fact, at the meeting with the Defense Minister we spent a good bit of time talking about Afghanistan, about missile defense, NATO missile defense, and the military-to-military relationship between the two countries. Virtually all of my time with the Chief of the General Staff was spent discussing Afghanistan and efforts against the PKK.

 

                Q:  Any details -- did you ask more troops?

 

                Secretary Gates:  No, I didn't ask for more troops.  I told both of them how impressed we have been by Turkey's contribution in Afghanistan and how important it is.   It is a varied role -- there' are about 1700 troops, 2 provincial reconstruction teams, several operational mentoring and advising teams and command of regional command capital, Kabul.  So it's a very diverse set of responsibilities and we are very pleased to have Turkey in Afghanistan working with all of us as partners.

 

                Q:  Metahan Demir from Hurriyet newspaper.  We are wondering about the details of your talks regarding the fight against the PKK because it has been on the agenda in Turkey for a long time and Turkey has been suffering from this terrorism for along time.  Also it was on the agenda in the past, as you may remember -- cooperation with the United States.  Could you detail, or give us any specific information, about what kind of new cooperation was discussed between the two sides, during these talks, against PKK?  Any further operation to capture the leading names of the organization? Or, any joint operation in Northern Iraq in the future?

 

                Secretary Gates:  Well, I don't think any purpose would be served in sharing with you any information about any operations that may or may not be considered. I will tell you that in 2007, President Bush directed that more assistance from America be given to Turkey's fight against the PKK.  It fell on me to implement that beginning in 2007-2008 in terms of significant additional intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and other kinds of equipment.

 

                We have continued that. I offered during my visit here to, when I return to Washington, to see if there are more capabilities that we can share with Turkey in terms of taking on this threat. When General Odierno was here there was discussion of an action plan going forward.  So I think what we are seeing is a further intensification of the cooperation in an effort to deal with this threat. I would also say, as the General told me, the ultimate solution to this is simply not killing everybody.  In that vein, I met with President Barzani of the KRG in Washington last week. We talked about the importance of the KRG putting pressure on the PKK to abandon violence as a political tool.  So, I think there's a broad range of cooperation and we talked about ways in which it can be further expanded.

 

                Q: What is Turkey's role in your planned missile defense project, or what did you discuss?

 

                Secretary Gates:  What I described in Istanbul and what we talked about here was:  the United States considers the phased, adaptive approach that the President announced last year, as America's national contribution to a NATO-wide missile defense.   The NATO foreign ministers in December underscored the importance of missile defense for the alliance in light of the proliferation of ballistic missiles.  Poland and Romania have both agreed to host missiles, and the discussion - I won't get into the specifics - but the discussion here in Turkey, here in Ankara, was about what role Turkey might play in the context of a NATO missile defense.  We basically discussed what some of the possibilities were and those discussions will be ongoing.

 

                Does somebody want to ask their first question?

 

                Q:  Let me ask in my language.  (In Turkish) Regarding Iran, in your discussions did the idea come up of Turkey as a mediator with Iran?

 

                Secretary Gates:  Well, we really didn't discuss it in that context.  I basically talked about President Obama's efforts to engage with the Iranians over the past year.  I participated in the first official US government meeting with the new Iranian government in October of 1979.  I told the PM that I've watched successive administrations reach out to Iran.  But I have never seen an administration reach out in as principled and comprehensive way as President Obama has done.  And the response has been quite disappointing.  We had hoped that the Tehran Research Reactor proposal offered a way out of the current situation in a way that would be satisfactory to all of the parties.  There is no objection to Iran having a peaceful nuclear program under appropriate IAEA safe guards and in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

 

                Unfortunately, they are violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and they've rejected the Tehran Research Reactor proposal.  Now, they've come back and I hear that they are offering some kind of other deal on the Tehran Research Reactor. 

 

                My view is that is a discussion that the Iranians would better hold with the IAEA, than at the Munich conference.  Or, in press conferences by President Amadinejad. If they are prepared to take up the original proposal of the IAEA P5+1 of delivering 1200 kilograms of their low enriched uranium, all at once, to an agreed party - I think there would be a response to that. 

 

                But the reality is they have done nothing to reassure the international community that they are prepared to comply with the NPT or stop their progress towards a nuclear weapon. Therefore, I think that various nations need to think about whether the time has come for a different tact. The IAEA P5+1 has always had a dual track approach.  Engagement would be tried first and if that didn't work, then pressure would be applied.  The purpose of the pressure would be to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to negotiate seriously about constraining this program.  So, that's where we are.

 

                Q:  (In Turkish) Two questions.  The Prime Minister and President Obama in December talked about missile defense (inaudible) and about Turkey.  Secondly, has the US made any requests from Turkey for your withdrawal from Iraq - especially the use of the Incirlik base?

 

                Secretary Gates:  With respect to the later, as far as I know, there have been no requests made.  We are still looking at various options in terms of our draw down.  With respect to the first, we continue to look at what kind of capabilities we can provide to Turkey.  This, unfortunately, has to be seen against the backdrop of America's continuing involvement in two wars - one right on Turkey's border, in terms of completing our efforts and our responsible drawdown in Iraq.  And, obviously Afghanistan where there is a huge demand for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance.

 

                I have reaffirmed for the Prime Minister all of the commitments that have been made up to this point and told both him and the friends I talked to this morning, that when I go back, I will see if there is something more we can do as well.

 

                Q:  (In Turkish) There are differences of opinion about Iran.  While some other countries tell Iran not to have nuclear weapons, they have not themselves given up nuclear weapons, in particular Israel.  Nuclear weapons should be restricted in some manner.  Did it come up in your discussions?

 

                Secretary Gates:  No, that didn’t come up, but I would say this: first of all, Iran is the only country in the region that has publicly declared its intent to destroy another state in the region.  This is not encouraging for a country that has a nuclear program, to say the least.  Iran is in violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. I think that there is a very great worry that if Iran, and I shared this with my interlocutors here, that if Iran proceeds with this program unconstrained that there is a very real danger of proliferation here in the region that would make it even unstable and unsafe for everyone.  So, I think there is broad international agreement as demonstrated through multiple UN Security Council resolutions to get Iran to stop this program.

 

                Q:   Mr. Secretary, if you don't mind, I will ask this question in Turkish due to its strategic importance to the Turkish people.  (In Turkish) Thank you for coming to Turkey and for this opportunity. Two days ago one of your well-known names came, Odierno, and he was named in the press as the "sackman general" because of the traumatic events of 2003 in Sulaimaniye in Northern Iraq.  He is still called that when he visits.  You were (inaudible) there then.   Do you have a word to say to the Turkish public about those sad events?  Or, now as the Defense Secretary, do you have anything to say about the events at that time and the events when American soldiers put bags over the heads of Turkish soldiers?

 

                Secretary Gates:  Well, all I can say is that I was not Secretary of Defense at the time. I was president of Texas A&M University and not exactly preoccupied with what was happening here.  I don’t know the details of it.  As I said, I was more preoccupied with hiring a new football coach in Texas.  I think that General Odierno’s reputation speaks for itself.  He has my highest confidence.  He has the president’s highest confidence.  We all put the highest possible importance on our relationship with Turkey, our bi-lateral relationship with Turkey, and our cooperation and our respect for the Turkish people and, above all, respect for Turkey’s soldiers.

 

                Q:  (In Turkish)  There is continuing discussion and debate about Turkey's slide from the West.  Some say that Turkey is changing its axis towards the East.  What is your view?

 

                Secretary Gates:  I think that Turkey is in a unique position. It is a member of the NATO alliance and is the southeastern anchor of the alliance.  It is geographically located in the Middle East but also in Central Asia. It has historic and cultural ties with Central Asia so I think Turkey is in a very good place to work with all different parties on a variety of different issues where it has special access in a sense of a place at the table, if you will, from Europe to Central Asia to the Middle East.  I think that Turkey’s taking that on and playing a constructive role in all of those areas is a very positive thing.

Q:  Could I follow up on the question about Iran.  It sounds like your comments both about Amadinejad’s comments and the recent ones in Munich that you don’t find them substantive.  A few of the comments out of Munich seemed to say that we are close to an actual agreement, is that not your understanding?  Is there no substantive. . .

 

                Secretary Gates:  I have been out of Washington for several days but based on the information that I have, I don’t have the sense that we are close to an agreement.  Again, the issue is if Iran has decided to accept the proposal of the IAEA P5+1, and that involves turning over all at once the 1200 kilograms of low enriched uranium, they should do that to the IAEA.  The reality is that the longer that this goes on, and the longer that they continue to enrich, the value of the Tehran Research Reactor proposal to the international community as a reassurance diminishes because there is more and more low enriched uranium being produced. So, if they are willing to accept the IAEA P5+1 proposals, logic would dictate that it be as soon as possible because the value, in terms of security reassurances to people, is diminishing.

 

                Q:  About Afghanistan. The U.S. estimates the need for trainers at 4,000, yet the only commitment that happened during the NATO leaders meeting was from France and it was only for 80 trainers.  Are you concerned that it might send the wrong signal and how confident are you that the other NATO allies will step up to the plate and fill the gap?

 

                Secretary Gates: Well, I think that the most important signal is that in the period since the President announced his new way forward in Afghanistan, our allies and partners have committed almost 10,000 more troops. I think what’s important at this point is the shaping of those contributions. I think that if there was one pretty clear theme it was at NATO, at our Defense Ministers’ meeting in Istanbul, it was, within the framework of the commitments you have made, trainers are the most important people we need. So if I didn’t misunderstand him, my impression was that the German defense minister was saying, okay within the force that we have and the addition that Germany is going to make, we are going to significantly increase the proportion of trainers going.  This is a discussion that I have had with General McChrystal and Admiral Stavridis and so on.  It is very important that the right people, of the 10,000 have been committed additional, it is important that the right people go and I think that there was general agreement in Istanbul that the more trainers there can be within that number, the better off we will be.

 

                Q:   Mr. Secretary is Turkey doing enough in relation to Iran and secondly, what role do you see for Aegis ships in the Black Sea in relation to the missile defense plan?

 

Secretary Gates: First of all, I think Turkey is a valuable interlocutor when it comes to Iran. I think that it is important they speak to the Iranians in a way that is difficult for us.  So, I think that there are potential opportunities there.  But, I think that there needs to be a common understanding of the very broad concerns that exists throughout the United Nations about Iran’s ongoing programs. I have the impression that there is that understanding here in Turkey. We will continue to work with them going forward.  I’m actually not sure whether I want to talk about the deployment of Aegis ships is going to be at this point.

 

                Q:  Mr. Secretary is there any reaction that you have to the recent developments from China that they won’t support sanctions.  Do you see this languishing for several more months before sanctions can be imposed?  Does that affect your diplomatic strategy?

 

                Secretary Gates: I think that there will be an effort to engage with China. I think that I would say that I personally don’t believe that door is closed.

 

                Q: Can you say why with China, I mean?

 

                Secretary Gates: Just because I am an optimist.

 

                Q:  (In Turkish) On the subject of the PKK, their one by one killing is not a solution you said, was there any offer from the Turkish side in your discussions in Istanbul or Ankara?

 

                (Comment from Turkish reporters:  Basbug said that.)

 

                Secretary Gates: Well, I think, frankly I feel that the PM’s initiative with a view to trying to identify those people in the PKK who are prepared to rejoin society and abandon violence and to reach out to them is a very positive thing. It helps to separate those who are willing to abandon violence and become part of society, from the hard core who will not abandon violence and who have to be dealt with in other ways.  So, I think that that initiative - and it was my impression this morning that the Chief of the General Staff agrees with that.   I don't want to get in to any internal issues here, but it seems to me that that is a useful initiative of the part of the Turkish government and has promise.

 

                Spokesman Morrell: Do you have anything...Adam?  You're good?  What about these two gentlemen of the Turkish press? Do you have anything?

 

                Q:  A follow-up with your question. Did you ask Turkey to deploy some radar systems regarding a missile defense system on Turkish territory?

 

                Secretary Gates:  We have talked about that in the past with Turkey and the Turkish government has asked us a number of questions.  I would say we are in dialogue about that and no decisions have been made by anybody. It's important to say that even these conversations have been in the framework of a wider NATO wide missile defense system in which other NATO allies would participate as well.  As I said, there have been discussions but nobody has made any commitments.

 

                Q:  Sir, recent information is that another draft resolution has been presented to the Senate Foreign Affairs committee regarding the Armenian genocide claims.  I think it will be discussed in early March.  Do you think it will be helpful to Turkish-US relations if this resolution passes?

 

                Secretary Gates:  Our view is that the negotiations that have been taking place between Turkey and Armenia offer a positive path for the future.  Anything that would impede the success of those discussions and negotiations I think is objectionable.  I would just leave it there.

 

                Q:  A short one on Afghanistan.  General McChrystal has said that the deterioration has stopped.  You quoted him as saying that yesterday so I guess you agree with him.  What can you point to, in particular, that makes you believe that the deterioration has at least stopped?

 

                Secretary Gates:  First of all, I have to defer to the view of the commander.  I would say it's a lot of little signs.  I wouldn't ignore the first half of what he said that the situation is still serious.  No one is claiming that the momentum has shifted and that success is at hand.  I think there's just a sense on the part, it's not just General McChrystal but others -- some of the defense ministers I talked to, a sense on the part of the Afghans themselves, Minister Wardak, Minister Atmar -- there is a sense of a changing mood in terms of the future.  I think that General McChrystal also can point to some of the successes the Marines have had in Helmand since they went in last July.  The important thing is that no one wants to start issuing rosy predictions at this point.  A very tough fight lies ahead of us.  We are all, sadly, going to take casualties in this fight and throughout Afghanistan.  We are a long way from being done there.  But, by the same token, when the commander has concluded that the situation has stopped deteriorating, that certainly is, the best I could say, it's a hopeful sign.

 

                Q:  Mr. Secretary:  The US has spoken pretty openly, very openly about the upcoming operations in Helmand.  Was the decision to sort of publicize that, were you sort of involved or informed about that?  Do you have opinions on why the US is signaling very clearly what its operational intents are. 

 

                Secretary Gates: That's a better question... I have been informed about it, but that it is actually a question better directed at General McChrystal.  But, I suspect that it has to do with letting people know what's coming in the hope that the hardcore Taliban, or a lot of the Taliban, would simply leave and maybe there would be less of a fight than was the case.  Maybe it is also to give heart to those living in that area that help is on the way.  But that is only speculation on my part.

 

                Spokesman Morrell:  One last one from the Turkish press?  Anything from you all?  Okay, thank you all so much for your time.

  

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