Joint Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa
(Note: Min. La Russa's remarks provided through interpreter.)
MIN. LA RUSSA: We have just finished this important meeting and we have debated several issues. We thanked the secretary for the -- (inaudible) -- expressed also on the actions developed by the Italian forces. Of course, we have dealt-- we have spoken about Afghanistan. We have expressed our desire to increase the number of forces in ISAF -- (inaudible)-- trainers (inaudible) forces -- (inaudible) -- as you know -- (inaudible) -- train and assist troops on the ground.
We are currently -- (inaudible) -- new approach especially as it comes to the regain and win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. This is a very important solution, as we say, of the Afghan -- (inaudible) -- exercise their government and to respond to the threat and the task. This is why we are persuaded that we have to ensure what I have just (inaudible) to reduce the time for Afghanization.
Of course, other issues have been debated, namely, Kosovo, where the reduction of the presence, as now determined,(inaudible) force being on the ground.
Yesterday, I also introduced to Secretary Gates, General Graziano, that has just been retained as commander of -- (inaudible) -- and will be my chief of staff from tomorrow.
Iran has been another important issue we have debated. We have agreed to use any possible (inaudible) means to oppose escalation of violence in this country.
SEC. GATES: Good morning. While I have been to Italy many times, this is my first visit as secretary of defense, and it is a pleasure to be here.
Let me start by thanking the Italian people who play host to more than 10,000 American service members and their families. For decades, Italy has shown U.S. military personnel stationed here a level of warmth and hospitality with its people. We appreciate it.
I also had a chance to experience Italian hospitality at dinner last night with Minister La Russa, shortly after I met with Prime Minister Berlusconi. Today's meeting was a continuation of those conversations.
I expressed my gratitude to both the prime minister and the defense minister for Italy's vital role in Afghanistan, especially in Regional Command West, where Italy is in the lead, and with the police training mission where the world class Carabinieri is sharing its expertise.
I also thanked them for Italy's recent commitment of another 1,000 troops, the most of any ally since President Obama's December announcement of a new strategy in Afghanistan.
Minister La Russa and I see each other often at NATO ministerials, but those conversations focus on the Alliance and operations in Afghanistan. The truth is our two nations have a much wider-ranging bilateral relationship than just that.
I wanted to come to Rome to discuss the whole range of defense issues on which we cooperate. That includes the disaster relief in Haiti, where Italy has deployed the flagship Cavour, the Joint Strike Fighter Program and other international issues, such as the need to improve relations with Russia and the challenge posed by Iran.
In all of this, our countries have a tremendous amount to gain from this relationship.
Minister La Russa, thank you, again, for your continued friendship.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking in Italian, no translation provided.)
MIN. LA RUSSA: (Speaking in Italian, no translation provided.)
MIN. LA RUSSA: We had planned to have two questions, but if we keep the time short, we can have perhaps three.
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.) I have a question for Secretary Gates.
Mr. Secretary, in your recent visit to Turkey, you said you did not feel that an agreement with Iran over the nuclear issue was near. And President Ahmadinejad proved you right a few hours ago by saying that, why don't we go on with the enrichment of uranium.
Confrontational attitude, open challenge to the negotiation approach. What should be done now? Sanctions, they've been proving themselves not effective so far. Is the military option growing more real?
SEC. GATES: No one has tried more sincerely to reach out and engage with the government of Iran than President Obama. The international community has offered the Iranian government multiple opportunities to provide reassurance on its intentions. The results have been very disappointing.
Part of the P-5-plus-one strategy was a dual track, the opportunity to engage and to try and have a diplomatic solution to this problem or, if that doesn't work, then pressure.
If the international community will stand together and bring pressure to bear on the Iranian government, I believe there is still time for sanctions and pressure to work. But we must all work together.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) -- your question.
Q Mr. Secretary, just to follow up on that. Can you give us a sense of what type of sanctions you think should be imposed? What aspects of the economy should be targeted? And how soon they should be put in place?
SEC. GATES: Well, I won't get into a lot of detail, but I think that pressures that are focused on the government of Iran as opposed to the people of Iran potentially have greater opportunity to achieve the objective.
We have seen what is going on inside Iran. I think the international community does not want the Iranian people to suffer more hardship than is absolutely necessary. I think I'll just leave it at that.
Now, that's my two questions. (Laughter.)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Secretary, you are a special guest, so the question is again for you. Is Italy doing enough to put economic pressure on Iran?
SEC. GATES: Rather than single any country out, I would simply say, I think all of us can do more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible.)
Q Craig Whitlock with The Washington Post.
Minister La Russa, as you know, the Istanbul ministerial ended with a plea for more trainers. Can you be more precise about what Italy intends to contribute along those lines in terms of trainers and when they will start?
And Secretary Gates, as you know, France said that it would send 80 more trainers to Afghanistan. Are you disappointed in that? And where will you look to make up the difference?
MIN. LA RUSSA: We are ready to send 120 Carabinieri that have already been financed and go beyond the 1,000 men we are expected to deploy in the second semester between the end of May and the beginning of June.
Half of these 120 have already deployed. The remaining is pending the authorization by the Afghan government since they haven't decided nor the venue, nor the people to be trained for these soldiers to deploy.
Indeed, in Istanbul, we remarked that the efforts by the international community must finds its obvious counterpart in the Afghan government and resolve. In June, the chief of defense, General Camporini, will meet with his U.S. counterpart and the chiefs of defense of the other countries involved to decide what percentage of this Carabinieri or of the men we have to deploy must be assigned to train police forces and what other military trainers must be deployed in the OMLTs to train the Afghan armed forces.
This is a common objective. And indeed, our objective is to keep the time for Afghanistan to stand on its feet and take care of its own security as short as possible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible.)
SEC. GATES: During my first year in this position, our NATO allies and non-NATO partners had about 17,000 troops in Afghanistan. And the general feeling was that was about as much as people could do.
We now have, on the ground or pledged, almost 50,000 allied and non-NATO partners. If you had told me we would have that kind of an increase two years ago, I would have thought it a miracle.
France has a substantial presence already in Afghanistan, and their defense minister in Istanbul pledged that France would provide additional trainers. He did not mention a number.
I think that what needs to be done as we go forward is, of the roughly 10,000 more troops that have been committed, we need to shape the nature of those forces.
The key, it seems to me, is not necessarily more troops in addition to the 10,000, but rather to ensure that among those 10,000 are as many trainers and mentors as we possibly can get. So I ask my NATO colleagues to go back and look at the composition of the commitments that they have already made.
And I have confidence that when we have done that, that we will be able to meet the need for trainers and mentors in Afghanistan.
MIN. LA RUSSA: And I would like to respond to a third question that I asked myself, these are the two reasons for satisfaction for this meeting. First of all, I should remark, the intention by the U.S. side is to share intelligence data and to use a more open attitude when it comes to sharing the instruments to fight the threat we are expected to.
I have been informed of that and discussions have been going on to obtain better results than in the past, and also to remove several of the -- (inaudible).
Second reason for satisfaction, that emerged in Istanbul and was confirmed during our meeting, is the decision by the U.S. side to have expert meet about the possibility of sharing technologies for counter-IED efforts. IEDs, as we know, are the important cause for many of the casualties for our soldiers and the soldiers of other nations.
We have state-of-the-art equipment on the ground -- (inaudible) -- and we are about to -- (inaudible) -- to prevent the remote activation of those bombs. For this, I thank Secretary Gates also for showing his -- (inaudible) -- side that has been confirmed during yesterday's dinner. It's a sign of profound friendship that both of our countries share in every aspect of life.
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