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A Two-Part Interview with Secretary Robert Gates by Greta Van Susteren, Fox News

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
February 08, 2010




TIME: 10:00 P.M. EST



                MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  But first, something you will not see anywhere else.  "On the Record" went to Rome, Italy where Secretary of Defense Robert Gates went "On the Record."  First stop, Iran.


                (Begin videotaped interview.)


                MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Big news coming out of Germany about Iran. Iran saying -- the Iranian foreign minister saying that they were close to an agreement with the IAEA about nuclear enrichment.  And then I noticed that you responded to that.  


                SEC. GATES:  Well, then apparently Ahmadinejad, President Ahmadinejad, has since responded to that, saying that he was apparently going to go ahead and enrich the material himself, as opposed to the IAEA proposal for the Tehran research reactor.    The truth of that matter is, despite President Obama's effort to engage with the Iranians --- and every U.S. president has tried this. I was in the first official U.S. meeting with the Iranian revolutionary government in October of 1979 in Algiers.  Every U.S. president since has reached out to Iran, but none, I think, as directly and with as much sincerity as President Obama has.  But the international community has done so as well, in terms of the IAEA's proposal on the Tehran research reactor and in terms of the P5-plus-1 offering to talk with the Iranians about their nuclear program.  


                The international community and the U.S. have given the Iranians multiple opportunities in recent months to provide reassurances of their intentions and that they'll begin to stop violating the NPT and various U.N. resolutions.  And their response has been consistently disappointing, and so now I think we're in a position to turn to the pressure track and get broad international support for some serious sanctions in terms of trying to get the Iranian government to change its approach. 


                MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Today in terms of what Ahmadinejad said is, he would want to enrich it to 20 percent, which seems to me a low-grade uranium but, nonetheless, a very crude nuclear weapon could be made with that.  Is that your understanding?


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I'm not that expert on the physics of it, but, I mean, the proposal had been that they would ship their 1200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium somewhere else, to Russia or wherever we were able to reach an agreement, and then another country, perhaps Russia, would enrich to 20 percent for the research reactor. But it would be fully safeguarded under the IAEA, and so we'd know where it was, and we'd know it wasn't being further enriched for a potential weapon.  That's what's changed and that's what Ahmadinejad is now apparently saying they will do on their own.  I'm not even sure they can do that but that's what he said. 


                MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  So what's the problem?  I mean, we've reached out to them, the international community has reached out to them, sanctions have been held over their heads, you know, what's the problem?  Is it, well, you tell me what is the problem?


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that's a good question.  I remember after the Iranian revolution in 1979, President Carter sending a letter to the director of CIA saying, I'm not happy with the quality of our political intelligence, and we've been wrestling with that ever since.  Trying to figure out what's going on in Iran, in many respects, is even more complicated than it was with the Soviet Union. 


                MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Now the IAEA agreement that we've been struggling with, with Iran, is that they want to send some of their uranium out for enrichment but not all, they wanted to slow it down. I presume, I guess they wanted to hold some back so they could do what they wanted with it.  Is that your thinking?   SEC. GATES:  Well, I think basically their strategy is, if they did anything at all, it would be to slow-roll us.  And the reality is, they're continuing to enrich so one of the points that I've made on this trip is the longer they wait, in terms of this proposal, the less valuable the Tehran research reactor proposal is from the standpoint of providing the international community with reassurance because they're continuing to enrich.  So, if they want to send just 20 percent of it out of 10 percent or something at a time and they're still enriching, then the value of the proposal is significantly degraded, in my view.


                MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Were they --- I was a little confused with Ahmadinejad's statement.  Did he want to send only 20 percent out, or he says he's going to enrich to 20 percent?  


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I haven't actually seen what he said, but what I've been told he said is that he was going to enrich to 20 percent. 


                MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Now, what can we do?  If indeed he sort of forges ahead, what are our options? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think there is room left on the pressure track and I frankly think we have some time to make that work.  You know, years and years ago, CIA did a study of international sanctions and when they worked and when they didn't.  And central to their working is the entire international community really being serious about it and really enforcing the sanctions.  It worked against South Africa.  It has worked in other places.  


                Where it doesn't work is where a number of countries cheat or a number of countries don't participate.  So my hope is that the way the Iranians have reacted here, to the international community, will provide the political impetus to really get everybody behind this in terms of some sanctions that have a real impact, particularly on the IRGC and the folks who are running Iran.


                MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Okay.  Well, one of the countries that sort of seems to be option out or dragging its feet is China.  Russia seems less interested in the sanctions as well.  So, I guess we have to get China and Russia onboard and then, I mean, how do we do that? 


                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think, you know, it's always a negotiating process and, you know, we're just at the beginning of it.  I think it's going to take some period of time, I would say weeks not months, to see if we can't get another U.N. Security Council resolution.  I think that's important because then it provides a legal platform for the EU and individual countries to then perhaps even take even more far reaching steps. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  And if we don't or if we have that leak, if China violates it or some other country violates it, then what?   SEC. GATES:  Well, all I can say is, we have been successful in getting several Security Council resolutions, and so I'm optimistic that we'll be successful again.  MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  And then you're optimistic that the sanctions will have the impact.  


         SEC. GATES:  Well, I think one of the things that has changed is the internal situation in Iran and this is a leadership that faces some pressures that they didn't a couple of years ago and questions about their legitimacy from their own people.  So, I think we don't really know, as I was saying earlier, I don't think we really know what the political chemistry in Tehran is, but I think we have to go through this step.


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Any idea how much time we have? 


         SEC. GATES:  Well, the intelligence analysts vary on that, but I would say probably a year or two.  


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  In terms of wars that we're now fighting, we have Afghanistan, Iraq, and the war on terror, those are our three main wars that I imagine have sort of different sort of strategies involved with them.  I want to start first with Afghanistan.  What's the state of Afghanistan? 


         SEC. GATES:  Well, General McChrystal has been quoted as saying that he thought the situation was serious and deteriorating.  Just within the last week when he spoke at the NATO defense ministers meeting in Istanbul, he said he thought the situation was serious, still serious, but no longer deteriorating.  So I think we're beginning to see the impact of the Marines going in to Helmand province.  We're beginning to see the impact of increased forces in other places.  


         But there's also --- I think part of what many of us are feeling is that there's an (intangible ?) increase in confidence and hope, both on the part of the Afghans but also on the part of the nations that are with us in there trying to help them.  And, you know, it's still going to be a hard fight and there are some very hard days ahead of us, but there are some small signs that the strategy that General McChrystal is following is beginning to bear fruit. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  I realize that there are limited resources, money and manpower, but are the American people giving you what you   need to fight this war?  I mean, are you getting shortchanged in any way so that your hands are tied? 


         SEC. GATES:  Absolutely not.  The American people --- now, I know one of the misconceptions around the world is that the American people love war.  The truth is, we've never had a popular war.  The first few years of World War II were popular but then people began to get impatient as the war dragged on.  But there has never been a war that was really popular in America.  I mean, just think back to Vietnam and Korea and so on.  So, I think given the challenges and the fact that we've been at war for eight years, the American people have been amazingly patient, amazingly supportive, and, of course, the men and women in uniform are unbelievable. 


         (Pause videotaped interview.)


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Next, more of our extensive interview with Secretary of Defense Gates and nothing is off the table; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Osama bin Laden.  More with Secretary Gates in two minutes. 


          Plus, Governor Sarah Palin storms that National Tea Party Convention.  What happened?  Governor Palin in her own words minutes away.




         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Continuing with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  Next stop, the war in Afghanistan.


         (Resume  videotaped interview.)


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  What is the difference?  The Soviet Union was in there for 10 years and then went home, they lost because of the challenges of fighting in Afghanistan.  What are we doing differently, or how has time changed so that we don't have sort of the same situation the Soviet Union did? 


         SEC. GATES:  Well, I think this is one of those cases where history is just completely misread.  First of all, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, they killed 1 million people, they forced 5 million to flee as refugees, they conducted a war of terror against them, and they had major powers working against them, mostly us, and providing a steady supply of very sophisticated weapons to the Mujahideen.  


         We're in a completely different position.  We've been invited in by the Afghans, our presence there has been sanctioned by both the U.N. and NATO, we have 44 nations that are contributing troops, the heart of it being NATO, but a lot of non-NATO partners, and we are partners with the Afghan people.    And this is what's important about McChrystal's change of strategy when he says that the core of this, the key to success, is not how many Taliban you kill, but how many Afghans you protect.  So, what's central in that is that the Afghans see us as their partners; the Afghans sure never saw the Soviet's as their partners. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  In terms of partnership, we are reaching out to the low-level Taliban.  President Karzai has talked about dealing with the Taliban, both the high level and the low level.  You have any problem with us, I mean, not any problem, but do you have any thought about reaching out to the Taliban at this point and sort of bringing them onboard?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, we sort of, in our own thinking about it, differentiate between reconciliation, which is sort of at the political and leadership level, and reintegration, which is the foot soldiers and local leaders and commanders.  We think a lot of the Taliban participate because they are paid, others because they or their families are intimidated.  And so we think that as the momentum begins to shift in this conflict in the direction of the Afghan government and the coalition that's in there helps them, we think there's a chance that a substantial number of these lower-level Taliban will be willing to put down their weapons and rejoin Afghan society.  


         We have to do two things, though.  We have to create the conditions in which they can have a job, and we have to protect, provide the security to protect them and their families, because one of the things the Taliban does when some of these people do cross back over is kill them and their families.  So, we have to provide them with the security so they know that won't happen. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  That's sort of interesting we almost have to buy their loyalty, we have to pay them. 


         SEC. GATES:  No, you really just have to give them an alternative way of supporting their families.  And, you know, as for the reconciliation part of it, President Karzai is putting together his own plans on this, we've been talking with him about it.  That always ends up being a part of the end of a conflict like this.  But the key is, it seems to me, is that that reconciliation has to be on the terms of the Afghan government and consistent with the Afghan constitution.  


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Is it working?  I mean, do you see some sort of progress with it so far? 


         SEC. GATES:  In terms of reintegration? 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Yeah. 


         SEC. GATES:  On a very small scale so far.  The key, the first thing that has to be done, is to reverse the momentum of the Taliban.   MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Iraq, our other war.  How we doing there? 


         SEC. GATES:  Actually, I think we're pretty much on track. General Odierno is pretty comfortable with the arrangements that we have, the responsible drawdown that's taking place.  The Iraqi security forces have continued to improve.  We will continue that training role with them through the end of 2011.  We'll continue to do counterterrorism operations with them.  But we are pretty much on schedule. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  So we're on track to do our draw down and to leave, but there continues to be violence there, I mean, you continue to read these terrible stories about people being blown up, you know, suicide bombers.  SEC. GATES:  And it's pretty clear that it's al Qaeda, and it is al Qaeda trying to come back, trying to show that they still matter, trying to turn the Sunnis against the government, trying to foment sectarian violence.  All the information we have points to al Qaeda in this.  And so they are somewhat resurgent, but that's why we will continue to work with the Iraqi security forces in trying to take these guys out.  But what is important is that, although occasionally it looks like the perils of Pauline when it comes to politics in Baghdad, the reality is these guys are trying to solve their problems politically, rather than with guns. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  You mentioned al Qaeda so, of course, I think of Osama bin Laden.  Any thought on whether he's dead or alive, whether we're going to get him or not? 


         SEC. GATES:  I have no idea.  


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Just nothing? 


         SEC. GATES:  Nothing.  


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  And same with al-Zawahiri, his lieutenant, his next in command, no idea about him? 


         SEC. GATES:  No idea, but I will tell you, I think that the actions that the Pakistani government is taking in South Waziristan, one of the positive aspects,  one of the many positive aspects of that has been flushing some of these guys out of South Waziristan, and the minute they begin to move around then there's some opportunities.


         (Pause videotaped interview.)


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Next stop, Secretary Gates on Pakistan.  


         When "On the Record" went to Pakistan we met a civilian population very hostile to the United States.  What are we doing to change that?  Find out next.  


         Plus, well maybe we shouldn't be doing this one, but we're going to. "Saturday Night Live" made fun of "On the Record" over the weekend    and, you know what, we're going to show you the video, and, yes, it's pretty funny.  




         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  More with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Rome, Italy.  


         (Resume videotaped interview.)


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Pakistan, how are things in Pakistan? 


         SEC. GATES:  Better than I would have dreamed possible 18 months ago.  If you had told me 18 months or two years ago that the Pakistani army would be operating in South Waziristan, that they would have gone in to the Bajaur Agency, that they'd have gone in to Swat, I'd have thought that'd be a miracle.  


         We always want them to do more, they push back.  They're going to do this at their own pace and in their own way.  We will help them as much as possible.  And I told them when I was out there a couple of weeks ago, I said, you know, we're in this car together, but we recognize on your side of the border you're in the driver's seat and you've got your foot on the accelerator.  But I think there has been an improvement in coordination and, frankly, I think the Pakistanis have done a terrific job.  They've lost a lot of people, at least 3,000 soldiers, so it's not like they're not in the fight.  


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  That's military-to-military.  When I was in Islamabad about six or eight weeks ago, I was surprised at how angry the civilian population was against the United States.  And the thing that was rather outstanding to me in terms of, well, it seemed stunning, was that we had just given them, or pledged, $7.5 billion, but we wanted to know where it was going to go, the United States, and they were all grossly offended that the United States would want to know where the money was going, and there was a lot of hostility towards the United States. 


         SEC. GATES:  I think anti-Americanism is Pakistan is a real problem for us, and I think it's a legacy issue.  This is not something that just happened a few months ago or a year ago.  The Pakistanis believe we'd betrayed them on several occasions, we clearly left them in the lurch when we turned our backs on Afghanistan in 1989, 1990.  I was in the government then, so I bear some responsibility for that.  And then with the implementation of the Pressler Amendment in the early '90s, we had to basically break off our military-to-military relationship. 


         So, these guys figure that we're in this for ourselves, we have no interest in them, we will leave as soon as the situation in Afghanistan is stabilized.  We have to just have a long-term approach to Pakistan that reassures them that we are a long time, reliable ally for Pakistan, we're going to be there with them and for them going    into the future, and it's in every aspect, politically, economically, and so on. 


         The only way you can build that kind of trust, they call it the trust deficit, the only way you can build that kind of trust is by actions and over time. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  In Karachi the other day, a terrible bombing, I think 33 dead, and the headline that I read with it talks about the instability within Pakistan.  And, of course, the first thing I think of is their nuclear arsenal and how secure is it.  Do you have a strong confidence that their nuclear arsenal is under control? 


         SEC. GATES:  I would just echo what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen said, we're comfortable with the security. 


          You know, just to go back to an earlier point, one of the things that I talked about when I was in Pakistan is that al Qaeda, the Taliban in Pakistan, and the Taliban in Afghanistan are all working together.  And the al Qaeda --- al Qaeda is helping the Pakistani Taliban try to destabilize the Pakistani government.  There is evidence that al Qaeda is helping them plan these attacks, the targeting, the training on capabilities and so on.  These threats are all mixed together, it's a syndicate, and in trying to help the Pakistanis understand that each --- if any of the three of these, or others such as the Hakani Network, are successful it redounds to the benefit of the others and so we've got to attack this problem as a whole, rather than piecemeal.  


         (End videotaped interview.)


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  We have much more of our interview with Secretary Gates tomorrow night.





TIME: 10:41 P.M. EST



         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Now part two of your interview with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Rome, Italy.  And Secretary Gates gives you the inside story on working with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


         (Begin videotaped interview.)


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  In terms of dealing with all these sort of worldly problems, they are obviously political problems and military problems, how do you work with the State Department on all these? Historically, the State Department, Defense Department have been a little bit at odds with each other. 


         SEC. GATES:  (Laughs.)  I would say that's an understatement. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  I didn't know how to say it politely.  You've got the big budget, though, compared to the State Department.  How    does the State Department and the Defense Department work together now?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, I think it starts with attitude.  And I think that it is important to recognize that the secretary of State is the principal spokesperson for American foreign policy.  And the Department of Defense and our capabilities are in support of that, in support of the president and in support of the secretary of State.


         And I had a very good relationship with Secretary Rice.  I have a very good relationship with Secretary Clinton.  And I've seen things that have State Department and people in the Pentagon each saying independently, career people saying, that the cooperation has never been better.  And I think, you know, we understand we can't win in Afghanistan without the civilian component.  We understood in Iraq that the civilian component was important.  And I think Ph.D. dissertations should be written about the relationship between Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, because it is a model of a relationship between the senior civilian and the senior military officer. 


         So I think in all these dimensions, and our understanding the value of trying to prevent conflicts from happening, rather than us having to send troops in after they've already taken place, and so building the capabilities, both civilian and military, of governments around the world, who are our friends and partners, is key.  And we've got to cooperate to do that. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  So how do you do that?  How do you build a relationship with the State Department?  Do you and Secretary of State Clinton meet often, talk often?  I mean, how does that relationship work?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, it's a tone-at-the-top thing for sure. Because if the two people at the top don't get along, it absolutely radiates down through the bureaucracy.  And going back to the Bush administration when I was director of CIA and Larry Eagleburger was the deputy secretary and then secretary of State, people know that Eagleburger and I got along and that we talked all the time and that we were friends, and that trying to get us to fight with each other was not career enhancing.


         And once you send that message, then it really does begin to radiate.  So yeah, we talk all the time.  Secretary Clinton and I talk all the time on a secure phone.  We have lunch together regularly, just the two of us, no staff.  And we get together regularly, once a week, with General Jones at the White House, so the three of us are linked up.


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  All right.  You've served a former president, President Bush 43, as secretary of Defense and President Obama as secretary of Defense.  What's the difference in terms of the job?  SEC. GATES:  Well, about a year ago, I was doing a Sunday talk show, and I started to answer that question, and I told myself, I'd never go down that road again.  (Laughs.)  And so I'm not.  


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  But there's no day-to-day difference --


         SEC. GATES:  There will come a time. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  -- just a mechanics thing?


         SEC. GATES:  There will come a time.


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  You won't go down that road.  All right, how about going down this road?  What's the difference -- and I realize that time and history and a lot has changed -- but what's the difference between being director of the CIA and being secretary of Defense?


         SEC. GATES:  Doing TV interviews.  (Laughter.)


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Really?  Is that the difference?


         SEC. GATES:  I didn't do many news conferences when I was director of the CIA, and didn't have much of a ceremonial role. There's a much bigger public dimension.  And also, maybe the best thing, all of my hearings on the Hill were closed. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  (Laughs.)  Is the job much different, besides that element, I mean?


         SEC. GATES:  Oh, yeah.  It's very different.


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  In what way?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, just the size.  I mean, the Defense Department is the largest and most complex organization on the planet, 3 million people, you know.  I just was up on the Hill asking for a budget of $708 billion.  And you have, you know, just like right now.  The CIA had a terrible tragedy a couple of weeks ago in Afghanistan, a month ago.  But men and women in uniform are being wounded and killed everyday in Afghanistan.  And that's a dimension of this job that really was not part of the job at CIA.


         I remember at CIA, I only had to go to Andrews to receive home the remains of an intelligence officer once.  But these kinds of things are happening every day in this job, and that's a dimension that, except for the president, nobody else in the government or in the country, can fully understand or grasp.


         The president makes the decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.  But I'm the guy that signs the piece of paper that actually says which units are going to go.  And I never forget that for a day.  (Pause videotaped interview.)


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Later we asked Secretary Gates about the don't ask, don't tell policy. 


         (Resume videotaped interview).


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Mr. Secretary, what about don't ask, don't tell?


         SEC. GATES:  The president's made his decision.  I said in the hearings last week that I support it.  The review that I am launching is to help inform the legislative process of some facts about the attitudes of our men and women in uniform, what they think about a change in the law, what their families think.  The truth is, we don't have any facts.  There are a lot of articles written, a lot of assertions made.  


         But we need to understand all of the different things that have to be dealt with in terms of housing and benefits and regulations and fraternization rules and conduct and training and so on, so that if the Congress does change the law, we can inform that process and offer some suggestions on mitigation if there are going to be negative consequences so we can figure out how to mitigate those consequences. And if the law is passed, then we're in a much better position to be able to go forward and implement those changes in a way that doesn't undermine unit cohesion and readiness. 


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  So do I understand it's sort of full speed ahead, assuming Congress does this?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, I have said on a number of occasions, I think this has to be done very carefully and very deliberately.  The military culture is a very strong one.  It's a very different culture than a civilian culture.  These people do not have choices about who they associate with.  They can't just up and walk off the job if they don't like somebody that they're working with.


         And so we have to take all that into account, it seems to me. And I know people say I'm just delaying or whatever, but I think this is a big change for the military, and it has to be done in a careful way.  We have a force that's been under stress for eight years, been at war for eight years.  And I don't want to do anything that makes the situation more difficult for those men and women in the fight. 


         So we're going to do this, as the president said and if Congress changes the law, but it's important to do it right.  As I said in one    of the hearings, I've led change in big institutions, several big institutions, and I've done it smart and I've done it stupid.  And this is important enough, we'd better do it smart.


         MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  It is a fact that gays have been serving in the military.  The only difference is it's not openly.  So how does the openly change things?  I understand for the person who doesn't live the secret, the lie.  I understand that.  But how does that change it for the military?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that's one of the things we have to find out. 


(End videotaped interview.)


MS. VAN SUSTEREN:  Now, there is so much more of our interview with Secretary Gates.  We covered so many countries.  But go to GretaWire tomorrow to see the entire interview with the secretary.  END.


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