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Press Availability with Secretary Gates from Singapore

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
June 04, 2010

                SEC. GATES:  I had five meetings today with my counterparts from Indonesia, New Zealand, India, Vietnam and, just now, the Republic of Korea.  I would say a common theme was growing military-to-military cooperation across the board with all these countries. 

                 With Indonesia, I commended their defense reforms in recent years and the way that those reforms have enabled a broadening of defense cooperation and engagement.  I asked for their help in training in Afghanistan, particularly, of symbolic importance of the world's largest Islamic democracy helping another Islamic country.  We also talked about the modernization of the Indonesian military.  

                With respect to New Zealand, we talked about the completion of the New Zealand policy review that now opens the way for broadening cooperation for the first time in roughly a quarter of a century between New Zealand and the United States.  Again, I asked about trainers for Afghanistan.  

                I met with Ambassador Menon, the national security adviser from India.  I noted that this meeting was taking place at almost exactly the same time as Secretary Clinton is meeting with the minister of external affairs.  In a way, it's symbolic of the global connection, if you will, between the United States and India and the tremendous improvement in relations and opportunities for cooperation.  

                I did talk about defense trade and the foundational agreements that we've been talking about, the communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement, the basic exchange cooperation agreement, the logistics support agreement and why those are important for further progress.  

                I did tell them that we thought that, as they contemplate bids for their medium multi-role aircraft going forward, that our entries of the F-16 and the F/A-18 are high-quality competitors.  We talked about the need and value of export control [reform on] both sides and also about circumstances in Afghanistan.  

                With respect to Vietnam, I suppose the most important thing is that Vietnam will host the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus in October.  Minister Thanh invited me to attend that meeting, and I said that I would be honored to do so.  And so I will attend the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus in Hanoi in October.  

                We talked about our defense policy dialogue that will take place in August.  I thanked them for their proposals to accelerate the pace of work on identifying those missing in action -- American servicemen -- the 13 new areas that they have opened up for us.  And then we talked about a range of opportunities for increasing bilateral cooperation. 

                 With respect to the Republic of Korea, finally, we talked about the -- we talked about the response to the sinking of the Cheonan.  I expressed my condolences to the families of the sailors who were lost and also our admiration for the way in which the Republic of Korea government has responded to this serious provocation and, obviously, expressed our full support for them going forward.  

                I did say that I thought that we should ensure that our coordinated response accomplished two objectives.  The first was to reassure the public in the Republic of Korea that our alliance will effectively ensure their security and, second, that our coordinated response enables us to -- enables our initiatives to enhance our capabilities to deter and, if necessary, respond to any further provocations.  

                So with that, I'd be happy to take a couple of questions.  

                Q     Forgive the off-topic question, but I wanted to ask you about something that people are talking about at home.  

                SEC. GATES:  Sure.  

                Q     Do you have faith that at this point that BP can ever stop the oil spill, or is it time for the military to assert a larger role?  Is there anything the military could do that isn't being done now?  

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I -- you know, I know there's been some commentary about this.  The truth of the matter is we don't have any expertise in this area.  We have offered to provide planners with the Coast Guard.  We've -- I've authorized the National Guard -- the mobilization of the National Guard in the four states.  

                Anything -- any capabilities that we have that will help, we are fully prepared to commit to this endeavor.  But the truth is, as I just said, we don't have any specialized capabilities.  And that said, again, we'll do whatever we can to help, but this is not our area of specialty, if you will.  

                Adam 

                Q     Yeah.  Just shifting slightly back to North Korea, do you expect the U.N. Security Council to impose serious penalties on the North?  And are you concerned that the failure to do so will send a message to Iran and others that the U.S. is a paper tiger?  

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I don't think anybody believes the United States is a paper tiger.  And -- you know, first of all, it's not clear exactly what path the Republic of Korea intends to pursue in the U.N., whether it's a resolution, a president's letter or whatever.  

                What I will say is that it's clear that whatever they choose to do at the U.N., they will have the full support of the United States.  Whether or not that involves a resolution, I don't know.  And I think the failure to -- you know, not going for a resolution, I think, is not a manifestation of a lack of recognition of the nature of the provocation we have seen from North Korea but may be more addressed to the worry about provoking further instability and further provocations from the North.  

                STAFF:  Dan 

                Q     Speaking of that, then, how do you balance those two things in terms of possible joint military exercises with South Korea?  On the one hand, you want to show force and so on and firmness.  On the other hand, is there a danger you provoke more bad behavior?  

                SEC. GATES:  Well, what we do in terms of further exercises and demonstrations is still under discussion and, obviously, that's one of the considerations.  

                Q     South Korea is saying that they were postponed -- that you were going to have exercises next week.  Is that accurate?  

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that there is a sequencing involved in this, and it may be that there is a desire, first, to see what can be accomplished at the U.N. and then think about next steps beyond that. 

                STAFF:  Let's take one more.  Rachel  

                Q     I wanted to follow up on the trainers in Afghanistan question.  You spoke to several partners today asking for more help on that issue.  Did you hear what you needed and wanted to hear from them about a renewed stronger commitment on that issue?  

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I didn't get any commitments if that's the point.  But I think that, clearly, one of the -- a critical element of our ability to eventually begin to transition out of Afghanistan is having Afghan police and Afghan national army that are able to take this -- the burden of security. 

                There's still a shortfall of several hundred trainers.  As I say, I didn't get any commitments, but everybody understands the importance of this, and I will continue going around with my hand out.  

                Q     Sir, Admiral Willard told us that he's heard a lot from allies in bilateral meetings today this concern about the intent of the Chinese military build-up in the region.  Are you hearing this?  And which countries have been expressing the most concern about that?  

                SEC. GATES:  The subject -- actually, in all of the meetings that I had today with Asian countries, it did not come up.  

                Thank you all. 

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