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Media Availability with Defense Secretary Gates en route to London

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
June 07, 2010

                 SEC. GATES:  All set?

                 STAFF:  Okay, guys.

                 SEC. GATES:  Obviously, talked in Azerbaijan about seeing how we can strengthen this relationship.  They play an important part in Afghanistan, not only in terms of the troops that they have there, and also a civilian presence, but as a -- ground transportation and allowing overflights.  And since 2001-2002, there've been literally tens of thousands of those overflights, so it was partly to express appreciation for that; talk about ways we can further expand our bilateral military-to-military relationship.  We talked about the Caspian maritime security situation, what we might be able to do.  We've already helped them there with several tens of millions of dollars, boats and -- radars and capabilities.

                 We looked at more exercises.  We looked at additional things we could do together -- intelligence sharing and so on.  They obviously were very concerned about the lack of progress on Nagorno-Karabakh, and I said that I would carry that message back to Secretary Clinton. 

                And all in all, I would say it was a very positive visit and, I think, set the stage for further expansion of the relationship.  We will have a bilateral defense consultation next month where I think a lot of the things that we discussed will be put on the table and perhaps fleshed out. 

                I gave him a list of seven or eight things, including the things I've just talked about, that we might work -- use as a working program in that respect.  So that was basically the essence of it. 

                We talked a bit about Iran, a little bit about Russia.  These guys clearly live in a rough neighborhood.  And I told them at the same time how much the international community appreciated what they were doing to help everybody in Afghanistan.  So, with that -- 

                STAFF:  Okay -- (off mike). 

                Q     The sacking of the Interior minister in Afghanistan and the head of intelligence, these are two people that the U.S. considered useful partners.  Are you concerned about this -- their sacking?  Do you support it?  And then, does it raise larger questions about the whole reconciliation effort? 

                SEC. GATES:  I don't think it raises questions about the reconciliation effort.  And, you know, it's obviously an internal matter for the Afghans.  I serve at the pleasure of the president.  There were some bombings associated with the peace jirga, and it may be that there was a need for accountability in that respect.  But, you know, we have -- we have a number of capable ministers that we're working with, and I would just hope that President Karzai will appoint in the place of those who have left people of equal caliber. 

                Q     Sir, the British -- new British government has been reviewing its Afghan policy.  And as you know, the war there is increasingly unpopular among the citizens.  Are you concerned that the new government might be losing its appetite for the mission? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, based on the preliminary conversations that I've had with Dr. Fox, I have the sense that the new British government is quite resolute with respect to Afghanistan and reaffirming the commitment there.  I'll obviously know more after I meet with the prime minister and the Defence minister and the foreign secretary, but, certainly, based on the preliminary conversations that I've had with Dr. Fox, I feel quite comfortable that they remain quite resolute. 

                Q     Is that at the top of your agenda with the prime minister meeting today? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I would say, certainly, that is one of the most important subjects we'll be talking about.  But by the same token, I -- with all of the different issues that are on the table right now, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we talk about Iran, if we talk about North Korea.  And the new British government is just getting, also, a major strategic review under way, and we may talk a little bit about that. 

                STAFF:  Ann. 

                Q     (Off mike) -- Afghanistan, do you think this shows -- (off mike) -- do you think Karzai's government -- (off mike)? 

                SEC. GATES:  I haven't seen anything to suggest that and that -- or that that had anything to do with this -- these changes. 

                STAFF:  Okay, anybody? 

                Q     Just real quick. 

                STAFF:  Yeah. 

                Q     On the trainers issue, you mentioned this in Singapore.  This is something that you've been asking your partners and allies to kind of step up.  Will you make a similar request when you meet with the prime minister today?  You say they are resolute in their commitment, but do you need to see them take further steps? 

                SEC. GATES:  I think that with 9,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, that the United Kingdom has done everything anybody could expect of it.  So, no, I will not be making any further requests of the U.K.  I think they've really stepped up and, as usual, have been an admirable partner. 

                STAFF:  That's it.  Okay?  Thanks, guys. 

                (Cross talk.) 

                Q     We're going to beat them on Saturday in the World Cup. 

                SEC. GATES:  I'm sorry?

                Q     We're going to beat them on Saturday in the World Cup.  (Laughter.) 

                SEC. GATES:  You know, it's just no fun meeting with the Canadians these days.  (Laughs, laughter.)

                STAFF:  Thanks, guys. 

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