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Media Availability with Secretary Gates en route to Melbourne, Australia

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

              SECRETARY GATES:  I’ll just say a few words about the visit to Australia.  This will be my third AUSMIN [Australia-United States Ministerial] meeting, my second in Australia.  It’ll be my first without my arm in a sling.  So I’m looking forward to that.

              And we have a pretty ambitious agenda and I think it really reflects the – this is a very old alliance, but we keep expanding the nature of the cooperation.  For example, there will be a focus on some new subjects this time, like cyber.  We’ll talk further about missile defense, about surveillance, space surveillance and so on.  So, you know, in addition to the areas of cooperation that we’ve had for a long time, we’re adding these. 

              As you know, we’re working on a Global Posture Review, and we’re looking at ways to strengthen and perhaps make more robust our presence in Asia.  We’re looking at a number of different options. 

             One of those includes talking with the Australians about whether there’s some areas where we can work together in a mutually beneficial way, do some additional things here in – or in Australia.  And so we’ll be having some conversations about that.  I don’t think – I think it’s fair to say we’re not looking at – as part of the posture review, we’re not looking at adding any bases or anything – any new bases in Asia, but really how do we enhance the relationships that we already have. 

              Q:  So on that note, is this enhancing the U.S. presence aimed at China in some way and do you run the risk of somehow antagonizing [inaudible]?

              SECRETARY GATES:  No, this isn’t about China at all.  This is really about – you know, we’ve enhanced our naval cooperation with a number of these countries in recent years as part of the counterterrorism effort, part of the effort to deal with piracy in the Malacca Straits and now in the Indian Ocean.  We’ve done a lot with these countries in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and that’s clearly an area. 

              I mean, that’s – those are a couple of areas where we actually have a common interest with the Chinese in working together.  That’s one of the agenda items that Gen. Shuand I talked about as long ago as October 2009.  And so this is really more about continuing U.S. presence and building these relationships, and it’s more about our relationships with the rest of Asia than it is about China. 

              You know, we’ve really enhanced our engagement over the last 18 months or so.  With Secretary Clinton’s participation in the Asia regional forum and with her participation in the East Asian Summit, my participation in the 8th ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Defense Ministers Plus meet, and so we’ve been doing a lot in Asia that is really about building our relationships with a lot of different countries. 

              Q:  Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you about the election outcomes.  Do you think that the –

              SECRETARY GATES:  Ours?

              Q:  (Laughs.)  Yes, exactly, ours, [inaudible] one in Australia, too, but – yeah, U.S. election outcome.  In the short run, do you see any prospect for passage of START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the lame duck?  And then going forward into the spring, do you think the election outcome makes it more or less likely that President Obama will decide to pull a significant number of forces from Afghanistan in the summer?

              SECRETARY GATES:  Well, first of all, I hope that the Congress will – that the Senate will ratify a new START.  I think it’s in our interest.  Both the chairman and I have testified why we think it’s in our security interest to ratify the treaty. 

               I would like to see the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but I’m not sure what the prospects for that are and we’ll just have to see. 

               In terms of the second part of your question, I think it remains to be seen.  Partly, I think, things will depend on our assessment next spring and early summer of how we’re doing.  I think that will have the biggest impact on the President’s decisions in terms of the pacing.  We’ve talked all along about beginning of the withdrawals in July being conditions-based in terms of the numbers and I think that continues to be the position.  It will be based more on that than on, I think, domestic politics.

              Q:  Mr. Secretary, on Yemen – there’s been a lot of increased attention on Yemen since we discovered these package bombs.  What more can the military do that it isn’t already doing in Yemen?  What kind of plans does the Pentagon have to increase the pressure on – (inaudible)?

              SECRETARY GATES:  Well, I mean, this is truly a whole of government effort.  And I think that we have to do this in partnership with the Yemeni government.  I think in terms of training and so on, there are more things that we could do to help the Yemenis and strengthen their capabilities.  And I think it’s fair to say we’re exploring with them a variety of possibilities along those lines.

              Q:  Can you elaborate at all on what the possibilities are?

              SECRETARY GATES:  Well, it’s primarily – I think the primary focus will be on training.

              Staff:  Somebody else?

              Q:  May I dovetail on the congressional question?  Can you see some issues here where – some of the issues that you’ve been advancing, these efficiency initiatives, there’s concern that maybe there are going to be more hawkish people that aren’t going to stand for any reductions in some areas – closure of Joint Forces Command, that kind of thing.  Do you see some issues possibly arising with (inaudible) Congress?

              SECRETARY GATES:  First of all, those who have an intense interest in America’s military strength should welcome these efficiencies because at a time of economic stringency it’s going to make the resources available to invest in military – in more military capability.  We’re not cutting the defense budget.  We’re trying to – by making the overhead part of the Defense Department leaner and smarter, hoping to be able to add planes, add ships – real military capability. 

              So I think that we’ll be able to show both those who are intensely interested in – on the one hand, we’ll be able to show those intensely interested in strong national defense that we are, in fact, enhancing our defense, military capabilities.  And at the same time be able to show the budget hawks that we are moving aggressively to remove waste and fat from the Defense Department and focus on what’s really important, which is military capability.  And that will be basically my approach.