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Joint Press Availability with Secretary Gates and Minister Ravinet de la Fuente from Santiago, Chile

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chilean Minister of Defense Jaime Ravinet de la Fuente
November 20, 2010

[Note:  Translated remarks from Minister Ravinet de la Fuente and questions from Spanish to English were inaudible]

                SEC. GATES:  Good morning.  I’d like to thank Minister Ravinet and the people of Chile for your warm hospitality.  I enjoyed hosting your defense minister at the Pentagon this past September and am happy to have the chance to return the visit today.

                I’ll take this opportunity to congratulate you on your bi-centennial year.  What should have been a year of celebration was interrupted by natural disaster, but became an opportunity for you to display to the world your nation’s fortitude and resilience.  Americans were deeply impressed with the manner in which the Chilean government, military and people responded to the horrific earthquake and tsunami that struck in February.  The losses were tragic, but would have been far worse without the swift and skillful response that saved many lives and rebuilt many communities.  And then of course, we all witnessed and cheered the extraordinary rescue of 33 trapped miners -- a tribute to the spirit, courage, and ingenuity of not only those men, but of Chile as a nation.

                My meeting with Minister Ravinet was a welcome opportunity to discuss what our hemisphere can learn from Chile’s experience and achievements in dealing with crises and natural disasters.  We also spoke about ways to deepen and strengthen our bilateral defense relationship.  The United States and Chile share common values, interests, and the overarching goal of peace and stability in this hemisphere.  Our two militaries have collaborated on defense modernization, and Chile has forged a partnership with the state of Texas to share experience and build capability in areas such as crisis response.

                In our meeting, we also discussed revitalizing multi-lateral institutions such as the Inter-American Defense Board, and spoke about the upcoming Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, which we will both attend on Monday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  I believe this forum has a vital role to play in fostering cooperation between the governments and militaries in this hemisphere and allowing us to address those challenges which we all face, whether the fight against drug, arms, and human trafficking or the need to improve disaster response capability.  I especially look forward to discussing potential regional mechanisms to improve our responses to natural disasters by creating a framework to share information, expertise, and to deliver life-saving capabilities more quickly and effectively than was possible in Haiti.

                Chile can offer real experience and accomplishment in this area. In addition to its domestic expertise, it has long been an important contributor to the multi-national peacekeeping force in Haiti, playing a critical role in the United Nations stabilization mission there before and in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake they suffered.

                As we move forward to address these and other challenges, the United States will continue to be grateful for the friendship and partnership of the Chilean people.  I want to thank Minister Ravinet for his generosity in hosting a dinner for me tonight, and for arranging my trip this afternoon to Fuerte Lautaro.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing Chile’s elite special forces.

                Thank you.

                Q     Hi.  My name is Anne Gearan with the Associated Press.  Secretary Gates, there’s been a fair amount of confusion about what the 2014 timeline means in Afghanistan.  Can you clarify whether you foresee a U.S. combat role beyond that date?  And if so, isn’t that a rather extraordinary thing to be saying in 2010 that a war that began in 2001 might not be over for U.S. forces in 2014?

                SEC. GATES:  No, I think what we have done is embrace a goal that was established by President Karzai that by the end of 2014, primary responsibility for security across all of Afghanistan would have been transferred or transitioned to Afghan forces, Anne.  So I think the intention is that by 2014, that the lead role in all security activities across the entire country would have been transitioned to Afghanistan and to their security forces.

                I anticipate that the international forces -- some fraction of them will remain to do training and to provide support for the Afghans.  But I think anything that remains after 2014 would be very modest and very much focused on the kind of train and advise and assist role that we are now taking on in Iraq.

                Q     (Spanish to English Translation -- Inaudible)

                SEC. GATES:  I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?

                Q     (Spanish to English Translation -- Inaudible)

                SEC. GATES:  The interpretation, frankly, was a little broken up.  But if I understood the thrust of the question, I think from the United States’ standpoint, these kinds of issues are bi-lateral in nature.  And we would leave it up to the countries involved to work this out.  I think that one of the subjects that the Minister and I discussed was the contribution that UNASUR [Union de Naciones Suramericanas -- Union of South American Nations] and the South American Defense Council can play in building trust among the different nations in South America, we obviously would like to see that.  We obviously want to see South America remain a zone of peace.  The percentage spent on the military in South America is among the lowest in the world.  This is a good thing.  And so in that broad framework, the specific issue, I would say, we would leave to the countries involved.

                Q     David Alexander from Reuters.  Secretary Gates, if the Senate fails to pass the START treaty, what impact will that have on U.S. ability to re-supply in Afghanistan through the northern route? And what effect might it have on Russia’s support for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that this actually is one of the subjects that has not received much attention in terms of the debate on the new START treaty in the United States.  And that is the consequences of the failure to ratify the treaty.  First, the one we’ve spoken of most frequently is the absence of any ability to conduct any on-site inspections in Russia.  And we have been without this ability.  And the verification measures that have been developed in previous strategic agreements with the Russians in terms of verifying what their capabilities are and monitoring and keeping track of their strategic developments.  We lose all of that on an enduring basis if the treaty isn’t passed. 

                I think that it is an unknown what the consequences politically would be of a failure to ratify the agreement.  It isn’t just limited to this narrow subject, but reflects on the relationship as a whole.  And the truth of the matter is the Russians in the last year or two have been very cooperative, first of all, in helping us establish the northern distribution network to help supply Afghanistan including a recent decision at my request to allow us to move these mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles -- MRAPs -- across Russia.  And they were also supportive of the UN Security Council resolution, the most recent one, with respect to Iran. 

                So what happens to all of these political relationships, the impact on the internal political situation in Russia, if this treaty is voted down?  These are all unknowns, but, I think, potential worries if the treaty isn’t ratified. 

                The reality is, despite what anybody says, I as Secretary of Defense, and the entire uniformed leadership of the American military believe that this treaty is in our national security interests.  We believe it does not limit our ability to deploy missile defense.  Anything that we have in mind, now or in the years to come that we have even thought of, is not prohibited of what we think we would like to do.  And at the same time, it does continue to provide predictability in terms of strategic deployments on both sides.  It doesn’t limit us when it comes to prompt global strike.  And part of the arrangements, part of the discussions are that support for the treaty also will bring support for the modernization of the U.S. nuclear enterprise.  I think the failure to ratify the treaty puts that at high risk. 

                So I think that there are significant consequences in the failure -- there would be significant consequences in the failure to ratify the new START treaty. 

                Q     (To Minister Ravinet - Spanish to English Translation -- Inaudible)

                MIN. RAVINET DE LA FUENTE:  (Spanish to English Translation -- Inaudible)

                Q     Jordi Zamora, AFP.  Secretary Gates, following the recent visit of President Chavez -- Venezuelan President Chavez -- the touring of Russia and other countries, and the announcement especially of the construction of a nuclear plant in Venezuela, have you updated your assessment of what does it mean for the U.S. national security that the construction of the nuclear plant and the general arms agreement program in Venezuela.

                And just a quick one for the Chilean Minister -- (Spanish to English Translation -- Inaudible)

                SEC. GATES:  First of all, I think that we certainly have no objection to civilian nuclear power, and the right of countries to have civilian nuclear power.  We’ve said this even with respect to Iran. 

                But what we feel strongly about is that if countries are going to move in that direction that it be done within the framework of the non-proliferation regimes, the UN resolutions, and, above all, the international safeguards to ensure that a plant is, in fact, limited only to providing civil power and cannot be used for weapons.  So, having it under the umbrella of the International Atomic Energy Commission, having it under the umbrella of all the rules relating to proliferation around the world, if those circumstances are all met, then we believe that other countries have the right to have their own nuclear power along these lines. 

                And, by the way, I might just intercede.  The Minister might actually correct me here, but I actually think the initiative on transparency is a Chilean initiative, not an American initiative.

                MIN. RAVINET DE LA FUENTE: (Laughs) (Spanish to English Translation -- Inaudible)

                Q     (To Minister Ravinet - Spanish to English Translation -- Inaudible)

                MIN. RAVINET DE LA FUENTE: (Laughs) (Spanish to English Translation -- Inaudible)

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