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Gates Travels to London, Moscow

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

LONDON, Oct. 11, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here this morning at the start of a four-day, two-country trip to meet with senior officials in London and Moscow.

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, left, and British Secretary of State for Defense Des Browne meet in London to discuss defense issues, Oct. 11, 2007. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison, USAF

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This is Gates’ second trip to London since taking office; his first trip was in January. He is scheduled to meet with British Secretary of State for Defense Desmond Browne and with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

A senior defense official traveling with Gates and speaking on background said the purpose of the stop in London is to continue dialogue on U.S.-U.K. relations now that the new British government is in place. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will be on the agenda, he said.

Gates will discuss the situation in Iraq, the defense official said, noting that U.S. officials have briefed the British leadership and Parliament on the report that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker delivered to Congress in September.

The British decision to draw down their forces in Iraq from 5,000 to 2,500 troops did not come as a surprise to U.S. leaders, the defense official told reporters traveling with Gates. The British consulted with their allies and made it clear they had based their decision on sound judgments and military assessments of the conditions, the official said.

“Any of the decisions that the British government has made has been done in consultation with military commanders on the ground, and has been discussed with General Petraeus and in dialogue between Secretary Gates and Secretary Browne,” the defense official said.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, traveling with Gates, said the British will retain forces in southern Iraq to serve as trainers and as a rapid deployment force. The drawdown will not result in more U.S. troops being sent to Iraq, he said.

Gates also will discuss NATO’s International Security Assistance Force operations in Afghanistan, the defense official said. The secretary and the British leaders will most likely discuss what the emphasis should be in talking with NATO ministers at an upcoming NATO ministerial two weeks from now.

NATO took command of operations in Afghanistan nearly a year ago, he said, and the ministers will consider: “Has it been a good year or a bad year; how has 2006 been compared to 2007; and what needs to be done force-wise and trainer-wise for 2008?”

He noted that Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe is soon due to release a revised combined joint statement of requirements, and “any numbers will be based on what’s in that document.”

British leaders have said they would like to do more in Afghanistan, the defense official added.

Talks between the U.S. and British leaders also may address relations with Russia, which have been strained recently over the death of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in a London hospital in November 2006 from radiation poisoning. Tensions also have developed between the two countries due to Russia’s resumption of long-range bomber flights. In an incident in July, Royal Air Force jets scrambled to intercept two Russian strategic bombers heading toward British airspace.

“Since we’re going to Russia, the secretary may want to get the sense of current U.K.-Russian relations,” the official said. “I’m sure the secretary will be curious just to get the reaction from his colleagues of how they see things going with Russia over the next few months -- if they see the status of relations improving and what would it take to improve (relations).”

In Russia, Gates is slated to meet with President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Anatoliy Eduardovich Serdyukov and other senior officials. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also will be attending the meetings in Russia.

This is Gates’ second trip in two weeks. He traveled to five Latin American countries Oct. 2 to 6 to enhance longstanding defense ties and to visit the USNS Comfort. The Navy hospital ship has been providing medical care to Latin American and Caribbean nations for the past four months.

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Robert M. Gates

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Photo Essay: Gates Travels to London

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates and British Secretary of State for Defense Des Browne meet in London to discuss defense issues, Oct. 11, 2007. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison, USAF  
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