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Gates Discusses Libya, Middle East Turmoil

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

CAIRO, March 23, 2011 – Operations in Libya and instability in the Middle East dominated a news conference with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates here today.

Gates met with reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and other Egyptian leaders.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 called for establishing a no-fly zone in Libya and preventing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from killing his own people, Gates said. It does not provide for eliminating Gadhafi as Libya’s leader, he added.

“We will be assessing this as we go along in terms of when his capabilities to [slaughter] his people has been eliminated,” the secretary told reporters. “But I think no one was under any illusions that this would be an operation that would last one week or two weeks or three weeks.” No timeline exists for ending coalition activities, he said.

The widespread unrest throughout the Middle East and North Africa is extraordinary because of the speed with which it has spread across region, “regardless of the diversity of the governments involved,” Gates said.

The entire phenomenon is less than three months old, the secretary added, “so in a way, one looks on it with some wonder.”

But a need exists, he said, “to try and work with the governments of the region -- with interim governments, with new governments, with existing governments -- to bring about change, but … in a way that is stabilizing in the region and not destabilizing.”

Meanwhile, Gates said, the situation in Yemen remains unsettled. “I think it’s too soon to call an outcome,” he said.

The United States has had a good working relationship with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the counterterrorism arena, Gates noted.

“But clearly, there’s a lot of unhappiness inside Yemen,” he said. “I think we will basically just continue to watch the situation. We haven’t done any post-Saleh planning.”

In Bahrain, the secretary said, the opposition and the government should sit down together and talk about the long-term relationship between the government and the Shiia Muslim majority. Gates, who recently traveled to Bahrain, said he did so “to see what the prospects were that the two sides could come together.”

Gates visited Bahrain, he said, to express U.S. support for the government and to encourage the government to reach out to the opposition, start negotiations and begin a process that would resolve some of the issues.

 

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