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Press Availability with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Iraqi Minister of Defense Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jasim in Baghdad, Iraq

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
December 21, 2006 12:00 PM EDT

MIN. QADIR (THROUGH INTERPRETER): (Inaudible) -- continuation for the support operation by the United States of America to the Iraqi government in continuation for the meeting that happened in Amman, Jordan, between the prime minister, Dr. Maliki, and President Bush. During these days we are visited by Mr. Gates, the secretary of defense of the United States, during yesterday and today. A lot of issues were discussed about the possibility to develop the capabilities and -- (inaudible) -- of the Iraqi armed forces and (inaudible) the security situation and the new situation on the Iraqi field in general and in the capital, Baghdad, especially the development of the terrorist operations and the -- (inaudible) -- and they're focusing in a very -- (inaudible) -- way on the (inaudible) of civilians -- (inaudible). And -- (inaudible) -- engaging the military forces and the -- (inaudible) -- for the -- (inaudible) -- and the gathering of -- (inaudible) -- and markets and wedding parties and schools and the churches and the educational institutions and -- (inaudible).

(Inaudible) -- Jihad, they target just yesterday a convoy of the pilgrims -- (inaudible). (Inaudible) -- operations in addition to the force -- (inaudible) -- for some outlaws, whether they are -- (inaudible) -- by or it is done by threats or by -- (inaudible) -- on secure areas.

We planned and seriously planned to be everywhere and to -- (inaudible) -- centralized and we have -- (inaudible) -- not only the United States to support us, to -- (inaudible) -- to the forces that are -- (inaudible) -- in Baghdad. And focus -- because of terrorism, they are focusing on it and the focus -- (inaudible) – the provinces that they still suffer from the acts of the terrorists and their inhumane activities. I will leave the discussion of -- (inaudible) -- to the guest of Iraq, Mr. Gates, the secretary of defense of the United States.

SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. And thank you, Minister Qadir, for this opportunity this afternoon to receive a briefing from you. I think General Pace would agree with me that we have had a very positive and in-depth series of meetings.

Earlier I met with Prime Minister Maliki on ways we can best support the Iraqi government as we move forward together. We are partners in this process, and it is important that I understand firsthand the views of the prime minister. To the people of Iraq, I would like to report that we discussed the political, military and economic situation here in Iraq, and we'll continue to work closely with his government to improve all three. I especially emphasized to the prime minister the steadfastness of American support and our enduring presence in the Persian Gulf.

I also met with the defense minister and the Iraqi Security Council. The success of our partnership cannot happen without the security of the Iraqi people, and to that end we discussed a wide range of options. And as we said yesterday, all options are on the table.

Yesterday in Najaf there was the transfer of authority from the Multinational Force-Iraq to the government of Iraq, another success in our continuing effort to turn security order over to the Iraqis. Again, Mr. Minister, thank you for the opportunity to hear from you and from your colleagues.

Yes?

Q You told us that you did not want to draw any conclusions about the way forward here in Iraq before speaking to the Iraqi government. And now that you have, can you tell us if they support the idea of a surge? And if they do, are they willing to take the political steps necessary to establish security here, especially in Baghdad?

SEC. GATES: I think the Iraqi government -- first of all, I'd invite the minister to speak for the Iraqi government, but I certainly came away from our discussions with the absolute conviction that the Iraqi government is determined to improve the security of -- of the people here in Iraq, and above all here in Baghdad. And much of our discussion today was focused on how the United States can be helpful in the Iraqi government's efforts to accomplish that goal, and how in our partnership with the Iraqis in the lead we can best play a supporting role. And that was really the focus of our discussions.

INTERPRETER: (Inaudible) -- mentioned in your talk -- (inaudible). Yeah, we're going to deal with him on this basis.

Q (In Arabic.)

SEC. GATES: I would simply say in response to your question that one of the briefings we received today was on the efforts to build an intelligence structure on the part of the Iraqi government to help improve the fight against terrorists and others -- the adversaries of the government.

I would also say that I was very encouraged by a briefing from General Dempsey about the progress in training the Iraqi forces. So I think that -- I think that progress is being made in both of these areas.

Q Mister Secretary and Mister Minister -- I'm sorry.

Q Well, he said that there were a number of things that he talked with the Iraqis about this afternoon that the United States could do to help them. Can you tell us some of the things that they're looking for from the U.S. government, and are any of those contingent on either benchmarks or other guarantees that the Iraqis do as a timeline?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that one of the strong messages that I received today was the desire of the Iraqi government to take a leadership role in addressing some of the challenges that face the country; above all, the security problem, and especially here in Baghdad, but also to address some of the issues of economic reconstruction. And it is clear that the Iraqi government is looking, and I would say the prime minister is looking, at ways in which the Iraqi government can step out and exercise leadership and show that leadership to the Iraqi people. And we're looking for ways to see how we can support that.

One of the ways is, as you probably know as a result of the Amman meeting, control of most of the Iraqi armed forces to the Iraqi government will take place over the next several months, so that is one area.

Q Mister Secretary, Jamie McIntyre from CNN. Mister Secretary and Mister Minister, did you specifically discuss the option of -- the so-called surge option of dispatching tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to Baghdad?

And Mister Minister, can you say whether that would be something that the Iraqi government would welcome?

SEC. GATES: I would say what we discussed is how we can help the Iraqi government in establishing better security here in Baghdad. I can say that no numbers of additional troops or of troops were discussed. The focus was mainly on an overall approach, and including the possibility of some additional assistance. As I said, we really didn't discuss any numbers. We were really talking in broader terms than that.

MIN QADIR. : (In Arabic.)

SEC. GATES: May I just make a correction? I don't -- I'm not aware that President Bush has said anything about an increase in the size of American forces in Iraq. What the president has been talking about over the last couple of days is the need for an overall increase in the strength of the American military worldwide. It was not specifically in connection with a troop increase here in Iraq.

Q (In Arabic.)

SEC. GATES: Well, clearly the president has talked about the situation not being satisfactory here in terms of the security situation and his desire to work with Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi government to try and improve that situation. He's talked about a number of options being on the table. So we are looking at whether there is a better way to accomplish our objectives than where we are today.

Q Mr Secretary, can you be a little bit more specific when you said that what you discussed is how you can help the Iraqi government better establish security in Baghdad? What can the United States do that it's not doing now?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think there are a number of different approaches to dealing with the security situation in Baghdad that are being addressed, first of all, by the Iraqi government in terms of different tactics that would be followed. And we've been discussing how the United States might be helpful and the coalition forces might be helpful in trying to do that.

I think that people are concerned that previous operations have focused a good bit on clear, but I think both governments -- both the government of Iraq and the coalition leadership are concerned that the hold effort has not been successful -- has not been sufficiently successful, and so we're looking into how we might work together to improve that, just as an example.

Q (In Arabic.)

SEC. GATES: I'm not sure I understood your question.

Q (In Arabic.)

SEC. GATES: First of all, I was very satisfied with my meetings today. I felt like we had a very thorough discussion. I'm very impressed. As you all know, I'm new to this. I'm very impressed by the commitment not just of the prime minister, but of others in the Iraqi government to improve the security situation and the well-being of the Iraqi people. They're clearly determined. I was impressed in that regard, as I mentioned earlier, about the report from General Dempsey about success in training the Iraqi army. So I would underscore that I was very satisfied with my meetings. I felt like we covered a great deal of ground.

I have some more meetings. I will be here still another half-day, so I have more meetings, but I feel like I'm learning the information from our Iraqi friends that I had hoped to in coming here, and I think it'll put me in a much better position to formulate my own recommendations for the president in the coming days.

Q Sir, how have -- this is Tom Ricks from the Washington Post. How have your two days of meetings here changed your views of Iraq from when you served on the Iraq Study Group?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that above all, I come away -- we were here two months ago -- over two months ago -- and I think what impressed me the most was the progress of the Iraqi government in its own -- not only in its own commitment but in its thinking about how to address some of these security issues.

I think perhaps the Study Group was here a short enough time that perhaps we didn't have the opportunity to explore in the kind of depth I have today with Iraqi officials, so it may have just been my misinterpretation from early September. But what struck me today was the amount of planning, the amount of thinking, the amount of coordination that had gone on on the Iraqi side in terms of how they intend to move forward, and also their thinking in terms of the role that we can play, so I think that it's that change that I noticed.

Q Secretary Gates, this morning you met with a small but representative group of senior enlisted U.S. soldiers.

STAFF: Last question, sir.

Q And you asked them whether they thought, whether they thought, more U.S. troops should be sent to Iraq and to Baghdad, and they seemed to indicate that they could use the help. How will that influence your thinking about the possible options as you look at the way ahead?

SEC. GATES: Actually, I didn't ask them whether they thought more U.S. troops would be necessary in Iraq. I thought that might be leading the witness. What I did was ask these sergeants and specialists what advice they might have for the secretary of defense. And I must say that it was characteristic of the quality of the young people in our armed services -- they were not hesitant about giving it.

I think like most people on the front lines in a battle, they'd always like to have more forces. We have to take into account the views of the Iraqi government, the views of our own leadership, the views of our own military leadership in taking that into account. But what impressed me above all was the extraordinary quality of the American men and women that I met with this morning and that I think, as you suggest, are representative of those who are serving our country here and serving the Iraqi people in terms of their willingness to say what they think, their commitment to the mission, their dedication, and their determination to be successful in this mission, and for Iraq to -- for this effort in Iraq to be successful.

INTERPRETER: Thank you very much.

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