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Press Availability with Secretary Gates at Informal Meeting of NATO Defense Ministers, Seville, Spain

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
February 09, 2007
            SEC. GATES: We had a good session this morning on NATO -- (off mike). I think one of the key themes was lessons learned in Afghanistan in terms of 21st century warfare and the mix of the need for economic development and reconstruction along with military operations. We talked about some restructuring at NATO itself in terms of making it more efficient and more attune to a post-Cold War world. I spoke a bit about missile defense and where we're headed on that. We had a good session with Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov. Talked about a variety of issues, including their participation in Operation Active Endeavor, the Status of Forces Agreement. We talked some about cooperation on counternarcotics activities in Afghanistan. There was considerable discussion of Kosovo, and a number of countries spoke about their support for President Ahtisaari's efforts in that regard.   
 
            I guess the only other information I would provide to you is that several of the delegates have come up to me and quietly acknowledged that they, too, had once been in the intelligence business. (Laughter.) I'm beginning to think we could have a convention. And I guess there is life after intelligence careers. 
 
            But that's pretty much it.   
 
            I did have a -- I guess I should mention I had a good bilateral meeting with the French defense minister, and we talked about Afghanistan. We also talked about Lebanon, the situation there. We talked about Kosovo. So we had a good conversation as well. 
 
            That's pretty much it.  
 
            Yeah? 
 
            Q     Can I ask a little more detail about the Russian meeting both yesterday and today. On the plane ride over, you talked a bit about the energy security issue and, you know -- (inaudible) -- using it as a weapon. Did you bring that up today? And did you sense in your meeting with the -- (inaudible) -- came up and how hard did you press -- (off mike)? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I would say that it was -- I raised energy security, and so did a number of other defense ministers. And I would say that it was both in the context of protecting supplies from terrorists and others, but also there were references made to manipulation. And I think it was not confrontational, but I think the message was pretty clear. 
 
            Q     (Off mike.) 
 
            SEC. GATES: As I recall, he didn't even respond. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- by any chance, because Putin's speech last week talking about Russian military modernization and what are the motivations behind that, how, you know, Russia should view its threat environment that might not make that -- (off mike)? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No, I didn't, I suppose mainly because I haven't read Putin's speech yet. Between two budget hearings this week and this trip, somehow I just didn't get around to it. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     On Russia and their concerns about missile defense, would the United States be willing to enter into a binding agreement with them, some of kind of mutually binding agreement that says the U.S. anti-missile systems being set up in Europe are not targeted at Russia? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I don't know whether that would be appropriate. I mean, I'd have to talk to people back in Washington. That's clearly not a decision that I'd be in a position to make. 
 
            We've made quite clear to them that it's not directed at them, and in fact, in India, the deputy prime minister acknowledged that it posed no threat to Russia or to its strategic deterrent. This was a few weeks ago. So I think there's an understanding of that. But whether that could be formalized in some way, I haven't heard raised by anybody. 
 
            Q     Did they raise their concerns about missile defense plans in Europe? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No, I actually was the one that raised it. And basically, again, what we're planning to do and, again, that it poses no threat to Russia. 
 
            Q     They didn't explain -- he didn't explain their position, why they're worried about it? 
 
            SEC. GATES: We discussed it back and forth. I think I'd just leave it at that. 
 
            Q     I was wondering also, did any of the ministers in on the talk with Ivanov raise concerns about the direction that Russia seems to be moving politically? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     A little bit off NATO, but I know you talk about -- (off mike) -- issue of intelligence analysis outside the main channels. (Off mike) -- raised again in the inspector general's reports -- (off mike). I just wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about that or to raise your concerns or just comment on the issue of -- (off mike). 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I haven't read the inspector general's report, and I wasn't here during the period of the activities it refers to, so I have the benefit of speaking in complete ignorance. But I will just tell you, based on my whole career, that I believe that all intelligence activities need to be carried on through established institutions and where there is appropriate oversight. 
 
            And if the intelligence isn't adequate, then changes need to be made in those institutions to improve the intelligence. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     On Kosovo, how concerned -- (off mike) -- that NATO will be left holding the bag on Kosovo and that the U.N. -- (off mike). And the question's sort of maybe about whether or not the European Union police activity will be sufficient. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think -- first of all, I think everybody's in agreement that we need to move forward under the umbrella of the U.N. Security Council resolution. And my own view would be that it would be important to keep the U.N. Mission in Kosovo force level pretty much where it is as the European Union's police activity builds up, so that actually you'd have a little greater strength for a period of time. And then you could begin to draw down UNMIK, but so there isn't a gap between UNMIK and the EU activity. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- be able to take care of the whole gamut of security responsibilities, then? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that -- well, first of all, KFOR will be there for a while after the transition. I think we're all agreed on that. We obviously would like to draw down as quickly as possible, but I've told our European -- our NATO allies that we're prepared to stay for a few months to make sure that everything is headed in the right direction. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, you're going to be making your first major address over this weekend. Can you just give us an idea, broad-brush, what kinds of messages you want to send and what kind of tenor you want to set for this? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that it actually will be some of the same themes that I've sounded here. And that is a reminder that NATO is a military alliance; that I believe that if there is to be a categorization in Europe and within the alliance, it is between those who fulfill their commitments and those who do not. I think those will be the basic themes. 
 
            Q     What are you hoping to get out of this -- (off mike)? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think it's always -- you know, it's useful for me, especially being fairly new back in this environment, just to hear firsthand from our allies and from others their perspective on what's going on around the world, the issues that they have.   
 
            Q    Mr. Gates, there's been a lot of increased rhetoric in Washington about the activities in Iran, in Iraq and around the world. Yesterday there were a couple of provocative acts, but you said it was just another day in the Persian Gulf. 
 
            Do you think that the rhetoric in Washington is sometimes harmful and that maybe it should be toned down a little bit? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I -- my impression, frankly, in the last few weeks is that there's been an effort in Washington actually to tone down everybody else. I don't know how many times the president, Secretary Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iraq -- Iran; that the second carrier group is there to reassure our allies, as well as to send a signal that we've been in the Persian Gulf for decades and we intend to stay there. And I think these are fairly modest statements, frankly. 
 
            Q     Well, was there some kind of recognition that the amount and the number of statements coming out from the different parts of the administration were having some kind of negative effect -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that there was a combination of events that created a stir. One was the news about the second carrier battle group going out there; another was the fact that, as General Pace testified in one of our hearings, that in a couple of the sweeps where we going after the IED networks, we swept up some of these Iranians, and that was news in itself. And the fact that we picked them up was news. 
 
            But I think we weren't specifically targeting Iranians when we made those raids, and I can't speak for everybody, but I think some of us were kind of surprised we actually did find Iranians involved in that. So I think all those -- those things and so probably created more of a stir. 
 
            Q     As a follow-up on that, I'm surprised to hear you say that some people were surprised -- (off mike) -- we've heard for months from Pentagon press officials that Iran is playing a very large role in what's going on in Iraq. And so do you -- (off mike) -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that Iran is very much involved in providing either the technology or the weapons themselves for these explosively foreign projectiles. Now they don't represent a big percentage of the IED attacks, but they're extremely lethal, and I don't think there was surprise that the Iranians were involved. I think there was surprise we actually picked up some of them. 
 
            So I -- you know, I think that, as you've heard, people have been pretty well convinced for months that the Iranians were involved in providing assistance in Iraq to those who are coming after American troops. That's not new by any means, but I think that the fact that in a couple of these sweeps we picked them up at least surprised me. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, has there been any evidence of a Iranian involvement in that attack in Karbala? 
 
            SEC. GATES: As I indicated when we had our roundtable, I guess, last Friday morning, I haven't seen anything subsequent to that, to the effect that what I've seen is very ambiguous and does not provide any conclusive proof at this point.   
 
            Q     Sir, can I follow up on that a little bit, about EFPs? You've mentioned that there is evidence tracing them to Iran. Could you be more specific about that, what particular evidence there is?   
 
            SEC. GATES: Well this is what -- the specifics on this is what MNFI is working on in terms of the briefing that I think they're going to present. In terms of the particular, it's the sophistication of the technology. I think that there are some serial numbers. There may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found. I'm just frankly not specifically certain myself of the details, but I understand there is pretty good evidence tying these EFPs to the Iranians.    
 
            Q     Yeah, hi.   
 
            I wanted to ask whether the NRF, whether there has been much discussion about using the NRF in Afghanistan, and whether there -- any progress is being made?   
 
            SEC. GATES: Yeah, there was quite a bit of conversation about that. And I would say that I'm trying to adapt to my new diplomatic status and say, I guess there was not unanimity on that subject. (Laughter.)   
 
            STAFF:   One more question, please.   
 
            Q     Oh, I just wanted to follow up on the earlier question about Wehrkunde -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: Yes.   
 
            Q      -- and the tenor there. As you probably are aware, your predecessor occasionally used that -- consciously or not, used that forum to sort of antagonize occasionally his European allies. Any conscious effort on your part to mend fences in that regard? Or you totally -- are you going to sort of change the tone in that regard at all, or --  
 
            SEC. GATES: I suppose as an old criminologist, it shouldn't surprise me, but the level of effort devoted to trying to figure out the degree to which I am trying to differentiate myself from my predecessor is sort of amusing. I'm just going along doing what feels right for me, and for -- what I think the Defense Department ought to be doing, and the way I conduct business.   
 
            I wasn't in Washington, so I don't know very much about the style of my predecessor. So I'm, you know, I'm not as familiar as you all are. But I'm just basically doing what seems appropriate for me. And so the same thing at Wehrkunde -- I'm going to say what I think, and people can draw their own conclusions in terms of whether I'm trying to differentiate or take a different tack than Secretary Rumsfeld did. I'm not consciously doing so.   
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, can I ask you kind of an easy/hard question on General Petraeus?   
 
            Can you tell me why you think he is the best commander -- (off mike) -- Iraq? That's the easy part. And the hard part is, some people say that General Casey was a little bit too cautious, that he put the future of the Army over his own future. Some people say that General Petraeus is so involved in his own future -- he's very ambitious, as you know -- that he will take more risks and that ultimately that will help the Americans achieve success in Iraq. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think all that's baloney. (Laughter.) I think that General Petraeus is the best general because, frankly, every single senior officer that I spoke to when I was trying to identify who would be General Casey's successor identified General Petraeus as their first choice. And I might say that included General Casey. And so I think that he -- clearly, people are looking back at the success General Petraeus had when he was in Iraq before, in terms of the work that he's done on counterinsurgency.  
 
            And I will tell you that in consulting -- I mean, as I've said about General Casey, I don't know these generals very well. I've only been on the job now, I guess, seven weeks. And so I've depended to a considerable extent on a wide array of consultations in terms of identifying who the best people are to take some of these positions. And so I talked to the current Army chief of staff, I talked to General Casey, I talked to General Abizaid, I've talked to the chairman, I've talked with the other chiefs. In virtually every case, General Petraeus was their first choice. And as I say, that included General Casey. So that made it a pretty obvious choice to me. So. 
 
            Q     On your meeting with the French defense minister, the French, as you know, have a lot of concerns about more military in Afghanistan. Were you able to change their mind or assuage any of their concerns? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I don't -- I, frankly, think that that difference has been exaggerated. We discussed that, and I think that there was -- I think we see eye to eye that it's both military operations and reconstruction and economic development and counternarcotics; that all of these -- that success in all of these areas are important for the future of Afghanistan. And I'm not quite sure what was said in their press conferences, but in our meeting there was clearly agreement that military operations are important. And after all, I mean, the French have a fairly considerable military presence out there. If they didn't think it was important, I don't think they'd be doing that. But I think there is the understanding that we need to combine military operations with the economic side as well. 
 
            Q     Thank you. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Thank you all very much. 
 
            Q     Thank you.
 
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