DoD Press Conference With Secretary of Defense Gates After Meeting With King Abdullah II Of Jordan
SEC. GATES: I had a really excellent visit here in Jordan. This is a relationship that goes back a long way, as illustrated, I suppose, by the fact that the last time I was in Amman, it was at the invitation of his majesty's father 20 years ago.
We have very strong military-to-military ties. There are frequent exchanges, exercises and visits between the military officers of both sides. That said, I would note that it's been about six years since a secretary of Defense came to Amman to meet with his majesty and with the chairman of their joint chiefs of staff. And so we had very wide-ranging conversations.
Naturally, we talked about Iraq. I thanked both his majesty and the chairman for all of the things that Jordan has done to help us; a great deal of training of Iraq security forces, both police and army, field hospital and more, in both Iraq and here in Jordan itself. His majesty affirmed Jordan's support for Prime Minister Maliki, and we talked about efforts that others could take to contribute to the reconciliation process in Iraq itself.
We also talked about Iran and its activities in the region and agreed that diplomatic and economic pressures were the most profitable way to try and get the Iranians to change their behavior. We talked about Syria and its activities.
We talked about the peace process. And the king expressed his views on the peace process, and I reaffirmed the president's commitment to that process.
Finally, his majesty expressed his condolences for the tragedy at Virginia Tech. And I would just add personally that as a recent president of a university that only about seven-and-a-half years ago had its own tragedy when 12 students were killed when the bonfire collapsed at Texas A&M, perhaps more than most, I can understand the horror and the emotions at Virginia Tech and extend my personal condolences to the students and faculty and staff there. Knowing the lasting impact of the 1999 bonfire collapse at Texas A&M, I can only imagine the emotional impact of what has happened at Virginia Tech.
So with that, I'd be happy to take some questions.
Mr. Secretary, you're probably aware that al-Sadr has had six of his cabinet ministers resign. Can you say whether you think this will have any impact, A, on the violence in Iraq; and secondly, whether you think this adds any emphasis to setting a timeline in Iraq, because that is one of the reasons he gave for -- (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that, first of all, my understanding is that while the ministers are withdrawing as cabinet ministers, they will remain as members of the council of representatives. So I think that they are not walking away from the process, as it were.
I think the impact that it has -- that these resignations have, will depend in some measure on who is selected to replace these ministers and their capabilities and whether those vacancies are used in a way that perhaps can further advance the reconciliation process. And I don't have anything specific in mind in that respect, but there is the opportunity to turn what might seem like a negative, potentially, into a positive development.
Just to follow up on that, there has been some thought in the U.S. government that Prime Minister Maliki should broaden his coalition, bringing more Sunnis into the government. Is that what you're suggesting is the opportunity here for him?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think anything that can be done that advances the reconciliation process, perhaps including broadening representation in the cabinet, probably would be a positive thing. But that's a judgment that the Iraqi leadership is going to have to make. It's really their business.
Dr. Gates, you mentioned that you spoke with the king about the steps others could take toward reconciliation in Iraq. And I wonder if you could expand upon that. What kinds of steps should others take to help the reconciliation process?
SEC. GATES: Well, I don't want to get into the details of the conversation, but we talked about the potential role for the six-party talks and we talked about the value of the neighbors reaching out to the Maliki government. And obviously the Neighbors' Conference was an important step. But really anything that the neighbors can do to help strengthen the current government of Iraq would be a contribution. And clearly the greater the interchanges, the greater the dialogue, all that will be to the good.
Mr. Secretary, it wasn't long ago that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called the situation in Iraq an occupation. What's your sense of the neighbors? Is enough being done? Are you frustrated, as many are, that there isn't more being done -- that are not done by this government in Jordan, but others in the region to support the government in Baghdad?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that there is not yet confidence in the region that Iraq's government represents all Iraq. My own view is that they're working hard in that direction, the Iraqi government. And I think the more encouragement the neighbors can provide, the more support for the Iraqi government, and with it, encouragement of a broad-based government and approach to governance, I think, would be a positive contribution.
Sir, given that the Mahdi Army has been a very powerful, troubling presence on the ground, what do you think the impact of Sadr distancing himself somewhat from the government will have on the actions of the Mahdi Army on the ground?
SEC. GATES: I think the honest answer is I don't know the answer to that question. I think we'll just have to wait and see. And I'm not sure, really, that we fully appreciate the meaning of the action that's been taken and how significant it is. I think we are going to have to wait and see a little bit about that.
SEC. GATES: Well, clearly I'm going to be interested in President Mubarak's view of the situation in the region, his view of the conditions and circumstances in Iraq, his views on Iran and Iran's role with respect to Iraq; interested in what he has to say about Lebanon. So I'm really basically just interested in hearing his thoughts, as one of the elder statesmen in the region, about his view of developments throughout the entire region.
I also will take advantage of that opportunity to encourage his support for the Maliki government and for the reconciliation process in Iraq, and also whatever he can do to encourage others in the region to invest in Iraq and to contribute to economic development there.
(Off mike) -- I mean, what are your own feelings about what might forward the reconciliation process in Iraq? What do you -- (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think clearly the most concrete manifestations of the reconciliation process would be progress on key pieces of legislation, and not just the hydrocarbon law but the revenue-sharing law that must go with it, completion of the legislation on de-Ba'athification. There are several issues like that where I think getting that legislation done is very important.
Sir, do you think that the governments of Jordan and Egypt can be most helpful in the reconciliation process by pushing the Sunni minority to come to make deals at the bargaining table or to push the ruling Shi'ite coalition to make concessions to the Sunni minority?
SEC. GATES: Yes.
I guess I phrased that question --
SEC. GATES: (Laughs.)
Could I ask you, you have said publicly in the past that the efforts in Congress recently regarding -- I assume you mean setting a deadline for troop withdrawal -- are helpful in terms of showing the Iraqis that our commitment there is not unlimited.
In some ways -- and I'd like you to just clarify. That seems to put you a little bit at odds with the White House, which says those efforts are not -- which opposes those efforts. Can you clarify what you mean by that specifically?
SEC. GATES: I think that what I have said is that the debate in Congress, I think, has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited. As General Petraeus has said, there's the Baghdad clock and there's the Washington clock.
That said, I've been pretty clear that I think the enactment of specific deadlines would be a bad mistake. But I think the debate itself and I think that the strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact -- at least I hope it has -- in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment.
Did you talk to the king about Syria in relationship to Iran? And did you agree on whether more pressure or a diplomatic approach -- (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: We talked about Syria. We talked about the relationship between Syria and Iran. We talked about the relationship of the two of them with Hezbollah and the impact in Lebanon. I think I'll just leave it at that. But we did discuss all those aspects of it.
Mr. Secretary, did the king or any of the other Jordan interlocutors that you spoke to express any concerns about what happens if the effort to stabilize Iraq is not successful? Obviously they're a next-door neighbor. Did they press you as to whether you had a plan B and what you would do to support them in that case?
SEC. GATES: No, that never came up. There was -- and actually, we didn't even talk about the consequences should things not work out in Iraq. The focus was all on how do we make the current situation in Iraq better and make it work for the long term.
Could you elaborate a little bit more on how you view Muqtada al-Sadr. I mean, why you believe he's -- what's your analysis of why you think he would stab -- does it mean he's departing from the political process? He's been sort of en enigmatic character.
SEC. GATES: Well, you know, in the intelligence business, we divided all the information that we wanted to know into two categories -- secrets and mysteries. I think that his motives right now, at least for me, are a mystery, not a secret.
STAFF: Thank you all.
SEC. GATES: Thank you all. See you on the plane, eventually. (Cross talk, laughter.)
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