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Media Availability With Secretary Gates from Cairo, Egypt

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
April 18, 2007
            SEC. GATES: I had very pleasant talks here in Cairo with President Mubarak -- (inaudible). I thank them for their flexibility and being willing to rearrange their schedules, taking into account the sandstorm last night.
 
            We had very wide-ranging talks. We discussed the situation in Iraq at some length and the need to support and strengthen the Maliki government. I expressed appreciation to President Mubarak for his willingness to host President -- Prime Minister Maliki here in Cairo in a few days, and also for his willingness to host the follow-on neighbors conference and the Iraq compact group at Sharm el-Sheikh.
 
            We talked about Iran and the desirability to take both diplomatic and economic measures and to persuade the Iranians to change their policy and their behavior. We discussed the bilateral relationship at some length, obviously especially the military-to-military relationship. We reviewed the very robust defense relationship, and especially Egypt's operational support for us.
 
            And finally, we discussed the peace process and the value of engaging other countries here in the region in that process.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, yesterday General Pace talked about the discovery by the U.S. military of Iranian weapons in Afghanistan. Do you see this as an increased threat by the Iranians, particularly as you try to mount an offensive in Afghanistan? And what does this say about -- (off mike)?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, as General Pace indicated, we found Iranian weapons and explosives in Afghanistan. We don't know -- as General Pace indicated, we don't know at what level this has been approved by the Iranian government or in the Iranian government. We don't know the magnitude of the assistance. It's obviously troubling and worrisome that the Iranians may be deciding to counter the efforts of some 42 nations in Afghanistan trying to help the Afghan government establish a strong democratic state. So we'll watch it very closely.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, yesterday we watched -- my colleagues yesterday and I -- (inaudible) – downplayed the exit from the Iraqi government -- (inaudible) -- and they met -- (inaudible) -- given the -- (inaudible).
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think we don't know the consequences of the withdrawal of the six ministers at this point. My understanding is they will remain in the Council of Representatives. And so the implications of that for security remain to be seen.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, given urgent need for the support of Egypt and other countries of this region for Iraq, has the United States given up on the effort to push democracy in this region -- and did you, in your meeting with President Mubarak bring up Egypt's increasingly aggressive and brutal crackdown on political dissidents here in Egypt?
 
            SEC. GATES: My conversations with President Mubarak were focused strictly on the situation in the region -- on the peace process, on Iraq, and on Iran.
 
            STAFF: Last question? Okay, thank you all.
 
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