Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Gates and Minister Szczyglo from Warsaw, Poland
(Note: Minister Szczyglo's remarks are through an interpreter.)
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the press conference of Aleksander Szczyglo, Ministry of National Defense. His guest is U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
MIN. SZCZYGLO: Ladies and gentlemen, we have had a very successful meeting with Secretary Gates. And our discussions focused on three key topics, and these were, first of all, Iraq; secondly, Afghanistan; and thirdly, missile defense.
We have exchanged information and we have discussed our experience, which is indeed very important for us. This has been experience regarding countries where Polish and U.S. troops are stationed together, and these countries are very much looking forward to peace.
We conclude that, apart from military presence and military measures, what is also extremely important is ensuring economic growth, economic development of these countries, to give their inhabitants hope for a better future, a peaceful future.
As regards the third topic, namely that of missile defense, we came to the common conclusion that this U.S. project should, first and foremost, serve security, should increase the level of security in Europe; in this case, specifically, in Poland.
Thank you very much.
SEC. GATES: Thank you, Minister.
I want to express my appreciation to the minister for his hospitality, and it's a pleasure to be back in Warsaw. I was last here in 1992 as director of CIA and was first here in 1975 on an advance trip for President Ford's visit. And all I can say is that Warsaw is a very different and very much better place today than it was in 1975.
We had good talks, excellent talks, as the minister indicated. First of all, I expressed my condolences to him and to the Polish people for the Polish soldier who was killed a few days ago in Iraq.
I reviewed our thinking on the third ballistic missile defense site here in Europe, and also reviewed what I regard as my constructive conversations in Moscow. I reviewed the U.S. proposals for cooperation with Russia that were presented at NATO -- (inaudible) -- last week and then again discussed yesterday in Moscow, and reported to him on our agreement with the Russians for an experts group to continue looking at this subject.
I acknowledged to him that differences remain, especially on the technical characteristics and limitations of our system and Russia's concerns about the future capabilities of the system.
I assured the minister that constructive dialogue will continue with Russia. And we also agreed, as he indicated, that any arrangement on missile defense with Poland should enhance Poland's overall security.
I thanked the minister for the robust Polish effort in both Iraq and Afghanistan and told him that I was looking forward to my meeting next with President Kaczynski tomorrow morning, breakfast with members of Parliament, and then meetings with both the foreign minister and the prime minister.
MIN. SZCZYGLO: We will now be happy to take questions.
Q (Through interpreter.) First question to Minister Szczyglo. Sir, how would you comment on the U.S.-Russian talks? Should the Russians express the desire to visit a facility in Poland, would the Polish government have no objections to that?
And a question to Secretary Gates. Sir, what are the U.S. expectations as regards Polish military presence in Iraq for another year?
MIN. SZCZYGLO: I should like to relate myself to the question of U.S.-Russian consultations. These have been continuing for the last three years or so, if my memory does not deceive me. It's all part of the process of the United States informing Russia about their missile defense system, its capabilities. This is something which the U.S. government has installed on U.S. territory and has now extended a proposal regarding it to us.
As regards the second part, what has been presented to Poland is only a proposal, and it is being considered as such. And on the premise of a proposal, it would be groundless to forecast what may happen or what may not happen. So in this context, it is really groundless to specify what exactly the situation would be.
SEC. GATES: With respect to your question on Polish forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have said back in the United States that decisions on our forces, particularly in Iraq, will be made on the basis of the situation on the ground and the circumstances.
With respect to Poland's forces, that is clearly a decision that is made independently by each member of the coalition in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And force levels go up and force levels go down. That decision is entirely up to the government of Poland.
Q Peter Spiegel from the Los Angeles Times. My question is for the minister.
Regarding the missile defense negotiations, in the United States in recent weeks we've heard commentary from many leading Poles, including some former government ministers, raising concerns that the U.S. may be taking Poland for granted in these negotiations, assuming that they will happen and the deal will be signed.
Do you personally feel that the United States has taken Poland for granted in these negotiations? And could you maybe address why you feel so many prominent Poles are raising that concern?
MIN. SZCZYGLO: It is quite well-known that Poland's government has expressed its interest in the U.S. proposal, and this expression of interest came one month after we received a relevant letter from the United States government.
However, the condition of success of negotiations in this respect is only one. These negotiations can be successful if the level of Poland's security is thus increased. And as for the latter part of your question, I could really reverse it on you because you are more familiar with the U.S. than I am.
Next question, please.
Q (Through interpreter.) I have a question or questions to both the ministers; first question to Secretary Gates. Namely, sir, you spoke somewhat mysteriously, if you like, about the certain controversy that you have encountered in Moscow with the context of U.S. discussions with Russia regarding missile defense and the future of this project. Could you give us some more idea about what this controversy or this difference of opinion was about and whether we can expect it to gradually disappear or become more of an issue?
And the question now to Minister Szczyglo. Sir, you were saying that the basis, the grounds on which the missile defense component -- (inaudible) -- in Poland would be for the system to increase the security level of Europe and Poland. How does that appear in the context of this controversy of the difference of opinion on the part of Russia? Does it all add up?
SEC. GATES: Well, first I would say that it was my impression from the conversations that it was not so much a matter of controversy but rather a lack of clear understanding about what some of the capabilities of our systems are. And to try and alleviate that uncertainty on the part of the Russians, I invited them to Alaska to see our interceptors and also to California to see what the radar would look like.
Clearly they have questions about the capabilities of the radar, and I think those are questions that we can answer. In terms of assurances that the system would not be changed years from now in a way that might be more threatening to the Russian deterrent, it seems to me that that's a matter that can be negotiated.
MIN. SZCZYGLO: As regards the position of Russia, considering the volume of information imparted by the U.S. to Russia about the missile defense system, one is inclined to say that this position is rather the outcome of certain internal matters, of internal factors, internal to Russia and having to deal with the outcome in the next months or year or so.
As regards presidential and parliamentary elections in Russia and creating a more heated debate about the potentially Polish and Czech components of the missile defense system is rather a matter of internal politics in Russia than the actual position of the Russian government and their understanding of the implications of this system.
Q Mr. Minister, if I can just ask you, many people in this country say Iran is not a threat to Poland, and by allowing missile interceptors on your territory, you're creating a new threat from Russia. What additional security guarantees or weapons -- for example, Patriot missiles -- would you like the Americans to give you?
And Secretary Gates, if asked to provide Patriots, would you agree to do so?
MIN. SZCZYGLO: Let me hand it over to Secretary Gates.
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I don't believe that Russia is a military threat to Poland, either now or should we install missile defense. One of the points that I made in Russia was that I think we need to think forward 10 or 20 years. We aren't talking about tomorrow or next year but rather thinking about what the world might look like in 10 or 20 years.
As I mentioned in my meeting with the minister, when I visited here in 1975, I never would have dreamed that 14 years later Poland would be free and that shortly after that the Cold War would be over. So the world changes in dramatic ways. And what we are talking about here is indivisible security for the United States and for our NATO allies. We would like to extend that umbrella to Russia and partner with Russia and have Russia be with us in this program.
Part of the defense of Europe and of NATO's defense clearly would be a layered missile defense that would take into account shorter-range missiles, particularly from the south, from Iran, or potentially from other countries. After all, dozens of countries now have ballistic missiles. And I think any decision with respect to further deployments in Poland would be dependent on what NATO decided to do for itself in terms of overall theater missile defense.
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