Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Adm. Keating from Camp Smith, Honolulu, Hawaii
SEC. GATES: -- (Audio begins in progress) -- for the Shangri-La conference. And we will be joined there by General Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think one of the central messages for our participation in the conference is that, while we are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a global war on terror, we have -- have no intention of neglecting Asia. In fact, Asia and Asian partners play a critical role in the war on terror. They have been -- some of the Asian countries have been victims in the war on terror, and are strong allies in pursuing al Qaeda and other terrorist groups associated with al Qaeda.
But we're looking forward to the opportunity to talk about a whole range of issues in Asia, cooperation with a variety of these countries. I'll have several bilateral meetings while I'm out there, as well as give a talk on our view of Asia and kind of where we're headed. So I'm looking forward to it.
I might note that this is my second visit to Pacific Command in two months. Had a good meeting just now, going to have some more meetings as soon as we're done, and so it's very helpful in sort of setting the stage for the conference.
Admiral, do you want to say anything before we--
ADM. KEATING: Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming. As you point out, you're a not-infrequent visitor to our headquarters; we're delighted to have you. There is much in our region of interest to you and to the president, and we're glad to have the opportunity to share some perspectives. Thanks for coming.
Q Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you a question about -- General Odierno made some remarks this morning to Pentagon reporters to the effect that he thinks it's unlikely that, by September, he and other commanders will be able to make an assessment about whether the surge is working. I'm wondering what your own read is of the situation, based on your latest information, as to whether the pace of progress is sufficient or whether in fact it looks to you like the surge will have to last longer.
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, obviously, under the terms of the supplemental that the president signed, we will have to provide a report to the Congress in July. So it's not like we are even waiting until September to -- to report on how -- how it appears things are going.
I have only seen the press accounts of what General Odierno said, but what I saw said -- had him saying that he -- when he reports in -- to General Petraeus and so on up the line in September, that he may say, "I need a little more time to evaluate. I may be able to say this is working, this is not working, and so on." So it seems to me what General Odierno was doing was laying out the full range of -- of alternatives that he may address in what he forwards to General Petraeus for the September report. So I don't think that -- I don't think that the goalpost has changed, really, at all. I think he basically was saying that that report will -- can go a number of different ways, one of which is, "I need a little more time."
Q Mr. Secretary, if I can follow up on Bob's question to Admiral Keating, on -- Guy Raz from NPR. You had implied earlier in the year that -- that it would -- there may be a possibility that by August, by the end of the summer, a drawdown in the surge forces could potentially begin. Do you still think that's realistic?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think I -- I'm not quite sure what exactly I said, but -- but I think what I said was that we ought to be in a position to begin evaluating by the end of the summer whether or not the surge was working. So I think that, you know, late August, early September, I think it's still in the -- I think it's all still in the same ball park.
Q But there are several messages coming out. I mean, now we're hearing that General Petraeus' assessment will be one of the many things the White House will be evaluating. So what are the other factors?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that clearly, General Petraeus' -- and, I would say, because it's important, also Ryan Crocker's assessment of where we stand is -- is clearly a very important piece. But I -- that evaluation will also be accompanied by the evaluation of Admiral Fallon, by the evaluation of the Joint Chiefs, by the evaluation of people over at the State Department and so on. And so I think that there'll be a lot of people looking at the situation, a lot of people looking at General Petraeus' and Ryan Crocker's report, and all of that integrated together to present the president with a picture of where we are.
Clearly, the -- the Petraeus-Crocker report will be central, but what I tried to convey at the press meeting last week was that there will be other sets of eyes looking at that. That report isn't just going to shoot straight to the president without any additional evaluation by other people who've been following this for a long time.
Q But Mr. Secretary, the reason that so many people are keying on the comments that General Odierno made suggesting that there's a possibility they may need more time to assess how this is going than September, has been expectations in Washington, in particular, have risen so high that in September there'll be some sort of definitive assessment, recommendation, direction forward. And my question to you last week was sort of aimed at are those expectations too high? Are people looking to September for too much of a definitive assessment based on what you're hearing from the commanders?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that one of the considerations that's going to have to be taken into account goes back to a comment that General Petraeus made, and that is there is a Baghdad clock and there is a Washington clock, and the people in Washington are also going to have to take into account the Washington clock. And I think that -- I think that what we are trying to do and what the president, I think, yesterday was suggesting, is that we also need to be looking to the long term in the region, as well as in Iraq. And how do we posture ourselves for the long term, both in the region and in Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqis, at the invitation of other countries, to provide -- to help provide some stabilization force, some presence on the part of the United States that provides reassurance to our friends and to -- and to governments in the region, including those that might be our adversaries, that we're going to be there for a long time. And so all those considerations, it seems to me, have to be taken into account.
Q But some people are referring to that as the "Korea model," referring to the fact that we've had tens of thousands of troops in Korea --
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that "some people" included the president. (Laughter.)
Q But is that -- is that the model, when you look at --
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that what -- I think, well, certainly what I'm thinking in terms of is -- is a mutual agreement where American, some size, some force of Americans, mutually agreed, with mutually agreed missions, is present for a protracted period of time, but in ways that are protective of the sovereignty of the host -- government, and where there are rules that limit what the U.S. forces can and can't do while they are in a sovereign country.
So I think that the reason that Korea's been mentioned is -- and it's been mentioned in contrast to Vietnam, where we just left lock, stock and barrel. And the idea is more a model of a mutually agreed arrangement whereby we have a long and enduring presence, but one that is by consent of both parties and under certain conditions. And the Korea model is one. The security relationship that we have with Japan is another. So there are several models like this, but I think that's what the president was talking --
Q Sir, can I ask you about your thoughts on the recently released China power report, and one of the statements within the report was that China's -- some of the activities that are most troublesome that China's engaged in, such as weapons transfers, are driven by the country's need for energy resources. Do you think that that's the driving force behind some of these activities, or is it a more complicated vision?
SEC. GATES: I think there's no doubt that China -- there is a significant impetus in Chinese foreign policy right now, driven by their desire to lock in energy supplies for the long term. And so I think you see a very energetic Chinese effort to reach out to countries that have energy resources, in terms of trying to establish a long-term relationship. So I think that that's a part of it, but I don't think by any means that that is -- in a way, I think that's kind of different from the Chinese military power kind of issue.
Q Can I follow up -- can I follow up on that point? Because as the -- one of the things that the report does point out is that the investment that the Chinese are putting in the military is largely aimed at U.S. interests in the region, and obviously, Taiwan being number one. But the interesting thing that I noticed was all this talk about the anti-access in the Western Pacific. It seems to be aimed at bases, at what's being referred to as "Western naval presence" in the area. I mean, do you see that buildup as being directly threatening to U.S. interests in the area?
SEC. GATES: I think that I would go back to the comments that General Pace made at a press availability, and it may have been just last week, and that is the difference between capacity and intent. And -- and there's no question that the Chinese are building significant capacity. Our concern is over their intent, and that's where I -- I used the term that they were opaque, and this is why everybody who's going out there -- and I'd invite Admiral Keating to comment, because he's just been there -- where one of the central themes of everyone who's talking with the Chinese is more transparency. Tell us more about where you're headed. What are your intentions? That's the real issue. The fact that they're building capacity is -- is just a fact. It's what they plan or do not plan to do with it that's of interest, and that's -- where their transparency, I think, would be -- would be helpful to everyone.
But Admiral, do you want to say a word --
ADM. KEATING: Yes, sir. An area we emphasized in discussions with our Chinese hosts was developing a better understanding of intentions so as to avoid miscalculation or misunderstanding. It is complicated enough as is, and if there aren't open channels of communication, if there aren't better ways of communicating intent, as the secretary mentioned, is the likelihood of a miscalculation increases. And that is -- a significant goal of ours at Pacific Command is to reduce that likelihood.
Q Mr. Secretary, how do you persuade people -- (background noise) -- or what do you say to people in the Asia Pacific who question -- or who might question the U.S. staying power, in light of its heavy engagement in the Middle East and China's rise?
SEC. GATES: Well, one of the elements of the -- of the talk that I will give in Singapore is basically to sort of summarize the variety of activities and initiatives the United States has underway in the Asia Pacific region that makes quite clear that we remain deeply engaged, that we are actively engaged, and that we intend to be in -- I mean, we've been an Asian power, a Pacific power, for a very long time, and we intend to continue to be one. And we have some very important partnerships and friendships and allies in the region. And I think that the details of this talk will lay out all the different areas in which -- in which we're engaged, and Pacific Command is a perfect example.
I mean, Pacific Command is certainly involved in the war on terror, but the range of activities -- and the admiral might want to say a word or two about it -- but the range of activities the Pacific Command has underway, completely independent of the war on terror, with our friends in the region is just extraordinary. That's what we've just spent 45 minutes or an hour talking about.
ADM. KEATING: The USS Peleliu, as some of you may know, is in port, having sailed from San Diego. And she is not bristling with her Marine Amphibious Readiness Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit. She is bristling with doctors and nurses and dentists and veterinarians. And the Peleliu will course throughout the Southern Pacific for the next four or five months, rather shadowing -- mirroring the mission performed by our hospital ship Mercy last year. It's a humanitarian mission. The folks who will be visited by the Peleliu and her doctors are anxious to have Peleliu come calling so as to provide medical support. And it's free to the countries in -- the folks throughout the Pacific who need it.
So this is, as the secretary says, another of our theater security cooperation efforts that is not directly linked to the global war on terror, but is rather in support of our broader mission here at Pacific Command -- and we will be in the Pacific for quite some time.
SEC. GATES: And we're working issues of maritime security; we're working issues of counterproliferation. I mean, the agenda with our Asian friends -- there's a robust exercise program that deals with everything from military exercises to exercises on humanitarian relief, in the event of another tsunami or something like that. So there's a -- there's just a lot going on.
Q Go back to Iraq for a moment. You mentioned the two clocks, the Baghdad clock and the Washington clock, and the need to keep (holding ?) Iraq to be aware of the Washington clock. Is it simply a fact of life, in your view, that -- that commanders like General Petraeus and General Odierno are simply going to have to take a -- come to some definitive recommendation or conclusion about the surge in September because of that Washington clock, even if they've --
SEC. GATES: Not necessarily, and to tell you the truth, the context in which I used the Washington clock analogy was that it's -- I think that it's those of us in Washington who have to take into account the Washington clock, when we receive the report from General Petraeus and General Odierno. We want them to focus on what's going on in Iraq and give us their recommendations, their evaluation, based on what's going on in Iraq. They should not have to worry, in my opinion. Our military commanders should not have to worry about the Washington clock. That's for us in Washington to worry about.
STAFF: How about one local question, please?
Q Sir, if the Stryker Brigade goes to the Middle East, when it redeploys, do you anticipate choosing another place other than (Hawaii ?) because of the environmental problems, challenges here, to training?
SEC. GATES: To be honest, I'm not familiar with the issues, and --
ADM. KEATING: Can I recommend an -- an answer? No? No!
ADM. KEATING: They'll come back here.
SEC. GATES: And what he said goes. (Laughter.)
STAFF: That's all that we have time for at the moment. Thank you all --
Q Do you have any -- do you have any message to the family of -- the Department of Defense just announced that the soldier from Honolulu has died in Iraq because of a roadside bomb. Do you have any message to them?
SEC. GATES: Yeah. Probably the most -- as the Washington press folks have heard me say -- probably the most difficult part of my job is every night sitting down and writing condolence letters. I feel very strongly about the families of every soldier and Marine who is killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's very painful, it's very personal. It's why I handwrite notes on each of the letters, because I want them to know that each and every one of them is important to me and important to the president, and they have our utmost sympathy.
By the same token, for the first time in our history since the Revolution, we are fighting a war with an all-volunteer force. These young men and women -- or these men and women in uniform who are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq are fighting there because they believe in what they're doing. And we have the greatest admiration for their willingness to serve and their willingness, as they know, potentially to have a personal sacrifice.
And so we're just deeply grateful to the families for their support. We're very sympathetic to their loss, and we feel it very personally as well.
Thank you all very much.
ADM. KEATING: Thank you.
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