Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Topolanek from Prague, Czech Republic
(Note: Prime Minister Topolanek's remarks are through interpreter.)
STAFF: (Through interpreter.) (Off mike) Ladies and gentlemen, -- welcome you to a press conference -- (off mike) -- the opportunity of the visit by the U.S. secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates, to this meeting with the prime minister, Mirek Topolanek.
To start with, the members -- or the participants in the meeting will brief you on the discussions that took place, and the first one is Prime Minister Topolanek.
PRIME MIN. TOPOLANEK: I think it's quite symbolic that today in the morning I met with -- for breakfast I met with the Romanian minister of Foreign Affairs, now I'm meeting the U.S. secretary of Defense, and in the evening, I will be meeting the vice premiere of Russia, Mr. Naryshkin. So that signals something about the position of the Czech Republic on the international scene.
Today, we discussed in the meeting probably the most important topic was missile defense, and I will share with you some of the conclusions that we arrived at.
I think the conclusions I will leave to the secretary of Defense to present you to, and just would like to mention that we discussed the risks and the threats which result in our joint efforts in placing the missile defense assets in Europe.
Secondly we discussed what the current developments are in relation to Russia, the developments on the level of NATO-Russia Council, and also the joint position of NATO in the -- as we are closing to the Bucharest Summit next year.
We of course did not discuss just the issue of missile defense. We also concentrated on our matters of joint interest, such as the situation in association with Kosovo, the situation in Afghanistan, as well as to our efforts to establish our own provincial reconstruction team. So these were the issues of mutual interest. But I should admit that the question of missile defense dominated our discussions.
Mr. Secretary, the floor is yours.
SEC. GATES: Thank you very much. I want to thank the prime minister and the minister of defense for hosting me. Despite having spent a large part of my career focused on this part of the world, this is actually my first visit to Prague and to the Czech Republic.
I would also like to thank the Czech Republic and its citizens for their strong support of the United States these past few years, and particularly their troop contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are grateful for their sacrifice.
We're also grateful that the Czech Republic continues to look for ways to help, most recently by volunteering to lead a PRT in Afghanistan. And we welcome further contributions to any part of the mission in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
As the prime minister said, one of the main subjects of our conversations today was missile defense.
I believe we have made and continue to make good progress.
I informed both the prime minister and minister of Defense about the talks that Secretary of State Rice and I had in Moscow just a couple of weeks ago, focused on this subject. We encourage our -- we continue to encourage the Russians to partner with us in missile defense and continue our efforts to reassure them that these facilities are not aimed at Russia and could benefit Russia.
As part of our efforts to reassure the Russians, we'd talk with them, as I informed the minister and the prime minister about ways we can encourage transparency and greater information on the part of Russia as to what is going on at these sites. We made quite clear to the Russians that we will continue our negotiations with the Czech Republic and Poland and, assuming those negotiations are successfully concluded, will begin the deployment of these sites.
I also made clear in my conversations this morning that if we were to explore measures of transparency with the Russians, such as having a presence here in the Czech Republic or in Poland at these sites, that we would carry these proposals first to the Czech government, and then nothing would be done without the consent of the Czech government. Let me repeat, for emphasis, nothing would be done in this regard without the consent of the Czech government.
I also advised my colleagues here this morning that we would be discussing this subject at the NATO Defense ministers' meeting later this week. It is our hope that one of the outcomes of the Bucharest summit of NATO next year will be a resolution to go forward in developing short- and medium-range missile defenses for NATO that would go together with the American longer-range protection.
Our goal is an integrated system that would protect all of the members of the alliance against threats such as from Iranian ballistic missiles. And I'm pleased to say that in the recent past both NATO Foreign and Defense ministers have been supportive of this approach.
For a number of years the U.S. and the Czech Republic have cooperated on a wide variety of security issues. And today, facing new challenges, our relationship is as strong as it has ever been. Thank you.
STAFF : (In Czech.)
Q Mr. Secretary, Pravo daily newspaper. Would you elaborate or be more specific on the proposal -- (off mike) -- for missile defense? And do you think that the -- (off mike) -- scheduled for -- (off mike) -- in the Czech Republic remains -- (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: The schedule will depend on the completion of the negotiations, but I see no change in that schedule.
Secretary Rice and I put two additional proposals before the Russians. One of them I've described to you in terms of looking for additional ways for transparency by providing a Russian presence. Again, anything along those lines that we would develop would be presented to the Czech government first, and we would not go forward without the approval of the Czech government.
The second proposal was that we would consider tying together the activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat; in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on. We have not fully developed this proposal, but the idea was we would go forward with the negotiations, we would complete the negotiations, we would develop the sites, build the sites, but perhaps would delay activating them until there was concrete proof of the threat from Iran.
Q Mr. Secretary, Prime Minister, can you tell us when you expect these negotiations to be completed? And Mr. Secretary, are you saying that you cleared these ideas with the Czech government, perhaps the Polish government, before you made them in Moscow? Or would that only be in the implementation stage? And Prime Minister, can you comment on whether this sort of Russian inspections or Russian presence would be acceptable to the Czech Republic?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, the discussion that I was just describing was -- had to do with any question of a Russian presence on Czech soil, and that we would take that proposal to the Czech government before we went to the Russians with any specifics. And we would not go forward without the support and without the consent of the Czech government.
In terms of schedule, I think we would hope to be able to complete the negotiations in the next few months.
PRIME MIN. TOPOLANEK: In comment to your first question, I should say that apart from the two proposals, very specific proposals are made by the U.S. to the Russian party. I would like to stress that the general aim should be to get -- to intensify the discussion on the format of NATO-Russia Council in order to achieve the interoperability of the system and to define clearly the command-and- control interface.
As to the timing of negotiations, I hope that the effort would be completed before I am visiting U.S. at the beginning of the next year, perhaps in February. So I concur with Secretary -- with Mr. Secretary that the basic agreements will be negotiated by the end of this year.
Q I'm sorry, but on the question of whether having a Russian presence in some form would be acceptable, could you answer that part?
PRIME MIN. TOPOLANEK: No comment. Thank you.
Q (Through interpreter.) I would like to ask you a question, Mr. Secretary; whether the elections -- the results of elections in Poland would have any effect on the tactics in negotiations between U.S., Poland and between U.S. and the Czech Republic.
SEC. GATES: I certainly hope not.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, I'd like to ask you, please, why has your country decided to increase its presence in Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led ISAF mission? And is your decision regarding your troop numbers in Iraq largely symbolic? Or do you hope to eventually return to a larger course there?
And if Mr. Secretary could follow on, why is the Czech Republic's presence in both missions important?
PRIME MIN. TOPOLANEK: No participation of our troops in foreign- deployed operations or missions is symbolic. Although -- even though we will just have observers down there.
We have up to 550 troops in Kosovo, or will have next year. We are terminating our participation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We will step up our effort in Afghanistan and we will also next year reduce the number of our troops in Iraq.
The philosophy of this administration is not to increase the number of spots we are operating in but to increase the effort in the places we are already active.
Nevertheless, this plan has just been endorsed by the government and must be subject to parliamentary approval.
The effort of the Czech Republic to establish an own provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan in the province of Lowgar is another -- is a proof of the Czech Republic's focus on reconstruction effort. And that is what correlates or is the -- goes in line with the overall philosophy by this administration or its concepts.
SEC. GATES: Clearly the announcement of the Czech government that it intends to increase its presence in Afghanistan is welcome news, particularly as I head for a NATO defense ministers meeting, where I hope to discuss the importance of members of the alliance meeting the commitments that were made at Riga. I think that the Czech Republic's presence is important, not only as a NATO ally but in recognition of the fact that having a democratic government in Afghanistan is in the security interest of the alliance as a whole.
PRIME MIN. TOPOLANEK: Thank you very much.
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