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Media Roundtable with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates from India

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
February 27, 2008
            MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Thank you all for coming. I'll introduce to you Secretary Gates. (Inaudible) -- a gathering of a half-dozen of the Indian media who have been kind enough to join us.
 
            Just so people understand how we're going to do this, it's a half-hour, it's on the record. I'd like to be gracious to our hosts, and I want to start with Indian press, and I want to alternate questions once we do that, okay? So will somebody from the Indian press begin?
 
            Q     Indrahi Bachi (ph) from The Times of India.
 
            Secretary, could you tell us a little bit about your conversation with the Indian leadership, with the prime minister especially, on -- (inaudible) -- yesterday after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Joe Biden, was here last week and gave a deadline of July? But yesterday the Bush administration at the White House gave an even more extended deadline. So how long does this deadline really stand?
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that the -- first of all, this is not an area of my expertise, but I think that the real key here is his providing time for -- Ambassador, correct me if I get this wrong -- is providing time for our Senate to ratify the final -- the final arrangements. And with our -- with this being an election year, there is an open question about how long the Senate will be in session beyond this summer and September. So I think that's the real issue, is the need to get the agreement approved ultimately and finally by the Senate before the Congress adjourns later this year. And the two sides just need to work together on that.
 
            As I said yesterday, I think it's an agreement that clearly serves the best interests of both countries, and I think it's an agreement that actually has positive global consequences as well. So the key is working hard to together to get it done.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, the Iraqis are demanding that the Turks leave northern Iraq. How concerned are you? There are reports that they're about 12 miles in -- Turkey -- into northern Iraq, and some reports say there are thousands of troops. How concerned are you that this might escalate into a clash, as the Iraqis are now saying, between some of the Kurdish official forces and the Turks? And where do you think this goes?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think the Kurdistan government has worked to avoid a clash between the peshmerga and the Turks.
 
            As I've said, it's very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave. They have to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty. And close communication between the government of Turkey and their intentions and the government in Baghdad is critically important, as well as the government of Kurdistan. So I think open communication is very important in this, but I also think that making this operation as quick and as precisely targeted as possible and then getting out is important.
 
            Q     Do you think we're nearing -- just to follow up -- do you think -- are we nearing a time when you're starting to think it should be wrapping up, or is "quick" a few months down the road?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I would -- I measure "quick" in terms of days, a week or two, something like that, not months.
 
            Q     May I just follow up? (Name and affiliation inaudible.)
 
            Indrahi's (ph) question, by linking this issue of defense purchases, do you think in some senses if you're going forward with the deal, our relations with America would deteriorate and possibly also impact sales of equipment from you?
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that while the civil nuclear agreement is very important and serves the interests of both sides, the relationship between the United States and India is a very wide-ranging one. And I am here to see what opportunities there are to further expand that relationship independent of the civil nuclear agreement.
 
            We probably have as wide-ranging set of interactions with the Indian military as we have with any military in the world, perhaps more so, from increasingly large and sophisticated exercises to defense trade. And I don't -- I think that there is every opportunity for this range of military and military contacts and working together to proceed in a positive direction.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, you're here on the trip is widely seen as paving the way for future U.S. arms sales to India. Yet India has been a supplier of arms to Burma. Are you concerned about Indian arms sales to Burma? And should that have any impact on U.S. deals with India?
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that this is an area where there needs to be candid conversation between our two governments. I think that the Indians are clearly aware of our concerns about the behavior and activities of the junta in Burma. But I think that we will continue to have candid conversations about that, but I think it need not impact the other aspects of the relationship.
 
            Q     So it's not a precondition that India stop selling arms to Burma that U.S. firms would get permission from Congress?
 
            SEC. GATES: No, we don't impose preconditions like that.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, I'm -- (name and affiliation inaudible).
 
            How do you see the rise of China, both in terms of military expansion, modernization, et cetera and politically? Because China made quite a fuss about the quadrilateral exercises, Australia has pulled out. Did you, in your conversations, did this issue come up? And in general, if you could address the issue of China.
 
            SEC. GATES: The quadrilateral talks, as I recall, did not come up in my conversations here. China, obviously, has become an economic powerhouse. And with that economic role in the world has come an increase in political influence as well. China is a great power. Our relationships with China are multifaceted as are India's. Clearly, we have a very close economic relationship. I visited China last fall. We had very good talks. We talked about a greater strategic dialogue between the United States and China so that we could get a better appreciation of the purposes behind their military modernization programs and who they see as the enemy and so get a better understanding of how each country, how we and they, look at each other from a strategic standpoint. 
 
            And I'd use the comparison of the many years of arms negotiations we had with the Soviet Union that provided an opportunity for us to gain a real appreciation and understanding of how each other looked at strategic modernization programs and deployments and plans and so on. And I think it played a constructive role in preventing miscalculations and misunderstandings.
 
            We would like to have the same kind of dialogue with China.
 
            Q     One of the things on this trip, following up on the China question, has been strengthening military ties to democracies in Asia, Australia, Indonesia and India, and also improving their military capabilities. How important is it not only to improve the military capabilities but also to have interoperable equipment as a hedge against China's growing military strength?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I don't see our improving military relationships in the region in the context of any other country, including China. I think that when you look at the kinds of activities that we're engaged in and the kind of exercises that we conduct, it covers a range of activities from dealing with piracy and terrorism and crime to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. These expanding relationships don't necessarily have to be directed against anybody. They are a set of bilateral relationships that are aimed at improving our coordination and the closeness of our relationships for a variety of reasons, including those that I've just indicated.
 
            (Cross talk.)
 
            Q     (Name and affiliation inaudible.)
 
            (Inaudible) -- from Pakistan is really the Pakistan military claim that -- (inaudible). And then there's also the (story ?) that India's military should have the (natural ?) forces in Afghanistan. Did this come up during your discussions with the defense minister or the prime minister?
 
            Q     Also to follow up, I mean, will you continue to support Musharraf after the elections -- (inaudible)?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, that's two very different questions.
 
            The only discussion that I had here about Afghanistan really was to compliment India on the size of its nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan, its economic development and civic reconstruction efforts. India, I think the prime minister told me, is now spending about $800 million a year in Afghanistan. And they are active in every single province. The subject of India taking on another role in Afghanistan did not come up at all. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, does India have a role to play in regional missile defense in this area? And what would that role look like? And is this something that you discussed with the leadership here?
 
            SEC. GATES: We're at a very early stage in discussion of missile defense with the Indians. And at this point, we're just beginning to talk about perhaps conducting a joint analysis about what India's needs would be in the realm of missile defense and what cooperation between us might help advance that here in India.
 
            Q     (Name and affiliation inaudible.)
 
            I was interested in knowing what the United States thinks its sort of -- why is it continuing to support General Musharraf in Pakistan despite the democratic vote being so clearly against him, not -- (inaudible) -- but against Musharraf?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that, first of all, Musharraf remains the president of Pakistan. A coalition is clearly being put together. The United States will support the democratically elected leadership of Pakistan. We look forward to seeing how the coalition talks come out, who will be prime minister and so on. But at this point, we are simply doing now what we will continue to do in the future and that is supporting the democratically elected leadership.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, in your conversations with Indian officials, did either the civilian nuclear agreement or the impending sale of 126 jet fighters come up? And if so, to what end?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, the civil nuclear initiative did come up, and I basically said what I said here earlier. We have to be respectful of the domestic political issues here in India. It's clear that the government favors this agreement, but I think we have to let the government in India be the best judge of how to move this treaty forward or move this agreement forward here in India, and I think that they are working on that problem.
 
            The only point that I made really was that, going back to the first question that I was asked here, the clock is ticking in terms of how much time is available to get all the different aspects of this agreement implemented.
 
            Q     And the sale of the fighters, 126 jet fighters? India is seeking to buy 126 --
 
            SEC. GATES: This the multi-roll --
 
            (Off mike commentary.)
 
            I simply indicated that -- well, I expressed our pleasure, obviously, with the purchase by India of the six C-130Js. There are some other deals in the works. I indicated that we obviously are interested and believe that we are very competitive in the selection of the new fighter and the multi-roll combat fighter here in India. And we ask no special treatment. We simply are pleased to have a place at the table, and we believe that in a fair competition that we have a very good case to make. 
 
            One of the virtues of the C-130 sale is that it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate not only the quality of our equipment but the quality of the service and maintenance and follow-on activities that go with these sales. So we're very encouraged. We're at the beginning of this process. And I think, in a way, I look at it the way I look at the whole range of this relationship with India and that is we're here for the long term. We're building for the long term. We're not looking for quick results or big leaps forward, if I may use that phrase, but rather a steady expansion of this relationship in a way that leaves everybody comfortable that we're not moving too fast and that works in terms of Indian domestic politics, also works for us. 
 
            And this is one area, one point that I have made in all of my meetings here is that of all of the areas of American foreign policy, I believe that the steadily improving relationship with India is one that will continue regardless of who is elected president in the United States in November. I think there is very broad, bipartisan support in the United States for continuing to expand this relationship between the world's two biggest democracies. And so I think we have to look at all of this in the long term.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, can I take you back to Turkey real quick?
 
            MODERATOR: Have we had all of our Indian friends? 
 
            (Off mike commentary.)
 
            Okay -- (inaudible) -- haven't had a chance -- (inaudible).
 
            Q     The opposition to the civil nuclear deal also centered around this whole -- (inaudible) -- to the United States and then comprised in it the defense relationship as well. Did you sense any type of constraints domestically in India's willingness to improve its defense relationship with the United States? And are you surprised at the kind of opposition the nuclear deal has generated in India or the -- (inaudible)?
 
            SEC. GATES: I encountered only enthusiasm in all of the leaders her I talked to about not only the expansion of the U.S.-Indian relationship generally but the military-to-military relationship. I think if I may put words in their mouths, I think they see it as we do, as a long-term enterprise by two sovereign states. We are mindful of India's long tradition of non-alignment and are respectful of that. But I think there are a lot of opportunities to expand this relationship. And I think that was the feeling on the part of the Indian leaders that I met with as well.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, I apologize for interrupting. If I can ask you to just turn back to Turkey real briefly. You talked quite a bit about maintaining this open dialogue to make sure that there's not disagreement about the way forward. But this objection now by the Iraqi government to the incursion seems to indicate that this dialogue is breaking down a bit. Are you concerned that the Iraqis have now told the Turks to get out and that bilateral relations will suffer as a result?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I'm sitting a long way from the action, and I haven't been following it sort of hour to hour, even day to day in terms of the byplay between the Turks and the Iraqis. And I'll probably find out more when I get to Ankara. But I would just go back to what I said earlier. I think it's in everybody's interest for this operation to wrap up just as quickly as possible.
 
            Q     Secretary, can I ask you, shifting the subject a bit, recently, the U.S. knocked down a satellite, a Naval ship knocked down a satellite, which was coming in. And one -- (inaudible) -- destroy the -- (inaudible) -- that was the target of this so that it would (fall ?), you know, harmlessly. And two, last year, China also conducted an anti-satellite test. And there's been growing concern that this is, you know, a different (star wars, too ?) or whatever. How do you view these two -- (inaudible) -- concern?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think they're very different activities. First of all, we were very open and transparent from the very beginning about the problem that we saw and that we were going to try and modify the software in some of our missile defense capability in order to be able to deal with this threat. Our view was however remote the possibility that this hydrazine tank might harm people here on earth that the only responsible thing was to try and deal with the problem. We were very open about it. We hit this dead satellite in a very low orbit so that the debris was very limited and would decay and burn up in the atmosphere within a matter of hours to days or weeks. 
 
            The Chinese anti-satellite test was conducted in secret, never explained to anyone, was carried out at an altitude several hundred miles higher than ours and led to a significant debris field that will be in orbit for decades. So I think that there is a significant difference between what we did and the way we approached it and the Chinese anti-satellite test last year.
 
            Finally, I would say that there is no intent to modify any of our other missiles to have this capability. The purpose of the Aegis system is missile defense, and that will continue to be its purpose.
 
            Q     And the view on anti-satellite tests and, you know, more expansion to space, is there a policy on that?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that we're all concerned about the vulnerability of space systems. But I think we also need to look at the full range of capabilities in space and deal with that appropriately. I think that the starting point for that kind of a discussion is significantly greater transparency about what people's plans and intentions are.
 
            Q    Mr. Secretary, when you are in Ankara, will you personally make the point to the Turks that the United States would like to see this wrapped up quickly?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I will make that point. But I must say that I believe that point has been made, manifest by any number of senior U.S. officials pretty straightforwardly to the Turks. I also will repeat the point that I made the President Gul when he visited Washington, which is that military activity alone will not solve this terrorist problem for Turkey, that there certainly is a place for security operations. But these also need to be accompanied with economic and political initiatives that begin to deal with some of the issues that provide a favorable local environment where the PKK can operate. They need to address some of the issues and complaints that some of the Kurds have and move this in a nonmilitary direction in order to get a long-term solution, in my view.
 
            Q     Has the Turkish government --
 
            MODERATOR: Excuse me, wait. 
 
            Have you had a question, sir?
 
            Q     Is there any progress on this -- (inaudible) -- India?
 
            SEC. GATES: We talked about it briefly. One of the points that I made was that I thought it was important not to allow critics of the agreement to frame the issues. For example, I've been told that there is an allegation here in India that this logistics agreement includes provisions for bases and so on, and that's just absolutely not true. This is basically an agreement that will facilitate expanding the exercises that we engage in and in terms of how we reimburse each other for the use of facilities, for the use of oil and support of these exercises and these joint activities. But it has nothing to do with bases. It's basically an agreement that has more to do with accountants than it does anything else.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, if I can follow up on the Turkey question for a moment. You talked about other initiatives, economic and political, that Turkey ought to take in addressing some of the Kurdish grievances. Is the United States prepared to sort of play a part in that, either through aid to Turkey or any kind of initiatives that it may offer up?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, we have, as is evident, have provided substantial assistance to the Turks in terms of additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It seems to me that if we're willing to do that on the security side, if we can play a constructive role in some of these other areas and the Turks would like our help, we certainly ought to give that consideration.
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, have the Turkish government -- (inaudible) -- the U.S. government any indication of how long the campaign will last? And if they go beyond the point that the U.S. government is not comfortable, will you stop sharing intelligence with them?
 
            SEC. GATES: I don't know the answer to the first question, so I haven't addressed the question.
 
            Q     Hypothetically, could you? (Laughter.)
 
            Q     Looking from an Indian perspective and to try to understand what's happening there, given the fact that every day, you know, Obama and Hillary talk about ending the war and pulling back troops, what is the game plan right now for this administration in terms of Iraq? And how quickly do you see things ending over there and pulling back troops?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, we will be withdrawing four additional brigade combat teams by the end of July. In late March, early April of this year, General Petraeus, Admiral Fallon, the commander of Central Command, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will make their recommendations to me and to the president in terms of what they think ought to happen after we complete the withdrawal of the five brigade combat teams that comprised the surge. I think that there is a broad agreement that the drawdown should continue. The key is the pace and not putting at risk the gains that have been achieved and where we are now beginning to see more significant progress at the national level on political issues, not to put any of that at risk. 
 
            And so the discussion that we will have next month and in April is what to do after July, the pace of withdrawals. And we are in the process of negotiating a status of forces agreement with the Iraqis. And I would anticipate that there would be some modest level of U.S. troops in Iraq at the invitation of a sovereign Iraqi government for some considerable period of time. But it would be a fraction of what we have there now, and they would be there to participate in training and equipping of the Iraqi forces, helping them protect their borders, going after al Qaeda and that sort of thing. So they would have a very different mission when we transition.
 
            We are already transitioning to that mission in some parts of Iraq. And that transition will be a gradual one over time. It is very important that we not fail to get the next phase of this war right, that we do this in a way that preserves the gains that have been achieved and that provides the opportunity for success in the longer term. 
 
            The question is about the pacing of the drawdown of troops. And that's where we will look for the recommendation of the commanders in the field and the president's other senior military advisers.
 
            MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)
 
            Q     In your conversations with the minister of Defense, did you talk about any new joint training or joint operations between the two countries?
 
            SEC. GATES: No, we didn't discuss any specific new initiatives along those lines.
 
            Q     India has been in negotiations, in fact having trouble in negotiations, with Russia on an aircraft carrier. There has been a lot of speculation and conflict in reports emerging from the United States that there would be an offer -- (inaudible) --
 
            (Off mike commentary.)
 
            SEC. GATES: This was the story, that I was going to bring the Kitty Hawk with me or something? (Laughter.) 
 
            Q     (Inaudible) -- if that has ever crossed your radar.
 
            SEC. GATES: It has not, not until I heard about it in the Indian press.
 
            Q     (Inaudible) -- most of the report.
 
            SEC. GATES: I know there was an article in the U.S. press on this, but that was news to me.
 
            MODERATOR: Let's take one last question from the Indian press if we could, please.
 
            Q     What is your sense of the Indian government's response on the logistics agreement? Is there any hope to sign it soon or --
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that my sense was the real commitment on the part for both the logistics agreement and the communications security agreements to get these wrapped up and completed as quickly as possible. As I indicated, though, the Indian government is a better judge of how to get that done in terms of domestic Indian politics than we are. And we're willing to work with them within that framework.
 
            MODERATOR: Thanks so much. 
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