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Press Conference with Secretary Gates at NATO Headquarters, Brussels

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
June 13, 2008
                (Note: Event audio was fed in progress.)   
 
                SEC. GATES: I think we've made some progress to that end. The Italians took a big step by announcing they are lifting the mobility caveat on their forces in Afghanistan.   
 
                I hope this will set an example for others, just as I hope the signing of the C-17 Memorandum of Understanding by Slovenia, the Netherlands, the United States and others will do the same. This initiative involves 15 nations pooling resources, to fill a gap in strategic airlift capability, and will be particularly helpful to ISAF operations.   
 
                In addition, the alliance achieved consensus on standing up the Kosovo security force and standing down Kosovo Protection Corps, a much-needed development as Kosovo prepares to enact its constitution on June 15th.   
 
                There is still work to be done. The U.N. and the European Union must broker a smooth transition of the policing mission, that ensures KFOR retains its original mandate and is not called upon to serve as first responder.   
 
                Our leaders took a historic step at Bucharest when they unanimously recognized the need for integrated missile defense and asked NATO to develop options that will extend coverage to all allied territory.   
 
                Here in Brussels, we heard calls to intensify our efforts by the 2009 summit, to ensure that our leaders have real, comprehensive, integrated missile defense options, in answer to the Bucharest tasking.   
 
                Let me finish by briefly addressing our working dinner on Afghanistan last night. While there has been some significant security progress there, we are still not in a position to deliver on our Bucharest goals. Many of the same shortfalls, that existed 18 months ago, still exist today.   
 
                That's why I felt compelled to put aside my prepared remarks last night and speak from the heart to my fellow defense ministers. I told them that my expectations are simple. I expect government decisions and actions to match government rhetoric.   
 
                Last month, for the first time, more coalition forces were killed in Afghanistan than were killed in Iraq. And just since we have gathered here in Brussels, three more coalition soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. It's important that we live up to our pledges, in both civilian and military spheres, necessary for success in Afghanistan.   
 
                Thank you.   
 
                Q     Mr. Secretary, Prime Minister Maliki today said negotiations over the SOFA have reached, quote-unquote, "a dead end." What concessions can be made in the U.S. position to get these talks moving again in a significant, meaningful way?   
 
                SEC. GATES: I had not heard that and I'm not quite sure what the exact circumstances are. So I will have to, when I get home, find out what the status of those negotiations is, and whether there's a difference between what's actually going on in negotiations and the public posture. I just don't know the answer at this point.   
 
                Q     Specifically one of the major sticking points has been this issue of immunity for the contractors. Is there anything that the United States can do, given the questionable actions of some contractors in the past, to at least ensure that contractors are held to a more professional, rules-based set of operating standards?   
 
                SEC. GATES: Well, I think that we have taken the steps necessary, after the tragedy last year, to ensure that contractors and particularly security contractors, working for both the Department of Defense and the Department of State, are properly controlled and monitored.   
 
                But just in terms -- I'm just not familiar with the specifics of where the negotiations were on the contract -- the contractor issue to be able to make any intelligent comment.   
 
                STAFF: People on the European side. 
 
                Go ahead. Yeah. (Inaudible.) 
 
                Q     (Name and affiliation inaudible.) You just mentioned the NATO-Russia Council. But from all the sources we hear that there are still big divisions in the council. Do you still think that the existence of the NATO-Russia Council does lead to anything, with all the strong criticism of NATO and the United States? 
 
                SEC. GATES: There was a -- you know, both Minister Serdyukov -- well, Minister Serdyukov raised their -- the Russians' continuing concerns with the CFE Treaty, with missile defense, and two or three other problems. NATO ministers pushed back on those issues.   
 
                But I think what is important is that both the NATO ministers and Minister Serdyukov began their remarks with a review of the positive things that have been happening as a result of the work of the NATO- Russia Council, including the agreement in terms of being able to transit Russia, overfly Russia with non-military supplies for Afghanistan; an initiative on the part of the Russians to do some counternarcotics training for Central Asians and Afghans, in which NATO nations are going to participate; military-to-military relationships; participation in exercises. So there was a pretty long list of positive things that are happening in the NATO-Russia relationship as well. And I must say that the concerns that were expressed are -- relate to issues that have been a concern for quite some time now. 
 
                Really nothing new, and I must say that the atmosphere was quite businesslike. There wasn't really anything confrontational about it at all.   
 
                STAFF: Julian 
 
                Q     Mr. Secretary, legal experts, including former Pentagon Detainee Affair officials, say that the Supreme Court ruling eliminates the legal reasons for keeping open Guantanamo. I'm wondering if in the wake of the ruling will you recommend the closure of the prison and movement of the detainees to Charleston, Leavenworth or another facility, and if you think such a move would help your relations with NATO and other European allies that have been extremely critical of Guantanamo. 
 
                SEC. GATES: I'm not going to make any judgment in terms of what I think we ought to do next until I get back to the States, have an opportunity to be briefed on the decision and what the implications of the decision are. And at that point, I think, we'll decide how we move forward. 
 
                I've often said that I thought that -- and as have both the president and secretary of State -- that we would like to close Guantanamo. I think that despite the fact that in many respects Guantanamo has become a state-of-the-art prison now, early reports of abuses and so on unquestionably were a black eye for the United States. 
 
                So I think it does have to be dealt with, but how we deal with it, how we deal with terrorists who are determined to kill more Americans is -- and subsequent to the court decision -- is something we'll just have to look at when I get back. 
 
                STAFF: Go ahead. 
 
                Q     (Name inaudible) -- from the German Press Agency, dpa. Secretary, again on the NATO-Russia Council, you said the Osettia conflict, which had come up, had been the same for a while, but since the last meeting in Bucharest we've had the Russians shoot down a Georgian drone and we've had the Russian railway troops moving into Abhkazia. So were those issues specifically mentioned? What did you say? What was said on that subject? 
 
                SEC. GATES: Yes, several of the -- several of the NATO ministers raised developments in Abhkazia and, with respect to Georgia, expressed their concerns over Russian behavior. Minister Serdyukov did not mention those -- Georgia in his remarks and did not return back to the subject after the Allied ministers spoke. 
 
                Q     I think we have time for one last one? 
 
                STAFF: (Off mike.) 
 
                Q     Rob Olson from the BBC. I was just wondering whether you were concerned at all that a combination of the deals that the Pakistani government has been doing with radicals in the tribal areas plus the incident earlier in the week may make Pakistan even less -- more reluctant to deal with the Taliban on their side of the border, thereby complicating efforts for the allies in Afghanistan. 
 
                SEC. GATES: Well, I think that it's important to give this new civilian government in Pakistan time to inform itself about the situation in the northwest. They're looking clearly at seeing if there is a way to negotiate arrangements with some of the tribes. And I think we just have to give them some space to be able to pursue this at the same time that they give briefings from their own military and their own intelligence services about what's going on and then have in place the ability to monitor whether there has been adherence to the agreements that have been negotiated with some of the tribes. 
 
                My view is this is likely to take a little time, and I just can't emphasize enough how important a partner Pakistan is in dealing with terrorists. There's been several thousand Pakistani troops killed over the last several years up in that area in this conflict, so it's not like they haven't taken it seriously. They've probably killed as many al Qaeda as anybody. So, you know, they -- I think -- and they continue to be an important facilitator in terms of what we're trying to accomplish in Afghanistan.   
 
                So it is a concern, what's going on in the FATA. There's no doubt about it. I think it's fair to say that we have some skepticism that -- some of it based on past experience, whether some of these agreements will work out. But I think we have to give -- it's their country, and we have to give them the chance to try and deal with it in a way that they think is best. And we will work with them, partner with them to the extent that they want us to, and we will be there if they ultimately decide they can and need to do more.   
 
                Thank you very much.
 
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