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Press Availability with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates following the NATO Meeting in Krakow, Poland

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
February 20, 2009
            SEC. GATES: Let me start by thanking Poland for hosting this gathering. And let me also thank my fellow ministers for productive meetings these past two days covering many issues, from headquarters reform to Alliance capabilities. Our main focus was Afghanistan -- the greatest challenge we face, and a clear threat to international stability. As we've learned, this will not be an easy fight, or a short one, but I'm convinced that NATO and other partner nations are committed to meeting the challenge and meeting it squarely.
           
            During our meetings we all agreed that we must intensify our efforts to bring security and stability to Afghanistan and to ensure that the Afghans were capable of sustaining themselves. It is, after all, their country, their fight and their future. In the near term, it is critical that the alliance provide enough troops to ensure that the August elections are credible. Part of the reason President Obama chose -- (audio break) -- upwards of 17,000 additional U.S. troops to the theater.
           
            We also must accelerate the growth and size and capability of the Afghan National Army and police, a key goal that still requires more resources from member nations. At the same time, we cannot neglect the need for a long-term increase of civilian contributions and the necessity to improve coordination between civilians and military components. 
 
            On that note I have been greatly encouraged in recent days by conversations about the strong relationship between Ambassador Kai Eide and General McKiernan. I also believe that President Obama's comprehensive review of our strategy, which will be undertaken with our allies and rely heavily on their input, will yield concrete, attainable objectives that will then focus and guide our overall strategy.
           
            As you know, our discussions were largely in preparation for the April meeting of the heads of state, the 60th anniversary of NATO. Looking back over those six decades, it is clear that the alliance has faced many challenges and met them. I believe we are facing a very tough test in Afghanistan, but I have no doubt that we will rise to the occasion, as we have done so many times before. 
           
            Thank you.
           
            Q     Mr. Secretary, Uzbekistan issued the formal eviction notice -- excuse me, Kyrgyzstan issued the formal eviction notice today for the Manas base. Yesterday you seemed to indicate that there was still some hope that the U.S. could retain use of that base. Do you think today that no means no? And also, is there a new deal for resupplying through Uzbekistan?
           
            SEC. GATES: I don't want to get into specifics on alternative routes, but I continue to believe that this is not a closed issue, and if there remains the potential at least to reopen this issue with the Kyrgyzs and perhaps reach a new agreement. If we're not able to do that on reasonable terms, then, as I have suggested, we are developing alternative methods of getting resupply and people into Afghanistan. 
           
            Q     Thank you. The question is about Ukraine. The former president of the United States supported Ukraine integrity to NATO. Will Mr. Obama support Ukraine to take part in alliance? Thank you -- I mean in that way Bush did it.
           
            SEC. GATES: I think that the alliance -- all the alliance members, including the heads, in Bucharest last year acknowledged that Ukraine, at some point, would be in NATO. We are now proceeding on a path in that direction. The annual national plan that is being put together by the Ukrainians is an important step on that road. I think it's become clear that the -- it was clear at the foreign ministers' meeting in December that this is a long path in front, and quite frankly, there needs to be greater unanimity of view in the Ukrainian government itself about the next steps, not to mention the resources for modernization of Ukraine's military. 
           
            And so I think that all of the members of the alliance have made this commitment. They made it at Bucharest, and the path forward was made out in December, and I don't think that the new administration has a significant quarrel with the path that was laid out at the December foreign ministers meeting.
           
            Q     Yes, thank you. (Off mike) -- Associated Press. Secretary Gates, Mr. Hoop Scheffer said he thinks the NRC should be used also to discuss conflicts with Russia -- so, in other words, that meetings ought to be resumed. Do you share this view, and when should this happen?
           
            SEC. GATES: I think that -- I mean, the NATO-Russia group exists. I think that everyone has assumed that it will resume being a venue for dialogue between the alliance and Russia. I think the question is at what point that happens. And, frankly, the Obama administration has not yet looked comprehensively at its policies with respect to Russia, and so I think our position on that, on what that ought to happen, is not yet settled. I would, though, reiterate what Vice President Biden said in Munich, that this administration does believe the time has come to reset the relationship with Russia and move forward.
           
            Q     Canadian Television. You've spoken about increase in the civilian component to the Afghan mission. I wonder if you would find it acceptable for those nations that aren't able or unwilling to send more troops -- whether that would be a suitable alternative. And in the Canadian context, if the Canadian mission is set to end in 2011, could you see an increased civilian role being a replacement in --
           
            SEC. GATES: I think that all of the nations who are engaged in Afghanistan ought to contribute what they can contribute. A number are doing both. We are doing both. The Germans are doing both, in a significant way. The British are doing both -- both the civil and the military side. We are making a substantial addition to the military side, and if other countries are unable to transfer their military commitment but they are willing and able to make a contribution on the stability side, on the development side, those contributions would be very welcome.
           
            I think it's also a point worth making that, you know, the review that the administration has underway is going to be a -- it's not only a comprehensive review in Afghan strategy, it's an inclusive review that includes our allies, non-NATO partners and others. It includes the Afghans and the Pakistanis and others. And in parallel with that, we will be developing what we believe other nations might be able to contribute. And so I think a point worth making is that our new president has not yet asked anybody for anything. We are trying to develop, through this review, what those needs are most likely to be, and at that point, I believe before the NATO summit, we will be making those requests, but as yet they're not resolved.
           
            Q     Thank you. Mr. Scheffer said that NATO supports territorial integrity of Georgia, but still the Russian bases are on the territory of Georgia. After adopting the USA-Georgia charter, how do you think it will strengthen cooperation with Georgia, its defense and security system, or not?
           
            SEC. GATES: Well, we have a continuing security relationship with Georgia. We're involved in training. We are involved in military reform in Georgia. So this is an ongoing relationship and it is a relationship that we are pursuing, both bilaterally and within the framework of our NATO allies, and through the vehicle of the U.S.-Georgia Commission. So I think it's proceeding as we had planned.
           
            Q     Thomas Larsen from the Danish newspaper Politiken. There is a lot of talk here in Europe really now about who's going to be the next secretary general from NATO. When would you like to see this issue resolved, and what do you think about the possible candidacy of the Danish prime minister, Mr. Rasmussen?
           
            SEC. GATES: I have a lot of respect for the prime minister. I also have a lot of respect for the defense minister. But there are a lot of capable people, and I would hope that we would have this resolved in time for the NATO summit so that there could be agreement there. Frankly, I think that what's important, from my standpoint, is simply that we have somebody who has the broadest possible support across the alliance, and, frankly, somebody who has the executive experience to run a very large and complex organization. 
           
            Q     For the Italian Television, Mr. Secretary, do you believe the new U.N. report about the Iranian nuclear activity will accelerate the United States' plans for an anti-missile defense system?
           
            SEC. GATES: I haven't read the U.N. report yet so I'm not really in a position to comment, but I think that, as I have said before, the primary reason for the third site in Europe is to deal with the Iranian missile threat, and the fact that they have just launched a space satellite I think is indicative of the continuing and steady progress that they are seeing in developing these missile capabilities. So I think we need to take that into account, along with their continuing unwillingness to go along with the U.N. Security Council resolutions, with respect to enrichment.
           
            Q     (Off mike) -- Report. Mr. Secretary, I would like you to say how many countries have, until now, declared to improve troops in Afghanistan, and if you could give examples of countries who are that. The second thing is this casts the issue -- the subject of a missile defense project and the new attitudes of the American government towards this subject, and what could you explain about it? Is America going to continue the project in Poland? And the third thing --
           
            SEC. GATES: No, no. (Laughter.) First of all, I think there are 46 countries that have -- over 40 countries are engaged in Afghanistan right now. And countries are making new commitments on a fairly steady base on both the civilian and the military side. And as I indicated in answering an earlier question, I expect that there will be significant new commitments on either the civilian or the military side in connection with the NATO summit. 
           
            We did talk about missile defense in my talks with Prime Minister Tusk and Defense Minister Klich. I basically told them that we needed some time for this administration to review the plans for the third site, to look at it in the context of our relationship with both Poland and the Czech Republic, our relationship with the NATO alliance, the commitments we have made as members of the alliance in terms of European missile defense, and also in the context of our relationship with the Russians. And we need to look at all of that, and I simply asked the Polish leaders for a little time for the administration to be able to do that.
           
            Q     (Off mike.)
           
            SEC. GATES: Well, the president is confronting an economic crisis. We're going through an Afghan review. We are going to be -- we're also involved in a review of a way forward in Iraq for American forces. My hope would be that these other issues can be taken up very soon.
           
            Q     Mr. Secretary, you mentioned the desire for NATO countries and non-NATO countries to contribute more on the civilian side. Did you make any specific requests? Did you press your colleagues on specific things they could contribute? Did you get any commitments over the last few days?
           
            SEC. GATES: I did not make any specific requests of any specific country. There have been some new commitments made on both the civilian and the military side over the last couple of days. About 20 countries -- 19 or 20 countries announced at one point or another in the meetings that they would be increasing their contribution either on the civilian or the military or the training side, so I consider that a good start as we begin to look toward the summit.
           
            Q     Mr. Secretary, my name is -- (off mike) -- with the Luxembourg Report, the largest newspaper in Luxembourg. Why does the United States feel that there is a need for a new strategic concept that is to be launched at the summit in Strasbourg -- (off mike)?
           
            SEC. GATES: It's been 10 years since the NATO strategic concept was last -- was promulgated, and frankly I think a great deal has happened in the world over the last 10 years. And I think that the idea of taking a fresh look at it makes all kinds of sense.
           
            Last question. Yes, sir?
           
            Q     (Off mike) -- Television, Pakistan. The ministry of Pakistan has signed a deal with the Pakistani militants in Swat Valley -- and a lot of criticism is coming from Washington particularly Mr. Holbrooke is criticizing that, and there are some voices in Afghanistan that have been saying the same, along the line that there should be some operation or some sort of discussion with Taliban locals. If Pakistan succeeds in that particular area to pacify the militant activity, will the United States allow the Afghans to make a similar type of agreement?
           
            SEC. GATES: Well, we have said all along that ultimately some sort of political reconciliation has to be part of the long-term solution in Afghanistan. And so I think that if there is a reconciliation, if insurgents are made to put down their arms, if the reconciliation is essentially on the terms being offered by the government, then I think that we would be very open to that. There is going to have to be some political component of reconciliation before this all ends.
           
            Thank you all very much.
 
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