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Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
June 01, 2009

                MODERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, members of the media, good afternoon.  We will first listen to the opening statement of Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, Jr.  This will be followed by the opening statement of Secretary Robert Gates. 

 

                Sir. 

 

                SEC. TEODORO:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  (Off mike.)  We warmly welcome and are honored by the visit of the Honorable Robert Gates.  Dr. Gates's visit today signals another milestone -- (off mike) -- strong cooperation between and amongst our countries, particularly the defense and military leaders.  (Off mike.) 

 

                From helping us in fighting terrorism to helping us -- (off mike) -- natural disasters -- (off mike) -- the relationship between and amongst our countries has been strong and should be stronger.  The visit of the honorable secretary today is one step further towards that goal. 

 

                That goal is increasing enduring cooperation, between and amongst our armed forces and defense departments and our governments, from the common threats of international terrorism -- (off mike) -- when natural calamities strike. 

 

                We also talked today about other areas of cooperation, particularly in building up our capacities, at the department level and in the armed forces level.  The most important thing, at least that our armed forces said, and the department said, we thank the secretary.  (Off mike.) 

 

                He talked to our troops.  He talked to our men and women, who have been deployed unceasingly since January of last year, under adverse conditions.  (Off mike.) 

 

                We welcome Secretary Gates and we thank him for his visit today. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Secretary Teodoro, thank you for hosting us today. 

 

                It is a great pleasure to be back in the Philippines; my first visit to Manila in almost 20 years and the first visit by a United States secretary of Defense in almost 10 years.  Frankly it's been too long on both counts.  And I'm honored to be the first representative of President Obama, Cabinet officer, to visit the Philippines. 

 

                We had a good conversation about a number of issues, from United States assistance, to the armed forces of the Philippines, to broader regional security measures. 

 

                Over the last decade, the Philippines has faced a number of security challenges and has met them squarely.  This is testimony to Secretary Teodoro's strong leadership, his efforts to reform the armed forces and the courage and adaptability of the Filipino military. 

 

                I look forward to meeting a few Filipino troops after this meeting.  I will tell them, as I told Secretary Teodoro, that we are partners.  We will continue to strongly support their efforts to defeat terrorists and extremists threatening their country and the region. 

 

                Together we will not relent until this threat has been eliminated.  Looking forward, I believe, our relationship needs to evolve into a broader strategic one. 

 

                The Philippines can play an important role in regional peace and stability and in fact just hosted the ASEAN regional forum's first ever field exercise. 

 

                I also thank the Philippines for its contributions to eight United Nations missions.  It is clear that the Philippines is taking on a larger role on the world stage.  And as it does, this relationship, one of our oldest alliance partnerships in Asia, is one that I believe will endure and deepen in the years to come.

 

                MODERATOR:  We will now proceed to the open forum.  We would like to recognize Mr. Rene Acosta, the president of the Defense Press Corps of the Philippines, for his question.

 

                Q     Good afternoon, Secretary Teodoro.  Good afternoon, Secretary Gates. 

 

                Secretary Gates, how do you assess the regional security environment in Southeast Asia and -- (inaudible)?  Given the competing claims -- (inaudible) -- threats from Islamic militants with ties to the al Qaeda, and humanitarian (inaudible) concerns in -- (inaudible) -- around Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in light of this (current scenario ?), is there a chance for the U.S.-Philippines security partnership -- (inaudible) -- like the VFA?  How long will U.S. forces stay in southern Philippines?  And your assessment of (inaudible) U.S. counterterrorism cooperation and -- (inaudible)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Do we have about an hour?  (Laughter.) 

 

                First of all, I would just say that the United States is quite comfortable with the VA -- VFA.  We are both nations of laws.  This agreement provides us with the legal basis for having our people here in partnership with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  We think it works, and we are satisfied.

 

                There are a number of security challenges, and obviously concerns and conflicting claims in the South China Sea.  The United States takes no position on those claims.  We only urge all the parties involved to try and resolve these issues clearly and peacefully.

 

                The reality is, as I've just come from the Shangri-La conference in Singapore, there are a range of security challenges here in Asia.  I must say, though, that I think that the progress that Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore have made in recent years in dealing with the piracy problem in the Straits of Malacca in many respects is a model of what we would like to see happen in the bulk of Asia and off of -- off the Horn of Africa.

 

                The truth is, there has been significant progress.  We have been pleased to help these countries in terms of maritime surveillance and equipment as we are trying to work with other nations off the Horn of Africa.  And so I think, frankly, that's an area where there has been some real progress. 

 

                Obviously, one of the greatest concerns here in Asia really does not have to do with Southeast Asia, but rather recent developments in North Korea.  And we spent a good bit of time on that in Singapore at the Shangri-La conference.  And I think this is another one of those areas where the best outcome is for all of the states that are concerned by these activities to partner and work together in trying to resolve them peacefully.

 

                MODERATOR:  The next question will be asked by Lise Buellad Inger (ph) of -- (affiliation inaudible).

 

                Q     Thanks.  Secretary Gates, I'd like to ask you about -- sorry -- Secretary Gates, I'd like to ask you about North Korea, considering the team of U.S. officials that is going through the capitals in Asia this week to confer on what to do in response.  What kind of bilateral or unilateral measures is the United States preparing in case the five nations other than North Korea in the six-party talks don't reach agreement on a more effective strategy to deal with North Korea?  And also, what evidence do you see and how concerned are you related to the potential for a second long-range ballistic-missile test on the part of North Korea? 

 

                And Secretary Teodoro, what do you -- (rustling sound) -- sorry -- what more would you like to see the U.S. do in relation to assistance to the Philippine military?

 

                SEC. GATES:  I think, with respect to the team that is visiting Tokyo, Seoul, Moscow and Beijing, I think it's important for us to take the step – (inaudible).  And I would rather not presume that we will not be successful in gaining a broad agreement on a way forward.  I think we ought to wait and see how those conversations go and how our partners in the six-party talks, other than Pyongyang, react to the developments of the last few weeks, and see where we go from here diplomatically.

 

                I think I'd rather not sort of speculate on what we might do after that.  Let's wait and see, and hope that these conversations are productive.

 

                With respect to, I guess, the -- we have seen some signs that there is -- that they may be doing something with another Taepo Dong II missile.  But at this point it's not clear what they're (inaudible).

 

                SEC. TEODORO:  In response to your question as to what more we are going to see regarding U.S. assistance, I would answer this way. 

 

                What more can we do together?  What other abilities can we do together in order for us to discover from each other what the capacities or lack thereof on each side are?  And then it flows from there. 

 

                For me, it is the range and scope of our relationship which is fundamentally more important than any offer of assistance given by one government or the other.  And such was the focus of Secretary Gates's saying that we need a strategic dialogue about it so that the relationship is one built on principles, on forward-looking things, where both countries can join hand in hand to solve common problems for regional or area-wide problems, and not one being a recipient of aid or those grants from the other. 

 

                Because both governments, in terms of assistance -- (off mike) --  government should also rebuild its own capacities for that.  So in that -- on that score I'd answer your question as to what can we both do together, and then fill in the gaps as they come.

 

                MODERATOR:  We would like to recognize Mr. Jaime Luis (ph) of ABS-CBN.

 

                Q     Good afternoon, sir.  Secretary Gates, will the Obama administration allow extra constitutional changes if the elections in the Philippines fail next year?  And second, what key policy initiatives and changes would the Philippines expect from the U.S. government?

 

                SEC. GATES:  I'm sorry, what was the first question?

 

                Q     First question is, will the Obama administration allow extra constitutional changes in case -- should the elections in the Philippines fail next year?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think, to -- that is a very hypothetical question on two counts.  And I think the only way I can answer that is, we assume that the elections will go forward successfully.  We assume that the people of the Republic of the Philippines will democratically choose the next leader, and such choices will never face us.

 

                Q     On the second question?

 

                (Inaudible.)

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think in a way, my answer to that question is the same as Secretary Teodoro's answer to the last question.  There are a number of areas in which we have the potential to be more effective partners together, not only in terms of bilateral issues, but also with respect to regional issues. 

 

                And so I think that what you can expect from the Obama administration is that, looking at the Philippines as a large Asian democracy that is an old friend of the United States, there is a lot we can do together.  And I think we will be looking for those kinds of opportunities to continue, as I indicated in my opening statement, to broaden and deepen the relationship.

 

                MODERATOR:  We will now hear the last question from Mr. Peter Spiegel of The Wall Street Journal.

 

                Q     Thank you.

               

                Mr. Secretary, the joint training and assistance operation here is largely seen as a success.  (Inaudible.)  Are there lessons to be learned here from other places, particularly when it comes to the issue of host-country sensitivities?  The Filipinos were originally very sensitive and resisted the U.S. bringing special forces here to do training.  We've seen similar resistance to that in Pakistan, for example.  Are there lessons we can learn from the Philippines experience that we can import elsewhere?

 

                SEC. GATES:  I think one of the fundamental tenents of America foreign policy under the Obama administration, as well as of the Department of Defense itself, is the growing importance of partnering around the world and building partner capacity.  I put a significant additional amount of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, in our fiscal year 2010 budget for this purpose, to advance this kind of partnering, where we can build partner capacity.  And as I said in response to many questions -- for example with respect to Pakistan -- we have to be very sensitive to their sovereignty and to their domestic politics.

 

                And so we will move with these various countries at a pace that is comfortable for them and in a way that is comfortable for them to build a relationship with us.  We have to look at this, I think, in the long term.  And the stronger the foundation we can build under these partner relationships, the longer they're likely to last and the more effective (inaudible).

 

                MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.

 

                That ends our press conference.

 

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