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Press Conference with Secretary Gates in Amman

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
July 27, 2009 12:00 PM EDT

         SEC. GATES:  First of all, let me thank His Majesty King Abdullah for his warm welcome today.  This visit and my meetings with His Majesty and Chief of Defense Sarayra highlight the strong friendship and long-standing strategic partnership between Jordan and the United States.  


         During our discussions, I congratulated His Majesty for his principle leadership in the region on a number of issues.  Just recently General Petraeus, the U.S. commander of Central Command, was here for the opening ceremony of the King Abdullah special operations training center.  


         That state-of-the-art facility will be a foundation, upon which other nations in the region will build their counterterrorism forces. Of course, the King Abdullah center is just one example of a broader pattern of regional leadership.  


         Jordan has been instrumental in building momentum for Arab contributions to a comprehensive Middle East peace, including two- state solution.  And it's taken a leading role in supporting the development of Palestinian Authority institutions and security forces.   I also commend Jordan for leading the way in assisting Iraq, as it seeks renewed engagement with its neighbors.  His Majesty was the first Arab head of state to visit the new Iraq.  And the deepening economic and diplomatic ties between Iraq and Jordan offer an example of the type of support needed, from other countries, to fully reintegrate Iraq into the region.  


         This is the only way to forge a stable and prosperous Iraq, a goal that is in the interest of all the nations of the Middle East. There are many difficult and daunting challenges facing us, from the continued threat of extremism to Iran's destabilizing behavior.  But I'm confident that the relationship between Jordan and the United States has a very bright future, one in which we will continue to build on our past long record of cooperation and accomplishment.  


         I'll be happy to take a few questions.  


         Q     Secretary Gates, your talks in Israel with Israeli officials tackled mostly Iran and its threats.  


         What guarantees do you have that Israel will not take any military action, against Iran, until the U.S. is engaged maybe in dialogue, until there is a breakthrough, when in fact you never got guarantees with regards -- Israel is not listening to your administration, with regards to halting settlements in -- on occupied land?  


             SEC. GATES:  I think that the -- I certainly had the sense from my meetings with the prime minister and defense minister in Israel today that they are perfectly willing to allow this process of attempted engagement to go forward.  They know, as President Obama has said, that this is not an open-ended process.  But I had every sense that -- that the Israeli government is prepared to let our strategy play out, in terms of trying to use a combination of diplomatic pressures, economic sanctions and -- and other peaceful means to try and get the Iranian government to change its mind in terms of its nuclear ambitions.


         One of the paths that we are following, obviously, is to try and persuade the Iranians that their security will be diminished by trying to acquire nuclear weapons, rather than enhanced.  And our bilateral and multilateral cooperation with nations all through the region is -- is one facet of the effort to lead them to that conclusion.  But I had the sense that as long as the process is not completely open-ended, that the Israelis were prepared to let it go forward.


         MODERATOR:  (Off mike.)


         Q     Could you tell us what the king's concerns and perspective was on this same subject, on the threat posed by Iran, and also, his perspective and concerns on the political situation in Iraq, as the U.S. presence is drawn down there?


         SEC. GATES:  I would -- I don't think it's appropriate for me to characterize what his majesty said.  I would characterize our discussion more as focused on the bilateral relationship between the United States and Jordan, and Jordan's leadership role in the peace process and a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.


         We talked about what they were doing in terms of trying to help Iraq and some of the other areas in which the king is exercising leadership here in the region.


         We talked very briefly about Iran, and it basically was to -- to share our, I think, agreement about the destabilizing nature of -- of Iranian activities.


         MODERATOR:  (Off mike.)


         Q     Hello.  My question is that --


         SEC. GATES:  Could you hold the microphone closer?


         Q     Sorry, it's not working?


         SEC. GATES:  Just hold it closer.


         MODERATOR:  (Off mike.)


         Q     (Off mike) -- it's agreed that settlements is the biggest obstacle on reaching a peace agreement.  So how far do you think that the United -- the U.S. administration will go in putting pressure on Israel to stop illegal settlements on the occupied land?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, this -- the peace negotiations -- the negotiations for a settlement -- a two-state settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is really the province of the Department of State and Senator Mitchell.  My message today was simply that the Department of Defense will do what it can to support those efforts, and particularly with respect to both sides in terms of if there's anything we can do to help enhance their security.  But the subject beyond that really was not discussed today.


         MODERATOR:  (Off mike.)


         Q     Mr. Secretary, the Israelis were talking earlier today about binding Chapter 7 sanctions against Iran if the early part of the engagement process does not work.  Does the U.S. support the notion of binding Chapter 7 sanctions?  And, if so, has the U.S. begun either crafting language -- specific language or trying to drum up support among its allies?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, again, the diplomatic side of that is -- I'm not quite sure what may be going on inside the State Department.  What is clear is that, if the engagement process is not successful, the United States is prepared to press for significant additional sanctions that would be non-incremental -- in other words, we would try and get international support for a much tougher position.  Our hope still remains that Iran will respond to the president's outstretched hand in a positive and constructive way, but we'll see.


         MODERATOR:  How about -- (off mike.)  Q     Secretary Clinton said recently the U.S. would consider establishing a defense umbrella in cooperation with allies in the Arab Gulf.  


        How much that would affect what Jordan gets in military assistance from the U.S.?  Thank you.


         SEC. GATES:  I'm sorry?


         Q     How much that would affect what Jordan gets in military assistance from the United States?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, I think an important step forward in our bilateral relationship between Jordan and the United States was the memorandum of understanding that was signed last year that put both our economic assistance and security assistance on a -- which, I might add, is quite generous -- on a longer-range and more predictable path.


         One of the concerns that had been expressed to us by the government of Jordan was the unpredictability of what the assistance might be.  The agreement that was reached last year provides for the next several years for Jordan to get I think, I think, $360 million a year in economic support funds and about $300 million in security assistance.  And I think whatever other bilateral or multilateral engagements the United States has in the region would not have any impact on that.


         MODERATOR:  (Off mike.)


         Q     Did you discuss with the king the plight of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan and things that the United States could do to speed their return and reintegration to Iraq?


         SEC. GATES:  No, we did not.  


         MODERATOR:  (Off mike.)  How about -- (off mike) -- from -- (off mike).


         Q     (Inaudible) -- hello.  What are the features of the Obama plan?  And do you know when they are going to launch this plan?


         SEC. GATES:  Sorry.  I didn't hear the question.  


         Q     Okay.  American plan, U.S. plan, Obama will launch a new plan to the area, the conflict between Israel and Palestine -- what are the features of this plan?


         SEC. GATES:  I apologize.  I didn't understand the question.  (Cross talk)


         MODERATOR:  Well, that's a State Department question.


         So let's try one last one here -- (off mike).  The gentleman -- (off mike).


         Q     (I'm here?) -- 


         MODERATOR:  This gentleman --


         Q     (I'm here -- please, sir, from Arabic?).  


         (In Arabic)


         MODERATOR:  Well -- (inaudible) -- one last U.S. question.  (Off mike)


         Q     Secretary, you mentioned discussions with Israel on Israel's interest in acquiring the F-35.


        But I understand that there are significant issues that Israel has raised before it's ready to sign a letter of offer and acceptance; specifically, having to do with Israeli-built electronic warfare suite, technology transfer, cost concerns.  Did you make any progress in your discussions in meeting Israeli concerns that will allow for them to move ahead with signing a contract?


         SEC. GATES:  Other than just noting it in -- as part of the bilateral relationship going forward, we really didn't discuss any specifics relating to it.  Clearly, our position is that all of the partner nations that are acquiring the F-35 along with us have essentially the same -- the same suite and the same maintenance structures.


         Q     Sir, one of the questions about the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is, is the United States genuine or is this just a plan on a piece of paper -- (off mike)?


         SEC. GATES:  No, the U.S. forces have withdrawn from Iraqi cities, as agreed in the security agreement.  They actually withdrew prior to the deadline of June 30th.  And I think that you probably saw here in Jordan the celebrations in Iraq, as they celebrated what they call their national sovereignty day.


         This is very real.  The United States is abiding by the terms of the agreement that we signed with the Iraqis, and we will continue to abide by that agreement.  And the reports that I get from General Odierno and others is that the implementation is going very well, as is the partnership between the U.S. forces and the Iraqi security forces.


         MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  


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