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Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
July 27, 2009

         MODERATOR:  Good morning.  We will have our short press conference.  


         Minister Barak and Secretary Gates will both now give short statements followed by brief questions, two questions from Israel side and two from the U.S. side.


         Minister Barak, please.


         MIN. BARAK:  I welcome the visit to Israel by an old friend, Secretary Bob Gates.  You are most welcome here. 


         We had a good, extensive discussion.  We covered a range of strategic and security issues, including the challenges and threats to Middle East security and stability being caused by -- (inaudible) -- relationship between our defense establishment and the developments with the -- (inaudible). 


         The U.S. and Israel have a long history of a very close relationship.  There are common values of friendship and cooperation.   And we highly appreciate the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel and to achieve this -- (inaudible).


         We also discussed the prospects of regional issues with the Middle East and the need to shape a structure for regional security arrangements when the time comes.  And I expressed to the Secretary our top -- (inaudible) -- for the peace process and ending up with security and defense issues -- (inaudible) -- the big -- the top priority for everyone.  But that will take time.  


         Of course, the continuing Iran nuclear program is a central issue in our minds still and we -- and we do welcome a -- (inaudible) -- coordinated international effort to try to block this nuclear, military program.  We have -- worried that the continuation of the nuclear Iran could destabilize the whole region and -- (inaudible) -- world order.  And Israel remains in its basic position that no options should be removed from the table in spite of the fact that at this stage priority should be given still -- (inaudible) --  sanctions. And I take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the friendship shown by the United States of America and to you, Mr. Secretary both in the previous and the present administration.


         And we are looking forward to more open discussion in the future to -- (inaudible) -- and more stable and peaceful region.


         Thank you very much.


         MODERATOR:  Secretary Gates.


         SEC. GATES:  Let me start by thanking Prime Minister Netanyahu whom I look forward to meeting with shortly, and my old friend, Minister Barak for hosting.


         It is wonderful to be back in Israel after an absence of more than two years.  During that period, Minister Barak has visited Washington a number of times.  So it's a pleasure to finally be able to reciprocate with this trip.  


         We had a good meeting, during which I reaffirmed the strong commitment of the United States to the security of Israel.  As President Obama said in Cairo last month, our bond is unbreakable.  We also discussed the regional security challenges we both face from terrorism to the threat posed by Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.


         As part of our steadfast support for Israel, the United States continues to provide a robust, annual military assistance package.  We are contributing both financial and technical assistance to strengthen Israel's defense against the growing threat posed by rockets and missiles.  And we will continue to ensure that Israel has the most advanced weapons for its national defense.   One example is our ongoing discussion of the Joint Strike Fighter program.  Of course, achieving long-term security for Israel is ultimately dependent on a sustainable, comprehensive Middle East peace.  The goal is vitally important for regional stability.  


         To help move the process forward, we will continue to address further Israeli security requirements to make a two state solution possible.  


         I'm encouraged that all parties share the vision of two states and I'm further encouraged by Special Envoy Mitchell's efforts to bring everyone together.  While we know that forging a lasting peace will not be quick or easy, we also know that peace is in the interest of all countries in the region.  That it is the only way that Israelis and Palestinians alike can enjoy the safety and security they deserve.


         Minister Barak, let me thank you again for your warm welcome, for your valuable insights and for your longstanding friendship with the United States.


         MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We will now have four questions.  I want to remind you that we are short in time.  So one question -- (inaudible)


         Q       Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, you've previously spoken about the potential of a military strike on Iran.  (Inaudible) -- in terms of a disaster -- I want to ask you, sir, what do you consider to be more of a disaster, a nuclear-armed Iran or -- (inaudible) -- to strike these facilities?


         SEC. GATES:  Well, there's no question that as Minister Barak said a nuclear-armed Iran would be profoundly destabilizing to the entire region and a threat to, certainly, to Israel and a threat to the United States and other states as well.


         I think we are in full agreement on the negative consequences of Iran obtaining this kind of capability.  I think we also agree that it is important to take every opportunity to try and persuade the Iranians to reconsider what is actually in their own security interests.  And we're in the process of doing that, both in terms of the president's offer to engage with the Iranians, but also through sanctions to impose costs on for pursuing that course.


         The other thing that we agreed is that the president's offer is not open ended.  And we will deal with the situation at that time.  


         Q       (Off mike) -- Associated Press  


         Q       Mr. Minister, is the United States asking you to put your nation at risk if you hold back on a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities?


         MIN. BARAK:  I'm not sure if I fully understand. 


Q       Is the United States asking you to place your nation at risk if you hold back on a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities?  And Secretary Gates, how long is it appropriate to ask Israel to be patient?


         MIN. BARAK:  May I answer first?  I don't think that it makes any sense at this stage to talk about -- (inaudible).  Our position is very clear -- (inaudible) -- we are in no position to tell the administration whether to -- (inaudible) -- engagement with Iran or not.  But if there is an engagement, we believe it should be short in time -- (inaudible) -- followed by sanctions -- (inaudible).  It won't take too much time to verify whether Iran is trying to keep -- (inaudible).  And we clearly believe that no options should be removed from the table.  This is our policy.  We mean it.  We recommend to others to take the same position.  But we cannot dictate it to anyone. 


         SEC. GATES:  I'd say that as I said earlier, the president has been quite clear that this is not an open ended offer to engage. We're very mindful of the possibility that the Iranians would simply try to run out the clock.  I think that the president is certainly anticipating or hoping for some kind of a response this fall, perhaps, by the time of the U.N. General Assembly.


               MODERATOR:  (Off mike.)


         Q     (Inaudible) -- President Obama said in November, the end of the year -- (inaudible) -- in light of what's happening in Iran now, the rapid progress in the development of long-range missiles.  Would it be something to consider -- (inaudible) -- the timetable the president has set?


         SEC. GATES:  I think based on the information that's available to us that the timetable that the president has laid out still seems to be viable and does not significantly increase the risks of -- (inaudible).  


         MIN. BARAK:  (Speaking in Hebrew.)  


         Q      -- (inaudible) -- looking forward to serious results.  We were expecting more serious sanctions -- (inaudible) -- Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter -- (inaudible).


         MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Last question, Elizabeth Yu, New York Times


         Q     This past week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about a defense umbrella over the Middle East.  What shape would that really take and would it be a nuclear defense pact along the lines of what we have with South Korea, Japan.


         SEC. GATES:  Well, there are a number of paths that we are following an effort to try and get the Iranian government to reconsider what appears to be its intent to develop nuclear weapons, the economic sanctions that Minister Barak spoke of are clearly one of those paths.


         Another path on the diplomatic and security side is trying to persuade the Iranians that their own security interests are diminished by their policies, not enhanced.  And that their security actually -- they would be better off without a nuclear weapons program, partly because it would be destabilizing, partly because it might set off an arms race in the Middle East.  But also through our efforts to further develop our bilateral and multilateral security relationships with our    friends and allies in the region that we've been working on for the last two years or so in terms of maritime surveillance and air and -- (inaudible) -- defense and missile defense, capabilities in the region, the additional capabilities we put in the region for missile defense.  


         But the work that we are doing with a number of Gulf states in trying to enhance their security and our mutual security are part of the umbrella -- (inaudible).


         MIN. BARAK:  I did read the Secretary's speech.  I can just say that -- (inaudible) -- clearly prefer to defend ourselves on our own. We are extremely central to the American administration -- (inaudible) -- continued and consistent support, financial and technological -- (inaudible) -- with the best tools to do the job.  And I think that, therefore, basically, we are not blind to the fact that whatever we are doing can have implications for neighbors -- (inaudible) -- take into account.  And of course it's very good to always know that the United States of America, the leader of the free world, the most powerful nation on the Earth.  It is standing on the side of the good -- (inaudible).


         Q     (Off mike)


         MIN. BARAK:  (Speaking in Hebrew.)


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