Joint Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and French Minister of Defense Herve Morin
(Note: Minister Morin's remarks are provided through an interpreter.)
SEC. GATES: It's a pleasure to be back in Paris and have the opportunity to talk with one of our closest partners. Minister Morin and I just finished a good in-depth conversation about many aspects of our relationship. And I look forward to meeting Foreign Minister Kouchner later this afternoon and then President Sarkozy, for the first time, this evening to continue these discussions.
Over the past two years, the bilateral relationship between the United States and France has significantly expanded, a welcome time -- a welcome change from times in the past, when we did not have such a productive dialogue.
I think this warming is in part due to the realization, by both of our governments, that the security challenges of the 21st century are too large and to complex to be dealt with by any single nation acting alone. In that respect, France's decision to rejoin the NATO integrated military structure last year, after more than four decades, marked an important step for the alliance, as it adapts to new threats in a new century.
Whether the issue is NATO and the need for reform or the danger posed by Iran, France has demonstrated real and principled leadership on the global stage. That is particularly true in Afghanistan. I told Minister Morin and will also tell President Sarkozy how much the United States appreciates France's contribution to the war effort.
Since this conflict began, thousands of French troops have served courageously alongside American forces and other members of the coalition. And many have made the ultimate sacrifice for a mission that is vitally important to the security of the whole world.
In particular, we had a good discussion about the importance of the training mission and the need to prepare the Afghan national security forces to assume security responsibility across the country.
That will only happen if the coalition provides Afghanistan with additional trainers and mentors, who can make an immediate difference. As General McChrystal said a few days ago, he no longer believes the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. We must act swiftly to increase the impact of the forces now headed to the theater for this pivotal year.
I first met Minister Morin two-and-a-half years ago, when we had the opportunity to pay tribute to the Allied troops who fell on the beaches of Normandy. That event was a reminder of the shared sacrifices and values that continue to undermine this relationship -- underpin this relationship today.
Minister Morin, Herve, thank you for your personal as well as professional friendship.
STAFF: (In French.)
Q (In French.)
MIN. MORIN: (In French.)
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I agree with everything Minister Morin just said. The reality is that the international community in recent months has offered Iran multiple opportunities to provide reassurance about its intentions with respect to its nuclear program.
No U.S. president has reached out more sincerely and, frankly, taken more political risk in an effort to try and create an opening for engagement with Iran and the Iranians' willingness to negotiate an end to their nuclear program.
All of these initiatives have been rejected, and we've heard more about that just this week, including the IAEA's proposal for the Tehran research reactor, which I think all of us believed offered promise. Now, the reality is, from the beginning, the P-5 plus one has had a dual track. One -- the first track was to reach out, try and reach negotiated solutions to this that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon while at the same time allowing it a safeguarded, peaceful civil nuclear program, in conformity with the nonproliferation treaty. But the second track was to turn to pressure if this didn't work.
We must still try to find a peaceful way to resolve this issue. The only path that's left to us at this point, it seems to me, is that pressure track. But it will require all of the international community to work together to try and bring enough pressure. The point of the pressure is to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table and to resolve this issue in a way that prevents Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And I think that we are very much agreed that action by the international community, it looks like, is now the next step.
Q Mr. Gates, you said yesterday it was a miracle that Europe had contributed 50,000 troops to the effort in Afghanistan. What accounts for that miracle? And are you concerned that Europeans -- (off mike) -- continue to support such a large contingent for the time necessary to make progress?
And Monsieur Morin, you are now at a third of your capacity for sending forces overseas. So why is it that France is only sending 80 additional trainers? Why did that take so long to reach that decision? And might you send more in the months to come?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think that there has certainly been renewed energy on the part of NATO since the summit meeting at Strasbourg/Kehl. Everybody that I know associated with this, including those of us who have served multiple U.S. administrations, have seen a renewed energy and a renewed commitment on the part of our NATO allies and our non-NATO contributing countries. So there has been a significant increase in these numbers just since last April.
But the reality is there has been a steady increase in the three years that I've been on this -- in this job. When I first arrived, the first year I was here, there were about 17,000 troops from partnering and allied nations, and now we have almost three times that. And I think it is due to an understanding, a greater understanding of the risks posed by Taliban success, again, in Afghanistan, that we're all threatened by this.
And I would say that what has been key -- and I was once accused by one of my colleagues, the first year I was on this job, of megaphone diplomacy in terms of trying to get countries to send more troops. So I decided to be quiet, and the results -- (chuckles) -- speak for themselves.
And I would just say, on behalf of my friend, it's important also to maintain some perspective. Just within the last year or so France has increased its forces in Afghanistan by a third to a half and taken on new responsibilities in the theater. They have a number of trainers. The gendarmes are doing police training. They sponsor six operational mentoring and liaison teams. So we have a great partnership with France in this effort in Afghanistan, and look forward continuing that.
MIN. MORIN: (In French.)
Q Yes. Isabelle Le San (sp) from Le Figaro. Coming back to Iran, which guarantees do you have that Israel's not going to launch a strike against Iran in case the negotiations fail?
SEC. GATES: I'm sorry. Would you repeat the question?
Q Okay. Going back to Iran, which guarantees do you have that Israel is not going to launch a strike against Iran in case the negotiations fail?
(Pause for translations, off-mike conferral.)
SEC. GATES: I think that --
MIN. MORIN (?): (In English.) I have a new job. (Laughter.)
SEC. GATES: I think that everybody's interest is in seeing this issue resolved without a resort to conflict. But it makes it all the more important. You know, we have to -- we have to face the reality that if Iran continues and develops nuclear weapons, it almost certainly will provoke nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. This is a huge danger.
The key is persuading the Iranian leaders that their long-term best interests are best served by not having nuclear weapons, as opposed to having them. And so I think that an approach along these lines -- as long as the international community is seen pressing vigorously to resolve this problem, my hope is that we can -- we will then be able to keep this in and economic and diplomatic channels.
STAFF: (Inaudible) -- the last question.
Q (In French.)
SEC. GATES: Well, I can answer his question. The answer is, yes, we did discuss it. (Laughter.) And I think I would just say that we had a good and thorough exchange of views on it. And I'll just leave it at that. (Laughter.)
MIN. MORIN: (In French.)
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