SEC. GATES: Before signing these documents, the minister and I would like to make a few comments. I've been happy to welcome Minister Juppé this morning for his first visit to the Pentagon as defense minister. We've just finished a very productive set of discussions covering a broad range of our long-standing defense cooperation, including bringing lasting stability to Afghanistan, reforming NATO, containing Iran's illegal nuclear ambitions, defeating international terrorism and addressing the serious situation in Egypt.
Today, the minister and I sign a bilateral statement of principles on space situational awareness that will go a long way to addressing one of the key security challenges of the 21st century. As the new national security space strategy puts it, space is becoming increasingly congested, contested and competitive. A growing number of nations are using space for an expanding variety of purposes, manned spacecraft, satellites, the International Space Station and more, increasing the odds of accidental collisions.
At the same time, space-based technologies underpin many essential civilian and defense capabilities, precision navigation, climate monitoring, secure communications and natural disaster warnings. Space situational awareness agreements like this one help us mitigate these and other risks by sharing information and pooling our varied capabilities. This arrangement will foster safety and reduce the chances of mishaps, misperceptions and mistrust. Such cooperation is a key aspect of the national security space strategy.
It is appropriate that France, the United States' first defense ally, has once again chosen to join us in this endeavor. Last evening, I had the pleasure of hosting Minister Juppé along with other French and U.S. officials for dinner at a tavern where Secretary of State John Quincy Adams played host to General Lafayette in 1824. Two centuries later, France remains our strong and valued partner on the global stage. We're grateful now, as ever, for their support and their friendship.
MIN. JUPPÉ: Thank you. Let me first thank Robert Gates for his warm welcome, the quality and the density of our conversations during this first working meeting, which focused mainly on our bilateral relation in terms of defense and security.
I want to emphasize the high level of confidence in this relation both at the level of the political dialogue and in the military cooperation between our two countries, which allows a closer cooperation, including in the most strategic domains like space. Secretary Gates and myself, signing a declaration of principles, laying the principles of a new and ambitious partnership in terms of space situational awareness is a symbol of this will to cooperate.
Signing such an agreement between the USA and another NATO country is a first. Through all our space capabilities, France is a reliable partner. In a mutual interest, our two countries have decided to reinforce their defense-space cooperation in order to safeguard access and use of space with a peaceful end in view.
I want to underline from this will to build common approaches with the U.S. on major common security stakes -- Afghanistan, the reform of NATO, Iran and proliferation, counterterrorism.
Despite budget constraints, we want to express a will to safeguard the operational capability of our armed forces and remain a credible ally for the USA at a moment when the balance in this world is changing. This is a sense of the thorough reform of our defense tool initiated at the national level. This is also the sense of the unprecedented bilateral cooperation that we have initiated with the United Kingdom. We want this cooperation to be an example for our other European partners.
Finally, this is why we are offering our European Union partners to boost European defense, pool our resources, our skills and our capacities to reinforce the global efficiency of the European defense effort in the context of budget constraint.
I appreciate very much, Mr. Secretary, our wonderful dinner yesterday evening in a very elegant place. And we served prestigious predecessors; I am here after Lafayette -- (laughter) -- and for me, it's a very great honor. Thank you very much.
(The agreement is signed.)
STAFF: We have time, I think, for a couple of questions. Why don't we go to our French friends first. Agence France-Presse, is Matthew here?
STAFF: Please, speak up. I know that you can be seen.
Q: Yeah. I'll ask my question in French if you change my mic volume. (Laughter.) Sorry. (Through interpreter.) After the events in Tunisia, Egypt is now facing a crisis that threatens the regime of President Mubarak. I wonder if France and the United States have been consulting each other about what to do and what may happen to this country and how to react to the situation in Egypt.
MIN. JUPPÉ: (Through interpreter.) Of course, we've talked to each other about the situation in Egypt, in Tunisia and on the southern bank of the Mediterranean because it's something that concerns us.
We of course are -- our analysis, our views of the situation are very similar between the two countries. French of course is for democracy to come to these two countries with free and fair elections because free and fair elections are the basis for a democratic regime. We hope that the process will take place without violence and as soon as possible.
Q: (Through interpreter.) Mr. Minister, in view of the situation, the revolutions that we have seen in Tunisia, in Egypt, those will give way to a political system in the Middle East that -- it will be very different from what we have seen in the last many years.
MIN. JUPPÉ: (Through interpreter.) Of course, first of all, it's up to the peoples of the two countries to decide about that. Of course, Tunisians -- the people of Tunisia have been a friend of the French people for a long time, the people of Egypt the same thing. So we are ready to support whatever decision they make.
Of course, we must look at all this with a clear mind. We know that one of the trademarks of authoritarian regimes is that they prevent the opposition to express their views. One of the first things is for of course the opposition force to get organized.
Many of the leaders of those countries for a long time have been telling us it's either them in place or Islamic chaos. We now have to bet on democratic forces that will emerge and will not confiscate democracy in favor of other things after elections, as unfortunately has happened elsewhere. And I think that this betting must be taken.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
STAFF: To the Associated Press. Pauline?
Q: (Off mic.) The U.S. administration --
STAFF: Speak up, Pauline, please.
Q: (Off mic) -- the U.S. administration is backing away from the Egyptian protesters' demands for an immediate departure of President Mubarak, which appears to leave the protesters in some jeopardy hanging out in the streets.
Mr. Minister, Mr. Secretary, if you could both answer, what role do you want the Egyptian security forces to play vis-a-vis the protesters? And do you have assurances from your counterpart that that will happen?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think that the Egyptian military has conducted itself in an exemplary fashion during this entire episode. And they have acted with great restraint. And frankly, they have done everything that we have indicated we would hope that they would do. So I would -- I would say that they have made a contribution to the evolution of democracy and what we're seeing in Egypt.
I think that what is important, as Secretary Clinton has pointed out, is for there to be an orderly transition. But it's -- it needs to be a transition that continues to move forward and a transition where people can see a steady pace in implementing the number of reforms that have been announced and to which the Egyptian government has committed. So continuing to move forward with this and fulfill the promises that have been made, I think, is quite critical.
MIN. JUPPÉ: (Through interpreter.) I have very little to add to this. We have said before, we -- the important thing is that there is a transition towards democracy. We have mentioned that the timeline for this transition must be decided and worked out among the forces at play. But the important thing is to advance, as was said before, towards democracy.
STAFF: And in the interest of fairness, one more question from the French press. Would the French press please speak up?
Q: Yes. Mr. Secretary, do you fear here the domino effect in this part of the world? And at one point, if chaos is still there, will the military intervene to restore democracy?
SEC. GATES: Well, what we have seen take place in Tunisia and in Egypt is a spontaneous manifestation of discontent on the part of people who feel -- who have both economic and political grievances. We have known about these grievances for a long time. And we have spoken to a number of governments in the region over time about the need to address these concerns.
And so my hope would be that other governments in the region, seeing this spontaneous action in both Tunisia and in Egypt, will take measures to begin moving in a positive direction toward addressing the political and economic grievances of their people. In this way, it seems to me, we can have, as -- again, as Secretary Clinton would put it, an orderly transition to greater democracy and, frankly, to address the economic problems that exist in many countries, particularly those that face what we call the youth bulge, that have very large parts of their population between the ages of 15 and 35, often people with educations, who can't find jobs. Addressing these concerns, I think, is very important.
STAFF: Thank you all.