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American Forces Press Service

Gates Talks Intel, Russian Relations, Kosovo at NATO Meetings

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

SEVILLE, Spain, Feb. 9, 2007 – As a second day of informal NATO meetings unfolded here today, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters traveling with him that his former career with the Central Intelligence Agency was attracting other former intelligence officers.

“Several of the delegates have come up to me and quietly acknowledged that they too have once been in the intelligence business. I’m beginning to think we could have a convention,” he quipped. “I guess there is life after intelligence careers.”

With about seven weeks under his belt as defense secretary, Gates is attending his first NATO meeting here. After several morning sessions, he opened his briefing for Washington-based media talking about his recent “intel” encounters.

Intel surfaced again when a reporter asked about the DoD inspector general’s report on a former top Pentagon official providing reports “of dubious quality or reliability.” Although the secretary said he had not yet seen the report, nor had he been in Washington at the time, he spoke of his philosophy on intelligence.

“Based on my whole career,” Gates said, “I would just tell you that I believe that all intelligence activities need to be carried on through the established institutions and where there is appropriate oversight. If intelligence isn’t accurate, then changes need to be made in those institutions to improve the intelligence.”

Getting back to the NATO agenda, the secretary said the NATO ministers had met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and talked about a variety of issues, including European missile defense.

The United States is planning to base missile defense assets in Eastern Europe that will be aimed at countering threats posed by rogue nations such as Iran. Defense officials said the system will not pose a threat to allies in the region. The Defense Department announced Jan. 19 that it was beginning bilateral negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic to host long-range ground-based interceptors and a missile defense radar on their territories.

“We’ve made it quite clear to (the Russians) that it’s not directed at them,” Gates said. “In fact, the deputy prime minister of India acknowledged that it posed no threat to Russia or to its strategic deterrent. I think there’s an understanding of that.”

Ivanov, however, said his nation objects to the U.S. plans. "Any expert can prove the flight trajectory of the missile will be very far from the Czech Republic and Poland, so what is the real intention of these activities?," he said at a news conference after meeting with NATO ministers.

A senior defense official traveling with Gates said Ivanov supports the NATO mission in Afghanistan and that the Russian minister was very forward-leaning on cooperating on counternarcotics activities in Afghanistan. The ministers also talked of Russia’s participation in Operation Active Endeavor, the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, and operations in Afghanistan, Gates said.

Ivanov said the Russian government is committed to ensuring the State Duma, the Russian parliament, ratifies the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, a senior U.S. defense official said. Ratification will allow NATO and Russian forces to participate in Partnership for Peace and other exercises on Russian soil.

The informal NATO defense ministerial agenda also included talks on restructuring the alliance, transformation and operations in Kosovo. “We talked about restructuring NATO itself in terms of making it more efficient and more attuned to a post-Cold War world,” Gates said.

A key theme during the discussion on transformation was a lesson the allies have learned in Afghanistan: “There is a need for a mix of economic development and reconstruction along with military operations,” Gates said.

On Kosovo, Gates said, the allies are in agreement that they need to move forward under the umbrella of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244. Currently, NATO is leading some 16,000 international forces in the region.

The NATO-led peacekeeping force, known as KFOR, deployed in the wake of a 78-day air campaign in 1999 that NATO launched to halt the humanitarian catastrophe then unfolding in Kosovo. The campaign followed more than a year of fighting in the province and the failure of international efforts to resolve the conflict by diplomatic means.

NATO officials believe there is a continued need for a robust military presence in Kosovo as U.N.-led talks on the future status of Kosovo take place and KFOR phases out. The alliance has promised to support the security provisions of any final settlement.

The European Union Council has initiated planning to ensure a smooth transition between selected tasks of the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. Plans call for a “European Security and Defense Policy” mission involving about 1,300 police and judges who would help provide rule of law. ESDP oversees military and security issues and missions within the European Union.

“My own view is that it would be important to keep the U.N. mission in Kosovo Force level pretty much where it is as the European Union police activity builds up, so that you’d have a little greater strength for a period of time and then you could begin to draw down,” Gates said.

“KFOR will be there for awhile after the transition,” he continued. “I think we’re all agreed on that. We obviously would like to draw down as quickly as possible, but I told our NATO allies that we’re prepared to stay for a few months to make sure everything is headed in the right direction.”

The secretary’s next stop in Europe is at the 43rd Munich Conference for Security Policy, where he will address about 200 international defense and government officials. Gates said he was looking forward to attending the annual conference.

“It’s useful for me, especially being fairly new back in this environment, just to hear firsthand from our allies and from others their perspective on what’s going on around the world, and the issues that they have,” he said.

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