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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates February 09, 2007

Nato Press Conference with Secretary Gates at Seville, Spain

SEC. GATES: Good evening.

As I think you know, this is this my first NATO Defense ministers' meeting. I thought that the sessions today were quite good. All are in agreement that 2007 is a crucial year in Afghanistan. All agreed with Minister Wardak that the spring offensive in Afghanistan should be our offensive. We discussed NATO's strategy for this spring and going forward, which will focus on enhanced border operations, enabling the faster delivery of good governance and aid to the Afghan people, and accelerated training and equipment for the Afghan national security forces.

Today I reaffirmed our decision to extend for 120 days a brigade of U.S. forces, effectively doubling our current commitment of maneuver forces. And this comes on top of the United States' commitment over the next two years of $8.6 billion for the Afghan national defense forces and $2 billion for development.

Much of the discussion today focused on the need to ensure that security and development go hand in hand in a comprehensive approach.

On Kosovo, we agreed -- I made the point about the importance of moving forward to implement President Ahtisaari's proposals.

Tomorrow I will urge our colleagues in NATO to join us in strengthening their commitment to defense by increasing their budgets and deploying -- deployable forces. Seems to me that the lessons of the 21st century are already pretty clear. The world needs a strong NATO, and that will require investment and burden-sharing by all 26 members of the alliance.

Also had bilateral meetings with the secretary-general, the minister of Defense of Spain and minister of Defense of Russia.

Be happy to take some questions. Yeah?

Q Mr. Secretary, Iran today announced that -- (off mike) -- Iran on U.S. assets globally. How seriously do you take these threats or Iranian missile threats -- (off mike)?

SEC. GATES: Well, my impression is that they make threats like this from time to time. We have no intention of attacking Iran. The president said that. The secretary of State said it. I've said it before.

Obviously when it comes to things like these tests, we watch them closely. And other than that, I think it's just another day in the Persian Gulf.


Q Amir Rarav (ph) of Haaretz in Israel. Your national security strategy encompasses the concept or doctrine of pre-emption. If Iran is posing the danger of employing weapons of mass destruction against Israel, should Israel enjoy the benefit of a similar doctrine, in your view?

SEC. GATES: I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations.

Yes, sir.

Q I'm -- (name and affiliation inaudible). Sir, I would like to ask you if, as the new U.S. Defense secretary, you are not a little bit frustrated -- I explain -- for more NATO military chiefs are asking for more troops in Afghanistan. And the only answer you have got is coming from the U.S. So do you think it's a fair division of labor among allies? Or on the contrary, do you think it's a recipe for NATO's failure in Afghanistan?

SEC. GATES: Well, I don't think NATO's going to fail in Afghanistan. And the truth is I think the level of commitment from the members of the alliance actually is extraordinary. You have the first deployment outside of Europe of the alliance. All 26 countries in the alliance are playing some role. A number of nations made new commitments at Riga and agreed to look at lifting certain national caveats. A number of those caveats have been lifted. New commitments have been made. Some additional commitments were made today. So I think it's important to focus, actually, on the positive things that have been happening.

I was very clear in saying that I believe that nations should fulfill all of the commitments that they've made, and I hope that they will do so promptly so that they can have some impact during this spring offensive and in the next few months. And that pertains to both troops and development assistance; the two really have to go together.

And there was broad agreement on that in the meeting today.

I was in Afghanistan about three weeks ago, and I must say that I came away more optimistic about the prospects in Afghanistan than when I arrived there. Flying out from one of the forward observation bases near the Pakistani border, I was struck by the amount of new construction of buildings, roads and so on. So I think there's some real opportunities here, and I think that one of the reasons we're pushing as hard as we are is we have an opportunity this spring to significantly disrupt the increasing cycles of violence that we've seen over the last several years caused by the Taliban.

So I would say that I'm optimistic we're going to be successful, and I'm optimistic that this spring offensive will in fact be ours.


Q Mr. Secretary -- (off mike) -- General Craddock has made some very specific requests for what he believes he needs in Afghanistan. Could you give us a better understanding of the types of forces he thinks he needs, about how many and whether or not the commitments that you heard today will meet those and also whether the U.S. made any additional commitments even for equipment or troops beyond the extension?

SEC. GATES: We made no additional commitments from the U.S. beyond those that I had already made and those that I presented before the two Armed Services Committees in the last two days.

I think that the kinds of things that General Craddock has been interested in is more trainers, and there have been some commitments to provide more trainers. He also has some interest in the way that the forces are deployed. I don't think I want to get into that. But my impression is that he will have the flexibility to do that.

Yes, sir.

Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. A reading of your resume shows quite a bit of your career has been spent watching a country that was called the Soviet Union, so I'd be very interested in your impressions today of your first meeting with the Russian Defense minister. How would you characterize the U.S.-Russian relationship today, I ask, particularly in light when Foreign Minister Lavrov was in Washington just a week ago, he went out of his way to make clear the foreign policy differences with the United States, especially regarding the Middle East.

Did Mr. Ivanov stake out any positions that were that stark or somewhat politically polarizing?

Thank you.

SEC. GATES: Well, as we sat down, we commented on two old intelligence guys getting together.

We had a very candid conversation, a very useful one, I thought. He has invited me to visit Russia, and I agreed in principle to do that at a time to be determined. We do have differences, there's no question about that. But I think that having conversations like this and having a frank discussion about them is clearly the best way to go.

Yes, sir?

Q Eric Bakhal (ph), Maariv Daily, Tel Aviv. Mr. Secretary, in your Senate confirmation hearing you made a specific reference to Israel's nuclear capabilities. Have the Israelis raised the issue of their ambiguity concerning nuclear issues since those remarks?

Thank you.

SEC. GATES: No, they have not.

Yes, ma'am?

Q If I'm allowed --

SEC. GATES: The good news is, when I made that comment, I was a private citizen.

Q I'm sorry, if I am allowed -- (name inaudible) -- USA Defense News. The question is related to NATO image in most of the Muslim countries and Arab countries, which is most of the time related to the American foreign policy, and it's always Muslim -- (word inaudible) -- that we see in Iraq and Afghanistan or even in Palestine. Have you seen enough of these scenes? Isn't it time for NATO to have a real role in the Middle East and in Iraq?

Thank you.

SEC. GATES: I'm sorry, what was the last question?

Q Is it time for NATO to play a real role in Iraq and in the Middle East?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think we welcome any kind of a positive contribution in dealing with the problems in the Middle East. I think what people sometimes overlook is that NATO's operations in the Balkans were very much involved with protecting Muslims, among others. NATO played a significant role in providing relief in Pakistan after the earthquake. The Spanish, our hosts, played a significant role in that respect. So I think there are opportunities for NATO to play a constructive role, and I think have done so as the opportunities have presented themselves.

Yes, sir?

Q Mr. Secretary, the secretary-general said that there was consensus among the defense ministers today about the strategy for Afghanistan. But a question that was asked to him earlier, the German defense minister said that he didn't think it was right to talk more and more about military means.

He said when the Russians went into Afghanistan they had 100,000 troops and didn't win; we are liberators not occupiers. Is there a growing kind of chasm between some of the continental countries and the U.S.? Is that a helpful statement to what you're trying to achieve in Afghanistan?

SEC. GATES: No, I think I -- I don't know what -- you know, I haven't had an opportunity to talk to the German minister about his remarks, but frankly, I think a general theme today was the importance of a comprehensive approach in Afghanistan; that it's really important to accompany military action against the Taliban and others who are trying to bring down the Afghan government -- to combine that with strong economic development programs, better governance, dealing with the narcotics problem. So there are a lot of non-military challenges that go hand in hand with the military in terms of trying to build a strong and democratic Afghanistan.

So I think there was a good give and take among the ministers and there was focus on all of the different aspects of the problem -- counternarcotics, economic development and reconstruction, and the military side, as well.

Yes, sir?

Q Sir, may I ask why 2007 is crucial? We've seen offenses in previous springs as well. And also, how you will judge progress being made.

SEC. GATES: I think that the reason we feel that way is that each spring for the last several years, the Taliban have been more aggressive and there has been a growing level of violence. I think there is a consensus on the part of the ministers that it's important that this year we knock that back and bring the situation fully under control in the springtime to help the Afghan people have confidence that in fact their government is making progress and that they do have an improving security picture that in turn will allow for greater economic development. So I think it's really the sense that you've had a trend line the last several springs and the determination to reverse that trend line this spring.

Yes, sir?

Q (Name inaudible) -- German Television. The Germans just agreed to send six Tornadoes into the south of Afghanistan too. Do you think this is enough now, or should the Germans also send group troops in the south of Afghanistan?

SEC. GATES: Well, the Germans have significant presence in the north. I think that -- my view is that they're doing a good job. And we appreciate their commitment of the six tornadoes. So I think that they're participating fully.

STAFF: One more question.

SEC. GATES: Yes, sir?

Q Two, if I may. Martin de Retorto (sp) with El Pais from Spain. Today a high court in Spain has requested the American administration to provide the identities of the soldiers that were manning the tank that attacked in a hotel in 2003 in Baghdad, in which one Spanish journalist was killed. Is the government prepared to provide these identities to the Spanish judicial system?

And the second question is in relation with your interview with the Spanish minister of Defense, your colleague. NATO was expecting more from Spain in this occasion, providing more soldiers and being more cooperative in this campaign against the Taliban. What was the tenor of your conversation with Minister Alonso? Are you satisfied with what Spain is doing? Thank you very much.

SEC. GATES: First of all, I -- the first matter is one that goes back several years. In my relatively short time in office, I haven't had an opportunity to become familiar with it, and I would rather not provide an answer off the cuff on a legal matter.

I thought -- I was very pleased with the meeting with the minister today. I think Spain is doing a good job, and I'm satisfied with the Spanish are doing. I think they're pulling their weight.

We all have commitments. We all have to ensure that we have domestic support for our policies. And frankly, I thought the tone of our meeting was very positive, and I look forward to working with the minister in the future.

Thank you.


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