U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
|Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates||April 23, 2007|
SECRETARY GATES: I had excellent meetings today with President Putin, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov, and Minister of Defense Serdyukov. We discussed a wide range of topics today. The focus obviously was on missile defense. We spent virtually all of the time in my meeting with Minister Serdyukov on this subject. We agreed that a bilateral working group of experts will address technical details and questions of the proposed sites, and also Russian concerns that current proposed sites and designs might someday take on different and larger form. I think we are beginning to get down to specific issues of concern to Russia. I believe the experts can both clear up any misunderstandings as well as address the Russians’ concerns. President Bush has said all along that he wants to approach this issue transparently and cooperatively both with the Russians and with the Europeans. That’s the reason that I am here in Moscow. I will be going on to Poland and Germany from here.
In the meeting with President Putin, we discussed the overall relationship. I noted that I had come here as Director of CIA at the invitation of Russian intelligence services in 1992 to establish a new way forward at the end of the Cold War. And we established a foundation for cooperation on counter narcotics, counterterrorism, and non-proliferation. Subjects which clearly still remain at the top of the agenda. In the interval, a robust military-to-military relationship has developed. We discussed opportunities for future cooperation as well as current issues between us. While President Putin voiced some of his concerns, I must say I felt very welcome. The meeting was business-like, and had a very positive tone. I was very pleased with the meeting. The President received me very cordially, and I expressed appreciation to him for extending the invitation for me to come. I will be happy to take some questions.
QUESTION: Did you make any progress on Missile defense?
SECRETARY GATES: I don’t want to speak for them. I felt, as a result of the meetings, and I think the others from our side who were with me, felt we made some real headway in clearing up some misunderstandings about the technical characteristics of the system that are of concern to the Russians. There was a feeling that the working group of experts actually could make some serious headway. I came away from the meeting cautiously optimistic.
QUESTION: (Follow up) The Minister of Defense’s statement?
SECRETARY GATES: I had the impression, frankly, that that statement was prepared before the meeting. There was a good atmosphere in the meeting. While we were waiting to meet with the press, there were a number of side conversations going on among the experts – senior Russian military officers and our experts – that even went beyond some of the discussions at the table. I don’t want to put words in their mouths, and I don’t want to characterize this more optimistically than perhaps is warranted, but I felt that it was a useful meeting and I felt like we made some headway.
QUESTION: What were the main concerns you felt you were able to allay?
SECRETARY GATES: There are some misunderstandings about some of the technical characteristics of the radar that will be involved, about the interceptors, about their capabilities and so on. Those are the kinds of things that we can clarify.
QUESTION: Were the main concerns technical or political?
SECRETARY GATES: They didn’t say that. One of their concerns that emerged today, and I alluded to it in my introductory remarks, was the current design in the current ten interceptors, they acknowledge are probably not a threat to Russia in any way. One of the concerns that we are going to have to address and work with them on over time is their concern that some day in the future, at some distant point a few years from now, the character of these sites might change and in fact become a greater concern in terms of Russian strategic security. Those are issues that we can address.
QUESTION: (Follow up) How can you convince the Russians?
SECRETARY GATES: That’s what the negotiation would be about.
SECRETARY GATES: That is exactly the kind of thing that we’ll be talking about at the experts meeting, and as we go forward.
QUESTION: Did you discuss the rollback of freedoms with President Putin?
SECRETARY GATES: No, it didn’t come up.
QUESTION: Did you discuss real steps for cooperation on missile defense?
SECRETARY GATES: Yes. Among other things we invited them to inspect the interceptor site in Alaska. We invited them to visit a radar site that’s similar to the one that we are contemplating that is now in California. The key to this is cooperation. We would like to have the Russians as partners in this process. We would like to share information with them. We are prepared to co-locate radars with them. We think that there are some real opportunities here for both sides and I think that that there are some opportunities. That involves, as I quoted the President, a great deal of transparency on our part, and we are prepared to do that.
QUESTION: The U.S. has offered the Russians missile defense cooperation in the past. Why do you think this time will be different?
SECRETARY GATES: I’m not sure what was offered in the past. That there is general agreement based on the experts that I’ve talked to, that the list of possible areas of cooperation that was provided to the Russians and to NATO last week went well beyond anything that anybody had seen before in terms of its detail and the scope of what we were talking about. That may provide a better basis.
QUESTION: Did you discuss the Iranian threat and reach agreement?
SECRETARY GATES: I think the Russians are skeptical that the Iranians will have a ballistic missile that has intercontinental range or the range to hit targets in Western Europe in the foreseeable future. What I expressed to both Minister Serdyukov and to President Putin, was that we needed to look at this strategically and that we needed to look ten to twenty years out. Based on my own experience in the intelligence world, anyone who would argue that Iran and other countries in the Middle East might not have missiles of that kind of range and capability would be making a very risky assessment.
QUESTION: Did you raise missile sales and arms sales to Iran?
SECRETARY GATES: No.
QUESTION: Trident conversion?
SECRETARY GATES: It came up briefly but was not particularly an issue.
QUESTION: (Follow up)(inaudible)
SECRETARY GATES: I think it is still on our agenda, absolutely.
QUESTION: Russians, arms control treaties, INF withdrawal discussed?
SECRETARY GATES: Neither Minster Serdyukov nor President Putin mentioned the INF treaty. There was some passing discussion, passing mention actually, of a follow-on agreement to START, but it literally was at the end of the meeting with Minister Serdyukov where he said there are these other subjects we haven’t really covered and he mentioned that, and literally, that was about all he said about it.
QUESTION: Beyond their technical objections, did you get the feeling that the Russians don’t like American bases so close to the Former Soviet Union?
SECRETARY GATES: I think that frankly the only context in which Bases were mentioned as a concern was when President Putin raised his concern about the forward bases the United States had reached agreement on with Romania and Bulgaria, that really had nothing to do with missile defense at all, I think there really is a concern about that.
QUESTION: Did you discuss the possibility of placing a radar in the Caucasus?
SECRETARY GATES: No, we didn’t get into any specifics along those lines
QUESTION: Did the President’s Munich speech come up at all?
SECRETARY GATES: No, we didn’t discuss that at all. I would just note that literally upon finishing the speech and leaving the podium in Munich, President Putin came directly to where I was sitting and invited me to Russia.
QUESTION: Did you have any personal chemistry with President Putin?
SECRETARY GATES: (Inaudible) about our former careers? No.
QUESTION: Clearly the Russians don’t believe Iran to be a threat?
SECRETARY GATES: I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s the case. I think they think that ballistic missiles of the intercontinental range are not likely in the foreseeable future from Iran. I think that they share some of our concerns about Iran, and Iran’s nuclear programs and where they’re headed, and I think that’s one of the reasons the Russians have played such a constructive role with the UN and had their own more difficult moments with Iran more recently.
QUESTION: (Follow up) Missile sales to Iran?
SECRETARY GATES: I don’t know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Iraq, General Petraeus report?
SECRETARY GATES: I think that’s the exact word I used in a press conference in Baghdad, as a matter of fact, that the results were “mixed.” There have been some positive developments: the number of targeted assassinations, as I recall, is down dramatically, but the number of deaths from the Vehicle born IEDs is up substantially. The one area of relatively unalloyed good news is in Al-Anbar province where there has been significant progress despite, unfortunately, the assassination of the city council chairman yesterday or the day before.
QUESTION: Did you discuss the possibility of a new strategic forces agreement with Minister Serdyukov?
SECRETARY GATES: As I indicated, the subject of a follow-on strategic arms agreement was really just mentioned in passing. We really didn’t discuss it at all. As somebody who participated in the negotiation of SALT-I and the first START agreement in the early 1970s, the prospect of a negotiation that lasts six years doesn’t fill me with warmth in trying to do something about the follow-on. There are probably opportunities for greater transparency, for carrying on some of the measures that provide reassurance to both sides, but frankly the United States’ position at this point is that a legally binding agreement that we have to negotiate and then has to be submitted to our Senate and the Russian Duma is something that would probably take years to develop and we think that something might be able to be done in a less formal way in the shorter term that meets the needs of both sides.
QUESTION: Is there a possibility that the U.S. will not locate ABM facilities in Azerbaijan?
SECRETARY GATES: We haven’t decided on anything. I haven’t heard a proposal to locate facilities in Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: Why doesn’t the U.S. want to ratify the new version of the CFE treaty?
SECRETARY GATES: The CFE treaty came into force and was then revised in Istanbul in 1999 when I was out of government, and I confess I am no expert on it. My understanding is that the Western countries have not ratified the agreement because Russia has not fulfilled its obligations in Georgia and Moldova. In particular I would say in Moldova. President Putin discussed the CFE Treaty at some length today, and the concerns he has about CFE Treaty, and what he regards as the unfair limitations that it imposes on Russia, and I listened.
QUESTION: Did Sergey Ivanov raise the INF treaty? Do you think they are serious about pulling out of the INF treaty?
SECRETARY GATES: Mister Ivanov raised it in Seville, and he raised it today. I have the impression that, first of all, it has nothing to do with the developments in Western Europe or the ballistic missile sites. There is a concern about the development of threats to the South of Russia, to the point of whether Russians saw Iran as a potential security problem. I think they see it as possibly in their interest to deploy some medium range ballistic missiles in the South. Whether they do that, whether they walk away from the treaty, personally I got the impression that it would not be anytime soon. That it might be years, in fact.
QUESTION: Did you discuss the threat from the East or the South?
SECRETARY GATES: It was principally from the South. They are also mindful of North Korea.
QUESTION: Did the subject of the death of President Yeltsin come up?
SECRETARY GATES: I heard, just on the news, that that happened. But I decided not to say anything since I have not gotten any official confirmation that it had happened.
SECRETARY GATES: Yes. If it is the case that President Yeltsin has died, I extend my sympathies to his family, and condolences to the Russian people. He was an important figure in Russian history. No American will forget seeing him standing on the tank outside the White House, resisting the coup attempt. He received me in the Kremlin when I came here in 1992, and I think was an important figure in Russia’s evolution toward democracy.
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