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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 and President, El Salvador Tony Saca October 02, 2007

Press Availability with Secretary Gates and President Saca from San Salvador, El Salvador

(Note: President Saca's remarks are through interpreter.)

PRESIDENT SACA: (Off mike) -- of the United States of America -- (off mike). (Off mike) -- secretary -- (off mike) -- coalition -- (off mike). (Off mike) -- United States of America -- (off mike). (Off mike) -- to the -- (off mike) -- constitution -- (off mike) -- security -- regional security.

We have -- (off mike) -- in the security -- (off mike) -- Central American -- (off mike) -- we share intelligence -- (off mike) -- the United States, Mexico and Central America with this new (program that it is offering ?) in the region.

So these are the issues that we talked about with the secretary. And we will provide a full report -- (off mike) -- especially in the region. (Off mike) -- points of view on all these issues. And so, Mr. Secretary, welcome to our country.

SEC. GATES: Thank you. First I would like to thank President Saca and Minister Romero for hosting my visit, as well as thank the people of El Salvador. I conveyed to the president the best wishes of our president and of the American people, and our deep appreciation for the security relationship that we have.

We've had the opportunity to discuss shared security interests here in the region, as well as El Salvador's participation with Operation Iraqi Freedom, now in their ninth rotation, one of the most faithful coalition partners.

I also wanted to thank the president for his participation -- his support of El Salvador's participation in Iraq and also expressed our sympathy to the families of the five Salvadorans who have lost their lives in Iraq.

The United States and El Salvador have traditionally enjoyed a close defense relationship. El Salvador plays an important role in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations worldwide. The Cuscatlan Battalion has performed admirably with coalition forces in Iraq. This ninth rotation began in August.

El Salvador also hosts the only cooperative security location in Central America, which is key to defeating narco-traffickers.

I'm pleased that the U.S. Navy Ship -- Hospital Ship Comfort was able to visit El Salvador in July as part of a 12-nation goodwill mission to Latin America.

As I visit close allies in the region this week, I'm reminded of our common perspective and shared approach to the challenges we face. We explored opportunities for closer security relationships, both bilaterally and multinational, and particularly Salvador's continuing participation in peacekeeping operations.

I look forward to our two nations working closely together to enrich our mutual understanding and to deepen our security relationship.

Thank you.

(Introduction of reporter off mike) -- from Associated Press.

Q Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. I'm going to open with a question on another topic. You received a report on the Blackwater issue over the weekend, and I believe -- (off mike). Can you tell us what that report said and what you believe your next move may be in regard to whether you need more or a longer review or additional work on investigating the Blackwater security firms and how those firm are overseen by the U.S. military?

SEC. GATES: I just was able to read the report for the first time on the plane coming down here from Washington this morning. The report makes a number of recommendations on how we can strengthen our oversight of contractors working for the Department of Defense in Iraq. I haven't had an opportunity to talk with the deputy secretary or anyone else in the department about this at this point, but I must say that the recommendations from the group look very reasonable to me and I anticipate that we will move forward toward trying to implement them. But I want to have the opportunity to consult with others in the department. But on the whole, I thought they made a lot of sense, and I reacted very positively to them.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Off mike) -- Latin America would like to know -- (off mike) -- Hugo Chavez is a threat for the United States. What do you say about this?

SEC. GATES: I'm sorry, would you repeat the question?

Q If a government like the government of Hugo Chavez is a threat -- (off mike) -- in Latin America?

SEC. GATES: I think that the principal threat represented by Hugo Chavez is to the freedom and economic prosperity of the people of Venezuela. I think that he has been very generous in offering their resources to people around the world, when perhaps those resources could be better used to alleviate some of the economic problems facing the people of Venezuela. I think that's the principal concern.

(Introduction of reporter off-mike.)

Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. (Off mike) -- from Venezuela. I would like to know what do you think about the -- (off mike) -- Venezuelan president trying to release the (U.S. ?) hostages of the FARC in Colombia.

SEC. GATES: Well, I expect that I will discuss this with the Colombian officials when I'm there. I don't want to preempt what the Colombians have been discussing with their neighbors. And I think I'll wait until I get to Colombia and get their views on the value of this endeavor before I speak to it publicly.

Q (Through interpreter, off mike) -- for El Salvador to keep the troops in Iraq?

SEC. GATES: Obviously we would like to have the continued assistance of the Salvadoran contingent in Iraq in the future. This is essentially a decision that is up to the government of El Salvador. I would say that the government of President Saca has been very forward-leaning in this regard. He has told me that El Salvador will continue to play its part in helping us as long as necessary. But at the end of the day, it's a decision that must be made by the Salvadorans.

Obviously we believe that it's important for all of us to be successful in having a stable Iraq and one that can govern itself, one that is not a home for terrorists. And I think that the government of El Salvador, under President Saca, understands that and sees it in Salvador's national interest to ensure that there is success in Iraq. And so we would welcome El Salvador's participation for as long as possible. And I believe that President Saca is prepared to help us in that respect. But as I say, that's a decision that's up to El Salvador.

Q (Through interpreter, off mike.)

PRESIDENT SACA: (Off mike) -- eventual withdrawal of the troops as the situation in Iraq improves. (Off mike) -- Salvadoran support has a lot to do with our history. We suffered from terrorism and we have supported this international coalition. We have supported the United States. (Off mike) -- it will not change. The support will not change.

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