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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 Chilean Defense Minister Jose Goni October 04, 2007

Media Availability with Secretary Gates and Defense Minister Goni from Chile

Note: (Minister Goni's remarks are through interpreter.)

MIN. GONI: (In progress) -- Chile with security (team ?) – both global and regional security initiatives. The U.N. peacekeeping operations especially addressed the issue of Haiti, but obviously, we have an important participation and great interest in obtaining a civilization of the internal political situation and making a substantive contribution to the democratization and economic and social development process that the Haitian people are going through.

We've also been talking about the need to advance in different lines of cooperation, bilateral cooperation, as well as we have confirmed the tremendous closeness that we have and the support and the (value ?) of ideas that guide the work of our governments and of our countries; and issues like democracies, social development, economic development. And as I said initially, a global and regional security team, coordination to improve control to international terrorism, to drug trafficking and to those forms of international crime.

We have also just signed an agreement within the framework within our armed forces who will facilitate medical care and health care in general for the members of our armed forces -- (inaudible) -- in the United States and vice versa. Subsequently -- (off mike) -- working session that shall take place -- (inaudible) -- we will continue conversations. (Off mike) -- subsequently to make a visit to -- (off mike) -- with Secretary Gates, who had the opportunity of meeting President Bachelet.

Secretary, would you like to say a few words.

SEC. GATES: First, I would like to thank you, Minister Goni, for hosting my visit, my third visit to Santiago, in this beautiful country, although it is my fist visit as secretary of Defense.

The United States values Chile as a great friend.

Our bilateral relationship is strong because it is based on our shared values of democracy, market economy and the commitment to social justice and human rights. These values strengthen our countries and result in better governments, growing economies, lowering poverty rates, and more effective defense against today's challenges and threats.

Together we are working to increase interoperability, to share our knowledge of military modernization and to encourage Chile's growing peacekeeping capability.

The United States is especially grateful for Chile's efforts in Haiti. Your leadership and bond with the Haitian people has fostered stability and created space for institutions to grow.

Chile's participation in peacekeeping operations makes a significant contribution both to regional and global stability and the growth of democracy.

Today we just signed a reciprocal health care agreement, which will provide service members posted in each other's countries access to each other's military health care facilities. While this agreement is technical in nature, it reflects a maturing defense relationship. We look forward to cooperating with Chile in other areas as well.

Again, Minister, thank you for your hospitality, and I look forward to increasing mutual understanding and cooperation among our two countries.

MIN. GONI: We're going to start a round of questions. We're going to start the round of questions with Antonio Portillos (sp), (Agence) France-Presse.

Q "Gracias." Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I'd like to know if you had the opportunity to discuss with the minister of Defense of Chile the possibility of further peacekeeping efforts of Chile in -- somewhere else than in Haiti.

And Senor Minister -- (through interpreter) -- are you willing to send peacekeeping -- (inaudible) -- troops to other conflicted places in the world, especially the Middle East?

SEC. GATES: First of all, I think it's important to recognize that while Chile has over 500 peacekeepers in Haiti, it has number of peacekeepers in several other countries already as well, including, as I recall, in the Balkans. While by far the majority are in Haiti, they already -- Chileans have already deployed elsewhere. And I think that the contribution that Haiti -- we discussed this in our meeting, and I think the contribution that Haiti can -- that Chile can make beyond Haiti and in looking at new and different ways of doing peacekeeping in partnership with others and so on offer great promise. I think that Chile has great credibility in this area, and I hope the Chileans realize the respect and appreciation that people elsewhere in the world have for their involvement in this activity.

MIN. GONI: First of all, I would like to thank of the words of Secretary Gates.

Actually, our country is committed to peacekeeping operations in several countries, in several places in the world in several ways, in Haiti and in the Balkans. We are participating with forces of different sizes, but we're also present in different places in the world where there have been conflicts. (Inaudible.)

As Secretary Gates said, our country, our armed forces and our initiatives in the context of PKO have a great credibility, a cause of great pride to us. And at the same time, we're very clear that we must care for that credibility, and that also implies doing the things that we're doing well.

We have a good evaluation of what we're doing today, and thus, at least under current circumstances, our decisions to continue doing things in those countries -- continue doing them well, as I said, and not to engage in other activities under these circumstances that may be -- we might not be in a position to work adequately.

So our decision is to continue where we are and naturally, whenever appropriate, to look these things over with our congress to obtain the approval on the upcoming missions deemed necessary.

Q Second question. (Name and affiliation inaudible). Good morning. Mr. Secretary of Defense, I would like to ask you whether your trip, which includes Chile, is also intended to reinforce with our country and with other allied countries in this area of the world -- to reinforce a front that will counteract Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, a country that has also purchased a great amount of equipment recently.

And a question for you, Minister Goni. I would like to ask you both whether you are worried precisely about the Caracas administration -- President Chavez is holding conversations with the FARC in Colombia.

SEC. GATES: My visit to Latin America is focused on strengthening the bilateral relationships that we have with countries like Colombia, Chile, and looking at ways to strengthen those relationships as well as in Peru. And I started in El Salvador. And so the focus has really been throughout on what we can do bilaterally to strengthen our relationships. These relate -- and on regional security issues.

But those security issues -- the focus of the conversations has been on narcotraffickers, on gang warfare, on these kinds of problems. They really haven't focused on other countries but really more on what we can do together in these areas. And as we've just been discussing, a lot of focus this morning on peacekeeping, in interoperability of our forces. So the focus has really been on our bilateral relationships and the kind of regional security issues that I've described.

In terms of the conversations that people may be having with the FARC, as I indicated in Bogota yesterday, the reality is that it's the FARC that holds the hostages. And any decision to release the hostages will be made by the FARC because they're the ones that seized them. And my view is that if there are ways of securing their safe release without compromising certain basic principles, then I think that that's appropriate to pursue. But that's essentially a decision that involves also the government of Colombia, and I respect their sovereignty and their willingness to look into this. I was very satisfied with the assurances that I received in Bogota about the limits of what the government of Colombia is prepared to accept and not accept in any effort to try and obtain the release of the hostages.

Our objective obviously is to obtain the safe release of the Americans but also all of the hostages.

MODERATOR: (Through interpreter, off mike.) Associated Press…

Q Mr. Secretary, there's a report today that President Talabani has announced that Iraq is purchasing about $100 million worth of weapons from China. I'm wondering if you can address what about that may concern you and whether that will make it more difficult for the United States military in Iraq to track and control the weapons that are coming in. President Talabani made the point that one of the reasons for this is because he believes that the United States is not moving quickly enough to provide the weapons Iraq needs.

SEC. GATES: Well, to be honest, this is a concern, and particularly the weapons that Iraq has purchased under the Foreign Military Sales Agreement. We have been concerned that our process is taking too long. On the other hand, the first request we received from the Iraqis for weapons was in January. We've already delivered over $600 million worth of weapons. There are another 2 (billion) or $3 billion worth under order.

We are looking into ways in which we can abbreviate or accelerate the process by which we provide weapons under the FMS programs to Iraq. In fact, to be honest, that was an issue that was discussed here in Chile this morning. This is an issue that we have to look into and see what we can do in the United States to be more responsive and to be able to react more quickly to the requirements of our friends. And unfortunately the FMS program was set up in a way that was not intended to provide sort of emergency or short-term supplies, as in the case of Iraq. We're trying to figure out how to do that better.

We've dispatched -- we've opened offices in Baghdad for the FMS people, where we can have a day-to-day dialogue with the Iraqis and get their requirements more quickly and get them processed more quickly. But this is a concern for us and it's something we have to devote some attention to. The deputy secretary of Defense has personally taken an interest in trying to see how we can accelerate these processes.

Q (Through interpreter.) Good morning.

Does the U.S. have interest in having a conventional submarine, such as the Simpson in the Chilean army, which has similar characteristics to the one that Iran and Venezuela have?

And on the other hand, I would like to know, what possibilities of purchase of U.S. material does Chile have right now?

MIN. GONI: To your questions -- processes -- the procurement process of the national defense are sufficiently clear. There is nothing new in the short term. And as our policy is fundamentally related to the renewal of material, and this is actually related to the life expectancy of our supplies. Procurement is always done through international centers with the participation of different players, different producers from different places in the world.

We look at many factors, and this fundamental in the decision-making process, as most of you well know. So there are no decisions that are biased to buy in such-and-such a country any given piece of equipment. But it's an evaluation process with economic, financial and technical considerations that's done on a case-by-case basis.

Q (Off mike.)

MODERATOR: I'm sorry -- (inaudible).

MIN. GONI: Could you repeat the question? We didn't understand it.

Q (Through interpreter.) The question is for Secretary Gates. Why does the United States have an interest in having the conventional submarine in such as the Simpson in the Chilean navy, which is just coincidentally similar or similar characteristics to the one that Iran and Venezuela have.

SEC. GATES: Actually, there are a number of countries that have conventional submarines, and it's in our interest to be able to exercise with these submarines, so that we are in position to be able to counter whatever actions those who own these submarines might have. There are a number of countries other than the two you mentioned that have these submarines. And so our interest is in making sure that we have the full spectrum of military capabilities and countermeasures, and that's done through exercise and experience.

MODERATOR: Al Pessin from Voice of America.

INTERPRETER: Al Pessin from Voice of America.

Q Thank you. Mr. Minister and Mr. Secretary, you both talked about your desire to strengthen and diversify an already strong and diverse defense relationship. Can you share with us any specifics of what you were talking about, any decisions you made, or what sort of areas you think are ripe for growth?

And Mr. Secretary, can you clarify your answer to Lolita's question? Is your concern only about the FMS process, or are you specifically expressing concern about the fact that it's China that's getting some of these sales to Iraq?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, in the first part of the question, I think that some of the areas that we're looking at are further exchanges between our military academies and educational institutions. We're looking at cooperation -- further cooperation on de-mining. We're looking at further exercises together. There is an interest in some specialized kinds of training on the part of the Chileans that we are going to look into. These are just some of the areas that we talked about this morning where there are opportunities for further growth.

I don't have any particular concern with the fact that the Iraqis have bought these weapons from China. Twenty years ago, when we were fighting in Afghanistan, I remember others that were buying weapons from China and providing them to the mujaheddin. So that doesn't give me a concern.

MIN. GONI: Yes, the truth is, I don't have much to add.

The secretary already mentioned the areas that we are thinking of -- deepening our cooperation, and it would simply be to repeat what he has already said. (Off mike) -- cooperation at the military academies that were interested in having civilians participate as well and to continue to further our cooperation in joint exercises and training. Those are the areas.

Q (Through interpreter.) Minister Goni, we just found out that -- (inaudible) -- family and some of his collaborators due to the -- (word inaudible) -- case. We would like your opinion.

And if you allow me to ask a question to Secretary Gates as to Guantanamo? You have shown favorable to the closing of Guantanamo. We'd like to know when do you think that would be completed, and what would be the fate of the persons who are there -- some would be freed, others would be sent to other prisons? Could you please tell us about that?

MIN. GONI: Very brief. (Inaudible) -- as you know, there is an ongoing legal process. Minister Silva, Judge Silva has adopted a series of measures involving members of the family of Augusto Pinochet and some of his former collaborators. (Inaudible) -- this ministry we do not comment on legal processes. It is a measure that's in the legal agreement. We wish it to continue as such, and it is settled or it should be settled.

SEC. GATES: I have said on a number of occasions that I would like to see the detainee facility at Guantanamo closed. President Bush has said this on a number of occasions as well. What we are looking into is how to do that in a way that provides for rights for those -- appropriate rights for those who are being detained, but at the same time protects Americans and, frankly, others in the world from terrorists who are at Guantanamo; and if released, there is no question that they would return to plotting against us and others, and we have no doubt of that because they've told us that.

And so the question is: How do you change things in a way that protects all of us and at the same time allows us to close the facility? We're still examining those legal questions within the American government to see if there is -- and with our Congress to see if there is a path forward that accomplishes all of those objectives simultaneously.

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