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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 British Defense Secretary Desmond Browne October 11, 2007

Media Availability with Secretary Gates and Secretary Browne from Lancaster House, London, United Kingdom

SEC. BROWNE: Good morning -- good afternoon. Good afternoon everyone. May I, first of all, I welcome Secretary Gates to London. He flew in this morning. He looks remarkably fresh for that journey, I have to say. I'm very pleased to welcome him to London. We speak regularly on the phone and we meet regularly, but it's always good to have face to face meetings. And we've had a constructive morning and partly through, I have to say, our agenda, of issues that we wish to discuss, and we will continue those discussions over lunch.

Clearly, the United Kingdom and the United States have common defense goals. Iraq and Afghanistan, of course, are the obvious ones, but we also cooperate closely on new technology to help us meet modern challenges, and we work together in international organizations to ensure that we meet the international community's priorities and obligations.

In Iraq we've made significant progress in the southeast of Iraq, which is why the prime minister was able to outline our expectation to hand over the fourth and remaining province, Basra, in the south by the end of this year and an aspiration (for us ?) and to draw down to 2,500 troops by spring of next year.

The U.S. and the U.K. share exactly the same aspirations for Iraq -- for a stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq, but ultimately, only the Iraqis themselves can deliver that. Our job is to fulfill our strategic objective, which is to get the Iraqi security forces to a stage where they can take over responsibility for their own security. In the end, the solution to Iraq's challenges lie in Iraqi politics, and we share that interpretation. The U.S.-led surge in central Iraq and the progress made in Anbar province, I think, is testament to the progress being made in provinces for which the U.S. is responsible. The Iraqis are being given space and that's to find their own solutions.

In Afghanistan this is a long-term commitment for both the United States and the United Kingdom. There should be no doubt that helping the Afghan government create a stable and secure Afghanistan is firmly in our own national interests. The mission in Afghanistan is about governments. A key to understanding success is about recognizing that Afghanistan is a long-term effort, and progress that is measured in terms for whether they are headed in the right direction. In these metrics the mission is being successful and is seeing success. We are defeating the Taliban tactically at every turn. Reconstruction and development is having an effect in the south, but there remains much to do although there are many sustained indicators of progress in other parts of Afghanistan, too.

Along with our ISAF partners, the United Kingdom and the United States recognize that, like in Iraq, the military are not a solution in the long-term. Ultimately, politics is the answer. Afghans must develop their own solutions that go with the grain of their culture to their issues, and our job is to give them the space to do that.

So with those few introductory remarks, I hand over to you, Bob.

SEC. GATES: Thanks, Des.

It's always a pleasure to visit with America's closest ally, and it is good to see Secretary Browne again.

This is our fifth meeting this year, a sign of the close cooperation we have on security matters.

Our talks naturally focused on operations where our armed forces are engaged. In Iraq, the United Kingdom has been and continues to be a stalwart ally and a major contributor at every stage of the Iraq campaign. The reduction of British forces in Basra was based on an assessment of the readiness of Iraqi security forces in the area and was closely coordinated with General Petraeus and the MNF-I.

In Afghanistan, our talks previewed many of the issues that will be discussed in two weeks at the NATO ministerial. We reviewed the status of ISAF operations with a focus on the situation in RC South. The United Kingdom is making a substantial contribution in Afghanistan, some 6,000 troops, the second-largest contingent. And British forces are working with the Afghan army, taking the fight directly to the enemy, making a difference for the people of Afghanistan and also playing an important role in their economic and civic development.

We still have several other subjects to discuss over lunch, and as always, I look forward to continuing those conversations.

Q Tim Marshall, Sky News.

Secretary Gates, would the US be relaxed about the plan from the UK to withdraw those 2,500 troops next year? To Mr Browne, this morning you’ve announced compensation for injured personnel.

SEC. GATES: I don't want to get into a hypothetical about what might happen after next spring. We have some questions we'll have to resolve ourselves next spring, and that's why General Petraeus will be presenting an additional review in March in terms of what he thinks ought to happen with respect to continuing drawdowns of U.S. forces after July.

So -- but I will say that the figure of 2,500 and the mission of 2,500 has been closely worked out with General Petraeus and, as I indicated in my prepared remarks, is a product of a joint agreement between the United States and Great Britain in terms of the role of British forces in the south.

SEC. BROWNE: In relation to the armed forces compensation scheme, I am pleased to be able to announce today that we have reviewed and revised the application of the scheme in multiple injury cases. And I'm pleased to be able to say that in claims such Ben Parkinson's claim, he will now be able to receive the full award under the scheme. I think that's fair and appropriate.

As we indicated when this became an issue and this new scheme of compensation, we recognized that the existing -- the then multiple injury rule wasn't intended for the type of severe and complex injury cases that had emerged. I think we've responded in an appropriate period of time.

I think that we have to be careful, of course, about these matters because they matter to people's lives and they matter to their lives going forward. I think we've responded in a generous way, and I'm really pleased that it's being reported to me that Ben Parkinson's mom has welcomed this development.

I think we should -- in terms of to whom it should apply, it should apply, of course, to all of those who have made application under this new scheme which came in in 2005, and that's the obvious thing to do.

Q Secretary Browne, Bob Burns from AP. From your opening comments you referred to the troop reductions in Iraq, the 2500 as an aspiration. I was wondering if that was the more of an aspiration than a plan? And do hope to reduce, later next year, below 2500 and will you be shifting those troops for some of your countries commitment to Afghanistan?

SEC. BROWNE: Well, let me just say that all of those decisions that we take about Iraq in relation to troop levels responds to the circumstances and conditions in Iraq, and those decisions that we take about Afghanistan are in response to the circumstances and conditions of Afghanistan. And, you know, we will continue to do that. And the military advice that I will get will continue to be consistent to that division of analysis.

Secondly, if I had thought that using the word "aspiration" instead of "plan" was going to generate this level of micro- interpretation, then I would have used the word "plan." So it was both an aspiration and a plan. I think they're entirely consistent with each other. I think you can plan towards your aspirations or you can aspire towards your plans, but let's not get into semantics. There is a plan. I didn't intend to use a different word. So, just clearly understand that we plan to have 2,500.

But as the prime minister said and as I repeat, our ability to be able to achieve that plan and see it forward will be a function of the conditions on the ground, our continuing discussions with our coalition allies and with the Iraqi government, and it will also be subject to military advice.

Q My next question is to Secretary Gates. Secretary Gates - In light of your contribution in Iraq, do you see that positions in southern Iraq sectors of other coalition countries would be in a position to reduce, like Australia?

SEC. GATES: I'm sorry --

Q like Australia?

SEC. GATES: I haven't talked to any of the other coalition partners in the south. I think that one of the subjects that we had been discussing with our British colleagues was ensuring that we had the infrastructure remaining in the south to support other colleagues who -- other coalition partners who are active there. I think we're content that they will be provided for.

Q Jon Snow, Channel 4 News

Secretary Gates, how concerned are you about the vote in Congress on the Turkey genocide of the Armenians relatively early in the 20th century? Both of you, how concerned are either of you that, given the (inaudible) PKK and the conflict involving the Turks and (inaudible) the Turkish army striking from Turkey into northern Iraq?

SEC. GATES: I'm quite concerned about the Armenian genocide resolution. I think we all recognize there were mass murders 95 years ago, 1915. The problem that we have is that this is clearly a very sensitive subject for one of our closest allies, and an ally that is incredibly important to the United States in terms of our operations in Iraq.

Seventy percent of the air cargo, American air cargo, going into Iraq goes through Turkey. Seventy percent of the fuel that goes in for our forces goes in through Iraq -- through Turkey rather. For those who are concerned that we get as many of these Mine Resistant Ambush Protected heavy vehicles into Iraq as possible, 95 percent of those vehicles today are being flown into Iraq through Turkey.

So the consequences for us of the resolution passing, and the Turks have been quite clear in saying that they will think very carefully about some of the measures that they have to take if this resolution passes. I think it's worth noting that the French parliament passed a similar resolution, and there were a number of steps taken by the Turkish government to punish, if you will, the French government. One of the concerns in the United States, one of the questions that I get, is, why do they feel so strongly about something that happened so long ago? And I think we all have to take into account the cultures and history of individual countries.

And all I can say is that a resolution that looks back almost 100 years to an event that took place under a predecessor government, the Ottomans, and that has enormous present-day implications for American soldiers and Marines and sailors and airmen in Iraq, is something we need to take very seriously. And when you have nine previous American secretaries of State all signing up and saying, this would be a really bad thing then, it seems to me, attention should be paid.

Q Why can’t you [inaudible] anyway?

SEC. GATES: You'll have to ask them.

Q Jim Mannion, AFP. Secretary Gates, the (inaudible) Marine Corps is reported to have proposed having the Marines essentially take over the combat mission in Afghanistan and leave Iraq to the U.S. Army. What do you think about that?

SEC. GATES: I have heard that they were beginning to think about that, and that's all that I've heard. I have seen no plan. No one's come to me with any proposals about it. My understanding is that it's, at this point, extremely preliminary thinking on the part of perhaps some staff people in the Marine Corps. But I don't think, at this point, it has any stature.

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