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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 September 18, 2009

Media Availability with Secretary Gates and Minister of Defense. Czech Republic Martin Bartak

(Note: Minister Bartak's remarks are provided through an interpreter.)

SEC. GATES: It is my pleasure to have the opportunity to meet with Minister Bartak today. We had a very good conversation. We obviously talked about the new architecture for missile defense and about the fact there will be a U.S. missile defense in Europe.

We talked about opportunities for future cooperation. I said that we would welcome Czech participation in the new architecture. And we will look for opportunities to do that. We will continue our bilateral research efforts in missile defense.

We've agreed that there will be a high-level defense group meeting, in Prague hopefully early this fall, the primary purpose of which will be to examine further opportunities for enhancing the security relationship between the Czech Republic and the United States.

We had a very good exchange. I thanked the minister also for Czech efforts in Afghanistan. And we talked about NATO and all in all had a very good meeting.

Mr. Minister.

MIN. BARTAK: (In English.) Thank you.

I will speak Czech to make it easier for our reporters.

(Through interpreter.) I would like to thank for the opportunity to meet with the secretary of Defense of the United States and in particular with a view to the current situation, where we were notified about a decision about missile defense.

This trip wasn't planned for this purpose, because the main purpose of this trip was to develop our cooperation not only in military but also in other areas, such as scientific and research development.

And we also brought the message that even though our preliminary elections were moved, but we don't know the date when they are going to take place in fact, this administration is going to lead the country in a stable manner and it won't affect negatively any of our commitments. And we will do our best to lead the country in a stable manner until the regular elections take place.

And Secretary Gates already described the meeting in detail, so I would only add that the discussions were not focused only on missile defense but also on the cooperation that is going to take place as soon as possible, and we are going to reach very tangible results soon.

And the main message for the home would be that the missile defense doesn't end here. Actually, we are going to reevaluate it, and we are going to cooperate and we are going to figure out a way how Czech Republic can be involved in the future missile defense as well. Thank you.

SEC. GATES: Okay, we have time just for one question from this side. Yes.

Q Prague Daily [Monitor] Newspaper, the Czech Republic. Mr. Secretary, what are -- what flexibility does the new system -- or will the new system provide, should the intelligence on Iran change again in the future?

SEC. GATES: Well, the original program that I recommended would have had no capability against short- and medium-range missiles until, probably, 2018. What the new system provides is a -- is some capability, beginning in 2011, that will grow steadily each year in terms of its sophistication and its coverage of Europe. The next phase would begin in 2015.

So if the intelligence is wrong -- and I was in that business long enough to know that that happens -- we actually are better able to deal with a changed situation in which the intelligence assessments are wrong, with the new architecture than we were with the old one, because there was no intermediate stage, if you will, with the ground-based interceptors at that time.

The other aspect of this is, as we talked about yesterday -- is that the ground-based interceptors were really designed primarily to deal with perhaps -- well, probably no more than five targets. And we were assuming those would be longer-range, perhaps intercontinental ballistic missiles. What we have seen with the Iranians is that they are producing and deploying significant numbers of short- and medium-range missiles. And so they could overwhelm -- even when the 10 interceptors were in place, a salvo like that could overwhelm it. So this, I think, provides significantly more protection, should the intelligence forecast be wrong.

Q (Off mike) -- first question for the Defense minister. Mr. Minister, would you be interested in hosting any of the -- of these new interceptors?

And for Mr. Secretary, NATO has said today -- the NATO secretary-general has said today that the U.S., Russia and NATO should link their systems. Can you say what, if any, assurances you've gotten from Russia on whether that is indeed possible; what short-term steps could be taken for something like that to happen, since it's been discussed in the past? And what do you say to the Republicans on the Hill who say that they do not trust this intelligence?

MIN. BARTAK: Czech Republic is definitely interested in being part of missile defense in future as well, but it would be too early to talk about hosting the interceptors of missiles yet. It depends on our future technical meetings and how the new concepts of anti-missile defense is going to develop. Obviously, the decision will be up to the administration that will be at power at that time. And we are not talking about near future, it might be in a couple of years.

SEC. GATES: What was the first part of your question, Lita?

Q The secretary-general has suggested that the U.S., NATO and --

SEC. GATES: Yeah. The -- there was no discussion of any of this with the Russians, to the best of my knowledge. For two years -- more than two years -- I have encouraged the Russians to be our partners in this missile defense.

The Russians have a radar in southern Russia, the Armavir radar, that actually would fill a gap in coverage. And we would welcome the Russians networking with this -- with us in this. We think that we could make that happen.

One of the attributes of this changed architecture is that we are now able to network the capabilities, the radars, of several different kinds -- of several different kinds and of several different countries, so we're actually in a better position with the new architecture to be able to integrate a Russian contribution than we were before. But there were no -- to the best of my knowledge, as we put this proposal together, there were no conversations with the Russians.

In terms of those who question whether we're over-relying on intelligence, as I suggested to your Czech colleague, I probably am more familiar with the risks of overreliance on intelligence than anybody, because I've seen how often it's been wrong. And as I say, I think that this architecture gives us -- if the intelligence is wrong and the Iranians develop a capability sooner than the intelligence is saying, this architecture gives us a better chance of being able to cope with it than the program that I signed in December 2006, just because of the new technologies that are available, that give us more flexibility.

And as -- you know, the reality is also we are going to continue the R&D [research and development] on the ground-based interceptors as a fall-back.

Thank you all.

Q Mr. Secretary, did the U.S. miss a chance to get a concession from the Russians?

(No response as the secretary leaves the microphone.)


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