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“Secretary Clinton & Gates: With David Gregory of NBC’s Meet the Press

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SECRETARY GATES: Thank you.

QUESTION: The President said this is an operation that would take days, not weeks. We are now into the second week. Has the mission been accomplished?

SECRETARY GATES: I think that the no-fly zone aspect of the mission has been accomplished. We have not seen any of his planes fly since the mission started. We have suppressed his air defenses. I think we’ve also been successful on the humanitarian side. We have prevented his forces from going to Benghazi and we have taken out a good bit of his armor. So I think we have, to a very large extent, completed the military mission in terms of getting it set up. Now, the no-fly zone and even the humanitarian side will have to be sustained for some period of time.

QUESTION: Is Qadhafi capable of routing the rebels?

SECRETARY CLINTON: At this point, it appears that his efforts have been stopped. I think if you were to look at where we were just a couple of weeks ago, he was clearly on his way to Benghazi. He was intending, by his own words, to show no mercy, to go house to house. I think we prevented a great humanitarian disaster, which is always hard to point to something that didn’t happen, but I believe we did. And now we’re beginning to see – because of the good work of the coalition – to see his troops begin to turn back towards the west and to see the opposition begin to reclaim ground they had lost.

QUESTION: That said, Secretary Gates, would the U.S. supply arms to the rebels?

SECRETARY GATES: No decision has been made about that at this point. The Security Council resolution would permit it. The second resolution, 1973, would permit it. But no decisions have been made by our government about it.

QUESTION: But does this Administration want to see the rebels prevail and overtake Qadhafi?

SECRETARY GATES: I think the President’s policy is that it’s time for Qadhafi to go. That’s not part of our military mission, which has been very limited and very strictly defined.

QUESTION: Well, so how is that going to happen? Secretary Clinton, you said this week that you thought you were picking up signals that he wanted to get out, of his own accord.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, David, there are many different aspects to the strategy that the international community is pursuing. As Bob has said, the military mission has gone very well. It only started just, like, eight days ago, so it has been remarkably well coordinated and focused, and now NATO will take command and control over it.

At the same time, we are pursuing really strict economic sanctions on him and people close to him. We have a political effort underway. The African Union just called for a transition to democracy. The Arab League, the others of us who are supporting this endeavor are going to be meeting in London on Tuesday to begin to focus on how we’re going to help facilitate such a transition of him leaving power.

QUESTION: All right. But you said this week you thought there were indications he was looking to get out. Is that true?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, people around him. We have a lot of evidence that people around him are reaching out. Now, so far what they’ve been doing is to say you’re misunderstanding us; you don’t appreciate what we’re doing; come and talk to us. Well, the Secretary General of the United Nations has appointed a former Jordanian foreign minister as a special envoy. He will be going to both Benghazi and Tripoli in the next few days so that we will provide a very clear message to Qadhafi.

But we’re also sending a message to people around him: Do you really want to be a pariah? Do you really want to end up in the International Criminal Court? Now is your time to get out of this and to help the change the direction.

QUESTION: Bottom line: The President wants him to go, but the President will not take him out himself.

SECRETARY GATES: Certainly not militarily.

QUESTION: So it would have to be other means?

SECRETARY GATES: Yes.

QUESTION: And –

SECRETARY GATES: And as I’ve said, we have things in our toolbox in addition to hammers. Secretary Clinton’s just talked about a number of them. And don’t underestimate what Hillary just said of the people around him looking at what’s happening and the international view of this place and when’s the time to turn and go to the other side.

QUESTION: Let me –

SECRETARY GATES: And so I think one should not underestimate the possibility of the regime itself cracking.

QUESTION: I want to talk about some of the Congressional criticisms. Speaker of the House Boehner issued a letter with questions, some of which were deemed illegitimate questions by the White House. Here’s a portion of it. I’ll put it up on the screen. “Because of the conflicting messages from the Administration and our coalition partners,” he wrote, “there’s a lack of clarity over the objectives of this mission, what our national security interests are, how it fits into our overarching policy for the Middle East.”

The American people deserve answers to these questions, and all of these concerns point to a fundamental question: What is your benchmark for success in Libya?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s perfectly legitimate for members of Congress and the public to ask questions. The President is going to address the nation Monday night. A lot of these questions will be answered. But I would just make a couple of points.

First, on March 1st, the United States Senate passed a resolution calling for a no-fly zone. That was a bipartisan resolution. There were a number of people in the House, including leadership in both the Republican and Democratic parties, who were demanding that action be taken. The international community came together, and in an unprecedented action, the Arab League called on the Security Council to do exactly what the Security Council ended up doing.

Now, the United States and other countries were in a position to be able to act to enforce it. If you look at the coverage on Al Jazeera, if you listen to the statements that are being put out by the opposition in Libya, there is a great deal of appreciation for what we and others have done in order to stop Qadhafi on his mission of merciless oppression.

So, this was an international effort that the United States was a part of. I certainly believe it was within the President’s constitutional authority to do so. It is going according to the plan that the President laid out. The United States will be transitioning to a NATO command and control. And then we will be joining with the rest of the international community.

And if you look at the region – can you imagine, David, if we were sitting here and Qadhafi had gotten to Benghazi, and in a city of 700,000 people, had massacred tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands had fled over the border, destabilizing Egypt? Everybody would be saying, “Why didn’t the President do something?”

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Boehner himself?

SECRETARY CLINTON: These are difficult choices.

QUESTION: Did Speaker Boehner raise any objections when he was briefed prior to the mission?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I know that there was a constant flow of information, both to members and staff. And of course, the President had a conference with some members in person, others – many others, including the Speaker, on the phone – but we have no objection to anybody asking questions. But I think it’s important to look at the context in which this is occurring, and the fact that we have moved so rapidly to have this kind of international action taken answers, in great measure, the legitimate concerns of the people of Libya.

And now, of course, we’re going to take it day by day. That’s what you do in a situation like this.

QUESTION: The military is stretched pretty thin. Look at this map to show what our commitments are around the globe. In Iraq, of course, we have 47,000 troops; in Afghanistan, a hundred thousand strong; and now this additional commitment of U.S. troops – I mean, not troops, but U.S. assets in Libya. How does the President, speaking to the nation Monday night, maintain a sense of national purpose here at a time when we’re so stretched?

SECRETARY GATES: Actually, your list was incomplete. We have a substantial military commitment in humanitarian assistance disaster relief in Japan as well, largely using naval forces. The air forces that we are using, for the most part, and the air forces in particular that we are using in Libya are forces normally stationed in Europe in any event.

The reality is, though, beginning this week or within the next week or so, we will begin to diminish the commitment of resources that we have committed to this. We knew the President’s plan at the beginning was we would go in heavy at first, because we had the capacity to do it in terms of suppressing the air defenses and so on. But then the idea was that, over time, the coalition would assume a larger and larger proportion of the burden. This was the conversation he had with foreign leaders when this whole thing was coming together. And so we see our commitment of resources actually beginning to decline.

QUESTION: Well, how long does the no-fly zone last? Weeks or longer?

SECRETARY GATES: Well, once the air – first of all, nobody knows the answer to that question. But once the air defenses have been suppressed, what it takes to sustain the no-fly zone is substantially less than what it takes to establish it.

QUESTION: Let me ask this question, though, still on the military – and then I want your comment, as well: What if things don’t go as planned? What is our contingency planning? What is the U.S. commitment if things get worse in Libya, if Qadhafi stays, if there is an entrenched civil war, if it devolves into Somalia-like chaos? What then? What’s our commitment?

SECRETARY GATES: Well, the President has made very clear there will be no American troops on the ground in Libya. He’s made that quite definite. Our air power has significantly degraded his armor capabilities, his ability to use his armor against cities like Benghazi. We see them beginning to move back to the west, retreating.

So, this eventually is going to have to be settled by the Libyans themselves. Perhaps the UN can mediate or whatever. But in terms of the military commitment, the President has put some very strict limitations in terms of what we are prepared to do.

QUESTION: I want to ask you, Secretary Clinton, if I can, about the rest of the region, because there’s so much else that is happening, and I want to go to the map and go through these in turn.

First, as we look at the Broader Middle East, we look at Syria – deadly protests because of a government crackdown that have been occurring over the past few days. Is it the position of the government that we would like to see the Asad regime fall?

SECRETARY CLINTON: What we have said is what we’ve said throughout this extraordinary period of transformation in North Africa and the Middle East. We want to see no violence, we want to see peaceful protest that enables people to express their universal human rights, and we want to see economic and political reform. That’s what we’ve called on in Syria, that’s what we’ve called on other governments across the region to do.

QUESTION: What about Saudi Arabia? We go back to the map, as Secretary Gates – the King is quite upset with the President. The relationship has ruptured to the point that he has sent troops into Bahrain, he would not see both of you when you were in the region. What are we doing to fix a ruptured relationship with perhaps our most important partner in the region when it comes to oil as well as other matters?

SECRETARY GATES: Well, first of all, I don’t believe the relationship is ruptured. We have a very strong relationship with Saudi Arabia. I think that the Saudis see all of this turbulence in the region with some disquiet. They’re very concerned about Iran. They believe that Iran will be able to take advantage of the situation in various of these countries, and those are their concerns, and we share some of those concerns.

But I think it’s a great exaggeration to say this relationship’s ruptured. I intend to visit the region in the near term and hope and intend to see the King. So I think we have a very strong relationship, we have a very strong military-to-military relationship. As you know, the Saudis just made one of the largest purchases of American weapons in their history, so I think it’s overdrawn. Do we have some differences of view? Absolutely. But that’s – friends happen – that happens between friends all the time.

QUESTION: Back to the map. In addition to Yemen, I want to actually focus on Egypt, still the strategic cornerstone. Yemen, of course important, but it is in Egypt that is a strategic cornerstone of this region. What are we doing, Secretary Clinton, at this point, to try to assist the young secular movement that wants to find a way toward leadership that may be outmanned now by the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak’s own party?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, David, first, we have historically done quite a bit in reaching out to the very young people you’re referring to. When I was just in Egypt, I met with a number of those who had been leaders of the activities in Tahrir Square and that were helping to translate that protest into political action. A lot of them had been in American Government-sponsored programs, they had been on visitation programs to the United States. And we are continuing to reach out and work with them and to try to provide support to them. It is hard moving from being in the forefront of a movement to being part of a political process. It’s hard in any country. But we’re going to stand with them and make sure that at least insofar as we’re able to, they get the support they need.

At the same time, though, we’re also working with the interim government in Egypt. Both Bob and I, when we were recently in Egypt, met with government officials and met with the military officials who are, for the time being, running the government. We want to assist them on the economic reform efforts that they’re undertaking. Now ultimately, this is up to the Egyptians. They’re going to have to make these decisions. But we’ve offered our advice and we’re offering aid where appropriate.

QUESTION: Secretary Gates, is Libya in our vital interest as a country?

SECRETARY GATES: No, I don’t think it’s a vital interest for the United States, but we clearly have interests there, and it’s a part of the region which is a vital interest for the United States.

QUESTION: I think a lot of people would hear that and say, “Well, that’s quite striking, not in our vital interests, and yet we’re committing military resources to it.”

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but then it wouldn’t be fair as to what Bob just said. I mean, did Libya attack us? No, they did not attack us. Do they have a very critical role in this region and do they neighbor two countries? You just mentioned one, Egypt, the other Tunisia, that are going through these extraordinary transformations and cannot afford to be destabilized by conflict on their borders. Yes. Do they have a major influence on what goes on in Europe because of everything from oil to immigration?

And David, that raises a very important point because you showed on the map just a minute ago Afghanistan. We asked our allies, our NATO allies, to go into Afghanistan with us 10 years ago. They have been there and a lot of them have been there despite the fact they were not attacked; the attack came on us as we all tragically remember. They stuck with us. When it comes to Libya, we started hearing from the UK, France, Italy, other of our NATO allies. This was in their vital national interests. The UK and France were the ones who went to the Security Council and said, “We have to act, because otherwise we’re seeing a really violent upheaval with a man who has a history of unpredictable violent acts right on our doorstep.”

So let’s be fair here. They didn’t attack us, but what they were doing and Qadhafi’s history and the potential for the disruption and instability was very much in our interests, as Bob said, and seen by our European friends and our Arab partners as very vital to their interests.

QUESTION: Before you go, Secretary Clinton, I want to change the topic. A dear friend and supporter of yours, Geraldine Ferraro, has passed away unfortunately. And she was on this program back in 1984 when she was named onto the ticket to the presidency with Walter Mondale, and – the first woman, of course. And she was asked a question by Marvin Kalb at the time, and I want to show you that exchange and get you to react to it.

MR. KALB: Ms. Ferraro, could you push the nuclear button?

MS. FERRARO: I can do whatever is necessary in order to protect the security of this country.

MR. KALB: Including that?

MS. FERRARO: Yeah, even if it’s politically improper.

MR. KALB: And if you weren’t a woman, do you think you’d have been selected?

MS. FERRARO: That’s a double-edged sword so that – I don’t know. I don’t know, if I were not a woman, if I would be judged in the same way on my candidacy, whether or not I would be asked questions like, “Are you strong enough to push the button,” or that type –

QUESTION: How times have changed. She changed them and you, of course, changed them too for women in politics. What’s your reaction to seeing that and your reaction to her death?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It just makes me smile because she was an extraordinary pioneer, she was a path-breaker, she was everything that – now the commentators will say an icon, a legend. But she was down to earth, she was just as personal a friend as you could have, she was one of my fiercest defenders and most staunch supporters, she had a great family that she cherished and stood up for in every way.

And she went before many women to a political height that is very, very difficult still, and she navigated it with great grace and grit, and I think we owe her a lot. And I’ll certainly think about her every day, and thanks for asking me to reflect on it briefly, because she was a wonderful person.

QUESTION: Thank you both very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.

SECRETARY GATES: Yeah.

QUESTION: Appreciate it.

 


Secretary Clinton & Gates: With Jake Tapper of ABC’s This Week

QUESTION: And joining me now in their first interview since the attacks on Libya began, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Madam and Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

I’ll start with you, Secretary Gates. The mission is a no-fly zone and civilian protection, but does not include removing Qadhafi from power, even though regime change is stated U.S. policy. So why not have, as part of the mission, regime change, removing Qadhafi from power?

SECRETARY GATES: Well, first of all, I think you don’t want ever to set a set of goals or a mission – military mission where you can’t be confident of accomplishing your objectives. And as we have seen in the past, regime change is a very complicated business. It sometimes takes a long time. Sometimes it can happen very fast, but it was never part of the military mission.

QUESTION: NATO has assumed command and control for the no-fly zone, or is this weekend, but not yet for the civilian protection. When do we anticipate that happening?

SECRETARY GATES: I think Hillary’s been more engaged with that diplomacy than I have.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we hope, Jake, that NATO, which is making the military planning for the civilian protection mission, will meet in the next few days, make a decision, which we expect to be positive, to include that mission, and then just as the arms embargo and the no-fly zone has been transitioned to NATO command and control, the civilian protection mission will as well.

QUESTION: What do you say to the people in Ivory Coast or Syria who say, “Where’s our no-fly zone? We’re being killed by our government too.”

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there’s not an aircraft – there’s not an air force being used. There is not the same level of force. The situation is significantly different enough that the world has not come together. However, in Ivory Coast, we have a UN peacekeeping force which we are supporting. We’re beginning to see the world coalesce around the very obvious fact that Mr. Gbagbo no longer is president. Mr. Ouattara is the president.

So each of these situations is different, but in Libya, when a leader says spare nothing, show no mercy and calls out air force attacks on his own people, that crosses a line that people in the world had decided they could not tolerate.

QUESTION: When do we know that the mission is done? The no-fly zone has succeeded, civilian protection has stopped. When do you – when –

SECRETARY GATES: I would say, for all practical purposes, the implementation of the no-fly zone is complete. Now it will need to be sustained, but it can be sustained with a lot less effort than what it took to set it up. As I indicated in my testimony on the Hill, you don’t establish a no-fly zone by just declaring it. You go in and suppress the air defenses, and that mission is largely complete.

I think we have made a lot of progress on the humanitarian side and his ability to move armor, to move toward a Benghazi or a place like that has pretty well been eliminated. Now we’ll have to keep our eye on it because he still has ground forces at his beck and call. But the reality is they’re under a lot of pressure. Their logistics – there are some signs that they’re moving back to the west away from Ajdabiyah and other places.

So I think that we have prevented the large-scale slaughter that was beginning to take place, has taken place in some places. And so I think that we are at a point where the establishment of the no-fly zone and the protection of cities from the kind of wholesale military assault that we have seen, certainly in the east, has been accomplished and now we can move to sustainment.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Jake, I would just add two points to what Secretary Gates said. The United States Senate called for a no-fly zone in a resolution that it passed, I think, on March the 1st, and that mission is on the brink of having been accomplished. And there was a lot of congressional support to do something.

There is no perfect option when one is looking at a situation like this. I think that the President ordered the best available option. The United States worked with the international community to make sure that there was authorization to do what we have helped to accomplish.

But what is quite remarkable here is that NATO assuming the responsibility for the entire mission means that the United States will move to a supporting role. Just as our allies are helping us in Afghanistan where we bear the disproportionate amount of the sacrifice and the cost, we are supporting a mission through NATO that was very much initiated by European requests joined by Arab requests.

I think this is a watershed moment in international decision making. We learned a lot in the 1990s. We saw what happened in Rwanda. It took a long time in the Balkans, in Kosovo to deal with a tyrant. But I think – and what has happened since March 1st – and we’re not even done with the month – demonstrates really remarkable leadership.

SECRETARY GATES: I would just add one other thing, in sort of a concrete manifestation where we are in this, and that is we and the Department of Defense are already beginning to do our planning in terms of beginning to draw down resources, first from support of the no-fly zone and then from the humanitarian mission. Now that may not start in the next day or two, but I certainly expect it to in the very near future.

QUESTION: Well, and I wanted to follow on that. How long are we going to be there in that support role?

SECRETARY GATES: Well, I think the – as I say, we will begin diminishing the level of our engagement, the level of resources we have involved in this, but as long as there is a no-fly zone and we have some unique capabilities to bring to bear – for example, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, some tanking ability – we will continue to have a presence. But a lot of these – a lot of the forces that we will have available other than the ISR – are forces that are already assigned to Europe or have been assigned to Italy or are at sea in the Mediterranean.

QUESTION: I’ve heard NATO say that this – that they anticipate – that some NATO officials say this could be three months, but people in the Pentagon think it could be far longer than that. Do you think we’ll be gone by the end of the year? Will the mission be over by the end of the year?

SECRETARY GATES: I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that.

QUESTION: Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?

SECRETARY GATES: No, no. It was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about – the engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake. There was another piece of this, though, that certainly was a consideration. You’ve had revolutions on both the east and the west of Libya. They’re fragile.

QUESTION: Egypt and Tunisia.

SECRETARY GATES: Egypt and Tunisia. So you had a potentially significantly destabilizing event taking place in Libya that put at risk, potentially, the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt. And that was another consideration I think we took into account.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Jake, but –

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, how does –

SECRETARY CLINTON: Jake, I just want to add too, because I know that there’s been a lot of questions, and those questions deserve to be asked and answered. The President is going to address the nation on Monday night.

Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi had been overrun, a city of 700,000 people, and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered, hundreds of thousands had fled and, as Bob said, either with nowhere to go or overwhelming Egypt while it’s in its own difficult transition, and we were sitting here. The cries would be, “Why did the United States not do anything? Why – how could you stand by when France and the United Kingdom and other Europeans and the Arab League and your Arab partners were saying you’ve got to do something?” So every decision that we make is going to have plusses and minuses.

QUESTION: You heard the Secretary of Defense say that Libya did not pose an actual or imminent threat to the nation, and bearing in mind what you just said, I’m still wondering how the Administration reconciles the attack without congressional approval with then-candidate Obama saying in 2007 the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation and, as a senator, you yourself in 2007 said this about President Bush.

SENATOR CLINTON: If the administration believes that any – any use of force against Iran is necessary, the president must come to Congress to seek that authority.

QUESTION: Why not go to Congress?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we would welcome congressional support, but I don’t think that this kind of internationally authorized intervention where we are one of a number of countries participating to enforce a humanitarian mission is the kind of unilateral action that either I or President Obama were speaking of several years ago. I think that this had a limited timeframe, a very clearly defined mission, which we are in the process of fulfilling.

QUESTION: I want to get to a couple other topics before you guys go, and one of them is in Yemen. President Saleh, a crucial ally in counterterrorism, seems quite on his way out. Secretary Gates, you said this week we have not done any post-Saleh planning. How dangerous is a post-Saleh world, a post-Saleh Yemen, to the United States?

SECRETARY GATES: Well, I think it is a real concern, because the most active and, at this point, perhaps the most aggressive branch of al-Qaida – al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – operates out of Yemen. And we have had a lot of counterterrorism cooperation from President Saleh and Yemeni security services. So if that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we’ll face some additional challenges out of Yemen. There’s no question about it. It’s a real problem.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, on Pakistan, Pakistan has been trying to block U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the FATA region, it continues to work with terrorists to attack India, it held a U.S. diplomat in its prisons for several weeks, as I don’t need to tell you. Has this relationship gotten worse in the last six months, U.S.-Pakistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jake, it’s a very challenging relationship because there have been some problems. We were very appreciative of getting our diplomat out of Pakistan, and that took cooperation by the Government of Pakistan. We have cooperated very closely together in going after terrorists who pose a threat to both us and to the Pakistanis themselves. But it’s a very difficult relationship because Pakistan is in a hard position trying to figure out how it’s going to contend with its own internal extremist threat. But I think on the other hand, we’ve also developed good lines of communication, good opportunities for cooperation, but it’s something we have to work on every day.

QUESTION: And finally, we’ve talked a bit about the end of this operation, how it ends. I’m wondering if you can envision the United States supporting a plan where Qadhafi is exiled. Would the U.S. be willing to support safe haven, immunity from prosecution, and access to funds as a way to end this conflict?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jake, we are nowhere near that kind of negotiation. I’ll be going to London on Tuesday for a conference that the British Government is hosting. There will be a number of countries, not only those participating in the enforcement of the resolution, but also those who are pursuing political and other interventions. And the United Nations has a special envoy who will also be actively working with Qadhafi and those around him.

We have sent a clear message that it is time for him to transition out of power. The African Union has now called for a democratic transition. We think that there will be developments along that line in the weeks and months ahead, but I can’t, sitting here today, predict to you exactly how it’s going to play out. But we believe that Libya will have a better shot in the future if he departs and leaves power.

QUESTION: All right. Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, thank you so much for joining us.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.

 


Secretary of Defense Robert Gates After Meeting with President Mubarak

SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. It was good to be in Egypt again. I’d like to start by thanking President Mubarak, the Egyptian government, and the Egyptian people for their gracious hospitality during this visit.

This morning I have very productive meetings with both President Mubarak and Field Marshal Tantawi. I first met President Mubarak nearly 20 years ago, and over the years multiple American presidents and administrations have benefited from his wise counsel. I appreciated the opportunity to continue that dialog today.

We discussed a number of security issues including Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, next steps in Iraq, and the opportunities for more cooperation among the nations of the Middle East.

It will take full participation and leadership from Egypt to see progress on these issues, as has always been the case. For some time I have considered Egypt to be one of America’s most important partners. The United States has longstanding military-to-military relationships and other activities with the Egyptian military, to include the Bright Star exercises.

Our own military has benefited from the interaction with the Egyptian armed forces, one of the most professional and capable in the region. We are always looking for ways to expand these ties through education, training and exercises. In these and other security matters, I look forward to further cooperation between our two countries in the future.

Thank you.

Q (Off mike) — Al Jazeera English. You mentioned before coming here that your country assured both Egypt and Saudi Arabia about the new approach towards Iran and also to be realistic. By ‘realistic’ did you mean that what the United States did before, confrontation and sanctions, or that the new approach of — (inaudible) — and things like that? There is only one goal is to solve the Iranian nuclear program, and that means reassuring the region that this won’t be used against them?

SEC. GATES: Our goal really is two-fold. Obviously we want to try and stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but we also are interested in stopping Iran’s destabilizing efforts throughout the region. And I think that there is very broad concern in the region about Iran and its activities. And our goal is to continue to working with our friends in the region but at the same time see if there is an opportunity to begin trying to influence Iran to change its activities, its behavior, in the area.

Reaching out to Iran with an open hand in no way minimizes or changes the strong security relationship and strong political relationship that the United States has with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and our other long-term friends in the region.

If we encounter a closed fist when we extend our open hand, then we will react accordingly. But we think, the President believes that it is important for us to at least reach out to Iran and provide an opportunity to begin a dialog. But the focus of that dialog is on Iran’s behavior, and uppermost in our minds is taking measures necessary with our partners in the region to maintain their security and their stability, in particular against Iranian subversive activities.

Q The U.S. military relationship with Egypt — (inaudible) — the U.S. military declaration — (inaudible) — U.S. assistance to Egypt under the previous administration was linked to human rights progress. Is the Obama administration changing or shifting that policy? Did you hear concerns here in your talks about the level of U.S. military assistance to Egypt?

SEC. GATES: Well, clearly, the United States always is supportive of human rights, and that is no less true of the Obama administration than other administrations. By the same token, it is important to continue our work and our friendship with these countries. And the position of the administration is that as an example the foreign military financing that’s in the budget should be without conditions. And that is our sustained position.

Q (Inaudible) — the U.S. eager to do everything concerned with — (inaudible) — in the future and the fear of Israel — (inaudible) — Middle East free from mass destruction weapons? Thank you.

SEC. GATES: Well, I think the President has been very clear in his speech when he was in Europe about his desire for the entire to have a nuclear-weapons-free world. He hasn’t broken that down by region. Clearly that is our long-term objective.

Q Mr. Secretary, given the rising concern over instability in Pakistan, what are your expectations for a high-level meeting in Washington this week regarding the way that Saudi Arabia could play a greater role? What specifically could the Saudis do in helping to ease the problems in Pakistan, and are you going to make any request of them in Riyadh?

SEC. GATES: Well, as I said the other day, I think that the recent Taliban attacks that reached within 60 kilometers of Islamabad perhaps served as a wake-up call if you will to many in Pakistan that the Taliban operating inside Pakistan and other extremist groups have become a real danger to the Pakistani government. I think their response in sending the Army into Bernair and beginning to deal with that situation is really a recognition of that threat.

And so my hope is that during the talks in Washington next week that their role during the next few days is that there will be a common agreement on the nature of the threat and the importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan working closely together and with the United States to try, and our partners, to try and deal with that threat.

With respect to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia clearly has a lot of influence throughout the entire region. They have a long-standing close relationship with Pakistan. And I think the key here is all of us doing what we can to help the Pakistani government deal with the emergent threat to its own existence from these violent extremists. And I think the Saudis along with other countries can play a constructive role in that.

Q (Off mike.)

SEC. GATES: I’m not sure I understood the question.

Q (Off mike) — critical. Next month is the election of Iran — (inaudible) — so if not, do you support Israel if — (inaudible) — attack Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think those are completely different questions. I would say that I do not expect this dialog to–first of all, there is no dialog yet. There have been a few initial contacts, but there is no sustained dialog yet between the United States and Iran. And I expect it to develop, if it develops at all, will develop over a period of time. The United States goes into this with its eyes wide open. There have been previous attempts to establish a dialog with the Iranian government, and they have not proven successful. Our hope is that this time, as the President expressed it, if we extend an open hand that perhaps we will get something similar in response.

But I don’t expect this to develop in a way that would have any impact whatsoever on the Iranian election. I don’t think it will develop that quickly. And I’m not sure that even as it develops it would have any impact on that.

I continue to believe that we need to address our concerns with Iran. While all options are available of course, I believe that it is important to try and address our concerns about their nuclear weapons program through diplomatic and economic pressures, through trying to isolate Iran, toward building up the security capabilities of our friends in the region, and through cooperation with the Europeans, the Russians, and others to try and show Iran that its behavior is unwelcome to virtually all of the countries in the world.

Q Mr. Secretary, you mentioned on the plane on the way over that you felt some concerns in this region about the U.S. outreach to Iran were the result of an exaggerated sense of what might be possible. Can you expand on that? What in your view is a realistic expectation of what might be possible for an improved relationship with Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what might be possible. I’ve been around long enough to see these efforts attempted before and with no result. The question is whether circumstances in Iran have changed in such a way that with the new administration offering an opportunity for contact, whether the Iranians are willing to take advantage of that opportunity.

I think that there’s, as I say I think it’s a dialog that if it happens at all will probably develop slowly. And I think what is important for friends and partners here in the Middle East to be assured of is that the United States will be very open and transparent about these contacts, and we will keep our friends informed of what is going on so that nobody gets surprised.

I think one of the areas where I think there has been some exaggerated concern has been some notion here in the region that there might be some grand bargain between the United States and Iran that would suddenly be sprung on them. And I would say that I believe that kind of prospect is very remote.

I think it’s highly unlikely, and we will just have to see how the Iranians respond to this offer from the President. Frankly, some of the first things that have happened subsequent to his extension of that open arm, open hand, have not been very encouraging in terms of statements coming out of Tehran.

We’re not willing to pull the hand back yet because we think there’s still some opportunity, but I think concerns out here of some kind of a grand bargain developed in secret are completely unrealistic, and I would say are not going to happen. And what is important for our friends to understand is that we will keep them informed and be transparent about this process.

 


Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at Cairo, Egypt

Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at Cairo, Egypt

SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. It was good to be in Egypt again. I’d like to start by thanking President Mubarak, the Egyptian government, and the Egyptian people for their gracious hospitality during this visit.

This morning I have very productive meetings with both President Mubarak and Field Marshal Tantawi. I first met President Mubarak nearly 20 years ago, and over the years multiple American presidents and administrations have benefited from his wise counsel. I appreciated the opportunity to continue that dialog today.

We discussed a number of security issues including Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, next steps in Iraq, and the opportunities for more cooperation among the nations of the Middle East.

It will take full participation and leadership from Egypt to see progress on these issues, as has always been the case. For some time I have considered Egypt to be one of America’s most important partners. The United States has longstanding military-to-military relationships and other activities with the Egyptian military, to include the Bright Star exercises.

Our own military has benefited from the interaction with the Egyptian armed forces, one of the most professional and capable in the region. We are always looking for ways to expand these ties through education, training and exercises. In these and other security matters, I look forward to further cooperation between our two countries in the future.

Thank you.

Q (Off mike) — Al Jazeera English. You mentioned before coming here that your country assured both Egypt and Saudi Arabia about the new approach towards Iran and also to be realistic. By ‘realistic’ did you mean that what the United States did before, confrontation and sanctions, or that the new approach of — (inaudible) — and things like that? There is only one goal is to solve the Iranian nuclear program, and that means reassuring the region that this won’t be used against them?

SEC. GATES: Our goal really is two-fold. Obviously we want to try and stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but we also are interested in stopping Iran’s destabilizing efforts throughout the region. And I think that there is very broad concern in the region about Iran and its activities. And our goal is to continue working with our friends in the region but at the same time see if there is an opportunity to begin trying to influence Iran to change its activities, its behavior, in the area.

Reaching out to Iran with an open hand in no way minimizes or changes the strong security relationship and strong political relationship that the United States has with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and our other long-term friends in the region.

If we encounter a closed fist when we extend our open hand, then we will react accordingly. But we think, the President believes that it is important for us to at least reach out to Iran and provide an opportunity to begin a dialog. But the focus of that dialog is on Iran’s behavior, and uppermost in our minds is taking measures necessary with our partners in the region to maintain their security and their stability, in particular against Iranian subversive activities.

Q The U.S. military relationship with Egypt — (inaudible) — the U.S. military declaration — (inaudible) — U.S. assistance to Egypt under the previous administration was linked to human rights progress. Is the Obama administration changing or shifting that policy? Did you hear concerns here in your talks about the level of U.S. military assistance to Egypt?

SEC. GATES: Well, clearly, the United States always is supportive of human rights, and that is no less true of the Obama administration than other administrations. By the same token, it is important to continue our work and our friendship with these countries. And the position of the administration is that as an example the foreign military financing that’s in the budget should be without conditions. And that is our sustained position.

Q (Inaudible) — the U.S. eager to do everything concerned with — (inaudible) — in the future and the fear of Israel — (inaudible) — Middle East free from mass destruction weapons? Thank you.

SEC. GATES: Well, I think the President has been very clear in his speech when he was in Europe about his desire to have a nuclear-weapons-free world. He hasn’t broken that down by region. Clearly that is our long-term objective.

Q Mr. Secretary, given the rising concern over instability in Pakistan, what are your expectations for a high-level meeting in Washington this week regarding the way that Saudi Arabia could play a greater role? What specifically could the Saudis do in helping to ease the problems in Pakistan, and are you going to make any request of them in that regard?

SEC. GATES: Well, as I said the other day, I think that the recent Taliban attacks that reached within 60 kilometers of Islamabad perhaps served as a wake-up call, if you will, to many in Pakistan that the Taliban operating inside Pakistan and other extremist groups have become a real danger to the Pakistani government. I think their response in sending the Army into Buner and beginning to deal with that situation is really a recognition of that threat.

And so my hope is that during the talks in Washington next week that their role during the next few days is that there will be a common agreement on the nature of the threat and the importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan working closely together and with the United States to try, and our partners, to try and deal with that threat.

With respect to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia clearly has a lot of influence throughout the entire region. They have a long-standing close relationship with Pakistan. And I think the key here is all of us doing what we can to help the Pakistani government deal with the emergent threat to its own existence from these violent extremists. And I think the Saudis along with other countries can play a constructive role in that.

Q (Off mike.)

SEC. GATES: I’m not sure I understood the question.

Q (Off mike) — critical. Next month is the election of Iran — (inaudible) — so if not, do you support Israel if they have to attack Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think those are completely different questions. I would say that I do not expect this dialog to—first of all, there is no dialog yet. There have been a few initial contacts, but there is no sustained dialog yet between the United States and Iran. And I expect it to develop, if it develops at all, will develop over a period of time. The United States goes into this with its eyes wide open. There have been previous attempts to establish a dialog with the Iranian government, and they have not proven successful. Our hope is that this time, as the President expressed it, if we extend an open hand that perhaps we will get something similar in response.

But I don’t expect this to develop in a way that would have any impact whatsoever on the Iranian election. I don’t think it will develop that quickly. And I’m not sure that even as it develops it would have any impact on that.

I continue to believe that we need to address our concerns with Iran. While all options are available of course, I believe that it is important to try and address our concerns about their nuclear weapons program through diplomatic and economic pressures, through trying to isolate Iran, toward building up the security capabilities of our friends in the region, and through cooperation with the Europeans, the Russians, and others to try and show Iran that its behavior is unwelcome to virtually all of the countries in the world.

Q Mr. Secretary, you mentioned on the plane on the way over that you felt some concerns in this region about the U.S. outreach to Iran were the result of an exaggerated sense of what might be possible. Can you expand on that? What in your view is a realistic expectation of what might be possible for an improved relationship with Iran?

SEC. GATES: Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what might be possible. I’ve been around long enough to see these efforts attempted before and with no result. The question is whether circumstances in Iran have changed in such a way that with the new administration offering an opportunity for contact, whether the Iranians are willing to take advantage of that opportunity.

I think that there’s, as I say I think it’s a dialog that if it happens at all will probably develop slowly. And I think what is important for friends and partners here in the Middle East to be assured of is that the United States will be very open and transparent about these contacts, and we will keep our friends informed of what is going on so that nobody gets surprised.

I think one of the areas where I think there has been some exaggerated concern has been some notion here in the region that there might be some grand bargain between the United States and Iran that would suddenly be sprung on them. And I would say that I believe that kind of prospect is very remote.

I think it’s highly unlikely, and we will just have to see how the Iranians respond to this offer from the President. Frankly, some of the first things that have happened subsequent to his extension of that open arm, open hand, have not been very encouraging in terms of statements coming out of Tehran.

We’re not willing to pull the hand back yet because we think there’s still some opportunity, but I think concerns out here of some kind of a grand bargain developed in secret are completely unrealistic, and I would say are not going to happen. And what is important for our friends to understand is that we will keep them informed and be transparent about this process.

 
 

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