Remarks with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, good afternoon. I’m pleased to be here with my colleague Secretary Bob Gates for today’s joint meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers. The meeting was productive and far-ranging. I’m going to give you a very brief readout and then Secretary Gates and I will be happy to take your questions.
The focal point for today’s ministerial was NATO’s new strategic concept, which now exists in draft form. This document and the conversation it has sparked among member states serves an important function, which is to ensure that NATO evolves as the world evolves. And to be a security alliance in the 21st century, to remain relevant and effective, NATO must have the capacity to anticipate and protect against shifting security challenges from terrorism to ballistic missiles, from cyber attacks to the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Relying on the strategies of the past simply will not suffice.
NATO began as a regional alliance, but the threats we now face are global and our perspectives must therefore be global as well. And it was in recognition of this fact that NATO launched the Strategic Concept review. And I’d like to thank Secretary General Rasmussen for leading it and the panel of experts who did an enormous amount of work led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Today’s meeting brings us closer to a final product. And the member states will continue to discuss and revise as we prepare for the summit next month in Lisbon. Defense ministers met earlier today to discuss NATO reform and strengthening NATO’s capabilities. We will be meeting as foreign ministers right after this on other aspects of the reform agenda.
One critical element will be an emphasis on improving coordination between civilian and military operations because today’s security challenges are rarely just military. Usually they are political and always they are both. They call for the contributions of a wide range of people from military strategists and weapons specialists to diplomats and development experts. And we believe NATO must harmonize and integrate its military and civilian capacity. That’s something that Secretary Gates and I are working on in our own government.
One item not on the formal agenda was Afghanistan. But naturally, as NATO’s largest ongoing operation, there was much discussion and two key elements of our strategy were discussed. First, in the shorter term, helping Afghanistan make the transition to taking the lead on its own security. And second, in the longer term, creating a strategic partnership with Afghanistan that will foster lasting stability and progress. Both objectives are critical to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.
In addition to the NATO ministerial meeting, Secretary Gates and I met together and separately with a number of our counterparts to discuss a range of regional and global issues. The United States remains absolutely committed to NATO which has safeguarded our freedom for over 60 years and we will continue to offer whatever support we can to help finalize the strategic concept and to implement it to ensure that NATO will always stand as an effective and forceful alliance for its members’ security.
Now with that, Secretary Gates and I will be glad to take your questions.
MODERATOR: The first question is from Matt Lee of AP.
QUESTION: Hi. I’d stand up but I can’t because I have a computer on my lap. Sorry about that.
There’s been a lot of – I’d like to ask you about the Afghan mission. There’s been a lot of talk recently over the past couple of weeks, and mostly recently even today, about the peace talks, the reconciliation and reintegration program that President Karzai wants. We know what your red lines are and we know – for these talks – and we know that we’ve been constantly reminded over and over again that there’s an Afghan process that’s Afghan-led. We know all that.
But at what point does the U.S. have to step in and take a seat at the table in order to protect the equities that the American people have earned over nine years with – at tremendous cost of blood and treasure, as you all like to say?
SECRETARY GATES: Well, first of all, we have always acknowledged that reconciliation has to be a part of the solution ultimately in Afghanistan, and we will do whatever we can to support that process. I think one of the principles that we have established with President Karzai is transparency with one another as this process goes forward, so we are in very close consultations with President Karzai and the Afghan Government. So we know what they’re doing, they know what we’re doing, and they understand what our requirements are. And frankly, we share with them what we think will be in their own best interests as the process goes along.
But it’s basically a partnership as we go forward with this, with clearly the Afghans in the lead. But I think we’re confident that we have access into this process and plenty of opportunities to make our concerns as well as our suggestions known.
MODERATOR: The next question is from Adam Entous of the Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Just to follow up on that, why help with high-level reconciliation now? It wasn’t too long ago when the U.S. Government was arguing that it was premature, that you had to weaken the Taliban more before going into reconciliation at a high level. What’s changed with the U.S. calculation on this?
SECRETARY GATES: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of it. I would just say that whenever opportunities arise that are worth exploring, I think we ought to take advantage of that. And whether they lead to something concrete in the short term or establish a predicate for something that may develop months or a year from now, I think really doesn’t matter. We just – we need to be open to opportunities that arise.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I would also add that both Bob and I and a lot of our counterparts here in Brussels have both seen and received reports of progress that we are making on the ground. General Petraeus was here in Brussels yesterday, and last evening he briefed a number of the ministers as well as NATO ISAF officials, and his report reinforces a lot of the other information and evidence that we’re seeing about the increasing effectiveness on the ground of our joint efforts.
I also think it’s something of a perhaps exaggeration to read too much into these early reports that are appearing in the press. This is a long process. There are two aspects to it. The reintegration aspect is accelerating. More and more of the fighters on the field are seeking a way out. Many of them found themselves employed by the Taliban or related insurgents because it was a way to make a living, and our reports are that more of them are seeking to leave the battlefield behind. And our red lines for them are the same as our red lines for reconciliation; they have to renounce violence, give up their weapons, renounce al-Qaida and the insurgency, and abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan.
On the reconciliation front, this is a much more complex effort that is just beginning. There are a lot of different strains to it that may or may not be legitimate or borne out as producing any bona fide reconciliation. So I think that as Bob said, we support what the Afghans are doing. We obviously have sought and obtained transparency, and we have an understanding of their goals and objectives and they have a very clear understanding of our red lines.
So this will play out over a period of time. And obviously, we have for more than a year supported this kind of effort, but the timing is everything and the sincerity of the outreach is everything. And so we’re not yet ready to make any judgments about whether or not any of this will bear fruit on the reconciliation front while we continue to see fighters coming off the battlefield on the reintegration front.
SECRETARY GATES: I would just add one sentence to the effect that Secretary Clinton mentioned General Petraeus’s briefings here at NATO yesterday. He briefed me last night and I had several defense ministers come up to me today who have just been in Afghanistan in the last few days or the last week or so, and to a person they said they were heartened by what they saw on the ground.
QUESTION: From the German press agency, two questions, if I might, both on missile defense. There’s now a broad expectation of an agreement on NATO-level territorial missile defense at the Lisbon summit. Would you expect a decision on that to be linked to some kind of debate on the U.S. sub-strategic nukes in Europe, or a decision on the withdrawal thereof?
And today, we’ve heard reports from Istanbul quoting Turkish diplomats saying the U.S. is, and I quote therewith, “putting pressure on Turkey,” to host elements of the missile defense, the planned missile defense screen. So can you give us some vision of where you are now at with where you would expect to deploy elements of the screen in Europe?
SECRETARY GATES: First of all, based on everything I heard today, I didn’t hear anything about linkage in terms of missile defense and nuclear reductions. Indeed, a number of speakers today talked about as long as we live in a world of nuclear weapons that it is important that NATO remain a nuclear-armed alliance.
With respect to Turkey, we talked about many subjects with the Turks. Obviously, the approach to an alliance-wide territorial and population missile defense was one of those subjects today that was broadly discussed. I would say that we are not putting pressure on the Turks, but we are having continuing conversations with them as one of our allies.
And a final question from (inaudible) of AFP.
QUESTION: Hi. This is regarding the death of the British aid worker. Will the Navy SEAL who is suspected of having thrown the grenade that killed the aid worker face disciplinary action? And has the way this death been handled shown some kind of failure in NATO about being open about what happened in this rescue?
SECRETARY GATES: Well, the investigation is – of this tragedy is still underway, so I don’t know the answers to those questions. Clearly, the death of this aid worker is a tragedy and we offer condolences to her family and friends. But I think there is also an important point to be made here: Let’s not forget who put her in harm’s way, who kidnapped her, and who kept her on a mountainside at 8,000 feet. So this is a terrible tragedy, but let – the Taliban bear the principal responsibility here.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would just echo that last point; it’s the point that my colleague William Hague made as well as Prime Minister Cameron. We join in expressing our deepest sympathy and condolence for the loss of this intrepid young woman, and we regret deeply that the Taliban is increasingly targeting aid workers. Our aid workers who go out to help deliver medical services, educational opportunities, or seed and fertilizer to farmers or help set up local government and court systems, they are vulnerable because they’re there working with people on the ground. They don’t carry arms. They are there on a different mission; it is one that has been much more integrated between our military and civilian capacity than ever before, and we’re very proud of the partnership that exists all the way through NATO ISAF between our military on the front lines and our development workers on the front lines.
But just recently, the Taliban made clear that aid workers should be targeted. We know what happened to the medical team that was kidnapped and killed just several months ago, and it is – it’s just tragic that people who are trying to give a better life to Afghan men, women, and children are now considered fair game by the Taliban.
So our sympathy goes out to the family and friends of this young woman, and our admiration goes out to the thousands of international and Afghan aid workers who every single day put themselves at risk. And I would hope that the international community would resoundingly condemn this targeting of civilians, of people who are bringing much needed help to local communities who are trying to provide support where there has been none, and that the Taliban would not continue to kidnap and kill people who are there to help the Afghan people. So that’s a message we’d like very clearly to send out.
SECRETARY GATES: Thank you all very much.