Afghanistan/USA — Gates Discusses New Nuclear Posture, U.S. Relations With Karzai

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2010 — While the new U.S. Nuclear Pos­ture Review removes some of the inten­tion­al ambi­gu­i­ty from the country’s nuclear pol­i­cy, “all options are on the table” for coun­tries like North Korea and Iran, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said.

In a round of inter­views that aired today, Gates, appear­ing along­side Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton, also dis­cussed the U.S. rela­tion­ship with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, whose reli­a­bil­i­ty has been called into ques­tion recent­ly.

Unveiled last week, the Nuclear Pos­ture Review, or NPR, states that the Unit­ed States will not deploy or threat­en use of nuclear weapons against a coun­try that pos­sess­es no nuclear weapons of its own and com­plies with the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion treaty and its oblig­a­tions.

“Because North Korea and Iran are not in com­pli­ance with the Nuclear Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty,” Gates said on CBS’ Face the Nation, “for them, all bets are off. All options are on the table.” The NPR, which cul­mi­nates a year of Defense Depart­ment-led efforts involv­ing top inter­a­gency offi­cials, is the first over­ar­ch­ing look at U.S. nuclear strat­e­gy since the end of the Cold War. It cod­i­fies the new U.S. nuclear stance, which includes a pol­i­cy to not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state, even if the state attacks with chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal weapons.

Gates said pol­i­cy­mak­ers could not find a cred­i­ble sce­nario where a chem­i­cal weapon could have the kind of con­se­quences that would war­rant a nuclear response, but that Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma has flex­i­bil­i­ty in a U.S. response to bio­log­i­cal attacks.

“We were con­cerned about the bio­log­i­cal weapons,” Gates said. “And that’s why we were very clear in the Nuclear Pos­ture Review that if we see states devel­op­ing bio­log­i­cal weapons that we begin to think endan­ger us or cre­ate seri­ous con­cerns, [the pres­i­dent] reserves the right to revise this pol­i­cy.”

The NPR artic­u­lates a roadmap for cut­ting the Amer­i­can nuclear arse­nal, edg­ing the coun­try toward Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s stat­ed long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, and ceas­es U.S. test­ing of nuclear weapons and the devel­op­ment of new nuclear weapons plat­forms. Speak­ing on ABC’s “This Week” about the U.S. rela­tion­ship with Karzai, who has come under fire recent­ly for a series of com­ments that report­ed­ly have strained rela­tions, Gates urged more sen­si­tiv­i­ty in deal­ings with the con­tro­ver­sial leader. “I think we, frankly, have to be sen­si­tive in our own com­ments about Pres­i­dent Karzai,” Gates said, “in terms of being mind­ful that he is the embod­i­ment of sov­er­eign­ty for Afghanistan also in the way we treat him.”

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Clin­ton expressed “sym­pa­thy” for Karzai and the “extra­or­di­nary stress he lives under every sin­gle minute of every day.”

Gates agreed. “When there are attacks on him, on his fam­i­ly and what he per­ceives to be on Afghanistan itself, or insults to the sov­er­eign­ty of Afghanistan,” he said, “he’s going to react, and he’s going to react strong­ly.”

Gates gave an upbeat assess­ment of Karzai’s rela­tion­ship with U.S. Army Gen. Stan­ley McChrys­tal, the top Amer­i­can com­man­der in Afghanistan. Gates said the two con­tin­ue to meet reg­u­lar­ly and have a “very pos­i­tive rela­tion­ship.”

The sec­re­tary said Karzai has been a coop­er­a­tive part­ner by attend­ing “shuras,” or peace meet­ings with influ­en­tial trib­al elders, in Kan­da­har – the Taliban’s spir­i­tu­al home­land, which is slat­ed to be the focus of the next major U.S. oper­a­tion in Afghanistan, accord­ing to mil­i­tary offi­cials.

“I think that the day-to-day work­ing rela­tion­ship, cer­tain­ly on the mil­i­tary side and between Gen­er­al McChrys­tal and Pres­i­dent Karzai, is work­ing well,” Gates said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)