Gates Discusses Libya, Middle East Turmoil

CAIRO, March 23, 2011 — Oper­a­tions in Libya and insta­bil­i­ty in the Mid­dle East dom­i­nat­ed a news con­fer­ence with Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates here today.
Gates met with reporters after a meet­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Essam Sharaf and oth­er Egypt­ian lead­ers.

U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1973 called for estab­lish­ing a no-fly zone in Libya and pre­vent­ing Libyan leader Moam­mar Gad­hafi from killing his own peo­ple, Gates said. It does not pro­vide for elim­i­nat­ing Gad­hafi as Libya’s leader, he added.

“We will be assess­ing this as we go along in terms of when his capa­bil­i­ties to [slaugh­ter] his peo­ple has been elim­i­nat­ed,” the sec­re­tary told reporters. “But I think no one was under any illu­sions that this would be an oper­a­tion that would last one week or two weeks or three weeks.” No time­line exists for end­ing coali­tion activ­i­ties, he said.

The wide­spread unrest through­out the Mid­dle East and North Africa is extra­or­di­nary because of the speed with which it has spread across region, “regard­less of the diver­si­ty of the gov­ern­ments involved,” Gates said.

The entire phe­nom­e­non is less than three months old, the sec­re­tary added, “so in a way, one looks on it with some won­der.”

But a need exists, he said, “to try and work with the gov­ern­ments of the region — with inter­im gov­ern­ments, with new gov­ern­ments, with exist­ing gov­ern­ments — to bring about change, but … in a way that is sta­bi­liz­ing in the region and not desta­bi­liz­ing.”

Mean­while, Gates said, the sit­u­a­tion in Yemen remains unset­tled. “I think it’s too soon to call an out­come,” he said.

The Unit­ed States has had a good work­ing rela­tion­ship with Yemeni Pres­i­dent Ali Abdul­lah Saleh in the coun­tert­er­ror­ism are­na, Gates not­ed.

“But clear­ly, there’s a lot of unhap­pi­ness inside Yemen,” he said. “I think we will basi­cal­ly just con­tin­ue to watch the sit­u­a­tion. We haven’t done any post-Saleh plan­ning.”

In Bahrain, the sec­re­tary said, the oppo­si­tion and the gov­ern­ment should sit down togeth­er and talk about the long-term rela­tion­ship between the gov­ern­ment and the Shi­ia Mus­lim major­i­ty. Gates, who recent­ly trav­eled to Bahrain, said he did so “to see what the prospects were that the two sides could come togeth­er.”

Gates vis­it­ed Bahrain, he said, to express U.S. sup­port for the gov­ern­ment and to encour­age the gov­ern­ment to reach out to the oppo­si­tion, start nego­ti­a­tions and begin a process that would resolve some of the issues.

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

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