Gates, Saudi King Discuss Defense Relationship

RIYADH, Sau­di Ara­bia, April 6, 2011 — The bilat­er­al mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and Sau­di Ara­bia, progress in a major arms sale and con­cerns about Iran are among the top­ics Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and Sau­di King Abdul­lah are dis­cussing in a meet­ing here today, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell said.
Gates arrived here late this morn­ing for the lat­est in a series of vis­its that have tak­en him to six oth­er coun­tries in the region since mid-March.

“The sec­re­tary has devel­oped and enjoys an excel­lent rela­tion­ship with King Abdul­lah,” Mor­rell said, “to the point where he has been invit­ed to, essen­tial­ly, drop in on the king when­ev­er he’s in the region. He has been try­ing to take advan­tage of that kind invi­ta­tion over the last cou­ple of years.”

Sau­di Ara­bia is the No. 1 con­sumer of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary hard­ware, Mor­rell not­ed, and part of Gates’ dis­cus­sion with the king about the U.S.-Saudi mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship will cen­ter on progress in final­iz­ing a recent $60 bil­lion arms sale agree­ment.

Gates and the Sau­di monarch also will share their per­spec­tives on the recent polit­i­cal devel­op­ments in the region, Mor­rell told reporters trav­el­ing with the sec­re­tary, a dis­cus­sion that inevitably will include Iran.

“Clear­ly, when­ev­er [the sec­re­tary] vis­its the Saud­is or any­one else in the region,” he said, “Iran will be a major focus of their con­ver­sa­tion –- both in terms of the region­al threat they pose in pur­suit of their nuclear pro­gram [and] their bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram, but also in terms late­ly of the role they’ve been play­ing in try­ing to exploit the unrest in the region to their advan­tage.”

A senior Defense Depart­ment offi­cial said Gates planned to encour­age King Abdul­lah to con­tin­ue mov­ing for­ward in work­ing with the Unit­ed States on bal­lis­tic mis­sile defense coop­er­a­tion and naval mod­ern­iza­tion as they dis­cuss the mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between their coun­tries.

Gates’ impres­sions from his recent vis­its to the region in the midst of wide­spread unrest also will be among the top­ics the sec­re­tary dis­cuss­es with the king, the offi­cial said. “He’ll be shar­ing his per­spec­tives on how we see the region,” the offi­cial said. “I think he will reaf­firm the administration’s dual-track approach to the unrest. At the most gen­er­al lev­el, we’ve been con­sis­tent on the artic­u­la­tion of basic prin­ci­ples: the right of free speech, the right of assem­bly, the right of asso­ci­a­tion, the absolute oblig­a­tion by all par­ties — secu­ri­ty forces and pro­test­ers alike — to refrain from vio­lence, protest peace­ful­ly [and] respond to the protests peace­ful­ly.

“It’s also our judg­ment that giv­en this polit­i­cal earth­quake rock­ing the region,” he con­tin­ued, “it’s ulti­mate­ly in the inter­est of all of the lead­ers in this part of the world to get out ahead of it –- to imple­ment gen­uine reforms.”

That view applies in gen­er­al terms for the region, the offi­cial added, but on a spe­cif­ic lev­el, the path toward reform and the tem­po of changes will vary.

“It depends on what makes sense in any par­tic­u­lar coun­try -– what’s pos­si­ble, what’s real­is­tic, what the oppo­si­tion is demand­ing, what’s with­in the realm of the con­ceiv­able,” he explained. “In a lot of these cas­es, it’s real­ly an evo­lu­tion­ary approach, as opposed to a rev­o­lu­tion­ary approach to reform, that might be appro­pri­ate.”

The offi­cial said Gates will note that nei­ther the Unit­ed States nor Iran start­ed the tur­moil that has rocked the Mid­dle East, but the Ira­ni­ans are try­ing to exploit the sit­u­a­tion. “And our eyes are wide open about that,” the offi­cial added.

In this vis­it and dur­ing oth­ers the defense sec­re­tary has made in the region, the offi­cial said, Gates has stressed the val­ue of strate­gic part­ner­ships in meet­ing com­mon chal­lenges such as extrem­ism, pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons of mass destruc­tion, the bal­lis­tic mis­sile threat and mar­itime secu­ri­ty. Those com­mon chal­lenges pre­date the cur­rent tur­moil in the region, he not­ed, and they remain as chal­lenges going for­ward.

“None of that has changed,” the offi­cial said. “All of those rea­sons for our strate­gic part­ner­ship are the same today as they were six months ago, or a year ago, or two years ago. What has changed is the region­al con­text, and one of our shared inter­ests is in sta­bil­i­ty –- sta­bil­i­ty of our key part­ners and sta­bil­i­ty in the region.”

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

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