Turmoil Brings Challenges, Opportunities, Gates Says

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, March 25, 2011 — Dur­ing a week of vis­its with lead­ers who all are affect­ed by simul­ta­ne­ous antigov­ern­ment protests in Mid­dle East coun­tries, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates focused on oppor­tu­ni­ties that come with the chal­lenges.
“We both face a region that is in tur­moil,” Gates told Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu dur­ing a news con­fer­ence before a break­fast meet­ing today in Cae­sarea, north of Tel Aviv. “That will present chal­lenges, but it also poten­tial­ly presents oppor­tu­ni­ties, and I look for­ward to talk­ing with the prime min­is­ter about that this morn­ing.”

Gates arrived in Israel the same day that rock­ets and mor­tars from Gaza blast­ed south­ern Israel and the same week that a ter­ror­ist bomb­ing in Jerusalem killed and injured peo­ple in that city. 

“I was in Moscow yes­ter­day and received a very warm tele­phone call from Pres­i­dent [Barack] Oba­ma,” Netanyahu said, not­ing Oba­ma was very sup­port­ive and sent his con­do­lences for the vic­tims of the recent ter­ror attack in Jerusalem. 

The Israeli prime min­is­ter added that Oba­ma “said square­ly and plain­ly, ‘We stand with Israel in this bat­tle against terror.’ ” 

Netanyahu said he has since received sim­i­lar mes­sages from lead­ers of Rus­sia, Italy and oth­er nations. 

“I think this says that civ­i­lized coun­tries have a com­mon stake in fight­ing ter­ror­ism, and we want to make sure that’s clear to the ter­ror­ists,” the Israeli prime min­is­ter said.

“Civ­il soci­ety will not tol­er­ate such wan­ton attacks on its civil­ians. Israel will not tol­er­ate such wan­ton attacks on its civil­ians, and we stand ready to act with great force and great destruc­tion to put a stop to it. 

“I know the Unit­ed States has been doing the same and would do the same,” he added. 

“Let me sim­ply add to what Pres­i­dent Oba­ma said, my own con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies and vic­tims of the ter­ror­ist attacks and dur­ing the rock­et attacks in the south,” Gates said.

Netanyahu said he and Gates planned to dis­cuss “so many areas in which Israel and the Unit­ed States see eye-to-eye and in which we seek to estab­lish secu­ri­ty for the sake of the estab­lish­ment of peace.” 

The sec­re­tary not­ed that the long­stand­ing part­ner­ship between the Unit­ed States and Israel includes a defense and secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ship that has nev­er been stronger, “and not just in affir­ma­tions, but in con­crete ways of cooperation.” 

After the meet­ing, Gates trav­eled to Pales­tine for a meet­ing with Pales­tin­ian Author­i­ty Prime Min­is­ter Salam Fayyad at his office in Ramal­lah, on the cen­tral West Bank. 

“I under­stand that I’m the first Amer­i­can sec­re­tary of defense to vis­it Ramal­lah,” Gates said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, “and I look for­ward to our talks over the next few min­utes … about polit­i­cal devel­op­ments around the region, but also prospects for a two-state solution.” 

“This is a time of great chal­lenge and oppor­tu­ni­ty through­out the region,” Fayyad said, adding that he and his col­leagues would review with Gates the progress the Pales­tin­ian Author­i­ty has made on its path to get­ting ready for statehood. 

Before depart­ing for Wash­ing­ton, Gates trav­eled to Amman, Jor­dan, for a pri­vate meet­ing with King Abdul­lah II. Gates also spent time this week meet­ing with offi­cials in Rus­sia and Egypt. 

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

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