WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2011 — U.S. and French defense leaders consulted on a wide range of mutual interests and signed an agreement on space situational awareness at the Pentagon today.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and French Defense Minister Alain Juppe discussed Afghanistan, restoring NATO, containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and defeating international terrorism, and also addressed the situation in Egypt.
Gates hosted Juppe and his party last night at a restaurant that once hosted John Quincy Adams and Marquis de Lafayette in 1824.
On Egypt, both men emphasized the need for a peaceful transition. Gates said the Egyptian military “has conducted itself in an exemplary manner” through the protests.
“They have acted with great restraint, and frankly, they have done everything that we have indicated we hoped they would do,” Gates said. “They have made a contribution to the evolution of democracy that we’ve seen in Egypt.”
Egypt needs an orderly transition, but it needs to continue to move forward in a way that allows people to see “a steady pace in implementing a number of the reforms that have been announced and which the Egyptian government has committed,” Gates said.
Juppe stressed that both the United States and France want free and fair elections in Egypt.
“It’s up to the people of Egypt to decide about that,” he said through a translator. “We are ready to support whatever decisions they make.”
Juppe said Arab leaders always have told the West that “it was either us or Islamic chaos.” He said the countries need to let opposition parties form and should not let anyone “confiscate the democratic process.”
Gates called the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt a “spontaneous manifestation of discontent on the part of people who have both economic and political grievances.” The United States has been aware of the problems, he said, and has spoken to governments in the region on their need to address these problems.
“I would hope that other governments in the region, seeing this spontaneous action in Tunisia and Egypt, would take measures to begin moving in a positive direction,” he said. “In this way, we can have an orderly transition toward greater democracy.”
The two men also signed a bilateral statement on principles for space situational awareness. Gates said the agreement will go a long way toward addressing one of the key security challenges of the 21st century.
“As the new strategy puts it, space is becoming increasingly congested, contested and competitive,” he said.
A growing number of nations are using space for a growing number of purposes: manned spacecraft, satellites, the international space station and more. This increases the odds of accidental collisions.
In addition, many space technologies undergird civilian and defense capabilities such as precision navigation, climate monitoring, secure communications and natural disaster warnings.
“These agreements help us mitigate situations by sharing information and pooling our varied capabilities,” Gates said. “Our arrangement will foster safety and reduce the chance of mishaps, misperceptions and mistrust. Such cooperation is a key aspect of our National Security Space Strategy.”
Juppe emphasized the high level of confidence the French have in their military relationship with the United States. He said the close cooperation between the two nations allows their militaries to work together from Afghanistan — where France has more than a brigade of troops working with American forces in Regional Command East -– to space, which the minister called one of the most challenging domains.
He assured Gates that France is a reliable partner despite budget constraints that all nations are facing.
“I want to stress that we will safeguard the operational capability of our armed forces,” Juppe said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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