WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2010 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and French Defense Minister Herve Morin today confirmed their shared goals to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and to continue to pressure Iran to end its nuclear program.
|Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, right, accompanies French Defense Minister Herve Morin upon his arrival at the Pentagon for a Sept. 16, 2010, luncheon meeting.|
DoD photo by R.D. Ward
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During a Pentagon news conference that followed meetings between the two defense leaders, Gates called France a strong partner, both in the fight and in training Afghan security forces. France also has been a leader in sanctions against Iran, in the fight against al-Qaida in Africa, and in revitalizing NATO, he said.
“Our bilateral relationship is hugely powerful at the political and military level,” Morin said. He added that his relationship with Gates is “a relationship of trust.”
“There is huge confidence between the two of us,” he said.
The two spoke mostly about the U.S.-NATO campaign in Afghanistan, Gates said.
Gates, who recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan, dismissed suggestions that he and military leaders are overly optimistic on the campaign they are due to assess in a December report.
“Most of us try to err on the side of caution because of our previous experiences, particularly in Iraq, where people were too optimistic, and certainly too optimistic prematurely,” he said.
Gates said both he and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, are cautiously optimistic about the military and civilian accomplishments there, especially in the growth and competency of the Afghan military.
“He will be cautious and I will be cautious,” he said, adding that the last of the 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan in December arrived in Afghanistan only in August.
The Afghan police remain a tougher challenge, Gates acknowledged, but he added that “it’s been tougher all along, and it was tougher in Iraq” “I don’t want to mislead anybody,” Gates said. “This is a hard fight. We have hard days ahead. We will lose more kids. But I think General Petraeus has the feeling we are on the right track.”
Morin was unequivocal in the need for the French to remain in Afghanistan.
“There cannot be a European speech or position where we announce we are pulling out,” he said, “because that would be the best way to encourage the Taliban.”
Asked about French citizens’ commitment to Afghanistan, Morin acknowledged it is harder to convince Europeans of the need for the war, because they haven’t felt as connected to the al-Qaida threat that originated there. Although the French parliament banned citizens from wearing the burqa, a total-body cover the Taliban forced on Afghan women, Morin said no threats of hostilities resulted from the new law.
Morin, who also recently visited Afghanistan, spoke of the progress there, especially in the construction of roads and schools, and the return of children to school. “Everyone is convinced today that the success comes from the military and civilian efforts coming together,” he said.
He also spoke of the progress of the Afghan military.
“In the beginning, I saw an Afghan army that was not an army,” he said. “Now, they are military troops perfectly capable of operations.”
The defense leaders were equally in step on their position on maintaining sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program. Gates thanked Morin for his leadership on the issue, and said the additional measures countries have taken have been even more severe than the sanctions passed by the United Nations Security Council resolution.
Morin noted that the European Union, South Korea, and Japan are among those who have adopted stricter sanctions. “All of us are convinced of one thing: we have to show absolute determination. … No one should show any kind of weakness.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)