USA/UK — Interview about Lybia, Afghanistan, Syria

Media Avail­abil­i­ty with Sec­re­tary Gates and Sec­re­tary Fox from the Pen­ta­gon
SEC. GATES: Admi­ral Mullen and I just com­plet­ed pro­duc­tive and sub­stan­tive dis­cus­sions, almost three hours worth, with Dr. Fox and Gen­er­al Richards.
Our talks includ­ed mil­i­tary oper­a­tions over Libya, where the U.S. con­tin­ues to be in a sup­port­ing role to the NATO-led cam­paign, along with our Arab allies. We talked about the way ahead in Afghanistan, where more than 9,000 British troops are in the thick of the fight. We talked about the his­toric changes under way across the Mid­dle East, where we con­demn vio­lent tac­tics against peace­ful protests.

We also talked about some of the chal­lenges fac­ing both of our mil­i­tary estab­lish­ments to sus­tain key mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties at a time of eco­nom­ic dis­tress and intense fis­cal pressure. 

For some sev­en decades, the spe­cial rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and the Unit­ed King­dom, and the spe­cial bond forged in blood between our mil­i­taries, has been a force for good in this world. And I’m pleased that our dia­logue today sus­tained and advanced that rela­tion­ship at such a chal­leng­ing time. 


SEC. FOX: Can I begin by thank­ing Sec­re­tary Gates and Admi­ral Mullen for host­ing us here today at such an impor­tant time. Today, as through­out much of our shared his­to­ry, our armed forces stand shoul­der to shoul­der in Afghanistan, fight­ing pira­cy in the Gulf and, of course, today in Libya. 

We had a wide-rang­ing set of dis­cus­sions today. We dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan, which remains our main effort. We dis­cussed how the process of tran­si­tion was mov­ing for­ward and how, increas­ing­ly, while we have con­trol of the mil­i­tary space in Afghanistan, the sit­u­a­tion in the polit­i­cal space becomes of ever greater importance. 

In Libya, we dis­cussed how the sit­u­a­tion is pro­gress­ing. We’ve seen some momen­tum gained in the last few days. We’re very grate­ful to the Unit­ed States for mak­ing the armed Preda­tors avail­able and for the dif­fer­ence that makes in help­ing us to be able to hit more ground tar­gets. We’ve seen some progress made in Mis­ura­ta, and it’s very clear that the regime is on the back foot. 

The soon­er that Colonel Gad­hafi rec­og­nizes that the game is up, how­ev­er, today or short­ly, the bet­ter. He is a lia­bil­i­ty for his peo­ple and his coun­try, and the soon­er that he gets this mes­sage, the bet­ter. It is also appalling for us to see the sight of young mer­ce­nary sol­diers being pushed to the front of lines in places like Mis­ura­ta, and it’s a sign of des­per­a­tion from a regime that they resort to these sorts of tactics. 

Final­ly, of course, we were look­ing at the sit­u­a­tion in Syr­ia. We deeply deplore the actions of the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment in killing civil­ians. We urge them to take all mea­sures pos­si­ble to have polit­i­cal reform and to ensure that the peo­ple in their coun­try are treat­ed in safe­ty and with dig­ni­ty, in the way that we expect all in our own coun­tries and in those coun­tries who are part of the civ­i­lized fam­i­ly of nations to behave. 

Thank you. 

SEC. GATES: Do you want to take one — 

Q: May I ask you a ques­tion — Robert Moore from British tele­vi­sion ITN — and Sec­re­tary Gates as well? I won­der if you could explain to peo­ple why we are inter­ven­ing in Libya with such con­vic­tion and pas­sion, and yet human­i­tar­i­an inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia seems to be off the agen­da. How many peo­ple have to live in fear of their own gov­ern­ment to jus­ti­fy NATO’s involvement? 

SEC. FOX: Well, first of all, we had a long diplo­mat­ic process, when we tried to per­suade the gov­ern­ment of Libya to car­ry out a process of reform. When we saw the spon­ta­neous upris­ing in Libya, we want­ed the Libyan gov­ern­ment to accede in the way that ulti­mate­ly gov­ern­ments in places like Tunisia and Egypt had done. They decid­ed not to do so, and when we got to the point where we saw Beng­hazi being threat­ened and a poten­tial human­i­tar­i­an cat­a­stro­phe, the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, through the Unit­ed Nations, decid­ed to act. 

We would urge coun­tries such as Syr­ia to yet pause and reflect on the fact that it is the peo­ple of the coun­try who must ulti­mate­ly deter­mine their des­tiny, not any despot­ic regime. And there­fore we hope that the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty will be able to get the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment to rec­og­nize that sense should prevail. 

And final­ly, of course, as Prime Min­is­ter Cameron has said, because in the past we’ve not been able to do every­thing, does­n’t mean that we should ever do noth­ing. There are lim­i­ta­tions to what we can do in a world which has more than its his­toric amount of insta­bil­i­ty. We will do what we can to rein­force the val­ues that our coun­tries share. But we can’t do every­thing all the time, and we have to rec­og­nize that there are prac­ti­cal lim­i­ta­tions to what our coun­tries can do, no mat­ter how much we would like to do so. Q: Sec­re­tary Gates? 

SEC. GATES: The only thing I would add is that I think that our val­ues and prin­ci­ples apply to all coun­tries in terms of peace­ful protest, in terms of the need to address polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic griev­ances of the populations. 

That said, our response in each coun­try will have to be tai­lored to that coun­try and to the cir­cum­stances pecu­liar to that coun­try. In the case of Libya, the diplo­mat­ic process start­ed with a res­o­lu­tion by the Arab League — which was unprece­dent­ed in my expe­ri­ence — but­tressed by anoth­er res­o­lu­tion by the Gulf Coop­er­a­tion Coun­cil and then mov­ing on to the Unit­ed Nations. So there was a degree of inter­na­tion­al sup­port for this human­i­tar­i­an mis­sion and the no-fly zone that I think was unprece­dent­ed. So I would — I would agree with every­thing Dr. Fox said and then just add those obser­va­tions. Bob? 

Q: Mr. — a ques­tion for both of you. The — in light of the attack on Gadhafi’s com­pound yes­ter­day, is this an indi­ca­tion that tar­get­ing pri­or­i­ties are shift­ing toward what the U.S. mil­i­tary some­times call cen­ters of grav­i­ty of the regime lead­er­ship, those kinds of tar­gets that might improve Gadhafi’s appre­ci­a­tion for the risk of hold­ing on? 

SEC. GATES: Go ahead. 

Q: A sec­ond quick ques­tion on Afghanistan — could you bring us up to date on your deci­sion-mak­ing process with regard to the July draw­down and the full draw­down of surge forces? 

SEC. GATES: First of all, I would say we have con­sid­ered all along com­mand-and-con­trol cen­ters to be a legit­i­mate tar­get, and we have tak­en those out else­where. They are the ones that are — those cen­ters are the ones that are com­mand­ing the forces that are com­mit­ting some of these human­i­tar­i­an — vio­la­tions of human­i­tar­i­an rights, such as in Mis­ura­ta. So we con­sid­er them legit­i­mate tar­gets. We are not tar­get­ing him specif­i­cal­ly, but we do con­sid­er com­mand-and-con­trol tar­gets legit­i­mate tar­gets wher­ev­er we find them. 

In Afghanistan, we will — I have not yet received Gen­er­al Petraeus’ rec­om­men­da­tions. I expect that they will be com­ing in the not too dis­tant future. I don’t know if you want to add. 

SEC. FOX: Peo­ple ask, in Libya, have we tak­en a side? And the answer is, yes, we have; we’ve tak­en the side of the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. That is what the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion has asked us to do. All that we want is that men, women and chil­dren can sleep safe in their own homes, know­ing that they will not be attacked by their own gov­ern­ment. And as long as that gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to tar­get civil­ians, as Sec­re­tary Gates says, we will con­tin­ue to regard all their com­mand-and-con­trol mech­a­nisms as legit­i­mate targets. 

We in the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty under­stand what it is that we have giv­en in terms of our com­mit­ment to the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. We under­stand our duty, and our resolve will not waiv­er as long as that civil­ian pop­u­la­tion remains at risk from an aggres­sive and wicked regime which has waged war on its own people. 

SEC. GATES: Thank you. 

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

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