SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to have Minister Morin with us, and welcome him to the Pentagon for his first visit as minister of defense. Minister Morin and I first met in Paris last June, soon after he took office.
My visit to Paris in June was the first by an American secretary of Defense in something like 10 years. The occasion then was the commemoration of the D-Day ceremonies at Normandy. I appreciated Mr. Morin’s eloquent statement that day on the shared history and sacrifices of our two nations.
Today we discussed a range of issues, including Afghanistan, military-to-military relationships between France and the United States, and the relationship between NATO and the European Union.
As you know, President Sarkozy visited Afghanistan last month, and we certainly appreciated his strong statement of commitment to NATO’s mission there. I look forward to continuing close relationship between France and the United States and between Minister Morin and myself.
Mr. Minister, welcome.
MIN. MORIN: This is just to say that I’m very happy to be here for my very first visit to the United States here in the Pentagon. There are very candid and confident relationships between Secretary Gates and myself which help us addressing the major issues between France and the United States with extreme freedom.
As a Frenchman, and as a Normand, I had the opportunity to say — to tell Secretary Gates how much I remember and how much I worship the white crosses that are in all the American cemeteries along the Norman coast, and that the blood-links uniting the United States and France are much more powerful than the discrepancies we might have experienced.
We had the occasion today to broach the Afghan issue for — and we could see that we share the same views about the major issue called political reconstruction of Afghanistan. Of course, once more, the highly convinced European that I am, I couldn’t help reminding the United States that they had to understand the French view about the European Union construction process. So our continent represents 25 percent of the world production, 450 million inhabitants.
And we think that next to the security system which we are attached to, which is NATO, there must be, as a complement and not as a duplicate, proper assets for Europe that make it possible for us not to consider European defense as a sort of civil agency of NATO, but for a Europe that is able to ensure stability force operations on its own continent and on the African continent also, when it is extremely difficult for NATO (to do so ?) and where we have particular interests, since the situation in Africa is a direct — is a strong element that concerns our own security.
On all these issues — renovation of the Atlantic alliance, the evolution of European defense, the perspective of a new policy that would help Afghanistan getting back on its feet — I can say that we share the same views.
STAFF: A couple questions.
Perhaps, Bob, you can start it.
[*QUESTION: Secretary Gates, General Petraeus in recent days has suggested publicly that he might recommend a pause in the drawdown of U.S. troops once he gets to 15 brigades in July. Has he indicated as much to you, and what do you think of that idea and the underlying logic of it?*]
SEC. GATES: First of all, we have not had the opportunity to discuss it. The guidance that I have provided to him is that he should make his evaluation and recommendations based solely on the conditions on the ground in Iraq. And as I have indicated before, as did last summer, he will also have — the president will also have available to him the views of the commander of CENTCOM, Central Command, and the Joint Chiefs, and I will have my own view. And the president will have the benefit of all of that, come March and April, in terms of making a decision.
STAFF: (Off mike.)
[*QUESTION: (Through interpreter.) Mr. Gates, (the allies ?) are requesting the Americans to send more troops in Afghanistan. You decided to send another 3,200 more. Have you ever passed this request to France, and Mr. Morin answered this question you asked?*]
Have you asked Mr. Morin to move troops down to the south or to deploy troops elsewhere, where they could be deployed? And did you ask the French party that the special forces come back to Afghanistan? Maybe we could have an answer by Minister Morin.
[*SEC. GATES*]: Well, first of all, I don’t think that the Europeans have, in fact, or our NATO allies have, in fact, asked the United States to send more troops. They know that we already have more than half of the troops on the ground in Afghanistan. I made the decision after consulting with the president to send the additional Marines principally because it did not appear that that requirement would be satisfied by anybody else. And I wanted to take advantage of the gains that we had achieved over the past year in the security situation.
I would just say that Minister Morin and I have discussed a wide range of issues relating to Afghanistan, including the participation of the allies and the need for a comprehensive strategy. I think I would leave the specifics of that discussion to — I think we discussed the — we discussed a wide range of issues relating to deployments in Afghanistan, and I think I’ll just leave it at that.
MIN. MORIN: The problem in Afghanistan is not only a military problem. We need a comprehensive solution. This comprehensive solution is a political-economic solution; for instance, the possibility for the Afghans to start new crops different from opium, which is right now the main production in Afghanistan.
The problem is also to develop infrastructures that can reboost the economy and — (inaudible) — resources should come along with a comprehensive approach. (Inaudible) — the resolution of the Afghan crisis only under the military aspect. We do not have — (inaudible) — that would make it possible for us to consider that we have done our job — (inaudible). (Inaudible) — believes that NATO (has asked ?) clearly about the policies to implement, not to see only deployment of major resources, but also to establish true synergy, like we do, for instance, on the account of the stability of the country, or the account of the development of Afghanistan. This is what we have to think about.
STAFF: We only have time for maybe one more brief question.
[*QUESTION: Secretary Gates, can I ask you if you can shed any light on reports that Abu Laith al-Libi, one of the top al Qaeda commanders in Afghanistan, has been killed? And can you tell us what that would mean if that report was true?*]
SEC. GATES: No, I don’t have anything definitive for you on that.
[*QUESTION: Can I just follow up then briefly, as that was such a brief answer, and ask if you agree with General Jones that, at the moment, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan and, in fact, there’s a state of strategic stalemate?*]
SEC. GATES: My view is that militarily NATO has had a very successful year in 2007. The Taliban occupy no territory in Afghanistan on a continuing basis. There is a rising security issue but it is because the Taliban are turning to terrorism, having failed in conventional military conflict with the NATO allies. And so we are seeing more suicide bombings, more use of IEDs and so on. These are the actions of people whose conventional military efforts have failed.
And so the key is, it seems to me, how do we overcome this turn to terrorism on the part of the Taliban and at the same time deal, as Minister Morin talked about, with the other aspects of concern in Afghanistan? And that is economic development, governance, counternarcotics and so on. All of these things need to be addressed for us to be successful. But I think that the rise in violence and attacks such as we saw in Kabul are the manifestation of a group that has lost in regular military terms in 2007 and is turning to terrorism as a substitute for that.
Thank you very much.
MIN. MORIN: Thank you.