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Entries in Secretary of Defense (5)

Thursday
Nov292012

Leon Panetta and Israeli Counterpart Ehud Barak Talk Afghanistan, Iran, Syria -- and Friendship

MARK WILSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At a joint Pentagon press conference on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak addressed questions about Afghanistan, the Iron Dome missile defense system protecting Israel, as well as Iran, Syria, and Israel’s security.

Panetta addressed questions on the timing of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and said the exact number of the troops that will remain past the 2014 timetable is still being decided.

“The fundamental mission in Afghanistan is to establish an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself and ensure that al Qaeda never again finds a safe haven within Afghanistan from which to conduct attacks on the United States or any other country,” said Panetta.

He highlighted the three missions for which the United States will need to keep a presence in the country: counter-terrorism, training and assisting the Afghan army, and having enough troops to enable supporting any American forces still in the country.

Both leaders spoke about the ongoing conflict in Syria, with Panetta saying unequivocally that the United States has not provided any shoulder-to-fire missiles or missiles of that type to opposition forces. He said the Pentagon continues to work with other nations in monitoring the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Barak said there is an “urgent need ” to topple Syrian President Assad’s regime.

“It’s criminal behavior on a global scale, what he’s doing to his own people, using jet fighters and helicopters and artillery and tanks, killing his own people. The whole world is watching,” he said.

Barak was blunt about Iran’s nuclear program, and said that while sanctions are working, he doesn’t think they will be enough to stop the country from building a nuclear bomb or continuing to menace the region. While not explicitly calling for military intervention, the Israeli minister expressed doubt that there will be any other option.

“In regard to Iran, the kind of physical attack option is an option. It should be there. It should remain on the table, never be removed,” said Barak.

“Of course, we would love to see some heavenly intervention that will stop it, to wake up some morning and learn that they gave up on their nuclear intentions or probably that the Arab Spring has been translated into Farsian, emerge in the cities of Tehran, Mashad and Isfahan. But you cannot build a strategy based on these wishes or prayers,” he said.

Panetta called the current relationship between the U.S and Israel “the strongest in history” based on the assistance America is providing, the highlight of which, he said, is the Iron Dome. Panetta marveled at how effective the system was during Israel’s recent conflict with Gaza, intercepting more than 400 rockets.

“Its success is a statement to the ingenuity of the Israeli people and to the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security. Today, I assured minister that our strong commitment to Iron Dome will continue into the future,” Panetta said.

At times, the press conference seemed more like a retirement ceremony or a chat between old friends. Secretary Panetta hugged his Israeli counterpart at the start of the conference and reflected on the “decades” of friendship the men have shared. He also awarded the retiring minister with the Pentagon’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Public Service Award.

“Minister Barak is a battle-hardened warrior. And like so many great military leaders, he is fundamentally a man of peace, because he’s seen war firsthand. He recognizes that we must take every possible step to try to avoid war,” said Panetta. “And as he prepares to close this chapter in his career, I’m delighted to be able to recognize his immense contributions by bestowing on him the Department of Defense’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Public Service Award.  Ehud, thank you for your friendship, for your dedication to the shared dream of a better, and safer and more secure future for Israel and for the United States. ”

The men also exchanged gifts. Minister Barak presented Secretary Panetta with a tiny Iron Dome model as a thank-you present.

“It doesn’t explode. It cannot shoot missiles, don’t worry,” Barak said, laughing.  “It’s just to give you a small memento of our appreciation for your support.”

Panetta returned the favor with his own gift -- a signed and framed photograph of the two men taken during his visit to the Iron Dome sight last August.

“I want to give you one more memento,” said Panetta chuckling as he handed it over. “This was at the Iron Dome site, and I wanted you to have that memento … representing our friendship,” he said.

Not missing a beat, his old friend  joked, “Yours is much more handsome.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul122011

Leon Panetta Growing Impatient with Iraqis over US Troop Plan

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- Leon Panetta's first visit to Baghdad since becoming secretary of defense certainly hasn't been boring.

Newly installed as the nation's defense chief after serving as CIA director, Panetta's unannounced stopover in Iraq Monday after a trip to Afghanistan was punctuated by a missile attack on the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, although Panetta hadn't arrived there yet for his talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials.

Panetta's visit comes at a time of sensitive relations with Iraq over a U.S. offer to leave up to 10,000 American soldiers there past the Dec. 31 deadline to pull out all U.S. forces, currently numbering 46,000.

The Iraqis have been vacillating about whether to accept the offer, with many hardliners preferring a clean break from American military influence despite the continued threat posed by al Qaeda as well as Shiite and Sunni militias.

Panetta expressed the irritation felt by the White House and Pentagon over Iraq's waffling, telling his hosts, "Do you want us to stay, don’t you want us to stay?...Dammit, make a decision."

The Iraqis didn't have an immediate answer but said that within the next two weeks, a committee would study whether to ask U.S. forces to stay after the bilateral security agreement expires at the end of this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar092011

Gates Won't Commit to Large US Pullout from Afghanistan in July

ABC News(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- The White House remains determined to begin drawing down U.S. forces from Afghanistan beginning this July.

But while Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes this will happen, Americans shouldn't expect large numbers of troops to be withdrawn, with the war still raging and the Taliban far from vanquished.

Gates, who paid a surprise visit to Kabul, says whatever the drawdown is called, it's definitely not a U.S. exit from Afghanistan.

With 100,000 U.S. soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan, Gates predicted that the military will keep a substantial force in the country over the next three years.  At best, the reductions promised by President Obama this July will be relatively minor, Gates suggested.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants his national army and police to assume security responsibilities by January 2015 but even so, Gates said an American presence would remain in Afghanistan to keep the Taliban from retaking the country.

Monday
Mar072011

Defense Secretary Gates Lands in Afghanistan in Surprise Visit

ABC News(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan Monday, landing in Kabul for a first-hand assessment of how the war is going in the country.

During his stay, Gates is expected to meet with troops, top military commanders, and Afghan leadership, as the U.S. begins to decide how many troops to withdraw and which districts and provinces to transfer over to Afghan control by July 1.

But near the top of the secretary's agenda is the frustrating and sometimes faltering relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has rejected a recent U.S. apology for killing civilians as not enough -- a sign that the relationship between the Afghan leader and Gen. David Petraeus continues to be rocky.

Gates will stay in Afghanistan for several days before heading to Stuttgart, Germany to attend the U.S. Africa Command Change of Command ceremony.  He will then follow his trip to Germany by going to Brussels, Belgium, where he will attend the NATO Defense Ministers Conference.

Monday's visit to Afghanistan is Gates' 13th visit to the country since taking his position.  He was last in Afghanistan in December of last year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct152010

Gates Confirms U.S. Facilitated Talks in Effort to End to 9-Year War

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. forces in Afghanistan have allowed a Taliban member to travel to Kabul from Pakistan to attend peace talks with the Afghan government within the past two weeks, a senior U.S. official told ABC News.

The Taliban representative is believed to have driven into Afghanistan from the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Omar, have been based since their ouster by U.S. forces in 2001, the official said.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to provide greater detail about the U.S.-facilitated talks than had previously been disclosed.

"We are dealing with one main person," the official said.

The official declined to reveal the Taliban representative's identity, but said he "speaks for people in a big Taliban network."

On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed for the first time that the United States had facilitated peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in an effort to bring an end to the nine-year war in Afghanistan.  He added, however, that the U.S. was not yet prepared to take part in the talks itself.

"Whenever opportunities arise that are worth exploring, we ought to take advantage of that," Gates said.

Friday, the official said the U.S. military does not provide transportation, but rather guarantees the Taliban representative will not be targeted on his way into Kabul.

The official said this particular Taliban representative has not been in meetings in Kabul before, but there have been meetings in the past that "broke down over stupid stuff."

The official seemed slightly more optimistic about the new meeting but "suspects they will squabble over all kinds of things" before the parties even really talk.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sought for months to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

The United States has insisted this is an Afghan-led reconciliation process, though it has set some standards for what Taliban members must do in order to be accepted back, including renouncing ties to al-Qaida.

The State Department said Friday that some of the Taliban's top leadership may not qualify.

"There are particular red lines, if you want to call it that, that we have agreed with the international community and Afghanistan.  There is no indication that we have that Mullah Omar has any intention of meeting the standards that we've laid out," spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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