U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: U.S. will very soon recede back into supportive role in Libya
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during his visit to Russia has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about a scenario of the Libyan military operation and U.S. desire to build European missile defense system along with Russia.Question: My first question will deal with the relationship between Russia and the United States that have changed greatly over the past 20 years. What do you think about cooperation between our countries in the world and problem points, for example Afghanistan?
Answer: Actually, I’ve been dealing with Russia for so long that it seems to me that the first turning point in our relationship came in the early 1970-s at the time of the detente policy between the two states when we began to negotiate strategic arms for the first time. And then 20 years later with the end of the Cold War came a dramatic opportunity for improved relations. I would say that since the end of the Cold War there’ve been some periodic problems, but overall the direction of the relationship has been towards closer partnership, closer working together. I think that the progress has been marked, first of all, bilaterally by our ratification of the New START agreement and internationally by our cooperation together on UN Security Council resolutions with respect to both Korea and Iran.
Q.: Next about the New START treaty. When will inspections of the Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear forces take place?
A.: I’m sure. I think there is a bilateral meeting with respect to the implementation in the next month or so, but I would expect the implementation to begin as quickly as the two sides can organize it. I haven’t heard of any problems associated with the implementation I think that is just the matter of working out the details.
Q.: Of course, I would like to ask you about the latest events in Libya. Can you explain what is the final purpose of the operation Odyssey Dawn and when one will be able to say that the operation is complete?
A.: Well, I think the purpose of the operation is exactly the purpose that was described in the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which was to establish the no-fly zone and prevent a humanitarian disaster, to prevent [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi from slaughtering his own people. I think we’ve made a lot of progress just in a couple of days towards accomplishing those two objectives.
Q.: What is the role of the U.S. Army in this operation?
A.: The U.S. agreed that it would use its air and naval forces and our special capabilities at the very beginning of this operation to suppress the Libyan air defenses, so that the air forces of other countries can actually implement the no-fly zone. So, while we had a major role in the first two or three days, I expect us very soon to recede back into a supportive role with other nations carrying the significant proportion of the burden to implement and enforce the no-fly zone. And the President has made very clear: the U.S. will not put any force in Libya, on Libyan soil.
Q.: The last question about Libya. The U.S. has declared that it doesn’t aim to destroy Qaddafi’s regime, to kill Gaddafi. Does this mean that the U.S. can deal with him in the future?
A.: I think that it’s pretty clear to everybody that Libya would be better off without Qaddafi, but that is a matter for the Libyans themselves to solve. I think given the opportunity and the absence of repression they may well do that. But I think this would be a mistake for us to set that as a goal of our military operation.
Q.: Is the U.S. ready to create the European missile defense system along with Russia or we can speak only about Russia’s secondary participation in the missile system created by the U.S. and NATO? And is the U.S. ready to give legally binding assurances to Russia that the global missile system is not directed against Russia?
A.: First of all the U.S. would far prefer to have Russia as a partner in the European missile defense. President Medvedev has made some suggestions about joint data centers and so on that I think have great promise and that I will be talking about during my visit.
I think that first of all such an assurance would be difficult to get through our Congress. My favorite example of this is that the Senate’s just ratified defense train treaties with the UK and Australia, our two closest allies, and it took them five years to ratify those two treaties. I think that we need a response to the missile threat sooner than five years  and I think that we can provide political assurances that would reassure Russia that no aspect of our missile defense is ever intended to be used against Russia.
There’s another way I would put it is that the risk for Russian participation and partnership now is almost non-existent, and the potential long-term benefit is very large, and of course Russia can always do what is at Russia’s national interests.
Q.: Russia has announced the deployment of new weapons, including S-400 systems, on the Kuril Islands and the Far East. Does it make the U.S. concerned and worried?
A.: I think that obviously Japan is an alliance and treaty partner with the U.S., and anything that increases tension between Japan and Russia is a concern for us. We would like to see the two countries have strong, positive relationships and work with one another in terms of dealing with issues like this.
Q.: Is it your last visit to Russia as defense secretary?