November 4 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - November 4, 2010

                 MR. MORRELL:  Hey, guys.  Good afternoon.  It's been a while. Let me go over a few items and then we'll get right to your questions. 

                 First of all, our thoughts and prayers are with the Fort Hood community as they prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting that killed 13 and wounded 32.  Tomorrow, Secretary McHugh and General Casey will travel to Killeen to participate in a ceremony remembering those lost and honoring the soldiers and civilians who helped tend to the wounded.  You may recall that the 1908th and the 467th Medical Detachments were in the process of deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, when they and others came under attack at home.  I'm happy to report that those units have recently returned home from successful tours overseas.  Meanwhile, the prosecution of the accused shooter is moving into pre-trial hearings. The entire Fort Hood family has shown truly exemplary strength and resilience as they work to recover, and we will continue to support them in every way that we can. 

                 Now to Secretary Gates' upcoming travel schedule.  Late tomorrow night, he departs for Melbourne, where he will join Secretary Clinton for the 25th annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, or as we refer to is AUSMIN.  This is Secretary Gates' and Secretary Clinton's fourth international trip together, and they will be joined this time by Chairman Mullen. 

                 You may recall that this meeting was originally scheduled for last January, but was postponed due to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti and the need for both secretaries to remain in Washington to help manage the U.S. assistance effort. 

                 I should note that Haiti is currently bracing for another natural disaster, Tropical Storm Tomas, and we are again positioned to respond quickly.  Several days ago, SOUTHCOM directed the USS Iwo Jima to steam toward Haiti, carrying a crew of 1,600 military and civilian medical, engineering, aviation, logistical and other support personnel to help where needed. 

                 Back to AUSMIN now, this year's gathering is an occasion to reflect on the strength and resiliency of the U.S.-Australian alliance, a bond between two democracies of shared cultural -- culture, interests and values, while also considering the path forward together.  In particular, the discussions will address our joint effort in Afghanistan, where Australia is the largest non-NATO troop contributor, with over 1,500 troops, serving largely in Uruzgan in RC South; our work together across Southeast Asia, both to confront the region's humanitarian, developmental and environmental challenges, and also to provide assistance to partners on issues ranging from disaster relief to maritime security; and finally, the vital role our military partnership continues to play in Asia's overall security environment. 

                 From Melbourne, the secretary travels on to Malaysia next Tuesday.  There he'll meet with Prime Minister Najib as well as Defense Minister Zahid, who actually visited the Pentagon earlier this year.  They'll discuss our strengthening bilateral military ties -- over the past six years, we've held an increasing number of joint exercises, and Malaysia has been an important contributor to humanitarian and peacekeeping missions globally -- as well as a discussion on security issues in the region and other areas for potential cooperation.  This visit, as you know, follows closely on Secretary Clinton's, who's in Kuala Lumpur this week, and is yet another signal of our deepening relationship with Malaysia. 

                 One final item:  Secretary Gates joins Secretary Clinton and President Obama in urging the Senate to approve the New START Treaty before the adjournment of the current Congress.  He and other -- he and many other former defense secretaries and national security officials from both parties have frequently voiced their strong belief that this treaty is absolutely critical to the effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal, our knowledge of Russian nuclear capabilities and U.S. national security overall. 

                 With that out of the way, let's get to questions.  Anne. 

                 Q     Well, following on what you just said about the START treaty, is it the secretary's calculation, then, that the treaty is more likely to be able to be passed if it's done in the lame duck? What chances do you give it with the change of political calculus if it holds over into the new Congress?   

                 And separately, also related to the Republican gains, what do you think will become of the "don't ask, don't tell" legislation?  Is there any chance that it will be passed in the lame duck, and what happens to it if it doesn't? 

                 MR. MORRELL:  Let's start with the first first if I may, and then you may have to remind me of the second. 

                 But on the first, this is -- I don't believe that either the president or his secretaries are advancing this during the lame-duck session because of some political calculus that it may stand a better chance of passage during that time.  I think we're advancing it at this time and pushing for ratification because we need this and we need it sooner than later.   

                 It's -- why wait until next year, next spring perhaps, for something that has -- we've been almost a year now without the START treaty and its verification provisions. 

                 So we think this is what's necessary.  It was necessary weeks, if not months, ago.  So we hope the Congress will -- the Senate will address this as quickly as possible when they reconvene after this -- after the recess for the elections.  There's no sense in putting off what we need now to the next Congress.  But I don't believe our urging of this, of the action to be taken, is because we think that it fares any better chance in this Congress than the next Congress.  We're advancing this now because we think it is the right thing to do.  It is what's needed by our country at this time. 

                 Q     And "don't ask, don't tell" on the same calculation? 

                 MR. MORRELL:  I -- well, let me -- again, I mean, we're not -- what Congress decides to do legislatively with regards to, you know, "don't ask, don't tell," or any other issue for that matter, is largely their business.  They take up things in the order that they -- that they see fit.  Obviously, you saw the president yesterday address "don't ask, don't tell" in his post-election press conference.  You also saw today during this cabinet meeting him specifically outline his desire for New START to be dealt with. 

                 So I don't know what the Congress will do with regards to that. All I can tell you is sort of what we're in the process of doing.  As I think you all know, the secretary's report is due on his desk by December the 1st.  The working group, as I understand it, is very much on track to meet that deadline.  So I think in, you know, 26 days time, the secretary will have the work product that he thinks is so necessary for us to be able to fully understand the full implications of a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and then what additional measures we need to take for -- in preparation for that eventuality. 

                 You know from his discussion of this dating back to last February that he believes it's better to do this smart than stupid, and that this report is very important to us doing this smartly.  So our focus right now is getting this report finished, getting it to the secretary, having him review it, carefully considering it -- consider it, and then take measures from there. 

                 Q     Can I follow up on that? 

                 MR. MORRELL:  Sure. 

                 Q     So right now, this department is urging congressional action on START, but not urging congressional action on "don't ask, don't tell."  That's kind of what it boils down to, right? 

                 MR. MORRELL:  No.  I -- we are clearly urging congressional action, echoing the president, on START.  I think you saw the president speak to "don't ask, don't tell" as an issue, as a priority for him yesterday.  We have been very, very clear on this.  Again, Julian, dating back to last February, when the secretary first and the chairman first voiced support for the president's position on this, which is, they are for a repeal, but they want a study to take place in advance of that repeal to educate us about how to deal with this change.  We have not yet completed that study, although we are very close.  Let's let that finish, let's let the secretary get it and consider it, and then we'll chart a course from there. 

                 Q     So the calculation could change for the second half of the lame-duck session, essentially the December session, because at that point the review will be done.  So depending on the outcome of that review, the -- this department might have more to say to Congress. 

                 MR. MORRELL:  I am not prepared at this time, Julian, to tell you what action we expect to take upon receipt of the report. 

                 All I can tell you right now is, the report -- the working group is coming to a conclusion with its report.  They expect to make the December 1st deadline, which was a very ambitious one the -- the secretary put in place last February for consideration of the full ramifications of repeal across every aspect of how we do business in this department.   

                 So once the secretary gets it, I am sure that it will be a priority item for him to review and consider and then provide leadership for this department on how to move out based upon what the report tells us.  But I don't have any news beyond that for you today on this. 

                 Anything else on this?  Yeah, go ahead. 

                 Q     Is Secretary Gates planning to urge, then, the Senate to pass defense authorization this year, or is he not going to engage -- 

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