Defense Secretary Robert Gates won't travel to the April 3-4 NATO Summit meetings in France and Germany so that he can put all his focus on the Pentagon's fiscal year 2010 budget request, according to an Armed Forces Press Service story issued today:
President Barack Obama and National Security Advisor Jim Jones will represent the United States at the summit in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, which takes place on the 60th anniversary of the alliance.
“Given the fact that the U.S. will be well represented, the work that still has to be done back here on what is arguably probably one of the most challenging budget reviews that has taken place in a number of years, he just felt that it’s best that he remain here and work on that,” Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
“He came to that conclusion and talked to the national security advisor about it, and it was agreed upon that that would probably be the best course to take,” Whitman added.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates had hoped to join Obama to celebrate the alliance's anniversary, but that work on the 2010 budget will not permit him to leave.
“He simply needs more time to review all of our major weapons programs and assess how they fit into his efforts to strategically rebalance the department's budget to reflect the president's national security priorities," Morrell said today in an e-mail statement.
During a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels last week, Vice President Biden noted that Obama had ordered a full-scale strategic review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. "He insisted that we consult with our allies and partners so that we produce a truly common vision of how to proceed. And that's what I had the privilege to do today at the North Atlantic Council," Biden said, adding:
I heard from our allies. I heard the concerns and they listed their priorities. And I pledged to them, as I pledge to all Europeans now, that we will build their ideas into our review, which we expect to present to President Obama before the end of this month, in preparation of the NATO summit in April.
I also shared with my colleagues some of the factors that are shaping our thinking right now, including the requirement that we set clear goals and achievable goals: We need to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan together, because success in one requires progress in the other; the imperative of a comprehensive approach with a strong civilian and diplomatic effort is necessary because we know there is no purely military solution to either Afghanistan or Pakistan; the centrality of building up Afghan security forces -- because our goal is not to stay in Afghanistan, it's to be able to leave, and to leave behind Afghan forces that can provide for the security and safety of the people of Afghanistan; and the need to ensure the security and legitimacy in this year's presidential elections.
In each of these areas, NATO and it member countries plays a critical role. So does the European Union. The Secretary General and I will meet with that leadership after this press conference. And I look forward to hearing from representatives of non-NATO countries, as well, who are doing so much in Afghanistan.