By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 2, 2010 " Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today embarked on a five-nation trip that will begin with his participation in a major Asian security conference in Singapore.
In addition to Singapore, the secretary will travel to Azerbaijan, England, Belgium and Germany.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit " known as the Shangri-La Dialogue " for the Singapore hotel where it`s held -- is the ninth annual conference since its 2002 inception. A senior defense official speaking on background called it the pre-eminent security conference in Asia. "
The secretary and a lot of his counterparts are able to gather and talk freely about a range of issues and introduce a range of security issues for the Asia-Pacific region, " the official said, but [he] also will have an opportunity to have bilateral discussions with many of his counterparts. "
Gates will articulate certain U.S. strategic interests - both publicly and privately - in Asia, the official added, including through a speech he`ll deliver June 4.
Given where we are in the defense cycle, " the official said, [this] allows the secretary to talk for the first time about the implications of the reviews that have happened, especially the Quadrennial Defense Review, and the implications for our security posture and presence and policies in Asia. "
The secretary will emphasize the importance the United States places on its role in Asia, the official said, as well as the need for mutual responsibility for all countries in the region.
Gates also will thank nations that have been contributing to efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the official said.
A June 4 bilateral meeting with Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro will be the first between the two men, and the senior defense official said it`s hoped their talk will be a precursor to higher-level U.S.-Indonesia visits. Gates is expected to discuss defense cooperation and how the United States can help to bring Indonesia to a leadership position in Southeast Asia on a range of issues, including maritime security and international peacekeeping.
Gates also will meet briefly with New Zealand`s defense minister, Wayne Daniel.
This will be the first time that they will have met since we did a re-evaluation of our approach toward defense cooperation with New Zealand, which allowed for some broader level of defense engagement, " albeit still not a return to the alliance that we used to have with New Zealand before they implemented anti-nuclear legislation, " the official said. But it will be a good chance for the secretary and the minister to discuss how to move forward with this new policy and where we can explore cooperation. "
New Zealand`s role in Afghanistan`s Bamiyan province is one such topic, the official said. They`re looking at refining their contribution based on the situation on the ground and our policy, " the official said. Since Bamiyan is arguably one of the safer provinces, [we`re] looking at how we can adjust that so that it can be turned over to Afghan security forces when appropriate. "
Gates also will have a bilateral meeting with Shiv Shankar Menon, India`s national security advisor. The secretary visited India early this year, the senior official noted, and this meeting will be a chance to press forward with the U.S. defense engagement with India. The meeting between Gates and Menon will take place just after a strategic dialogue here between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Indian Foreign Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna in Washington, the senior defense official noted.
Another bilateral meeting is scheduled between Gates and his Vietnamese counterpart, Lt. Gen. Phung Quang Thanh Sr. The engagement with Vietnam is a real focus that we`re trying to build, " the official said. It`s going at its own measured pace. " Gates and Thanh have met in Washington and at last year`s Shangri-La Dialogue, he noted, and the meeting this week will seek to continue that momentum and to see where this can go and where we can really both benefit together as Vietnam is becoming an even larger player in the region. " With Vietnam`s emergence as a leading proponent for multilateralism in the region, the official added, it`s expected that Gates and Thanh will discuss Asian security issues at large as well as bilateral matters.
Another senior defense official briefing reporters on background said a bilateral meeting in Singapore with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young will give Gates and Kim an opportunity to discuss the apparent North Korean sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan on March 26, which killed 46 sailors.
The secretary will convey to the minister our full support for the way in which the Korean government has been handling the crisis, that our commitment to the defense of Korea is and remains unequivocal, and that we`re committed to continuing to work with Korea and our other allies and partners in the region to try to lessen the threat that North Korea poses to regional stability, " the official said.
On June 5, Gates will meet briefly with Mongolian Defense Minister Luvsanvandan Bold, in part to thank him for Mongolia`s contributions as resolute and good partners in Afghanistan, " the official said. Later, he`ll meet with Singaporean Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. Gates always appreciates getting Singapore`s views on what`s going on in the region and sharing the U.S. perspective, the official said.
In addition to being a good regional player, [Singapore also is] a contributor to Afghanistan, " the official said. So that`s something they`ll talk about as well. "
Gates also will participate in a trilateral meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, a practice that began at last year`s Shangri-La Dialogue.
On June 6, Gates will fly to Baku, Azerbaijan, where he`ll meet with President Ilham Aliyev, and the next day, he`ll meet with Defense Minister Col. Gen. Safar Abiyev. About a quarter of the supplies bound for U.S. forces in Afghanistan pass through Azerbaijan.
The secretary has not really had a chance to engage with them, " Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said, and this is an opportunity for him to express our appreciation, and also to figure out how we can work better together to maintain the level of support that is now flowing through Azerbaijan. "
After meeting with his counterpart in Azerbaijan, Gates will travel to London, where he`ll meet with leaders of Britain`s new government. The secretary will meet with Prime Minister David Cameron on June 7 and with Defense Minister Liam Fox and Foreign Secretary William Hague the next day.
On June 9, Gates will travel to Brussels, Belgium, for a meeting of NATO defense ministers. When the NATO meetings conclude June 11, the secretary will fly to Germany, where he`ll visit wounded warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and speak at the Kaiserslautern High School graduation ceremony before heading back to Washington.