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Gates Discusses New Nuclear Posture, U.S. Relations With Karzai

John J. Kruzel - American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2010 - While the new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review removes some of the intentional ambiguity from the country's nuclear policy, "all options are on the table" for countries like North Korea and Iran, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said.

In a round of interviews that aired today, Gates, appearing alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also discussed the U.S. relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose reliability has been called into question recently.

Unveiled last week, the Nuclear Posture Review, or NPR, states that the United States will not deploy or threaten use of nuclear weapons against a country that possesses no nuclear weapons of its own and complies with the nonproliferation treaty and its obligations.

"Because North Korea and Iran are not in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," Gates said on CBS' Face the Nation, "for them, all bets are off. All options are on the table."

The NPR, which culminates a year of Defense Department-led efforts involving top interagency officials, is the first overarching look at U.S. nuclear strategy since the end of the Cold War. It codifies the new U.S. nuclear stance, which includes a policy to not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state, even if the state attacks with chemical and biological weapons.

Gates said policymakers could not find a credible scenario where a chemical weapon could have the kind of consequences that would warrant a nuclear response, but that President Barack Obama has flexibility in a U.S. response to biological attacks.

"We were concerned about the biological weapons," Gates said. "And that's why we were very clear in the Nuclear Posture Review that if we see states developing biological weapons that we begin to think endanger us or create serious concerns, [the president] reserves the right to revise this policy."

The NPR articulates a roadmap for cutting the American nuclear arsenal, edging the country toward President Barack Obama's stated long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, and ceases U.S. testing of nuclear weapons and the development of new nuclear weapons platforms.

Speaking on ABC's "This Week" about the U.S. relationship with Karzai, who has come under fire recently for a series of comments that reportedly have strained relations, Gates urged more sensitivity in dealings with the controversial leader.

"I think we, frankly, have to be sensitive in our own comments about President Karzai," Gates said, "in terms of being mindful that he is the embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan also in the way we treat him."

On NBC's Meet the Press, Clinton expressed "sympathy" for Karzai and the "extraordinary stress he lives under every single minute of every day."

Gates agreed. "When there are attacks on him, on his family and what he perceives to be on Afghanistan itself, or insults to the sovereignty of Afghanistan," he said, "he's going to react, and he's going to react strongly."

Gates gave an upbeat assessment of Karzai's relationship with U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan. Gates said the two continue to meet regularly and have a "very positive relationship."

The secretary said Karzai has been a cooperative partner by attending "shuras," or peace meetings with influential tribal elders, in Kandahar the Taliban's spiritual homeland, which is slated to be the focus of the next major U.S. operation in Afghanistan, according to military officials.

"I think that the day-to-day working relationship, certainly on the military side and between General McChrystal and President Karzai, is working well," Gates said.

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