Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking one day after he was formally tapped to stay on in the next administration, said Tuesday he has made an "open-ended" agreement to remain at the helm of the nation's military under Barack Obama.
Expressing confidence in the president-elect's Iraq strategy and overall commitment to the military, Gates said he would not be a "caretaker secretary." He said the strategic and budgetary challenges facing the Department of Defense would demand his "personal attention."
Gates said there is "no time frame" for his service in the position, and that even though he spent a lot of time hoping he would not be asked to stay on, "yesterday it became a reality."
"With the country fighting two wars, and our men and women in uniform at risk, if the president asked me to help, there's no way I can say no," Gates said.
Gates said he expects most Defense Department appointees to be replaced. Moments later, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England announced that he would not be staying with Gates in the Obama administration. England said in a statement he would "stay for some time past Jan. 20, if requested, to assure a smooth transition."
Gates said Tuesday that re-examining the U.S. military's "strategy and approach" in Afghanistan will be a top priority in the next administration, and also indicated that he is on the same page with Obama when it comes to a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
Obama has repeatedly said he wants U.S. troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office.
But Gates said Obama's statements about pursuing a "responsible drawdown" and consulting the commanders on the ground give him confidence in Obama's stance on the issue.
"I think that that's exactly the position the president-elect should be in," Gates said, noting that U.S. and Iraqi officials are already accepting the idea of a timetable in the status of forces agreement, which calls for a somewhat longer withdrawal timetable. "Nobody wants to put at risk the gains that have been achieved with so much sacrifice on the part of our soldiers and the Iraqis," he added.
Gates also said, "I think it is possible to close" the Guantanamo Bay detention center in the next administration, and that he would work with Congress to create legislation to enable the closure.
Obama's decision to ask a defense secretary to stay on through the transition is extremely rare.
Gates said he considers himself a Republican and noted that he has only served under Republican presidents, but rejected the suggestion that it was somehow unsettling for him to join the incoming Democratic administration.