Defense Secretary Nominee Gates Meets With Senate Leaders

President Bush's nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary vowed Friday to review a change of course for the war in Iraq.

"One of the highest priorities, if not the highest priority, will be looking at the situation in Iraq," Robert Gates told reporters following a meeting with Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senators hosted one-on-one meetings with Gates ahead of his confirmation hearing on Dec. 5 before Warner's committee.

"Over the course of the morning, I've had the privilege to talk to Mr. Gates about where we're going in the future, where we're going today and the specifics of the nomination process," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Gates arrived on Capitol Hill to hold candid conversations ahead of his confirmation hearing next month, meeting with Frist and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"I appreciate you giving me some time this morning. If I'm confirmed, I look forward to working with you all," Gates said to Frist and McConnell.

"The incoming majority of the Senate have indicated that they wanted a change in the Department of Defense for some months now and that change is now forth coming. We are optimistic that Bob Gates will be confirmed here before the first of the year," said McConnell, who will be the new minority leader for the 110th Congress.

Gates was scheduled for other meetings on Friday with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Warner, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Reid said he expected Gates will be confirmed quickly in a "fair hearing."

"The one thing he has going for him, and I mentioned that to the secretary, is we want the change to take place very quickly. So it's to our interest to have this change at the head of the Defense Department as soon as possible," Reid said after meeting with Gates.

Bush tapped Gates to replace Rumsfeld one day after the Nov. 7 midterm elections, during which Republicans suffered huge losses in both the House and the Senate. The president said he would consider changing course in Iraq following the resignation of Rumsfeld, who has served six years under the younger Bush.

"He has my confidence and my trust, and he will be an outstanding secretary of defense," Bush said of Gates at the announcement in the Oval Office.

Gates' confirmation hearing is likely to focus on the war in Iraq and a possible exit strategy.

"The United States is at war, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're fighting against terrorism worldwide. And we face other serious challenges to peace and our security. I believe the outcome of these conflicts will shape our world for decades to come," Gates said when Bush announced his nomination earlier this month.

Gates, currently the president of Texas A&M University, sent an announcement to students saying he had not expected to come back to Washington to serve under a seventh president but the challenges facing the United States were too much to ignore.

Gates served as Director of Central Intelligence from 1991 until 1993. He is the only career officer in CIA's history to rise from entry-level employee to director.

Gates stepped down as a member of a commission reviewing a change in course in Iraq, the Iraq Study Group, when Bush picked him to replace Rumsfeld.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., set to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee next year when Democrats take control of the chamber, is scheduled to meet with Gates on Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.