Transcript: Secretary Robert Gates

The following is a rush transcript of the June

20, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy

may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: But first, amid recent reports of tough going in Afghanistan, the top man of the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: Thank you.

WALLACE: You said this week that the narrative in this town about the war in

Afghanistan has become too negative. So let's discuss some of the

issues that have people worried.

The U.S.

commander, General Stanley McChrystal, says that the first operation in

Marjah has become a, quote, "bleeding ulcer," and the major offensive

in Kandahar has now been delayed, in both cases, largely because the

Afghans have been too slow in providing civilian support. Isn't that a

concern?

GATES: Sure, it's a concern. But I think that the narrative is perhaps overly negative in part because it's incomplete.

I

was just at the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels. General

McChrystal briefed in detail on the Marjah operation as well as on

Kandahar. And the bottom line was progress is being made. It's somewhat

slower than anticipated.

The Kandahar

operation has actually been under way for a number of weeks, and so

what is taking more time is the shaping of the environment before we

actually engage with troops and so on. So I think that, you know, it is

a — it is a tough pull, and we are suffering significant casualties. We

expected that.

We warned everybody that

would be the case last winter, that as we went into areas that the

Taliban had controlled for two or three years that our casualties would

grow, especially this summer.

But I think

General McChrystal's message to the defense ministers was he is

confident he will be able to demonstrate by December that we not only

have the right strategy but that we are making progress.

WALLACE: The key to begin pulling U.S. troops out by

next July is to begin to be able to turn operations over to the Afghan

army. But here's what Time magazine says about the army, and let's put

it up on the screen: "Nine out of 10 Afghan recruits can't read a rifle

manual. Commanders routinely steal enlisted men's salaries. Recruits

tend to go AWOL after their first leave."

Question: Do you really believe that the Afghan army will be ready to start taking over next July?

GATES: I think that they will be ready to assume primary responsibility for

security in certain areas of Afghanistan, certainly by a year from this

coming July. We're still looking at 13 months from now.

The

reality is the Afghan national army is meeting expectations and above

that in terms of recruiting to the larger numbers and toward the goal

of 134,000 by this — by this fall. Their attrition and retention rates

are both above expectations and above the...

WALLACE: But are those reports about...

GATES: ... above the goals.

WALLACE: ... about recruits going AWOL, about commanders stealing enlistees' salaries — is that true?

GATES: There are — there are some, and there are instances of that, but there

are also significant instances where we are — and a large number of

examples where we are partnering with the Afghan army and where those

operations are working, and that was what General McChrystal was

briefing to the defense ministers.

The

percentage of those partnered relationships, of those partnered

operations, has gone from somewhere around 40 percent six or eight

months ago to about 75 or 80 percent now.

WALLACE: You keep saying that the July 2011 date to begin pulling troops out is

a starting point, and that the pace of withdrawals will be based on

conditions on the ground.

But let's take a

look at what Vice President Biden said recently. "In July of 2011,"

Biden said, "you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet

on it." Who's speaking for the administration, you or the vice

president?

GATES: Well, first of

all, that's in a book. I don't recall ever hearing the vice president

say that. And whether he said it or not, we clearly understand that in

July of 2011 we begin to draw down our forces.

The

pace in — with which we draw down and how many we draw down is going to

be conditions-based. And there is general agreement that those

conditions will be determined by General McChrystal, the NATO senior

civilian representative, Ambassador Sedwill, and the Afghan government

together in terms of making their recommendations.

WALLACE: So if Vice President Biden is telling the reporter — and there's been

no statement by the White House that he didn't say it — there are going

to be a whole lot of people moving out next July, you're saying that's

not been decided?

GATES: That absolutely has not been decided.

WALLACE: Your feeling is that it all will be decided...

GATES: But I also haven't heard Vice President Biden say that, so I'm not

accepting at face value that those — that he said those words.

WALLACE: You know, it's interesting, because one of the reasons that you made

such a strong statement up on Capitol Hill and why you're talking to us

today — are you worried that the narrative is getting away and that

there may be a rush to judgment on Afghanistan?

GATES: I think it's more a sense of frustration. I've been here before three

years ago with Iraq. And we were just getting to the point where the

surge forces had gone into Iraq. There was a lot of concern. There was

a lot of anecdotal information that things weren't going well,

casualties were very high, American casualties were very high in Iraq.

And

what I'm — what I'm saying is people are losing context. This policy,

this strategy, has been in place and working for only about four or

five months. We have yet to put yet a third of the surge forces into

Afghanistan. The president has said we'll wait until December to

evaluate how we're doing.

So I think

there's a rush to judgment, frankly, that loses sight of the fact we

are still in the middle of getting all of the right components into

place and giving us a little time to have this — have this work.

WALLACE: Let's turn to the gulf oil spill. Is there anything more the Pentagon

could be doing either to help stop the spill or to prevent those

millions of gallons of oil from washing up on the gulf coast?

GATES: Not to my knowledge. We have offered whatever capabilities we have. We

don't have the kinds of equipment or particular expertise. I have

authorized the mobilization of up to 17,500 National Guard troops in

the four states that are — that are most affected.

We have a standing offer. If there's anything people think we can do, we absolutely will do it.

WALLACE: The U.N. Security Council has passed another round of sanctions against

Iran. And following up on that, the United States and the European

Union have imposed a set of unilateral sanctions.

For

all that, honestly, do you see any sign that these sanctions, these

efforts, have caused any weakening of the will of the regime in Tehran

to develop a nuclear weapon?

GATES: Actually, what we've seen is a change in the nature of the regime in

Tehran over the past 18 months or so. You have — you have a much

narrower based government in Tehran now. Many of the religious figures

are being set aside. As Secretary Clinton has said, they appear to be

moving more in the direction of a military dictatorship. Khamenei is

leaning on a smaller and smaller group of advisors.

In

the meantime, you have an illegitimate election that has divided the

country. So I think adding economic pressures on top of that, and

particularly targeted economic pressures, has real potential.

WALLACE: Do you think it could weaken the will of the regime in Tehran?

GATES: I think that it could add to the pressures on the regime, that if you

add the things we're doing to help our allies in the gulf area improve

their defenses, improve their military capabilities, you put that

together with sanctions, you put that together with diplomatic

pressures and a variety of other things that are going on — and I think

— I think you have a reasonable chance of getting the Iranian regime

finally to come to their senses and realize their security is probably

more endangered by going forward, thereby...

WALLACE: A reasonable chance?

GATES: ... stopping them. Yeah, I think so.

WALLACE: Can we contain a nuclear Iran?

GATES: I don't think we're prepared to even talk about containing a nuclear

Iran. I think we're — we — our view still is we do not accept the idea

of Iran having nuclear weapons. And our policies and our efforts are

all aimed at preventing that from happening.

WALLACE: When you say that a — we would not accept a nuclear Iran, does that

mean that a military strike either by the U.S. or Israel is preferable

to a nuclear Iran?

GATES: I — we obviously leave all options on the table. I think we have some time to continue working this problem.

WALLACE: In the time we have left, let's do a lightning round of quick questions

and quick answers. I know you always enjoy this so much, Mr. Secretary.

GATES: The ones that always get you in trouble.

WALLACE: The House and a Senate committee have voted to repeal "don't ask, don't

tell" over your objections that the Pentagon review should be completed

first. Is a repeal inevitable?

GATES: Well, I think you'd have to ask the members of Congress that. I haven't

done any head counts. We are — the president has made his decision.

Our

review is about how to implement this and what are the obstacles, what

are the problems, what are the challenges, what are the issues. How do

we mitigate the negative consequences if we identify negative

consequences? What are the questions we have to address? Those are the

things this review is all about.

And I

feel it's very important for the military to have the opportunity to

weigh in, to register their views on these issues, and to give us help

on how to do this smart should the legislation pass.

WALLACE: As part of your new drive to try to cut the budget for non- combat

operations, has the president agreed to veto any bill that would

include continued funding for the C-17 cargo plane or an alternative

engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, even if that legislation also

included repeal of "don't ask, don't tell?"

GATES: Well, as I told the Senate Appropriations Committee, the defense

subcommittee, this week, it would be a very serious mistake to believe

that the president would not veto a bill that has the C-17 or the

alternative engine in it just because it had other provisions that the

president and the administration want.

WALLACE: Have you been given an assurance by the president that he will enforce

his feelings, your feelings, about the budget even at the expense of

social policy?

GATES: Well, I think

the White House has put out a very strong statement in support. I would

also just say that I don't go way out on a limb without looking back to

make sure nobody's back there with a saw.

WALLACE: So you think that they veto the bill even with repeal of "don't ask, don't tell?"

GATES: I think so.

WALLACE: You set a deadline for Congress to pass a war supplemental bill by

Memorial Day. I don't have to tell you that marker has come and gone,

and Democrats are still trying to put money for social programs into

the supplemental bill.

At what point delay in passing this bill do we begin to hurt the troops?

GATES: Well, first of all, I didn't set a deadline. I wish I could set

deadlines for the Congress, but that's just not the way the

Constitution is written.

But as I told the

Congress this week, this past week, we will have to start doing stupid

things after the 4th of July recess in terms of planning for major

disruptions if we don't have the supplemental by the 4th of July recess.

We

actually begin to have to take really serious negative actions that

impact our troops as well as our civilians in mid to — in early to mid

August.

WALLACE: Finally, how long are you committed to staying in this job?

GATES: Well, we just said that we'll see.

WALLACE: Well, at one point — the reason I ask is you talked about till the end

of the year, till December of 2010. But now you seem to have taken on a

new fight over the budget which gets you into 2011.

GATES: Well, we'll just see.

WALLACE: But would you have started this fight if you weren't going to see it through, sir?

GATES: Well, I didn't want to get bored.

WALLACE: Well, there's very little opportunity for that. Mr. Secretary, I want

to thank you so much for coming in. It's always a pleasure to talk to

you. Please come back, sir.

GATES: Thanks a lot.