Cablegate: Secretary of Defense Gates's Meeting with French Foreign

Published: Fri 12 Feb 2010 04:04 PM
DE RUEHFR #0174/01 0431656
R 121656Z FEB 10
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 000174
E.O 12958: DECL: 02/08/20
Classified By: Alexander Vershbow, ASD/ISA. Reasons 1.4 (b/d).
1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: At the request of the French Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (SecDef) met with French FM
Bernard Kouchner in Paris on February 8, 2010. Discussions included
how to persuade the Chinese and others to support sanctions against
Iran, and the importance of targeting the Iranian government rather
than the people. On Afghanistan, Kouchner confirmed that France would
maintain its position that it could not add additional combat troops
for the time being but was open to the possibility of sending
additional trainers. Both Kouchner and SecDef lauded recent progress
in Pakistan. Discussing NATO, Kouchner argued for a stronger European
pillar, which SecDef supported with the caution that pursuit of an
independent European security role risked reducing the already limited
capabilities available to the Alliance. SecDef also raised the need
for reform and for examination of future NATO missions, which he would
define narrowly rather than broadly. END SUMMARY
2. (S/NF) Kouchner said that the U.S. and France were working well
together in New York on an Iran sanctions resolution - all the problems
now are with the Chinese. Kouchner had met Chinese FM Yang twice the
previous week, but said that right now it was difficult to predict
whether the Chinese would veto or abstain. He noted that the Chinese
were furious over the U.S.-Taiwan arms deal, which would make it
difficult to get a resolution passed in February.
3. (S/NF) SecDef observed that Russia usually followed China's lead on
North Korea, whereas China usually followed Russia on Iran. Therefore
we should try to get the Russians to persuade the Chinese to support
the Iran sanctions resolution. MFA political director Jacques Audibert
remarked that the Russians had been helpful during the last P5-plus-one
teleconference, but he worried that the Russians would water down the
content of the resolution. Kouchner said that President Medvedev seemed
strongly on board, and there was daylight between his position and that
of Foreign Minister Lavrov. SecDef said he suspected that China
ultimately would not want to be isolated and would abstain.
4. (S/NF) SecDef urged Kouchner not to exaggerate the Chinese concern
over Taiwan - they would need a little more time and, in the end, an
abstention might be a good enough result for us. He added that we
should urge the Saudis to weigh in with Beijing since China has more at
stake in its relations with Saudi Arabia than Iran. He commented that
the Saudis always want to "fight the Iranians to the last American,"
but that now it is time for them to get into the game.
5. (S/NF) Raising his concerns about bringing non-permanent UNSC
members on board, SecDef reported that in Ankara he had impressed upon
PM Erdogan the dangers of proliferation to other Middle East countries
or an Israeli strike if the Iranian nuclear program couldn't be
stopped. Kouchner expressed his doubts about Turkey's desire for a
constructive role in region, describing Erdogan's comments to
Ahmadinejad defending the Iranian nuclear program as dangerous.
6. (S/NF) Kouchner then asked SecDef for his perspectives on the
popular protests in Iran. In the French view, the internal
developments were very important - the most significant change in
decades. He urged careful thought about how to avoid discouraging the
protesters with sanctions, bearing in mind that the protesters did not
support Tehran's ambitions for nuclear weapons. He further emphasized
his belief that human rights issues should receive attention as well.
7. (S/NF) SecDef said that Kouchner's argument underscored the need to
focus sanctions on the IRGC and companies it owns, in order to minimize
the hardship for the Iranian people. He remarked that Iranians across
the political spectrum support a peaceful nuclear program, but it was
not clear whether they favored acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Therefore, our political strategy should reaffirm Iran's right to have
a civilian nuclear program as long as it is safeguarded and in
compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
8. (S/NF) Further explaining the U.S. position, SecDef said that while
our understanding of the Iranian leadership was opaque, we do know that
they do not like to be isolated. The USG would soon be designating
several IRGC companies under the Iran Sanctions Act. His own view was
that it was important to get the UNSCR passed quickly, even if it were
not as harsh as we might wish. Once a resolution is passed, he
explained, it will offer a legal platform on which the EU and
individual states can impose harsher sanctions.
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9. (S/NF) Kouchner agreed, but added that another problem was to get
the nine votes needed in the UNSC. He said that Lebanon was one of
France's prime targets in this respect, but he doubted that France
would be able to bring the resolution to a vote during its presidency,
as February is a very short month. Gabon, which takes the chair in
March, is a "good asset for France," he commented. Audibert
interjected that the Russians had supported deleting some sections of
the draft UNSCR, but had approved including sanctions on the IRGC.
Kouchner said that France had to proceed carefully since a French woman
had been taken hostage in Tehran. He disparaged FM Mottaki's
duplicitous performance in Munich.
10. (S/NF) On Afghanistan, Kouchner confirmed that France would
maintain its position that it could not add additional combat troops
for the time being. Pledging that France would stay "until the very
end," he said that the French would send 80 French trainers to Kabul on
their own, but were also looking into joint training opportunities with
Germany - possibly an OMLT.
11. (S/NF) Kouchner solicited SecDef's reaction to Karzai's idea of
local non-combat zones. Gates said that he was not familiar with this
proposal but was skeptical about declaring zones where the government
could not use force since we could not enforce similar restraint on the
12. (S/NF) The U.S., SecDef said, supports reintegration and has money
in its military budget to support short-term efforts at integration
similar to the Sons of Iraq initiative in Anbar province. Kouchner
commented that a key was to provide higher salaries to the ANA and ANP.
SecDef agreed, noting that salary increases in late 2009 had led to an
increase in recruits. Kouchner said that this made sense as we were
fighting misery as well as terrorism.
13. (S/NF) Turning to Pakistan, SecDef described the dramatic changes
that had taken place over the past year. It was astonishing that
President Zadari had remained in power and that the Pakistanis had
conducted such effective COIN operations. He noted that coordination
between ISAF and Pakistan's armed forces was improving - and this was
creating a more difficult situation for the Taliban along the border.
The Pakistan operation in South Waziristan had flushed out Taliban and
Al Qaeda elements; they were more vulnerable on the move. Moreover,
Pakistan's aggressive campaign against the insurgency had won broad
political support among all political parties. Operations in the West
and North-West had begun to accrue respect for Pakistan Army that
Musharraf had squandered. It is important for all of us to talk to the
Pakistanis and provide economic assistance. SecDef commented that one
can never be an optimist about Pakistan, but that the changes had been
striking. Kouchner agreed with SecDef's analysis that the changes in
both the political and military spheres were "nothing short of a
14. (C) Kouchner then raised NATO, declaring that France was ready to
play its role in defining the Alliance's future strategy. He said that
General Abrial (Supreme Allied Commander - Transformation) has offered
input, but emphasized that it was critical to come up with real
strategy that we could explain in debates in Parliament. Kouchner
stressed that we needed to clarify NATO's roles and missions, as well
as its role in combating the threats of terrorism, poverty and
oppression. SecDef agreed that the Strategic Concept should deal with
21st century security threats Q with an emphasis on the word
"security." He said the Strategic Concept should also incorporate
lessons learned from Afghanistan - particularly the need for
comprehensive civil-military strategies and better partnership between
NATO and the EU and UN.
15. (C) SecDef said that NATO reform should proceed hand-in-hand with
an examination of Alliance threats and missions, either as a parallel
process or as a part of the Strategic Concept itself. In this regard,
the Alliance cannot afford so many headquarters and needs to take steps
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to reduce overhead.
16. (C) SecDef also stated that the Alliance should be clear as to
what NATO's limits are -- for example, it does not have role in the
Pacific. We should adhere to the basic principle that NATO is about
the security of its member states. We all face terrorist risks, and
there are many other new threats, but SecDef would be inclined to
define future missions narrowly rather than broadly.
17. (S/NF) Kouchner highlighted piracy as an emerging issue on which
the EU and NATO were working together, although the real problem was
inside Somalia. As an aside, he mentioned that France was willing to
support the training of additional troops for the TFG.
18. (C) Kouchner argued that strengthening the European pillar in NATO
was necessary: the EU cannot exist without defense, the U.S. needs
strong European Allies, and a strong European pillar was not in
contradiction with NATO. SecDef replied that during his time as
SecDef, he has felt the need for a better way for EU and NATO to work
together. While NATO is primarily a security alliance, it can't do its
job without a civilian component. The EU is primarily a
political-economic organization, but he was willing to acknowledge that
it had some security role -- such as counterpiracy or peacekeeping in
Chad. SecDef said that while each organization might have its primary
role and mission, they could both perform both functions.
19. (C) Interpreting SecDef's latter comment as prohibiting an EU
security role, Kouchner dissented and said that since 500 million
people live in the European Union, the EU needed to be able to
adequately protect them. Gates observed that France was just one of 5
or 6 nations that spent more than 2 percent of GDP on defense, and that
if the EU decided it needed an independent security role, it could
reduce number of forces available to NATO and cripple the Alliance.
Even now, NATO had insufficient resources. Kouchner said that we needed
to share burdens among all nations, and that it was hard to make people
spend more on defense in the midst of an economic crisis.
20. (U) This cable has been cleared by SecDef. Drafted by OSD staff.
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