Gates lauds 'extraordinary' progress with Russia
Defence Secretary Robert Gates, an ex-CIA chief, on Monday hailed Russia's refusal to block military action against Libya as evidence of "extraordinary" progress in US-Russia ties.
The former intelligence analyst said military ties between the two countries have made dramatic advances that would have seemed impossible when he joined the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960s amid the Cold War.
"Well, it's a lot different than it was in 1966, let me tell you," he told reporters on his plane before landing in Saint Petersburg on the first leg of a trip to Russia.
"No, I think if you look at the areas where we are cooperating and the kind of dialogue that we're having with the Russians, we have come quite a distance," Gates said.
Gates praised Russia for backing the US diplomatic stance on Iran and North Korea and its decision not to block last week's UN resolution approving military action against Libya.
"The fact that despite their reservations they didn't veto Resolution 1973" was an example of Moscow's cooperative relations with Washington, he said.
But the war in Libya threatened to overshadow the visit, with Russia's foreign ministry on Sunday calling for France, Britain, the United States and other countries to end what it called the "indiscriminate use of force."
Russia had abstained from the UN Security Council vote on taking military action to halt Moamer Kadhafi's assault on rebels and ruled out taking part in such an operation.
The Pentagon chief also cited Moscow's willingness to allow NATO to move troops and supplies by air and land across Russian territory in support of the war in Afghanistan as an example of improving relations.
"At this point we have probably sent more than 30,000 containers across Russia," said Gates, saying the figure "continues to amaze me."
"Russia's willingness to work with us in this I think is really extraordinary," he added.
Gates, who delayed his trip by a day to monitor the launch of US military missile and bombing attacks against Libya's regime, later touted "deepening" defence relations in an address to mid-level naval officers in Saint Petersburg on Monday.
He aknowledged differences over US plans for a missile defence shield in Europe.
But he also proposed possible cooperation with Moscow that could include "exchanging launch information, setting up a joint data fusion center, allowing greater transparency with respect to our missile defence plans and exercises, and conducting a joint analysis to determine areas of future cooperation."
While previous trips to Russia had been dominated by disputes over missile defences in Europe, this visit would cover a broader range of issues and reflected deepening military ties between the two countries, US officials said.
Missile defence is "not the driver for this visit (though) it will clearly be the subject of considerable conversation," press secretary Geoff Morrell said Friday.
Gates, who heads to Moscow on Tuesday to meet his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, and President Dmitry Medvedev, said the progress in US relations with Russia could not have been predicted in the early days of his career at the CIA.
"If you told me when I joined the CIA in 1967 that I would end my career helping to forge a stronger defence relationship with the Russians, I'd have been more than skeptical," he said in his speech.
With Gates vowing to step down later this year, the visit will mark his last trip to Russia as defence secretary. His address to the Russian officers marked a symbolic farewell to a country that has occupied so much of his time during his career.
"It will be up to you, the next generation of leaders, to make what you will of our efforts and decide what history you'll be telling when it's your turn to stand up here," he said.
© 2011 AFP