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Situations similar to Libya unlikely, Gates says

It’s unlikely that a situation like the one in Libya would occur in another country, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told U.S. soldiers here today.

As part of a three-day visit to Iraq, Gates visited the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Advise and Assist Brigade to thank the soldiers for their work in U.S. Division North mentoring Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

Before posing for a photo with each of the hundreds of soldiers present –- and handing each a commemorative coin with his personal thanks –- Gates fielded questions. One soldier asked whether the recent turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa could result in military action similar to the NATO-led effort under way in Libya.

The rate of the spread of unrest in the region is without historical precedent, the secretary noted.

“I was the deputy national security advisor when we went through the liberation of Eastern Europe in 1989, and that went from about February until December,” he said. “But this is all happening in like 10 weeks, and so I think our overall approach has to be that we support addressing these political and economic grievances. We believe that the demonstrations ought to be nonviolent, and the actions of the governments need to be nonviolent.”

Within those principles, Gates said, each country must be considered individually.

“And I think what has made Libya unique is, first of all, a request which is unprecedented in my experience -– which only goes back 45 years –- of the Arab League actually asking for an intervention in the Middle East to take on an Arab government mistreating its own people,” Gates said. “That was then supported by a resolution of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and then the U.N., and the demands, frankly, of our allies like Britain and France.

“So it’s hard for me to imagine those kinds of circumstances being replicated anyplace else,” he added.

After the troop visit, Gates had lunch with soldiers in their dining facility before leaving Iraq to continue his overseas trip in the United Arab Emirates. He visited Saudi Arabia earlier this week, continuing a series of recent visits to countries in the region.

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