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U.S. remains committed to ties with Asia, Gates says

There will be no “slackening” of U.S. commitment to Asia, even as the nation goes through tough financial times, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here yesterday.

The secretary stopped in Hawaii on his way to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, where he will deliver the message that America is committed to Asia at that annual gathering of regional defense leaders.

“We are a Pacific nation. We will remain a Pacific nation,” Gates said during a short news conference on the docks alongside the USS Missouri. “We will remain engaged and continue relationships with friends, partners, allies in Asia.”

The secretary also commented on Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s strident expression of outrage over civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The secretary said he didn’t know the specifics of an incident in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that caused Karzai’s outburst, but noted that “this is a continuing challenge we face in the war that we fight in Afghanistan.” A joint Afghan and coalition investigation, he added, will get to the bottom of the incident.

“I think the joint investigations of these incidents when they happen are important so we can mutually figure out what happened and what, if anything, went wrong,” he said.

Gates also pointed out that the Taliban have no regard for civilian lives and have been responsible for roughly 80 percent of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan. They are not even seeking to shield themselves in civilian communities, he added, but are actively using improvised explosive devices to kill men, women and children.

“The Afghan people have put up with 30 years of war, and I think President Karzai is reflecting the pain and suffering that the Afghan people have endured,” he said. “At the same time, he and the Afghan people recognize that we are their ally, we are their friend, and we are trying to develop the capability to protect themselves so that the Afghan people can see an end to the problem.”

Gates received a tour of the USS Missouri during his short stay here. He previously had visited the USS Arizona Memorial. The Japanese sunk the Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor that sparked U.S. involvement in World War II. The Missouri, moored about 100 meters from the memorial, was where the Japanese surrendered to the allies Sept. 2, 1945, to end the war.

“Visiting this ship and looking at the memorial to the USS Arizona the day after Memorial Day serves as a reminder of all those who served and made the supreme sacrifice for our country,” Gates said.

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