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Hi, all. Today's report features:

• West Wing Week: A look at Sudan’s historic referendum.

• White House press briefing: Press Secretary Gibbs takes questions on yesterday’s memorial service in Arizona and other issues.

• VPOTUS in Iraq: Addressing deployed U.S. service members in Baghdad, the Vice President promises a responsible drawdown.

• Middle East Digest: Excerpts from State Department press briefings related to U.S. foreign policy interests in the Middle East.

• Defense Secretary in Asia: Secretary Gates calls for strengthening U.S.-Japan defensive alliance.

• Education answers: Secretary Duncan takes Facebook questions.

• A letter from the First Lady: In an open letter to parents, the First Lady talks about discussing the tragedy in Arizona with children.

And that's the report until Monday, 1/17/11.


The White House Blog, Jan. 14, 2011:

West Wing Week: Preview of Dispatches from Sudan

Posted by Arun Chaudhary, official White House videographer

This week, an historic referendum took place in Sudan and West Wing Week takes you there.  Watch a preview of "Dispatches from Sudan" and join General Scott Gration, President Obama's Special Envoy to Sudan for a unique look at the vote that could result in the world's newest nation.  Go behind the scenes at polling stations from Juba to Khartoum, meet some of the international community helping ensure the vote is fair and peaceful, travel to Darfur to inspect conditions on the ground, and learn about the commitment of the United States to peace in this region after decades of civil war. That's coming soon to; watch the preview now.

West Wing Week: Dispatches from Sudan - Preview

See a few links below on the President's engagement on the issue:

January 10, 2011:

Remarks by President Obama and President Sarkozy of France after Bilateral Meeting

January 9, 2011:

Statement by the President on Sudan

January 6, 2011:

Expectations and Implications: A Discussion on the Southern Sudan Referendum

December 22, 2010

Readout of the President's Call with First Vice President of Sudan Salva Kiir

September 24, 2010

President Obama in Ministerial Meeting on Sudan: The Fate of Millions


White House, Jan. 13, 2011:

1/13/10: White House Press Briefing

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

Office of the Press Secretary, Jan. 13, 2011:

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 1/13/2011

....  MR. GIBBS:  .... Let me do one quick announcement before we go forward.  President Obama will meet with President Zardari of Pakistan here at the White House tomorrow.  The two leaders will discuss aspects of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic partnership, including our mutual commitment to economic reform, support for democracy and good governance, and joint efforts to combat terrorism.

The meeting is closed press, and we’re going to do some still stuff out of it....  He’s in town for (Richard) Holbrooke’s service, and we thought it was a good opportunity to add a meeting with President Zardari.

Q:  Do you think with the speech last night the President accomplished what he wanted to accomplish with the speech?

MR. GIBBS: Look, I think in -- I talked a little bit about this on the plane on the way back -- I think the President had thought about this on many different levels since we all got the news Saturday of the horrific and senseless events.  I think he thought of this as the President of the United States.  I think he thought of this as a friend of the congresswoman.  And I think he thought, as you all heard him talk about in the Oval Office on Monday, I think he thought of this as a parent.  And I think we’ve all probably gone through -- many in this country have gone through thinking about this at many different levels.

I think what the President had hoped to do last night was to speak both to the community of Tucson and to the nation.  And I think his message of ensuring that our enduring way of government moves forward in a way that best honors the memories of those that were victims of this tragedy, as well as those that we look forward to seeing recover....

Q: Back on last night and the idea of unity.... In what way has (the President) not been able -- why has he not been able to bring the country together in the two years that he’s been President? ....

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Ann, I think that what the President would tell you on that answer is that -- I think -- and I think this was conveyed in his speech last night -- that we are not going to remove disagreement from our democracy.  And we shouldn’t.  That’s the underpinning of the notion of our self-government.  But the tone and the approach that we take in those debates I think is what we all hope changes because of both the events of the past few days, but I think anybody would say that -- and, again, I think you see it in the President’s remarks, that our civil discourse has become more and more polarized.  And I think -- I think the President hopes that, again, we can have disagreements without disparaging and being disagreeable toward others.  And, again, I think you’re going to see plenty of opportunities in the next few years where you have those disagreements.

I think that, again, the tone and the approach on both sides -- and this isn’t just a one-way street, it’s for us too -- to ensure that we’re doing this in a way, as I think the President so eloquently said last night, is befitting the memory of those in Tucson.

Q: Did Governor Palin’s message yesterday, the overall message, head in the wrong direction?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think there are plenty that can –

Q: She’s a public figure; the White House could have an opinion on her overall message.

MR. GIBBS: And, again, I’m happy to speak to what the President said and how he came about saying it, but I’ll let others opine on that.

Q: ....  So my question is, with a new State of the Union coming up, there’s been some speculation that maybe the President will use the State of the Union to build on last night....

MR. GIBBS: Well, a couple of things.  And I think you’re very correct, Ed, in -- obviously elements of what you heard last night, improvements in our civil discourse and how we debate issues, will certainly play a role in this year’s State of the Union.  I think -- again, this is something I think if you go back and -- whether it’s in the campaign or -- you certainly can see it visibly in the 2004 convention address, but obviously speeches throughout his career where he talks about this.

And I think you’re right -- the President was very candid with those Republican and Democratic leaders after the election that he had to do better.  And I think, quite frankly, we were -- the country was successful at -- in getting things done in the lame duck session because of that very notion.  And I think you’ll see -- I think you’ll see a greater effort on our part in a much more systematic way to do the types of meetings that we had here before....

Q: .... How does Bill Daley play into that, since we haven’t had a chance to talk to you to brief this week, in terms of he’s taken over officially?  There’s been a lot of talk about his ability to work with Republicans.  The Chamber of Commerce and others immediately said this is a great pick.  Moving forward, what kind of impact do you think Bill Daley will have in terms of that relationship with Republicans but also moving the President’s agenda, et cetera?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think obviously Bill is somebody who brings vast experience working with both sides of the aisle.  I think that was true when he was Commerce Secretary and I think that’s been true in his endeavors in business.  And I think, as you said, it’s reflected in the statements that were made upon the announcement last week that he would assume the job of chief of staff.  And as you said -- I was not -- I was in Tucson yesterday, so I was not here yesterday, but he began yesterday at the 7:30 a.m. senior staff meeting.

And, look, I think that -- again, I think he brings a vast amount of experience in working with others, but, look, I think it also, for all of us, has to -- the truth is, it’s all of us.  It’s everybody that works here, it’s everybody that works in government and public service, and it includes the leaders of our country.

Q:  Keeping with that general much lighter note, given the solemn times, have you decided not to put toilet paper on the White House because of your wonderful Auburn victory?

MR. GIBBS: I think it is a wonderful tradition probably best reserved for Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, where there’s -- there are many rolls currently hanging in a beautiful tree there now.

Q: How about in front of your house?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: My son is quite excited that we’re going to do that for the third time.  I realize I might have unwound something that might be harder in the end to wind back, but -- yes –

Q: (Question about the empathy in the President’s speech.)

MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, look, again, I think -- I’ve heard him discuss and I think many of you all have heard him discuss over the course of many years the notion that -- what it’s like to understand and -- understand other people, people we don’t agree with maybe in a political sense.  I guess the -- one way of saying it is to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes, so to speak.

I think that -- that’s animated much of his public life.  Again, I’d trace that -- probably the first time you heard it on a bigger stage obviously is the 2004 convention speech.

Look, this was -- and I did a little of this on -- last night and you’ve seen the gaggle.  I mean, this was -- I think last night was a speech that was very much the President’s and he spent a great deal of time going through his thoughts on this and spent a lot of time working on what he wanted to say, including making edits even after the plane had landed in Arizona last night.

.... I guess I’d point you in that sense to the -- those sections of the speech talking about these individuals whose lives were celebrated remind us of our mothers, our grandmothers, our brothers, and just the notion of using their example in a way to lead our lives in a better way befitting their memory.  Again, I think that’s something the President has spent a lot of time thinking about and talking about over the course of many years, including, as you mention, and I’ve talked about here, our civility and our civil discourse....

....  But, look, I think the President will continue to look for opportunities to build on what Ed talked about and what the President has talked about, which is how we reach across the aisle, how we have that more civil debate and discourse.

And, again, to go back to the Michigan speech, it was -- said a little bit of it last night, but I think the notion that -- what we lose in a debate that is overly charged and overly personal is the ability at some point to all sit together at a table and come to a good conclusion on solving some of our most serious problems.

Again, I point to I think the -- some of what happened in the lame duck session of Congress, which was -- whether it was the tax cuts, whether it was the START treaty, whether it was "don’t ask, don’t tell" -- all very important achievements in the sense that we had been struggling with their -- those questions for quite some time and found some bipartisan answers.  And I think that provides -- hopefully provides a roadmap for how we can get some stuff done this year....

Q: ....  The assault weapons ban is expired.  Apparently, the sort of extended clip that this individual was able to obtain he would not have been able to obtain had it still been in force.  Where is the administration on gun control generally, the extension of the assault weapons ban in particular? ....

MR. GIBBS: Mike, let me say this, that obviously we are and have been focused on the important healing process.  We will have an opportunity to evaluate ideas and proposals that may be brought forth as a result of circumstances and the facts around this case.  The President, again, since I have been with him in 2004, has supported the assault weapons ban, and we continue to do so.  And I think we all strive, regardless of party, to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to reduce violence.  We’ll have an opportunity to evaluate some of the other proposals....

Q: One of the conclusions of the President’s commission on the BP Horizon oil spill -- and I find this a little alarming if it’s true, in light of the predictions of $4 gasoline by Memorial Day -- one of the conclusions was that the administration does not have a comprehensive energy plan.  It said that there are a lot different programs, grants, et cetera, but no overarching strategy.  Would you agree with that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that I would agree with this notion:  that you have seen Presidents date back many, many, many administrations discussing our need to take concrete actions to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, to look for and embrace a clean energy economy.  We have -- we still have a lot of work to do -- and when I mean "we," I mean the country -- in taking some of those very important steps.

I think if you look at the investment in the previous two years in -- continued investment in wind energy production, in windmill turbine production, in solar, in, as you’ve heard me discuss on a thousand occasions, increase advanced -- advances in investments in electric batteries for cars, the steps that we’ve taken with business and with industry to increase fuel mileage standards not just for cars and not just for light trucks but even for heavier-duty trucks.

But I don’t think anybody would disagree with the notion that there’s still much work left to be done.  We still have progress that we need to make so that we don’t find ourselves 10 or 20 or 30 years from now continuing to have the very same debates about how we reduce that influence of foreign oil and our dependence on it.

That’s going to take many forms.  Our administration made the first investment in building a new nuclear power plant in more than three decades because there isn’t one thing that we’re going to do that’s going to fix all this.  There are many different approaches.  You’ve heard the President -- more specifically as it relates to oil, we have to -- there are certainly -- there’s drilling in the Gulf, there’s drilling in other regions of the United States, and we have to ensure that all of those activities are done with the utmost safety and care....

Q: Robert, what did the President think about the pep rally aspect and tone of the event last night?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I’m not a Tucsonian, obviously, but I think that having been there for a day before the President got there, you could understandably feel the weight of what had happened.  And I think part of that -- I think part of the grieving process is celebrating the lives of those that were lost and celebrating the miracles of those that survived.  I think you’ve all probably by now read the transcript from the two members on the plane last night about their personal experience with the congresswoman in her hospital bed.  That -- it’s an emotional thing to read.

Again, I think -- I will say that the speech -- I read the speech several times and thought that there wouldn’t be a lot of applause, if any.  I think many of us thought that.  But I think you -- I think there was a celebration, again, of the lives of those that have been impacted, not just those that -- not just at that grocery store but throughout the country.  And I think that if that is part of the healing process, then that’s a good thing....

Q: Can I follow up on the atmosphere?  I just want to ask, why was the reason for choosing the arena as opposed to maybe a church or a smaller venue?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would point you to the university on that and I think it’s important to understand this was -- we were invited to and accepted quite happily the invitation of the university.  I think having that many people there and being able to include people from the community was -- again, was and is an important part of that healing process.  But in terms of logistics and things like that, I’d point you to the university as they’d probably be better to answer your questions on those sorts of things....

Q: Robert, going back to China and the answer to Caren’s question, you listed some of the items on the agenda, and it’s quite a full plate.  Can you talk about whether there are any expectations for decisions made or agreements signed as a result of those talks?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, Roger, let me -- again, I would point you to a few things.  We’ll have a chance to talk to Tom tomorrow on some of this.  I’m not going to get ahead of the official events of next week.  I’d point you to what Secretary Geithner said obviously yesterday.  I know Secretary Clinton also is going to speak on the topic of China tomorrow.  So I don’t really want to get ahead of that process too much....

Q: Robert, I’d like to ask you about the President’s meeting yesterday with the Lebanese prime minister, which occurred just as his government was collapsing.  Does the President believe that the actual statement of getting an indictment in the Hariri massacre of -- the Hariri assassination in 2005 is more important than what comes after, whether it’s a collapse of the government or –

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously, look, I, first and foremost, would point you to thereadout from the President’s meeting yesterday.  Again, I was not in the building yesterday.  I was in Arizona.

I’ll reiterate what part of that readout says, which is that I think the resignations only demonstrate the fear and the determination that the Hezbollah-led coalition has to block the government’s ability to conduct its business and, most importantly, to get some much-needed answers and justice on the assassination inquiry.  Our support is for the sovereignty of the Lebanese people, and we’ll continue to strive toward that.

Q: Robert, one more about last night’s speech.  I know you talked about the personal nature of how the speech was constructed.  But what do you think of some of the comparisons that have been drawn between that speech and Bill Clinton’s speech after the Oklahoma City bombing and other tragedy speeches?  Are those comparisons overdrawn, or do you think there’s something to it?

MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously there are historians that will weigh in on these topics.  Mark, I think there are moments in our history -- Oklahoma City, the Challenger accident, what happened in Arizona -- that are important for the President to talk to the nation about, and to help be part of the process of celebration and healing.  I think that’s how he approached -- that’s how he approached this.

And obviously we’ve had -- we’ve had, and every President does, has unfortunately far too many examples -- a mining accident in West Virginia, a shooting at Fort Hood certainly immediately come to mind as things that the President has had to do.  But, look, I think he approached it as -- in his role as President, as somebody that might help to further that healing process...

Q: Is it time to move past the sort of pep rally aspect of the modern State of the Union and the dueling standing ovations?

MR. GIBBS: Well, you guys have -- some of you guys have been up there in those rooms.  It’s a little -- it gets a little -- it’s like a seesaw.  It gets -- you know, I think that -- I think everybody approaches the -- I think we all want to and look to the State of the Union as a very serious and sober discussion of the important challenges that lie ahead.  It’s time to reflect on the strength of our country, the resilience of our citizens in tough times of either war or economic turmoil, but more importantly to chart that course forward.  I know that’s the way the President is approaching the construction of and the writing of that speech....

Q: Just a mechanical question.  When he first heard about the congresswoman opening her eyes, he heard in the car, did he decide right then to put it in the speech?  And how did that work -- did he make a printout, did he decide where -- how did he decide where it went and how to say it?

MR. GIBBS: Well, he -- just to go through the arc of it -- we talked a little bit about this, again, late on the plane but I should do it for everybody who might not have seen that.  This happened -- his first stop in the second-floor ICU was in her room, spent about 10 minutes there with members of her family, with her husband.  And then goes on throughout the hospital seeing other patients, doctors, nurses, other staff, thanking them for what they had done.

The three friends go in -- and I don’t know the exact time -- and have the exchange and there’s the miracle of opening her eye and of responding to their voices and their memories as they’re talking aloud to her.
The President ended by seeing the trauma team that had first received those harmed in the shooting on Saturday, and then got into the car for the very short drive to the McKale Center.  In the car, along with the First Lady, was her husband and her mother, and that’s when the President first heard the story and talked to the husband about whether he would be comfortable with sharing that story.  Obviously there’s a lot of personal and privacy issues that I think the President wanted to ensure -- he didn’t write any of it out.

He mentioned to me -- we ended the meetings with the families about nine or 10 minutes before the President went out and in the hold he mentioned to me that at that -- that he would insert that story in the portion of the speech where he discusses how she’s aware that we are all there rooting for her.  And that’s how it all came to pass.

Q: First my condolences to all the Americans, especially obviously to the victims.  But second as to why -- it does not seem all that incomprehensible, at least from the outside.  It’s the reverse side of freedom.  Unless you want restrictions, unless you want a bigger role for the government –

MR. GIBBS: ....  I think there’s an investigation that’s going to go on.  I think there are -- I think as it goes on, we will learn more and more about what happened.

I think as the President was clear last night, we may never know fully why or how.  We may never have an understanding of why, as the President said, in the dark recesses of someone’s mind, a violent person’s mind, do actions like this spring forward.  I don’t want to surmise or think in the future of what some of that might be.

But I think it’s important to understand that, as I said earlier, the event that was happening that day was the exercise of some very important, very foundational freedoms to this country:  the freedom of speech; the freedom to assemble; the freedom to petition your government; democracy or a form of self-government that is of, by and for the people -- all of -- all very quintessential American values that have been on display along with the tremendous courage and resilience of those in that community and throughout this country that have had to deal with this tragedy.


Q:  Exactly, Robert.  But this is what I was talking about -- exactly this.  This is America, the democracy, the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to petition your government.  And many people outside would also say -- and the quote, unquote "freedom" of a deranged mind to react in a violent way is also American.  How do you respond to that?

MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry.  What’s the last part?

Q: The quote, unquote "freedom" of the deranged mind to respect -- to react violently to that, it is also American.

Q: No, it’s not.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, I would disagree vehemently with that.  There are -- there is nothing in the values of our country, there’s nothing on the many laws on our books that would provide for somebody to impugn and impede on the very freedoms that you began with by exercising the actions that that individual took on that day.  That is not American.

There are -- I think there’s agreement on all sides of the political spectrum:  Violence is never, ever acceptable.  We had people that died.  We had people whose lives will be changed forever because of the deranged actions of a madman.  Those are not American.  Those are not in keeping with the important bedrock values by which this country was founded and by which its citizens live each and every day of their lives in hopes of something better for those that are here.

Thank you.


Department of Defense, Jan. 13, 2011:

Vice President Joe Biden in Baghdad

Vice President Joe Biden addresses troops in Baghdad, Iraq thanking them for their service. Provided by U.S. Forces Iraq.

Department of Defense, Jan. 13, 2011:

Biden Promises Responsible Drawdown in Iraq

By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2011 – After meeting in Iraq today with its new governmental leaders and with U.S. officials, Vice President Joe Biden promised deployed U.S. service members the United States will draw down its forces in a way that preserves their achievements and honors the sacrifices made there.

Biden is the highest-level U.S. official to visit Iraq since it formed what Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, called "the most inclusive government in their history." The vice president met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqiyya coalition leader Ayad Allawi, President Jalal Talabani, Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and other political leaders.

Biden also met with Austin and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey to discuss progress made, challenges ahead and plans to continue drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq through Dec. 31.

"I’m here to help the Iraqis celebrate the progress they made," Biden told reporters as he met with Austin and Jeffrey. "They formed a government, and that’s a good thing. They have a long way to go."

Following today’s sessions, Biden thanked an assembly of U.S. military members at Camp Victory for what they and those who served before them have helped to accomplish in Iraq and beyond.

Because of their "incredible sacrifices," he said, the Iraqi people are on the verge of having a country that will be "democratic, sustainable, and God willing, prosperous."

"And it can have a dramatic impact on this entire region," he added.

Biden pledged to the service members that the United States will end the war responsibly and "leave behind a country that is worthy of the sacrifices that so many of your brothers and sisters have made."

He noted that 4,422 U.S. service members have died in Iraq, and nearly 32,000 more have been wounded. While U.S. casualties have decreased dramatically, Biden said, the most recent losses earlier this week demonstrate that duty in Iraq "is not a normal day at the office."

"You are still risking your lives for your country," he said.

Troops serving during Operation New Dawn in Iraq are laying groundwork that will remain long after they return home to their families and loved ones, Biden told the group.

He recognized, as an example, that the 807th Medical Command is helping the Iraqis build the infrastructure to deliver quality health care to their people.

The U.S. military mission is to advise and assist Iraq’s security forces, conduct partnered counterterrorism operations and protect U.S. civilians. Meanwhile, the United States is increasing its diplomatic, political and economic engagement with Iraq.

"The things you are doing in this transition period are the things that are going to put the Iraqi people and Iraqi government in a position to sustain the incredibly hard-fought gains that you initially are responsible for," Biden said.

Just as the U.S. mission changed when the United States ended its combat mission in Iraq on Aug. 31, Biden said, it will change again at the end of 2011, when the U.S. military leaves in accordance with an agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

While lauding progress in getting Iraqi security forces "to a point now where they can be in the lead" and "getting better and better every day," Biden acknowledged that they are likely to continue to need U.S. assistance for some time. He cited training, equipping and maintaining as areas the Iraqis likely could require continued help.

Biden turned emotional as he thanked the service members for the sacrifices they and their comrades, as well as their families, have made in Iraq.

"You are part of an incredibly, incredibly proud tradition," he said. "And I hope that not only your military expertise wears off on our Iraqi friends. I hope they understand and see –- and I think they do –- the incredible patriotism, the incredible dedication to country, the incredible diversity that we represent: men and women, black and white, Asian, Caucasian, every single mix that exists on Earth, working as one incredible unit to protect the interests of the United States."

Today’s men and women in uniform represent "the greatest warrior class the world has ever created," the vice president said. "This is not only the best-run, but this is the most powerful, significant military force in the history of mankind. And the world knows that and our citizens know that."

Biden promised that the United States will continue to live up to its "one true sacred obligation -- to prepare and equip those we send into harm’s way and care for them when they come home."

He wiped tears from his eyes as he described how he and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, visit nonambulatory patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and come away amazed that all they ask for is help getting back to their units.

Biden said Americans recognize and appreciate their military, but that he wished all could see what he does -– "young women and men, not so young sometimes, who don’t ask a thing for all that they’ve done."

"We owe you more than we could every repay you," he said.

Biden’s visit to Iraq is his seventh since taking office in January 2009. He traveled to Baghdad from Islamabad, Pakistan, where he and Pakistani leaders focused on their countries’ relationship and joint efforts toward regional peace and stability.

The vice president kicked off his visit to the region earlier this week in Afghanistan, where he met with U.S. and Afghan national and local leaders to assess progress and reinforce the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.


Department of State, Jan. 13, 2011:

Middle East Digest: January 13, 2011

The Middle East Digest is a collection of excerpts from the U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefings that are related to U.S. foreign policy interests in the Middle East.


Department of Defense, Jan. 13, 2011:

Secretary Gates in Japan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Tokyo for his second day of meetings with Japanese leaders.

Department of Defense, Jan. 13, 2011:

Gates on North Korea

Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula during a news conference January 13 in Japan.

Department of Defense, Jan. 13, 2011:

Gates and Japanese leaders

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visits and meets with Japanese leaders.

Department of Defense, Jan. 13, 2011:

Gates Calls for Strengthening U.S.-Japan Defense Alliance
By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Jan. 13, 2011 – The U.S.-Japan alliance, negotiated and signed during the height of the Cold War, may be even more important today, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said to the students of Keio University here.

Gates delivered the speech the morning of Jan. 14 in Japan, which was early this evening on the U.S. East Coast.

The U.S.-Japan defense pact, signed in 1960, is based "not just on economic and military necessity, but on shared values," Gates said in prepared remarks. The alliance has successfully deterred aggression and has provided a security umbrella for the region, he added, and must continue to grow and deepen to continue to be successful.

The alliance faces many security challenges, Gates acknowledged.

"Some, like North Korea, piracy or natural disasters, have been around for decades, centuries or the beginning of time," he said. "Others -- such as global terrorist networks, cyber attacks and nuclear proliferation -- are of a more recent vintage. What these issues have in common is that they all require multiple nations working together – and they also almost always require leadership and involvement by key regional players such as the U.S. and Japan."

Japan’s role in the world has grown, and the country is acting on its values, the secretary noted, helping countries and people struck by disaster and by promoting peacekeeping operations on land and sea.

"Participating in these activities thrusts Japan’s military into a relatively new -- and, at times sensitive -- role as an exporter of security," Gates said. "By showing more willingness to send self-defense forces abroad under international auspices – consistent with your constitution – Japan is taking its rightful place alongside the world’s other great democracies. That is part of the rationale for Japan’s becoming a permanent member of a reformed United Nations Security Council."

Japan has worked with the United States in many of these operations, but Japan needs to use the base of the alliance to strengthen multilateral institutions, Gates told the group.

"Working through regional and international forums puts our alliance in the best position to confront some of Asia’s toughest security challenges," the secretary explained. "As we have been reminded once again in recent weeks, none has proved to be more vexing and enduring than North Korea. Despite the hopes and best efforts of the South Korean government, the U.S. and our allies, and the international community, the character and priorities of the North Korean regime have, sadly, not changed."

North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and proliferation of nuclear know-how and ballistic missile equipment are developments that threaten not just the peninsula, but the nations of the Pacific Rim and international stability as well, Gates said.

Through all recent North Korean provocations, the United States, Japan and South Korea have stood firm, Gates told the students. "Our three countries continue to deepen our ties through the Defense Trilateral Talks – the kind of multilateral engagement among America’s long-standing allies that the U.S. would like to see strengthened and expanded over time," he said.

Nations must cooperate, and any solution in Korea needs Chinese help, the secretary said. Though China is a world power with a fast-growing economy, he added, questions have arisen about the nation’s intentions and the opaque nature of its military buildup.

"I disagree with those who portray China as an inevitable strategic adversary of the United States," Gates said. "We welcome a China that plays a constructive role on the world stage."

The secretary said his visit to Beijing was intended to re-start the military-to-military relationship between the two nations, and that he wants to ensure connections between the United States and China remain open at all times. Dealing with the Soviet Union, he said, convinced him of the importance of open lines of communications.

"Even if specific agreements did not result – on nuclear weapons or anything else – this dialogue helped us understand each other better and lessen the odds of misunderstandings and miscalculation," he said. "The Cold War is, mercifully, long over and the circumstances with China today are vastly different. But the importance of maintaining that dialogue is as important today."

The scope, complexity and lethality of these challenges and more mean "that our alliance is more necessary, more relevant and more important than ever," the secretary said. "And maintaining the vitality and credibility of the alliance requires modernizing our force posture and other defense arrangements to better reflect the threats and military requirements of this century."

Ballistic missile defense is one important area, and the United States and Japan have worked together to develop the best anti-missile system in the world, Gates said.

"This partnership -- which relies on mutual support, cutting-edge technology and information sharing -- in many ways reflects our alliance at its best," he added.

The Chinese military has made strides in cyber and anti-satellite warfare, posing a potential challenge to the ability of U.S. and Japanese forces to operate and communicate, Gates said. Meanwhile, the Japanese government is weighing its defense needs in the National Defense Program Guidelines – a document that lays out a vision for Japan’s defense posture.

The guidelines call for a more mobile and deployable force structure; more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities; and a shift in focus to Japan’s southwest islands.

"These new guidelines provide an opportunity for even deeper cooperation between our two countries, and the emphasis on your southwestern islands underscores the importance of our alliance’s force posture," Gates said.

And that cooperation needs U.S. forces forward-based, the secretary said. Without it, "North Korea’s military provocations could be even more outrageous -- or worse," he said. "China might behave more assertively toward its neighbors."

The forward-basing concept itself is changing, using the realignment roadmap Japan and the United States issued five years ago. The most significant and contentious change is the relocation of the Air Station Futenma on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

"Communities that host our bases make critical contributions to Japan’s security and peace in the region, but we are constantly seeking ways to reduce the impact that U.S. military activity imposes on the local population," Gates said. "The Futenma relocation plan will return land to the Okinawan people, move thousands of U.S. troops out of the most densely populated southern part of the island and move the air station to the less populated north.

"As a result," he continued, "after the relocation is completed, the average citizen of Okinawa will see and hear far fewer U.S. troops and aircraft than they do today."

As the alliance grows and deepens, Japan must take on an even greater regional and global leadership role that reflects its political, economic and military capacity, the secretary said. The United States is wrestling with the size and cost of the American military, he added, but America will stand by treaty allies.

"To do this, we need a committed and capable security partner in Japan," Gates said. "I’m certain that our alliance will remain an indestructible force for stability, a pathway for promoting our shared values, and a foundation upon which to build an ever-more interconnected and peaceful international order."


Department of Education, Jan. 13, 2011:

Secretary Duncan answers Facebook questions

Secretary Arne Duncan: ‘Great teachers are the unsung heroes in our society.  We can’t do enough to recognize and reward them."


The White House Blog, Jan. 13, 2011:

An Open Letter to Parents Following the Tragedy in Tucson

Posted by First Lady Michelle Obama

Dear parents,

Like so many Americans all across the country, Barack and I were shocked and heartbroken by the horrific act of violence committed in Arizona this past weekend.  Yesterday, we had the chance to attend a memorial service and meet with some of the families of those who lost their lives, and both of us were deeply moved by their strength and resilience in the face of such unspeakable tragedy.

As parents, an event like this hits home especially hard.  It makes our hearts ache for those who lost loved ones.  It makes us want to hug our own families a little tighter.  And it makes us think about what an event like this says about the world we live in – and the world in which our children will grow up.

In the days and weeks ahead, as we struggle with these issues ourselves, many of us will find that our children are struggling with them as well.  The questions my daughters have asked are the same ones that many of your children will have – and they don’t lend themselves to easy answers.  But they will provide an opportunity for us as parents to teach some valuable lessons – about the character of our country, about the values we hold dear, and about finding hope at a time when it seems far away.

We can teach our children that here in America, we embrace each other, and support each other, in times of crisis.  And we can help them do that in their own small way – whether it’s by sending a letter, or saying a prayer, or just keeping the victims and their families in their thoughts.

We can teach them the value of tolerance – the practice of assuming the best, rather than the worst, about those around us.  We can teach them to give others the benefit of the doubt, particularly those with whom they disagree.

We can also teach our children about the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country and by their families.  We can explain to them that although we might not always agree with those who represent us, anyone who enters public life does so because they love their country and want to serve it.

Christina Green felt that call.  She was just nine years old when she lost her life.  But she was at that store that day because she was passionate about serving others.  She had just been elected to her school’s student council, and she wanted to meet her Congresswoman and learn more about politics and public life.

And that’s something else we can do for our children – we can tell them about Christina and about how much she wanted to give back.  We can tell them about John Roll, a judge with a reputation for fairness; about Dorothy Morris, a devoted wife to her husband, her high school sweetheart, to whom she’d been married for 55 years; about Phyllis Schneck, a great-grandmother who sewed aprons for church fundraisers; about Dorwan Stoddard, a retired construction worker who helped neighbors down on their luck; and about Gabe Zimmerman, who did community outreach for Congresswoman Giffords, working tirelessly to help folks who were struggling, and was engaged to be married next year.  We can tell them about the brave men and women who risked their lives that day to save others.  And we can work together to honor their legacy by following their example – by embracing our fellow citizens; by standing up for what we believe is right; and by doing our part, however we can, to serve our communities and our country.


Michelle Obama

Originally posted to Kat 4 Obama on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 08:19 AM PST.

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