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Robert Gates Takes Oath as US Defense Secretary

The new U.S. Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, took office Monday, with a private swearing-in at the White House and a public ceremony later at the Pentagon. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Gates: "I, Robert Gates, do solemnly swear."

Cheney: "That I will support and defend."

Gates: "That I will support and defend."

Cheney: "The constitution of the United States."

Gates: "The constitution of the United States."

Cheney: "Against all enemies foreign and domestic."

Gates: "Against all enemies foreign and domestic."

Cheney: "That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same."

Gates: "That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same."

Cheney: "That I take this obligation freely."

Gates: "That I take this obligation freely."

Cheney: "Without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion."

Gates: "Without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion."

Cheney: "And that I will well and faithfully discharge."

Gates: "And that I will well and faithfully discharge."

Cheney: "The duties of the office."

Gates: "The duties of the office."

Cheney: "On which I am about to enter.

Gates: "On which I am about to enter."

Cheney: "So help me God."

Gates: "So help me God."

Cheney: "Congratulations."

Robert Gates took his ceremonial oath of office as U.S. defense secretary, administered by Vice-president Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary 15 years ago.

After taking the oath in the Pentagon auditorium, surrounded by some of the 2.5 million members of the U.S. military and half a million civilians he now leads in the Defense Department, Secretary Gates said dealing with the situation in Iraq is his top priority.

"We simply can not afford to fail in the Middle East," said Robert Gates. "Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come."

Speaking at the ceremony, President Bush called Robert Gates a man of "vision" and "integrity," and said he comes into office at a time of "great consequence."

"He understands that defeating the terrorists and the radicals and the extremists in Iraq and the Middle East is essential to leading toward peace," said President Bush. "As secretary of defense he will help our country forge a new way forward in Iraq."

Secretary Gates addressed President Bush directly at Monday's ceremony.

"You have asked for my candor and my honest counsel at this critical moment in our nation's history," he said. "And you will get both."

Gates said he will soon travel to Iraq to seek the advice of U.S. military commanders and others.

"I look forward to hearing their honest assessments of the situation on the ground and to having the benefit of their advice, unvarnished and straight from the shoulder," said the new U.S. defense secretary.

And Gates said he will also be focusing on Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents and criminals have been threatening the new government and the coalition that supports it.

"Progress made by the Afghan people over the last five years is at risk," he said. "The United States and its NATO allies have made a commitment to the Afghan people, and we intend to keep it."

Analyst Lawrence Korb of the Center for Defense Information, a former senior defense department official, says there are no easy answers in Iraq, but he expects Secretary Gates to make some changes in an effort to reduce the violence and help the Iraqi government take hold.

"I find it very hard to think Gates would have taken the job if he did not feel he could change the current policy," said Lawrence Korb. "I really feel that he will make a difference. Certainly, if Secretary Rumsfeld had remained there, I think there would have been very little chance to make any meaningful changes."

At his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Gates said there are "no new ideas on Iraq," and that the challenge is to combine existing ideas to develop an effective strategy. He also said the United States is not winning in Iraq, and he did not take this job to do nothing about that.

Robert Gates comes to the job of defense secretary after spending most of the last four decades in government service - starting in an entry-level job at the Central Intelligence Agency, and rising to lead that agency, as well as to serve as deputy national security adviser to President Bush's father. Gates said Monday decisions that will be made in the remaining two years of the president's term will determine whether the United States succeeds in Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether what he called "the forces of extremism and chaos" will be on the rise.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose term ended Monday morning, said last week he would spend the Christmas and New Years holidays with his family, and might write a book about his time in office. His press secretary says Rumsfeld will have a government office near the Pentagon for several months to sort through his papers and provide any further help that is needed in the transition to Secretary Gates' leadership.