U.K. Defense Minister Liam Fox is here in the Building today for a lunch meeting with Secretary Gates, and the two counterparts have a lot on their plates, officials say: Fox and Gates will talk about Libya, NATO, ISAF and the Middle East, said Col. Dave Lapan, a top Pentagon spokesman. And this comes after Gates and Chairman Mullen met earlier with the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates -- although that took place "outside the Building," Lapan said, although he had no information about the venue. ("Starbucks," one reporter cracked.)
But Fox and Gates won't just talk about today's weighty operational issues around the world, Lapan said -- they're also going to compare notes about how to run a defense establishment under austerity conditions. They'll talk about "How our countries will be facing fiscally constrained times ahead," Lapan said.
Other than that, however, Pentagon officials didn't give any indication that the two ministers will touch on specifics about hardware, including the F-35s that the U.K. plans to buy, NATO's potential need for additional precision-guided bombs for use in Libya, or anything else. Fox and Gates are set to have a very brief availability for reporters later this afternoon, so look for an update if anything exciting takes place.
UPDATE: Nothing earth-shattering from Gates and Fox. They walked down the steps of the Pentagon's river entrance and spoke into pool microphones set up a good distance away from the press pool -- and downwind, to boot -- so it was very hard for your correspondent to make out exactly what they said. (The TV types, plugged into the local audio setup, apparently copied it all just fine.)
From the way it appeared, Gates' and Fox's discussion hit all the topics that DoD laid out earlier: Libya, Afghanistan and their common eras of austerity. Gates was careful to praise the "special relationship" between the U.S. and U.K., which he said was "a force for good in the world," and Fox thanked the U.S. for contributing the armed Predators not at work over Libya.
Qaddafi's regime is on its "back foot," Fox said, and his continued use of mercenaries "is a sign of desperation." And on Afghanistan? Gates said he has not received the recommendations from Gen. David Petraeus about which or how many American troops can start coming home in July, but he expects to get them "some time in the not too distant future."
So stay tuned for that.