WASHINGTON (CNN) – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will not attend next months NATO Summit with President Obama in order to focus on the defense budget, according to Pentagon officials.
"Secretary Gates will remain in Washington to keep working on what is being called a "very difficult budget," this year, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
The summit involves leaders of NATO member countries, but defense ministers often attend for behind-the scenes discussions.
"He had hoped to join President Obama in Strasbourg and Kehl to celebrate the alliance's 60th anniversary, but his work on the 2010 budget will not permit him to leave Washington then," another Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said in a statement. "He simply needs more time to review all of our major weapons programs and assess how they fit into his efforts to strategically rebalance the department's budget."
Gates has repeatedly said there will be many tough decisions to be made in this budget on weapons programs. High-profile, and pricey, programs Gates will have to weigh whether to keep or to cut include the Air Force's F-22 "Raptor" fighter, the Army's $160 billion Future Combat System program and the over-budget and delayed new presidential helicopter program.
Asked why Gates would be skipping a NATO meeting where most ministers of defense will join their heads of state, Whitman said the Secretary believed there was very good U.S. representation in President Obama.