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Being Pentagon chief had its downsides: ex-US Defense Secretary Gates

WASHINGTON -- Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates joked Monday about the downsides of his old job, including enduring interminable NATO meetings and price gouging over a Central Asian air base.

At a Pentagon ceremony for the unveiling of his official portrait, the ex-CIA director displayed his customary wry humor, saying he was glad to be done with long-winded NATO sessions, long-haul flights across the Pacific and talks about a certain airfield in Kyrgyzstan.

As he writes a memoir of his tenure as defense secretary, Gates said he had “been reflecting on some of the things and some of the people that I miss ... and frankly many more that I don't.”

“I confess that back at CIA, I might have been less motivated to win the Cold War if I had known the result would be NATO conferences in which 28 defense ministers would be present, all entitled to speak,” he said.

And he recounted numerous meetings with his counterparts around the world, citing “the less edifying experience of being shaken down by the defense minister of Kyrgyzstan for rent at Manas air base.”

Heavily reliant on Manas as a hub for moving troops and equipment in and out of Afghanistan, the United States has had to agree to high rental fees to maintain access to the strategic base.

Gates, 69, also found hours-long hearings before U.S. congressional committees trying, saying: “The less said about the latter, the better.”

Although the Pentagon was mostly empty Monday due to Hurricane Sandy, which prompted the closure of federal government offices, top brass and civilian leaders braved rain and wind from the storm to pay tribute to Gates, who served in the post from December 2006 to June 2011.

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