As the only Republican Cabinet member asked to stay on by President-elect Barack Obama, Gates told reporters that military commanders are looking at ways to more quickly pull troops out of Iraq in light of the 16-month timetable that was a centerpiece of the Democrat's campaign.
He also said it will be a high priority to work with the new Congress on legislation that will enable the U.S. to close the detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 200 terrorism suspects are still being held.
In a blunt and occasionally personal briefing, Gates acknowledged his unique position in the new Democratic administration - a job he said he did not want or seek but felt he could not turn down.
"I guess I would say that I was engaged in my own form of strategic deterrence," said Gates, who for the past two years has talked only of his desire to return home to Washington state. "It was my hope that if I made enough noise about how much I did not want to stay here and how much I wanted to go back to the Northwest that I wouldn't have to worry about the question ever being asked."
But Obama asked, and Gates said there was no way he could say no. And while there has been much speculation that his tenure might be somewhat short, in an effort to ease the transition during wartime, Gates said his agreement to stay on at the Pentagon is "open-ended" and that there is no timeline for his departure.
Gates made it clear that he is comfortable and even impressed with Obama's commitment to the military and said he is "less concerned" about the 16-month Iraq withdrawal timetable.
Although he has repeatedly insisted that any drawdown in Iraq must be based on security conditions there, Gates said he now finds the 16-month time frame agreeable, since Obama has said he will listen to his commanders and pull forces out responsibly.
The situation in Iraq has changed, he said, pointing to the new security agreement with the Iraqis that calls for U.S. troops to be out of the cities by next June 30 and out of the country by Jan. 1, 2012.
"Commanders are already looking at what the implications of that are in terms of the potential for accelerating the drawdown and in terms of how we meet our obligations to the Iraqis," Gates said.