Gates did weigh in on two questions that have been floating around Congress about the yearlong implementation review of repeal that’s due in December.

He said he did “not recommend” making a change in the law before the review is completed.

But he added that the review is a study of how to repeal the law, not whether to repeal.

"This study is not about should we do it. This study is about how we would do it," Gates told reporters. "We need to identify where there might be problems or issues, or just issues to be addressed — whether it's a change in regulations or benefits or something like that — so that when the time comes we have some idea of what we need to do in order to carry forward."

Most pro-repeal groups later pushed back on the notion that the study’s completion must predate legislative action.

“The results of this study are not necessary for Congress to go ahead and lock in repeal of the law this year, especially if repeal is scheduled to take effect after the study group finishes its work," said Alex Nicholson, executive director of the gay veterans group Servicemembers United. "Lawmakers should trust the military to successfully implement any policy change with which it is tasked."

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, added, "Two branches of government can and should work concurrently toward repeal."

During the briefing, reporters also asked Adm. Mullen whether officers have been “privately” voicing concerns about overturning the law in the midst of being engaged in two wars. But Mullen said the feedback he’s gotten has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The honest answer -- this is anecdotal -- but there's been very little of that fed back to me specifically by questions or statements,” he said. “Quite to the contrary, most of what I've heard has actually been very supportive.”

Mullen said he and the service chiefs had “spent a lot of time” discussing repeal prior to the testimony that he and Gates gave in February.

He also defended the testimony of the head of the Marines, Gen. James Conway, who recommended against repeal.

“It wasn't my intent to get in the way of any chief’s specific view,” he said. “Obviously, they have responsibilities as well.”

The White House sent out a statement praising the new regulations — which President Barack Obama had asked Gates to investigate last summer — but giving no indication of when the president would like to see legislative action.

“Today’s announcement follows the powerful testimony by Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen in February,” said the statement. “The President has been clear in his call for Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He appreciates the hard work by Secretary Gates to make the implementation of the current law fairer and more appropriate, as well as the broader efforts to prepare for implementation of any Congressional repeal.”

LGBT groups generally welcomed the Pentagon announcement as a “first step” toward ending the ban but stressed that repeal must be passed this year.

“While the administration is to be commended for taking this step, its work is far from over,” said Nathaniel Frank of the Palm Center, a California-based think tank. “As the focus shifts to Congress, the president has a major role to play to end the ban outright.”

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