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Rumsfeld in Nicaragua for Talks With Regional Defense Ministers

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

MANAGUA, Nicaragua, Oct. 1, 2006 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived here today for two days of talks with his counterparts from more than 30 Western Hemisphere nations.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld meets with reporters while in transit to Managua International Airport, Nicaragua, Oct. 1. Rumsfeld is visiting Nicaragua to attend the Defense Ministerial of Americas Conference to promote defense and security cooperation among Western Hemisphere countries. Photo by James M. Bowman
  

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Many areas of Latin America have made great strides in regional cooperation, with strong cooperation on stopping narcotics and human trafficking and agreements to provide mutual assistance after natural disasters. A senior defense official traveling with Rumsfeld called Central America a success story.

“If you think back 20 years, it was an area of conflict,” the official said. Now most countries in the region have democratically elected governments and militaries under civilian control.

“Central America’s now an exporter of security,” the official said, noting that El Salvador has troops in Iraq.

Pentagon press secretary Eric Ruff said Rumsfeld sees promise in the regional cooperation in Central America. “He sees this meeting and the previous meetings he’s attended as opportunities or forums to cooperate and sort of come together to deal with nontraditional threats, such as counternarcotics, national disasters and the terrorist threat,” Ruff said of Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld arrived here on the same day that President Bush approved waivers that will allow the United States to provide certain types of military aid to several nations that were recently ineligible to receive such assistance.

At issue is a provision of the American Servicemembers Protection Act of 2002 that prohibited any form of military aid to countries that did not agree not to submit U.S. military members to the International Criminal Court. The defense official traveling with Rumsfeld explained that U.S. leaders don’t approve of the court. The official said the treaty sets up independent prosecutors with no oversight. U.S. officials, including Rumsfeld, have repeatedly said they fear politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. military members.

However, Article 98 of the treaty allows countries to make bilateral agreements that they won’t turn each others’ servicemembers over to the court. The United States has signed such agreements with 102 nations. Under the American Servicemembers Protection Act, military aid was cut off to countries that didn’t make such agreements with the United States. Soon after the law’s passage, military leaders began protesting that cutting off such assistance to many countries was not in the United States’ best interest. Rumsfeld agreed and said he supported waivers for countries to receive International Military Education and Training funds.

IMET funds allow nations to send military members to the United States for training, for exchanges of military officers and combined training exercises. On the flight here today, Rumsfeld called such sharing of ideas “fundamentally important and valuable,” particularly when dealing with countries that only recently committed to civilian control of the military.

“Those relationships between American military people and military people in other countries are enormously valuable,” he said. “They’re valuable to our country; they’re valuable to that country. They become friendships that last for decades. And those people go on to become chiefs of staff of their militaries, and America is demystified because they go to school in the United States and they understand it and they see how it works.”

He said military leaders who have learned from and in the United States then can counter “all the lies and misinformation that get pedaled around the world about the United States.”

The secretary also took reporters' questions about recent calls that he should resign, saying President Bush has expressed support and confidence in his job performance. When a reporter asked Rumsfeld if he had considered resigning recently, he responded: “No, how many times do I have to answer that?”

He disputed contentions in a recently published book by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward that former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card had asked the president to fire Rumsfeld. The secretary said it’s the job of the White House chief of staff to consider many different ideas.

Rumsfeld also disagreed with the notion that he had a feud with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “That’s nonsense,” he said, noting the two have spoken on the phone “almost every day for years when she’s in town and I’m in town.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld meets with staff members while on an E-4B aircraft at Managua International Airport, Nicaragua, Oct. 1. Rumsfeld is visiting Nicaragua to attend the Defense Ministerial of Americas Conference to promote defense and security cooperation among Western Hemisphere countries. Photo by James M. Bowman  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visits the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua, Oct. 1. Rumsfeld is visiting Nicaragua to attend the Defense Ministerial of Americas Conference to promote defense and security cooperation among Western Hemisphere countries. Photo by James M. Bowman  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visits the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua, Oct. 1. Rumsfeld is visiting Nicaragua to attend the Defense Ministerial of Americas Conference to promote defense and security cooperation among Western Hemisphere countries. Photo by James M. Bowman  
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