Defense Ministers to Discuss Iraq, Afghanistan, Future of NATO Forces
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 5, 2004 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived here late Feb. 5 on the first leg of a five-day European trip that will also include stops in Zagreb, Croatia, and London.
The secretary is in Munich to attend the Wehrkunde Security Conference, attended by defense ministers from countries throughout NATO and elsewhere. Rumsfeld said this conference is important because talks here will lay the groundwork for an international summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in June. This is also the first conference Rumsfeld will attend with new NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Top topics at the conference are likely to include Afghanistan, Iraq and the future of NATO forces in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Rumsfeld explained to reporters traveling with him during the trans-Atlantic flight.
The secretary noted 24 of 26 NATO members or invitee countries have sent forces to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Roughly 17 of the same 26 have forces serving in both counties.
"So the argument that we should internationalize our activities there I find interesting," Rumsfeld said.
He praised NATO's efforts in Afghanistan as a first "major out-of-Europe activity" for the international body. NATO forces have assumed control of the International Security Assistance Force in and around the country's capital, Kabul. A proposal is on the table for NATO troops to take over the mission of the provincial reconstruction teams throughout Afghanistan.
"That's a big assignment," Rumsfeld said. "The next step there might be for them to take on a somewhat larger role in Afghanistan."
He also raised the possibility that NATO's mission in Bosnia is coming to an end. He said it's possible NATO troops there could be replaced by a force from the European Union.
"We probably need a NATO headquarters very small to assist with things like the indicted criminals and various other things," Rumsfeld said. "But for the most part, the thought is that we're moving towards the point where the NATO involvement in Bosnia would come to an end.
He called NATO's eventual withdrawal from Bosnia "a success story for NATO when it happens" and "certainly a success story for the people of Bosnia."
During the conference, Rumsfeld will have bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Spain, Canada, Germany, Georgia, Singapore and India. He will also attend a working breakfast with representatives from countries that have been invited to join NATO and members of a U.S. congressional delegation led by Sen. John McCain.
He will make a brief visit to Zagreb Feb. 8. Rumsfeld said Croatia is working toward NATO membership and has provided support to the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The trip will wrap up with one overnight stay in London, where Rumsfeld will meet with British Secretary of State for Defense Geoffrey Hoon.
Rumsfeld is scheduled to return to Washington Feb. 9.