Rumsfeld Meets with Leaders of Caucasus Nations
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
TBLISI, GEORGIA, Dec. 16, 2001 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited three capitals in one day. Rumsfeld began a whirlwind tour of the Caucasus region by visiting the capitals of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia Dec. 15.
He told President Heyday Aliyev in Baku, Azerbaijan, and President Robert Kocharian in Yerevan, Armenia, that he is looking forward to establishing military- to-military links with those countries. Here, he told President Eduard Shevardnadze he wants to work to strengthen existing ties.
He thanked the leaders from all three former Soviet republics for their help in the coalition against global terrorism. The Azeris have offered air bases, which have not been used, and overflight rights, which have. The Armenians have provided overflight rights and refueling rights, said a U.S. official in Yeravan, the Armenian capital city.
Georgia, too, has provided overflight rights and has worked with the United States to cut off funding for terrorist organizations, a U.S. official here said. Aliyev, the Azeri president, told Rumsfeld his country looks forward to providing more support for the U.S. counterterrorism effort. He also looks to cooperate with the United States on such issues as combating drug trafficking, limiting weapons of mass destruction, and dealing with the problems of illegal aliens.
U.S. military cooperation with Azerbaijan and Armenia will have to wait until Congress waives sanctions imposed on the countries in 1992. Azerbaijan and Armenia fought over the Azeri province of Nagorno- Karabakh province in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. Both countries claim the province. International law recognizes the province as part of Azerbaijan, but Armenia occupies the land.
That conflict has killed thousands in both countries. Congress passed and the elder George Bush signed the Freedom Support Act after Azerbaijan blockaded Armenia's through-route to Turkey. Under this law, the United States cannot fund any activities in Azerbaijan as long as the blockade remains in place.
Three exceptions were money for democratization, counterproliferation, and humanitarian relief -- including demining activities. To be even-handed, the U.S. government also imposed the sanctions on Armenia.
Rumsfeld said Congress is close to passing a waiver that will allow DoD to establish military links with the two countries. Under the proposed change, President Bush may waive the sactions if the aid the countries supply assists in the fight against terrorism and is necessary to support U.S. readiness and efficiency. Any proposed aid must also maintain Azerbaijan's border security and will not undermine or hinder the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.
Rumsfeld told the Azeri and Armenian leaders he believes Congress will pass the measure before its Christmas recess. If the sanctions are lifted, U.S. and Azeri officials will discuss how the military-to- military program would work. In Armenia, Defense Minister Serge Sargsian said he would like to discuss military training and building a demining center.
In Georgia, Rumsfeld and Shevardnadze discussed the security situation in the region and President Bush's decision to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Shevardnadze supported U.S. efforts in missile defense before the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. He said he believes Russian President Putin, while disappointed the United States is withdrawing from the treaty in six months, is already looking to improve relations between Russia and the United States.
Rumsfeld will next visit Uzbekistan and then attend NATO meetings in Belgium before returning to the Pentagon Dec. 19.