Press Stakeout with Secretary Rumsfeld and Minister of Defense Gediminas Kirkilas in Vilnius, Lithuania
Minister Kirkilas: Hello. We have just met with Secretary Rumsfeld. We appreciate very much Secretary Rumsfeld coming to Vilnius, Lithuania and for the formal meetings. Also we discussed international operations. We appreciate very much the United States supporting us, particularly [inaudible]. Also [inaudible] and of course the NATO meetings.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I'm delighted to be here. I thank you for hosting this NATO/Ukraine meeting.
My last visit here was in May of 1991 which was a critical time in your country's history and I had the privilege of coming in and visiting with some of the political leaders about democracy and various aspects of governmental relations and it's a pleasure to be back.
This morning we had a chance to walk around the old city and enjoy the sights and the sounds of Vilnius, so we're very pleased to be here.
The NATO/Ukraine focus is an important one and NATO, as you know, has a relationship with the Ukraine where we meet with them periodically and Ukraine has expressed an interest in moving towards the West and interesting itself in becoming, it is already I guess a Partnership for Peace member and is interested in coming closer to NATO and eventually becoming a member.
We're all interested in working with them and encouraging them to undertake the kinds of reforms that would put them on that path. The United States has been working with them. I know that Lithuania has been working with them. The NATO International staff has been working with them. So we're looking forward to this meeting.
Thank you, sir.
PRESS: Thom Shanker, the New York Times. Mr. Minister, a question from the New York Times if I could, sir.
As a former Soviet Republic that has successful navigated itself way to NATO membership, do you have any advice for Ukraine should Moscow raise political objections to its joining the Alliance?
Minister Kirkilas: I think sometimes it may be more useful for the Ukraine because our experience is very important. In talking a few times with Minister Hyrtsenko which is coming to Vilnius saying [inaudible]. Our experience is very very important. And we are working not only with them but on the very practical [inaudible]. Military experts, for example one of the maybe very important issues, [inaudible] membership in NATO.
I remember how it was in the beginning. Right now in Ukraine and public opinion unfortunately supporting [inaudible] sense of [inaudible]. But they have to make [inaudible] doing both [inaudible] NATO because they are a former communist country. And more than 50 years there was a lot of propaganda against NATO and NATO's existence, and we have to use more and more efforts to explain to the people.
But I think that with Estonia and Latvia, we can do [inaudible] for the Ukrainians. Of course Ukraine is a big country. Together with NATO allies we have to do [inaudible].
PRESS: I've got a question for Mr. Rumsfeld. I represent News Agency Alta. Here in Lithuania from time to time we have discussions whether we should keep our soldiers in Iraq or not. What arguments could you suggest for convincing these people who are against that? And when do you think our soldiers could come back from Iraq?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: First, the decision on the part of Lithuania to provide some forces both in Afghanistan and Iraq was a decision by a sovereign nation and we respect that decision. It takes political courage to make a decision like that. There's always a debate. It also takes personal courage on the part of the forces that serve in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It's not for me to make arguments as to what another country should do. It's up to Lithuania to make those judgments.
I will say this. The success that's been achieved in Afghanistan is impressive. The country for the first time in 5,000 years has a popularly elected President; a constitution that they fashioned; an assembly and a parliament that they've elected; provincial leaders that they've elected; and they're on a path towards a democratic nation.
If you think about it, it was just three years ago that they were harboring the al-Qaida and the Taliban were cutting off people's heads in the soccer stadium and they were launching attacks against the United States and killing 3,000 people, and killing people in other parts of the world.
So I think the people who serve in Afghanistan will look back in five or ten years with a great deal of pride on what they've contributed to Afghanistan and the fact that they've liberated 25 million people.
Iraq is at the present time at a later stage than Afghanistan. On the other hand, they have a government that they elected. They have a constitution that they've just had a referendum on and will undoubtedly announce in the coming days that it was approved. They then will have elections on December 15th and elect a new government under that constitution. There are 25 million people in Iraq. It's a country that's an important country. It has a history of a dictatorship that repressed the people, that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and used gas and chemicals on their own people and on their neighbors, that was on the terrorist list. And I think that those countries, 25, 30, 26 countries I think it is in Iraq now in the Coalition can be very proud of what's been accomplished and have a good deal of confidence that in the period ahead they will see the insurgency weakened by virtue of the fact that the Iraqi people have their own government and the insurgents will be not fighting against the Coalition or the countries that are there, they're fighting against an Iraqi government that was elected by the Iraqi people. People get tired of that.
So it's not for me to make arguments for your country. Your country is a sovereign nation, you'll make your own decisions and we'll respect them. But I think the people who have served from Lithuania in Iraq will look back in five years and be darn proud of what they've done.