JON PURNELL: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Jon Purnell, and I am the U.S. Ambassador here in Uzbekistan. It is my distinct pleasure and privilege to introduce to you this afternoon the Secretary of Defense of the United States, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld.
RUMSFELD: Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador. Good evening! I am delighted to be back in Uzbekistan. I’ve just had a long and very interesting and helpful discussion with the President, with the Minister of Defense, and members of the delegation. Uzbekistan is a key member of the coalition’s global war on terror. And I brought the President the good wishes of President Bush and our appreciation for their stalwart support in the war on terror. I’ve just come from Iraq, where I had an opportunity to meet with a good many of the Iraqis involved in security activities. I can say that they are making good progress; good progress on the security side and also good progress in transitioning in the area of governance. And we look forward to the time going forward when the Iraqi people will have full responsibility for their security and full responsibility for the governance of their country. Today we discussed the excellent military-to-military relationship between Uzbekistan and the United States. Our relationship is strong and has been growing stronger. I met with the Minister of Defense and the President. As you know we have a Framework of Strategic Partnership, which involves military-to-military relationships and also we look forward to strengthening our political and economic relationships. So, one road, one path towards that end is the NATO Partnership For Peace Program. And NATO of course is the alliance of free nations and is pleased that Uzbekistan is working in the Partnership for Peace Program. The relationship between our two countries is important to us, and we certainly value the friendship of Uzbekistan and the people of Uzbekistan and are grateful for the stalwart, steadfast support in our efforts against terrorism. I’d be happy to respond to some questions.
ITAR-TASS: Mr. Rumsfeld, could you please share your views with regard to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. To what extent this organization is able to ensure peace and stability in the Central Asian region, and how do you assess the Uzbek-American relationship?
RUMSFELD: Well the first part of the question is a question that the Department of State has commented on and I’ll leave to them. With respect to the second part of the question, the relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan, it is a strong relationship that’s been growing stronger. We have benefited greatly in our effort to liberate the people of Afghanistan by the cooperation we receive from Uzbekistan. And certainly a prosperous and successful Uzbekistan is important to stability in this region. Charlie?
REUTERS: You spoke of this strategic framework, of the relationship between two countries. Uzbekistan said yesterday they’re going to free a 62-year-old woman from jail, who human rights activists say was jailed on trumped up charges because she revealed that her son had been tortured to death in prison. Do you welcome this, sir, and to what extent will improvements in human rights in this country deal with continued U.S. military aid to Uzbekistan?
RUMSFELD: Well, obviously our relationship with this country and other countries is multi-faceted. I mentioned the military-to-military relationship because I’m involved with the Department of Defense, but it’s also a political and economic relationship. Needless to say the United States and the other NATO countries are always interested in seeing reform not just in the military, but also in the political and economic areas. I’m not intimately knowledgeable about the statement you just made, but my understanding is that from the Ambassador that… that is in fact the case and that the Embassy has expressed their awareness of that and I forget what the phrase was but … the Ambassador pointed out that they were pleased that the decision was made.
REUTERS: Sir, did you discuss human rights with the President and the other officials?
RUMSFELD: In all of our meetings, the broad range of topics were discussed, the political and human rights issues, as well as, economic issues and military-to-military issues. Yes…
BBC RADIO: Mr. Secretary, we have three questions on behalf of the Russian and British journalists.
RUMSFELD: Three questions?
BBC RADIO: Yes, yes.
RUMSFELD: Not this late at night. Maybe just one.
BBC RADIO: Twelve people have requested to raise these three questions.
RUMSFELD: But look at all the people in line. If you ask three than three other people won’t get to ask anything.
BBC RADIO: Ok, my first question…
RUMSFELD: I’ll try to answer them briefly.
BBC RADIO: Ok, thank you. David Kay, who is the head of the inspection, which has been carried out in Iraq with regard to the revealing of weapons of mass destruction, has stated in January that there are not any WMD in Iraq. So there are no chances to find it. Being the Secretary of the Defense Department of the United States, do you feel any moral responsibility with regard to the deaths of those thousands of people in Iraq?
RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, your characterization of Dr. David Kay’s report is inaccurate. He came back and reported that the work was about 85% done. There are still, I think, about eleven or twelve hundred people from various countries working in the Iraqi survey group, looking at the issue of WMD. Dr. Kay did validate that Iraq filed a fraudulent declaration with the United Nations and was, in fact, developing ballistic missiles that exceeded the authorized ranges. With respect to my personal feelings about it, I would say two things, one anyone who goes to Iraq, who looks at the mass graves where Saddam Hussein piled tens of thousands of Iraqis that he killed, has to come away with a feeling of relief that Saddam Hussein is in jail and not in power. The second thing that I would say is that the terrorists and the former regime elements that are killing people in Iraq today are killing, for the most part, Iraqis. They are killing innocent men, women, and children. And it is always a tragedy when there is loss of innocent life.
BBC RADIO: Second question. Second question is to what extent the assistance provided by the U.S. Government to Uzbekistan is linked to the human rights issue and the release of Mrs. Makhadirova which has been mentioned today, the mother of the person who was in detention in Jaslyk camp, who actually died, and the scientists from Glasgow have confirmed that the person died as a result of serious torture. To what extent have you heard about this case?
RUMSFELD: I’m not knowledgeable about every aspect of this. The Ambassador has responded that the United States is pleased with the release that’s been made, And the answer is that the relationships between sovereign nations tend not to be on a single pillar. They tend to involve economic, political, and in this case human rights as well as, security issues.
CNN: Mr. Secretary, knowing that you’ve been traveling a good deal of the day, nonetheless, can you give us some of your thoughts and reactions on a couple of events in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region today? First, Pakistan is now publicly discussing a very aggressive raid in which they say they’ve captured twenty-five members of Al-Qaeda. And secondly, Zavahiri has a new tape out today in which he makes some very interesting, specific time references, including the French vote on head scarves, and he challenges President Bush’s claim that two-thirds of Al-Qaeda has been captured or killed. Your reaction to this and what does it all say to you about the current strength and operation of the Al-Qaeda leadership?
RUMSFELD: I have not seen the tape. President Bush never said that the United States and the coalition have captured and killed two-thirds of Al-Qaeda. He said correctly that the United States and the coalition have captured some two-thirds of the senior Al-Qaeda leadership, I believe. And President Bush and the quotation that you just gave that seems in conflict, can each be accurate.
CNN: Well, mainly it’s…
RUMSFELD: And they can each be accurate because it depends on what you consider two-thirds of the senior leadership, where you draw the line for senior leadership. The President’s remark is something that is generally agreed upon within coalition countries, and I consider that accurate. Pakistan’s President Musharraf in Pakistan had been increasingly helpful and cooperative. They have been cooperating along that difficult Afghan-Pakistan border, and more recently they have been aggressively working with the tribal leadership in those regions. And the United States and all coalition countries appreciate that cooperation and, simply, we are always pleased when there is an effort, a strike that is successful in capturing additional Taliban or Al-Qaeda or terrorist activity along that border.
Uzbek TV, DAVR program: I have two questions. The first one – you have mentioned that the Strategic Partnership also includes military-to-military programs, to what extend is this program is being implemented? To what extent it is satisfactory? On which stage is this program? And the second question – Are you aware about the conflict between China and Taiwan and could you explain your view about these issues?
RUMSFELD: With respect to the second part of your question - that matter has been U.S. policy and discussed by the Department of State for several decades, and I don’t know that repeating it or elaborating on the United States position with respect to Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China would add anything to it. All I would have to do is just repeat what the Department of State and the President have said repeatedly. There’s been no change to my knowledge. Our military-to-military relationship [in Uzbekistan] is as I described, it is strong and is growing stronger every month. We have a great deal of exchange and interaction. The people from the United States work with the military officials from Uzbekistan. I feel that it’s a very hospitable relationship and a constructive one. We see it as mutually beneficial. John?
LA Times: Mr. Secretary, in those broad range discussions you described today, did you talk about the potential future of a base of U.S. troops here in Uzbekistan? And can you just give us your thoughts as you consider the global repositioning of U.S. troops – and I know you haven’t come to any conclusions on that -- what are your thoughts about the future potential of U.S. troops being shifted more towards Uzbekistan?
RUMSFELD: I, as well as members of the Department of State, and Department of Defense have been going all over the globe discussing how our bases and our forces are arranged in the world. And that subject came up today. We have no plans to put permanent bases in this part of the world. We have been discussing with various friends and allies the issue of -- I guess you call them “operating sites” -- that would not be permanent as a base would be permanent but would be a place where the United States and coalition countries could periodically and intermittently have access and support. As you know we have discussed, this subject broadly in NATO and in Asia. We’ve made no final decisions. What’s important to us is to be arranged in a way and in places that are hospitable where we have the flexibility of using those facilities and, as I say, while the subject was discussed we have no announcements, we have no arrangements. But I would add that we have benefited greatly in our efforts in the global war on terror and in Afghanistan from the wonderful cooperation we’ve received from the Government of Uzbekistan.
Alok Shekhar Indian journalist: My question is with regard to the situation in Afghanistan. As we know to date, out of 10.5 million people in Afghanistan that are supposed to take part in the elections only 10% are registered that are going to vote. And moreover that registration had happened in the urban areas, but not in the rural ones. In accordance with regulations and standards of the UN, elections are considered to be effective if 70% of the population takes part in the election. Do you think that elections will happen in Afghanistan or not? And are you going to discuss this issue in the course of your visit to Afghanistan with Mr. Karzai?
RUMSFELD: I suspect I will discuss the subject. But time will tell. The United Nations has a number of people who most people consider experts on elections. They’ve participated in elections in a great many countries in the world. I’m not seeing precisely what they’ve said. But I… I shouldn’t say this because I don’t have certain knowledge of it, but my impression is that in a number of democratic countries around the globe the turnout, or participation if you will, has frequently been less than 70%. But I don’t know if that percentage applies to the total people who would be eligible or the total number of people who are registered and actually participate. Certainly the UN election officials have more knowledge than I on that. You ask if I think there will be elections, the answer is I do. I think so. In Afghanistan they’ve been quite successful thus far. The Loya Jirga process, the Bonn agreement has been proceeding roughly as planned. They have been having debates and discussions that fashioned a new constitution that’s distinctly an Afghan constitution. And that is a good thing. It’s impressive. It’s a real accomplishment. It is a constitution that includes participation by women, which had not previously been the case. When the elections will be held or exactly on what timetable, I think, it’s up to the Afghan people. But I’ve been impressed with the progress that the interim government has made. I was impressed with the debate and discussions that took place in the constitutional Loya Jirga, and I think the people looking at it from afar have to give them a lot of credit for what they are doing. I recognize that you don’t go from civil war and occupation and rule by the Taliban on a perfectly smooth path, to perfect democracy. Life isn’t like that. It wasn’t like that for the United States. It hasn’t been like that for the path that has been followed by the countries that used to be a part of the Soviet Union. Each country has to find its way and in its own way. And as I say, I give the Afghan leadership a lot of credit for the progress they are making. Thank you very much.