(Participating were Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Kazakh Minister of Defense Mukhtar Altynbayev. This availability was held at The Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana, Kazakhstan.)
Altynbayev: The Secretary of Defense of the U.S.A. is here on a working visit. A little while ago there was a meeting with the head of the government. They exchanged views on several political and economic issues, and also issues concerning military cooperation. At the request of the Ministry of Defense, we are here now in the new building of the Defense Ministry. The Secretary expressed his thanks for the high quality and professionalism of our peacekeeping contingent, which is just back from Iraq. Now, please your questions.
Rumsfeld: Very briefly, I’ve just had an excellent meeting with the Minister of Defense and with the peacekeepers who did such a fine job in Iraq very recently. Earlier the Minister and I had a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. Kazakhstan is an important country in the global war on terror and has been wonderfully helpful in Iraq, and I came here to personally say “Thank you” and express our appreciation. I was particularly pleased to meet the young engineers, who have recently come out of Iraq and to thank them personally as well.
It’s interesting when one thinks about Iraq and their unwillingness to disarm, that Kazakhstan stands as an impressive model of how a country can do it. If Iraq had followed the Kazakhstan model, after 17 U.N. resolutions, and disarmed the way Kazakhstan did, there would not have been a war.
About the things we discussed -- we talked about the U.S. support for Kazakhstan’s sovereignty and independence and our important military-to-military relationship. We talked about the relationship that Kazakhstan has with NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program and how important we believe that is. And that we are grateful for the strong and growing relationship we have, and for the friendship and the steadfastness of the Kazakh people.
Now we’d be happy to take some questions.
Q: I have a question for Mr. Rumsfeld about narcotic trafficking out of Afghanistan. My question is about the measures that the United States is taking to prevent the growing traffic in drugs from Afghanistan. Recently it has been intensifying.
Rumsfeld: The crop year in Afghanistan has been in every respect a good one. That’s a good thing generally for food, but it’s a bad thing that it was also a good crop year for drugs. The coalition countries under the leadership of the United Kingdom are working with the Government of Afghanistan to deal with the drug problem and the narcotics traffic out of Afghanistan into Europe. I expect there will be a re-doubling of efforts after the Constitution is approved and the elections are held some time later this year, and the focus on the drug problem will increase.
Altynbayev: With your permission, I would like to add something. As I have seen and heard in press reports here, the USA, and in particular, the Ambassador of the USA here in Kazakhstan have recently donated to our Border Guard Service a large quantity of four-wheel drive vehicles and portable radio transmitters of the latest technology. This, too, is an important contribution in the battle against drug trafficking across our borders, and I say “Thank you.”
Q: Mr. Secretary, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. We understand that Kazakhstan is very interested in security in this region, especially the Caspian Initiative, to provide better security, especially for oil. We are wondering how the United States is prepared to help on that, perhaps providing patrol boats, or radars, or in other areas.
Altynbayev: If I may answer that question. Of course we want the US to assist us, although we already have approved a five-year plan outlining concrete steps for increasing security in the Caspian, and not only in the Caspian, as you correctly surmise. Today in Astana there was a signing ceremony involving investment in Kazakhstan’s oil industry worth more than $12 billion for the Caspian region. The Kazakhstani Army is taking definite steps concerning security in the Caspian basin.
Rumsfeld: Well, I’ll just say that the Minister is, of course, correct. We have been cooperating with exercises, various types of equipment, refurbishments of some basic equipment. And the Embassy here has all the details with respect to that program, as do folks traveling with me, but it is Caspian security, the Western portion of Kazakhstan, which is important to this country and it is important to the world that security be assured in that area.
Q: I have two questions, the first to you Minister. Tell me please, besides Caspian security, what other forms of cooperation are there? And the second question is for you, Mr. Rumsfeld. If no weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq, what will the U.S. do?
Altynbayev: In answer to the first question, about cooperation, I repeat: we have approved a five-year plan involving several ministries, a very comprehensive plan, which takes in the question of training, donations of equipment, and boats for the Caspian Sea. And we recently concluded an agreement with the U.S. concerning training for our specialists in U.S. higher military academies, including West Point. We also undertake joint annual training exercises, they have become rather commonplace. For example, exercise “Steppe Eagle,” which was bilateral, has become trilateral with the inclusion of forces from Great Britain as well as the U.S. This year, Turkey has expressed a desire to participate. And then there is the peacekeeping activity, in which great assistance has been rendered to us by the United States, especially with regard to transport and security for our forces in Iraq.
Rumsfeld: With respect to the question of weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations passed 17 resolutions asking Iraq to cooperate with the disarmament requirements of those resolutions. Inspectors, who had been in the country, found that Iraq was unable to account for large quantities of WMD. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors. Instead of opening up his country, as Ukraine and Kazakhstan and South Africa, and any number of other countries have done, he filed a false declaration, as agreed by everyone who saw that declaration. He chose unwisely. Today he is in prison. There are 12 or 13 hundred coalition officials currently looking around in the country and interrogating people with respect to WMD. They have found ballistic missiles that exceed the range allowed by the United Nations. Iraq is the size of California. It’s an enormous country. The hole that Saddam Hussein was hiding in for five months was big enough to contain biological weapons sufficient to kill tens of thousands of human beings. The search will go on, and over time we’ll learn the truth about why he was deceiving and refusing to conform to the U.N. resolutions. In the meantime, 25 million Iraqis are liberated and finding their way towards a freer economy and a freer political system. And they no longer have to fear the killing fields that we found in Iraq -- where tens of thousands of Iraqis are buried, one on top of another. The world is a vastly better place with Saddam Hussein in prison, and the Iraqi people free.
Q: Perhaps this is a question that both of you gentlemen could comment on. What do you believe is the level of activity of al Qaeda here in Central Asia? Are they involved in some of the drugs and arms trafficking issues that are of concern to both of you? I ask about this because the Pakistan government has said that in the raid they conducted and the people they arrested yesterday in the tribal areas they believe they have arrested people both from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. So is al Qaeda here in Central Asia in some fashion?
Altynbayev: Perhaps I will answer first. I cannot say there is a strong influence on Kazakhstan. First, Kazakhstan is a multi-ethnic country. It has over 120 ethnic groups living here and getting along with each other. Second, religious issues are not very heated in this society. The question of al Qaeda is not acute in Kazakhstan. And this matter is seriously controlled by the special services so that this evil will not spread in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a stable country. I doubt that al Qaeda has any serious presence in this country.
As for the individual of alleged Kazakh origin who was detained in Pakistan, there are a half million ethnic Kazakhs living outside Kazakhstan, in different countries, with different views, who have nothing to do with Kazakhstan. This person may be an ethnic Kazakh but not a Kazakhstani citizen.
I should also say that Kazakhstan has been recognized as a country with a market economy, even by the United States government. People here can earn a good living, we are busy producing goods, and with trade. This society is not fertile ground for al Qaeda. Thank you.
Rumsfeld: Let me just make a brief comment. There are some 90 nations in the coalition for the global war on terror. Pakistan is a strong and effective partner in this coalition. The work that they’re doing along the Afghan border to capture terrorists is an enormous help in the worldwide effort. When people are scooped up in raids, like the one you questioned about, they may often have two or three passports, four or five aliases, different identities, and it’s way too soon to try to comment on any that have been recently captured. Thank you.