Secretary Rumsfeld Press Conference with Macedonian Minister of Defense Vlado Buckovski
BUCKOVSKI: First please allow me to express my pleasure and honor to be able to host our proved friend and ally, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. There is a lot of symbolism in the day of the visit. Secretary Rumsfeld is here today on the 11th of October, our holiday. On this date in 1941, when our predecessors joined the antifascist coalition, their aim was to accomplish one of the strategic ideals and that is to become an independent country. And today I think this visit is a confirmation of a new coalition. Macedonia is part of the anti-terrorist coalition, it is on the part of the progressive world, and as a result it believes it will accomplish its new strategic ideals and will become member of NATO and the EU. Our goal is to become a full-fledged NATO member as soon as possible. It is clear that we can accomplish this goal sooner and simpler with the support of the U.S. Once again, I would like to express my pleasure from the productive talks we had, the signing of the agreement that is another contribution of ours in the war against terrorism as a global evil and the fight against WMD and its proliferation. Thank you.
RUMSFELD: Mr. Minister, thank you so much for your hospitality. It is good to be back in Macedonia and particularly on this anniversary of the uprising against fascism. The bravery of that day is reflected in the troops that are currently deployed in Iraq. I just came from Iraq, where the troops have been standing shoulder to shoulder with American and coalition forces to help to create a free Iraq, a liberated Iraq. This morning the minister and I had the privilege of presenting some medals, awards to three of the Macedonian troops who helped save lives of some Americans in Iraq. I was honored to be able to be here and thank them in person. As the minister mentioned, today we signed an agreement to work together on the problem of proliferation of WMD. This agreement paves the way for even greater cooperation between our nations in countering that threat. Certainly, the work with your country and the NATO Partnership for Peace program and the Adriatic Charter is helping to improve stability in this region. In my meetings today with the President, the Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and Defense Minister I assured them that the United States supports the reforms they are undertaking and supports their move towards NATO membership. The success of moving closer to NATO membership will, of course, depend in the large part on implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement, including the creation of a stronger and more effective local government. The decentralization legislation passed in August provides the basis for this and will certainly help strengthen democracy here at the grassroot level. Macedonian people face a clear choice between a future with NATO in which stability and economic growth will flourish, or a return to the past. We support your sovereignty and territorial integrity and your vision to become a part of NATO. Mr. Minister, we appreciate your steadfast support and the support of the people of Macedonia in the global war on terror and we look forward to working together to strengthen our military cooperation with you. Finally, I understand you had a great game against the Dutch. Congratulations!
Q: Question for Secretary Rumsfeld. Mr. Rumsfeld, how do you assess the reforms in Macedonian Defense and the role of Minister Buckovski in the transformation and the cooperation in establishing a regional security system? And a question for Minister Buckovski. Mr. Buckovski, will the role of the U.S. in the modernization of our army continue and will this partnership be awarded with Macedonia’s accession into NATO by 2007?
RUMSFELD: I will respond first if you wish. Certainly, the reforms and the progress have been good, solid. It is not easy to make those kinds of reforms we have been working on in the United States, but I congratulate the minister on the effectiveness on what has taken place so far and wish him well.
BUCKOVSKI: The Republic of Macedonia will increase its efforts to finalize reforms within the designated timeline. I hope that the U.S. support for our modernization process, especially the modernization of our special operations unit, will increase the capacity of Macedonia to send more troops and coalitions to NATO and U.S.-led missions in the future, as part of the anti-terrorist coalition. I am an optimist that by 2007 we will be able to met all the criteria and requirements necessary for our full-fledged membership.
Q: Question for the U.S. Secretary. Mr. Secretary, before your arrival here Macedonian media reported that your visit is part of the collective pressure of the international community concerning the issue of the referendum. Did you raise this issue with Macedonian authorities today in Skopje? What is Washington’s official position on this issue? Do you think the referendum will slow Macedonia’s pace to Euro-Atlantic integration?
RUMSFELD: You don’t believe everything you hear in the media do you? (Laughter) Is that your source, the media? I am here because I felt this was an important opportunity to encourage and express appreciation for the defense reforms that have been taken, to thank the people of Macedonia and the Government of Macedonia for the strong support in the global war on terror, to personally thank some of the young heroes who helped save American lives and to point out the fact that ten years ago this region was in turmoil and that the progress that has been made is impressive. And if one thinks about it, Afghanistan just had a historical election. I recognize that the media will flyspeck that election and say: well, this was not perfect, that happened… but it was an enormous accomplishment. Three years ago in Afghanistan the Al-Qaeda was launching an attack against the United States that killed 3,000 people. Three years ago the Taliban was using the soccer stadium in Kabul to chop off people’s heads instead of play soccer. And not withstanding all the comments in the media that it was a quagmire, that this wouldn’t work and that was going to go bad and everything was terrible, the fact is they have just had an election. It is breathtaking! The great sweep of human history is for freedom. We see that in this region, we have seen it in Afghanistan, and let there be no doubt we are going to see it in Iraq. Someday, five years, ten years, however long, the Macedonian soldiers who helped out in Iraq are going to look back with great pride on having liberated another country of 25 or 27 million people. That is why I am here.
Q: How do you assess the implementation of the Framework Agreement to date?
RUMSFELD: I think there has been good progress, it is important that that happened and certainly as Macedonia moves towards closer cooperation and eventual membership in NATO, that is an important benchmark.
Q: What is your degree of confidence that the security situation in Iraq will improve sufficiently to allow for full elections in January?
RUMSFELD: It will happen. It was tough here in this region. It was tough in Afghanistan. It is not an easy path from a dictatorship, in the case if Afghanistan; certainly it will not be an easy path in Iraq. But the Prime Minister and General Casey mentioned, pointed out yesterday that the fact is that out of 18 provinces, 14 of those provinces have incidents of violence that are four or less per day. So, it is in four provinces where the bulk of the violence is occurring at the present time. Good progress is being made. What is being reported in the media for the most part, are the incidents of violence. In any city in the world there are every year hundreds of homicides. We seem not to see those on the front page of every newspaper every day. So while no one is going to say that things are perfect or things are peaceful – they are not. But Afghanistan is making it, and Iraq has a terrific crack at making it as well and the support of 31 nations of NATO in helping to train and equip, of the United Nations in supporting the elections, all are combining to put that country on a path towards a civilized democratic country in a part of the world where democracy is not the norm.
Q: Is the U.S. still interested in having a strategic military presence in the Balkans? Do you think that the independence of Kosovo could relax the Balkan security situation?
RUMSDFELD: We have been generally pleased with the progress that has been made in the Balkans. Certainly the United States has wanted to and has in fact played a role in Bosnia and in Kosovo. The NATO Bosnia mission is of course coming towards a close and will be taken over by the EU. We will continue with our role in Kosovo as part of the NATO team and we clearly are optimistic that the people of this region fully recognize the value of peace and stability in enabling them to have a more prosperous and safer world.