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Secretary Rumsfeld Joint Press Conference with President of Georgia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 17, 2001

Saturday, December 15, 2001

(Joint press conference with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze at Tbilisi, Georgia)

Moderator: Good evening. We have twenty minutes for the briefing. The President of Georgia.

Shevardnadze: (through translator) First of all let me take the opportunity to welcome to Georgia's capital the United States secretary of Defense and his delegation. I am delighted to note that the secretary and I have been friends and have worked together for a long time and today I am pleased to have this opportunity to take a couple of questions from the journalistic corps from Tbilisi and from the United States.

Needless to say that the United States has provided critical support and assistance to Georgia in its efforts to build a new nation, to achieve economic growth, to achieve well-being for its citizens and last but not least of course to build Georgia's defense capabilities. For all this I should want to thank very much the secretary of Defense and ask him for his statement, for his remarks.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much Mr. President. I am delighted to be here, delighted to be with you. As I know you could tell, I and my delegation enjoyed our visit in there, which is not surprising given the very close and warm relationships between our two countries. I brought the personal respects and greetings from President Bush to you, Mr. President, and his deep appreciation for your splendid cooperation with respect to the effort to deal with terrorism in the world and what we call "Operation Enduring Freedom." You and your country have made a courageous choice in direction and as you know our country wishes you well on that journey and is very much in agreement as to the importance of maintaining regional stability and support for your sovereignty and independence. We spoke about the importance of our military-to-military relationships, and activities and cooperation and the intention to strengthen them as we go forward in the period ahead. And I thank you sir.

Q: Was there anything specific done today to advance the military ties between your two countries and could you touch on the significance of the secretary's trip today and the improvement of military ties between the world's only superpower and three relatively small states in Asia?

Shevardnadze: (Gestures to ask who should answer the question).

Q: Both of you?

Rumsfeld: It can't be both! You have to choose, Charlie. (Laughter)

We did discuss several areas of cooperation and our desire to see that we cooperate fully with respect to problems of terrorism, and the short answer as to my visit to Georgia is that the United States values highly the relationship with this country. We recognize that it's on a historic transition towards freer economic and freer political systems and that that is a difficult transition for any country. There's no doubt but that it will be in the best interests of the people of the Georgia as they succeed and it's very much in the interests of the people of the United States to see that Georgia succeeds.

Q: And Mr. President, very briefly, do the improved relations of the United States throughout the region, do they improve the stability in the region?

Shevardnadze: Well, we had a brief debate here about who should respond to your question first. This was the only issue we debated actually. (Laughter) On all other matters we have full understanding and agreement.

As for the military ties and military cooperation between our two countries, you are quite aware that military cooperation is always a sensitive issue in relationships between countries. Of course building a broad worldwide coalition to fight global terrorism is a high priority for Georgia and of course Georgia is involved in this effort. I told President Bush when I met him in the United States and I reiterated today that when we fight with terrorism, we must keep in mind and not forget that such sources feeding and fostering terrorism, and aggressive nationalism and violent separatism, exist in the world.

As for the specific areas of bilateral military cooperation, the United States has been providing to us critical assistance in building Georgia's armed forces, modern armed forces, as well as creating our own border guards, and many other areas too. This is in fact a very long-term cooperation, whose program is already in place.

As for the influence that Georgia, and Georgia's president in particular, are making in terms of ensuring stability in the region, first of all I want to note the excellent relationship I enjoy with all the three South Caucasus states and all the neighbors of Georgia in this region, Turkey in particular. Of course I cannot be complacent with what has been achieved already, for there is a tremendous amount of work ahead of us, but I am fairly gratified with the excellent relationship that is provided to us and the cooperation that exists between the neighboring states in this region.

Q: My first question is for the secretary of Defense. As you are very well aware Mr. Secretary, Georgia's air space has several times been violated by Russian aircraft. Did you provide any counsel, did you provide any recommendations to the Georgian authorities and did you touch upon the issues during your conversation. And my second question is for the president of Georgia. Mr. President, you were one of the first world leaders who from the very outset provided your strong support for the new national missile defense initiative from the United States. Have you in any way changed your position since then?

Rumsfeld: Well, the subject of the situation in Georgia did in fact come up in our discussions and I was briefed on what took place. We also discussed missile defense and the ABM treaty and the decision by the United States to withdraw from it.

Shevardnadze: I will not repeat what has just been said, I only would reiterate here that indeed five, six months ago I publicly expressed my support and my positive attitude to the missile defense initiative. I continue to watch very closely what the response, what the reaction to this issue is in the world and first of all in Russia. Here I also refer, of course, to the reaction of President Bush's statement. Although President Putin expressed his dissatisfaction with the unilateral decision of the United States to withdraw from the ABM treaty, and called it a mistake, he then went on and spoke about the necessity to continue to build guarantees and safeguards for the stability, further improvements in the relationship between the United States and Russia, in building a new type of relationship. If I may summarize in a couple of words what President Putin said in that regard, he mentioned the necessity of further strengthening the stability and developing the necessary legal framework to ensure this. I wholeheartedly welcome the spirit of greater understanding, greater mutual understanding that I saw in the remarks and statements made by both President Putin and President Bush.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in recent hours you have said that the U.S. and Afghan forces are making a very good progress against al Qaeda forces south of Tora Bora in the valleys there. Can you provide us any specific details of the fighting there up until now?

Rumsfeld: Well as of about three hours ago there had been no large surrenders. The fighting continues and the forces on the ground are continuing making progress forward and that's being done with the help of heavy bombing. And the hope is that the al Qaeda fighters in those caves and tunnels will surrender.

Q: And if I can follow up, can you confirm two reports: one, that the U.S. Special Forces are picking up radio transmissions that may be matched to bin Laden's voice, and two, that U.S. teams searching caves there have gathered information that has since led to arrests in other countries.

Rumsfeld: With respect to the first question, we don't discuss sources of intelligence information. With respect to the second question as to information that's gathered out of caves and tunnels and whether or not it has led to the arrest of anybody, I doubt it because we've just moved into those caves and tunnels. But there is no question but that we have gathered information during previous days that have in fact led to arrests.

Moderator: Last question.

Q: Because of Georgia's location on the map, actually the Talibs pose a threat to Europe and the entire world. Is the United States government considering any enhanced military assistance to Georgia to enhance its capabilities to resist such a threat and secondly, as the president has already mentioned there are different sources fostering terrorism and have you discussed any means of addressing the sources that exist in Georgia?

Shevardnadze: I discussed this problem with the secretary of Defense, and we had a very open and candid discussion on these matters. I mentioned also that Georgia has some problems with this regard including with the presence of terrorist groups on its territory. You know very well that I myself have been twice the target of terrorist attacks. But we are fighting, we are waging a serious fight against terrorists in Georgia as well, and I sincerely hope and believe that our American friends will continue to provide their technical assistance and counsel as well as other means to enhance our ability to counter terrorists here.

Thank you very much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.