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Secretary Rumsfeld Press Conference with Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 19, 2001

Saturday, Dec. 15, 2001

(Press conference held in Baku with Safar Abiyev, minister of Defense of Azerbaijan)

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. I am told that I am the first United States secretary of Defense to visit Azerbaijan, which means that I failed to visit here the last time I was secretary of Defense 25 years ago. So, I'm pleased to be able to correct that oversight today. This is a city, of course, that has been for centuries an important crossroads for the world. And, today, its importance is even greater. Indeed our world is at a crossroads. The problem of international terrorism and terrorist networks threatens all corners of the globe. And every nation has to decide how they will respond to this threat.

President Aliyev and Minister of Defense Abiyev and I have had discussions this morning. We've considered how our countries respond together to the problem of the war on terrorism. And I conveyed to them the appreciation of President Bush and the American people for the very forthcoming offers of assistance that have been made by your country during Operation Enduring Freedom.

So, the timing here is indeed fortunate -- in the days ahead our Congress in Washington is going to be lifting the restrictions on military to military relationships between our two countries. So, this morning we also discussed how our countries might work together to build and strengthen cooperation between our armed forces.

And, indeed, the minister and I will be meeting together in Brussels as Azerbaijan is a member of the Partnership for Peace activity of NATO. And in addition in the coming weeks there will be additional discussions between our two countries on a bilateral basis as to how we might further develop the cooperation between the two countries.

So, let me close by simply saying again how pleased I am to be here. It is an important relationship and I will be happy to respond to questions, unless the minister has some words he would like to make as well.

Abiyev: First of all I would like to thank Mr. Secretary for paying a visit to our country. Azerbaijan has been cooperating with the United States in several aspects. This cooperation has further increased after the 11 September events. Azerbaijan was among the first countries to declare its readiness to assist the United States in combating terrorism. As you are all aware, Azerbaijan has let the United States use its airbases in the course of the operation. Azerbaijan wishes to cooperate further in the future with the United States in combating terrorism.

And we touched upon several issues during our meeting with the secretary of Defense that have significance both for Azerbaijan and the United States. First of these issues that we discussed was the cooperation in regard to Azerbaijan's contribution to the anti-terrorism operations. We also discussed issues regarding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The secretary of Defense has been informed that Armenia has occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, that a huge number of Azerbaijani refugees are still living in appalling conditions. We have also explained to the Secretary of Defense that Armenia has been conducting a terrorist policy as a result of which hundreds and hundreds of Azeri people died and fell victims to.

It has been also agreed that commissions both from the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan and the United States Defense will get together to discuss cooperation issues. And these commissions will be instructed to work out the determine the direction of this cooperation and report to their heads of State.

Q: Mr. Minister, I wonder if I might ask you, you say you're involved in the United States' use of airfields operations in Afghanistan. Is this for military strikes or central to refueling and humanitarian aid, and what military help would you like to see from the United States to modernize your own military?

Abiyev: First of all the cooperation so far has have been confined to the usage of an air corridor only; and the possibility of other cooperation possibilities is being discussed.

Q: And what military help is being discussed?

Abiyev: It is too early to talk about close cooperation in the military sphere because 907 prohibits this. So it is too early to talk about it.

Q: Lider TV. Could you explain in what direction this cooperation may extend in the future and talk about the recent report that Azerbaijan airbases may be used in the operation?

Rumsfeld: The military-to-military relationship, as the minister said, will evolve after Section 907 is lifted, and after the bilateral group meets and has some discussions. With respect to any decisions by the host country as to airfields, that is something for them to take under advisement and make judgments about, and for them to decide.

Q: Mr. Secretary, could you give us an update on Tora Bora, and whether there were any further advances and whether troops have been captured?

Rumsfeld: Since the report I received this morning prior to coming here, the situation has, not too my knowledge, changed. The work has gone forward, progress is being made, the al Qaeda forces are being pushed back. There have been some surrenders. And the bombing continues.

Q: Have any of those al Qaeda that have surrendered, have they been useful in providing intelligence about the location of how many are remaining in that area?

Rumsfeld: It's too early to say. What has to happen is people have to be gathered up and then put in a location where they can be interrogated. That process then takes some time, as that information is accumulated and correlated, judgments are made as to its accuracy or lack of accuracy, and then it is fed into the process as to next steps.

Q: Mr. Rumsfeld, do you think that the United States' withdraw from the ABM treaty can influence the military balance in the world.

Rumsfeld: The question involves the president of the United States providing a six-month notice to withdraw from the ABM treaty. What the president also announced was that he was going to reduce strategic offensive nuclear weapons from many thousands of weapons down to 1,700 to 2,200, a dramatic reduction. And President Putin also announced that he was going to have Russia reduced their strategic offensive nuclear weapons from many thousand down to something in that same range.

The concern has always been that there will be an arms race if the treaty were set aside. The arms race took place after the treaty was established in 1970, and it has been going on for 30 years. With the announcement of the withdrawal from the treaty, we're seeing both sides announce the end of an arms race and dramatic reductions in strategic nuclear weapons. If the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons were a problem, as arms controllers seem to believe, one would think that the reductions would mean that the risk would be less, not greater. So rather than causing problems, it seems to me, it puts aside a problem. It puts aside an issue between Russia and United States so that now we can look forward to into the 21st Century, instead of backwards into the Cold War.

Q: Azerbaijan has been subjected to terrorism itself. From this point of view, what do you think of Azerbaijan's launching, possibly, an anti-terrorism campaign in its own territory?

And also your Armenia visit, what do you expect from your meeting in Yerevan?

[At this point the secretary's answer is interrupted by another journalist immediately attempting to ask another question before the previous question had been answered. After a few seconds, the journalist is prevented from continuing his question.]

Rumsfeld: You're kidding, this is for me? Excuse, me if this is perchance to me, I have no idea what the question is nor can I understand you. I am afraid I just cannot hear what the question is.

(The question is repeated.)

Rumsfeld: The United States, of course, suffered a very serious attack on September 11. We have concluded that the one has to deal with terrorism is to go after it. And certainly nations that suffer attacks have to recognize how difficult it is to defend against terrorism in any way other than going after the terrorists and the terrorist networks. And with respect to the second portion of the question, I have several meetings ahead of me today in various countries. And my hope is to develop a better relationship between the United States and those countries, and to discuss with them the president's program against terrorism.

Abiyev: Let me thank again Mr. Rumsfeld and wish him luck in repealing 907.