(Joint media availability with Albanian Minister of Defense Pandeli Majko, Tirana, Republic of Albania.)
Majko: Honorable Secretary of Defense, honorable friends. I have the great pleasure of welcoming to Tirana the U.S. Secretary of Defense, His Excellency Mr. Rumsfeld. This is a special visit, done at a special time and at a special moment in the relationship between the Republic of Albania and the United States of America. Albania and its official policy face no opposition whatsoever in considering the United States as a strategic partner, not from any political party, from civil society, from the public in general, or from the Albanian factor in the region. Albania has lined up alongside the United States in the global challenge of our times -- the fight against terrorism and the dictatorial regimes nourishing it -- as a partner willing to carry out its duties among the large family of civilized nations. In the globe's hot spots, where a fight with the force of weapons is being waged for peace and democracy, Albania is carrying out its duty with dignity. Albania considers the full and de jure membership of our country in NATO as a priority objective, a collective aspiration, and an imminent reality as well. We consider that the visit of the U.S. Secretary of Defense is a clear indicator of the excellent level of the Albanian-American relations and an important contribution to their enhancement. When I met this gentleman for the first time in his office, I had in mind the message of a newspaper that considered him the boss of the world, but I found something very different -- a down to earth man who very quickly became a close friend as well. Once again, I thank you for your very quick visit to Albania, in response to my invitation.
Rumsfeld: Thank you very much Mr. Minister. Generals and Excellencies, I am very pleased to be here. We've had good meetings with the Minister of Defense, the Prime Minister, the President and the Chief of the General Staff. I thanked each of them for the strong support that Albania has given to the global war on terror. We particularly appreciate and value the assistance in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. As you know, Albania has also stepped forward and signed the so-called Vilnius 10 letter, which came at a time that was important, and we recognize that and appreciate that as well. The work that is being done in Afghanistan is important and the participation in the International Security Assistance Force there is something that is valuable and helpful for the Afghan people. I also want to mention the fact that Albania has signed the Article 98 Agreement with respect to the International Criminal Court. The decision to do that was something that the people of the United States, the Government of the United States and certainly the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States appreciate a great deal. Today we talked about Albania's interest in the Membership Action Plan for NATO and our joint interest in having Albania proceed along the path towards full NATO membership over the years ahead. In the meantime, the United States looks forward to working closely on a bilateral basis with cooperative military-to-military relationships as we work toward that end. Thank you, sir. We will take only easy questions.
Q [Reuters]: Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about an incident that occurred today. What do you see as the implications for this roadmap (Inaudible.) Israeli helicopter (Inaudible.) al-Rantissi.
Rumsfeld: I have been in continuous meetings and I have not even received that report. I can say that the participants in the Middle East meetings that took place when President Bush was in the region, with the participants as well as with the representatives of presidents, crown princes and kings of other countries, all of them expressed several key points. One was the importance of moving forward, and second was recognition that it will take some time to get a perfect peace and that they must not allow events that occur to take them off the path toward peace.
Q [Albanian Public Television]: Was there talk today during the talks you had with Albanian leaders about the establishment of a U.S. military base?
Rumsfeld: We discussed the possibility of exercises and training cooperation, but we did not get into any detailed discussions beyond that.
Majko: I share the same comment as well. The important thing is that Albanian forces and the U.S. forces are currently conducting exercises of a very specific but also very confidential nature, like was the recent training exercise with the 1,500 American troops that was held in Albania. We will have other training exercises in the future. Of course, I think that this cooperation will open perspectives of different kinds. We told you not to ask difficult questions.
Q [Associated Press]: Mr. Minister, could you just say a little bit more beyond the training and the exercises, these other ways that you were talking about. How do you see the military-to-military relationship evolving? And, Secretary Rumsfeld as well, a little bit more about why you came here and how you see the relationship evolving?
Majko: I think that we are moving on a very practical path, especially after the Kosovo war in 1999, with the events of September 11th, with the participation of our troops in Afghanistan, and we have reached a climax point now with the Albanian troops being part of the 101 Division in Mosul, Iraq. So, what we are discussing is not just theory or political wishes. I would like to say that military experts are doing an excellent job. Currently there are many Americans working in the Ministry of defense -- do not ask me about the number for I will not tell you -- and this very efficient and visionary cooperation, I believe, will give results in the future. The United States stood on the side of the Albanian nation in 1999, when even the existence of our nation was at stake, and we will show proof to American taxpayers and the families of American military personnel that the money in assistance to this nation was not in vain. Our gratitude will be very lasting.
Rumsfeld: The reason for my visit is not mysterious at all. I know that's hard for some to believe. But the truth is that I was invited; I accepted. And the reason I accepted is because I value the relationship the United States has with Albania. It is important to us, and this gave me an opportunity to come here and meet with the senior officials and express my appreciation and my country's appreciation for their full cooperation in so many activities.
Majko: Thank you.
Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.