Secretary Rumsfeld and President Karzai Hold Press Conference in Afghanistan
RUMSFELD: I am always pleased to be back in your country. I'm told it's actually the ninth visit, but who counts? It's my first visit since you were sworn in and I had the honor of attending the inauguration. We had a good meeting today with the President and his Cabinet, senior members of his Cabinet. Earlier today we spent some time in Kandahar and Palat and visited a Provincial Reconstruction Team there and saw the work that's being done. Also had an opportunity to be impressed again with the economic progress that's occurring here in Afghanistan.
I talked with our senior military officials about the progress being made in the development and capacity and capabilities of the Afghan security forces. I'm always pleased to learn that wherever the Afghan National Army seems to go they are well respected and performing well. That, of course, is important.
The people of the United States are certainly proud to stand by the free citizens of Afghanistan. And Mr. President, we thank you for your courage, for your leadership, and certainly look forward to strengthening our partnership in the months and years ahead.
PRESS: Mr. President and Mr. Secretary --
RUMSFELD: Did you mean multiple questions from a single person when you said questions? [Laughter].
PRESS: Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. There's a report out today that your country's been discussing a possible bilateral security agreement. Number one, is that true? And would such an agreement or understanding or treaty or whatever, would that mean a permanent U.S. military troop presence in Afghanistan? Thank you.
KARZAI: This is to Secretary Rumsfeld or to me?
PRESS: To both of you.
KARZAI: To both of us.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, I hope you had some interpretation. Afghanistan has gone through a very, very difficult period of its 30 years of life in the past two and a half, three decades. We have learned our lessons from those years of extreme difficulty and interference and economic deprivation as a consequence.
Today's Afghanistan is a country with representation all over the world, with a growing economy, with reconstruction because we have assistance from the rest of the world. Primarily in the forefront of that assistance is the United States in the economic area in reconstruction and in security services including the training of the Afghan army and police and the strengthening of the Afghan administration.
Based on that experience, as a result of my conversations with the Afghan people in the past three years including conversations with groups of Afghans from provinces yesterday. The conclusion we have drawn is that the Afghan people want a longer term relationship with the United States. They want this relationship to be a wholesome one including sustained economic relationship, a [inaudible] relationship, and most important of all, a strategic security relationship that would enable Afghanistan to defend itself, to continue to prosper, to stop interferences, the possibility of interferences in Afghanistan, not have the reputation of that.
This initiative has come from Afghanistan and I had it in my manifesto before the elections and I told the Afghan people that this is what I'm going to ask as you have been concerned, and that is what we are following up to the [inaudible]. I've already raised it with President Bush in Washington on my previous trips, and Afghanistan is requesting, seeking such a partnership, yes.
RUMSFELD: I'll just be very brief. We've had of course a very good military to military relationship between our two countries for the past year, a partnership that has grown and strengthened. I think with respect to your question about permanent military, I think that I would say that what we generally do when we work with another country is what we have been doing. We find ways that we can be helpful. It may be training, it may be equipping, it may be various other types of assistance such as is the case here. But we think more in terms of what we're doing rather than the question of military bases and that type of thing.
I would add in closing on this subject that this, of course, is a subject that is presidential in its level and interest and the relationship between our countries is something that is discussed generally between the President and the Department of State and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
RUMSFELD: The coalition countries obviously share President Karzai and the Afghan government's concern about narcotics trafficking. It's a danger across the globe and a problem that all countries need to cooperate on. Certainly the coalition countries and particularly with the leadership of the United Kingdom, are in support of President Karzai and the Afghan government's counter-narcotics efforts.
PRESS: Mr. President, General Abizaid said recently to some reporters that he thought it would be wonderful when the time comes for the Afghans to send at least a symbolic unit of its new, well trained Afghan National Army to Iraq as a symbol from one liberated country to another. Has this ever really been discussed? And if so, when do you think such an action could be taken?
KARZAI: Afghanistan will be very happy to help our brothers and sisters in Iraq in whatever way we can. We are a poor country with very limited resources ourselves, but we're glad that now we are slowly getting increasing capabilities in all walks of life, including an Army that's now more than 20,000 in trained and which is being trained by the United States.
Afghanistan is also a friend of the United States and is in gratitude to the United States for the help that the United States has given to our people in an extremely significant manner that has really brought back Afghanistan to own itself. It has brought back the Afghan people to the ownership of their country. It has brought back the sovereignty of Afghanistan back to its people. That [inaudible] is something very deep and we will be also very happy if asked to help in Iraq and to show our friendship with the United States and our brotherly feelings for the Iraqi people. But no such request has come yet to us.
KARZAI: [English translation unavailable].
RUMSFELD: There was no mike, so there's no translation.
KARZAI: I will translate for you. The question is, will the U.S. also give the kind of guarantees that Afghanistan is seeking with this longer-term relationship with the United States? Will the U.S. do that?
RUMSFELD: I responded earlier saying that that's not a matter for the Department of Defense, that's a matter for the President of the United States to discuss with the President of Afghanistan in an orderly way.
RUMSFELD: I don't know that it's for a visitor either one, to characterize what the gravest dangers are, but certainly the problem of terrorism in the world continues to be a serious one and the extremists that exist in this part of the world continue to threaten. I would add that the excellent start that Afghanistan has along the path to democracy is clearly something that can be damaged through the evils of narco-trafficking, and so I respect the efforts that are being made by the government in that connection.
Last I would say that it's not a menace, indeed it's an opportunity. That is that it has been impressive for me each time I've come to see the economic progress that's taking place, and to the extent that that continues to offer opportunities to the Afghan people I think that is important to their future, to their success, and to their well being, and I certainly wish the people of Afghanistan well in that regard.
PRESS: Mr. President, this is Bob Burns, Associated Press.
In your opening remarks you said you had a number of requests to make of Washington, that these would be made formally or are being made formally. Can you tell us what these requests are?
KARZAI: I have already discussed, this is with regard to Afghanistan's needs for a permanent relationship and a request in this regard would be sent to President Bush.
PRESS: That's it?
KARZAI: Once we are ready with details, then we'll get back to you.
KARZAI: [English translation unavailable].
RUMSFELD: I don't know the answer to the question. I know that the government of the United States follows the normal orderly procedures of investigations and that the people in the chain of command are advised to not get engaged in such investigations because of a phrase called command influence which is to be avoided.
What will happen is that they'll proceed in an orderly way and then be announced in the press at an appropriate time.