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Secretary Rumsfeld Joint Press Conference in Kazakhstan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 28, 2002 12:00 PM EDT

(Joint press conference with Minister of Defense Mukhtar Altynbayev at the Presidential Administration Building, Astana, Kazakhstan.)

Altynbayev: I would like to say a few words about the meeting that took place between Secretary of Defense Mr. Rumsfeld and President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.

During the meeting, they discussed the political situation in Kazakhstan, they touched on the issue of the fight against international terrorism, and they mentioned the issue of the Almaty airport, which will be further discussed in the future. We are not talking about the presence of coalition forces in Almaty but, we are talking about this airport as an alternative in the case of an emergency. In fact, President Nazarbayev mentioned the options of using airports in Shymkent and Lugovaya as an alternative to Almaty.

They also talked about the results of the cooperation between the two countries in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy. Kazakhstan declared its support for the struggle against terrorism, and Mr. Secretary and Mr. President talked about the summit in Ashgabat, where the issue of the security of the Caspian region was discussed. They also talked about military and technical cooperation between the two Defense Ministries. But I understand that you will probably be asking questions about all these issues.

Kazakhstan also mentioned its readiness to provide various types of assistance with respect to transporting and providing humanitarian aid such as foodstuffs, wheat, various petroleum products, and so on. Kazakhstan also said that it will allow the use of its airspace for the transport of humanitarian cargo.

Kazakhstan also confirmed its desire and in fact its real participation in the fight against terrorism. Specifically, Kazakhstan will send several liaison officers to Tampa, Florida. They have already identified the candidates; shortly, these people will leave for Florida, and they will be present at the headquarters there.

And now I would like to turn the floor to my colleague, Mr. Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much. I have had the pleasure of meeting the minister of defense previously, but this is my first meeting with the president. As the minister said, we had a very good and broad-ranging discussion on political, economic, and security issues. As you know, Kazakhstan is involved with NATO through Partnership for Peace arrangements, and we discussed improving and strengthening our military-to-military relationship. Of course, we are partners in the global war on terrorism, and we discussed the situation in Afghanistan as well as our common interest in an independent, economically healthy, and secure Afghanistan.

In that connection, we were very pleased that Kazakhstan is sending liaison officials to the Central Command and will be helping to coordinate the various types of assistance that your country has offered to Afghanistan, which we will certainly work together on to see that the humanitarian problems in that country are dealt with as effectively as possible. As President Bush has said, we are anxious to do everything we possibly can to see that Afghanistan does not go back to becoming a haven or sanctuary for terrorists, where they send terrorists out across the globe to kill innocent people.

And with the Minister's permission, we can take a few questions.

Q: (Charles Aldinger, Reuters) I'm Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. The three airfields that you are talking about -- Almaty, and the other two -- you spoke of emergency use. Do you mean possible landing by U.S. or other aircraft that might be damaged, or would this be possibly for search and rescue efforts for injured people in Afghanistan? Or both?

Altynbayev: I am an Air Force man myself, so I know something about these things. As you know, there is an international treaty that says that if an aircraft is damaged or has problems, any airport must provide assistance to this aircraft. Such emergency cases have already taken place.

Q: (Charles Aldinger, Reuters) How about search and rescue?

Altynbayev: Whatever requirements are stipulated or specified in the treaty or memorandum will of course be respected.

Q: (Astana Radio) During the meeting with the president, did you discuss the issue of deploying U.S. forces in Kazakhstan? If so, how important is this to the United States?

Rumsfeld: No, we did not.

Q: (Robert Burns, Associated Press) I'm Bob Burns from the Associated Press. As the United States pursues the war on terrorism and the war in Afghanistan, does your government have concerns that American influence is becoming too big, too strong?

Altynbayev: To answer your question, I would like to cite just one fact: during the conversation between President Nazarbayev and Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld mentioned that according to his information, about 340 aircraft flew over the territory of Kazakhstan since operations began. But President Nazarbayev responded by saying that in fact according to his information, it was 600 aircraft. In addition, he mentioned that the use of railroads would be allowed for these purposes. This fact speaks for itself and answers your question.

Q: (Robert Burns, Associated Press) Were you referring to American aircraft?

Altynbayev: These were coalition forces, so -- perhaps U.S. aircraft passed through our southern territories -- but I would like to say that we are more concerned about the security of the Caspian region. Taking into consideration that the interests of Kazakhstan and the United States are present in this region, I think that too is a response to your question. Of the war on terrorism, we are all convinced, and understood that there is nothing to divide. Any normal person or country understands that terrorism -- especially international terrorism -- must be jointly fought against.

Q: (unidentified) How many Kazakhstani officers will be part of the coalition forces, and who will they be?

Altynbayev: They will be at the CENTCOM headquarters in Florida with coalition forces, and they will be responsible for operational planning. We planned originally to send five people, but apparently we will be sending three people very soon, and there will be a general who will be in charge, and all these people basically will do some planning work and take part in the work of the coalition forces headquarters.

Thank you.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

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