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Backgrounder On Senior Defense Official Trip

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
September 23, 2002

Monday, Sept. 23, 2002

(Backgrounder on a senior defense official's upcoming trip.)

Staff: Good morning. This will be a background briefing by a senior defense official on an upcoming trip to Romania, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Italy, headed by [a senior Defense official].

Sr. Defense Official: Good morning. We're going to be traveling tomorrow, and I guess returning Monday -- I guess it's Monday morning, early Monday morning. And in Romania we will be visiting with all the top officials -- the president, prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister -- discussing Romania's contributions to the war on terrorism. We will, of course, express appreciation for Romania's having been the first country to conclude an agreement with us regarding the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction over U.S. persons. And we'll be discussing defense cooperation, U.S.-Romanian defense cooperation, and the Romanian candidacy for NATO membership.

In Pakistan, we're going to have the first meeting of the U.S.- Pakistan Defense Consultative Group since 1997. And this will, of course, be the first meeting since the renewed U.S.-Pakistani defense cooperation in the war on terrorism. We will review our cooperation in Operation Enduring Freedom, we'll review defense sales issues, and counterterrorism cooperation generally.

In Afghanistan, we'll be meeting with Afghan officials, including the defense minister; the U.N. secretary-general's special representative, Ambassador Brahimi; the Turkish general, Major General Hilmi Akin Zorlu, who is the commander of the ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan; and then we'll be meeting with Lieutenant General McNeill, the head of the U.S. Joint Task Force 180, and we'll be talking about Afghan national army training and the security situation in Afghanistan and the issues of building our relations with the other countries in the area and cooperating in the work that we're doing in Afghanistan.

In Italy we'll be meeting with various senior defense and foreign ministry officials, talking about the war on terrorism, Iraq and NATO issues, including the Warsaw ministerial meeting that is underway right now where Secretary Rumsfeld is, and the preparations for the NATO summit meeting in Prague coming up in a few weeks.

I'll be happy to take your questions.

Q: The bilateral discussion with Pakistan, could tell us more about this group, which hasn't met since '97. I assume that the talks were cut off after they began their nuclear tests.

Sr. Defense Official: We have bilateral forums with numerous countries around the world where we discuss the range of defense issues. It's usually a discussion of regional security questions and bilateral defense cooperation, things like security assistance, and joint exercises, and defense trade, and all the other matters that come up in the relations between their defense ministries and armed forces and ours. And we have this, as I said, with many countries, and this will be the forum with Pakistan. And, as I said, we haven't met in five years, but we're getting that forum going again.

Q: Is it just talks in general, or do they have any weapons purchases that they're specifically interested in or that you're specifically interested in?

Sr. Defense Official: Well, defense trade is always one of the topics. And there are issues of, you know -- assessments of what are their requirements and what is a good way to use -- I mean, when you're dealing with countries that are receiving foreign military financing, there's always the question of priorities, and is that a good use of the security assistance? And then there are releasability questions, export licenses and the like. And those are always the kinds of things that get reviewed.

And sometimes what we often do is set up working groups of experts who pursue, you know, the specific aspects. But in this forum, we discuss the broader policy issues relating to defense trade, and we sometimes set up mechanisms to help resolve problems. Our defense trade arrangements and our export licensing arrangements are so complex and Byzantine that they are not widely understood by the -- our foreign friends, and they're not particularly widely understood by Americans.

And so when things get delayed or off track and people get unhappy, they often think that it's off track because we're purposely sending a message when, in fact, it's off track because that's just in the nature of things that things don't go smoothly in these areas. And it's very helpful to talk about that, explain the process so that they understand, you know, how much time it takes to get certain things done, and they don't think that we're signaling them when we're not signaling them. And it's actually quite useful to look at the other people in the eye, explain our processes to them and be able to work with them on sorting out problems in the defense trade area.

Q: Your trip to Pakistan is coming just before elections in Pakistan -- rather controversial elections -- follows General Musharraf's decision to unilaterally amend his constitution, give himself five more years in power, assign himself the chief of staff position for another five years and generally restrict participation in these elections that many people believe are going to be rigged to ensure that he remains in power. I'm wondering what kind of signal the resumption of military-to-military relations sends to the Pakistanis vis-a-vis the fact that, on the one hand, the United States, in the new defense doctrine, talks about encouraging freedom and democracy, and yet that doesn't seem to be happening in Pakistan.

Sr. Defense Official: Well, the resumption of U.S.-Pakistani military relations dates to approximately September 12th of 2001. And we have had a close and important and valuable relationship with the Pakistanis in the -- in Operation Enduring Freedom, in the operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban. And we are doing many things with them. There are important contacts that the Central Command has with Pakistan and that the Defense Department has, and this is just part of that relationship.

Staff: Questions?

Q: Pakistan has said it needs technological help to assist in its patrolling of borders, particularly the Kashmir border and the Afghan border. What's the U.S. position on possible approval of technology there, such as UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], that they're asking for?

Sr. Defense Official: Well, I'm not going to comment on specific requests, but in general that kind of cooperation will be discussed.

Q: If I heard right, you mentioned Iraq in conjunction with Italy but none of the other countries. If that's right, what will you be discussing regarding Iraq in Italy? And why won't you be discussing Iraq in the other countries?

Sr. Defense Official: Actually, given the nature of the news, Iraq is possibly going to come up everywhere. The -- I think it was listed initially in connection with Italy, probably because Italy is a NATO ally, and we're talking about this with -- it's going to be a major topic of discussion at the NATO ministerial this week. And that's the reason it was there. I was not intending to imply that Iraq won't come up elsewhere. It's almost inevitable that everybody will want to talk about it to one degree or another.

Q: Could you perhaps say a little bit more about what you will be talking about in Italy over Iraq, given, as you say, that it's going to be at the defense ministers' meeting? Will it be any other particular issues you're raising, like, for example, possible requests for assistance from Italy, particularly given the awkwardness of the post-election German situation?

Sr. Defense Official: I don't envision raising any specific requests. I think we would just be talking about "where are we?" Where are we in the international diplomacy on the subject? Where are we on the security concerns that we have, that the president has outlined in his U.N. speech? And I'd be happy to do follow-up to the discussions in the ministerial. So depending on what comes out of the ministerial, we'll set the agenda with the Italians accordingly, because we should be meeting with them this coming weekend. And they will have just gotten home within a day or two or three of the -- from the Warsaw meetings.

Q: Regarding ISAF: There were expectations that the Germans were going to take over from the Turks in terms of command of ISAF. How does the increase in tensions in the relationship with Germany following the election play into that? Secretary Rumsfeld today refused to meet with the German defense minister. Is there a chance that those negotiations could fall through?

Sr. Defense Official: I don't know about what you were just referring to as any refusal to meet. The -- as Dr. [Condoleezza] Rice said a few days ago, some of the comments that came out of Germany during the election campaign about the United States contributed to a bad atmosphere. We're looking into various arrangements for security in Afghanistan. As you know, we are deeply involved in various aspects of security in Afghanistan from our own direct operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban to helping train the Afghan army and providing connections to the various regional leaders with civil-affairs teams and other types of connections. The International Security Assistance Force is an important part of that. What you're referring to is the fact that the role of the -- of Turkey as the lead nation in the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul is scheduled to end in mid-December. And arrangements haven't yet been made as to who would succeed Turkey as lead nation.

There are a number of ideas that we are right now considering about what to do with the International Security Assistance Force and how to increase security both in Kabul and in other cities, possibly using the International Security Assistance Force as a vehicle or possibly using other vehicles for enhancing security so that the Afghans can directly enjoy more security, the nongovernmental organizations that are working to do reconstruction can feel secure in operating in those areas, and the people of Afghanistan can appreciate that their central government is working effectively to help create security in the country.

And we've got numerous ideas for addressing that. And, you know, one of the issues is the one that you flagged, the issue of who's going to succeed Turkey. But that's only one, and even for that one issue there are a number of options that are being considered.

Q: So does the situation -- you're saying that -- I mean, there have been ongoing very intense negotiations with the Germans on taking over ISAF. Has this situation risked interfering in that option? Is that option now off the table?

Sr. Defense Official: We have talked to the Germans. We've talked to other countries involved in ISAF. And the issue of who would take over the lead and how we're going to handle the extension of ISAF's mandate is an open issue. No decisions were made, and -- and we'll just have to see.

Q: Are you looking at mainly keeping the -- making the next one be a European one, or having it be from, say, South America, or having maybe a Muslim country? Are you -- (inaudible) -- a regional thing?

Sr. Defense Official: We have not made a definite decision, so it's an open question. It's not clear that there are too many countries that are in a position to step in by December with a unit that is trained and ready to deploy. And so it's not that you've got scores of countries standing in line ready to do this, but we do have a number of options that we're thinking about, and one or another will -- you know, will eventually become the answer to the issue of follow-on. I can't be more specific than that because we just have -- we have a range of things that we're thinking about.

Staff: Last question.

Q: There was a report on Saturday that there was consideration that Germany's participation would be conditioned to -- with the involvement of NATO's planning structure. Is that something you would favor? Is that --

Sr. Defense Official: One of the -- this long list of things that I said we're thinking about is the role of NATO. There have been various suggestions for NATO to play different kinds of roles; possibly to take on the ISAF responsibility in various ways with possibly logistic support or force-generation services, or any one of a number of ideas. But as I said, that's just on a long list. This issue has a lot of moving parts, and so until we pin various aspects down, we can't start narrowing the list of options. I'm sorry, I just can't give you a more precise answer than that.

Thank you.