Secretary Rumsfeld: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. First let me thank the Minister Ramirez, for his excellent management and hosting of this conference, as well as the people of Nicaragua. We’ve had an excellent conference and we appreciate it a great deal, Mr. Minister.
We have met together on a number of occasions now, the Ministers of Defense of Central America and meeting with the Minister from the United States. And on each occasion the progress in the relationship among the Central American countries has developed and evolved in a very constructive and positive way. I can’t speak for the other Ministers but this is my third conference of this type, and as I listened to the ministers it was very clear that there are certain themes that are developing that suggest a very common perspective and common approach to the problems we face. And very simply it is this: that almost every problem we face is a problem that cannot be solved by a single nation. Whether it’s counter-narcotics or gangs or hostage-taking or counter-terrorism, all of it, all of those problems, require very close cooperation among nations, many nations.
So I respect greatly the work that these gentlemen and their nations, their leaders are doing to improve the cooperation and the cohesion here in this important part of the world, in Central America.
Channel Two – Nicaragua: Yes, my question is for Secretary Rumsfeld. I’m from Channel two here in Nicaragua: the question is, how is the US government contemplating future military cooperation with Nicaragua should Mr. Ortega win the presidential elections given that Mr. Ortega and his legislators have presented the principal opposition to the destruction of the SAM-7 Missiles.
Secretary Rumsfeld: I don’t get involved in politics in the United States, so you can be certain I’m not going to get involved in politics in Nicaragua. Thank you. (Laughter.)
Reuters Journalist (Pentagon corp): This question is for the Central American Ministers: I’d like to know what you think regarding the call of Venezuela to form a military group to counter the US influence in the region.
Minister from Guatemala (General de Brigada Francisco Bermudez Amado): Yes, our principal mission for Guatemala and for most of Central America has been for peace-keeping efforts, which we have supported wholeheartedly over the years and we do have a central American unit for rescue and humanitarian purposes which is ready to be deployed should it be needed due to natural disasters.
Journalist from AP – Ms.Watson: Yes, my question is for Mr. Rumsfeld: I wanted to ask if um, about there’ve been some major arrests in the past year in both Columbia and Mexico as far as the um drug lords and also we’ve seen some of the major ones have been taken down but yet the violence has continued, and we’ve seen more brutal violence with beheadings, and I wanted to ask whether there’s going to be a discussion about a change in policy regarding the drug war, what can be done and if there’s also concern on the part of the other Latin American countries that too much (inaudible) Columbia and now that drug lords are moving into other countries if more needs to be focused on in countries like Columbia and Mexico.
Secretary Rumsfeld: It is a problem that is affecting the world, it is not unique to this part of the globe, it is a serious problem, one that as you suggest if it’s successfully dealt with in one place it might race to another, which points up my opening comment, that no one nation can deal with it alone.
Counter-narcotics strategies and plans and approaches are developed individually by countries and then consulted and cooperated among those countries in sharing information and approaches. I’m not in a position to announce that there’s some sort of a new plan or approach that’s been evolving and it’s something that each country has to decide for themselves and then coordinate with other nations so that they can be effective.
AP/USA (Pentagon corp - Lolita Balder): This question is for Secretary Rumsfeld and for one of the other Ministers who’d like to answer it. I was wondering if the issue of assistance in either Iraq or Afghanistan came up in your discussions, and whether any of the Central American countries are going to be able to provide any additional assistance, either in training, counter-drug efforts in Afghanistan perhaps, or anything else.
Secretary Rumsfeld: There are a variety of Central American countries that are assisting in a variety of different ways, but I don’t recall it coming up in our meetings this week. Possibly the Minister from El Salvador would like to comment.
Secretary from El Salvador (Otto Alejandro Romero Orellana): Yes, Salvadoran soldiers have been in Iraq since 2003, complete with the UN framework, the UN charter, our constitution, and our laws, we are providing humanitarian assistance and have been playing a humanitarian role working with total transparency, we’ve had missions from our legislators who have visited them, from all the different political parties represented in our congress have visited our troops and the (inaudible) members of the written and electronic press of El Salvador have also had the opportunity to go to Iraq and visit our troops as well and to see how our soldiers are contributing to the strengthening of the political system in Iraq and the strengthening of their security forces as well.