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Media Availability with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld After the First Day of Meetings with Western Hemisphere Defense Ministers from Managua, Nicaragua

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 02, 2006
SEC. RUMSFELD: We've completed the first day. All the ministers participated, and this is, I guess, my third one of these meetings, conferences. There were threads that ran through interestingly, I think, almost all of the ministers, and there were concerns about the problems that they face which they see as problems that can't be solved by a single country. They recognize the regional or global venture of the problems they're concerned about. The ones that were mentioned the most frequently were counternarcotics, gangs, crime, corruption, counterterrorism, hostage taking and various types of anti-social behavior. Several also mentioned AIDS and poverty as things that were affecting their populations in ways that concerned them.

The other thing I would say is that the -- I have seen -- I've been in -- I don't know how many; I think I've probably not been in two or three or four countries in this hemisphere in the last five and a half years and have been in all the rest and had a great many of those folks up in Washington. And it is very clear that the cohesion is -- and the cooperation -- degree of cooperation among these countries is greater today than I have seen it in the past six years. It is particularly true in Central America. President Bolanos has certainly been one of the leaders in that, in working to bring the Central American countries together to a greater extent, which gives all of them added strength.

I'd be happy to respond to a couple of questions, and then, I'm going to go back and get ready for the evening.

Q Sir, could you give us your thoughts on the de-mining center that the Nicaraguans have just opened?

SEC. RUMSFELD: It is a problem that is important here, particularly in this part of the world, but around the world, we know that and looking at the other areas in the world where that's been a problem. And I think it's a good trend.

Q In a little over a month, we're going to have elections here in Nicaragua. The American embassy has been very active in this campaign and to a certain extent criticized because of its position with Daniel Ortega. We would like to know what would happen, what would this administration have planned in case of Ortega winning the election?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I am under strict orders from the president to not participate in politics in the United States, and I do my best; I'm rather successful. Others seem less so. That being the case, I'm certainly not going to get involved in politics in Nicaragua.

Q There's another question you mentioned, of the narcotics problem.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes.

Q That's one of the main problems that they started. Here in Nicaragua, just yesterday, they captured probably the biggest narcotics bust in years.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Very Big. Yeah. Excellent.

Q And still, sometimes the police and the army complain that they don't receive enough real aid from the States. We're talking about equipment and things like that – and training. Is there going to be more of that in the future?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I can't speak for that. It's a matter of the Congress. It's a matter of the White House. It's a matter of the Department of State, which has responsibility over a number of the elements of the assistance that we provide various countries. But I don't know of any other country on the face of the Earth who does as much in Latin America as we do and has provided as much assistance in terms of defense reform and working on counternarcotics and counterterrorism and various other aspects. It is many, but its not even close.

GEN. JOHN CRADDOCK, COMMANDER, U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND: Yes, sir, and you're absolutely right.

GEN. CRADDOCK: We -- you're right. This is a transit zone. We are going to do more.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Right.

GEN. CRADDOCK: I was here a few months ago. We turned over some boats to your navy. Recently the Nicaraguan navy has promoted the captain in charge of the navy to admiral. That's a first. That's a good thing. And we're continuing to work with you for the future.

Q On… General Craddock earlier said that a number of officials from other countries have expressed concerned about the military buildup in Venezuela. What are you hearing from the other countries about that? And what, if anything, do you think needs to be done about it?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, you know, sovereign countries do what they wish. And I have heard exactly what General Craddock has characterized as concern on the part of neighboring nations. And the one additional piece I've heard is concern that some of these things arriving in that country could conceivably end up in the hands of terrorist groups, the FARC or other groups. And so that's a concern on the part of some nations. But time will tell.

Q Have you mentioned again…

SEC. RUMSFELD: You’ve just arrive in this group, and then you pull a Mannion and ask six questions in a row! Where do you get this?

Q Well its my only chance in my life. (Laughter.)

Q Well, is there anything -- are you just going to watch and wait and see what happens as far as the military buildup monitoring?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there's a -- as I understand it, there's a protocol in the hemisphere, and countries report -- supposedly they report when they make a decision to do something, and then they report when it's done, supposedly. And we'll just see what happens.

There are announcements sometimes out of other countries, the countries that are doing the selling, because they're proud.

Q From what you know about the arms purchases by Venezuela, are they what Venezuela needs for modernization, or are they excessive?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I can understand neighbors being concerned. And I guess each country has to make a judgment as to what they do, how they invest their money and what they purchase.

I don't know of anyone threatening Venezuela. Certainly not anyone in this hemisphere.

STAFF: Maybe one or two more questions we'll go on.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Try and improve them.

Q Mr. Secretary, Saddam Hussein's trial is about to wrap up in Iraq.

SEC. RUMSFELD: One would hope. But it's not clear me to that you're correct.

Q (Laughs.) Eventually.

SEC. RUMSFELD: There's some preference on the part of various elements in that country that he be tried sequentially for different crimes so that the crimes that they are particularly concerned about have an airing and a hearing and a public venting. And that is possible. I don't know that that is going to be the case, but were it to be the case, it would not be close to wrapping up, which I think is unfortunate. I am not speaking for the United States government. I just think that it would be appropriate to conclude it and sentence him to whatever sentence they decide to give.

Q Well, considering the sectarian tensions that are already going on in the country, does the end of his trial present a particular security issue where --

SEC. RUMSFELD: I think it will be a positive, not a negative.

Q In what way?

SEC. RUMSFELD: It will just bring closure to a chapter that was an unhappy and unpleasant and particularly vicious regime.

Q You don't think it would rile one side or the other --

SEC. RUMSFELD: I have answered that.

STAFF: Last question, folks.

Q All right.

SEC. RUMSFELD: But now… (Laughter.)

Q Have you mentioned the surface-to-air missiles to President Bolanos, your concern about them?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I have not met with him yet. I'll be --

Q Minister Ramirez?

Q Or with General Halleslevens for that matter?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I have appreciated the efforts that the president and the minister have undertaken over a period of years now to work with the parliament -- (chuckles) -- and attempt to deal with the missiles in a way that is responsible from the standpoint of the hemisphere.

Q Is there progress, then?

SEC. RUMSFELD: There has been progress.

Q Enough?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I appreciate the efforts that have been made, and obviously their goal, the president's goal, the minister's goal, my goal is to have it concluded. So -- the congress has basically been the impediment, as I understand it. Is that still the case?

Q Is there progress there, though?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. So --

Q All right.

SEC. RUMSFELD: It's been really a high honor and a privilege to be with you, and particularly with you. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Good to see you. It's nice to meet you.

Q Okay.

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