Rumsfeld Thanks Moldova For Support in Terror War
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
CHISINAU, Moldova, June 26, 2004 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today became the highest-level U.S. official to visit Moldova, thanking members of this former Soviet state for their support for Operation Iraqi Freedom and encouraging continued participation in the Partnership for Peace program.
Rumsfeld made a brief stop here today en route to the NATO Istanbul Summit to praise Moldova, the poorest nation in Europe, and to thank President Vladimir Voronin and the Moldovan people for their role in maintaining stability in the region.
Rumsfeld expressed appreciation for Moldova's support for the war on terror. Moldova sent 45 troops to Iraq from September 2003 through March. There, as members of the Polish-led Multinational Division, they applied de-mining and explosive ordnance skills honed in Moldova, which was officially declared mine- free just two years ago.
Moldova plans to send a second contingent of about 12 de-miners to Iraq soon, although the specific timetable was not announced.
At the Moldovan Army's 2nd Brigade headquarters here, Rumsfeld walked among the assembled troops, shaking hands and thanking the soldiers for their service. After viewing static displays of trucks, armored vehicles and de-mining equipment, the secretary posed for a photograph with the Moldovan troops, applauding the soldiers and flashing a "thumbs-up" sign.
Among the soldiers Rumsfeld thanked was Maj. Alexander Thoric, a combat engineer who said he applied his de-mining experience to destroy munitions and armaments in Iraq. Thoric said he was proud of his service in Iraq and will be happy to represent his country again if called on to return. "I saved the lives of people, not only the U.S. military, but also the Iraqi people," he said. "It felt really good to have the Iraqi people come up to us and thank us for what we did for them."
Rumsfeld said the Moldovan people, who gained their independence from the Soviet Union just over a decade ago, "understand the importance of what's happening in places like Afghanistan and Iraq."
"I'm pleased to be able to personally thank the people of Moldova for their support in the global war on terrorism, and particularly for the role being played in the stabilization of Iraq," the secretary said during a joint news conference with Moldovan Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc.
"The first Moldovan contingency served your country very well, both with respect to their impressive de-mining experience as well as the humanitarian assistance operations," Rumsfeld told Gaiciuc. "And we are so pleased that the second group of Moldovans is scheduled to leave for Iraq shortly."
Rumsfeld lauded Moldova for its role in the NATO Partnership for Peace Program, which it joined in 1994. Gaiciuc said the program enhances the Moldovan military through exposure to myriad training opportunities and military sessions.
Gaiciuc told Rumsfeld fighting terrorism and other security threats around the world demands commitment by the full international community.
Rumsfeld addressed the most pressing threat facing Moldova: the presence of Russian troops, weapons and munitions in the eastern Transnistria region. Russia pledged to pull out of the region by 2001 at the 1999 Istanbul Accord, but has not kept that promise.
"The United States remains committed to a political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and a reintegrated, sovereign Moldova," Rumsfeld said. "It is certainly the belief of NATO and the countries of the (Organization for Security and Cooperation In Europe) that commitments made in Istanbul some five years ago need to be fulfilled."