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Rumsfeld 'Pleased' With Georgia Visit, Moved by Troops' Dedication in Iraq

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

SHANNON, Ireland, Dec. 6, 2003 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld applauded current Georgian leaders' close working relationship and improving conditions in Iraq during a news conference today with reporters en route with him back to Washington.

The secretary said he was pleased to visit the former Soviet republic of Georgia when he did, because it gave him a chance to see leaders from different parties working together for the benefit of their country, less than two weeks after Eduard Shevardnadze resigned as president. Rumsfeld met Dec. 5 with acting president Nino Burdzhanadze, acting State Minister Zurab Zhvania and Mikhail Saakashvili, city council president for the country's capital Tbilisi and a leading candidate for the presidential election scheduled Jan. 4.

"I think that it is interesting and impressive that three leading political figures are so closely connected and so much in agreement, which I would submit is a good thing from the standpoint of the country, because they are, needless to say, moving right into an election period, they will have to make a lot of decisions about the future," Rumsfeld said. "And the fact that they are able to meet together and work together, and have known each other each in their respective positions, all of which are important I think is a good sign." The United States is interested in being as helpful as it can to them, he added.

Turning to Iraq, the secretary said U.S. forces are "wonderful men and women who are dedicated to what they're doing, and they're well-led and well-trained and well-equipped, and in my view are doing an outstanding job." Rumsfeld visited U.S. forces in Kirkuk and Baghdad today, and had the opportunity to see training conducted for Iraqi Civil Defense Corps recruits. But although the security situation in Iraq continues to improve as more and more Iraqis take on security jobs coalition forces had been doing, Rumsfeld said security isn't the only part of the equation for a stable and free Iraq.

The secretary said that in a meeting today he discussed with Iraqi Governing Council president Abdel Aziz Hakim the importance of the council moving forward on a Nov. 15 agreement on steps toward Iraqi self-government. The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq is scheduled to turn sovereignty over to the Iraqi people in June 2004.

Rumsfeld said funding from the United States and contributions from other nations, training being conducted by several countries, and the time and effort invested by the U.S. military all benefit the ICDC, the border patrol, site security forces and the new Iraqi army as Iraqis take more responsibility for their own security.

Liberating Iraq, replacing the brutal Saddam Hussein regime with a representative and respectful government, and building an Iraq at peace with its neighbors have been the U.S. objectives in Iraq since the outset, Rumsfeld said. With the determination of the 34 coalition nations and "a lot of brave Iraqis who are willing to step forward, and in many cases put themselves at risk," the secretary said, Iraq will be a success story that will be of "enormous benefit" for its region.

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