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Rumsfeld Meets With Leaders in Azerbaijan

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Dec. 3, 2003 – Conveying President Bush's gratitude for Azerbaijan's help in the global war on terror, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived here today for meetings with the president and defense minister of this former Soviet republic on the western shore of the Caspian Sea.

Rumsfeld met with Defense Minister Col. Gen. Safar Abiyev upon arrival, and the two defense leaders then met with new Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev at the Presidential Apparat here.

"I expressed the appreciation of the American people and President Bush for the important support and contributions of this country in the global war on terror," Rumsfeld said in a joint news conference with Abiyev after their meeting with the president.

A senior defense official told reporters before the meeting that Azerbaijan was one of the first nations to offer any help it could provide to the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in America. The country grants important overflight rights for U.S. military aircraft, and also has sent contingents of troops to the coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The defense official called Azerbaijan's forces "highly competent" in their performance while serving with Turkish forces in Afghanistan and American forces in Iraq.

The United States provides about $3 million per year in security support assistance to Azerbaijan. In 2002 and again this year, Bush responded to Azerbaijan's cooperation by waiving sanctions imposed by Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. The sanctions had been in place as a result of an ongoing territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia. To keep an even-handed approach in the dispute, the official said, the president also waived Armenia's sanctions stemming from the dispute.

Rumsfeld said the United States would like to see a peaceful, negotiated settlement of Azerbaijan's territorial dispute with Armenia, but wouldn't comment further, other than to explain that such matters are under the purview of the State Department.

The secretary said today's meeting with Abiyev continued discussions they'd had during the Dec. 1-2 NATO defense ministers conference in Brussels, Belgium. The defense secretary said he and Abiyev discussed Azerbaijan's participation in NATO's Partnership in Peace program, a relationship Rumsfeld said is helpful both to NATO and to Azerbaijan. The program helps countries from various nations learn to work alongside NATO forces in situations of mutual interest.

Discussions also included the ongoing bilateral military- to-military cooperation between the two nations, Rumsfeld said, as well as how the United States can help Azerbaijan's navy and maritime forces improve security in the Caspian Sea. The official who briefed reporters before the meetings said the Caspian Sea is like an uncontrolled country in how it serves as an avenue for drug trafficking and illegal weapons shipments.

As to whether the United States is considering basing forces in Azerbaijan, Rumsfeld said discussions of changes in the U.S. military's global posture continue, and have yet to yield specific proposals.

"What they reflect is a desire to be positioned not so much for a static defense or deterrent posture, but rather to be arranged in a more flexible and agile way so that we can deal with the 21st century threats and capabilities, rather than the 20th century," he said. The secretary added that access to the ability to move forces and use bases, rather than maintaining a permanent presence, might be the best way to do that in many instances.

Both defense leaders said the United States and Azerbaijan share common interests, and that they look forward to continuing the relationship that has grown between the two nations.

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