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Closer Ties at Heart of Ministerial of the Americas

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SANTIAGO, Chile, Nov. 18, 2002 – Closer maritime cooperation and the building of a hemispheric peacekeeping capability are two items Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to discuss at the Defense Ministerial of the Americas here Nov. 19.

The secretary gave reporters traveling with him a rundown of what he wants to accomplish at the ministerial. He told reporters he cannot stay for the full meeting. He will leave Tuesday for the NATO Summit in Prague, Czech Republic.

Still, the 5,000-mile journey to Santiago shows the importance U.S. leaders place on the ministerial. "Needless to say, I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was extremely important," Rumsfeld said.

After Rumsfeld leaves, Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, will stay and represent the United States.

Rumsfeld said the United States and a number of other countries believe there are opportunities for much closer cooperation in peacekeeping and maritime areas.

"If one thinks of the problems of the hemisphere -- of smuggling and narcotrafficking, hostage taking and the like -- the closer we are to cooperate with our navies, the better the security environment," Rumsfeld said.

He said the United States wants to encourage closer cooperation among the nations in the hemisphere. "Certainly events around the world before and after Sept. 11 (2001) suggest the advantages that accrue to all of us," Rumsfeld said.

He said the United States will propose a program that would integrate specialized national capabilities into larger regional forces. Defense officials said the United States would specifically like to explore the idea of building a force from several states that could take part in international peacekeeping forces as a region.

"I'd like to see them so whatever they think is appropriate," he said. "A few are already performing peacekeeping activities. Still others may feel that the post-Sept. 11 world will be better if there are more available peacekeepers."

Right now, 14 Western Hemisphere countries, not counting the United States, contribute 4,000 peacekeepers to U.N. peacekeeping forces. Brazil, for example, has peacekeepers in East Timor. Uruguay is the largest peacekeeper provider per capita in the world. Argentina has provided troops to operations from the Sinai to the Balkans.

Before the ministerial starts, Rumsfeld will meet with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and the defense ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and host Chile.

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