Turkmenistan Thanked for Saving Afghan Lives
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
TURKMENBASHI AIRPORT, Turkmenistan, April 28, 2002 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today thanked the people of Turkmenistan for their support in the fight against terrorism and for providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
"This country has been cooperative on the global war on terrorism, for which we're grateful and appreciative," Rumsfeld said at a brief mid- day press conference here. He said Turkmenistan's significant contribution to the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan "has undoubtedly saved the lives of the Afghan people."
The secretary met briefly with U.S. and local reporters after meeting with Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov at the president's summer home on the Caspian Sea. It was the secretary's first visit to the country.
Turkmenistan is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace, he noted, and the United States has had modest military-to-military relations with the former Soviet state for some time. As a neighboring nation with relations with Afghanistan, he said, "the United States has an interest in that relationship."
Rumsfeld told reporters he'd thanked Niyazov for granting flyover rights to support the war on terrorism. About 20 U.S. service members from the Air Force's Air Mobility Command are deployed in Turkmenistan to support refueling and humanitarian missions.
Responding to a reporter's question on Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said, the security situation there is "dramatically improved from what it was."
"When refugees start coming back and internally displaced people return to their homes, that suggests things are improving," Rumsfeld said. "People are voting with their feet." However, the secretary added, he suspects the security situation in Afghanistan will be difficult for some period of time.
Regarding a question on strategic arms reduction, Rumsfeld replied that talks between the United States and Russia are going forward. "There have been discussions at various levels almost every week for the past month or so," he said.
Rumsfeld noted that on his way home he planned to stop in Moscow to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov. He expects to discuss the details of agreements being considered by both countries.
"My impression is that the two presidents have encouraged the senior level officials in both governments to proceed with those discussions in an orderly way, which we're doing," he said.
Rumsfeld also answered questions about Iran. "Iran has not been noticeably helpful regarding Afghanistan," he said. After a short pause, he added, "Sometimes I underestimate for emphasis."
Turkmenistan was Rumsfeld's third stop during a five-day trip to Afghanistan and neighboring nations. Departing Washington on Thursday (April 25) afternoon, he visited U.S. forces and at Ganci Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, and at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. From Turkmenistan, the secretary was bound for Kazakhstan and then Russia. He is due to return to Washington late Monday night.