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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Ukraine

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 06, 2001

Monday, June 4, 2001

(Media availability with traveling press en route to Kiev, Ukraine. Also participating is Lisa Bronson, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for NATO and European Policy.)

Q: Could you tell us what you learned at the command center at Incirlik?

Rumsfeld: More details, but basically the same message we've received at every single meeting -- (including those) with the (Turkish) foreign minister, the defense minister and the deputy chief of staff -- that the relationship is just in excellent shape. It's cooperative. We're both on the same track, for example, in things involving the Middle East, and both countries have relationships with all the parties. We're both very much in coordination with respect to what the Turks are doing in the Caucasus region with respect to Ukraine and Georgia. There were good discussions on missile defense. They are very interested in missile defense, needless to say, living where they live and recognizing the significant growth in ballistic missiles in this part of the world.

We had a very good talk about Operation Northern Watch with each of them and the way it is going, their relationship on the ground here. We heard from General (Veysi) Agar, (the Turkish co-commander of Operation Northern Watch) that it's is very solid and cooperative and helpful.

Q: What did you learn about the threat here, from your briefing? That's what I was getting at. When you were at the air base, what did you learn about the Iraqi threat and how it is going?

Rumsfeld: Well, it is about as it's been. The area over to the east obviously that the Iraqis pretty much stay out of is being watched carefully and there is little or no threat to the aircraft flying in that area. There are threats to the aircraft flying more to the south and to the west, which is the area that the Iraqis do occupy - the Iraqi government, I should say. Then there's the triple A fire from time to time.

And they are careful and doing their job. It's not an easy job, it's a tough job and the Brits and Americans are flying there, and the Turkish support is terrific. They are doing what their governments have requested they do to try to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting stronger and imposing his will on his neighbors. It's not a great thing to have to do, it's not pleasant thing to have to do for them, but God bless them, they are just wonderful young men and women. You saw them and talked to them, and they are proud of what they are doing and they are doing it darn well.

Q: Is that Anatolian News Agency report completely off the mark or have there been any suggestions from either the U.S. or the Turkish side of what conceivably Turkey might do if the missile defense evolves? You know, they might put up radars or missiles in there...

Rumsfeld: I didn't see the report, but until you have some sort of architecture, obviously you don't get to that point. They are interested, of course, in what you would call theatre missile defense. But they would call it national missile defense because it's national if that's where you live and they clearly they have been interested over some period of time, and had a lot of discussions with the United States and even with Israel with respect to the Arrow. So I mean anyone who lives in the neighborhood knows what going on and the threat is serious, and real, and growing.

Q: Aren't they formally studying how theatre missile defense would work here -- where it might go and the cost of it, those types of broad issues, the architecture of it?

Rumsfeld: Where's Lisa?

Bronson: Right here, Sir.

Rumsfeld: The answer is yes. The question was, are they formally, I don't know what that means, but are they formally studying theater, what we call theater missile defense, and the answer is yes.

Bronson: They are, they have been for the last two to three years.

Q: Is that in conjunction with the United States? Or are they doing it on their own?

Bronson: We've been talking together with them bilaterally for sometime.

Rumsfeld: And they have also talked to the Israelis, have they not?

Bronson: Yes.

Rumsfeld: So it means they are serious about a serious problem.

Q: Could we look forward just a little bit to Ukraine now to give us a scene setter? Why you are going to Ukraine, what the interest is in Ukraine, and what you plan to do?

Rumsfeld: I plan to meet with the senior officials of the government of Ukraine and clearly indicate our country's interest in that country and its importance - it's a big country, it's a country that has been connecting with the West in various ways. As a matter of fact, it is an invited observer at the ministerial meetings in Greece later this week. It seemed to me and to our government, that it would be a useful thing to indicate that we recognize their importance and their interest in the west, and that it's a healthy thing.

Q: Is there a sense that the United States needs to keep closely engaged with the Ukraine, so that the Ukraine doesn't get the feeling that now that we've gotten rid of the missiles, they don't care about us? You know what I'm talking about, the nuclear missiles. (Former Secretary of Defense William) Perry worked hard to do that - to get them to give up those missiles.

Rumsfeld: I don't know about that. What I do know is that relationships need to be nurtured and tended and strengthened, and that they are leaning very far forward to have a relationship with NATO and with the United States and with their neighbors. But that's true also of Georgia and other countries in the region.

Q: Some have said you going there because the administration is concerned that Ukraine is sort of teetering on the brink of chaos, political chaos.

Rumsfeld: I wouldn't say that.

Q: How would you say it?

Rumsfeld: I would say it the way I said it. That it's an important country and the United States recognizes that and we value their linkages with the West and their interest in NATO and the partnership. It's a useful thing to do, to tend a relationship and to demonstrate the importance of a relationship.

Q: Are you suggesting that it is a stable country, a politically stable country? Is it?

Rumsfeld: I think it is a difficult task to navigate from where the former Soviet republics were and to where they are going. It is not something that has been done repeatedly throughout history and it is not a easy task and there are an enormous number of changes that need to be made as they get on that path and worry their way through different relationships and different internal relationships.

You have to admire the fact that these former republics are in that process and struggling with it -- and in some cases doing well and in some cases one area -- and in some cases doing well or not so well in an another area. It isn't an easy thing to do. It's not preordained; and we ought to care what the outcome is. We believe in democratic systems, we believe in parliamentary systems, and we believe in the free press. We believe in various values because we believe they offer the people of the countries of the world much greater economic opportunity and prospects for prosperity. Also we believe democracies tend not to fight with each other.

Q: Then should we read your visit as a strong show of support for (Ukrainian) President (Leonid) Kuchma who has, you know, been implicated in the death of this journalist?

Rumsfeld: I would read it exactly as I have stated it. The Ukraine is an important country, and it's in a difficult transition as are most of the former Soviet republics, and we wish them well and we hope they continue on a path towards free institutions.

Q: But what about a free press?

Q: Can I ask you one question on China? Just one question on China? You said you didn't intend to order a blanket end to all U.S. military contact with China.

Rumsfeld: Not only didn't intend to, but I didn't.

Q: That you would take it on a case-by-case basis?

Rumsfeld: I have, and am and will.

Q: And has the result been that you virtually cut off all military contact on a case-by-case basis?

Rumsfeld: No. No, I've approved a number of things.

Q: But do you plan, do you hope of see that those will slowly restored after the plane comes back, or do you --

Rumsfeld: I saw the article that you are referring to. What it lacked was a timeline, a time dimension to it. And if you think about it, there was a period when a plane, our plane, was run into and the crew landed in an emergency on the island and they were detained. And they were not allowed to call anybody for a long period of time, days and days. We did not know how long they would be detained. It clearly was not business as usual, and there is no question that we took steps to avoid other Americans arriving in that country and finding they were not welcome -- or that they might be detained or treated in a way that was unusual, or abnormal or inconsistent with the prior behavior pattern.

As a result, I indicated that I did not want ships or planes or American military forces in the country during that period. Since that time the crew has been released. We're now working on the aircraft and it has been a difficult negotiation over a sustained period of time and now seems to be going rather well.

So if you look at the sequencing, in an earlier period, you bet there were not a lot of okays or "fine, just charge in there," or business as usual. Let's have a port call or let's fly airplanes in, or let's have a Codel (Congressional delegation) go in.

In the subsequent period, you have to make the decision well in advance of the current period. Plans have to be made, ports have to be rearranged for port calls. So you make the decision weeks in advance. And you say yes, no, or maybe, depending upon what it was, and what the purpose was, and in many case whether it was bilateral or multilateral -- whether there were other countries in involved, to what extent it would be difficult or inconvenient for a lot of people.

Q: Would you more likely be inclined to approve those types of things if they were to come up today, given the current state of relations, than you were a few weeks ago?

Rumsfeld: I have been approving things as we've gone along. Now, some of those things are down the road. I will say we had the USS Inchon make a request for a port call in Hong Kong and it was declined. So suggesting I declined that would not be correct -- it was the Chinese that declined that.

And the important thing to look at is the time sequencing. It's the time sequencing.

Q: Thank you sir.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

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