SEC. RUMSFELD: Good afternoon, folks. I am very pleased to be able to host this year's conference. We had excellent discussions on the progress and the future of cooperation in Southeastern Europe. The conference has come a great distance since its inception some nine years ago, growing in -- both in size and in the nature and degree of cooperation.
We received a good report on the planned deployment of the Southeastern European brigade to Afghanistan. This effort will give the Afghan people encouragement and confidence as the free people of Southeastern Europe reach out to aid a region that is well beyond their borders. It will serve also to strengthen the ties of all the countries involved in the deployment and confirm this force as a capable participant in peacekeeping operation, something the world needs, to be sure. It should be noted that SEDM's newest member, Ukraine, will be contributing airlift support for this deployment, a strong sign of Ukraine's commitment to this effort.
Other areas of cooperation we discussed today, including transformation of the U.N. Kosovo force, border security, defense industry exchange, we will -- will also serve to draw our countries and our peoples together and lead to a continent that is free and at peace. An area of the world that helps stem the tide of totalitarianism is becoming a unified force in promoting the spread of democracy. And the United States is pleased with the progress of the Southeastern Defense Ministerial, and we look forward to strengthening our partnership in the years ahead.
MIN. BARAJ: Thank you.
Good afternoon, everybody. I will try to be short.
The tenth SEDM ministerial meeting held here in Washington, D.C. has been notable for several reasons.
First, ministers welcome Ukraine as a member of the SEDM process.
Second, this ministerial marks the final acceptance by ministers for the first deployment of the Southeastern Europe Brigade, which will be to Afghanistan in support of a NATO ISAF mission.
Third, ministers enjoyed a comprehensive briefing of NATO restructuring in Kosovo and have attended the exchange of ideas on this topic. They are pooling their support and best wishes to the U.N. and NATO as they proceed toward a peaceful resolution in Kosovo.
Finally, SEDM minister acknowledged the progress in the other SEDM projects and gave direction to the chairman for making these projects more focused and efficient in meeting the needs of SEDM nations. Ministers agreed to meet again in 12 months' time. And at the invitation of Minister Mediu, the 2006 SEDM ministerial will be held in Albania.
SEC. RUMSFELD: We'd be happy to take some questions. Yes?
Q Thank you, sir. (Off mike) -- Russian news agency -- (off mike) -- full member in SEDM. Could you talk a little bit about the significance of this event?
And also, sir, can you explain why do you think the United States -- why does the United States think it's not such a bright idea on behalf of the Russians to sell TOR-M1 missiles to Iran? I mean, those are purely defensive systems --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Why don't we try to do this: to have one question per person and ask the question of one person. In that way, more people will have an opportunity to ask a question.
The significance of Ukraine becoming a member, it seems to me, is clear. This -- Ukraine is an important country, and it is a country that is capable and can contribute significantly to the work and the cooperation that takes place in SEDM. And certainly I and our country, as well as the other countries, are delighted with this step forward.
Does the minister from Ukraine want to say anything?
MIN. HRYTSENKO: Thank you, Secretary.
I just would like to add a few words. It's an important event for Ukraine because we were looking for the membership for years.
We believe we already contribute, and the first stage -- the first step in that direction is our commitment to provide strategic airlift to the troops and some of the equipment for the brigade from -- (comes down through ?) Romania to Kabul, Afghanistan. And the next step after that ministerial membership, we will consider real input of our troops in the SEEBRIG to be ready to go ahead with our partners to provide peace and security in those regions where it will be vital for the member states.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Charlie?
Q Mr. Secretary. Charlie Aldinger --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Can't hear you. Whoa, whoa. That's better.
Q Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. Condi Rice visited Bucharest today and signed an agreement, I understand, with Romania to give access to U.S. troops to at least one base there. Did you --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think, also, some training opportunities as well as access to a base.
Q I see. Did you discuss with any other ministers here, perhaps with Bulgaria, access for U.S. troops, either permanent or temporary? And how important is that to -- how important is that to the United States to have access to bases in that part of the world?
SEC. RUMSFELD: We didn't -- to my recollection, we did not discuss that. But the ministers certainly can speak to it. Clearly, it's helpful to all countries to have multiple opportunities And so the agreement that we've been working on with Romania is a good thing; it's a good thing for Romania, it's a good thing for the United States.
And possibly, you'd like to comment, Mr. Minister?
MIN. VESSELIN BLIZNAKOV (Bulgaria.): (Through interpreter.) (Interpreter is off mike) -- between Bulgaria and the U.S. are progressing very satisfactorily -- very well. So far, interest has been expressed into such installations which are going to be modernized. We have conducted two rounds of the talks, and we expect in March at the latest to conclude the formal side of the negotiations. Bulgaria is willing to conclude such an agreement because of the joint activities on the use on the installation would contribute towards improving the qualification of the Bulgarian armed forces, and we expect to derive benefits for the Bulgarian economy, and also to improve the security of our country.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes?
Q Mr. Secretary, my name is --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm sorry. We'll come back to you in a minute.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I apologize.
Q (Name and organization inaudible.) Do you have any concern for the security in Kosovo during talks on the future status of Kosovo? And can you be more specific about the reorganization for -- that you've mentioned?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, with respect to Kosovo, I suppose everyone has their views, but most people, I think, would agree that progress has been made, that the international contribution there has been a constructive thing. It is very clear to the military commanders at this time that the force needs to be reorganized, so that they have greater flexibility and agility and can be more efficient. And that process is being discussed in NATO, and I would predict will occur some time in the period ahead in a way that will make the force more efficient.
In our meetings today, everyone felt that the parties are proceeding in a constructive way and found it encouraging, I think, is the proper way to characterize it.
Would you want to -- anyone want to comment on that?
MIN. : I believe that sometimes the people, when look from outside, find the situation very, very complicated, but living there, I think that really a lot of progress is done in Kosovo. And I believe now by the contribution of all the U.N. and all the international organization, the progress will be more notable, I think.
If Mr. Mediu would like to add something.
MIN. FATMIR MEDIU (minister of Defense for Albania): I don't have too much to add in what Secretary Rumsfeld mentioned. But I can say the approach of the Albanian government toward the Kosovo future status is very active. And what we are asking every day the Kosovo leaders is that they have to think that the future of Kosovo is based on the relationship between Albanian, Kosovar Serbs and other minorities over there.
This is of crucial importance and this is what we are stressing every day in our commitments and our position as government as well.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Question. Pam?
Q I'm Pam Hess with UPI. Mr. Secretary, a couple of years ago you asked, in the famously leaked memo, for your commanders' view on how the war on terror is going. And you wondered if terrorists were being created faster than they were being captured or killed.
Beyond the numbers that we've heard with the number of al Qaeda captured and killed and how things are proceeding in Iraq, I was wondering if you could give us your perspective on that, and perhaps some of the defense ministers behind you would give their perspective on how the war on terror broadly is proceeding.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that the 90-nation coalition that's engaged in the global war on terror, the long war, is putting enormous pressure on terrorist networks across the globe. It is considerably more difficult today for terrorist networks to recruit, to raise money, to move across national boundaries, to communicate with each other and to conduct terrorist raids. That's not to say that they're not able to do it. They are. It is certainly possible for terrorists to successfully engage in terrorist acts, and they do that. It's not possible to defend at every location on the face of the Earth against every conceivable type of terrorist attack.
But the work of the last years has been important. There have been a great many terrorists captured and killed. There have been a number of terrorist attacks that have been prevented and lives have been saved. Regrettably, I do not know of a metric that anyone can cite with any degree of precision as to the answer to the question I posed in that memo. It's, of course, a lot easier to ask a question than it is to answer it. And time will tell. But I think progress is being made.
Q Lambros Papantoniou, Elettheros Typos, Greek daily. Mr. Secretary, again on Kosovo, it is very important. U.S., U.N., European Union and NATO are very involved to find the final status for Kosovo in 2006. That's the target, according to Nicholas Burns. In case of independence -- conditional or unconditional -- if the Kosovo Albanians, as they claimed recently, in the recent days --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm having trouble following that. Could you speak a little slower?
Q Yes. If the Kosovos Albanians, as they are claiming in the recent days, who will try -- who will try to unite Kosovo with Albania, or to grab piece of land of Serbia of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, do you have contingency plans to prevent such an action in order to keep the stability in the Balkans and to keep your pledge that no change in borders, no partition, no instability?
Thank you. (Laughter.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Chuckles.) Oh, oh, is that all? (Laughter.)
Q (Off mike) -- stability -- (off mike) --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. Yeah, I'm for stability. (Laughter.) Foursquare for stability. That's a question that really should be answered by our Department of State or one of the distinguished individuals here. Who'd like to tackle that?
MIN. MEDIU: I'm for stability, too.
SEC. RUMSFELD: There you go.
MIN. MEDIU: So I can assure that it's no such idea of joining Kosovo to Albania. The Albanian government has made clear the recognition of international borders, including the borders of Kosovo, first.
The second, everywhere are a lot of voices speaking about different ideas. But if you speak with the Kosovo leaders and the delegation that represent Kosovo, I never can find any one of them speaking about any joining of Albania and Kosovo with Albania or taking a piece of land from Serbia as well. What they are looking for is independence. What we are stressing for as Albanian government is that they have to live in peace and harmony, respecting the rights of Serbs and all the other ethnic groups or minorities over there. And that's the future.
And I think also the approach that we are having today here, a kind of Euro-Atlantic vision, is going to give a good sense to Kosovo leaders as well and that the other people over there -- where there have to see and what they have to do.
MIN. BARAJ: I would like to add something -- only one -- I am chairman of the SEDM, but I am from Albania, and because Albania is chairing the SEDM. Not only the political level, but even in the civil level, nobody in Albania is thinking to join Kosovo. So don't worry about this. I think that being far from Kosovo and this region sometimes distorted views are created. Both -- whole region is interested to have stability, as my colleague said.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes?
Q Paul Courson with CNN. The other defense ministers are probably watching the U.S. and its ability to recruit people to its military. We had arguments at the Supreme Court today and the conflict between the recruitment on college universities who disagree with the military's policy on gays. Is there some sort of built-in patriotism these schools should feel in their recruitment, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, you know, I think schools should make decisions for themselves. They're free institutions, and they can decide what they wish to do. And it's for them -- I mean, my view, in a free country like ours you can have some schools that think one way and some schools that think another way. And, of course, there are consequences to -- (laughs) -- to what they think. But that's fair enough, too. That's the way our system works.
Q Gordon Lubold of the Army Times -- sorry. Gordon Lubold of the Army Times. With regard to the basing agreements that the secretary of State signed today in Armenia and the potential for other agreements in Bulgaria and beyond, can you just speak to just what this means for American policy, but also what it means for American troops, who are now going to be moving, potentially down the road, into a new area of the world?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, for the most part, we're not talking about permanent base -- bases in the sense of large populations of people and dependents and civil servants and that type of thing. There's nothing I can add to our public pronouncement on our global force posture. We want our forces to be in places where they're welcome, where people want them to be, and where they can serve our country and our interests and the interests of freedom-loving countries. What does that mean? It means that an awful lot, the overwhelming majority of the people will be stationed in the United States, and that, to the extent we can have access to a number of bases elsewhere in the world in the manner that's consistent with the sovereign interests of those nations as well as ours, then that's a good thing. And to the extent we can have, as I mentioned earlier, training ranges where we can work with our NATO colleagues and our SEDM colleagues and our Partnership for Peace colleagues, all of that set of relationships that are developed in exercising and training together are advantaged. And so these are the kinds of things that we take into consideration.
Yes. (Pause.) We've got a lot of ministers here who are standing by ready to respond to questions.
Q Okay, maybe they will. My name is Omar Batric (sp), Voice of America in Bosnia. And my question for you, Mr. Rumsfeld, is --
SEC. RUMSFELD: You didn't hear me when I suggested that -- (laughter) -- you pose your question to someone who knows something about it.
Q Well, I know you will ask them to answer that.
SEC. RUMSFELD: That's good. (Laughter.)
Q It's about guests. You have a two-state --
SEC. RUMSFELD: About what?
Q About guests of these SEDM, Bosnia and Serbia. What chance they have to be members, in your perspective?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Who would like to respond to that? There you go.
MIN. NIKOLA RADOVANOVIC (Bosnia-Hercegovina): Thank you. I am minister of Defense for Bosnia-Hercegovina. And thank you for this question.
Certainly Bosnia-Hercegovina and Serbia Montenegro are two states that are in status of guests to SEDM process. And it was agreed among fellow ministers of Defense to task Secretariat of SEDM to consider options for Bosnia-Hercegovina and Serbia-Montenegro to become full observer to the process as soon as it is possible. But our intention in both countries is to join SEDM as soon as possible it is.
What are obstacles? From my point of view, it's formal in nature. Partly it's inside of Bosnia-Hercegovina in our capacity not only to be formal partner in this but also to be active partner in this, and now we are matured enough to apply and to contribute. On the other side, it's a formal issue of formal procedure. So I'm quite confident that Bosnia-Hercegovina, at least, is going to join this process very soon, during next year or not longer than two years.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Question. Yes?
Q Nick Simeone at Fox News. Mr. Secretary, Senator Lieberman today suggested proposing a bipartisan working group on Iraq, with both parties and both the White House and the administration to discuss conditions and improve strategy on Iraq. What do you think of that idea? And would you be willing to take part?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I have a lot of respect for Senator Lieberman and certainly agreed with the remarks that he made in his op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal very recently. Unfortunately, I've been in meetings today and I have not heard precisely what proposals he might have made. And the way you phrased it, it sounds as though it would be a decision for the White House as to whether the president and the National Security Council would move in that direction.
But I meet with Senator Lieberman and with the senior members of both parties on a regular basis, as does Secretary Rice and as does the president, and obviously, we are happy to do that. It's important, when there are issues as important as the global war on terror and our activities in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, it's important that we have those kinds of continuing contacts, which we do.
Q Do you feel like that would get around some of the acrimony between the parties on Iraq?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm sorry, I haven't seen his statement, so I can't say. When you say "it," I don't know what "it" is.
Question. Yes, ma'am?
Q I'm Nervana Manzaji (ph), the Bulgarian News Agency. Mr. Rumsfeld, will you please comment on the level of the ability of the Iraqi people and institutions to take care of their own future, and on how the members of the coalition and the United States will further help the stabilization and democratization process in this country?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think I got most of that. I was having a little trouble hearing.
But I will comment, in this sense. The Iraqi people are making progress. It's a mixed picture. There are some minuses, and there are some pluses.
There's no question but that violence is continuing. There -- the political process is always difficult. There's a lot of debate and discussion, and now we're in an election period. And then there will be a hiatus, I suspect, after the election, where the votes have to be certified. And then there will be a period after that where the government has to get organized, and they'll decide who will have which position and who will go into which ministry. And then there will be some reorganization in the ministries. And that's a good thing, that it's happening. And they'll be there for four years.
But it suggests that the coming period will be a difficult one. We'll have the -- I think someone's leaning against the light switch -- (laughter) -- probably right there in back.
We'll have a period where there will be probably an escalation in violence, and that happened before, during the referendum. It happened during the prior election.
On the other hand, there are a lot of pluses that are taking place, and the fact that there is going to be an election in 10 days is a very good thing. The fact that the new government, even if it takes a while to form, will be in place for four years is a good thing.
Our goal is to have the government be comprised of people who will include all elements in that country; maintain a single country; put competent people in the ministries, people who know how to manage and who are determined to have ministries that are representative of the entire country, and that are not corrupt but are clean and honest, and that the people can have confidence in. And I think that's the direction, the path they're on, and I'm encouraged by the situation.
But it will not be a smooth path. I don't think any country's ever gone from a repressive dictatorial regime to a democratic system and a freer economic and freer political system on a nice, smooth, steady path. It's a tough business, and it'll take some time. And they'll be two steps forward and a half a step back from time to time. And everyone will throw up their hands and say, "Henny Penny, the sky's falling. Everything's terrible. The glass is half empty."
And the fact is I think they'll keep moving forward just as they have in the last couple of years and make progress and end up with a successful experience towards democracy.
Anyone who has a question for one of the ministers.
Which minister do you have your question of?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Good. Romania. He's not here.
MAJOR GENERAL MICEA SAVU (Romania): I'm right here.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, you are. Good, there you are.
GEN. SAVU: I'm not -- (off mike).
SEC. RUMSFELD: No.
Q General, Hi, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. I was wondering if you could talk about any possible benefits and any possible disadvantages you see about having U.S. troops in your country, and if you'd like to pass the question also to your colleague from Bulgaria, that would be good as well.
GEN. SAVU: I have to emphasize this. I will not mention any (minuses ?) in the presence of U.S. troops in Romania and in transit and during the common training with Romanians, with NATO countries or their partners. There are a lot of benefits of following the signing of the access agreement, and it is obvious that we have the opportunity to improve the interoperability between our troops and our headquarters for the future's operations. Also we will improve the installations in Romania and techniques, tactics and procedures. This from the operational part.
There also some economical benefits. It is not less important that some contracts and subcontracts will be developed as the presence of the U.S. troops will be there in Romania in different locations for training. And also, they're -- the common use of the technology that the Americans will bring into Romania is also a very important factor.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'd like to say a word about bases. I think when people mention the word base, they think like Norfolk, Virginia or San Diego, a big base, or a big base in Germany where you had thousands of American soldiers and thousands of dependants and a whole lot of civilian employees.
I think that's a mistake. That image is not what we're talking about. We're talking -- we've even tried to change the language, and we use phrases like "forward operating sites" and "forward operating locations." And they're not the kind of bases that one thinks about, that we've had in Germany. We need today to be agile. We need to be flexible. And the image that comes with the word "base," I think, is somewhat misleading for people.
Question? Yes, sir?
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.) This is a question for the Bulgarian defense minister. It seems you have launched a deal with Eurocopter to buy some 18 military helicopters. And this involves a major offsets portion. Could you give us some information about the deal? And also what do you provide Eurocopter with in terms of your products, in terms of the offset agreements?
MIN. BLIZNAKOV: (Through interpreter.) The question about the modernization of Bulgarian army is very topical with regards to our obligations as allies and also interoperability of Bulgarian forces with these of the alliance.
The Eurocopter treaty and contract is one of the three priority agreements with Bulgaria, together with the purchase of transport planes and also the purchase from DaimlerChrysler of vehicles.
When we were preparing those contracts, in the terms we included the respective offset programs. And especially the companies that won the bid, they proposed a direct and indirect offset. The requirement was that at least 80 percent of the cost of the contract was to be included in the offset programs. Eurocopter proposed a very good offset program. It was approved by our Department of Economy, as well as by the Economic Development Council.
We expect, with the realization of this project, to make -- to provide the acquisition of helicopters for the land forces and also for the Navy.
Q Natalia Roberts (sp), Voice of America, Ukrainian Service. This question is for the Ukrainian minister.
Minister Hrytsenko, now that Ukraine is a full member of SEDM, just how closer does this -- does today's event bring Ukraine to becoming a member of NATO?
MIN. HRYTSENKO: First of all, I would like to stress that our foreign policy choice is fixed by parliament, by president, by the government. So we are not discussing that. And we are trying to use every opportunity to quickly meet the NATO membership criteria and to convince our society that it's worth doing. I'm certain it's worth. And this -- today's event is really working in the same direction because the members of the institution we just joined are -- some of them are NATO members, some of them are very close to NATO. We are living in the same region. We are sharing the same values. We are already interoperable and compatible through Partnership for Peace program, which Ukraine joined in January of 1994. So we as soldiers are serving in different hot spots right now -- in Iraq, in Kosovo, in Lebanon, in Liberia, and some other places. So soldiers understand each other.
And now a bit different -- (inaudible) -- with about the same objectives of exchanging experience, new approach to military technical cooperation, exchange in the medical sphere; dealing with different, new challenges like the case in Afghanistan, or could be something different. I think it's additional steps towards an understanding and better preparation for future NATO membership.
I would also stress that in every case, like it is now, our commitment will be based on the decision which will be legally justified for the country. If it's sending troops somewhere, it must be approved by the president and parliament. So now we are providing strategic airlift. It is a decision that could be made on government level or MOD level, no problem with that. So the state will be sovereign as a state.
But our commitment is basic and a long-term commitment.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Mr. Chairman, before we adjourn, are there any thoughts that any of the ministers would like to make before we close up here? Anything that came up they'd like to comment on? (Pause.) Do you have any closing remarks?
MIN. BARAJ: I would like to thank you for your questions, and I understand your sensitivity about the issues that we have discussed. And I wanted to add as well concerning the last question that in joint statements you mentioned, you pointed out that the SEDM process is a tool, is a kind of bridge that serves (to) facilitate the process to NATO integration.
I think that really it has been a very successful meeting, and I would like to thank Mr. Armstead for the great hospitality and excellent preparation of this meeting. I believe that, really, SEDM has done a historical step on the action that is going to undertake deployment in Kabul. Thanks a lot.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. (Applause.)Ste. 500, 1000 Vermont Ave, Washington, DC 20005 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service at www.fednews.com, please email Jack Graeme at email@example.com or call 1-800-211-4020.
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