Moderator: Good day, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to welcome you to the Croatian Government. Working meeting with His Excellency Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense, with the Croatian Government President Dr. Ivo Sanader, has just ended. Following are their press statements.
PM Sanader (from the consecutive translation): Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming to this press conference in such a large number. I would like to express first our gratitude and warm welcome to Secretary of Defense Mr. Rumsfeld. Croatia sees in the U.S. not only a partner and a friend, but an ally, and the main thrust of our discussions was to deepen our bilateral cooperation. As you can see, both the Secretary and I wear on our lapels badges that symbolize the friendship between our two countries.
We’ve discussed a large number of topics that are mutually interesting for both countries. First of all, we discussed NATO, and I informed Secretary Rumsfeld of Croatia’s ambition to become, as soon as possible, and when the conditions have been met, and when Croatia is ready, to enter NATO. I am certain that Croatia’s full NATO membership would not only be a response to the political consensus that reigns in Croatia on that issue, and something that a majority of Croats support, but also a strong clear signal to the neighboring states of how progress can be made and how membership in such an important institution and alliance can be achieved. Croatia, in other words, can serve as a good example for the neighboring countries.
The second issue was the anti-terrorist coalition led by the U.S. and Croatian participation in that cooperation. It is widely known in the Croatian public that I, in my capacity as leader of the opposition, clearly and publicly stated my support for U.S. policy when it comes to preventive action. I did so for the following reasons – back in 1991, Croatia had to go its way of the cross so to speak, because the international community of that time did not have the will to undertake preventive actions to preempt Milosevic’s aggression and aggressive policies. Had they done so, four wars would have been preempted, in Slovenia, in Croatia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Kosovo. Hundreds of thousands of human lives would have been saved, and tens of billions of U.S. dollars or euros in direct war damages would have been avoided, had there been the will for preventive action. Which is to say, yes, we agree that peace is the most important thing for us, but sometimes one has to take preventive action to avoid greater evil. This the reason why we have an understanding for U.S. policy in this respect.
The third issue that we discussed was Croatia’s participation in peacekeeping actions. There are seven of them in total. One of them is ISAF in Afghanistan. And in this context, we’ve considered possibilities to increase our assistance and participation of Croatian forces in a reconstructive capacity. This was an idea voiced by Secretary Rumsfeld, and we will give serious consideration to this idea for Croatian forces to be engaged in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
Another issue that we’ve shown understanding for the U.S. position was that regarding the International Criminal Court. It is a fact that the U.S. is often invited to intervene, to help, to provide assistance, and it would be only unfair in such situations that their troops are then brought charges against. Of course, as it has been stated in our discussion, if anyone does anything that violates international conventions, they can be tried for that in the U.S., but I must emphasize that without the Trans-Atlantic partnership, Europe without its ally in the U.S., was incapable of resolving many … of its problems dating back to World War One, World War Two, the Bosnia and Herzegovina crisis, Kosovo -- even the recent spat between Morocco and Spain could not have been resolved without the U.S. and its assistance. To conclude, we are very satisfied with the very open exchange of views. The Croatian Government will give serious consideration to the ideas and proposals [put on the] table today, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank again Secretary Rumsfeld for visiting Croatia.
Secretary Rumsfeld: Good afternoon and, Prime Minister, thank you. Thank you so much for your very warm hospitality. I have had the privilege of spending some time with the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister in Munich earlier this week, at a conference on security in Europe, and I wanted to come here personally to be able to meet you and say thank you to you and your country and to the people of this country for their support in the global war on terror. We are delighted to be working with you in the NATO Partnership for Peace program, and in the so-called MAP (Membership Action Plan) program, and look forward to the day when Croatia will become part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I was delighted to be able to have a meeting here and discuss so many issues that the Prime Minister has mentioned. I have been impressed with the progress that Croatia has been making with respect to its objectives related to NATO, and certainly with respect to the defense reform initiatives. I listened with great care to the Prime Minister’s remarks--he left out a subject we discussed at some length, and that is the fact that, being from Chicago, we are deeply appreciative of the fact that you have sent some superb basketball players to help the Chicago Bulls become famous around the world.
Press question for PM Sanader on signing of the International Criminal Court Article 98 Agreement, and Croatia being uncomfortable with withdrawal of NATO forces from Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of this year (inaudible)
PM Sanader: As far as your first question is concerned, let me repeat that I and my Government have an understanding for the position of the U.S. Government in this regard. As far as the second question is concerned, certainly one would wish that Europe becomes more mature in order to resolve its issues, its open issues, on its own. Certainly, there is no alternative to the Euro-Atlantic cooperation and partnership. The decision has been taken; we’ll see what the future will bring with this change.
Press question for PM Sanader: Will you sign the Article 98 Agreement?
PM Sanader: We have understanding for the position of the U.S. government.
Secretary Rumsfeld: If I may just make a comment, NATO is not going to pull out, period, from Bosnia. At the end of the year, if the situation is right, NATO will complete its work, and the EU will take over a new role in Bosnia, which is less military and more police in its orientation. … NATO would keep a headquarters in Bosnia for the purpose of assisting with the defense reform, and to assist with the handling of indicted war criminals. …And if and when that transfer takes place, it will take place because there has been a success for NATO, and a success for the people of Bosnia. And, the implication of your question, I hope I have corrected.
Press question for PM Sanader: You said you discussed peacekeeping missions and Croatian participation in them. Have you discussed the possibility of sending of Croatian troops to Iraq, and have you advised the Secretary of Defense on the Government’s position on when and under which conditions Croatian troops may be sent there?
PM Sanader: As I said in my introduction, Croatia wants to be part of the global coalition against terror, and we want this issue to be part of that whole context, and therefore this question remains to be considered by the Croatian Government. And within that issue, we will concentrate on the humanitarian aspects, possibility of medical assistance, etc.
Press question for PM Sanader: Do you believe you have the political support in this country to send troops, Croatian troops, into Iraq?
PM Sanader: First of all, regarding Croatia’s participation in the global coalition against terrorism, I believe that in Croatia there is a high degree of consent and consensus both in the public and among political parties, that Croatia has a place in that. And as I said, regarding your direct question, the Government is taking this issue under advisement, we will consider this issue, and when we’ve reached a conclusion, then we will decide what kind of reaction we will have in the public. Croatia has passed through very difficult periods, has been a victim of aggression and of terrorism, and therefore Croatia is very sensitive and has deep understanding for such issues.
Moderator: Last question, please.
Press question for Secretary Rumsfeld: Croatia has not been graced in some time by the appearance of a high-ranking American official. Would I be fair in saying that the new administration in Zagreb has opened up some channels that were previously closed, or could we perhaps say that all channels are open again for communication between Croatia and the U.S.A.?
Secretary Rumsfeld: I suppose the short answer is – certainly, I am very pleased to be here. We value the relationship that the United States has with Croatia, and certainly we consider the channels open and look forward to continuing to work with Croatia in a variety of different ways.
Moderator: Thank you.