PRESIDENT BOLANOS: Good afternoon to you all. Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. It is an honor for my government to receive in our country, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense, an important international strategist in the struggle against terrorism. The visit of the Secretary of Defense reaffirms the relationship of friends and allies that binds Nicaragua and the United States. And also reiterates the mutual commitment that unites both nations in the consolidation of an international order, in which the values of democracy and freedom prevail.
I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to ask Secretary Rumsfeld to communicate, on behalf of the people and government of Nicaragua, our congratulations to President Bush for his recent electoral victory, which undoubtedly further strengthens our excellent relations and opens the doors to the government vital programs, such as CAFTA and the Millennium Challenge Account, among others. I am sure that this important bi-lateral meeting will further strengthen the feelings of cooperation between our countries in the areas of security and defense. In this context we reiterate our strong conviction that the security of each of our nations is closely linked to the security of our allies. Welcome Mr. Secretary, you have the floor to also address national and international press.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Mr. President, thank you so very much for those generous words and for your hospitality. I will certainly convey your good wishes and congratulations to President Bush. Mr. Minister, I thank you for your hospitality and your country for your strong support of security and cooperation in the Americas. The president and I just concluded a good meeting. His dedication to freedom and democracy is evident in his leadership of Nicaragua. Nicaragua has been a strong and resolute partner in the global struggle against terrorism. And the United States supports the constitutional order in Nicaragua and the rule of law and we appreciate your efforts to eradicate corruption and we will certainly continue to support you in your efforts.
I met with the Minister earlier this afternoon and thanked him for the fine service of the Nicaraguan military in Iraq with de-mining and humanitarian work. The work of Nicaraguan troops has helped make Iraq a better place for the Iraqi people and I thank you on their behalf as well. The minister and the president and I also discussed the nexus of terror and drugs and organized crime. Nicaragua has certainly done a commendable job of combating narco-terrorism, especially along the Atlantic coast and I'm told that the Nicaraguan military has confiscated over 6,000 kilograms of cocaine this year alone. We applaud and encourage these efforts. The American people appreciate your steadfast support, Mr. President, and we look forward to working together to strengthen our military cooperation in the period ahead. Thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Secretary, let me ask you, Nicaragua destroyed several of SAM 7 in 2000, shoulder fired missiles left over from the former Sandinista regime, does the presence of those missiles concern you and would you like to see them quickly destroyed? Mr. President, exactly how many remain and would your country like compensation from the United States for such destruction?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: As the president will respond I'm sure, the president and the country of Nicaragua have a plan. It's been well known and well understood and as I understand it, it is on plan.
PRESIDENT BOLANOS: We follow the plans we have already traced ever since 2 years ago. We continue with the plans as provided. We seek no compensation for destroying the missiles. It is of our own will to do that because we believe precisely in destroying them. I present to the fellow presidents of Central America with a plan of a reasonable balance of defense forces that include destroying the missiles and for them also to lower their military defenses as planned.
Q: (Inaudible) Mr. President might I ask when you do expect to destroy the missiles?
PRESIDENT BOLANOS: As planned. I think its going to take about a year and a half or more to continue.
Q: It is not a secret for anyone that the arms race that took place in the 80's in Central America was due to the presence and power of the FSLN in Nicaragua, the Sandinista front and that same party has been winning political terrain in Nicaragua since it was voted out of office in 1990. The recent municipal elections confirm that. Our national assembly has passed an arms law. The Sandinista members in the National assembly have proposed the destruction of the surface to air missiles in exchange from assistance from the US government to combat pressure. They have attributed your visit to Nicaragua as additional pressure to destroy the remaining surface to air missiles. What would be the position of the United States if, hypothetically, Daniel Ortega were to win office for the presidency in the next presidential election?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The President of the United States asked Colin Powell and me to not involve ourselves or our departments in the presidential election in the United States. That being the case, I think you can well understand that the last thing I'm going to do is get involved in politics in Nicaragua.
Now, I have said that, I will say this, the implication that my trip is for that purpose, would be an error. My trip is because I wanted to meet with the President, the Minister of Defense, and the foreign minister to take whatever steps are appropriate to strengthen the Inter-American system and to encourage and assist where possible in the cooperative arrangements that are taking place among the Central American countries and their efforts to improve their security cooperation. And I'm very pleased to be here.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you what you believe that the death of Yasser Arafat means to the Middle East region and how it will effect relations there. And more broadly, since many of the terrorist groups have tried to link their mission to Palestinians and Yasser Arafat, do you think it will affect the efforts of terrorists around the world and the US efforts to defeat them?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, this obviously is an issue the President is addressing and the Department of State are addressing. I think it is accurate to say that when one travels in the Middle East and works on any problem, as I do, the issue of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians comes up frequently. It is considered by many of the countries in the region to be the biggest single problem that needs to be solved for there to be a more peaceful region. Time will tell what new leadership might do and certainly it's not for me to speculate except to express the hope that the President has that we will over time see two states living side by side in peace and assuring the security of each other in a way that the states can prosper and grow.
Q: And on the more broad question, of terrorists in general, Al Qaeda for one tends to link their mission, if you will, to the Palestinian cause and Yasser Arafat. Do you think that will lose the peg for them? Do you think it will make any difference?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You know, the extremists in this world are determined to impose a rule that suits their fancy and deny free people the right to be free and to take over governments and countries that stand in their way and to destabilize those countries. They use arguments of convenience. One day is might be one thing another day it might be another thing. You're quite right Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have used the Palestinian problem to raise money, to buy weapons [and] to recruit. There probably are extremists who, the last thing in the world they would want would be to see an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that led to peace in that part of the world because they wouldn't have that lever. But I don't think it would deter them, they would find some other argument.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, if you could comment on reports that private US and Israeli security firms are hiring Nicaraguans and Guatemalans to work as snipers in Iraq. My question is, is this part of a larger, new US strategy to outsource private military recruitment in the third world as the coalition of the willing becomes unglued?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That's really a pistol of a question. You buried several inaccuracies in there. First of all, the coalition is not coming unglued. We have a large number of countries that have been participating. NATO is now participating. The United Nations has been helping and I'm sure there are people who would like to see it come unglued, including the extremists and the terrorists and the former regime elements, the Baathists. But it's not coming unglued, it's doing fine. Second, with respect to the thrust of your question, I've never heard of that and know nothing of it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you have any indication that Al Qaeda might be uprising in Latin America and perhaps launching attacks against the United States from the region?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You know, I'm not in the intelligence business. The intelligence communities in the respective countries that cooperate make those judgments and then they write things up and then they circulate them around and I read them all, to be sure. The way you phrased it, I think the correct answer would be that to get a definitive answer you would want to ask the intelligence community.
My response would be that we have seen scraps of information that suggest that the channels that are used to move people into the United States across our southern border conceivably could be used terrorists of various types, Al Qaeda or others.
Now, that's different from, I think you said launching an attack from Latin America against the United States.
Q: (Inaudible) Or that might they get to here in the region ….
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The reports I've seen are the ones I've characterized in my careful way.
Q: What is the US interest in Nicaragua in the destruction, the total destruction of the Sam 7’s? Nicaragua’s National Assembly just passed an arms control law, so the legislative branch has now the authority to determine if there will be a total destruction of all the Sam 7’s. So if the National Assembly were to decide to destroy all the Sam 7’s what would the Nicaraguan government receive in exchange?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Maybe my hearing is imperfect, but I thought that question was asked and I thought the president answered it brilliantly.
PRESIDENT BOLANOS: For Channel 2 or rather Channel 12 rather in Spanish – the destruction of the Sam 7’s is the will of Nicaragua, it is the total sovereign will of Nicaragua and the president who is the supreme chief of the armed forces. It is in Nicaragua’s best interest to do so that is why we have done so. We were doing everything possible to reduce the defense forces in all of Central America to a reasonable balance and that is the agreement that we made among the Central American Presidents in the summit meetings that we have held. Nicaragua is doing it in exchange for nothing other than the greater peace and tranquility of Central American and Nicaragua.
Q: Does the U.S. government have interest in asking Nicaragua to send additional troops to Iraq or to participate in another way in the war against terrorists?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We have been appreciative of what Nicaragua has done in Iraq and the cooperation in the global war on terror. From the very outset of this global war on terror our activities in Afghanistan, which have gone along in such a successful way with the recent presidential elections, and the situation in Iraq we have gone out across the world and said to countries that this problem, the global war on terror, is a serious one and each county ought to think through in what ways they can best cooperate and they have done that and we ended up with about 90 nations cooperating in the broad global war on terror.
We have about 26 nations cooperating in one way or another the last time I looked in Afghanistan and the number in Iraq is probably 29, 30 or 31 at the present time. They change from time to time. The Koreans for example just brought forces into Iraq. Some other countries have taken some forces out after a period of time of assisting, and my attitude about it is that each country ought to do that which they believe is in their best interest and is within their capabilities. To the extent that happens I am confident that the civilized nations of the world who are determined not to allow the extremists to win, will in fact prevail.
MODERATOR: Esteemed journalists, thank you very much on behalf of the office of the President of Nicaragua, we have concluded the press conference. Good Afternoon.