Secretary Of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Press Conference With The Minister Of Government & Justice The Republic Of Panama Salon Paz (Peace Room)
Moderator (as interpreted): Ladies and gentlemen, let us welcome our distinguished guest. His Excellency, Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense of the United States of America; His Excellency Hector Aleman, Minister of Government and Justice of the Republic of Panama; Her Excellency Linda Watt, Ambassador of the United States in the Republic of Panama; Their Excellencies ministers and vice ministers of State of the Republic of Panama; honorable members of the United States delegation accompanying His Excellency, Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense of the United States of America; special guests; ladies and gentlemen of the international and local press; ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to you all here to the Salon Paz, or Peace Room, at the Presidential Palace of the Republic of Panama. We will now hear words from His Excellency Hector Aleman, Minister of Government and Justice of the Republic of Panama.
Minister Aleman (as interpreted): Very good afternoon, esteemed journalists, Madam Ambassador, members of the U.S. delegation accompanying Mr. Rumsfeld, ministers, Panamanian ambassador to Washington, ladies and gentlemen. I thank the journalists for their presence here today in this press conference and here today we will share with you the honor of welcoming Mr. Donald Rumsfeld here in our country and of having had the opportunity to share with him discussion of vital subjects for both of our nations which relate to a bilateral agenda and which are basically relative to our countries’ need to maintain a permanent, an ongoing, capability to win the struggle against international organized crime, international drug trafficking and other international crimes. During Mr. Rumsfeld’s visit we have been able to also develop a very interesting agenda with regard to the continuity of the bilateral relationship between our countries which as you know are cordial, they are positive from the standpoint of both countries’ interests, and they are at this time still in condition to generate good fruits for both countries.
Moderator (as interpreted): We will now hear from His Excellency Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense of the United States of America.
Secretary Rumsfeld: Mr. Minister, I thank you so much. I am very pleased to be here in Panama, and have just had an excellent meeting with the President and his senior ministers that are located here in the front row. I appreciate their very warm hospitality. I mentioned that my first visit to Panama was back in 1955 when I was a Navy pilot and that’s a long time ago. I’ve been back several times since and was very pleased to be able to come back again today.
Let me say first that the United States applauds the increasing cooperation that is taking place among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Panama’s participation with other nations in maritime security operations is one excellent example. This collaboration will bolster the security of the Western Hemisphere. The Unites States looks forward to working with Panama and others in such cooperative efforts.
The government of Panama is also undertaking laudable efforts to address the nexus of terrorism and drugs and organized crime, as the Minister indicated. Panama’s National Police Force serves as an example for nations in the region. And Panama’s Maritime Service has been successful in intercepting the illicit shipment of drugs and weapons.
Greater cooperation and coordination are the keys to dealing with narcoterrorists, and Panama is playing an important role. I also conveyed our appreciation to Panama for joining the Article 98 agreement to protect our two countries’ citizens from the risks of politicized lawsuits. This action assures the sovereignty of both of our nations, and is another sign of the close relationship between Panama and the United States. I look forward to further discussions on these and other regional matters when we gather with our counterparts at the Defense Ministerial of the Americas in Quito next week.
I should add that I have just been told that the… for the Panamanian journalists only… that this is Panamanian Journalists’ Day. So I wish you a Happy Panamanian Journalist Day, thank you. [applause] We don’t have a tradition like that in the United States that I know of. [laughter]
I guess we’d be happy to take some questions. And Charlie you’re on your feet for some reason. That’s the famous Charlie Aldinger who is the Reuters representative at the Department of Defense in the United States of America and he’s trying to figure out how to work the mic. They won’t be able to hear you in the booth, so you’ll have to get it to work.
Q: Mr. Secretary and Mr. Minister. Mr. Secretary, did you all can talk about “seams of vulnerability against terrorism” when you spoke about maritime interdiction efforts? It would seem that one problem with dealing with terrorism in the world is the lack of control and monitoring over international shipping. What have your two countries done in the past year to increase security in the Canal and to make sure that, no explosion for instance, could close the Canal down.
Minister Aleman (as interpreted): The Panama Canal is a property of humanity and our responsibility as Panamanians is to guarantee humanity that the transit of its shipping through Panama will be safe and secure and the professional manner in which Panamanians have administered the Canal since the Torrijos-Carter treaties went into effect and the Panama Canal went into Panamanians’ hands has been improving over time and we have been improving our capability to provide that security to all of those who—to one degree or another— transit our Canal. Be assured that the appropriate investments have been made. So that, not only in terms of radars and… option to connect with or identify those who may be transiting or attempting to transit, is there, but the Canal has also developed industrial security and general security that provides all Canal users perfect guarantees of the fact that this is a safe transit for purposes of international trade.
Nevertheless knowing that international crime has no frontiers, has no borders, knows no borders and that terrorist actions are possible anywhere in the world, we are currently involved in a cooperation process with many countries around the world—among them the United States— in order to prevent any kind of incident. That is why we had a recent activity involving the PANAMAX operation where nine area countries shared joint operation scenarios with us in order to practice preventing any kind of situation that might harm the safety of the Canal.
Q: (as interpreted): With regard to Plan Colombia what kind of new military aid is scheduled for our neighbor Colombia and what other support will be given to countries neighboring Colombia that are affected by the revolutionary paramilitary forces that are operating in the Darien Gap and in other areas bordering on our sister country of Colombia?
Secretary Rumsfeld: I would just say that officials of the United States meet with the officials of the Colombian government on a regular basis. They have excellent relationships between the two countries, including between the Congress and the government of Colombia. And the relationship there is something that is under continuous review. I can only say that I have met with President Uribe of Colombia probably on four or five or six occasions, and have a great deal of respect for him personally, for his leadership and for his courage, and for the success he’s achieved in reducing the size of ungoverned areas in that country and in working to cooperate with other nations in the region to improve the security and strengthen the inter-American system.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we understand that some rather heavy duty fighting’s going on in some parts of Falluja today. Can you update us on what the situation is there and how things are going?
Secretary Rumsfeld: I called the… I’ve been kept posted on the situation in Falluja. The Coalition, the Iraqi forces have completed the move for all practical purposes from the North down to South. They are operating in one way or another in much, if not all, of the city at the present time. Needless to say there is still… there still will be pockets of resistance and areas that will be difficult, so I don’t mean to suggest that it is concluded—it’s not— to be sure. But the Iraqi government has held, I believe, one or two press conferences today to provide updates and reports on the success there and clearly there have been a large number of terrorists that have been killed and captured and that’s a good thing for the people of Iraq; to have that safe haven no longer a safe haven for people who are determined to bring back either the Baathist rule of the vicious dictatorship that existed, or terrorist rule, which is, of course, what a number of the foreign fighters who are there are trying to re-impose. The thought of the people who are out beheading people becoming the government of that country is a dark thought, a terrible thought. And it is not going to happen.
Q: (as interpreted): Good morning, Mr. Secretary. The U.S. Administration has been quite firm in terms of trying to locate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That has been a policy particularly of the current administration. But here in Panama there is a pending subject involving this very matter. In the Second World War in San Jose Island off the Pacific coast of Panama, the U.S. held a series of tests with weapons of mass destruction. On San Jose Island there are at least 3,000 five-hundred and one-thousand-pound bombs with chemical warheads, mustard gas, nerve gas, and those weapons are still there and they represent an extremely serious danger to Panama. Particularly, it has prevented tourism from being developed in that area of the Pearl Archipelago. Since the U.S. has been so tenacious in pursuing this weapons of mass destruction subject in the Middle East, we wonder if you intend to clean and decontaminate San Jose Island, which was contaminated by the forces of Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. during the Second World War, and likewise we still have pending the subject of the contamination of some 5,000 hectares on the shores of the Canal that were firing ranges for the U.S., as well.
Secretary Rumsfeld: I was told by the Ambassador that this is an issue that comes up from time to time. It is something that has been discussed—I’m told— extensively between the U.S. Department of State and the Embassy here, and the government of Panama, and that I am advised that the status of it is that the U.S., apparently, has assumed its obligation under the treaty and that the matter has been closed.
Q: Mr. Secretary, how much of a threat is the money laundering and the arms and drug trafficking in Panama, and what is the U.S. doing to help? And to Mr. Aleman, I wanted to ask him what are the Panamanians doing to tackle this issue?
Secretary Rumsfeld: The entire world is faced with problems that increasingly are global. They—to be sure— can originate or transit or occur in a single country. But in many respects the problem of money laundering and arms trafficking and narcotrafficking are problems that can really not be dealt with by a single country. It requires cooperation, it requires coordination, it requires exchanging the law enforcement information in ways that… and financial information, in ways that laws that are being broken can be strengthened and the people of all of our countries protected. These are matters that are, for the most part, not matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense. They tend to be matters that are the responsibility of law enforcement agencies in most countries, including the United States, and those relationships… I know for a fact that the relationships throughout the world in the 90 nations that are involved in the global war in terror have dramatically strengthened and improved, and made life more difficult for people who would be engaged in international crimes of various types.
Minister Aleman (as interpreted): Last year in the Republic of Panama over 10,700 kilos of narcotics were seized— 9,700 were cocaine, and the rest other narcotics. Over the past years that has been about the average of seizures and we believe that over this
last year, with the latest operations, we will break even that record. That is evidence that Panama is tenaciously combating drug trafficking and related crimes. The government has begun an integrated security policy with a long-term view, well-established strategy free of improvisations and has declared a head-on war against international crime. We are at this point training our public force, law enforcement community, in order to defend our democratic society.
Q: (as interpreted): Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. One of the major concerns that Panamanians have is whether there is any commitment on the part of the United States to train security forces in the struggle against terrorism and drug trafficking. How do you value the work that Panamanian authorities have performed in terms of that fight against drug trafficking?
Secretary Rumsfeld: As I said, the fight against drug trafficking is not something that falls within the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense, as to other agencies of our government, have a variety of training programs and cooperative training programs where we work with other countries. But in terms of specifically relating to drug trafficking, that tends to be the Department of Justice and other agencies of our government. I had a discussion, and I heard from the Minister, there’s no question, but that this country is addressing that issue aggressively, that a great deal of concern as his remarks have just suggested.
Moderator (as interpreted): Very well, ladies and gentleman, this press conference is now closed. Thanks to all for being here and have a very good afternoon.