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Media Availability with Uzbek Minister of Defense Qodir Gholomov

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 04, 2001

Sunday, November 4, 2001

(Media Availability with Uzbek Minister of Defense Qodir Gholomov, Intercontinental Hotel, Tashkent, Uzbekistan)

GHULOMOV : Good afternoon. U.S. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has just finished the official part of his visit to Uzbekistan. Mr. Rumsfeld had a meeting at the Ministry of Defense of Uzbekistan and a meeting with the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov. During these meetings a wide range of issues was discussed concerning the development of bilateral relations between the military agencies of the Republic of Uzbekistan and of the United States. There was an exchange of opinions on the ongoing operation being conducted by the Anti-Terrorist Coalition in Afghanistan. Thank you.

RUMSFELD: Good afternoon. We've completed a series of meetings here in Uzbekistan and as always it's been a pleasure and we've been received very hospitably. We've exchanged views on a number of subjects and discussed the difficult situation in Afghanistan with terrorists occupying the country, the harboring of terrorists, and the threat this poses to its neighbors as well as other countries all across the globe including the United States. The effort to deal with the problem of terrorist networks is proceeding. It is, we believe, proceeding at a pace that is showing measurable progress. We certainly appreciate the cooperation the government of Uzbekistan has provided with respect to the effort against terrorism. We'd be happy to respond to questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, it's hard not to get the impression, given the assessment deal in Tajikistan last night and your second visit to Uzbekistan in a month, that this visit to Central Asia is a precursor to a significant ramping up of the war. Would that be accurate?

RUMSFELD: I think trying to interpret visits of government officials to other countries in terms of what that might or might not mean for operations would be a mistake and I would caution people against it. The US has adopted what I think is a couple of very useful and proper policies. One is we want cooperation from countries all across the globe and we solicit it, we appreciate it, and we value it. We allow those countries to characterize the kind of assistance they're providing rather than our trying to characterize it. And second, the United States does not talk about intelligence matters and we don't talk about future operations. It would be harmful for anyone involved in a future operation if the government were to have a practice of characterizing it and describing it before the fact. So I think it's a mistake to think that one can read what we might or might not do from these kinds of trips.

Q: There was a decision on sending Turkish troops to Afghanistan. What operations will the Turkish troops participate in?

RUMSFELD: (pauses for translation difficulties) I'm advised the question has to do with Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan and as I just indicated, I do not characterize what other countries are doing with respect to these activities. I read the same news reports that the government of Turkey indicated that they might provide some Turkish troops for the purpose of training Northern Alliance individuals in Afghanistan, but I'll leave it to Turkey to characterize what it is they might be doing.

Q: This is for both of the gentlemen, please. If you could answer one after the other, I'd appreciate it. Obviously the Uzbek government and people face a very difficult security situation here right now. Has there been an agreement that the US will provide some form of lethal aid to this nation or are discussions going on on that score?

GHULOMOV: I can say that during the past several years a quite fruitful bilateral cooperation between the Ministries of Defense of Uzbekistan and the United States has been developed and this cooperation envisions various types of assistance, different types of exercises in which members of the two Armed Forces participate.

Assistance is also being provided in the training of personnel. At the same time, a certain type of help is coming within the framework of the Foreign Military Assistance Act of the {U.S.} Congress. We have not held with Secretary Rumsfeld any talks on significant changes of this situation, but I am confident that the kind of cooperation which is being developed now is characterized by a higher level, and consequently I am positive that the forms of our cooperation will change accordingly.

RUMSFELD: I agree with everything the Minster said.

Q: Just to follow up, can you say in which way your cooperation will change? Does that include humanitarian aid? Has humanitarian aid been offered by the United States as a result of these discussions?

GHULOMOV: Do you mean some kind of humanitarian assistance that the United States is providing to Uzbekistan?

Q: I'm distinguishing humanitarian aid from lethal aid. You answered the question about lethal aid. Now I'm asking whether the US is offering humanitarian aid to Uzbekistan.

GHULOMOV: I'm very sorry, but as you know, I'm not dealing with humanitarian aid to this country. I'm Minister of Defense, so we're discussing only problems related with military cooperation between our two countries. I'm quite sure that, of course, corresponding talks are going on between our authorities on this question.

Q: Since the Pentagon has dealt with humanitarian aid issues in other countries, can Secretary Rumsfeld answer that?

RUMSFELD: The United States is engaged in providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, has been for some time, and is doing it through a variety of different sources, including USAID, as well as various UN agencies and some direct US military food drops which now number over one million rations since, I think, October 7.

Q: My question is for Mr. Rumsfeld. Will you tell us please if you met with [Uzbek] President Karimov and can you comment on your conversation with him?

RUMSFELD: The question was my meeting with the President. This was my second meeting with the President. It was as interesting and informative as the first. We had a very broad ranging discussion about the situation in Afghanistan and the problem of terrorism generally. We discussed in some detail the circumstances on the ground in Afghanistan and the various elements that are opposing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. I found it helpful to me and informative.

Q: We journalists who are here have the impression that you came to finish what General Tommy Franks [Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command] could not accomplish. Judging by your mood, shall we conclude that a visit by President Bush to Uzbekistan is imminent?

RUMSFELD: The question is, "Does President Bush have plans to come to Uzbekistan?" The answer is the President tends to announce his own travel plans and Ministers of Defense don't do that. At least, they don't do it prudently.

GHULOMOV: I can only add one thing on my part. General Franks was here with quite definite tasks, in particular, to familiarize himself with the circumstances of the U.S. military contingent located at the Khanabad Airfield. I think that the visit of General Franks was quite successful. We exchanged views on the situation in Afghanistan and the adjacent region. He told me of plans that the Central Command has. We discussed bilateral relations and the plans for this cooperation for 2001. Afterwards, General Franks visited the contingent of the U.S. troops in Khanabad. So I think his visit was quite successful.

Q: Mr. Defense Minister, are there still reservations here in Uzbekistan about US combat troops at Khanabad Airbase launching attacks on Afghanistan?

GHULOMOV: I must say that the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan very clearly outlined the situation. And the joint statement made after the signing of the agreement also very clearly outlines the picture. At present the Republic of Uzbekistan is providing the United States with its air space and an airfield in Khanabad, with the latter's entire infrastructure for humanitarian and rescue-search operations. That's all.

Q: If I could follow up, sir. Will that change as a result of this visit?

GHULOMOV: I don't think there have been any negotiations at present about changing this agreement. During the meetings these issues were not touched upon.

Q: I have a question for U.S. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, the joint statement between the governments of Uzbekistan and the United States said that the airspace and the airfield will be in the first instance be used in humanitarian and rescue-search operation. What will be in the second instance, third instance? What have you achieved?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think the Minister of Defense has just responded to that question by accurately characterizing the present arrangement and indicating that there were no changes in that arrangement.

Q: The Turkish government has said first that they wouldn't send any Turkish soldiers into Afghanistan and then they changed their mind and now they've decided they're going to send some ninety soldiers into Afghanistan. Was this a request from your side or was that a decision by the Turkish government?

RUMSFELD: It was a decision by the Turkish government.

Q: I would like to ask Mr. Rumsfeld if after your visit to Tajikistan, the Tajik government agreed to provide you the possibility to use airspace and airfields in Tajikistan? If yes, for which processes and which air bases? Are you planning to send more Special Forces to the Northern Alliance? Will you do so from Uzbekistan or from Tajikistan?

RUMSFELD: We do not discuss from where we send Special Forces into Afghanistan -- from which locations. It's an operational issue. It is known that the United States does have small contingents of Special Forces associated with various anti-Taliban, anti-Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. They are there for the purpose of serving as liaison and for assisting with supply drops and food distribution, and in addition provide assistance with respect to targeting information for the aircraft that fly into the Afghanistan airspace. But we don't discuss what their points of entry are. We don't discuss when they come in.

Q: The Tajik government agreed to provide you air bases in Tajikistan like Khanabad here in Uzbekistan?

RUMSFELD: As I indicated, I tend not to discuss what other countries offer or provide by way of assistance in the war against terrorism. It seems to me it's for those countries to characterize the extent to which they want to participate and are participating.

Let me explain why I feel that way. We had thousands of people killed in the United States. There are terrorist networks out there that are threatening to kill thousands more. It is our first choice that that not happen. We are aggressively attempting to find and root out terrorist networks. To do that, we need the assistance of dozens and dozens and dozens of countries all across this globe. We need their help by way of intelligence gathering, we need their help by way of over-flight rights, we need their help in many, many ways. The way to get that help is to take it where you find it, make sure that they know that it's an important thing for this world of ours to get rid of those terrorists and to stop them from killing people. We need their help, and we need their help in lots of ways and on a basis that they feel comfortable with.

So instead of me running around characterizing for them what we think they ought to do, or what they are doing, and then having it be said in a way or printed in the press in a way that is one degree different from the way they characterize it and cause a problem, all that would do would be to make more difficult our task. Our task is to get the maximum amount of help we can. The way to do that is to let people characterize what they're doing themselves. So there's a very good operational reason for my taking the position I take.

Thank you.

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