SEC. RUMSFELD: Good morning. In my meetings with the president and the minister of defense, I expressed the gratitude of the American people, to the people of Azerbaijan for their important support in the global war on terror. After the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Azerbaijan was one of the first countries to offer support, providing valuable access and overflight rights for coalition aircraft, sending peacekeepers to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
And today Azeri troops are deployed in both Afghanistan and Iraq and working closely with coalition forces there. In addition, we’re working very closely together in connection with the NATO Partnership for Peace effort, which, of course, is a benefit to all 26 NATO nations, as well as the partners.
In our meetings today with the president and the minister, we discussed our bilateral defense cooperation. This includes cooperation with Azerbaijan to help guard against transnational threats in the Caspian Sea, such as narcotics trafficking, terrorist transit and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The American people greatly appreciate the steadfast support of Azerbaijan in the global war on terror, and we look forward to continuing to strengthen our military cooperation in the period ahead.
QUESTION [Via Translator]: Two questions. First of all, Mr. Secretary of Defense, did you discuss the issue of expansion of Azeri peacekeepers in Iraq and Afghanistan with President Ilham Aliyev? And secondly, whether you have been asked for any assistance or support in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict solution as the only Muslim country Azerbaijan has its troops on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan?
SEC. RUMSFELD: We did not discuss the possibility of expansion of Azeri troops in Afghanistan or Iraq. We did discuss the fact that the United Nations is currently undertaking a responsibility under a U.N. resolution to assist with Iraqi -- the upcoming elections and that the United Nations is soliciting assistance from countries around the world to provide security forces to assist the United Nations with respect to the forthcoming Iraqi elections. With respect to Nagorno-Karabakh, as you know, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Minsk Group, is the lead organization for facilitating negotiations for a peaceful settlement of that set of issues.
SEC. RUMSFELD: And we did discuss the fact that the United States, which is involved in that process, along with three or four other countries, has recently appointed a new ambassador, Mr. Mann, to assist. And as you know, the United States supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Minister, my name is Tom Squitieri, I’m with USA Today. You heard Secretary Rumsfeld say he looks forward to further military cooperation between United States and Azerbaijan. I’m wondering what specific things you would like to see the United States and NATO provide to your nation’s military to transform it into a force you think is necessary for your country, and also, have you considered the secretary’s request about supplying forces to protect during the Iraqi elections? Thank you.
DEF. MINISTER ABIYEV [Via translator]: As you know, since Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, the country has faced lots of threats and 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territories are still under Armenian occupation. And what we want from the U.S. as our ally and partner is the U.S. to support Azerbaijan in this conflict and demand that Armenia immediately withdraws its occupational forces from the territories of Azerbaijan.
Yes, indeed, there’s military cooperation, security cooperation between our country is going from year to year, and we highly value this cooperation, and we’re also cooperating with the United States in the NATO Partnership for Peace Program. And today we’ll also discussed the issue of security in the Caspian -- also another important issue for Azerbaijan, another unresolved and important problem for Azerbaijan, but having said that, it’s a political issue and only when the political solution is found to this issue then the military will speak.
TRANSLATOR: Say what again?
Q: [Inaudible] response to the secretary regarding the security [Inaudible]?
DEF. MINISTER ABIYEV [Via Translator]: Azerbaijani peacekeepers are already in Iraq and they have their mandate to fulfill and they will continue to carry out their tasks.
QUESTION [Via Translator]: Two questions. First, would like you to – Mr. Secretary of Defense -- to evaluate the threats you think posed to Azerbaijan by Iran’s possibility to develop nuclear weapons and to whether you anticipate any measure, or perhaps joined together with Azerbaijan measures, to prevent this threat? And second question is the Tehran Times newspaper that was reported recently that Azeri forces under American trainers -- American military instructors -- will be deployed on the border between Azerbaijan and Iran. Would like your comments on this.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think the – well, the first thing I would say is that the world is properly concerned about the Iranian nuclear development activities. The international atomic energy commission [sic] representing the world community has been active in inspecting what’s taking place there and has repeatedly expressed concern. The Iranians have almost consistently responded to the IAEA in an unsatisfactory way. That presents a problem for the world.
It’s a problem that is really twofold. One is the potential for a nuclear capability in that country and the implications for neighboring nations, as you suggested. The second problem it poses is one of proliferation. As you know, Iran has been on the terrorist list for many years. And one of the gravest concerns that the world faces is the nexus between a terrorist state that has weapons of mass destruction and terrorist networks. So it’s understandable that the nations, and not just in this region, but throughout the world, are deeply concerned about what’s taking place in Iran.
QUESTION [Via translator]: Second part of the question, the Tehran Times and American military instructors on the border Azerbaijan, Iran?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Not to my knowledge.
UNKNOWN: We’ll take two more questions.
Q: Toby Zakaria with Reuters. Secretary Rumsfeld, also on Iran, did you discuss with the president and the minister of defense Iranian President Khatami’s recent visit here? And did you express any concerns at all about what appears – some might say what appear to be growing ties between Azerbaijan and Iran?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes and no. We did discuss the subject with the president of the visit of the president of Iran to Azerbaijan. And no, we did not discuss various things mentioned in your second question.
QUESTION (Via translator): ATV Channel. Mr. Secretary, you said that the United States supports territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. In this case, how would you explain the fact that the United States Congress allocates $5 million per year to the secretary’s regime in Nagorno-Karabakh, and second question is that Saddam Hussein, who did not fulfill United Nation’s resolutions, was punished. Do you anticipate anything against Armenia that…
SEC. RUMSFELD: I’m sorry. I was listening here, instead of to you. Go ahead.
Q: Yeah. And the second question is Saddam Hussein, who did not fulfill U.N. resolutions was punished. Do you anticipate taking any measures against Armenia that refuses to fulfill United Nations for resolutions in Nagorno-Karabakh?
SEC. RUMSFELD: First, I’m advised that the first question involved simply some humanitarian assistance and I think it’s important to look at the totality of all of the various types of cooperative arrangements we have with Azerbaijan and the total number in terms of dollars comes to a substantially higher number.
As I mentioned earlier with respect to Nagorno-Karabakh, the Minsk Group and the negotiating process that’s in place and supported by the international community is under way and we are hopeful that there can be a peaceful resolution of that set of issues that will be respectful of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.