Secretary Rumsfeld Press Conference with Prime Minister of Defense Yevhen Marchuk
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. We are delighted to be in this beautiful part of the world on such a lovely day. We have had meetings with President Kuchma and with the minister and his delegation. We expressed our appreciation of the American people for the excellent support that the Ukraine has provided for the global war on terror, to the activities in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq. It has certainly not gone unnoticed, either in the United States or the world that the Ukraine is the largest non-NATO provider of forces, and the fourth-largest provider of forces in Iraq. And it’s important to note that the coalition in Iraq involves some 32 countries. We believe very strongly that a free Iraq and a free Afghanistan are important to the world in that they deny terrorists a launching place and democratic Iraq and a democratic Afghanistan are important for the region.
Last, I would wish the people of Ukraine and I guess later this month is your independence day and I congratulate you all and wish you well on that. Mr. Minister.
PRIME MINISTER MARCHUK [Via Translator]: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, after the secretary of defense met with the president of Ukraine, we also conducted negotiations on a number of issues that are of bilateral interest for our countries. The United States are a strategic partner for Ukraine and Ukraine, as it cooperates with the United States and the military political and technical areas, it gains a lot of useful experience. We’ve discussed the issue of Iraq, as well as a number of other issues relating to our cooperation.
In anticipation of your questions, I’d like to tell you at once that ministry of defense has practically completed the work, the preparation of the 7th Brigade, so the rotation of the current 6th Brigade will start in mid-September and it will be over by mid-October. So by mid-October, we’re going to have a new brigade to in Iraq -- the 7th Brigade. You know that today, there is an important issue discussed in many nations of the world -- this is the length of time that the multinational coalition forces are going to stay in Iraq. This is an important issue for Ukraine, for Poland and for other Coalition members.
Of course, we all understand that, and in Ukraine as well, but this will largely depend on the developments on the ground in Iraq. It will also depend on how well the Iraqi law enforcement and security forces were gaining strength in order to be able to take over the control of the situation in the country.
Our brigade has some experience related to training security forces and building the guard forces in Iraq. Our brigade has trained 1,070 men of the territorial defense battalion in Iraq, as well as a border guard unit and both of these units are actively involved in the work in Iraq.
Thank you and we’re ready to answer your questions.
QUESTION [Via Translator]: The first question was to both the ministers, is there any specific deadline for the presence of the coalition forces Iraq by now.
PRIME MINISTER MARCHUK [Via Translator]: No one can give you a specific deadline for the time being. This is an issue to be discussed, to be negotiated and it also depends on the developments in Iraq. As I said that before, it would likely depend on how soon the Iraqi security forces will be able to take over control over the situation in the country. The sooner they will be able to do that and the sooner we will be able to provide them with support, the sooner it will be possible for us to speak about the length of time for our presence in Iraq.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I agree. The facts on the ground determine the situation, and the security forces in the aggregate have been growing. The Iraqi forces have gone from zero up to 206,000. Of the 206,000, roughly 110 are fully trained and fully equipped.
We’re expecting by the end of this year another 50,000 will have completed their training and their equipping. As a result, the Iraqi forces themselves become the largest contributor to the coalition effort in the country, and we would expect that over time as the Iraqi forces take on more and more responsibilities that the need for coalition forces would decline.
There’s two immediate needs for forces in Iraq that are somewhat distinctive, one is the task of assisting in training and equipping the Iraqi forces and there are a number of countries that have stepped forward to volunteer to assist with that, including some NATO countries. And the other task is the task of providing security for the United Nations forces and not just for their forces, but also their presence in the country in connection with the upcoming elections early next year. With respect to the situation in the southern part of Iraq, just let me say this, the former regime elements and terrorists in the country are continuing to try to frustrate the development of a democratic Iraq. And the pockets of violence flare up from time to time and to the extent they do, the Iraqi and the coalition forces will stop them and they’ll fail and the people of Iraq will succeed.
U.S. MODERATOR: John Lumpkin, Associated Press.
Q: Mr. Secretary, can you update us on the situation in Najaf, and in particular has Moqtada al Sadr has been wounded? What does it say – why is this offensive happening now? And also, who directed or made the call for the Americans and Iraqis to go in? Was that an American decision or an Iraqi decision?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Was that four or five separate questions? I lost track.
TRANSLATOR: Yes, I can just try to…
SEC. RUMSFELD: Don’t bother. [Chuckles] I’ve been in meetings all morning, so I’m obviously not current. The activities in that part of the country are activities that have been closely coordinated between the coalition forces and the Iraqi leadership and chain of command. And what’s at stake there is no different than what’s at stake anywhere else in that country and that is that some 25 million Iraqi people that have been liberated are on a path towards a free and democratic system. And to the extent that people use violence to try to prevent that, they’ll be stopped. And what’s at stake is the freedom and the freedom of choice of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION [Via Translator]: It’s a question to the secretary. Recently some analysts – it’s a question from STB & Company and Agence France Press. Recently some analysts have said that Ukraine has made a number of important concessions to Russia. For example, the joining of the single economic space with Russia and the re-orientation of the [Inaudible] Odessa/Brody pipeline part-time and the recent changes to the military doctrine of Ukraine where as Ukraine no longer aims at joining the EuroAtlantic structures. How would you evaluate such signs of rapprochement with Russia as opposed to a possible rapprochement with the West?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, Ukraine is a sovereign nation. It makes decisions that it believes are in its interest, which is true of every other country in the world. We have what I believe to be a strong, cooperative military-to-military relationship with Ukraine. We also have a relationship with Russia just as Ukraine does. We don’t see them in conflict and certainly this one individual believes that Ukraine has been on a very constructive and positive path in connection with its relationship with Europe and NATO and the transatlantic relationship and we value our relationship with Ukraine. And we don’t see it as a zero-sum game.
U.S. MODERATOR: Barbara Starr, CNN
QUESTION: Mr. Minister, with respect to troop rotation, will you, in fact, replace them fully with 1,600 troops. Did you request or discuss support for those troops? Say for example, airlift? And will those troops be fully combat capable?
SEC. RUMSFELD: That was five questions, too.
PRIME MINISTER MARCHUK [Via Translator]: Yes. Multi questions. [Laughter] This is going to be a third brigade deployed by Ukraine in Iraq. In accordance with the parliamentary resolution, our limit is 1,800 men. At various periods of time, the strength of our brigade varied from 1,500 to 1,550, 1,650. This depends on the situation. Today our brigade no longer performs its border guard functions as we have trained a border guard unit of the Iraqi forces and they’ve taken over that function. Our company there used to be part of the brigade that is no longer involved in that task. And as we continue training Iraqis, now we’re – currently we’re training 160 men and they are also beginning to take over some of the security functions that our men were responsible for. What we’re seeing is the natural causes of restructuring of the brigade, although its three-battalion principle never changes. That’s why the 7th Brigade is now trained to perform its functions in full strength. Although some small changes can occur in the process of the situation developing, however they would not be related to the overall strength and the functions.
QUESTION [Via Translator]: OK. So first question is to both ministers. How can you assess the defense reform in the Ukraine? And the second question is to Secretary Rumsfeld, what is your evaluation of the situation in Georgia today?
SEC. RUMSFELD: With respect to defense reform, we discussed some of that and it is always a difficult thing to achieve and I must say personally, I have been impressed with the progress that the defense ministry here in Ukraine has made with respect to defense reform.
PRIME MINISTER MARCHUK [Via Translator]: If you ask me, I will say that this is very painful, very complicated and political and dangerous process. However, it’s a process we all need so much and I wouldn’t even call it a reform. This is the reconstruction of the armed forces.
QUESTION [Via Translator]: Have you discussed this situation in Georgia today?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don’t believe we did.
PRIME MINISTER MARCHUK [Via Translator]: No.
SEC. RUMSFELD: No. I think about it. And I met with the new president of Georgia in Washington within recent weeks. And my impression is that their new government is in place and they are addressing the number of issues that they believe are important politically and economically as well as security, and proceeding on a path that they believe is appropriate.
UKRANIAN MODERATOR: OK, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.