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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability Enroute to Kyrgyzstan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
July 24, 2005
Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability Enroute to Kyrgyzstan

            Rumsfeld: We are off to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.


            Gosh, I'm trying to think, the last time I was in Kyrgyzstan was probably April and since then they've had the election on July 10th which the OSCE gave them good marks for. It was important for them because it was a moment when the world would be watching them. If you think of the former Soviet republics in that area, the five Kyrgyzstan is the first one really to have an election that's gotten passing grades of OSCE and it was important for them to do so given the interest in the world.


            I was there I think in '02 previously and met with the Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan very recently in Washington.


            Tajikistan, of course, has a border with Afghanistan. We have a gas and go arrangement with them as we have some -- We have I guess about a thousand people in Kyrgyzstan, 950.


            But the Tajikistan situation, they've taken over the border from the Russian troops that guarded it for I guess the last decade or so. They have -- We work with them on various Partnership for Peace activities with NATO. We work with them on counternarcotics. The flow of narcotics that moves through that area towards Russia. And I guess I've not been in Tajikistan probably for two or three years.


            But these are important countries to us and they've been very helpful in the war on terrorism in this region. They've been used for their bases and overflight rights of course have been helpful with respect to humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan as well as the military activities that are continuing there.


            I'd be happy to answer a few questions.


            Press: could you amplify a little bit on the importance for the United States of access to that base in Kyrgyzstan, and will you be asking the leaders there to essentially keep the current arrangement?


            Rumsfeld: We have a good arrangement in this part of the world, arrangements plural, with respect to basing and overflight rights and gas and go and possible emergency diversion landing rights in a variety of countries. The arrangements work well for us. They've been a great help to Afghanistan. They've been a great help with respect to the global war on terror. And I don't know that I would want to get into what I will be talking to each of these countries about. I tend to talk to the countries directly rather than through the press. I'm old fashioned.


            Press: Mr. Secretary, since you were there last in Kyrgyzstan there's been an election of course and the new President only a couple of days after he was elected said it's time now to talk about continued U.S. presence in his country. That is a subject that you expect to discuss on this trip?


            Rumsfeld: Oh, I wouldn't be surprised if that subject came up.


            Press: You feel that you need to reinforce the rationale for continued U.S. presence?


            Rumsfeld: I don't feel I need to do anything except we have relationships there, they're very helpful, and we've benefitted by them as have those countries and have the people who are concerned about terrorism and the flow of narcotics and other problems in the region.


            Press: In Uzbekistan there's been serious human rights violations. They also are talking about the U.S. cutting short its presence in Uzbekistan.


            Kyrgyzstan, even though they've had elections, they're pretty unstable. Is it time for the United States to be rethinking its presence in the area, looking for alternatives to [inaudible]?


            Rumsfeld: We feel we've had a good arrangement and good relationships in a number of those countries in the region. They work well for us, they've worked well for our allies and the countries that have been providing assistance to Afghanistan and assistance in the global war on terror. And obviously from time to time things may be adjusted one way or another, but we don't have any announcements to make.


            Press: China and Russia are trying to bully the United States to leave Central Asia as General Myers implied?


            Rumsfeld: General Myers is an enormously talented officer, and there's no question but that those two countries have made statements in the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperative Organization to that effect. That's their opinion. I think each country in the region however, will make up their own mind as to what their relationships with others will be.


            Press: What's the implication that those countries might have different views than they expressed in the Shanghai Accord?


            Rumsfeld: Oh, I'll let them speak for themselves.


            Press: Do you believe [inaudible] contingencies, [inaudible]? Uzbekistan is no longer a place where U.S. forces will be able to operate from? [Inaudible].


            Rumsfeld: Oh, we're not in the process of trying to make contingency plans. We always have contingency plans but we're not -- These meetings are not designed to undertake all kinds of arrangements.


            Press: The Americans could lose access to that base?


            Rumsfeld: We always think ahead. We'll be fine.


            Press: On the issue of terrorism, Mr. Secretary, what do you make of these recent attacks -- two in London, one at Sharm al Sheik? And is there any indication that al-Qaida may be behind them?


            Rumsfeld: I think I'm going to leave it to the Brits and the Egyptians to manage the intelligence and the after-action reports as to what they conclude.


            We've known for a long time that terrorists attack a variety of different countries, they have. And it's a shame when innocent men, women and children are killed as they were in these cases. I must say I have great respect for the way the people in the UK have handled it. They clearly understand that it's important not to acquiesce or to appease terrorists. You reward things you want more of and you penalize things you want less of and to the extent countries have rewarded terrorists by acquiescing to their demands, then everybody loses.


            Press: In recent months, however, Osama bin Laden issued a message to the terrorists in Iraq saying they have to move their terrorist campaign beyond the borders of Iraq and start attacking others. Is there, does the U.S. have any indication that these attacks are a result of that [fatwa], if you will, by Osama bin Laden?


            Rumsfeld: I'm going to wait and allow the people whose business it is to analyze terrorist attacks and make announcements as to what they've concluded. There are plenty of people in the UK and in Egypt and in the United States and other countries that are pouring over all of the details and they'll make announcements as appropriate.


            Press: And do you believe as some have claimed that these attacks are in retaliation, so to speak, for the war in Iraq?


            Rumsfeld: Oh, that's ridiculous.


            Press: Why do you say that?


            Rumsfeld: There was no war in Iraq in 9/11. Terrorist attacks had been happening well before the war in Iraq. It's just utter nonsense.


            Press: Is the United States interested in continuing its basing in Uzbekistan regardless of whether the government agrees to the kind of international investigation that's been called for?


            Rumsfeld: The State Department's been working with Uzbekistan on those subjects, and I think I'll leave it to them.


            Press: Is the United States concerned about reports about Russians wanting to increase bases in Uzbekistan or offers of that?


            Rumsfeld: Russia's had bases in various parts of this region for years. They come and go. That's their privilege, it's something they work out bilaterally with each of those countries. We have arrangements with many of the countries that have increased over the past five years, four years, and have been very helpful in the war on terror, and also I should add helpful from a humanitarian standpoint for the people in Afghanistan.


            Press: On Uzbekistan, just from a military perspective, what would be the benefits of a long-range U.S. presence there. Are you saying the U.S. isn't seeking a long-range presence there any longer?


            Rumsfeld: We've had a good relationship, it's a good relationship now, it's been beneficial for Afghanistan. The military activities are still taking place in Afghanistan. The humanitarian activities are still taking place there, and the arrangements we've had in the region with a number of countries have been helpful, and still are.


            Press: [Inaudible]?


            Rumsfeld: I don't know that I would want to get into that. I mean that's something you'd sit down with military people and they work out alternative arrangements for things if that is to be the case. But we're not at that point.


            Press: Are you simply shoring up that relationship? Are there any new deals to be struck while you're in this country?


            Rumsfeld: Not that I know of. We have relationships with these countries. I've listed them all before, will again.


            Press: Can you talk a little bit about Iraq not from the trip perspective but how you see things evolving especially from the political process? There was a recent attack from the constitutional drafters. How concerned are you about --


             Rumsfeld: At the last press conference people were saying to me well, the Sunnis will pull out of the competition [inaudible], and I said [inaudible]. That wasn't my understanding. There were one or two who indicated that they were temporarily withdrawing, and now they're back I'm told.


            So I'm sure that it's a disappointment to some people who were hopeful they'd stay out, but regrettably from that standpoint they haven't, and I'm delighted they're back in. I'm not surprised, but I'm delighted they're back in and the Sunnis and the Shias and the Kurds are all working very hard on the constitution.


            They're going to get the job done, they will have a constitution in my view, they will have a referendum on the constitution and then they'll have an election.


            Press: Will they have it on time, though?


            Rumsfeld: I would certainly think so. I don't see any reason why they can't. They're making very good progress.


            All right, folks.


            Press: Thank you, sir.

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