Secretary Rumsfeld News Conference at the Meeting of NATO Defense Ministers, Brussels, Belgium
SEC. RUMSFELD: Nearly 60 years ago, after the devastation and turmoil of the Second World War, this alliance was, of course, formed to defend against the threats to freedom. Over the several decades since, we've seen the alliance endure times of great challenge, heated disagreements. On many occasions from the press and other observers, we've heard predictions of NATO's irrelevance and even its demise. Those predictions have been consistently wrong.
With those experiences in mind, I can say that NATO holds great promise today, greater than in some time. Indeed, this historic alliance is working together in ways that it has never before, expanding its membership and expanding our global responsibilities.
NATO's recent successes are due to contributions and wisdom and determination of the member states, particularly those countries that have only recently gained membership, as well as the many Partnership for Peace countries that are increasingly providing valuable contributions to the alliance as well as new energy and perspective.
In Afghanistan, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, continues to extend its reach across the nation from the north over to the west and soon to the south. Indeed, examples of NATO's increasing global role are the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams that are expanding throughout the country. Interestingly, one PRT is being led by Lithuania, a country that became a full member of NATO only last year.
NATO will build on its success in providing security during last year's historic Afghan presidential election by providing additional forces during Afghans' parliamentary elections and provincial elections this coming September 18th. And in Iraq, NATO is making increasingly important contributions in helping to train and equip the Iraqi security forces, and those forces are improving steadily in skill, confidence and success.
The reform of NATO's militaries so that they are more readily deployable and the need to similarly reform the NATO organization continue to be issues of concern. The United States fully supports the secretary-general's initiative to reform NATO Headquarters, and we look forward to reviewing his reform proposals later this year.
NATO nations' military forces are moving ahead on transformation, but the alliance faces challenges in the areas of logistical and transportation capabilities as it increasingly conducts operations outside of its traditional geographic boundaries.
Alliance members discuss the next steps in standing up the NATO Response Force, which is now scheduled to be operational by October of next year. The force is designed to deploy highly trained units on short notice for a range of missions. I believe the NATO Response Force will over time prove to be the key to maintaining NATO's relevance in a world where threats emerge in unpredictable ways and unpredictable places.
It will also be critical for providing the impetus for the transformation of member-nations' other forces into more agile and deployable forces to meet the NATO Response Force rotations that they'll participate in. It's the "NATO Response Force", I should add, and certainly not "NATO Reserve Force." Its purpose is to be used as needed.
Yesterday I visited the Joint Warfare Center in Stavanger Norway, where impressive work is being done to translate transformation from theory into practice. And the training that takes place there for the NATO forces going into the Iraq train and equip activities and into Afghanistan and ISAF CEF (sp) has been impressive.
Finally, let me say just a word about NATO's outgoing Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation, Admiral Ed Giambastiani. He's been a key driver behind NATO's transformation efforts. The alliance's success today is, in part, a tribute to the work of NATO's Transformation Command, the one he leads. And I certainly thank Ed -- Admiral Giambastiani for his able service.
I'd be happy to respond to some questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Pravo Daily, the Czech Republic. How close is the U.S. to bring the North Korean nuclear issue to the United Nations, given the ambiguous approach of Pyongyang to the restart of the negotiations?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I have no idea. That's something that is handled by the president and the Department of State. And they're in negotiations in the six-party talks; have been for some time. And if -- if and when they and the other members of the six-party talks want to announce something, they'll announce it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Greg Palkot, Fox News Channel. On our air yesterday, Neil Cavuto asked President Bush -- should Guantanamo prison facility be shut down? He answered, and I quote, "We're exploring all alternatives." Some have taken that to mean that this is an option that is being actively considered. Are you exploring that alternative? Is it an option being actively considered?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I could be wrong; there may be a fuller quote that you haven't included here. But my recollection of what I was told the president said was that we're always looking at ways to improve our operations. But it is -- you know, a whole lot of questions come to mind. If you closed it, where would you go?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Our desire all along has been to see that people who were involved in the September 11th killing of 3,000 men, women and children and were captured -- engaged in terrorist activities or captured on battlefields in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere -- be kept off the streets so they don't kill more people.
Second, it has been to attempt to find out from them information about potential terrorist attacks that might be in the offing. And in fact, that's happened. We have found information from interviewing these people that has saved lives and prevented other terrorist attacks.
Our desire is not to have these people, and so as a result, for example, I'm going to guess that if you take everyone since September 11th, it's probably somewhere between 70, 80 -- 85,000 people that have been captured at different times, and the overwhelming majority have been released.
That particularly was true in Iraq, where there were large numbers; smaller numbers in Afghanistan.
We have been releasing additional people to their countries of origin where we've been able to negotiate with the country an agreement that they would handle them in a way that's humane and appropriate. We have some that we would be delighted to release -- large numbers, as a matter of fact, that we'd like to give to the Iraqi government, but they lack the appropriate prisons and the criminal justice system at the present time to manage them and try them. We've been urging the Afghan government to get itself arranged with the appropriate kinds of prisons and criminal justice system so that they could take the Afghans off our hands, and we're still going to keep working with them on it. And they now are developing some plans to have a prison.
Our goal is not to, obviously, have these people, but to have them off the street, but in the hands of the countries of origin, for the most part.
Q: Thank you. It's Dieter Ebeling from DPA, the German Press Agency. Was the question of the continued deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Western Europe raised at all during this meeting, particularly in the NPG? And whether it was or not, what is your reaction to a discussion, particularly in Germany, which leads many to ask for the removal of those remaining few nuclear weapons within a foreseeable time frame?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The -- we did have a Nuclear Planning Group meeting. And it's a classified meeting, and I'm unlikely to discuss it. I have no -- nothing to say about the political debates or discussions that take place in any of the member countries.
Q: But your opinion of it. Do you have an opinion -- (off mike)?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well -- (chuckles) -- of course I have opinions. (Light laughter.) But I think I've answered it exactly the way I want to. (Laughter.)
Q: Carol Giacomo of Reuters. In the NPG communique, there is reference to the NPT review conference in New York. And I wondered whether you --
SEC. RUMSFELD: To which conference?
Q: The NPT review conference in New York. And I wondered whether there was any discussion about what goes on in the future concerning those issues, particularly how you might ensure that states that violate the NPT don't get to keep the benefits of those - of that peaceful nuclear cooperation. And as a related matter --
SEC. RUMSFELD: That's not a subject that came up that I recall when I was in the room.
Q: Okay. The communique also talks about --
SEC. RUMSFELD: The what does?
Q: The communique. The NPG communique also talks about concerns about states that are in non-compliance with the NPT. Now, it doesn't refer specifically to Iran and North Korea, and I wondered how one should interpret the fact that at this sensitive time, when you're facing crises both in North Korea and Iran, that you didn't take the opportunity to try to get this august group on the record on those issues.
SEC. RUMSFELD: The -- both of those are subjects that tend to get discussed in the foreign ministers meetings, North Korea and Iran. And they get discussed at presidential-level meetings, as the president meets with people like Prime Minister Blair and others on the work that some of the European countries are doing -- with Iran, for example.
And at the -- with respect to North Korea, he does it with the members of the six-party talks that are involved. And it isn't -- doesn't surprise me at all that it was not a subject that either of those countries were addressed directly in a communique.
We'll make this the last question. Yes?
Q: Thank you. I'm Augustin Palokaj from Koha Ditore, from Kosovo. I would ask a question on Kosovo. The American administration, together with the other partners of the Contact Group, presented a plan to continue towards achieving a future status of Kosovo. Is the United States interested to find a solution to this issue because you want to withdraw the troops from Kosovo?
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Chuckles.)
Q: Or you are prepared to keep them still, even once independence is achieved? Thank you.
SEC. RUMSFELD: We -- our position is what it's always been. It's that we went in together and we'll come out together. Everyone agrees that a political solution is important. And also, most of the people I know agree that the current arrangements of the military forces in Kosovo are not optimum; that in fact the leadership, military leadership, of the alliance has made proposals to change how we're organized in the country in ways that would make our forces more effective. And I fully support what SACEUR has recommended in that connection.
I think we'll call it a day.
STAFF: Thanks, folks.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thanks, folks.
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