(Joint press conference in Bogota, Colombia. Participating were Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Colombian Minister of Defense Marta Lucia Ramirez.)
Ramirez [simultaneous translation]: I’d like to start by thanking the Secretary of Defense, Secretary Rumsfeld for his visit here in Colombia with us. The time that you have dedicated to this visit is so important for Colombia, it is an honor Sir, as was expressed by President Alvaro Uribe during the lunch. I also would like obviously to offer the condolences of the Colombian Government for the death -- the regrettable death -- of Sergio de Mello in a terrorist attack today in a Baghdad hotel against the UN headquarters there. That shows once again that terrorism does not respect institutions, it doesn’t respect citizens and it does not respect even the defenders of human rights. Regrettably, as was expressed today by the terrorist index that was published in the UK, Colombia is today the number one victim of terrorism; it is the country that is most suffering from terrorist attacks. For us it is very comforting that a person with your leadership in this enduring fight against global terrorism that has yielded so many positive results in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, that you would take the time to come here – set aside some time -- to give us some support, to give us some words of courage, and to renew once again the support of your government to this democratic security policy that we have been developing since the 7th of August, when Alvaro Uribe started his government. Fortunately, as you have expressed already, this democratic security policy has been yielding very positive results in reducing terrorism, kidnapping, extortion, homicide, and it shows that we are going down the right path. But unequivocally we need to have greater results and more short-term results. That need actually renews this alliance that we have been developing with your government’s support. Today we have had a very satisfactory announcement on your behalf, about the re-initiation of the air interdiction program. The letter that has been signed by President Bush to that effect, we are very grateful for it because we know that you personally have placed the greatest interest in making sure that this announcement would be made during your visit to Colombia. We are convinced that we are going to achieve successful results in this fight against terrorism. Terrorist groups in Colombia are going to be left alone in Colombia and in the world. As a matter of fact, Colombian terrorist groups today do not have the support of the Colombian people. Rather they have been unanimously rejected by the Colombian people. For all this task, we know that we have the support of your government, the support of the Colombian people for the decisions of the Colombian leaders, with the leadership of President Uribe, and with the professionalism and the conviction of our military forces and the police that in a very professional way have been carrying this policy to a successful ending -- which is very important for our soldiers and our police. At this time we have a large number of soldiers and police who are offering their lives -- putting their lives on the line -- to recover security for all civilian Colombians. This is not an easy fight, it is going to be a difficult fight, but unequivocally the Colombian government understands that we do not have a different alternative than fighting and defeating the terrorist groups. And in that purpose we know that we have you as an ally. Your visit here shows that unequivocally, and we are very thankful, very sincerely, for your interest and the commitment of your government, of your military forces, and of the US Congress. Thank you very much and welcome to Colombia. I would like now to hand over the mike to the representatives of the press of Colombia to ask questions after Secretary Rumsfeld has made his comments and announcement. So thank you Mr. Secretary and the mike goes over to you, Sir.
Rumsfeld: Thank you very much, Minister Ramirez. Thank you for your hospitality. I would also like to join in expressing deep regrets about the bombing that took place in Baghdad, and the death of the UN special representative, Mr. De Mello. The United Nations, of course, is attempting to help the Iraqi people, and the act that took place is against the Iraqi people, and an act of terrorism to be sure. Needless to say the coalition will not be dissuaded or deterred, but rather we’ll continue our efforts on behalf of the Iraqi people. I just would make one comment on the Air Bridge Denial program that has been resumed. Needless to say, air interdiction is not a single country issue, it’s a regional issue. It involves drugs as well as weapons, and it is not a problem for Colombia alone. Indeed it’s a problem that requires – and benefits greatly from -- the cooperation of neighboring countries, and I know that a number of your neighbors have been most cooperative with you. And that’s a good thing. We had an excellent lunch today with President Uribe, and I must say that all of the people from the United States who have been involved with the Colombian government have been deeply impressed by the conviction, the passion, the determination that the President and his team have demonstrated, as well as the progress that they are making in the war on terrorism. It is a global war, it’s not a problem for a single country, and we’re proud to be a partner with Colombia in addressing the global war on terror. We are committed to helping to the extent we are able, in seeing that this war -- which it is – a war – is won. I believe that the strategy that the Government of Colombia has put in place is a good one; that measurable progress is being made; that terrorist activity in rural areas is declining; that desertions are up; and that the battle – while it is far from over – is about, possibly, half-way along and making good progress. So I am delighted to be here to express that partnership with you, Madam Minister, and, again, thank you for your hospitality. I will be happy to respond to questions.
Ramirez: We are going to alternate questions, one for Colombian press and one for the English speaking press. So first, Adriana are you there. She is going to ask the question in English.
Q: Mr. Rumsfeld, good afternoon.
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.
Q: President has announced today, as you were saying, in Washington, that the interdiction program will be renewed in a few hours. We understand these interdiction flights would not only fight drugs but also will be extended to illegal weapons. Can you give us more details about that, and at what level do you think the U.S. government is going to get involved in this Colombian war against terrorism, sir?
Rumsfeld: The announcement has just been made. My understanding is that the countries have been preparing for the hope that the announcement would be made, and as a result it is possible that within a matter of some hours -- maybe days, a few days – that the program could begin. The Ambassador has indicated to me that there will be meetings tomorrow where all of the details – and they are important details – will be announced and discussed, because it is extremely important that particularly the civil aviation community be aware of all aspects of it. So those meetings will be taking place.
Whitman [Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs]: If we could have the microphone, I think we have some up front here.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Charlie Aldinger, with Reuters. You say that the huge blast in Baghdad today will not dissuade or stop the U.S. led coalition. I wonder, sir, might I ask if something that huge and horrific signals that perhaps things are getting out of control in Iraq, despite efforts to the contrary?
Rumsfeld: No. What it signals is that terrorists can attack at any time, at any place, using any technique, and a bomb can kill people. That is not a lesson that the world needs to keep learning. The Iraqi people are on a path towards self-government and an opportunity to express themselves. There are now something like 100 newspapers in that country. An Iraqi army is being built, an Iraqi police force is being built. The outside assistance is coming in from a number of countries. There are some thirty or forty countries that are now providing various types of assistance. I think all it means is what we saw – it means that a number of people were killed and a lot of people were wounded. And it’s a terrible tragedy that terrorists did that. Terrorists have been killing people for decades and it’s always a terrible thing when it happens. But if a free people, and people who want to be free, are deterred and dissuaded every time a terrorist attacks, then this world of ours would be a very unpleasant place. I must say that I have great admiration for the determination we see here in this country, to fight the war on terrorism. The determination that they’ve demonstrated as well as the success that they are achieving.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Rumsfeld. The Colombian guerrillas, in particular the FARC, have recently submitted their position that they be heard in a forum in the United Nations. However, in the last few weeks they have carried out -- on behalf of that guerrilla group -- numerous terrorist attacks in our country, on Colombian territory. Do you believe that that guerilla group is a threat to regional security, and, besides the request made by the Minister of Defense for real support from US satellites, what other specific aid are we really going to see here in Colombia?
Rumsfeld: It’s clear to me that the Government of Colombia has determined that the FARC is a threat to security in this country, and obviously in neighboring countries because they have a pattern of using the border areas – the seams between countries – to their advantage. So I don’t think that there is really a great debate on that subject at all, as to whether they are a threat to the security of the Colombian people and to neighboring countries as well. With respect to the details, what will happen is our government and the Government of Colombia, and the military-to-military relationship, will discuss a variety of ways that would fit each of our respective circumstances, and at that point where the Government of Colombia or the United States has something they want to announce, why, they’ll do so.
Q: Good evening. What role do you think the Hugo Chavez government is playing with the guerrilla organizations or the leaders? Have you spoken to any members or representatives of the U.S. government with respect to this issue?
Ramirez: Look, the Colombian government has a clear determination. We are going to beat the terrorist groups that operate here in Colombian territory. In fact, above all, with our policy of protection of civilians. Eventually the entire Andean region obviously has the same right to be protected from any threat -- any terrorist threat, any narcotic activity -- that could be used to provide resources to these terrorist groups. We are concentrating on carrying out our work here in Colombia. We believe that all the governments in the Andean region understand that the cries of all of our people must be answered. Each government has to take care of its own people. In the same way that we are taking care of our people here, the respective governments must take care of their own people.
Rumsfeld: I would have nothing to add.
Q: Can I follow-up? Mr. Rumsfeld, do you have any concrete information on any type of collaboration from the Venezuelan government? This is a very simple question: do you have any evidence of that?
Ramirez: No, I’ll answer that. I will give a sincere answer. We are doing a task here with out military forces. We are fighting a terrorist threat.
Q: At this point, many Colombians are wondering to what extent is the U.S. going to get involved in the internal Colombian conflict in the future? Are you going to send more troops, more training – the oil infrastructure issue? I mean concrete commitments with President Uribe in the future. How much more involved is the United States going to get in Colombia in fighting terrorism?
Rumsfeld: As you know, we have a legislative cap on the number of military people that can be involved, and contractor people that can be involved, and that cap is a law. And there it is. What we are doing -- as a partner, and anxious to be as cooperative as possible – is working, military-to-military, to see what are the kinds of things we can do as the Colombian war on terror migrates into a somewhat later stage, as is now happening. And as progress is made the circumstances change, and the needs change, and the opportunities for us to be of assistance may evolve as well. At that point where something is appropriate to be announced we would announce it. But I think it would be unlikely to be anything that would break that cap.
Whitman: Perhaps we can take another one up front here.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, it’s Bob Burns from AP. In connection with the bombing today in Baghdad, this seems to have highlighted the concern that foreign terrorist organizations, as opposed to remnants of the Iraqi regime, are at work against U.S. interests and Iraqi interests. Is there something more that can be done? Are you considering some ways that the borders can be better guarded against the infiltration of these terrorist organizations from outside Iraq?
Rumsfeld: First let me say that I don’t know that the premise of your question is necessarily correct. To say that it is clear that it is non-Iraqis, as opposed to Iraqis and the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime – I don’t have any evidence that that is the case. I do know that there are various categories of people in the country that are doing things that are harmful to the Iraqi people. And they include the following categories: they include people from outside of Iraq, as you suggest. A lot of them are Syrians. They have come from, however, any number of countries. I think that the last time I looked at a list of those we have arrested, there were something like twelve, fifteen countries represented. And these are probably either of two types. Either they are jihadists – they are the people who are there to kill people, or they are people who are doing it for money. Frequently when they are arrested we find they have money. They have leaflets that say “if you do this we will pay you so much…”So there are those two types to begin with. Second, there are – I don’t know what the number is – but somewhere between eighty and one hundred thousand criminals were let out of the Iraqi jails. Of all types. And they are people who do bad things. They kill people and do damage. So there is that second category. Then there is a third category, and these are the relatively large numbers of thousands of people that are from the Ba’athist elements in Iraq, that want to bring back the government of Saddam Hussein, or a Ba’athist regime in any event. This is the Fedayeen Saddam, who go around in civilian clothes, and it is SSOs and it’s the remnants of the Iraqi intelligence agencies. So there’s lots of kinds of people, types, categories, that are at work in that country. And I have no information at all as to which category may have been involved in this. If I don’t, I suspect others don’t either, so I think we wouldn’t want to come to a conclusion. With respect to the borders, they are a real problem. They are a problem everywhere in the world. They are a problem for Colombia. It’s a problem for the United States. I mean we can’t guard every inch of our borders. There is a seam in so many places: between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, Iran and Iraq, Syria and Iraq. People move back and forth across there. And we are doing some things in Iraq to try to improve the surveillance of those borders, so that we can interdict more of the traffic that is either terrorists or smuggling or theft of oil – which has been a problem down near Basra for example. So we are working the problem, but it is a problem that is tough to work.
Whitman: I think we have time for about one more.
Q: Mr. Rumsfeld, is Colombia a priority for the global war against terrorism?
Rumsfeld: Certainly. I’m here because we are interested in the work that the Colombian government is engaged in against terrorist organizations. We believe it is important. It is important to regional stability. It’s not just a problem for this country, it’s a problem for the region. We live in this hemisphere, we care about this hemisphere. And I would also add that we admire and respect the progress that’s being made and the determination that’s being shown.
Whitman: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Secretary, one last question. You announced today that you would restart the interdiction. There have been a whole series of problems in terms of handling the civilian radar. How did you solve the problem of civilian radar for air interdiction?
Whitman: I’m sorry, we thought that that was the last question but we can do –
Rumsfeld: That will be discussed by the Embassy and by the Colombian government who have been working on those details.
Whitman: Thank you very much.