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: Secretary Rumsfeld Joint Press Conference in Bratislava, Slovakia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 22, 2002

(Press conference at the Government Office of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava, Slovakia. Also participating were Mikulas Dzurinda, prime minister of the Slovak Republic; Ivan Simko, minister of defense of the Slovak Republic; and Martin Maruska, press spokesman of the Government Office.)

Maruska: Good afternoon, Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this press conference after a meeting of our prime minister with the secretary of defense, Mr. Rumsfeld. The minister of defense of the Slovak Republic is also taking part here. First I give the floor to our prime minister.

Dzurinda: Secretary of Defense, ladies and gentlemen. I am so pleased to have this opportunity to welcome the secretary of defense of the United States of America here in Slovakia. It's a great honor and pleasure for us for many reasons. Every one of you, for sure, will understand that the most important reason for our joy and happiness is that the Slovak Republic, my country, was invited yesterday to become a member state of the North Atlantic alliance [NATO]. In the life of every country there are exceptional events and the invitation of Slovakia to join the alliance is such an exceptional event. I think it is an exceptional event not only for the Slovak nation -- for the citizens of this country, for my home country -- but it is an exceptional event for the whole of Europe because this robust enlargement has definitely made the Iron Curtain something of the past and Europe has become united. I think it's an excellent gift for the tenth anniversary of our young country. In the ceremonial moments I also realized that to be invited to the alliance is, on one hand, a culmination, but on the other hand, it's a new beginning. A new beginning of a road that will be, for sure, difficult and complex. A road where we will have to go through and cope with new challenges. I would like to express my wish and desire that Slovakia will do its utmost to have the instruments ratified and to join the alliance and to be a real contribution to the collective defense and the enlargement of the zone of security and stability in Europe and worldwide. We want to be not only consumers, we want to be also an active contributor to the common defense. Concluding, I would like to convey the main political message, that I was also conveying it to the secretary of defense, which is that Slovakia has been and will be a strong ally of the United States of America, in any case, under any circumstances.

Maruska: Thank you prime minster, and now to you sir, Mr. Rumsfeld, a short opening statement.

Rumsfeld: It has to be short? (Laughter)

Dzurinda: There are some exceptions.

Rumsfeld: I see. Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Minister of Defense, I am so pleased to be here. We've had good discussions at the Ministry of Defense today. We've had a wonderful meeting with the president of the Republic. And the prime minister and I have just had a good visit as well as a visit on the plane coming over today. As he has said, this is an important day for this republic. It is also an important day for the United States and for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and I feel particularly privileged to be able to be here on what is a memorable occasion. I grew up in Chicago with a great many people from this part of the world. I served in Congress and was involved in what we call "Captive Nation's Week" where we would each year discuss the circumstances of the countries in this part of the world with feeling, with affection, and with hope. I served as Ambassador to NATO in the early 1970s and, needless to say, was interested in what was taking place in the Soviet Union; what was taking place in the Warsaw Pact; and hopeful for the future, but concerned about the present back in those days a quarter of a century ago. And then, as secretary of defense of the United States in the mid-1970s, I again was attentive to what was taking place in this part of the world and again with hope that the world would change, and here we are. It has changed and it's changed in such a significant way. The prospects for this country, the prospects for your neighbors, the prospects for the western alliance, the United States and Canada in North America and the Western European countries I think are bright. I came here today and I have congratulated the officials of government and the people of the republic on their invitation to become a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I've also congratulated the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on having the wisdom and the good judgment to invite in seven new entrants. We talked today about the kinds of reforms that are necessary and important with the minister of defense and I have great confidence in the motion that's taking place and the progress that's taking place and certainly wish them well while recognizing that navigating from where one was ten years ago to where you're heading today is not a easy path, it's a difficult path. It's a difficult path for government leaders, it's a difficult path sometimes for the people, and just know that we are wishing you well every step along the way. I also express my appreciation to the leadership, the prime minister and the minister of defense for the role they play for the global war on terrorism and previously in the NATO Partnership for Peace, the close working relationship we're developing, and particularly for the assistance in Afghanistan, which we believe is so important. I hope that was short enough.

Maruska: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, we have time only for four questions. Two for Slovak journalists and two for American journalists. We start with the Slovak journalists, Slovak TV.

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, from a military point of view, what is the significance of the NATO enlargement by Slovakia? Our people are interested in whether there will be some weapons stationed here, whether our soldiers will serve in rapid deployment units.

Rumsfeld: The decisions about what Slovakia will do, and the Republic will do, is entirely up to the Republic. They will be making judgments as we go through the months and years ahead after their official entry. The value to NATO is very clear. Already this country is contributing peacekeepers around the globe and peacekeeping is going to continue to be an important activity and function. The country has specialties in special forces, in chemical and biological detection capabilities, it has capabilities in engineering which is already making a contribution in Afghanistan to the benefit of the Afghan people and to the coalition of forces that are working there to help that new government find its way to a more peaceful circumstance, free of terrorists, and free of the al Qaeda. It also brings a more recent respect for freedom, because it wasn't too many years ago when they didn't have that kind of freedom, and having countries come into the alliance that understand how important it is and value it so greatly, as was just so evident in the NATO council yesterday and today -- the remarks that were made by the seven nations that are entering -- no one could have been there and not been impressed and convinced that these new countries will bring an energy and enthusiasm and a love of freedom that will be important and provide a great deal of energy to the alliance.

Maruska: Thank you very much. Another question?

Q: I'm Charles Aldinger with Reuters. I'd like to ask the minister -- there have been continuing reports of corruption in the government here -- that it hasn't been cleaned up completely. What are you doing to erase this? There is some concern within NATO that perhaps corruption might prompt the sale of NATO secrets or perhaps the arms trade. What's being done to clean up corruption in the government?

Dzurinda: To whom do you address your question?

Q: To the minister.

Dzurinda: Mr. Minister?

Q: The prime minister. Oh, sorry.

(Laughter)

Dzurinda: I have my minister for difficult questions. (Laughter) May I respond in my mother language? I have to keep my Slovak press comfortable. Corruption is a phenomenon that exists in many countries, in every country that is in transition from communism to the new world of democracies, the new world of democracy and prosperity. If you had time, and you would read the program manifesto of this government that entered office only a few weeks ago, then on every second page and in every area of our public life you would find the commitment of the government and also goals concerning combating corruption. We were trying to combat this also in the previous period and we are going to enhance this effort. I think we have also positive experience in Slovakia. I am, for instance, very happy to see American capital here. As you know, we have a large steelworks in the east of the country and the steelworks were bought by an American company, U.S. Steel, and I think U.S. Steel is doing an excellent business for themselves and for us, the Slovaks. I once visited the United States on the occasion of an investment conference and the president of U.S. Steel said openly that in his two years of negotiations he never encountered corruption. I am telling this to show you that one should have a comprehensive view on the problem. One should see also the positives and the negatives of the efforts. But once again, my government and I are aware of that Slovakia will be a prosperous country, a free country, only when we can suppress corruption to a minimum. And the Slovak government will try to do so.

Simko: I can add concrete facts from our manifesto. There are two basic areas where we are going to fight corruption, that is, we will increase repression [of corruption]. We would like to have new law enforcement agencies starting and also prosecutors and judges that will specialize in combating corruption, and we also want to narrow the room for corruptive behavior, that is less papers, less permits, less licenses, so that the areas which don't need bureaucratic decisions are not decided by bureaucrats, because this is really the nourishing area for corruption.

Maruska: TV TA3?

Q: Lucia Nicholsonova. I have a question for the secretary of defense of the U.S. Corruption is pinpointed by visitors from America to Slovakia. It was mentioned by the ambassador to Slovakia -- different visitors to Slovakia. The ambassador to Slovakia said that corruption in Slovakia may be an argument for rejecting Slovakia from becoming a member of the Alliance and EU. Secretary, how important do you view combating corruption in Slovakia and what is, in your view, the link between combating corruption and the accession to the two organizations. Thank you.

Rumsfeld: I can only speak with respect to NATO, but, obviously, the NATO countries had an intensive look at the seven countries that had been invited to join NATO and they recognized that in each case there were some strengths and some weaknesses. And they considered them and balanced them and ended up deciding to invite seven nations to join NATO. Taking all of those things into account and working with them on various programs so that each country, by the time the process is completed, will have met all of the tests that are needed. So obviously, the arguments with respect to corruption were balanced off against a whole series of things that were considered. We're interested in lots of things, NATO is. We're interested in reform of our defense capabilities and I know the minister of defense is working on that, as is the United States. All of our countries in NATO have generally free political systems and generally free economic systems to varying degrees and I must say I think what the minster of defense said a minute ago is exactly on the mark. Corruption tends to thrive in large bureaucracies where there's dollars available and where there is a lot of discretion and a lot of decisions that need to be made, that can be made in a variety of different ways, and I think the minister is tackling the problem in exactly the right way and the government's tackling it in the right way. The reason it's important to the people in the United States, and the people of the world is because corruption strikes just at the heart of a democratic system. Because a democratic system is there to serve the people and if there is anything corruption does is that it steals from the people. So that's the only reason that it's important and we believe in democratic systems and we are impressed with the progress that's being made in this country and I must say I visited with the prime minister and the minister of defense and I'm impressed with the programs they have underway to deal with all aspects of their entry into NATO and wish them well.

Maruska: Thank you very much. The last question is to an American journalist.

Q: We're all aware of Slovakia's superior skills in ice hockey. What are the equivalent superior skills that your nation will bring as a member of NATO - the particular attributes or tasks that you'll be superior in.

Dzurinda: Thank you very much for this charming question and parallel. We are proud of the Slovak ice hockey players who are good players also in the National Hockey League. Slovakia is preparing diligently to be a contributor to the alliance. In the last term, 1998 - 2002, I was meeting on a monthly basis with the minister of foreign affairs and minister of defense and in this term of the government I am continuing in the tradition. Minister Simko, Minister Kukan and I have opened a discussion regarding what could be the concrete contribution of Slovakia, as a future member state of NATO, to NATO. I want to be quick before we close the discussion, but we are working diligently. We are a mountainous country. We have some specialized troops trained to operate in high mountains. This is also the way we are training our specialists for reconnaissance. Our troops in Afghanistan are known to be good engineers. We have quite [unintelligible] engineers operating in the Balkans and Afghanistan and in some other parts of the world. We also manufacture good equipment for removing mines and they are quite successfully employed in peace missions. We have a model for transforming our armed forces by 2010 and by 2006 we would like to have a fully professional army. But we are aware of the new challenges. We know that our armed forces should be not only professional but also flexible, able to communicate with the armed forces of other NATO member states. So if I may sum up, we are aware that we are expected to be active and we want to be an active player in NATO and very soon we would like to come with a specific offer for enriching the alliance.

Maruska: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming and see you on another occasion.