(Joint press conference in Bishkek with President of the Kyrgyz Republic Askar Akayev. Also participating was Kyrgyz Presidential Press Secretary Ilyas Bekbolotov.)
Bekbolotov: There will be a statement by the president of the Kyrgyz Republic followed by a statement by the secretary of defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, and then we will take two questions.
Akayev: Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to say a couple of words regarding Secretary Rumsfeld's visit to the Kyrgyz Republic.
I have cordially welcomed Secretary Rumsfeld on his first official visit to the Kyrgyz Republic and have said that the people of Kyrgyzstan are greatly honored by this visit. It was a unique chance for me to discuss with Mr. Rumsfeld the issues of our bilateral cooperation, not only in the fields of defense and technical cooperation, but also in other fields: economic, political, and humanitarian. We have also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the issue of the peaceful development of the Central Asian region.
I would like to note with great satisfaction the vigorous development and enhancement of military and technical cooperation between our countries that has occurred over the last few years. This cooperation also takes place within the framework of Partnership for Peace, which has been evolving for many years. It also includes the enormous military and technical support provided to the Kyrgyz Republic in recent years, especially in 1999 and 2000, when we had to confront gangs of international terrorists in the south of Kyrgyzstan.
Undoubtedly, Secretary Rumsfeld's visit will provide new impetus to our bilateral relations, and I am certain that this relationship will continue to develop successfully and fruitfully in the years to come.
In conclusion, I told Secretary Rumsfeld an anecdote, a historical fact, which can predict one's success in Afghanistan. In the past, those who went to Afghanistan via Kyrgyzstan were successful in Afghanistan. The first was Alexander the Great who, 2,300 years ago, came to Afghanistan by way of Kyrgyzstan. He was very successful there and he marched to India later. The second was our ancestor Babur who, 500 years ago, marched through Afghanistan, went to India, and founded the great Mogul [Mughal] Empire. However, those who bypassed Kyrgyzstan on their way to Afghanistan were not successful. That is why we have no doubt that Mr. Rumsfeld will be completely successful in Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld: Mr. President, thank you so much for your hospitality. It is a real pleasure for me to be here in your country for my first visit.
We recognize that this is a day of mourning here and so we particularly appreciate your receiving our delegation.
I had a meeting earlier this morning with the minister of defense and expressed the appreciation of the United States government for the wonderful cooperation that we are receiving with respect to the use of the base at Manas for the United States and for the coalition partners. The relationship between the embassy and the military officials in the country and our military officials from the coalition countries could not be better.
As his excellency the president mentioned, our relationship goes back through NATO into the Partnership for Peace and relationships which preceded the war on terrorism, and is one that will certainly last long after the global war on terrorism. It is a relationship that is developing not simply a military element but also economic and political ones and is thereby a healthy and strong one.
I should say that the spontaneous support for the global war on terrorism, which the president and his country demonstrated after September 11, is something that was deeply appreciated by the president of the United States, by me, and by the American people.
We share the same goals for Afghanistan, that it be a peaceful country, a successful country economically, that it no longer be a haven for terrorists and terrorist training camps, that its neighbors permit it to grow, and prosper, and recover from drought and war and the difficulties it has faced.
So it is quite clear that the interests of the United States are notably different from those of Alexander the Great. Thank you.
Q: (from Reuters) Mr. President, can I ask briefly, why did you allow the military base to be established here and what is its importance of the war on terrorism?
Akayev: This decision was a natural one for us and, as Secretary Rumsfeld noted, it was spontaneous.
In 1999 and 2000 we suffered from the invasion of thousands of international terrorists and their gangs in the south of Kyrgyzstan, who came from Afghanistan through Tajikistan. In this war with international terrorists we lost 55 of our officers and soldiers.
I would like to take this opportunity to mention that over the years we have received substantial technical and political support from the United States, and the people of Kyrgyzstan are very grateful and will not forget this assistance.
Of course there is no need to mention that over the past decade, Afghanistan has been the principal source of international terrorism, religious extremism, international drug trafficking, and related to this, organized crime in the region and was the main destabilizing force for the countries of the region.
Therefore we believe that the placement of the international coalition base at Manas airport meets three important goals: first, it was a very wise policy on the part of the U.S. administration to build a belt of security around Afghanistan. This will allow the peaceful and constructive life that has already begun in Afghanistan to be made irreversible. The Afghan people should use this unique opportunity to build a peaceful, secular, and democratic country. Second, it has become a very important component in ensuring regional security and stability in the immediate future, during this transition period. And the third factor, which is particularly related to Kyrgyzstan: we are a landlocked country located in the middle of the continent, and we are far away from the nearest ocean. It is our long-term goal that Manas airport becomes a transit point between Europe and Southeast Asia.
I believe that the American, and French, and Spanish pilots who use this airport will provide excellent publicity for this airport. And today they say that this is the best airport in Central Asia. Thank you.
Q: (from American press) Mr. President, I would like to ask you, the president of Iran said the other day that it was humiliating for your country to have American forces based on your territory. What is your view of Iran's influence in Afghanistan and the region?
Akayev: Tomorrow, I am meeting with the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Khatami, who is making a state visit to Kyrgyzstan. I hope that we will discuss and have an exchange of views on this issue.
As for the role and influence of Iran in Afghanistan, it has always been sizeable. We welcome Iran's cooperation with the international coalition during the implementation of Enduring Freedom.
Q: (from Slovo Kyrgyzstana) A question for the secretary of defense. What has been the impact of the base at Manas on the international anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: The base at Manas has been exceedingly helpful and valuable to the coalition effort. Afghanistan of course is a landlocked nation; therefore, everything that the United States and the coalition forces have been able to do has had to be done by air. Whether it means bringing in troops or bringing in aircraft or bringing in supplies and equipment or bringing in humanitarian assistance, it all has to start from an airbase some distance from Afghanistan and then be brought into Afghanistan.
If one just takes a snapshot of what has been happening today, for example, there are aircraft that are able to fly over Afghanistan and be refueled and conduct security operations to prevent al Qaeda and Taliban from gathering and threatening the Afghan government.
At the same time there is humanitarian assistance that can move into the country from here, medical assistance. And if one looks at the totality of it, the circumstances of the people in Afghanistan are considerably better today because of the availability of Manas airport.
Akayev: Thank you very much.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.