(Press conference at Turkmenbashi Airport, Turkmenistan.)
Rumsfeld: Hello. Good morning. I am Donald Rumsfeld, and it's a pleasure to see all of you.
I've just completed a meeting with the president and the delegation. We had a very good visit. It was an opportunity to visit his country for the first time.
As you know, Turkmenistan is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace and the United States has had a relationship with it for some time. As a neighbor of Afghanistan, needless to say, the United States has an interest in that relationship.
I took the opportunity to thank the president and the people for their very fine cooperation with respect to humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. Their humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan will undoubtedly save lives of the Afghan people and have been a significant contribution.
We also thanked the President for the overflight rights with respect to the global war on terrorism which has been a big help to the United States.
I'll be happy to respond to questions. I'll take the easy ones, and we have a U.S. ambassador here who can take the difficult ones.
Q: I am Tariq Saedi of Pakistan Press Network and represent over 400 papers in Pakistan. So I have three very small, and I think very easy questions for you.
Rumsfeld: Let's do them one at a time. I had a late night last night.
Q: They are very short; I think you can answer them in two sentences. The first question is, being a military expert in your own right, and also secretary of defense of the United States, do you think the situation in Afghanistan is now sufficiently under control for American oil and gas companies to come forward and invest in a Trans-Afghan pipeline?
Rumsfeld: Well, I am not going to comment on what companies might or might not do with this kind of pipeline.
Q: I was just asking for a short response.
Rumsfeld: I will respond. I am not going to comment on what companies might or might not do with this kind of pipeline. I will say that the security situation in Afghanistan is dramatically improved from what it was.
I suspect that the security situation in Afghanistan will be difficult for some period of time. On the other hand, it's a good sign. When refugees begin coming back, when the internally displaced people begin to return to their homes, that suggests that the situation is improving and that people are voting with their feet and they are voting 'yes' that the situation has improved.
And maybe because the translation takes so much time, maybe we'll do just one question per person. And then if we have time, we'll come back for you.
Q: Okay. Thank you.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what is your assessment of the situation with the talks between the United States and Russia with respect to a strategic arms reduction?
Rumsfeld: My impression is that the talks have been going forward in an orderly way. There have been discussions at various levels almost every week for the past month or so.
I plan to stop in Moscow on my way back to the United States and meet with Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov to continue discussing some of the details of the agreements that are being considered by both of our countries. And my impression is that the two presidents have encouraged the senior level officials in both governments to proceed with those discussions in an orderly way, which we are doing.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Turkmenistan has emphasized its non-alliance status in the region here and I know they've given you the overflight rights, and aside from the PFP relationship, how about the military-to-military relationship with Turkmenistan? Did you discuss that today, and do you intend to increase such ties?
Rumsfeld: Well, as I say, with the NATO Partnership for Peace relationship, there has been a reasonably modest level of military-to-military relationship. For the most part our discussion was about Afghanistan.
Q: In your discussion with the president, did he give you any indication that he sees al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden cells presented any kind of a threat to his country or to other countries outside Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: Well, that particular subject did not come up other than in the broad sense that he, that this country has been cooperative with respect to the global war on terrorism, for which we are grateful and appreciative.
I hear the engines turning up, calling me away. I'll take one last question.
Q: You had a visit with Ismail Khan last night. Several weeks ago, the U.S. expressed serious concerns that Khan was helping to undermine the Karzai government and that Iran was meddling in the affairs of the interim government. Has that situation improved markedly, and did you talk with Khan yesterday about that?
Rumsfeld: I don't know what you're talking about. I've not heard anything from the United States government along the lines that you've said.
Q: About Iran helping to --
Rumsfeld: No, about Ismail Khan.
Q: So he was never suspected of aiding Iran in that regard.
Rumsfeld: I've never heard anything about that either.
Q: What about Iran itself in its effort - in its relationship with the government?
Rumsfeld: Well, let me just say two things. Iran has its own interest and it has not been notably helpful with respect to Afghanistan. Sometimes I understate for emphasis.
And I will simply say that I had a very good discussion with Governor Ismail Khan and that it was a useful trip from my standpoint, and I appreciated him seeing me at such a late hour.
Thank you very much. Nice to see you all!