SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We are enroute to Italy. How many of you have been to Sicily? It's an interesting place.
NATO has three, the Defense Ministers have three meetings a year, two informal meetings and one formal. This is one of the informal. In addition to the regular NATO informal meetings there will be a NATO-Russia Council Meeting and there will be a Mediterranean Dialogue meeting. I'm having bilaterals with the Minister of Defense of Italy, Russia, Norway, the UK, and I hope to see the two new Ministers from Canada and Estonia.
The major topics that will be discussed include the NATO Response Force and transformation of NATO's militaries and the live exercise that is scheduled to take place this summer at Cape Verde, and the expectation that the NATO Response Force will have the capability of in the fall, I'm guessing September/October, the fall generally.
Another subject that very likely will be discussed will be operations in Afghanistan. I believe another subject that will be discussed will be Chancellor Merkel's suggestion about NATO being a proper venue for strategic dialogue on a variety of subjects.
I guess that's all I have to say unless you have questions.
QUESTION: To what degree is the idea of NATO at some point taking over the entirety of the Afghanistan mission now on the back burner?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: NATO has taken -- It began with ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, which is essentially in Kabul. It then expanded to the north and then to the west. They're now in the process of expanding to the south. We have plans on the table to eventually, at some point either this year or next, expand over to the east.
I think technically that would not say they would take over everything because the counterterrorism activity has never been, to my knowledge, discussed as a role for NATO. That is the Operation Enduring Freedom coalition. A number of NATO countries, but to my recollection NATO has not indicated any interest in absorbing that activity. And I think that's fine.
So what we do is take it step by step. They're now in the process of completing the plans for the south, which I believe the headquarters will be Kandahar. Then they'll begin discussions about commitments with respect to the east. But to my knowledge it's not on the back burner.
QUESTION: The mission other than the counterterrorism mission, all the rest of it you're in favor of NATO eventually taking command of that part of it?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That's the plan. They're enroute towards that, and it's a matter of making judgments about what kinds of capabilities and then soliciting contributions to those capabilities. It just takes some time, just as it did for the north, the west and the south.
QUESTION: You don't anticipate any time in the future the US counterterrorism mission, like the [inaudible] mission, following under a NATO command at some point?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No, I don't.
Peter, you have a discussion of that, don't you?
VOICE: US counterterrorism under NATO command, not that I'm aware of, sir.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: First it's not US counterterrorism; second, it's not Eikenberry. It is a coalition, Operation Enduring Freedom counterterrorism activity and General Eikenberry is our senior general officer, and under him is a commander who's in charge of the OEF activities.
QUESTION: It's taken a while for NATO to really take on this mission in the south. They were supposed to do it in the spring. Now I guess it looks like they'll be done, they will fully assume the role in the late summer perhaps, partly because Denmark, I guess, took a while to approve it and then --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The Netherlands.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I'm helping you ask your questions. [Laughter].
QUESTION: Are you upset, disturbed at all, that NATO takes so long to get going in even the most relatively basic operations like stability operations? They say up front they want to do it but they can never get their act together?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I wouldn't say they never get their act together. They eventually do. They're in the north, they're in the west, they're going to be in the south. No. I'm very comfortable with it. I've been around NATO for decades, and was Ambassador to NATO in the early 1970s. That's the nature of an international organization. NATO happens to be probably the most impressive military alliance in history. Does that mean it can spin on a dime? No. Does that mean it can function as a single country could? No. It's 26 countries. It's a consensus operation.
But if you think of what they've done, they have contributed mightily to the success in the Cold War. They have undertaken responsibilities in the Balkans successfully -- Bosnia and Kosovo. They have assisted us after 9/11 with Noble Eagle in the United States with AWACS. They have recently participated in Pakistan with some relief efforts. They have taken a significant responsibility for the first time in history outside of the NATO treaty area and outside of Europe by the Afghanistan activity. That is an enormous shift for this organization which historically was a defensive organization worried only about the NATO treaty area in Europe. Then on top of that these 26 nations have undertaken a responsibility for train and equip in Iraq
But that is something historically. Compare it with any other international organization today because of its ability to do something. The NATO Response Force will have that capacity sometime this fall to move fairly rapidly.
So I think that people need perspective on it.
Now in the world we live in today in the 21st Century, we'll more than likely see the countries of NATO have somewhat higher percentages of their GDP invested in security. Well, I would. I think that the average of 1.8 or whatever it is today is low. I made those comments at the conference in Munich recently. Would one like to see NATO as an alliance step forward and make a significant contribution in peacekeeping and building partnership capacity in the world? I would. I think that would be a terrific thing. These countries are important countries, they're countries with resources, they're countries that have professional militaries. They have the right values. They have militaries that are highly professional in many respects. So I think there are other things NATO could do and I expect if we transported ourselves out five or ten years and looked back we'd find in fact NATO will be doing some of those things to a greater extent than they are today.
QUESTION: What kind of discussions are you going to be having on Kosovo? And how quickly would you like to withdraw some US troops from Kosovo and what kind of numbers are you thinking about?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We all went in together, we're all going to go out together, and since there are countries that prefer to serve in the Balkans than in some other places we'd kind of like to see if it's possible for us to have a somewhat disproportionate reduction when the reductions take place, but time will tell on that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what's your level of concern that this controversy over the cartoons is going to complicate situations in Afghanistan and more broadly in your efforts to win Muslim hearts and minds in the war on terror?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don't know.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Denmark is in NATO, right? I don't want to be embarrassed. NATO is in the alliance and one of the members of NATO is under attack. Denmark is under attack around the world now by --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: So are other countries.
QUESTION: Is there a role for NATO? Should NATO make a statement or do something to show solidarity with the Danish people, the Danish government?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think those are the kinds of questions that the Department of State would be discussing with the NATO nations. I know that Secretary Rice made some comments on the subject today, but beyond that I don't have any thoughts.
VOICE: About two more minutes, folks.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Yeah, see if we can get an accurate question, I mean -- [Laughter].
QUESTION: Are you going to be pushing NATO allies to contribute more troops to the Rapid Reaction Force? I know they're not fully manned yet for --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We think of it as the NATO Response Force, and the Secretary General of NATO has been encouraging the NATO countries to step up and provide the remaining pieces that are needed. I certainly wish that as well.
QUESTION: Do you expect the Iran nuclear threat to come up at this meeting? If so, again, what would NATO's role be in trying to counter that?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I suspect it will come up. It's certainly a subject of worldwide discussion but the NATO Defense Ministers don't have any distinct reason to be discussing it. It is something that's on a diplomatic track and the NATO Foreign Ministers and the NATO heads of state are already discussing it.
QUESTION: Many US lawmakers, notably John McCain, said that the military option, while a last resort, should not be taken off the table. Do you agree with that?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: President Bush has said that and Prime Minister Blair has said that and others have said it. I have said that I always support the President.
QUESTION: So you think the military option should not be [inaudible]?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I've responded in a way that is appropriate.
QUESTION: What are the possibilities of bringing down the level of US troops in Afghanistan with this expansion in the south?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I wouldn't tie them to that. NATO is increasing their role. That's a good thing. The Iraqi Security
Forces are increasing their role, and that's a good thing. The Afghan Security Forces are increasing their role and that's a good thing. The political process is moving forward in Afghanistan and that's a good thing. The demobilization of militias has moved forward and that's a good thing. All those things have enabled us to announce that we're going to be reducing from three to two brigades in Afghanistan. But it's a combination of all of those elements and not the one.
We will have an opportunity to see you in Sicily.