Rumsfeld back from coalition building trip
ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Fresh off a whirlwind three-day swing through the Middle East to garner international support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism -- capped by an unplanned stop in Turkey -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld returned to Washington early Saturday.
Rumsfeld stopped in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan before he met late Friday with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.
"We wanted to be here and meet with the senior leadership in this country because we value their advice, we value their counsel and we recognize that this is a campaign, a war, a battle against a problem that crosses the globe," Rumsfeld said.
The defense secretary's high-level meetings have been aimed at securing cooperation from the vital countries in the region surrounding Afghanistan, which has played host to Osama bin Laden, the man who tops the United States' list of prime suspects in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Rumsfeld said he realized that each country he visited will have different roles to fulfill as the global war on terrorism takes shape.
"We recognize that every country has its own circumstance, has its own neighborhood, it has its own history and each country will make a judgment as to the kinds of ways that it can be helpful in dealing with the problem of international terrorism. We do not make demands," he said. "Each country should decide for itself how it can best help."
Rumsfeld began his diplomatic mission Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, where he talked with Defense Minister Prince Sultan and later met with Crown Prince Abdullah and King Fahd. The aim of the meeting was to bolster relations with the Saudis and show gratitude for the country's past cooperation with the United States.
In Oman, Saudi Arabia's neighbor to the south, Rumsfeld discussed the possibility of "staging" U.S. aircraft at air bases there. But a senior official traveling with Rumsfeld told reporters that the secretary did not intend to ask the Omanis for expanded access for American forces or for new forms of military cooperation.
Close U.S. ally Egypt is important because of its control of the Suez Canal, which could provide U.S. aircraft carriers convenient passage from southwest Asia to the Mediterranean "without going around the horn" of Africa one U.S. official explained.
After meeting with Rumsfeld, Uzbekistan agreed to allow U.S. troops to use one of its air bases for humanitarian purposes such as food drops and rescue operations. But, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said his country "is not ready yet" to allow U.S. troops to launch an offensive against Afghanistan from there.
Pentagon officials told CNN about 1,000 troops from the 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, New York, were expected to arrive in Uzbekistan Friday to provide security at the airfield.
In the past several weeks, leaders from the Middle East and Central Asia have told the Bush administration they need to be convinced that any U.S. military action would not be a "flash in the pan," said one senior U.S. official involved in the meetings.
The official pointed out the last memory for Central Asian states of U.S. involvement in their region was the 1998 cruise missile attacks in Afghanistan ordered by the Clinton administration after the U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa.
Rumsfeld's message is that it is "safe to be associated" with the United States because the Bush administration will be there for the long term.
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