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Rumsfeld concludes quick trip enlisting international allies

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld  

ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld headed back to Washington Friday, concluding a whirlwind, three-day swing through the Middle East to solicit international support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Rumsfeld stopped in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan before he met late Friday with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, a stop that was not on his itinerary when he left Washington Tuesday night.

"We wanted to be here (in Turkey) 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 in Ankara.

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.

Each country he visited will have different roles to fulfill as the global war on terrorism takes shape, Rumsfeld said.

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"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."

Air base for humanitarian aid

Rumsfeld also stopped Friday afternoon in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. Afterward, Uzbek President Islam Karimov agreed to allow U.S. troops to use an Uzbek air bases for humanitarian purposes such as food drops and rescue operations, but said his country "is not ready yet" to allow U.S. troops to launch an offensive against Afghanistan.

About 1,000 troops from the 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, New York, are expected to arrive in Uzbekistan Friday to provide security at the airfield, Pentagon officials told CNN.

Uzbekistan, which shares an 80-mile (129-kilometer) border with Afghanistan, has already pledged its help to the United States, agreeing to share its airspace.

Rumsfeld's visit to Uzbekistan was the last on a four-nation mission which involves, in the words of one senior administration source, "gardening" or "tending" to the concerns of a variety of countries necessary to the U.S. coalition.

Three countries, two days

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.

Thursday in Oman, Saudi Arabia's neighbor to the south, Rumsfeld discussed the war against terrorism with Oman's leader, Sultan Qaboos. He did not intend to ask for expanded access for American forces, or for new forms of military cooperation, a senior official traveling with Rumsfeld told reporters.

The same day, the Pentagon announced the United States intends to sell Oman 12 F-16 fighter jets, along with associated missiles, bombs, and other support equipment. The $1.12 billion sale would be the first sale of U.S. fighter jets to Oman, which currently uses aging British fighter jets

Later Thursday, Rumsfeld met in Cairo with Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt. A senior administration officials said Egypt is a key nation "in terms of the facilities (it has) available."

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, as one U.S. official termed it, a "flash in the pan."

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.

-- Correspondents Alessio Vinci and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report


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