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Rumsfeld Visits Eritrea, Discusses War on Terrorism - 2002-12-10


U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Eritrea for three hours Tuesday to discuss cooperation in the global war on terrorism with President Isaias Afwerki.

Mr. Rumsfeld said Eritrea is cooperating in the fight against terrorism and has, in his words, offered a variety of areas of assistance.

But appearing before reporters with President Isaias following their hour-long talks, Mr. Rumsfeld cited no specific examples of cooperation. When asked if the United States perhaps planned to deploy forces in Eritrea, he challenged the notion that the relationship should be what he termed transactional.

It is a point underscored by the Eritrean leader, who told reporters, "we are not offering anything to get anything from the United States."

Nevertheless, Mr. Isaias appeared to confirm reports that Eritrea is prepared to offer the Pentagon the use of its military facilities.

However he played down the offer, describing it as "the smallest thing you could ever imagine."

Still the Eritrea leader appeared pleased that Mr. Rumsfeld was making his first ever visit to the small Horn of Africa country. He said it clearly signifies the commitment of the United States to work with countries in the region in the global war on terrorism.

He used the opportunity to stress that fighting terrorism is nothing new for Eritrea. He said it has fought it both domestically and in the region. Mr. Isaias mentioned only Sudan by name as an alleged source of his country's terrorist troubles.

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was once based in Khartoum.

Mr. Rumsfeld did not mention al-Qaida, but suggested the Horn region was home to what he said was a large number of people who have been trained to kill innocent men, women and children and strike at nations. He said it is an unacceptable situation.

Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged the talks in Eritrea covered the detention of two Eritreans who worked for the U.S. embassy as well as restrictions on the independent news media, both issues viewed by diplomats as a serious obstacle to expanding military relations. He indicated the issues remained unresolved but he voiced hope relations would improve over time.

Eritrea was the first of three stops in the Horn by Mr. Rumsfeld, who arrived in a military C-17 aircraft, apparently for security reasons. He was going on to Ethiopia and on Wednesday to Djibouti, where U.S. forces have been deployed in the anti-terror struggle.

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