U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has arrived in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, the first stop on a brief tour of the Caucasus region and central Asia, where he is to discuss the ongoing war against terrorism. Earlier, on a stopover in Shannon, Ireland, Mr. Rumsfeld said American and Afghan troops are making advances against al-Qaida guerrillas in the mountainous Tora Bora area of Afghanistan.
On a whirlwind diplomatic tour, Secretary Rumsfeld holds talks in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia before travelling on to Uzbekistan. These countries have offered their support to the U.S.-led fight against terrorism, and Washington says it is ready for closer ties in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he expects the U.S. Congress to lift a ban on military ties with Armenia and Azerbaijan very soon. The ban was enacted in 1992 because of the conflict between the two former Soviet republics over the enclave of Nagorno Karabakh.
Earlier, Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters that American and Afghan troops were making good progress advancing on the remaining hideouts of al-Qaida fighters in the mountainous terrain of the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. U.S. military officials acknowledge, however, they do not know the whereabouts of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.