Central American defense and security ministers have agreed to form a rapid response force to cope with natural disasters.

The decision came Thursday at the end of a two-day conference in Miami hosted by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The ministers said they will take steps to set up joint military operations to respond to disasters such as Hurricane Stan, which recently devastated parts of Central America.

Secretary Rumsfeld also said Nicaraguan military officials gave assurances that some 1,000 Soviet-era surface to air missiles in their possession are secure.  U.S. officials fear the weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

The conference was also aimed at improving cooperation in maritime security, fighting drugs and crime, and other issues.

Participants included ministers from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.  Mexico and several other countries sent observers.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.