Consults Italians, Visits U.S. Troops at Aviano Air Base
By Gerry J.
8, 2003 — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived at this
Bavarian city Feb. 7 after a bevy of meetings with Italian defense
officials in Rome and U.S. troops at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
slated to speak today at the multinational Munich Conference on
Security Policy and to meet with other defense officials to discuss
issues surrounding the global war on terrorism. Iraq is high on
the secretary’s agenda the entire day.
he discussed NATO, bilateral, and other defense issues in Rome
with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Defense Minister
Antonio Martino and other senior officials. He and Martino afterward
held a press conference at Berlusconi’s office complex, where
the secretary thanked Italy for its friendship and support in
the war on terrorism.
He said Britain,
the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Portugal,
Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, and other nations, gladdened him with
recent statements of support "expressing their determination
that Iraq disarm itself of its weapons of mass destruction."
He said such
declarations demonstrate that the world is increasingly united
in seeing Iraq jettison its WMDs and the means to deliver them.
wouldn’t hesitate to use his deadly arsenal in the future, Rumsfeld
pointed out in Rome. And, he noted, such weaponry could well fall
into the hands of terrorists.
11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States killed 3,000
people from many countries, but biological, chemical or nuclear
WMDs could destroy 30,000 or 300,000 equally innocent lives, he
emphasized. And, he said, Hussein continues to hide his WMDs from
U.N. inspectors in Iraq.
Yet, the secretary
noted that the current debate whether or not to go to war against
Hussein "is healthy and desirable, and part of the process
that our world and our people and our democratic systems have
to go through."
weighing the pros and cons of possible war to forcibly disarm
Hussein, "the risks of not acting may be vastly greater than
the risks of acting," he said. "These are important
… tough issues."
Rumsfeld flew northeast to Aviano Air Base and met with hundreds
of cheering service members and wives inside a large hangar. He
praised the Aviano troops and also Italy, noting it is "an
ally in the truest sense of the word." He then fielded audience
questions about modernization, possible war with Iraq, smallpox
vaccinations, the draft, and other topics.
An Air Force
master sergeant, for example, voiced concerns about modernization
and accented them by pointing to what he said was a 15-year-old
F-16 fighter in the hangar.
young," Rumsfeld jokingly replied. "I’m 70!"
then explained the sergeant’s not alone in his concerns. The U.S.
military’s jet fighters are indeed aging, he said, and that’s
why modernization efforts to develop and field new F-22Raptor
fighters and other equipment are important.
question-answer talks, Rumsfeld walked across the hangar, talked
to troops, shook hands and posed for photos.
Christopher L. Johnson, a 29-year-old F-16 mechanic from Chatham,
Va., said he was happy the secretary visited Aviano. He’s "looking
after all his troops, making sure everybody is up to par, up to
speed," noted the seven- year Air Force veteran.
Tech. Sgt. John R. Kowalski, a 33-year-old F-16 mechanic from
Chicago, called Rumsfeld’s visit a morale- booster. He said he
thought the secretary is doing an "excellent, excellent job."
Kowalski said he watches Rumsfeld on television and noted the
man’s "right to the point."
And the secretary
"is from Illinois," the 15-year Air Force veteran pointed