San Diego Union Tribune

February 13, 2005

'New' Rumsfeld tries to assuage fears in Europe

By Otto Kreisher

MUNICH – As part of the Bush administration's efforts to improve its strained relations with Europe, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a brief appearance at a prestigious international security forum yesterday, jokingly referring to himself as "the new Rumsfeld" and praising multinational operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

But some of the statements and questions from the assembly of officials and scholars, and some of Rumsfeld's answers, showed that considerable concerns, and some outright hostility, remain despite last week's European visits by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Rumsfeld.

Although he reaffirmed U.S. support for NATO, welcomed Europe's moves toward greater political unity and even complimented the United Nations, Rumsfeld strongly supported the administration's policy of bypassing international organizations to form temporary coalitions to address specific security challenges.

And, in a possible endorsement of the administration's controversial policy of pre-emptive, unilateral military action against possible threats, Rumsfeld skipped a line in his prepared speech that said in dealing with the threats of Islamic extremism and terrorism, "the military can only be part of the solution, and is always the last resort."

That deletion, the only significant departure from his speech text, contrasted sharply with the opening speech delivered for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, which declared, "No country in the world can address the new security challenges on its own," and that the effort "must not be limited solely to military activities."

Rumsfeld, who is considered an important architect of President Bush's post-Sept. 11, 2001, policy on unilateral military action against perceived threats, had not planned to attend the annual conference on security policy, despite a tradition of appearances by the U.S. defense secretary.

But he changed his mind Thursday during a NATO conference in Nice, France, after the German government rejected a U.S. anti-war group's request to have Rumsfeld prosecuted under a new German law for war crimes in Iraq.

Rumsfeld opened his address by noting that a commentator had predicted that his visits to France and Germany – which Rumsfeld had dismissed in 2003 as "old Europe" in part because of their leaders' hostility to Bush's foreign policy – should be "interesting after all that was said."

"I thought for a minute and replied, 'That was old Rumsfeld,' " he said, drawing a loud laugh and his only prolonged applause.

In his speech, Rumsfeld extolled the value of NATO and praised the international support for the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.N. assistance in the recent Iraqi elections.

"By now it must be clear that one nation cannot defeat the (Islamic) extremists alone," he said.

While trying to be humorous in his responses to frequently pointed questions, Rumsfeld dismissed one query by asking, "What does that have to do with anything I talked about?" and told another questioner that "the construct of your question was poorly structured."

He then left to return to Washington after less than three hours at the two-day conference.

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