Rumsfeld Satisfied Soviet Missiles Safe; Aid to Nicaragua Resumes
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
Rumsfeld has been in Florida since Oct. 11 to attend a conference of Central American defense and security ministers. He said he and Nicaraguan Defense Minister Avil Ramirez Valdivia discussed the status of the missiles.
The secretary said he believes the Nicaraguan military is doing its utmost to keep the weapons out of terrorists' hands. U.S. and international leaders have expressed concern that the weapons could be used to target commercial aircraft.
During a November 2004 visit to Nicaragua, Rumsfeld received assurances from President Enrique Bolanos Geyer that the country would destroy its stockpile of SA-7 man-portable air-defense systems. However, ongoing internal political tensions in Nicaragua led the country's National Assembly to strip Bolanos of authority regarding the stockpile, and destruction of the weapons has been stalled.
In March, the United States cut off military assistance to Nicaragua over the delay. U.S. defense officials announced this week that they are now convinced the weapons are at least secure and lifted restrictions on aid.
"The situation, as I understand it, is that progress has been made with respect to the missiles in Nicaragua," Rumsfeld said during a news conference this morning at the close of the conference.
He said the Nicaraguan military has been cooperating to reassure U.S. leaders about the status of the missiles. "There have been obstacles put in the way of completing the program for the destruction of those missiles," he said. "But I have been assured that the existing missiles are being maintained in a secure manner, which is reassuring."
Ramirez offered his own assurances on the weapons' security. "We have ensured that the missiles in Nicaragua are well-guarded," he said. "The warehouses are safe."
The minister hinted that progress may be forthcoming on the weapons' destruction. "We are sure that we will have excellent news on the matter of high-level cooperation in the military aspects," he said.
Ramirez also said he's pleased with the relationship between the U.S. and Nicaraguan governments. "We are (thankful for) the respect from the government of President Bush and also the trust of the secretary of defense."
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