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Thursday, January 27, 2005
Attendance at Security Conference
WILL Defense Secretary Donald
H. Rumsfeld skip a major security affairs
conference in Germany next month or won't
Two weeks ago, he sent word to organizers of the
annual event not to expect him, saying he would be
traveling elsewhere in mid-February. The news,
reported in Germany but not
announced here, prompted complaints that
Rumsfeld was snubbing Europe and speculation that
his move was in reaction to a legal complaint filed
against him in Germany.
By late yesterday, however, the Pentagon's chief
spokesman, Lawrence T. Di Rita, was waffling
on the secretary's plans. He said Rumsfeld is
weighing a number of "competing scheduling
priorities," including other possible travel and
preparation for congressional testimony on the
defense budget. Di Rita left open the possibility
Rumsfeld will attend the conference.
"I just don't know who
will end up representing the Department of
Defense," Di Rita said in a phone
The event, known formally as the Munich
Conference on Security Policy, marked its 40th
anniversary last year. It draws hundreds of cabinet
ministers, lawmakers and other prominent figures
from many parts of Europe. Washington tends to be
represented not only by the defense secretary but
also by a large congressional delegation. This
year, about a dozen U.S. lawmakers plan to attend,
led by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and
Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.).
Word that Rumsfeld was not coming had surprised
the conference's chief organizer, Horst
Teltschik, who had assumed the decision was
"I'm really disappointed," he said earlier
yesterday. By not attending, he added, Rumsfeld
would be missing an important opportunity to
explain the goals and initiatives of the Bush
administration at the start of its second term.
"The defense secretary's speech has
traditionally been a highlight of the conference,"
said Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's
ambassador to the United States. "I assume there'll
be quite a bit of disappointment if this year he's
not going to show up."
Bush administration officials have signaled that
one of their second-term priorities will be to mend
transatlantic ties that were badly frayed by
disagreement over the war in Iraq. Between them,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her
deputy, Robert B. Zoellick, plan to visit
every NATO ally this spring. President Bush expects
to meet with NATO leaders in Brussels on Feb. 22,
then stop in Germany.
Some analysts warned yesterday that if Rumsfeld
is a no-show in Munich, it will be taken as a fresh
affront, undercutting administration efforts at a
"It's a funny year to choose not to go," said
Michael E. O'Hanlon of the Brookings
Institution in Washington.
But others surmised that Rumsfeld may be trying
to keep U.S.-European tensions from flaring anew by
removing himself as a potential source of friction.
His attendance at the conference two years ago was
marked by a sharp clash with Germany's foreign
minister over preparations for the war in Iraq and
drew thousands of antiwar demonstrators into Munich
streets. Last year, Rumsfeld delivered an
impassioned defense of the Iraq war.
"Rumsfeld has been considered in Europe far and
away the most controversial figure in the U.S.
government," said William Drozdiak,
president of the American Council on Germany. "He
might be worried about the reception he could
receive and concerned it could set a bad tone in
advance of the president's visit."
The German press agency Deutsche
Presse Agentur first reported last week that
Rumsfeld had decided not to go to Munich. The
agency said the decision was prompted by a criminal
complaint, filed Nov. 30 with the federal
prosecutor's office in Germany, accusing him of war
crimes in connection with detainee abuse at the Abu
Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The 160-page complaint was brought by the New
York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, a
group of lawyers representing four Iraqis who say
they were mistreated at the prison outside Baghdad.
In addition to Rumsfeld, the complaint singles out
eight other high-ranking U.S. military authorities
and former CIA director George J. Tenet.
It is based on a German law, enacted in 2002,
that gives the Karlsruhe Court "universal
jurisdiction" in cases involving alleged war
crimes. A prosecutor is obligated to investigate
the claims but does not have to act on them
further. So far, German authorities have said that
the complaint against Rumsfeld and the others is
"We've been in
discussions with the Germans about the case and
have expressed concern because it would set a
precedent for those who want to pursue
politicized prosecutions," a spokesman for the
U.S. Embassy in Berlin said yesterday.
Rumsfeld is known to have fumed privately with
aides about the case. But Di Rita said it has had
"nothing to do" with the secretary's deliberations
over whether to attend the conference.
Di Rita also dismissed concerns that a Rumsfeld
absence in Munich would show a disregard for the
Europeans. He said Rumsfeld plans on attending a
meeting of NATO defense ministers in Nice, France,
just before the Munich event, which is set for Feb.
12 and 13.
Rumsfeld missed the conference in 2002, during
the war in Afghanistan, and sent his deputy,
Paul D. Wolfowitz. This time, Teltschik was
told, Wolfowitz could not attend because of an
administration rule preventing both the defense
secretary and his deputy from being out of town at
the same time.
Teltschik was notified to expect Douglas J.
Feith, Rumsfeld's top policy adviser -- who
announced Wednesday that he would be leaving the
Pentagon by summer.© 2005 The
Washington Post Company
Germany trip, DPA reports