MUNICH, Germany – As the American military works to realign its forces in Europe (search) and around the world, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) visited two nations Tuesday that gained U.S. favor by supporting the war in Iraq.
Rumsfeld met briefly with leaders in Portugal and Albania, the first stops of a four-day European tour on which he also will attend a function in Germany and NATO (search)'s spring minister's meeting.
"I value the relationship the U.S. has with Albania. It's important to us," Rumsfeld told a joint news conference with his Albanian counterpart Pandeli Majko.
The message was much the same earlier in the day at a joint press conference with Portuguese Defense Minister Paulo Portas in Lisbon.
"We very much value our friendship," Rumsfeld said.
Albania was one of the most vocal supporters of the war in Iraq and sent a small contingent of noncombat troops. It also opened its airspace land routes and waterways to coalition forces, and offered use of its air bases.
Likewise, Portugal stood by the United States and Britain in the international debate before the war and is sending a military police force of some 120 to Iraq.
While the two stops were clearly public payback for the support, it was not so clear what, materially, the allies might get.
Portugal wants NATO's southern headquarters to be established in Oeiras outside Lisbon, and wants Iraqi reconstruction contracts.
It also needs help re-equipping its outdated armed forces, a subject discussed Tuesday with Rumsfeld.
After his meeting in Lisbon with Portas, Rumsfeld went to the Albanian capital of Tirana for brief meetings with President Alfred Moisiu, Prime Minister Fatos Nano and Majko. He said he thanked them leaders for support that they have given not only in Iraq but Afghanistan as well.
A poor, former communist country, Albania wants to be a member of NATO. Majko called it "a priority ... and a collective aspiration" of his country of 3.5 million.
The U.S. government supports the idea and Rumsfeld said he and Albanian officials talked about "our joint interest in having Albania proceed along the path towards full NATO membership over the years ahead."
He said "in the meantime, the United States looks forward to working closely on bilateral basis with cooperative, military-to-military relationships as they work towards that end."
Those would include joint training and exercises for a start, with the hope the relationship could broaden after that, Mjako said.
But Rumsfeld said they did not discuss details of Albania's offer to host U.S. bases when the Pentagon completes its review of how to realign bases in the world.
The Pentagon has for some time been planning a repositioning of its forces in Europe and around the globe.
In the past, forces have been placed mainly on large, permanent bases hosted by traditional allies like Germany and South Korea. Rumsfeld said that was an arrangement suited to the Cold War but now outdated. He wants a more flexible arrangement and the ability to put troops in faster range of world trouble spots.
Rumsfeld said Monday no decision has been made on new position and it is still being studied by commanders in conjunction with "friends and allies."
On Wednesday, Rumsfeld flies from Munich to ceremonies for the 10th anniversary of the joint German-U.S. George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch. The Marshall Center was founded in 1993 to stabilize and strengthen post-cold war Europe through education and training of military and civilian officials.
Rumsfeld completes his trip with the NATO meeting, where ministers will talk about NATO's structure as well as efforts to stand up a peacekeeping force in Iraq.
Rumsfeld said 41 countries are considering assistance to Iraq and some half dozen have committed forces. He didn't name them.