MUNICH, Germany – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Friday he does not regret having referred to France and Germany as "old Europe," a comment in 2002 that many Europeans took as an insult.
"I'm too old to have regrets," Rumsfeld said in an interview with several European journalists shortly before the start of a NATO defense ministers meeting. "No, I don't regret it."
Although his remark may add fuel to an old fire, Rumsfeld said he had not meant to denigrate traditional U.S. allies Germany (search) and France (search). He said his intention had been to distinguish between "old NATO" with its membership of 19 countries and the "new NATO" that is adding seven more.
In Friday's NATO (search) talks, Rumsfeld was expected to endorse a plan to expand NATO's troop presence in Afghanistan over the next few months and to repeat his suggestion that the alliance consider eventually taking over the entire military operation in Afghanistan. The ministers were expected to approve setting up five new civil-military reconstruction teams in Afghanistan this spring.
In the interview with the European journalists, Rumsfeld also blasted the Arab satellite TV network al-Jazeera (search).
"We are being hurt by al-Jazeera in the Arab world," he said. "There is no question about it. The quality of the journalism is outrageous - inexcusably biased - and there is nothing you can do about it except try to counteract it." He said it was turning Arabs against the United States.
"You could say it causes the loss of life," he added. "It's causing Iraqi people to be killed" by enflaming anti-American passions and encouraging attacks against Iraqis who assist the Americans, he added.
On Thursday, Rumsfeld said U.S. relations with Europe, which were badly strained by the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq, have returned to being "fairly normal."
Setting out Thursday on a three-nation European tour that started in Munich, Rumsfeld said that differences between allies are inevitable, and he dismissed suggestions that a major diplomatic effort will be required to mend fences.
On Saturday Rumsfeld planned to attend the yearly Munich Conference on Security Policy (search), which attracts officials, analysts and military leaders from around the globe.
Throughout NATO's 55-year history, he said, the trans-Atlantic relationship "has gone from little difficulties to things better, from little difficulties to things better - it's been a pattern over my entire adult lifetime."
"I would say the relationships right now are fairly normal."
Rumsfeld also said that although NATO may get more involved in Iraq at some point, "Its first task really is to do well (in) the Afghanistan task" of leading the International Security Assistance Force (search) in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and managing civil aid teams in several provinces.
Rumsfeld said he expected Iraq to be a major topic of discussion during his two days in Munich. On Sunday he is scheduled to travel to Zagreb, Croatia, followed by meetings in London on Monday.
When speaking at the Munich conference a year ago, Rumsfeld was critical of Europeans who favored giving United Nations inspectors more time to determine whether Iraq possessed chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Delay, Rumsfeld said, "could well make war more likely, not less, because delaying preparations (for war) sends a signal of uncertainty instead of a signal of resolve."
Almost a month later, U.S. forces invaded, toppling Saddam Hussein's regime. So far, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. The head of the U.S. search team, David Kay, told Congress last week that it appears that the administration's prewar claims were erroneous.