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Special Event

Rumsfeld's Aims to Make U.S. Military Strongest in World

Aired January 26, 2001 - 2:29 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Now live to the Pentagon where Donald Rumsfeld, in his second tour as secretary of defense, is conducting his first Pentagon news briefing.

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Congress together, and he's a long-time friend, and I'm delighted he's able to be here today for the welcoming ceremony.

Thank you for taking a few minutes today so that we can visit. I am looking forward to working with all of you. The Pentagon press corps certainly has a proud history of outstanding professionalism.

And under whose tenure was the correspondent's corridor opened? Mel Laird. So there you are.

This has been quite a day for me. We've been over at the White House and met with the president and the vice president. And in a few minutes we'll wander out and have the welcoming ceremony.

The opportunity to serve, as the president said, again is an unusual one. I remember my time here well and with a great deal of pleasure. It's a wonderful institution. The men and women in uniform are so special and so important to our country. And certainly the dedicated civilians here in the department and across the globe do a superb job for our nation.

The department, during my time here this time, will be guided by the goals that the president has set forth. I agree with them, I think they're important, and intend to do my best to see that they are achieved.

The challenge we face is not as obvious as during the Cold War, as the president's indicated, but it's just as noble and it's to turn these years of influence into years of peace. The chance before us is to ensure that we have without question the world's strongest and most capable military institution.

A strong military does not guarantee peace and stability in the world, but we know that the opposite is true, that weakness is provocative, that it does invite and entice people into doing things they would otherwise avoid. And our task is to see that we fashion deterrents that fit this new national security environment.

I've been asked why I said yes, and came back to this obviously enormous task that faces this building, this institution and our country. And I would say Theodore Roosevelt's observation that far and away the best prize life offers is to work hard at work worth doing. And this work is certainly worth doing. And I am ready and eager to work hard at it.

Let me say a few words about my first days. I have -- I guess I've been here four days now, it seems like four months. But it's been an interesting time.

I have met, as you know, with senior Pentagon officials. Those that are here on, basically, a permanent basis. I've met with those who have departed, and thanked them for their service and dedication to the country. I've met with those who have agreed to stay during this transition period and had any number of meetings with them. They are, as you know, the continuity in this department.

The process of bringing people in with a new administration is a long and torturous one. I know, I've just been through it. And it involves hundreds of pages of forms and questions, and it takes a bit of time. So I'm very grateful to the members of Secretary Cohen's team who are here and assisting during this period.

I've had meetings with the chiefs and have been meeting with the chairman once or twice a day. I've been meeting with the members of the national security team in the White House, Secretary Powell, Condi Rice, Vice President Cheney and the president. It is a terrific team of people. And I am just delighted to be working with them on a whole set of very interesting and very challenging issues for our country.

I've met with George Tenet, and indicated on a number of occasions my personal interest in seeing that the intelligence capabilities of this country are improved and elevated; that we fashion them to fit the demands facing us in the world.

It is a more complex, more diverse set of problems and issues. And I intend to work very closely with the members of the intelligence community to see that the president has the best possible information as he tackles his assignments.

I met with senior enlisted officials, and have had discussions with them about the important issues facing the men and women in the armed forces and the need we have to see that they are the best and that we can attract and retain the kinds of people we need to make sure that the armed forces of the United States can do the assignments they face.

I have been receiving briefings and meetings -- combination of receiving briefings and giving some thoughts of my own on issues such as ethics, security in the Department of Defense. I've had a couple or three meetings on the budget. I've spent a good deal of time on personnel, looking at the department and the kinds of qualities and characteristics that I think would be important in filling the very important senior levels here at the department.

I've been meeting on ongoing operations, key policy issues, intelligence issues. In the coming week, I'll probably be focusing on budget, missile defense, personnel, the needs of the men and women in uniform, the QDR.

I'm going to be preparing to go to Munich for the Wehrkunde conference. As a former ambassador to NATO, I feel very strongly that that alliance is an important one, it's a central part of our success in this world, it's important not just to the United States and Europe, but I believe it contributes stability well beyond. And I look forward to meeting with my counterparts during a brief trip to Munich. I hope also to be able to stop and meet with some servicemen and their families on my departure.

I'd be happy to take a few questions.

Now, who am I supposed to start with?

QUESTION: Well, you're supposed to start with Charlie.

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: Listen, if you think I'm going to mess up my first day, you're wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the Pentagon.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

QUESTION: I hope you'll come down and chat with us often.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

QUESTION: You mentioned NATO and being a former NATO ambassador, and you're a two-time secretary now. The European allies are very concerned about the cross-Atlantic ties, including two issues: NMD and U.S. participation in peacekeeping.

During your confirmation hearings you described the ABM Treaty -- you appeared to deride the ABM Treaty as ancient history. Are you and the United States ready to scrap that treaty, even if it means sour ties with the allies?

RUMSFELD: Well, first, I don't think I was disparaging of the treaty. I think I compared it as being as ancient as I am, is what I said.

It was a long time ago that that treaty was fashioned.

Technologies were notably different. The circumstances in the world were notably different. The Soviet Union, our partner in that treaty, doesn't exist anymore. The focus that we necessarily had during the Cold War was on attempting to have a stable situation, given two nations with overwhelming nuclear capabilities. And all of that has changed.

We're in a very different world. The Soviet Union's gone. The principal threats facing the United States are not the fear of a strategic nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. And it strikes me that we should accept the treaty in that sense. And I think that it ought not to -- personally believe it ought not to inhibit a country, a president, an administration, a nation, from fashioning offensive and defensive capabilities that will provide for our security in a notably different national security environment.

The president has not been ambiguous about this. He says he intends to deploy a missile defense capability for the country. He has concluded that it is not in our country's interests to perpetuate vulnerability. And the Russians know -- they have to know -- that the kinds of capabilities that are being discussed are not capabilities that threaten them in any way.

They also have to know, if they look around the globe, that there are other threats; that there are nations with increasingly capable weapons that, because of the proliferation of technologies, are posing threats, not just to the United States, but to other countries in Europe and to, ultimately, Russia.

So I think it's something that's manageable. I don't know quite how it will be managed. The National Security Council will be addressing these questions in the period ahead. And certainly the treaty itself is an issue that Secretary Powell and the president and all of us will be discussing.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, another contentious issue is the issue of China. And one of this administration's next challenges will be dealing with the issue of arms sales to Taiwan, which China opposes, even though there's been a build-up of missiles across the Taiwan Strait. Do you have a position on whether we should sell Aegis ships, which can be used for missile defense down the road to the Taiwanese?

RUMSFELD: Well, there are laws on the books that characterize our relationship with Taiwan. And these are issues that the National Security Council will be addressing; certainly, Secretary Powell has an interest in that. And it's not something that we have met on at this stage.

QUESTION: Ari Fleischer, the president's press secretary, said that the president has asked you to do a sweeping force structure review, get them from the QDR. When do you intend to start that or have you started it already? Do you have a target date for its completion?

And do you have any initial views on such weapons systems as the F-22, V-22, Joint Strike Fighter and....

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: That's nice.

You're right; the president's press spokesman has, in fact, correctly characterized what the president has asked us to do.

RUMSFELD: We will being doing it. We have not done it. It is something that is complex, and it will take some time. And even if I had preliminary views on things, it would be unwise for me to opine at this stage.

WATERS: Donald Rumsfeld, at age 68, beginning his second tour as secretary of defense of the United States. He indicated in his support for national missile defense, that it's a new day demanding new capabilities for the United States, and that his goal is to create the strongest, most capable military in the world it's the goal of the Bush administration, he said.

Why is he, at age 68, saying yes to a new tour of duty in the Bush administration as secretary of defense? He quoted Roosevelt, saying that nothing is more fulfilling than working hard at work worth doing.

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