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America's New War: Discussion with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

Aired September 19, 2001 - 07:20   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: There continues to be a great deal of speculation about what kind of attack may form if and when the United States is comfortable with zeroing in on what it has called its prime suspect, Osama bin Laden.

Let's go to Washington, D.C. right now, where John King stands by with a man who might have a lot of answers to those questions -- hi, John.

KING: Hello again to you, Paula.

That's right. We have the pleasure this morning of being joined across the river at the Pentagon by the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Secretary Rumsfeld, I want to start with a comment you made yesterday and try to connect the dots, if we can. U.S. intelligence sources telling CNN that one of the suspected hijackers met in Europe earlier this year with an Iraqi intelligence official. At your briefing yesterday, you said you believed that states, plural, states, were helping these people.

Does the United States government, sir, have any hard evidence that Saddam Hussein may have been part of this?

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have a lot of evidence about a number of countries harboring terrorists that are working across the globe and if you think about it, the al Qaeda network probably has activities in some 50 or 60 countries, not just in Europe or the Middle East, but even in Asia and certainly in the United States of America.

So the evidence is very clear that a number of states are doing that.

KING: And would just contacts, even if there was no hard evidence of involvement in last week's attacks, would just those contacts, whether it would be Iraq or any other nation, would that be enough, in your mind, for you to recommend to the president military strikes against those targets?

RUMSFELD: You know, it's not for me to decide what scraps of evidence constitute sufficiency. That's up to the people who do that and the president of the United States to make those judgments. But what we do know is that this is not a problem of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. It is a problem of a number of networks of terrorists that have been active across the globe. And it is something that strikes at the very heart of what Americans are, which is free people.

And the president has not narrowed this down to a man or an organization or a country. Indeed, he has properly pointed out that we need to take this effort, this cause, this campaign, to the root of the problem and that's the terrorists and the countries that are harboring them.

KING: Help us, sir, understand this emerging international coalition. President Jacques Chirac of France emerged from the White House last night after discussions with the president, said he was fully behind the United States' effort and that it was conceivable that France would add military assets to any campaign.

Do you see that happening? Do you believe the United States will reach out to other countries and ask for troops or airplanes or do you believe when it comes to just the military assets, would you prefer that the United States go this alone?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think it's important to recognize that every country in the world is distinctive and they have their own perspectives. So I think that what you will see evolve over the next, oh, six, eight, 10, 12 months, probably over a period of years, is a coalition that will not be exactly the same with respect to every activity that the United States or another country might undertake with respect to the problem of terrorism.

So you'll see countries that will be a part of some activities and not a part of others. And I think that what we're finding is just overwhelming support coming from around the world.

Now, as I say, don't expect that a certain number, a fixed number of countries will form a coalition and then stay throughout the entire process with respect to every activity. I think it will evolve and change its shape as we go through time and I think that's perfectly understandable.

KING: Let's explain, let's understand the depths of that coalition. We understand that the president of China, Jiang Zemin, spoke to the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, yesterday, both leaders voicing concerns that the United States not take any military steps without the assent, the permission, if you will, of the United Nations.

I would assume the United States government does not accept that view, that the United Nations would have to be behind each and every military step taken by the United States.

RUMSFELD: I think that's a very good assumption.

KING: And, sir, what about the cooperation of the Russians? Obviously the Soviet Union fought a war in Afghanistan, unsuccessful. Lessons to be learned from that and intelligence information? Is Moscow being forthcoming in giving that information to the Pentagon?

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't want to characterize any one country, but I think your point is an important one. One country may be able to help with intelligence information, it may be able to help with air rights, over flight rights, it may be able to help with some various types of military assistance. Others might help with moral support and international resolutions of that type. So it's going to vary from country to country and the president has reached out to the world and I must say, given the fact that there must have been people, nationals of 40 or 50 countries killed, hundreds from some countries, killed in the World Trade disaster and in the Pentagon attack, this is a world event. It is a world problem. And it's not surprising that so many countries from across the globe have offered up a whole host of different types of assistance.

KING: Mr. Secretary, I understand you just came in a short time ago from visiting the site outside, the site of the devastation, the recovery effort.

RUMSFELD: I did.

KING: Your thoughts on that and an update on the cost of repairing that part of the Pentagon and just how things stand this morning?

RUMSFELD: Well, I was, I just came in. It's back behind me here. I'm in the Pentagon now on the first floor and I was out there this morning early thanking people for their help. And I went through the entire under side of the building and walked through it to the inner ring. And they are making very good progress. It is an enormous task and there's so much to be moved. They're looking for classified papers. They're looking for remains of people who were killed. And they're doing a terrific job. It's taking hundreds and hundreds of people and they're from every size and shape, from every state in the union.

KING: Mr. Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, we thank you for sharing your time with us here on CNN this morning. Thank you very much, sir.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

KING: And as the U.S. military mulls its options, U.S. officials also trying to keep track of just what the terrorists might do in response to any U.S. military strikes.

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