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Rumsfeld Leaves for Middle East

Aired October 2, 2001 - 17:01   ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, Bill. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is to leave tonight for the Middle East. Asked why Rumsfeld is being sent, the chief White House spokesman said the appropriate person to make the visit is the defense secretary.

The trip was announced just this afternoon. Washington says the itinerary is still coming together. The political leader of NATO says the United States in time has laid out clear and compelling proof that Osama bin Laden was behind the acts of terror in New York and Washington.

And British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned the Taliban in Afghanistan to surrender Osama bin Laden or surrender its power. We'll have more on Mr. Blair's remarks in just a moment.

In Pakistan today, the Taliban ambassador called again for Washington to spell out its case against bin Laden. The official said that the Taliban is willing to negotiate removing bin Laden from Afghanistan, but cannot turn him over without proof of wrongdoing. And he will be on Larry King's program tonight at 9:00 Eastern if you'd like to hear more from him.

Now to Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Joie. You mentioned Tony Blair. He presented a case earlier today for military strikes against Afghanistan's Taliban government, saying the Taliban provides both shelter and support for Osama bin Laden, Washington's prime suspect in the terror attacks of last September.

Mr. Blair rejected compromise and said the military aim would be to eliminate the Taliban's weapons, target its troops and block its sources of funding. The British leader spoke at Labour Party conference in the English city of Brighton.


BLAIR: The action that we take will be proportionate, targeted. We will do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties, but understand what we are dealing with. Listen to the calls of those passengers on the planes. Think of the children on them told they were going to die. Think of the cruelty beyond our comprehension, as amongst the screams and the anguish of the innocent, those hijackers drove, at full throttle, planes laden with fuel into building where tens of thousands of people worked.

They have no moral inhibition on the slaughter of the innocent. If they could have murdered not 7,000, but 70,000, does anyone doubt they would have done so, and rejoiced in it? So there is no compromise possible with such people. There is no meeting of minds, no point of understanding, with such terror. Just a choice. Defeat it or be defeated by it! And defeat it we must.



HEMMER: Again, the words, the speech from British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr. Blair helping to lead the way for Washington, with strikes against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. CNN's Robin Oakley at NATO headquarters in Brussels watching the front there, and CNN's Kelly Wallace live at the White House as well.

Let's begin with you, Kelly. Reaction from the White House after Tony Blair's impassioned speech today?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, the White House saying it definitely welcomes the comments of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but as you see, the prime minister definitely going a big step further than the White House has been willing to go. The prime minister basically telling the Taliban, surrender the terrorists or surrender your power. The official line from the administration continues to be that the Taliban must adhere to President Bush's demands or face unspecified consequences.

Now, we do know, Bill, that there was definite coordination here. Senior administration officials telling my colleague, John King, that Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, did see the speech in advance, and that she was -- quote -- "fine with it."

There was some concern on the part of the administration, we understand, when some reporting came out yesterday that the prime minister was expected to say that time had run out for the Taliban, and that imminent military action would be taking place. So White House definitely wanting the prime minister not to be specific about any timetable. He obviously was not, so the word is the White House fine with it. Again, though, a different -- going a step further than the White House has been going so far -- Bill.

HEMMER: And, Kelly, to be a bit more blunt, is Tony Blair the mouthpiece for the White House at this point, knowing that he went the added step?

WALLACE: That is the key question, which we have not been able to answer, whether this was sort of a -- a coordinated move here, having the British prime minister go out and make this statement, and put additional pressure on the Taliban, while allowing the United States to continue its official public line, because you know the administration walking a delicate diplomatic dance, not wanting to anger Pakistan and other countries which have been very cooperative with the United States, but countries which want to make sure this is a campaign against terrorists and not a campaign seeking regime change. So, that's the question we're trying to get. Was this some type of coordination or not? Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Kelly. Stand by at the White House.

Overseas in Brussels, Robin Oakley with us. Now, European reaction, how have you gauged it thus far, Robin?

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, I think the European reaction is pretty favorable. And you talked there and Kelly talks there of Tony Blair going out ahead of the White House in terms of his willingness to talk of removing the Taliban regime, which is something that the White House has been far less specific about.

What I think pleased many other European Union leaders was Tony Blair's focus on what happens after the military action. Because there again, he may have gone ahead of the White House, saying we will not walk away after the action -- the allies, anybody involved in that action -- but they will stay around to help the Afghan people create a just and fair and prosperous society, rather than the poverty and the starvation that those people have faced under the Taliban and during the years of endless fighting in the country.

Now, European Union leaders, I think, are quite pleased to hear that kind of line. They believe that the biggest and widest coalition will be built by showing awareness of the problems the Afghan people and of Muslims worldwide, and doing everything possible to not show this as a battle between Europe and America on one side and Islam on the other side. So that kind of language from Tony Blair, I think, is well received in European capitals on that particular front -- Bill.

HEMMER: Robin, you know Tony Blair. You've watched him, you've studied him. Did anything he say today, somewhat hawkish at times, did it surprise you?

OAKLEY: It didn't surprise me, no, Bill, because Tony Blair is one of those prime ministers who is at his best in crisis. Some find him not quite so ready to make big decisions in ordinary times about some of the basic domestic issues. But warlike situations seem to bring the best out of him.

He first emerged as a really strong leader and somebody capable of helping to put alliances together in the Kosovo conflict. You may remember that he helped to push the Clinton administration along then, towards the idea of the use of ground troops, a then-reluctant Clinton administration. And Tony Blair does seem to blossom in these kind of crisis situations.

He's also, I think, a very moral politician. He has a very strong Christian belief himself. He has a great interest at the moment in issues like the poverty and the genocide in Africa. And he is trying to turn this dreadful event on September the 11th into something positive. He is saying the families of those who died want something better than simple revenge. Of course they want justice against the perpetrators, but he's saying it can be used to get the whole world into a problem-solving mode, looking at improving things in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians, looking at those huge problems in Africa.

And generally, I think he's showing a sense of what is to come after the immediate military action in this campaign. He is looking, perhaps, rather further forward than some of the other leaders are doing -- Bill.

HEMMER: Robin, hang on there one second in Brussels. Going to take our viewers back to this morning. The president at the White House, meeting with Congressional leaders. talking about this very issue. We'll hear it and talk about it in a moment.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no timetable for the Taliban, just like there are no negotiations. I have said that the Taliban must turn over Al Qaeda organization living within Afghanistan and must destroy the terrorist camps. And they -- they must do so. Otherwise there will be a consequence.


HEMMER: Preaching a similar, but not nearly as strong as Tony Blair. Robin, curious to know this from a NATO perspective. It has been stated that all NATO members, indeed -- oh, we lost Robin? OK, Robin Oakley is gone from Brussels, but Kelly Wallace, still with us live at the White House.

Kelly, don't know if you can address this or not. NATO says it's behind the U.S. and the action it must take at some point. Has there been any reservation or any dissension that you have been able to notice from any European nation going forward here?

WALLACE: It doesn't appear that way at all. You definitely heard NATO making the case again, reinvoking Article V of its charter, which basically says an attack on one member of the alliance is basically the same as an attack on the entire alliance. Ari Fleischer, when he started his briefing today, making note of that. Again, showing us that there is the world, at let the European and NATO community, behind the administration. It doesn't appear that there is any dissension.

Now, the administration all along, Bill, it's interesting, has not said that it needs sort of the OK of the European allies or any countries around the world before it takes any military action. But clearly, a very important goal here is building this international coalition, having the support -- the military support, the diplomatic support, the financial support -- that is what is happening.

Obviously, we have Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld headed to the Middle East tonight. We understand he'll be sharing information, talking with U.S. allies in the region. A big goal -- getting the support of moderate Arab nations, very concerned that the U.S. and the world community make a very measured response here and don't escalate tensions in the Middle East or create a wider conflict on the world stage. So, doesn't appear to be any dissension, but you're continue to see the coalition building on many fronts -- Bill. HEMMER: All right, Kelly. Kelly Wallace at the White House. Our apologies, somewhere along the satellite from Brussels we lost Robin Oakley. We'll get him back a bit later tonight and tomorrow as well. Thanks, Kelly.

CNN learning details of an apparent bomb plot also against the U.S. embassy in Paris. A source in France saying an alleged member of the plot provided extensive information last night to a French judicial investigator. A suspect, arrested last July in the United Arab Emirates, and was extradited to France last weekend. A French newspaper reporting he has told authorities the attack was ordered last March by an aide to Osama bin Laden. Since his arrest, he is said to have implicated others, several of whom are in custody throughout Europe.

Also, U.S. officials in Italy warning that symbols of American capitalism could become targets of terrorists. In its warning, the U.S. embassy in Rome did not name specific targets, but said attacks could occur within the next month.

Also, U.S. officials expressing doubt today about reports concerning Osama bin Laden and an alleged telephone call to a woman described as his mother. The reports say an overseas intelligence service intercepted that call, placed the 9th of September, and that bin Laden was heard telling a woman "something big" would happen in two days' time. Three sources who talked to CNN expressed extreme skepticism about such reports.

With that, we want to go back to Washington. Secretary of State Colin Powell now talking.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: ... financial instruments, intelligence, law enforcement, military as appropriate, diplomatic and political isolation. And we're in it for the long haul. In the first instance, we're interested in the Al Qaeda organization and Osama bin Laden, currently headquartered in Afghanistan . We think they should be turned over.

But the struggle is really against terrorism, wherever it is throughout the world, and wherever it threatens civilized societies. I know that Greece has had these sorts of problems in the past, and that is why we share such common views on what must be done. So I thank the minister and the Greek people for their support, and I thank George for having taken the time to visit with me this afternoon -- George?

GEORGE PAPANDREOU, GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER: Colin, thank you very much. I'd like to thank Secretary Colin Powell for finding the time in these difficult hours.

First of all, I'm here to pay our respects and bring our warmest of condolences from the Greek people and the Greek government to the United States. And not only our sorrow, but also our pledge to work together, not only strongly condemning terrorism, but in every practical way, to isolate and deal this terrible scourge a blow so that it doesn't prevail, and that our values of freedom and democracy do prevail in the world.

I also want to thank Colin because we were able to discuss some of the regional issues which are high on our agenda and of Greece -- issues such as the Balkans, the Middle East, Cyprus and Greek-Turkish relations, but also, our cooperation within NATO and the European Union.

We, again, pledge to work very closely with the United States, and I'd say that we very much appreciate the systematic and very careful and thought-through work that Secretary Powell is doing in building this coalition, and the very effective way, so that we can make sure that this is a -- we will have results. Results, which have to do not with fighting civilizations -- we're not fighting between civilizations. We're not fighting Islam or the Arab world. We are fighting terrorists. And they have no name, they are just terrorists.

And I think this is very important. So, thank you very much, Colin, for this time.

POWELL: Thank you, George. We'll take a question or two, but let me just conclude by, again, thanking the minister, as I did upstairs, for their support. And also, to once again extend my condolences to those Greeks who lost their lives and to their families, as well as to the many Greek-Americans who were caught up in this terrible tragedy.

We'll have time for one or two questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you please describe the information that the U.S. is providing to Greece and to other allies about who we feel is responsible for the September 11th bombings? And can you also say if you have gotten a response back from any of the embassies as to how people have accepted this information?

POWELL: As you know, we sent information out last night to a large number of nations that have the ability to receive the kind of information we sent, which I think powerfully made the case that the Al Qaeda organization, led by Osama bin Laden, was responsible for what happened on the 11th of September. We traced the history of this organization, its recent activities and events, and events around the 11th, before and after.

I think it's a persuasive case. It was presented in the NATO meeting this morning by Ambassador Taylor, from my counterterrorism office. And it was a very persuasive, and we have heard back not only from Lord Robertson, the Secretary-General of NATO, who immediately came out and reported that NATO found it persuasive enough to lift the "if" clause in the Article V invocation, and now NATO is poised to receive requests from the United States -- but we have heard individually from several capitals already that they found the information very, very interesting, useful and persuasive.

HEMMER: Secretary of State Colin Powell meeting, there at the State Department, the Greek foreign minister. Two hours ago he was in that same location meeting with India's foreign minister, as the parade of dignitaries through Washington continues at this time. Now, amid the effort to build a coalition of nations to fight terrorism, a major diplomatic development today out of Washington also. President Bush said a Palestinian state is -- quote -- part of a vision, if Israel's right to exist is respected. We also heard from Colin Powell on this issue as well. He talked about it earlier today,


POWELL: As the president said this morning, there has always been a vision. And our thinking, as well as in previous administrations' thinking, that there would be a Palestinian state that would exist at the same time that the security of the state of Israel was also recognized, guaranteed and accepted by all parties. That vision is alive and well, and we hope that it will come about as a result of negotiations between the two sides.


HEMMER: Again, Colin Powell talking about the Middle East prospects for peace. Andrea Koppel, at the State Department now, joins us with a live update.

All right, scratch that. Andrea Koppel at this time, we won't get to her. But joining us, also from Washington, the man who headed a special committee that drew up steps toward peace in the Middle East, is with us at this time. Former Senate majority leader George Mitchell is with us from Capitol Hill.

Senator, nice to see you again.

GEORGE MITCHELL, FMR. SENATOR: Thank you, Bill. Nice to be here.

HEMMER: Were you aware, prior to the attacks on the 11th of September, about the proposal to go ahead from the White House and put forth a possibility of a peace plan in the Middle East?

MITCHELL: No, I was not.

HEMMER: Does this surprise you at all, coming from this administration?

MITCHELL: No, it does not. I know, from my many conversations with Secretary Powell, that he has been very deeply involved and very active in trying to encourage the parties to move forward in the peace process in the Middle East. As you know, the president and secretary have both said that they support full implementation of the report that our committee made. And so I'm pleased that this is now occurring, and I think that the secretary and the president are pursuing the correct policy.

HEMMER: Senator, the president invoked your name earlier today at the White House meeting with people there, members of Congress talking about the Mitchell report. Three things in very broad scope here, implied: end the violence -- in other words, a cease-fire, rebuild the confidence and resume negotiations. At this point in the Middle East how far are we from point A?

MITCHELL: Well, of course, they've had several cease-fires, none of which has taken hold. But I believe that the September 11th tragedy may have created a new dynamic in the Middle East. And I think it is appropriate and timely for the president and the secretary of state, trying to act on that basis.

I think that the overriding imperative is to end the violence and resume security cooperation, because life has become unbearable for the people in both societies. That's not my assessment. That's the assessment of Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat, both of whom told me that personally on my last visit there. So I think that it may be possible, this time, to move toward a cease-fire, a genuine cease-fire, and then try to rebuild the confidence that's been so badly shattered by the events of the past year.

HEMMER: Senator, there is a report also that said President Bush would meet with Yasser Arafat at the U.N. -- again, prior to everything that happened three weeks ago today. Would it be good advice now for the president to meet with Yasser Arafat, whether in New York or Washington or elsewhere?

MITCHELL: Well, I've felt all along that such a meeting would occur, but the timing should be, and appropriately, was left up to the president. He has to make the judgment as to when such a meeting could provide the maximum opportunity to move forward on the process. And obviously, the administration has made that judgment at this time.

But I support the president's decision, both to do so, and with respect to the timing of it.

HEMMER: And there's also an indication here that if the White House moves forward, trying to, ultimately, as they have stated today, get to a Palestinian state in the Middle East, how far do you think that would go to engender other Arab support in current conflict?

MITCHELL: It's clear the president and secretary of state have judged that to be a very important factor. And, that, no doubt accounts in part for the statements made today and the actions previously discussed. And I think it will obviously be very important. It has to be emphasized, of course -- and I know this is the case with the administration -- this is not to be taken at the expense of a friend and ally, but rather to encourage both sides to move forward to achieve peace.

Bill, it's important to recognize that while this is a significant step in enhancing the international coalition to combat these terrorists, even if the tragedy of September 11th had not occurred, taking an initiative to bring peaceful steps in Middle East, by itself, independently, is the right thing to do. It's been American policy for a long time, and so I'm pleased that the administration is moving. Although for both reasons, I think each of them is a legitimate and appropriate reason.

HEMMER: Senator George Mitchell, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Live from Washington with us.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Bill.

HEMMER: All right.

The plan to reopen Reagan National: a look at the strict new rules implemented to tighten security. That will come later this week.

Also, the new director of homeland security saying goodbye to his home state. That and more, after a break here.


HEMMER: Reagan National Airport, the only commercial U.S. airport still closed since the attacks three weeks ago, will reopen this week. In fact, it will happen on Thursday. President Bush announced that move today, saying the airport will offer limited service under strict security conditions. He says there's no greater symbol to show that America is "back in business," in his words, than the reopening of Reagan National.


BUSH: We got struck hard on September 11th. All of us know that. But you can't strike the American spirit. It's strong. It's vibrant. It's united. And by the opening this airport, we're making yet another statement to terrorists: You can't win!


HEMMER: Reagan Airport has remained closed due to severe security concerns there. It's close to the Pentagon, only 3 miles from the White House, and it's also close to other key government buildings in and around Washington.

And a special task force appointed after the attacks of 9-11 calling for a broad range of security steps to make air travel safer. For more on this, here's CNN's Patty Davis.


PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just how to make an aircraft safe from a hijackers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are going to be action items.

DAVIS: For starters, the rapid-response task force, formed by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta two weeks ago, calls for strengthening cockpit doors. In a report obtained by CNN, the task force recommends airlines immediately begin installing dead bolts, crossbars, or nets on cockpit doors to stop intruders -- redesigned cockpit doors on entire U.S. fleet within one year. It calls for airlines to evaluate installing cameras, so pilots can keep an eye on what's happening in the passenger cabin, allows crews to use nonlethal defensive weapons within one year, and it backs considering modifying aircraft transponders so hijackers can't turn them off.

RODNEY SLATER, FMR. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: The time is now, and when you consider the expense that we have already suffered, the loss of life that cannot be even calculated, you can't put a price tag on to it be sure, but also the impact to our economy that this terrorist attack has wrought.

DAVIS: The task force recommendations come from the airline industry and pilot and flight attendant unions. Members of Congress are equally interested, hoping to reach a compromise on airport security this week.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: I think we will have an aviation security package that will include securing the cockpits, it will include more sky marshals in the air, and it will also include better quality screening and training for screeners -- as an overall package, that will make people feel when they get on an airplane, that it will be safe.

DAVIS: Still to be resolved: whether airport screeners should be higher-paid more highly-skilled federal employees, as the airline industry and many in Congress want.

President Bush has said he favors only heightened federal supervision of the screeners.

(on camera): There is near unanimous agreement on one thing, though. After the September 11th terrorist attacks, everyone is looking for ways to make airlines and airports more secure, and help reassure passengers it's still safe to fly.

Patty Davis, CNN, Washington.


HEMMER: Ever since the day of the attacks, this pressing question has gone unanswered: How could such an elaborate plot manage to come together without U.S. intelligence stepping in to stop it? In a story on the Web, "Newsweek's" Michael Isikoff reveals that bureaucratic red tape may have thwarted some officials from taking a closer look at a man who was arrested back in August -- that man, now seen as central to the hijacking plot. Michael Isikoff, the writer, the author of that article, with us live in Washington.

Michael, hello again to you.


HEMMER: We are talking about a man by the name of Zacharias Moussaoui. He was living in Minnesota, taking flying lessons at the time. Let's begin at the beginning, Michael. Why was he tipped off to authorities?

ISIKOFF: Because he was at a flight simulator in Eagan, Minnesota, and was acting, what flight instructors there, viewed as quite suspiciously. He had asked for training only in making turns, not in takeoffs and landings. He only wanted to be trained on a large aircraft, to fly a large aircraft. And he was asking about flying over New York airspace.

And all of that combined made them suspicious. They called the FBI. The FBI swooped in. It was discovered that he was in violation of his business visa, and he was immediately detained under -- on immigration charges, by the INS. And the FBI launched an investigation into Mr. Moussaoui.

HEMMER: I'm want to stop there, Michael. Again, this was back in mid-August, almost a full month before the attacks in New York and Washington, and at the time, agents seized a computer but were not allowed to open the hard drive. What wall did they hit?

ISIKOFF: Well, they ran into a wall at FBI headquarters and the Justice Department.

Basically, what happened is, they, too, the FBI in Minneapolis, was suspicious of Mr. Moussaoui. They launched this investigation. They seized his computer. And the FBI in Washington initiated what's called a trace, which is sort of a worldwide request for information from friendly governments to try to develop more on his background.

Then, in early September, French intelligence reports that Mr. Moussaoui was, according to their information, an associate of Islamic terrorists based in Algeria, had traveled widely. He was a French citizen, had been living in London. But he had traveled to Pakistan and was believed to have visited Afghanistan.

All that, combined with the initial suspicious behavior, made the FBI agents in Minneapolis want to pursue more aggressively an investigation into him. They asked for a special counterintelligence surveillance warrant. It's under something called the FISA Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And that requires approval from the Justice Department in Washington. That would have allowed them, among other things, to crack into the hard drive computer which they had seized from Mr. Moussaoui.

That request was, as we report today, denied by FBI headquarters and the Justice Department.

HEMMER: Michael, bottom line, though, as we cut through all of this, if what they found on the hard drive, could that have thwarted anything that happened on September 11? Can we say that conclusively or not?

ISIKOFF: Well, we can't say anything conclusively here.

But we can say that there certainly would have been more evidence that might have alerted FBI agents, had they gotten that surveillance, because, on the computer, which was opened after September 11, they found a lot of even more suspicious information about wind patterns relating to crop-duster aircraft and other information that he had downloaded from the Internet regarding crop-dusters.

That is why, incidentally, the FBI after that ordered the immediate downing of all crop-duster aircraft. The concern was that Mr. Moussaoui was part of a plot that was going to use crop-duster aircraft for possibly a biological or a chemical warfare attack.

HEMMER: Got it.

ISIKOFF: Nobody knows for sure, because Mr. Moussaoui is not cooperating.

HEMMER: Not cooperating, in custody here in New York City.

Michael Isikoff, thanks for sharing -- very interesting stuff for viewers, who can read more about it at

Michael, thanks again to you.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

HEMMER: A few moments ago, also in Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday he will visit four key supporters of the U.S. war against terrorism -- Rumsfeld said to leave late in the day on the trip to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan. Here you see him in Washington with the Indian foreign minister.

A few minutes ago, he briefed reporters on his trip. We shall listen now.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The defense minister of India is also the foreign minister. And this is our second visit. And we've just had a very good discussion about his part of the world and the problems that the United States and those nations that are concerned about terrorism are wrestling with.

And I appreciate his being here and the very spontaneous, open, fulsome support which they have offered the United States immediately after the attacks here in this country. It is something that is appreciated and valued and from which we are benefiting.

Mr. Minister?

SINGH: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

(inaudible) I endorse every word of what Secretary Rumsfeld has said. I'm not only very glad, but I'm very proud really to be meeting him again. And I do want to say to the press, too, what I have said earlier. When the Pentagon was attacked that day, on Tuesday, 11th, Secretary Rumsfeld displayed great personal courage and great leadership, which we in the free world have treated as an example. And I'm very glad that I'm able to visit him again.

The free world has a challenge that we face, and it's a challenge we have to face jointly. And in the facing of this challenge we stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States of America.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you tell us what countries you're going to visit, how long you'll be gone?

RUMSFELD: I'm planning to visit Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan.

RUMSFELD: I have not been able to get to the region since I have become secretary of defense this time. And given all the things that are going on over there, it struck me as a good idea to make a visit.

I hope to get back this weekend; I think that I will. And as a matter of fact, we have something that my wife and I've arranged for Saturday morning, so I'm hoping to be back by then.

QUESTION: What about Pakistan, sir? Any visit to Pakistan planned?

RUMSFELD: No. I'll not be visiting Pakistan.

QUESTION: Mr. Rumsfeld, India has always had the position, based on available evidence, that Pakistan actually harbors and, in fact, provides safe haven to terrorists. What is your view on this?

RUMSFELD: We've had discussions about a number of countries, and the issue of terrorism and the importance of addressing it in a variety of different ways, as different countries are. And it is a problem, as I've indicated, that in the case of this one network called Al Qaeda is in 50 or 60 countries. There is Al Qaeda activity in the United States of America. And what we need to do is to recognize that the task for those countries who share this view is to root it out where it exists, because it has every advantage of taking the offense.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you explain why personally you want to make a visit to these countries? Have you been consulting, of course, in other ways? Why is it so important for you to personally make the trip?

RUMSFELD: We have a lot of activity in the region of the Defense Department, and I have not been able to be there yet this year. Normally ministers of defense visit countries where there's that type of activity and I, unfortunately, have not been able to thus far, and it just seemed that I should.

RUMSFELD: It is something that -- as we all know, there are a lot of things others can do, but there are some things that the secretary of defense has to do.

QUESTION: What will be your message?

RUMSFELD: Well, it will vary from country to country.

QUESTION: Will you be visiting with U.S. troops in any of these countries?

RUMSFELD: I hope to. We have an exercise going on in Egypt called Bright Star. It is a big one. It is an annual one. And we have people there, and I hope to be able to do that. It's a little complicated in terms of schedules. We're dealing with very important people, and how those schedules work out is not quite clear yet.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what's the message you want to bring to Uzbekistan? That's not traditionally seen as a U.S. point of interest.

RUMSFELD: Well, I think it is -- I've not met the leadership there, and it seemed to me that, given their geography and their situation, that having a first face-to-face meeting with the leadership there would be a useful thing.

QUESTION: Is this a prelude to military action against the Taliban, Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: Now, you know I don't answer questions like that.


QUESTION: Are you taking any proof to those countries about what are the links between Al Qaeda and the attacks against the World Trade Center?

RUMSFELD: The attacks on the United States -- the evidence is so clear.

RUMSFELD: It's been on television, the damage that was done. The relationships among terrorists and terrorist networks are abundantly clear. There is no need for additional evidence.

The United States has talked to any country with any interest in the subject at all. And it seems to me that it is self-evident that terrorists are operating in the world, and they're operating in countries because countries are tolerating that, and that if we are to assure the way of life of free systems, such as in our country and in India, the only choice we have is to take the battle to them.

QUESTION: Sir, will you be visiting with U.S. troops in Uzbekistan?

RUMSFELD: That is...


For those who did not see his face, he was smiling.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is the coalition pretty much in place now or are there other countries you still need to bring on board?

RUMSFELD: We'll make this the last question.

This is not an effort that will be short. It is not an effort that involves a single coalition. There will be a variety of opportunities for countries to work with us in different ways, at different times, in different parts of the world, sometimes visibly and sometimes less visibly.

As I've said before, I think that the kind of information that will turn the day will be scraps of information that people from all across the globe will give, sometimes people from inside countries that are harboring terrorists, sometimes, conceivably, people from inside organizations that would like terrorists to leave their country. And it's that kind of information that will help us over time, ultimately, to roll up these networks and allow free people to live their lives in freedom.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a safe trip, Mr. Secretary.


HEMMER: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld there with the Indian foreign minister in Washington from a short time ago. That was on videotape -- but, again, the critical news, the defense secretary leaving later tonight for parts in the Middle East -- four countries right now on his itinerary: Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uzbekistan -- Donald Rumsfeld saying the evidence is so clear, "abundantly clear," in his words.

A couple critical stops, too -- talking about the geography, the location relative to Afghanistan. That is Uzbekistan, very critical at that point -- also, Saudi Arabia at this point not allowing the U.S. to use its land, its territory to launch any attacks. However, U.S. officials in Washington say they are positive -- or optimistic, anyway -- that that situation may clear in the coming days and weeks.

And also Egypt also critical, too -- quietly, certain dignitaries have indicated that they are quite surprised at this point that Egypt has remained so quiet, quiet over the past three weeks, given the terror that hit New York, Washington and Western Pennsylvania back on the 11th of September -- again, Donald Rumsfeld leaving tonight -- hopes to be back by the weekend, visiting four critical places in parts of Middle East.

Our coverage continues in a moment here on CNN -- back with more after this.


HEMMER: At ground zero earlier today, Army robots put into action at the site of the former World Trade Center -- the robots equipped with cameras. They can go deep into the rubble either blocked or unsafe for rescue workers. And as you can see, the process continues now 21 days later.

Just about quarter to the hour now, 15 minutes before. Let's check the latest developments -- back to Joie in Atlanta for more on this -- Joie.

CHEN: Bill, yes, we do want to bring our viewers up to date on the late developments of the day.

With the war of words reaching higher and higher between the United States and the Taliban, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is to leave for the Middle East tonight to talk with political and military leaders. Rumsfeld will stop in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan. That is in Central Asia. This comes as the United States continues its military buildup in advance of the possibility of strikes in the war against terrorism.

NATO says the U.S. has presented clear and compelling evidence that the terror attacks were directed by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. NATO'S secretary-general says the Western alliance has invoked Article 5, which means an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Taliban rulers are again demanding that the United States show proof that bin Laden was behind last month's terror attacks. If that happens, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan says the regime would open talks on handing over Osama bin Laden. Now, President Bush says the Taliban have ample evidence of bin Laden's ties to terrorism.

And there were tough words today from British Prime Minister Tony Blair to the Taliban: Surrender bin Laden or surrender power.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: People know we must act, but they worry what might follow. They worry about the economy and the talk of recession. And, of course, there are dangers. It is a new situation. But the fundamentals of the U.S., the British, the European economies are strong. Every reasonable measure of internal security is being undertaken.

Our way of life is a great deal stronger and will last a great deal longer than the actions of fanatics small in number and now facing a unified world against them. People should have confidence. This is a battle with only one outcome: our victory, not theirs.


CHEN: Tony Blair, sharp words today.

And that's a look at the latest developments. Now we go back to Bill in New York -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Joie.

The past few days, there's been a lot of talk about who might take over in Afghanistan should the Taliban lose power. One man who has stepped forward is the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah. Over the weekend, he told a group of U.S. lawmakers in Rome, Italy that he is -- quote -- "ready, willing and able" to lead an interim government.

A short time ago, one of those lawmakers who met with the king, the former king, went into greater detail here on CNN.


REP. CURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, the king is not asking to be reinstated to his position. In fact, he said this is not an ego trip for him. He is offering himself to establish the process that brings the varied groups together, which is a process inherent in the Afghan culture. And the factions all in the past that have been at odds with each other are united that that's the best course for Afghanistan to take.


HEMMER: Let's talk more about who might replace the Taliban, if that were indeed the case.

Rob Sobhani, a professor at Georgetown University, has researched that region extensively.

Doctor, hello to you.


HEMMER: I'm doing just fine. Thank you very much.

The king has been out of power for 28 years. How much power does he have?

SOBHANI: Well, Bill, Zahir Shah was the ruler of Afghanistan from 1933 to 1973. And during that 40-year period, it was a period of peace, prosperity for all Afghans, including the women of Afghanistan. So the people of Afghanistan have fond memories. And that is why it is very important that he be the central focus of any post-Taliban government.

HEMMER: Some reports are suggesting that if a coalition government were formed -- and, again, this is a lot of speculation at this point -- but if indeed that were the case, some aspects of the Taliban may be included. Do you see that as possibility?

SOBHANI: Certainly to the extent that there can be a broader coalition, it would be best.

However, I would like to emphasize one point: Before the United States strikes, I think it is absolutely important for the president of the United States to have a ceremony at the Rose Garden, along with the monarch of Afghanistan, with the presidents of Turkey, Turkmenistan and Pakistan, along with King Juan Carlos.

Make an international coalition around the return of Zahir Shah in order to demonstrate the United States is in a campaign to free Afghanistan, to liberate the people of Afghanistan and to bring back peace and prosperity to the people of Afghanistan.

HEMMER: Interesting scenario -- Pakistan also, though, expressing concern with the Northern Alliance. It believes, in larger degree, that they are not friendly to Islamabad, to Pakistan. Do you believe that there is a bit of a wild card here with Pakistan lining itself up with the Northern Alliance?

SOBHANI: There are two wild cards, Bill.

One is, of course, as you mentioned, Pakistan. But probably the more problematic wild card is the Islamic government of Iran. The government of Iran does not like the former monarch to return. They have made that very clear in their press statements. And that he might be the biggest stumbling block to any U.S. plan for the return of the monarch to Afghanistan.

HEMMER: Then, in the meantime, Doctor, tell us this: What do these groups do? Are they talking? Do they continue discussing? Or is there any communication between them?

SOBHANI: Absolutely.

In fact, today I was meeting with the representative of the United Front, as they are called. And there are extensive communications between not only the political organs, but also the military leaders and the former monarch. This coalition is beginning to look like a government in exile. And all the mechanics are in place for the return of this coalition.

As I said, though, it is very important that the United States make this a campaign of liberating Afghanistan, freeing the people of Afghanistan.

HEMMER: Point well noted. There are so many branches on this tree, as you well know.

Dr. Rob Sobhani from Georgetown University, thank you very much.

SOBHANI: Thank you, Bill.

HEMMER: The anemic U.S. economy in a possible recession: Is another round of interest rate cuts the answer? We will take questions from the Web and our chat online in a moment here.


HEMMER: The Federal Reserve tried again today to prime up the economic pump by offering yet another cut in interest rates. Wall Street offered a sluggish response at first, but a late-day rally helped push the Dow up about 114 points. The Fed cut its federal funds rate a half percent today, the ninth time this year the Fed has reduced that benchmark rate, which now stands at its lowest level in nearly 40 years.

So, then, what does an interest rate cut do or not do for the economy? And what does it mean to you?

Back to Atlanta and Joie for more on this -- Joie.

CHEN: Bill, this hour, we turn return to Dennis Kneale, managing editor of "Forbes" magazine.

Dennis, thanks for being with us. We have got questions already from our Web chat audience. They've got a lot of questions about this.

This is from Seattle, Washington: "How much did the last tax rebate improve the economy?"

DENNIS KNEALE, "FORBES": How much does -- this is question about the tax rebate instead of...

CHEN: Right. It's a little bit off the mark on the interest rate cut.

KNEALE: OK. The tax rebate was nice idea, but let's consider scope for a minute.

The tax rebate paid back $38 billion to Americans, right? This is our one shot in the arm for this entire year. That's a nice figure. But did you know that in the first half, home equity loans -- in which people borrow money against the equity built up in the home and they take that money and spend it -- in just the first half, that was $33 billion?

The home equity gain is a far more important part to stimulating the economy. And the interest rate cuts you saw today will help do that six months out.

CHEN: That's pretty good. You made the circle all way the back to the interest rate cuts.

All right, let's talk more about that -- and another question from Seattle, Washington: "Have banks dropped their lending rates? If not, when will they?"

KNEALE: Well, this takes, usually -- experts say it takes six months to filter through to get to all of the other rates. Home equity rates will show this drop sooner than other rates.

What frustrates me is that the single biggest form of debt in this country for consumers is credit card debt: over half a trillion dollars. Those rates stay at 20 percent. They never come down. Why? And the reason is because banks don't have to lower the rates because people keep borrowing. And people seem to not worry yet about credit card debt. And those rates don't come down. And that is kind of unfair when you think about it.

CHEN: Yes. A lot of people are very interested in that point.

Another question from our Web audience here, Dennis -- this is from Hawaii -- "Now that the interest rate is equal to the rate of inflation, what can the Fed do for a further stimulus?"

KNEALE: That's going to be a question of how far the Fed is going to be willing to go. Today's announcement about the rate cut is good for investors. It's better for investors than it is for consumers.

With consumers, let's not forget something. You have, what is it -- I'm not sure of the exact number -- 20 million American retirees. They rely on high interest rates to make income on their savings, right? And when you lower the federal funds rate, you are lowering the money market rate. So the 70-year-old retiree who has money in bank accounts earning interest is now getting less than half income on those savings that he got a year ago.

That means he has less money to save. This means, even as you are trying to stimulate the economy, you are hurting a portion of the economy. You are rewarding borrowers, but you're penalizing savers. That's unfortunate. For investors, it's a better impact, because investors now have faith that Alan Greenspan is not going to let this crazy teetering-around continue. He has shown a willingness to cut and cut and cut.

Now, this makes it -- I was talking to our national editor here, Bob Lenzner, who was pointing out that this is a great business for Wall Street and the banks. Goldman Sachs can borrow money now at 2.5 percent, the very best rate. That's a rate approved today. And then it can put the money into 10-year Treasury bills that will pay Goldman 4.5 percent a year and make an instant profit.

CHEN: Dennis, I am afraid I am going to have to run on you here. It's an interesting point. And we appreciate you're being with us.

KNEALE: Thank you, Joie.

CHEN: Dennis Kneale is with "Forbes" magazine. We appreciate your hanging with us today -- and our Web audience as well.

Also, we want note that we asked our viewers on the Web today whether the rate cut announced this afternoon would prompt them to spend any more money. And we're looking at the "quickvote" again. This is not a scientific poll, but we did want to get an idea from our Web audience: 62 percent say, No, today's Fed rate cut will not prompt them to spend any more money.

With that note, we go back to Bill.

HEMMER: A lot of folks holding onto cash, Joie, at this time, anyway -- Joie, thanks

A final note here: In another bid to spur national unity, the Postal Service today unveiled a new 34 cent stamp. That stamp displays the American flag and the phrase "United We Stand" -- Postmaster General John Potter saying the stamp is a ballot for freedom. You'll be able to purchase the new stamp early next month.

And with that, our time has come to a close here on a Tuesday. For Joie Chen in Atlanta, I'm Bill Hemmer once again here in New York.




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