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Target: Terrorism - Rumsfeld to Visit Uzbekistan Today

Aired October 5, 2001 - 06:34   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.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get more detail about these two trips. Actually, we're talking about Tony Blair, and we're talking about Donald Rumsfeld.

We've got Brian Cabell at the Pentagon this morning and Kelly Wallace at the White House -- good morning to both of you.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

LIN: Brian, let me begin with you. Why don't you tell us more details about exactly where Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, is going in Uzbekistan, and who he's meeting with?

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's going to Tashkent this morning -- or this morning Eastern Time and planning to meet with leaders for about three hours there.

Uzbekistan very important, because, of course, it shares that border -- about an 80 mile border with Afghanistan -- provides some access, conceivably, for American troops. From all indications we've gotten so far, Uzbekistan will allow American troops and aircraft into that area, in particular special operations forces may be able to stay there and engage in raids from over the border.

So again, this is a new ally for the United States. This is a former Soviet Republic -- a new ally, a new relationship that Rumsfeld has talked of. He wants to meet with these people face-to-face, work out things and make sure that everybody understands what each nation is doing.

But this is a very important meeting for him, because this is a new relationship and a vital ally in this upcoming war on terrorism.

LIN: A new relationship -- a vital ally. But, Kelly Wallace, it's a region that the United States has long ignored, and now the Uzbekis are making demands on the United States: Yes, you can use our military bases, but this is what we want in return.

How is the deal going down at the White House?

WALLACE: It took, I think, administration officials a bit by surprise that the government of Uzbekistan has basically asked the administration to set up and maintain military bases even after any mission in Afghanistan is over. The reason is the country definitely wants to protect itself from any terrorists affiliated with the al Qaeda group that could cross over from Afghanistan into the country, protect itself from any sort of rise of Islamic fundamentalists in the country, and also protest itself from neighboring Russia if that was an issue.

So it's an interesting development that the country is looking for the U.S. to sort of maintain some military presence even after any mission is over to protect the country -- Carol.

LIN: So how far is the White House willing to go in order to secure access to those bases?

WALLACE: That's a key question -- really something I can't answer from this vantage point. It's obviously something that's clearly being discussed at the highest level -- levels. Certainly Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is likely to be discussion with leaders today.

It's a key point, because the military definitely would like to have access to bases in Uzbekistan, as Brian noting, neighboring Afghanistan for any kind of special operations missions or any other missions the military could pursue in Afghanistan and also to protect the United States Air Force. So it's a key location.

And also, Carol, an important point that the administration is trying to get out there, which is part of the trip for the secretary. President Bush said just the other day is for the secretary to look into the eyes of these leaders and make clear that the U.S. is in this for the long haul -- for the long term -- that it won't be like 1998, where you had some military strikes and that was it.

So part of the message is the U.S. is in this for the long term, and if the country would like to see a presence there, that's something clearly the administration will discuss.

LIN: Hints of a possible commitment. All right. Well, Brian Cabell, taking a look at the itinerary of Donald Rumsfeld, he added a last -- was it a last-minute decision to go to Turkey? Or was this always on his agenda?

CABELL: It appears to have been made -- the decision -- in the last 24 hours or so. It makes sense, because they were planning on refueling there anyway. It is an important NATO ally, a Muslim ally, with air bases that could prove important in this war against terrorism. So it simply made sense apparently for them as -- since they were stopping already to take care of business with the leaders of Turkey, if you (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LIN: All right. So, Kelly, what are the implications of this last-minute trip? Why at the last minute, and what are they hoping to accomplish?

WALLACE: Well, Turkey is very important. It has come out and publicly said that the U.S. could have transport aircraft use its bases, use its air space -- that very important. A pledge of one of the first countries really to come out and publicly announce that support for the United States' international mission.

Again, what we're seeing, Carol, is this sort of ongoing, face- to-face stepped-up coalition building. People are saying the administration trying to get all pieces in place before any action. And certainly having these face-to-face meetings, again, to convey that the U.S. is sort of in this for the long haul is a very important message that clearly the defense secretary wants to send.

LIN: All right. So the fact that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld then, Kelly, has said that he needs to come back to the United States to make a family commitment on Saturday. Is there anything to be read into that planning that indicates any sort of timetable for military strikes?

WALLACE: You know, that is of course, the key question. We're all sort of trying to read the tea leaves -- understanding when the secretary comes back. What could that mean? It's really -- officials sort of not going into that, as you know -- not getting into any timetable -- not sort of saying that we should read anything into any of this. Although this trip did appear to be sort of one of the final steps, you could say, to sort of shore up the relationship with these important countries, make sure pieces are in place for any action.

But again, we just don't really know if anything is imminent is not -- Carol.

LIN: Brian, is that what you're hearing at the Pentagon?

CABELL: To be honest with you, I can't hear Kelly, so I can't answer that.

LIN: OK. Just the timing of Rumsfeld's return to the United States -- Tony Blair plans on wrapping up his trip as well this weekend. And we were just talking about it posing any sort of suggestion on a timetable for military action.

CABELL: Our understanding was that it was simply a personal commitment that he had. That he had an obligation he wanted to meet on Saturday morning. It had nothing to do in particular with any sort of military timetable.

LIN: Got you. All right. Thank you so much -- Brian Cabell reporting live from the Pentagon this morning -- Kelly Wallace from the White House -- good to see you both.

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