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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Holds an Informal Press Briefing

Aired December 17, 2001 - 09:10   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: Is this a live news conference I'm leading to, or is this a tape we're turning around?

All right, this is the tape I talked to you about, where he held an informal briefing on the plane from Afghanistan to Brussels.

Let's listen.

Folks, if you're having the same difficulties in understanding this, our apologies; the sound isn't that clear when the secretary is in flight, of course. There's some challengers here. Let's see if we can make any of this out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: Well, first I would say that it's not clear to me that you're premise was correct, Charles. I don't believe that the European Union is doing that at all. I think a member of the European Union may have opined on that subject, but I do not believe that the other members have rushed in support wisely, it seems to me.

The position of the United States from the outset has been and remains that the mission will determine the coalition, and the coalition must not determine the mission for the simple reason that coalitions aren't appropriate -- a single coalition may not be appropriate for every conceivable activity. And to the extent one doesn't understand that and tries to allow a coalition to be the coalition for every conceivable activity, the activities get gummed down.

And what we've got to do is to recognize that people are different, countries are different. They do have different histories, different perspectives, and they're interested in and capable of helping to do certain things but not others. And we have always said we understand that, we recognize it, we appreciate it, we value the support they give us on the things they feel like supporting, and we don't take it amiss at all that everyone doesn't do everything. That's perfectly natural.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: I have not been following it closely, but to my knowledge, only one country proposed it, and it had a life of about 30 seconds. But I didn't say that. Charlie suggested that in his question.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) destroyed the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Your thoughts on that, sir?

RUMSFELD: Well, the first rule of war is that it's presidents who decide when something conclusive has been achieved. And in my view, it is fair to say that, depending on the context of the question, how he was asked it, when he was asked it, what was said before, what was said after -- and I've not even read what you said he said -- but with all of those provisos, I do not want to start a series of these articles that somebody doesn't agree with somebody else because I don't find them useful. I'm more interested in the substance.

The fact of the matter is, as Secretary Powell knows well, there are still any number of Al Qaeda loose in that country. That is why we are there; that is why we are chasing them; that is why we are bombing.

RUMSFELD: That is why we are working with Afghan forces to root them out of tunnels and caves. It is true that they're running and hiding and not dominating the country of Afghanistan as they had previously. It is also true that the Taliban is no longer a legitimate government of Afghanistan, if it ever was. It, too, is in a state of some disarray and is running and hiding.

But there are still a lot of Taliban in the country, and there still are, and it's going to take time and energy and effort, and people will be killed in the process of trying to find them and capture them or have them surrender.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what is your thoughts about...

RUMSFELD: Now, that does not -- should not in any way suggest that I disagree with the quote you began with because I don't know the basis of that quote. And I would not want my comments to be juxtaposed adversely to my friend, Colin Powell.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: I will comment on it at an appropriate time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was a vintage Rumsfeld response. A very relaxed secretary of defense taking questions from reporters. This was taped a short while ago when the defense secretary was on his way from Afghanistan, where you might remember we took to trip to this weekend and met with some of the members of Afghanistan's interim government, as well as U.S. troops. He's now on his way to Brussels, where he will meet with NATO leaders.

And I thought in more interesting exchanges he acknowledged that there are a number of Al Qaeda leaders and Taliban members on the run in that country to this day, and he did say people will be killed in the process of trying to get to them, acknowledging the risk that U.S. and allied forces will face in what he described as a long-term effort.

Now, of course, what is complicating all of this right now are the reports that a number of those Al Qaeda leaders have actually cut deals with various tribal leaders to allow them to go free and in exchange for surrendering various towns, and of course the biggest challenge ahead is, as this interim government comes together, how those people will be dealt with. So once again, Donald Rumsfeld, on his way to Brussels, and those were some of the exchanges that just took place on the flight as he headed there.

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