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Donald Rumsfeld Holds Press Conference with Defense Minister of India

Aired January 17, 2002 - 12:52   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And now straight to Washington and the Pentagon, where we see Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been meeting with the Indian defense minister, and they are now briefing the press.


Minister Fernandes and I have had good discussions today. It's not our first meeting. We met in India some months back. Needless to say, I thanked the minister for the very strong support that India has provided for the war on terrorism since September 11. Both of our nations know firsthand about terrorism. We have a common interest in defeating terrorism in Afghanistan, and needless to say, the United States' stand against terrorism is principled. We think about terrorism against India in the same terms that we want India to think about terrorism in the United States.

We discussed the crisis and the tension in the region between India and Pakistan. President Musharraf's speech last Saturday and the actions he's taking to implement the steps that were outlined in the speech, we are certainly hopeful will go a long way toward lowering tensions and promoting a constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan.

President Bush, of course, has been in touch with the prime minister of India and the president of Pakistan.

Secretary Powell has just arrived, I think, right now in India and will be conducting meetings there and have forcefully expressed the hopes of the United States that the tensions will be reduced and that discussions will take place.

Today, Minister Fernandes and I signed a U.S.-India bilateral general security of military information agreement, paving the way for greater technology cooperation between the United States and India, and we discussed the good progress that our two countries are making in our security relationships.

I began with the Bush administration my contacts with India in February, less than a month after I arrived at the Pentagon, and there have been a series of meetings since at all levels, ministers of defense, foreign ministers, and at various other levels of the two departments. In the coming months, we have an ambitious schedule of meetings on counterterrorism, on service-to-service exercises, further strengthening the friendship and cooperation between the world's two largest democracies.

Mr. Minister, welcome.


Well, I'm grateful to Secretary Rumsfeld for his gracious invitation and for the intensive discussions our delegations just had. The purpose of my visit has been to discuss the issues of defense and security cooperation between India and the United States, which has not only been revived, but expanded considerably over the last one year.

My delegation has found our discussions today very fruitful and an important milestone in this expanding relationship. Today this relationship is qualitatively different from the days of the Cold War. After Secretary Rumsfeld's visit to India in November 2001, we held a successful meeting of the Defense Policy Group.

We held a successful meeting of the defense policy group and this meeting took place after a break of four years. We expect to continue these meetings in the times to come and we believe that we are on a forward movement insofar as strengthening our relations and also insofar as dealing with all the challenges that we are both facing in our respective areas of concern.

Secretary Rumsfeld just mentioned about his visit to India which was a very brief visit. It was not a full day; it was less than half a day. He just came, he sat with us. We had very serious interaction on various issues and he left. So I have...


RUMSFELD: That's the story of my life. Many of these people were with us on that trip and it was, I think, six countries in three days or something.

FERANDES: Yes, I know.

And so I have today extended a formal invitation to him and suggested that he should visit India at the earliest possible opportunity and I leave the decision about the date to Secretary Rumsfeld.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.

FERANDES: Thank you.

RUMSFELD: Charlie, we'll start with you and then we'll come over.

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, might I ask if, as defense minister, are you doing anything or is India doing anything to stop or back away from your military build up on the border of Pakistan? And are you disappointed at all in the United States' pressure on Israel not to transfer AWACS and other weapons to you for the time being?

FERANDES: Well, I do not think that the United States has put any pressure on Israel, as far as I believe. Just before I left Delhi, I was confronted with this question by the media because for some reports which they said had appeared in The Washington Post.

On coming here, I was told that The Washington Post didn't have any such story and that they would use that as some sort of an anchor to give creditability to it was doing disservice both to the United States and to India and also, for that matter, to Israel. So therefore, there isn't any substance, as far as I'm concerned, in this report.

Your first question was about our troops being on the front lines. It is true that troops on both sides are on the front lines. In the aftermath of what happened on the 13th of December, when there was this attack on our parliament house and that attack was not on the structure of the parliament house alone, that attack, we have absolutely no doubt whatsoever, was designed to eliminate the entire political leadership of the country whether of the ruling coalition or the opposition.

And it is luck or providence I believe that saved us and not just saved us, but saved the country because the implications of the success of that suicide mission would have been impossible to really imagine, the consequences of it for the entire country and, for that matter, for the entire subcontinent.

So against the backdrop of that, one had to take some very strong steps, and again, we had noticed earlier also that the Pakistani army, after doing some exercises, had chosen to stay in some of the areas which they considered as soft areas for us, and the aftermath of that 13 December incident, we decided that we needed to immediately set out our frontiers and be prepared for any eventuality, and that's where both sides are at the moment.

RUMSFELD: What I'd like to do -- we only have about 15 minutes -- and rather than people ask two questions at once, if we could do one question -- and I'm going to alternate between the U.S. side and others, if I can.


QUESTION: First of all, sir, I just wanted you to know that you are doing a great job. There's no question about it.

RUMSFELD: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: My question is that are you asking India or have you asked Mr. Minister to remove the Indian forces from the tension border where both forces are aiming at each other and clouds of war are still there? And finally, the future of India-U.S. military relationship, sir? RUMSFELD: Let me respond this way. I think the United States and India have a growing and healthy relationship on a military-to- military basis, which I value and I know that India values, and we look forward to seeing it evolve over the years.

With respect to the situation on the Afghan-Pakistan border, which is, of course, something that is of considerable interest to us, because we are most anxious to see that the terrorists in the Taliban and the Al Qaeda do not escape out of Afghanistan into Pakistan, I don't think it's in anybody's interest that those folks end up in Pakistan. It's not in Pakistan's interest. It's not in our interest. It's not in Afghanistan's interest, because they can come right back across that border. And it's certainly not in India's interest.

So it is correct that the United States, at various levels, and certainly the minister and I have discussed this subject from time to time, and I'm sure the minister and his government is sensitive to that, just as we are.

Now, from the U.S. side. Yes?

QUESTION: Ask you a question about Guantanamo Bay and the detention situation there. Those detainees who are not put before a military tribunal, will they be held there indefinitely then or will they be returned to their home countries? Have you decided that?

RUMSFELD: The situation is that there are people who have been fighting and killing people in Afghanistan who are now being held, in some cases in Pakistan, where they have crossed the border into Pakistan and Pakistan has captured them; in some cases in Afghanistan, in two or three locations, including Kandahar, where the largest detention center is; and increasingly in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with a couple of exceptions aboard ship, U.S. ships, for a variety of reasons, medical or whatever.

The issue as to what happens to those people will follow the interrogations and the process of getting as much information out of them as we can so that we can stop other terrorist attacks.

Then a decision will be made as to their disposition. Some may or may not end up in a military commission; others conceivably could end up in the U.S. criminal court system. Others could be returned to their countries of nationality and end up being prosecuted there.

It's conceivable some could be kept in detention for a period while additional intelligence information is gathered, or if they simply are dangerous, and there's no question there are a number down in Guantanamo Bay who every time anyone walks by threaten to kill Americans the first chance they get.

These are quite dangerous people. They may just be kept in detention for a period. And those issues are all being sorted out by lawyers and experts and people knowledgeable about international law and conventions, which I'm not.

RUMSFELD: Yes? QUESTION: Mr. Minister, there is a report in the -- for both of you -- there is a report in the Boston Journal today that, while some action has been taken against terrorists in Pakistan, no action whatsoever has been taken in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, or they call it (INAUDIBLE) in the training camps have not been closed down. And I want to ask both of you whether you're coming to (INAUDIBLE) what Nawaz Sharif and President Clinton signed, namely the sanctity of the Line of Control?

FERNANDES: Well, such action -- call it terrorist action, call it by any other name, is something that we have been living with for a long, long time. We are part of the global coalition today. And as a part of this coalition, we have been cooperating with each other in addressing this particular problem. As far as border itself is concerned, nothing has changed.

This morning, when I was about to leave my hotel to proceed to Arlington, I got this piece of news, which said that yesterday, in Jammu, the same terrorists attacked civilians by exploding a bomb -- one person died -- a report which I get almost on a twice daily basis when I'm back home. So we have this problem.

And what was agreed with the Nawaz Sharif may not hold with the establishment that Pakistan has today.

But against the backdrop of the recent developments, I have reasons to believe that, sooner or later, these issues will now be on the way to resolution.

RUMSFELD: We have two more minutes. We'll take two questions. We'll take two questions, and the questions can be of either of us, but not both, and can be (INAUDIBLE) We'll start with you.

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, as the U.S.-India military relationship expands, would India like to buy U.S. military equipment, and are you optimistic that Secretary Rumsfeld would approve that?

FERNANDES: Yes, we have had that kind of a relationship with the United States for many, many years. Unfortunately, for a brief interim (ph), if I may use that term, that had come to more or less a standstill.

I'm very happy that, today, we have been able to revive -- today meaning, not as on date, but much earlier -- we have been able to revive that relationship. And we look forward to much greater cooperation between the United States military and our military and also procuring such of these items that we need to procure from here.

QUESTION: Could you list a few items?

FERNANDES: Well, I can't just now spell out the various items that we would like to have, but we need -- I'll make a point. We started a project together, the light combat aircraft project together, almost two decades ago. And we need the engines for that. We were to have gone ahead together on this project, but then we parted company, and now, we have again joined hands. That's just one of the many that one can cite. But this, to me, is a very, very important one.

RUMSFELD: And last would be someone from the Indian press possibly.


QUESTION: This is for Secretary Rumsfeld. Well, you have given very handsome praise to General Musharraf's speech, saying that everything will be changing. But after having faced 10 years of proxy war and having lost 53,000 innocent lives, do you think that there is reason enough for India to dismantle its military buildup?

RUMSFELD: Well, I generally leave these questions to the president of the United States and the secretary of state, Colin Powell. And so to really paraphrase them, the United States, needless to say, did feel that President Musharraf's speech was forthcoming, and I believe that the comments I've heard from senior officials of the Indian government suggest that they, too, felt that, and that the next step then is for actions to take place, and that I am personally persuaded that General Musharraf is moving within his government to take actions to follow up on the speech that he made.

The long and the short of it is that India and Pakistan have to make these decisions. It's not the United States that makes these decisions, it's not any other country. I do not believe it is in either of their interest to stay for a long period at a state of high mobilization. I think the tension is unhelpful to them, unhelpful to the world.

And I'm hopeful that the leadership of those two countries will continue on the path they seem to be on to attempt to find ways to either directly or indirectly discuss these matters, and that over the coming weeks and days we will see a relaxation of that tension and some dialogue take place that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the variety of issues that stand between those two countries.

And we thank all of you for being here. We're going to excuse ourselves.

HARRIS: And with that, we've seen the end of this press conference here, a brief press conference being held by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and he's been hosting meetings today with the defense minister of India George Fernandes, and we heard at the start of this that they actually have signed an agreement which is going to lead to more bilateral technological cooperation between the two countries, and also, they've had talks about more joint exercises that are being planned for the future between the two countries.

Now we also heard Secretary Rumsfeld briefly address the issue of the detainees right now that are on the ground in Kandahar, as well as in Guantanamo Bay. And he says that what happens to them follows the interrogation process, and some of these detainees could end up in the U.S. criminal court system. Some could end up in their respective countries criminal systems, and dangerous ones. Since there really is no idea about how to handle them, they just may have to stay in detention for some time until they can figure out what to do later on. We also heard the India defense minister adress the issue of Pakistan's support of terrorism against India. They're saying that there has not been enough action they've seen in squelching these factions in Pakistan. However, we did hear the defense minister say that he does now have some reason to believe that there will be a resolution. So a ray of light coming there.




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