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Pentagon Briefing

Aired April 1, 2002 - 13:33   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 hear where secretary Rumsfeld is right now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD H. RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The fact that it's an important event doesn't mean necessarily that it's something that is useful for the United States to get into. Therefore, I've tried to think about this over a period of time and there's been speculation, is Osama bin Laden dead or alive, and one thing and another, and I just can't quite bring myself, at this stage any way, to think that discussing it's helpful.

QUESTION: Is that true also in the case of Osama bin Laden; if he had been captured you wouldn't confirm that either?

RUMSFELD: I wouldn't say that. I just don't know what the situation would be. I think the test is, if our interest is in defending the American people in this country and overseas and American interests, if that is, in fact, our interest, which it is, then what we have to do is make a calibration as to how we can best do that.

And as we have said repeatedly, one of the single most important things we can do is to gather intelligence information. And when one's gathering information and then piecing things together, it is helpful to be able to do that in an environment that not everyone in the world knows precisely what kind of information you may have. You know, there may be some point where someone in this government decides it's a good thing to say, "Gee, X or Y or Z is in this location or another," at the moment I have not been able to find my way to a conclusion that suggests that it would be helpful to us.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you have some experience in overseeing campaign against terrorism. Do you think the, sort of, operation that Israel is mounting now has the potential to reduce the terrorist threat in the region? And in the context of a peace settlement, would it be conceivable that American forces might have a peacekeeping role in the Middle East?

RUMSFELD: Well, I guess, first of all, I prefer to have not a lot of voices talking about sensitive, difficult subjects.

And this clearly is, for the most part, an issue that the secretary of state, Colin Powell, is deeply immersed in, and the president of the United States. The Pentagon, at this stage, is not.

Now, I happen to be in an awful lot of meetings on the subject and needless to say I have thoughts, but there's no question but that it is a difficult situation, and that the president and the secretary are working with the problem, in my view, in a very constructive way, attempting to be helpful.

As far as the U.S. peacekeeping role, let me say this: I read some speculation that somebody had talked to somebody and they discussed the possibility of U.S. military personnel. I can say that I don't believe that's the case; that I don't know of anything like that. Nor does Secretary Powell. And the only thing either one of us can think of us is that in the past there had been some discussion that if Tenet and Mitchell both happened to go into play or force or activity, that some monitors of some type might be -- some relatively small numbers of monitors -- not military people, and not peacekeepers, but I believe the phrase that was monitors -- conceivably could be desirable. But I don't think there was any indication of what country they might come from to my knowledge, and to my knowledge they would not be military people.

QUESTION: But just putting aside the policy considerations, from a purely military perspective, does the Israeli operation have the potential to reduce the terrorist threat in the region, or is it likely not to be effective in that regard?

RUMSFELD: Well, I guess, I'm not going to discuss the Israeli situation.

I will discuss our situation.

When the United States is hit by terrorist attacks, you have a choice. You can say, "Gee, that's too bad," or you can go try to find the terrorists and do something about it. And it seems to me that in our case, which I know a good deal more about than I do that case, it seems to me it's a pretty clear answer; we cannot afford as a country to not seek out the terrorists and the countries that harbor terrorists.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on the gathering of intelligence, you've told us many times that the people you've captured that are now at Guantanamo and elsewhere, the Al Qaeda and Taliban, are very reluctant to talk. And one would assume, since we're a civilized nation, we don't use cattle prods and iron maidens and pull out people's fingernails.

RUMSFELD: I appreciate you giving us that credit.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: But yet there are...

RUMSFELD: It's a bit unique, but I'm gratified.

QUESTION: Well, I'm slow at throwing the curve, and now we're getting the fast break. But yet, as you know, there are chemical means of getting people to release information. Will the people you captured, including the top people so far...

RUMSFELD: Oh, my lord.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: ... are you using that, or would you endorse the use of that to find Osama bin Laden and other key people?

RUMSFELD: Look, the United States of America is not using -- and I'm not going to repeat the things that I hope didn't carry on the various mikes around. And you should not put your camera on someone who asks questions like that.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I'm hurt.

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: The answer's no, we're not. We're treating these people under the Geneva Convention and in a humane way, and we're not doing that.

We are very anxious to gather as much intelligence as we can. We've been working hard on it, and we intend to continue it. Some people don't say a word for the first year, and after a year, they suddenly decide they'd like to talk a little bit. So it takes patience, and we're patient.

QUESTION: What do you mean when you said that Iran and Iraq and Syria are inspiring a culture of murder? Could you explain?

RUMSFELD: Sure. I'd be happy to.

QUESTION: And also why today? Why do you bring this up today?

RUMSFELD: Well, as I'm sure you've read, the Iraqis -- Saddam Hussein has announced that they're offering stipends to families of suicide bombers.

They've decided that that's a good thing to do. So they're running around encouraging people to be suicide bombers and offering -- I think I saw something like $10,000 per family.

I would not consider that a very constructive move. Indeed, I would suggest that that is very actively trying to kill innocent men, women and children, and that's exactly what the Iraqis intend to be doing by doing that.

There's no question but that the Iranians were deeply involved in the Karine A ship that was captured by the Israelis that had tons of equipment that was being sent down into the occupied areas of that part of the world for the purpose of conducting terrorist attacks.

There's no question but that the Iranians work with the Syrians and send folks into Damascus and down to Beirut -- Damascus-Beirut road, and then into south Lebanon, so that they can conduct terrorist attacks.

This is all well known. These countries are not only trying to kill people outside their countries, but they are repressing their own people. They have an active program of denying the rights of the people in those three countries that is vicious, repressive and unfortunately successful.

QUESTION: Is the United States going to do something about that?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think that, you know, that's not for me to say, that's for the president. But the president, when he talked about those countries, and I think properly so, is attempting to point the world attention on what's taking place in those countries.

Those people in those countries are being badly treated. Look at any independent organizations' assessment of what life is like in those three countries, and it is not a happy situation.

So they are simultaneously repressing their own people and denying them their rights and simultaneously going outside their country and attempting to finance and encourage and arm and equip people to go kill people in neighboring countries. Now, that is uncivilized behavior.

QUESTION: And Syria? You did Iraq and Iran.

RUMSFELD: Oh, Iran is...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: ... closely cooperating with Syria, and they're sending their folks right into Damascus and down into the Bekaa and then down into southern Lebanon and committing terrorist acts. Iran was involved in the Karine A.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there's more than just those three countries that are contributing and supporting to some of the activities that have led to terrorism around the area surrounding Israel. Do you have messages to some of the other countries that happen to be good friends of the United States that are funneling money to those very same groups?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think, of course, any minor segment of that religion, where it is taught that it is a good thing to kill innocent people and to strap weapons and bombs and plastics around your body and go into shopping malls and restaurants and synagogues and kill people, that people who fund that are, in fact, contributing to the problem of terrorism.

And needless to say, people who don't condemn it are not being helpful. Whether it's in this country or Western Europe or the Middle East, no matter where, I think that people have to tell the truth. And the truth is that a whole generation of young people are being taught something that is totally inconsistent with that religion, and they're being encouraged to go out and kill themselves and kill innocent people in other countries. And it seems to me it's important for every country in the world and people in the world who don't think that's a good idea to stand up and say so.

QUESTION: So this includes important American friends, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, many very important American friends in the region?

RUMSFELD: I would think that that would be a rather broad statement on your part. It isn't countries that do this, in the case of those countries or in our country or Egypt or other countries, it's individuals. And it's an individual mullah and it's an individual financier who decides they want to send their money and help out those folks. And I think that's wrong. And I think it's dangerous. And I think it's like feeding an alligator, hoping it eats you last.

QUESTION: Do you see those countries standing up in a way that you've just described?

RUMSFELD: Well, I hope so. I hope so.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: I've found leadership -- leaders, I should say, in any number of countries who've stood up and said the right thing. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the leaders of those countries have said repeatedly in the last few weeks that, because the U.S. is not doing enough to tap down violence in the Middle East and Israel, they would not support strikes on Iraq should it come to that.

QUESTION: From a military standpoint, do we need those nations' support if, in fact, the Pentagon was tasked to attack Iraq or Iran, to do something about those nations you just talked about -- you just discussed? Does it complicate the task?

RUMSFELD: Well, the task hasn't been assigned and that's, kind of, a triple hypothetical. My personal view is that there are -- the situation in the Middle East ebbs and flows. It has throughout my adult life. I suspect it will going forward. And the important thing to do is to try to stop terrorist acts and to stop the fact that innocent people are being killed and see if some process like Tenet or Mitchell can't get back into play.

QUESTION: It was Senator Specter over the weekend who was quoting General Zinni, assuming Specter got it right, the comments were this and Zinni said small members of the U.S. troops might be used to enforce a peace plan between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

RUMSFELD: Yes. I've answered that.

QUESTION: OK. There's no option whatsoever to do something like that except...

RUMSFELD: Well, I could never say there is no nothing because I'm just one person. But I just got off the phone with Secretary Powell and the two of us can tell you with high assurance -- and you can quote us as senior U.S. government officials...

(LAUGHTER)

... senior anonymous U.S. government officials suggest that we know of no plan to use U.S. military people and that's a fact.

QUESTION: But can I just press you a little bit further? You seem today, though, to be sending a very strong message to Iran, Iraq and Syria. And is there anything this administration has behind that at the moment other than a message? You talk about, you know -- you're very specific. You talk about suicide bombings and all of that.

Do these countries now qualify, in your thinking, as part of a transnational network of terrorism? Are they crossing borders with their activities? Is it time for the U.S. government to do something about it? You're sending a very, very strong message here today.

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know that it's any stronger than normal. I think that those countries have been on the terrorist list for years.

The president mentioned them in the State of the Union message. I have mentioned them.

I think it's important for people to stop and say, "Fine, if they are involved in terrorist activity, and there is no question but that each of those three countries are, and we think that's bad, then we ought to say so." And the people in Syria ought to know that their government is facilitating the flow of weapons and financing and terrorist activity down from Iran and Lebanon into Israel.

I think that the world ought to know that Saddam Hussein's idea of having a nice day is offering $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 -- whatever it is -- to families of people who talked their children into going out and blowing up a restaurant in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. And I think that people ought to recognize that there are elements in Iran that are actively fomenting terrorist activities and have -- in fact, were complicit in the Karine A shipment, and we should just honestly tell the truth.

You know, you can't live a lie. Those are facts. I'm not sending any messages, I'm just telling the truth.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary? Going also back to the Mideast, I wanted to hear...

RUMSFELD: I want somebody to ask General Myers how his wife handled it. But later for that. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Actually I would like to direct this question to you and General Myers. How though do you see the explosive situation in the Mideast affecting the war on terrorism? How do you see that playing out in the war on terrorism; both you and the general?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. The situation in the Middle East is a difficult one. And as I say, the president and the vice president and certainly Secretary Powell are all working diligently on the issue. But how it will affect something or what kind of ricochets there'll be I think time will tell.

QUESTION: And again on -- obviously you have Arab support, which is very important on the war on terrorism. Do you think this is going to have any impact on that?

RUMSFELD: It has not yet.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a few moments ago, you said that it would be unhelpful if you were to confirm that either Pakistan or the U.S. is now holding Abu Zubaydah. Why would it be unhelpful? Could you explain why?

RUMSFELD: Let's take senior Al Qaeda X.

QUESTION: Abu Zubaydah?

RUMSFELD: No. Let's take -- I'm not going to get into the subject of any individual, and I'm doing this as a matter of precedent. There may be a point where I will, and then I'll tell you why I didn't and why I did.

But if you just took -- if somebody captured Dick Myers, for the sake of argument, the world knows what he knows. And if we said, "Oh my goodness," if they said, "We've got Dick Myers, and we know what he knows," and it's unhelpful to begin the process of saying, "Oh, this person has that and this person as that." What one wants to do is to allow some time to pass where you've been able to conceivably think something through and manage through what it is you know.

Maybe I'm wrong, but my view of that is as I indicated.

QUESTION: But given the kind of communications that has apparently been able to continue among the Al Qaeda cells, I mean, five days after the fact isn't it reasonable to think that other people in Al Qaeda would know who it is there in Pakistan that was taken into custody?

RUMSFELD: Let me tell you, it takes an awful long time for us to know who was taken into custody. It isn't simple. They don't tell the truth. You don't have perfect means of identifying everybody. It's hard work. There are still a lot of people down in Guantanamo, we don't know who they are. And that's a fact. It's very difficult work.

QUESTION: And no matter who it is, do you think that the people apprehended on Thursday in Pakistan were of such a caliber that it could be considered a major apprehension for the United States in its efforts to combat terrorism?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think time will tell.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, going back to Iran, Iraq and Syria, strong signal you're sending to both countries, and going back to his question also, that terrorism is still alive, terrorism is still alive, we are not talking anymore about Osama bin Laden because terrorism in the Middle East, terrorism elsewhere, like in Kashmir, innocent people are being killed in the markets, they are shopping in the markets and bombs are going on in Kashmir, and they are coming from Pakistan, according to the report and according to Washington Post Jim Hoagland in his editorial.

Clearly he stated that General Musharraf is not doing what he promised to you and to Secretary Powell and to President Bush. He came back where he was before September 11, means terrorism are still alive in Pakistan today. So what message do you have for India to send or a signal for General Musharraf to stop terrorism in Kashmir?

RUMSFELD: Well, we don't favor terrorism anywhere, and we recognize how deadly it is to innocent people, and we think it's wrong and immoral and ought to be stopped.

Notwithstanding what a columnist might have said, the fact is that President Musharraf has been very helpful. And he has been helpful within the last period of days, weeks and months, so it's not as though he was helpful for a period and then stopped being helpful. He has been very helpful.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you've made a direct connection between Iran, Iraq and Syria and suicide bombers perhaps in Israel. Is there such a connection between those three countries and Al Qaeda, and maybe the attacks of September 11?

RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that the Al Qaeda have found a reasonably hospitable location in Iran, and that some undoubtedly are still there, and others have transited and moved out into other countries.

QUESTION: And any connection to September 11 from those three countries?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm not in the law enforcement business where we run around and try to connect things to certain events for the purposes of prosecution. That's the Department of Justice and others.

QUESTION: Did you intend to expand the president's axis of evil triumvirate to four? The president did not mention Syria in his State of the Union.

RUMSFELD: No, I wasn't trying to expand anything at all. I was just telling the truth. The truth is that Iran takes people and weapons down into Damascus, and moves them down the Damascus-Beirut road into the Bekaa valley, and ultimately into southern Lebanon for the purpose of conducting terrorist attacks.

For me to pretend they aren't would be not fair or accurate.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you've sent a message today, whether intentionally or not. One way the United States also sometimes sends messages is by repositioning its forces. I know that you don't often talk about that, but if you're sending messages today, can you tell us if you repositioned any forces in the Middle East to be prepared for possible further outbreaks of terrorism in Israel?

RUMSFELD: Look, you were right in your opening clause.

(LAUGHTER)

We do not discuss whether we do or whether we don't move anything anywhere ever intentionally. Sometimes we make mistakes.

QUESTION: To return to the subject of identifying or not identifying, can I -- is it fair to assume that an exception to your rule here would be Osama bin Laden?

RUMSFELD: You know I was trying to think about that when I was asked that question, and it feels like it could be.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I guess what I want to ask is can we be assured that you do not have in custody or know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden?

RUMSFELD: Listen, the way things leak around this town, I suspect that that would be out if that were the case.

QUESTION: So the answer is...

RUMSFELD: So the answer is, I am sure that there would have been a great many people running around strutting like banty roosters...

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: But is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at this briefing willing to say that you do not have custody of Osama bin Laden?

RUMSFELD: I can certainly say not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Sir, General Myers, a couple of money questions. How much have you identified for the training of the Afghan national army? And can you tell us about the conditions under which Turkey accepted leadership of ISAF and how much money they'll be getting for that? I think they were asking for $60 million.

RUMSFELD: How much were they asking for?

QUESTION: I read $60 million out of the Pakistan press.

RUMSFELD: Well, I can make a comment, and then I'll ask Dick to comment.

I do not believe that the arrangements with Turkey have been finalized, either with the British as to a date, or with the British as to a good, clear indication of what the British are going to be willing to do after they pass the leads off to the Turkish government.

I don't believe that the typical negotiations and discussions that are undertaken in a situation like that, such as we undertook with the Brits when they took the lead and the Brits undertook with the interim authority when they took the lead, neither of those discussions have taken place on a formal basis.

But obviously, we've indicated to the Turkish government that in the event that they decide to take over the lead that we would very likely end up being willing to have the same kinds of arrangements we had with the British, in terms of our willingness to assist with some logistics, to assist with some intelligence, to assist in the event of a crisis where a quick reaction force were needed; that type of thing. And we've also -- and the Brits have indicated that the United States and the British, will be willing to try to encourage other countries to participate in helping to finance the ISAF, as well.

Do you know the specific number that we're trying to wrestle?

GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: No.

RUMSFELD: It's so complicated, because money comes from the Congress in six different pockets. And trying to find out which pocket it can be taken out of legally for a border patrol may be a different pocket for a military force, and trying to know what the total number will be we'll be able to come up with I think is very difficult. I've heard lots of numbers.

MYERS: With regard to the Afghan national army, to get that started is a relatively modest number.

But as the secretary said, to finish that job is going to be more than the $4 million or $5 million to get it started. So that's just a number to get business rolling.

There is a donors' conference -- I believe it's tomorrow...

RUMSFELD: In Geneva.

MYERS: ... in Geneva -- to work the security aspects of Afghanistan in terms of trying to provide those countries willing to put money forward for security so the rest of it can work as it's designed to work.

And other than that, I'd say on the Turkish role in the ISAF, one thing we don't know is how long that mandate will be for as well, which also has an impact on how money we'll have to spend on it.

QUESTION: General Myers, can you just give us any update on incidents -- operations in Afghanistan over the weekend? Was there any...

MYERS: Afghan military and U.S. military continue to look in the Khost area as well and in the general area there for remaining pockets of Al Qaeda and Taliban. They are still going through cave complexes. They are still uncovering some items. And we've got some reconnaissance forces out there as well.

We're still providing some humanitarian help to the earthquake victims, most notably, most recent medical assistance to Doctors Without Borders. We provided some medical personnel to help them.

QUESTION: Have you found any weapons of mass -- or any basic weapons of...

MYERS: No, nothing new on the weapons of mass destruction front.

Let's make this the last question.

QUESTION: Could you give us an update on the anthrax vaccine program? Two weeks ago Pete Aldridge said you expected a decision fairly soon. Any such in the future of that program?

RUMSFELD: I am waiting for the gentleman on my left -- your right -- to get back to me with some information that is necessary to make some final decisions about how it might be reinstituted and when and on what basis.

QUESTION: Do you think it might be reinstituted or that still uncertain?

RUMSFELD: I think it might be reinstituted. And it is -- there are a series of technical questions that are being looked at as to how one might do it and in what format and in what sequence and those types of things. It's an important issue, and goodness knows you want to do it right. As you know, it's been in suspension for some time because of the absence of vaccine.

QUESTION: Mr. Myers, because you ordered this basket earlier. I'd like to ask the general, your wife's birthday is tomorrow, I understand. Is she going to come home and celebrate with you?

MYERS: Yes, she's...

RUMSFELD: No, wait -- let me answer first.

(LAUGHTER)

I called her immediately after the press conference, and I said, "Mary Joe (ph), did you see the press conference?" And she said no, she had not seen it. And I said, "Well, I am strapping a videotape of it to Dick's back, and you'll find it when he arrives at home." And I gave her a quick little segment on what took place. And she said, "Oh my goodness, we've all known Dick's a work in progress."

(LAUGHTER)

MYERS: Even I know that I had work to do and I still have work to do, and I will finish it tomorrow on her birthday. Thank you.

LIN: That just goes to show that during the war on terror and developments in the Mideast people at the Pentagon can have a sense of humor.

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