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Secretary of Defense Addresses War on Terror

Aired May 1, 2002 - 12:36   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go to the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others taking questions, the first briefing we have heard in some time. And we now know, through Barbara Starr and others, that several hundred U.S. members of the 101st Airborne Division now operating right around that border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is said to be a major topic today at the Pentagon briefing.

We'll listen now.


QUESTION: Does this signify a new operation? And are there signs in recent days of possible resurgence, regrouping by Al Qaeda and the Taliban?

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I know what I've said, and as I recall what General Franks has said on several occasions is that, the United States and coalition forces are in, will be, have been, are and will be engaged in a variety of operations in Afghanistan for the purpose of a variety of tasks. They include sweeps through areas to assure that the Al Qaeda and the Taliban have not returned, sweeps through areas where they have information that conceivably Taliban or Al Qaeda might be, investigations of tunnels and caves and sensitive sites that intelligence suggests might be worth looking at, and in other cases, simply presence.

Second, as General Franks has said repeatedly, we don't talk about operations or activities. But you can be pretty certain that on a fairly regular basis there are going to be U.S. forces and coalition forces and Afghan forces that are continuing the process of assuring that the country has reasonable security, that Taliban and Al Qaeda do not reassemble and that, to the extent intelligence enables us, that we track down scraps of information to determine what the actual facts are.

QUESTION: If I could press just a little? Both London and Washington confirm when several hundred British marines were sent into the area to relieve an operation, why wouldn't you confirm that large number or several hundred U.S. troops have now been moved in there?

RUMSFELD: Well, because, first of all, we don't talk about numbers of people. It is helpful to the other side rather than to us to discuss how many of any category of people are involved in things. And it seems to me, I'd rather be helpful to our side than to their side.

QUESTION: How about the resurgence of Taliban and Al Qaeda with warmer weather, have you seen any signs of it, regrouping?

RUMSFELD: Well, let me just say this, that the situation in Afghanistan is far from over. It is a situation where we know there are Al Qaeda and Taliban who, in some instances, have not left the country and in some instances, if they've left the country, they haven't left very far.

And they do have it in mind that they would like to return. And they do have it in mind that they'd like to destable, and if possible defeat, the interim Afghan authority. So we know that. And we expect that. It is not a surprise. And it's our task to see that that doesn't happen.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...

RUMSFELD: ... whether there's been any measurable change because of the weather warming, I've not seen any measurable change. Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for a minute to Moscow, the discussions on the nuclear arms reductions. You said that the U.S. reductions will be made regardless of when an agreement is reached, or even if an agreement is reached, with the Russians. What is the value of this process of negotiating a written agreement? From the U.S. point of view, what's the value of doing that?

RUMSFELD: Well, when the president made his announcement, he indicated that the United States of America was going to do what he said; namely, bring down strategic defensive nuclear weapons down into the 1,700 to 2,200 level. That was a statement based on our own national security interests. The president of Russia, on a subsequent occasion, announced that they, too, intended to go down to roughly that level.

What's taking place between the United States and Russia is the development of a new relationship, a new framework between our two countries. Does it all have to be in writing? No. Will some portions of it end up in writing? Very likely. Is it strictly security? Of course not. It is political, it's economic. It is also from a security standpoint.

And there are multiple elements to the security piece of it. One aspect of it happens to be the rather dramatic drawdown in deployed offensive strategic nuclear weapons.

But there are other aspects to it. The goal of transparency and predictability between the two sides, so we have a good sense of what each is doing.

What the Department of State with the president will decide, which portions of those things ought or ought not to be in writing, is yet to be seen.

QUESTION: Did you get the sense from the discussions on this topic in Moscow that it will be accomplished by the time the president meets?

RUMSFELD: You never know. Some thing's not over until it's over. I'm not going to try to put a smile or a frown on it. It's a process. It's been going along very well. I've had innumerous meetings with the defense minister of Russia. Colin Powell has had numerous meetings with the foreign minister of Russia. And the president has had several meetings with President Putin, and there are more ahead of us.

So you just stay on the track. It's a constructive useful process and I enjoyed my stop in Moscow.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, since you have come from the area -- going back to Afghanistan, sir -- you have (OFF-MIKE) and when you said that Al Qaeda, Taliban, they have left -- they may have Afghanistan, but not far from Afghanistan. Can you confirm, sir, today and since you have (OFF-MIKE) the U.S. troops in the area, that U.S. troops are now inside Pakistan, finding or hunting for those wanted terrorists or most-wanted terrorist, Al Qaeda and Taliban and if you have spoken with any one of them or their leader?

RUMSFELD: As you know, my policy is to have other countries characterize what it is they're doing, rather than me characterize it for them. And I have, really, nothing to say except that the borders of Afghanistan around 360 degrees have tended to be relatively porous over the decades and we recognize that, and therefore, we're attentive to the fact that folks could move back and forth.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?


QUESTION: Now sir, can you confirm that U.S. troops are inside Pakistan, looking for -- hunting for Al Qaeda and Taliban?

RUMSFELD: I respond to the best I can. I like to leave those things to the -- anything that involves another country, I think it's better for those countries to characterize what it is they're doing. And from the beginning, I've said that. It has nothing to do with this particular question. And anyone who walks away, assuming that therefore I'm implying one thing or another could be mistaken.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in your meetings this afternoon with the Chinese vice president, when you raised the issue of America's concern and this building's concern over the shifting of Chinese medium-range missiles to an area where they now threaten Taiwan and, apparently, a buildup of some size up to 300 or more, we're told by press reports?

RUMSFELD: I have not met the vice president of the People's Republic of China, and he's coming in this afternoon. I look forward to it, and we don't' really think its appropriate to discuss what he or I might or might not bring up in the course of a discussion.

QUESTION: Is it a concern to you, sir, that these missiles are being shifted?

RUMSFELD: How do I want to answer that on the eve of a visit?


My instinct is to leave it where I left it, and not preview things that might or might not be discussed.

QUESTION: Sir, there are representatives of your office that have supposedly...

HEMMER: We are going to bounce around just a little bit here. We're going to leave the Pentagon.




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