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Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Holds Press Briefing

Aired May 30, 2002 - 12:34   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we're going to go live now to the Pentagon to hear from the secretary of defense himself, who will be leaving for India and Pakistan next week.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... and serve their country.

We'd be happy to respond to questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the president said this morning that he's sending you to India and Pakistan next week because of the tense situation there. What do you hope to accomplish when you're there? Will you carry a message from the president?

RUMSFELD: I have not quite decided when I will go, and it will be sometime next week in connection with my visit to NATO, for one thing, and possible some other countries as well.

And I think I'd probably prefer to visit with the people of Pakistan and India rather than do it through the press.

QUESTION: But you have expressed concern from this podium over the situation there. Do you plan to pass on those concerns when you meet with your counterparts...


RUMSFELD: Well, I plan to meet with them and visit about the situation.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you think war between those countries can be avoided? Do you see a shift toward a potential nuclear or even a conventional outbreak there?

RUMSFELD: You know, it's a sensitive subject, and it's almost like the subject of threat warnings: Almost anything anyone says in response to a question, someone will characterize as something other than it is.

My instinct on this subject is to simply recognize that the two countries are clearly in a situation where they are not talking directly to each other, and they have substantial disagreements, particularly with respect to the LOC in the Kashmir area. So I don't know what else one can add.

QUESTION: Have you been talking to Mr. Fernandes...


RUMSFELD: I have not spoken to him in recent days, no.

QUESTION: ... and his Pakistani counterpart, sir?

RUMSFELD: No, I have not spoken to either one of them.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on the same subject, there are reportedly a thousand-plus U.S. military personnel in Pakistan, and the figures go as high as 60,000-plus civilians in Pakistan and India, and there's been some discussion that, since the Pentagon probably has a contingency plan for evacuating these people, that you may order such a plan in effect. Do you have any plans to do so?

RUMSFELD: No, the department always has contingency plans for various types of activities, including those, but as you know, the Department of State has certain travel advisories out. Pakistan has, I think, been on a -- with respect to U.S. officials -- on a -- I forget how it's characterized, but nonessential people may leave voluntarily or something, with respect to Pakistan.

But no, we've not announced any plans to evacuate.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what leverage do you believe that you -- that the United States or that you are going to have in getting these two sides to back down?

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know that's it for me to characterize that. It seems to me that what you have is two countries, each of which has a great many conventional forces and nuclear power as well. And it's in their interests as much as anybody's.

RUMSFELD: It's the millions and millions and millions of people who live in those two countries who would be damaged by a conflict.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that Al Qaeda is causing problems in Kashmir and possibly trying to ramp up the tensions between the two countries?

RUMSFELD: I don't know of certain knowledge. I have seen reports to that effect. It's possible. But I wouldn't want to assert it because I can't prove it.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, will you visit American troops in Pakistan?

RUMSFELD: Probably, I generally do when I go to a country, so I hope so.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if Pakistan starts pulling out great numbers of troops from the West and impinging on our war against terrorism and Al Qaeda, what leverage does -- what leeway does the U.S. have to fill that void with more U.S. troops or into Pakistan itself, increasing the number we already have there?

RUMSFELD: The number of battalions -- Pakistani battalions -- that have been located along that Afghan border has not changed. And we hope it will not change.

QUESTION: If it does change, though, does the U.S. have the leeway and the authority or understanding from Pakistan that we can put our own troops in to fill the void?

RUMSFELD: We obviously would leave to Pakistan how they would characterize what they or we might do in an instance like that.

QUESTION: Well, might we do that, though?

RUMSFELD: It's not for me to say. It's up to Pakistan to make judgments like that.

And it's a hypothetical question anyway, because they haven't been moved.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is there any consideration...

RUMSFELD: Clearly, we'd have to be more attentive inside Afghanistan. If the Pakistani forces were not on the opposite side of the border, we'd have to find ways to do it from within Afghanistan for sure.

QUESTION: Within, but not necessarily...

RUMSFELD: That subject, I'm not getting into, because, as Adelaide Stevenson once said, "That's a bridge we'll jump off when we get to it."


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is there any consideration of withdrawing U.S. forces from Pakistan or bringing back any troops that have to be in India because of the rising tensions between the two countries?

RUMSFELD: We've made no decisions with respect to that.

QUESTION: And I'd just ask General Pace a question.

RUMSFELD: Thank goodness.

QUESTION: General Pace, earlier this month, an expended surface- to-air missile tube -- an SA-7 missile tube was found outside the Prince Sultan Air Base, and at the time, CENTCOM officials said they weren't quite sure what to make of that. I'm just wondering, now that several weeks have gone by, if you have any clearer idea of whether or not that represented an attempt by someone to shoot down one of the U.S. planes at that base?

VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF GENERAL PETER PACE: As you know, that expended round was found by Saudi security forces, or they told us about it, as you said, about a month ago now.

We've gone back and checked all of our flight records, and there are no reports by any U.S. aircraft or any aircraft that we could (ph) identify of any sightings of surface-to-air missile firings.

That does mean it was not fired. It simply means we do not know if that particular weapon was fired at that location or simply dropped off there.

Regardless, we take very seriously the fact that our opponents do have surface-to-air missile -- shown (ph) to fire surface-to-air missiles, and we take precautions on the ground and in the air any time we have our aircraft arriving or departing.

QUESTION: Do you have, at this point, any better understanding of how that expended missile tube got there? Whether it was fired there or some place else? Do you have any better clear understanding?


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, right now, you've got the situation between India and Pakistan, the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, the issue of Iraq looming, you know, not to mention the overall war on terrorism, the turmoil in the Middle East. Is this an unusual number of dangerous and hot spots around the world? And if so, does it strain your ability to plan for these various eventualities?

RUMSFELD: There's no question but that we live in a dangerous and untidy world. There are a good many things taken place in the world at any given time.

It is higher than normal, I would say, but it's not unique. There have been other periods in our history where we've seen multiple difficulties and tensions.

I guess the short answer is, no. It requires a good deal of attention and application of the part of people throughout the government, the Department of State and the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.

But in terms of being able to plan and be attentive to those various problems, I think that those activities are moving along in a normal way.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you in favor of allowing the U.S. trainers currently in the southern Philippines to actually start working at the company level and go out on patrols in the counterterrorist operations there?

RUMSFELD: I've not decided on that. I'm waiting for the new combatant commander in the region to make his recommendations to me. I think it's scheduled for some time later this week or next week. They're going to be...


RUMSFELD: One would hope.

QUESTION: Within the next couple of days?

RUMSFELD: Yes. And so, after I have a chance to really understand what his views and perspectives are, I'll know better what I think about it. I'm old-fashioned; I like to know what the person on the ground thinks about it.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, though you've said that there are no contingency plans -- or there are no plans to evacuate U.S. troops from Pakistan right now...

RUMSFELD: No decisions have been made with respect to that.

QUESTION: No decisions have been made.

RUMSFELD: There are plans. We always have plans on the shelf for evacuations.

QUESTION: What would trigger an evacuation? What sort of event would trigger an evacuation? And if that occurred, would that be a signal from the Pentagon, from you, that you would think that war is inevitable?

RUMSFELD: No. One can't know about inevitability in things like this. Things have a way of starting and then proceeding in unpredictable ways in life, and certainly wars can escalate in unpredictable ways.

The kinds of decisions you're referring to have to be made before one gets to the end of that road. And indeed, we have so many people in India and Pakistan -- civilians, for example, people who live there, people who work there. We have a great many tourists who travel around through those countries. And decisions about that tend to proceed along a path of the kinds of things that the State Department has already done, for example a travel advisory about Kashmir and those types of things.

And they look at these things, and for the most part, people have to look out for themselves just inevitably, because they have to be aware that if they're going into an area that's tense, that they would want to be sure that they have a very good reason for being there. But it is not something that happens all at once, and it is not something that is perfectly predictable. For the most part, those decisions are decisions that are made by the Department of State, anyway.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...

RUMSFELD: Except with respect to U.S. forces.

QUESTION: ... back to India and Pakistan, I find your responses curious. It almost sounds as though you are unhappy that the White House has announced that you are going. Usually there is a political purpose when a high-ranking Cabinet officer is sent and is announced like that from the White House, especially into a very troubled area.

Why has the government announced your trip, if there's not sort of a perspective that you can provide us on...

RUMSFELD: Well, first, I think it's important to realize that there have been near-continuous interactions between the United States and Pakistan and India. They've been at the military level. They've been at the civilian level.

They've been at the Department of State. They've been -- telephone calls by the president, by the secretary of state and others.

I think that to select out one particular trip or one particular phone call is probably a mistake.

I do have -- have been discussing the possibility of going to India and Pakistan in connection with my trip to Europe for the NATO meetings coming up.

I've not visited with either of those countries as yet on the phone about the upcoming trip, and it just seems to me that it's more appropriate to do that rather than to do it through the press.

QUESTION: Isn't the situation there deteriorating gravely now as has been expressed by a number of other officials in this government, and isn't that a focus of your concern, even though you don't -- you seem reluctant to express the deteriorating situation there?

RUMSFELD: Well, I'll tell you why -- just for the heck of it. When there is a situation that is sensitive, between two countries, and we have an interest in each of those countries -- our country does, we have relationships that have been developing and building and improving with both India and Pakistan now for many, many months since I came into office, for sure, since President Bush arrived.

And the Department of State is the department that has the principal responsibility with respect to diplomatic relations between those two countries. The Department of Defense, obviously, has a great deal of interest, given the situation in that part of the world.

Therefore, my natural inclination, as has been the case in the past, on matters that are, for the most part -- just as in the case of the Middle East, I tend to be cautious about what I say about the Middle East, because Colin and the president are intimately involved in discussions with those countries.

And rather than injecting a different voice that might use a word differently that someone could then take as a calibration or a difference or a message in announcement to those countries in a way that would be unhelpful to what the president and the secretary are doing, I tend to be somewhat cautious about it.

QUESTION: With that set of thinking, then why would you go? You might express a different point of view than Colin Powell. You might express...


RUMSFELD: Well, I'll be talking to the principals involved. And I will not be expressing a different point of view at all.

The question isn't whether I would be expressing a different point of view. It's whether someone may carry it and interpret it and translate it into a different point of view.

QUESTION: Isn't your trip meant to send a signal to both of these potential factions (ph) by the United States government? Isn't it an important signal?

RUMSFELD: There's no question but that I would not be going on this visit if we were not concerned about the situation between the two countries.

QUESTION: Let me ask you, Mr. Secretary, since you're not going as the chief diplomat, as the secretary of state, what are you going for, in terms of, are you offering up a carrot? I mean, what type of military assistance in Kashmir or troop presence or...

RUMSFELD: There are a whole host of issues between those two countries that are of interest to the United States and where they have an interest with respect to the United States. And I will be discussing that range of issues.

QUESTION: Can we talk about that a little bit? Without getting into specifically what you intend to discuss, I'd like to ask about your understanding of the situation. Do you think that Indian and Pakistani leaders understand the gravity of the circumstance that they are in, in a way that you would agree with? Or are people there thinking that a war is winable or desirable? What are your thoughts?

RUMSFELD: That is a very good question, and I'll know a lot more about the answer when I complete my visits.

But I think you're putting your finger on something that's quite important. It is important that people work off the same set of facts and the same sheet of music, and that having a relatively clear understanding about what the implications of various things might be is a useful thing.

But for me to prejudge precisely how they might have different perspectives on this, having not been there in recent weeks, would probably not be a good idea.

QUESTION: Sir, given the United States' own action to stamp out terrorism in foreign countries, what right do you think India has to exercise its military power to stamp out cross-border terrorism?

RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that countries or sovereign nations make judgments about that.

And to the extent a country is a victim of terrorism, we have indicated that we personally believe that it is clearly within their right to try to stamp it out.

Now, what does that mean in a given instance? That's a separate question, and it's not for me to answer. That's for Pakistan and India to sort out.

QUESTION: General Pace, I wanted to ask you, the mechanics -- theoretical mechanics of evacuating up to 64,000 people from that region, there was a news account today that said Pacific Command has a team being put in place there to plan an air lift -- massive air lift. Theoretically, what would that take? How many airplanes? And are there any -- that kind of number in the theater even?

PACE: First of all, the responsibility for declaring or not declaring an evacuation of noncombatants squarely lies with the U.S. State Department. The U.S. military would assist if requested to do so, and if as directed by the president and the secretary.

As you know, each embassy worldwide has plans that they have developed over the years to evacuate U.S. citizens and others.

We routinely, as part of that planning, along with the country team -- the ambassador -- go in with U.S. military planners on occasion to assist and just review in the plans to make sure they're solid. That is happening now in both Pakistan and India and many other places in the world just to make sure that all of the plans are current.

With respect to the exact numbers of aircraft, et cetera, that is very much in the State Department's lane as far as how many planes they think they would need to get into the country to evacuate the numbers of people that the ambassador says need to be evacuated.

QUESTION: From a military standpoint, do we have those kind of assets, even in theater?

RUMSFELD: First of all, your numbers are low in terms of what is already even known as far as the numbers of people in those two countries. And second, what is known is undoubtedly low, because only those people, those tourists for example, who want to be -- the department to know they're there or going and register as such -- so there are undoubtedly more people. You have to assume there are going to be more people. And then there are always other countries that want some assistance, so I think it's a mistake to take a particular number and chase it and try to translate that into numbers of aircraft, because they're both big countries, and people, obviously, for the most part make their own judgments about where they go.

And I think that wouldn't be a useful exercise to tie it to numbers of ships and aircraft...


QUESTION: I was just making the point -- trying to make a point. If it were...

RUMSFELD: It's a big job.

QUESTION: Do you have a...

RUMSFELD: And for the most part, people would have to get out on their own through commercial activities. I mean, that's...

QUESTION: As opposed to U.S. airplanes bringing them out. Like ala Saigon after the Vietnam War ended.

RUMSFELD: This is a very different situation.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary -- I'll defer to you, and then if I may come back.

QUESTION: When you said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was low as opposed to what's known, why number is the U.S. government as -- for what's known?

RUMSFELD: We don't have a good number at the present time. It's internal and it is based on estimates.

QUESTION: To change the subject slightly, Mr. Secretary, if I may. You're going over a NATO conference, the president just came back from Rome. NATO, as we know, was organized to thwart the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. Russia is now, at least, a working member of NATO, although not a full member. Has NATO outlived its usefulness? Why do we need it anymore?

RUMSFELD: The short answer is no it has not, and it is a -- if it didn't exist, you would probably try to invent it. It is an important link between North America and Europe. The countries of those two continents are clearly the countries that believe in free political institutions and free economic institutions, and we have had a valuable and important continuing relationship for decades

We are participating, for example, currently in the Balkans, in several countries. We're cooperating with many NATO countries with respect to global war on terrorism. The fact that the Soviet Union doesn't exist clearly changes the role of NATO and the only other thing I would do is slightly calibrate what you said about Russia being a working, but not a full member.

As you will recall, the announcement was that they would have an arrangement with Russia where the countries of NATO would decide the kinds of issues that would be appropriate to discuss with Russia sitting with the 19 NATO nations, and that they will be selected by the 19 countries.

QUESTION: Another question for General Pace. We were told about a raid last week, west of Kandahar, in which it was suspected to be a Taliban leadership compound. Today we hear that virtually all the people who were captured in that raid have been released and that they weren't Taliban or Al Qaeda. Is this another case of flawed intelligence? What happened in that operation?

PACE: Actually, the intelligence that we went in on indicated that there were Taliban leaders in that location. As you rightly recall, we captured 55 during the particular raid. They were brought back to the Kandahar area and underwent the initial screening. During the process of that screening, 50 of them were determined to be not identifiable as Taliban members. Five are still of interest to us and have been retained. And I think that what is happening is exactly what should happen, which is when we receive intelligence that's corroborated, that is actionable, that we go and conduct the raids.

PACE: And the fact that there is not a large concentration there is not necessarily bad news.

LIN: All right, the daily Pentagon briefing there, with the vice chair of the Joint Chiefs talking about the latest action in Afghanistan. But the focus of the Pentagon briefing has been the hot news out of Pakistan and India.

Let me show you a map of the area that they are focusing on right here, the concern being that now one million troops are massed both in Pakistan, combined with India, with hundreds of thousands of troops in an area called Kashmir, the disputed area, where there is something called the line of control, where daily skirmishes now have been going on between Pakistani and Indian troops.

The Department of Defense has confirmed that India has loaded medium-range missiles with conventional warheads. But these very same missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. And the secretary of defense is leaving for the region to visit both with Pakistan and India sometime next week.

So, we are going to go to our bureau chief in Islamabad, Ash-har Quraishi, for the latest there.

Ash-har, the secretary of defense was vague about specifically what he might be talking about with President Musharraf when he gets to Pakistan. What is it that President Musharraf needs to hear in order to convince him to pull back his troops from the line of control and calm the situation down, at least on his end?

ASH-HAR QURAISHI, CNN ISLAMABAD BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Carol, what we have been hearing from the government for the last few weeks, since this tension has been rising, is that they are looking for outside mediation. They are looking for somebody in the international community to bring both India and Pakistan back to the table.

Pakistan maintains that it ready to go to the table with India, although India says that it will not do that until Pakistan cracks down on what it calls militants working from Pakistani soil crossing over into India committing acts of terror, what they call cross-border terrorism.

Now, so far, the government here has not acknowledged that that is actually occurring. They have said -- they have gone as far as saying that they would prevent anything from happening in terms of anybody going over the border. But they have not acknowledged that this is happening. So far, the government has been saying that this is a freedom struggle that originates from inside Indian-occupied Kashmir, that these are indigenous separatists fighting for their independence. The government continues to support them morally and diplomatically, but there is very little room in terms of what the Pakistani government says that it can do about these cross-border terrorists, that India calls them. So, what we will be looking for in terms of what Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will be doing here is what he can do to tone down the rhetoric, to try and bring these two nations to pull back both at the same time, because Pakistan says that it is only responding to what it sees on the other side of the border in terms of what the Indians are deploying on their border as well as along the line of control in Kashmir -- Carol.

LIN: Ash-har, what has President Musharraf said in terms of whether Pakistan would initiate a first strike against India?

QURAISHI: Well, the Indian government has a very strict no first use policy in terms of its nuclear warfare plans, its attacks, that sort of thing. The government in Pakistan does not have a no first use policy. No official word from the government, obviously, on this front. They are very -- they say that this is only a deterrent. A nuclear attack, they say, is unthinkable.

But military analysts and insiders that I've spoken to say that what it would take would be for Pakistan to have no choice. Currently, they work on the strategy that they have a first line of defense and a second line of defense. If the Indians decided to go in for an attack and were able to penetrate that first line of defense, going through the second line of defense, and possibly posing a threat to communication from the North to the South in Pakistan, that's one scenario that military insiders say that would be possible that Pakistan could launch a nuclear attack in that case -- Carol.

LIN: All right. A situation right now that the Bush administration is unwilling to even discuss at either the White House briefing or the Pentagon briefing, a situation, hopefully, that is a long way away. But tensions are rising between Pakistan and India.

Ash-har Quraishi, thank you very much. Our bureau chief in Islamabad.




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