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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired September 3, 2002 - 13:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And we'll take you now live to the Pentagon, where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and joint cheifs chairman General Richard Myers are stepping up to the mic here.
Expected topic Iraq, and a possible attack.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: ... a command-detonated mine. The explosion occurred five meters in front of the convoy, but there were no U.S. casualties.

And finally, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I'd like to take this opportunity to recognize another outstanding group who has been also very busy here in August and over the past year, and that's the civilian contractors who have been working on the renovation of the damaged wedge. I think all of us here in the building and the armed forces around the world appreciate what they've been doing this past year to make sure we're going to be ready for September 11.

Thank you.

Since our last visit, Dick Myers and I went down to Crawford, of course, and met with the president and discussed a series of Defense Department-related matters.

I went from there to Fort Hood, had a very good visit with the troops there. Laster in the week I was able to visit Fort Irwin in California and see an exercise that was taking place. I went to the naval station in San Diego and visited the Naval Space Systems Command, among other things. Went and met with troops aboard the Bonhomme Richard and the Constellation. Visited the naval air station at North Island, where I used to live during World War II, which was enjoyable for me. And then of course we went up to Camp Pendleton and had a session with the Marines.

So it's been a good number of stops during that period. I always find it enormously helpful to me to have a chance to visit with the troops and talk to them and respond to questions and get a sense from them as to the things they're thinking about.

And with that, I'll be happy to respond to questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, much has been said and reported about alleged differences between you and the vice president on one hand and Secretary Powell on the other on a possible preemptive invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Secretary Powell indicated over the weekend that he is willing to -- in fact wants inspectors to go back into Iraq. Do you think that there's anything that inspectors in Iraq could do to change this administration's policy to remove Saddam Hussein from power, for a regime change?

RUMSFELD: Well, with respect to the first part of the question, I came to this town in 1957 to work up on Capitol Hill, and I don't supposed there's been a year in the period since that there haven't been stories just like the ones you're citing here that there are differences of opinions.

The truth of the matter is that the president's national security team meets together frequently.

We do so in person. We do so on the phone. We have excellent discussions. And it is a very friendly, professional and constructive set of discussions that take place in that process.

I don't know of differences that -- there are always differences of perspective. There's differences of institutional differences from time to time. But the president is the president. He is the one for -- who ran for that office, and was elected to that office. He is the one who makes decisions and calibrations and guidance. And he does it very well.

I don't know quite why it is that it seems so much easier for folks to personalize things, rather than to go to substance.

The subject you raised second with respect to inspections is clearly a complicated set of issues. And my understanding -- and I hate to even talk about this, because someone will contrast it with something that somebody else said that I haven't read or seen and attempt to find a seam between what I am going to say and what somebody else may have said -- but it obviously has been the position of this administration to favor inspections. It is the Iraqis that ended the inspections; that we all know.

We protested when the Iraqis threw the inspectors out. The Iraqis made a conscious decision to tell the international community that the arrangement that they had entered into at the end of the Gulf War involving inspections and the other undertakings with respect to not developing weapons of mass destruction and the like, they made a conscious decision at various points to negate those agreements, to tell the international community that they no longer would abide by them.

And so, the offense, if there is one, is committed against the United Nations and the international community.

Would it be nice if they had not thrown the inspectors out? Yes, that would have been preferable. Would it be preferable for inspectors to be able to have any time, any place access so that at least some additional knowledge could be gained? Sure it would. Are the Iraqis -- do they have a pattern of denying that? Yes, they do.

QUESTION: Do you think it's possible for inspectors to go in there -- you've repeatedly said you do. Do you think it's possible for inspectors to go in there and somehow change as the administrations push for regime change in Baghdad? Do you think it's possible?

RUMSFELD: I just simply don't know. Those are judgments that the president will have to make.

First of all, I think that the intrusiveness of any inspection regime that would be sufficiently permissive to enable the rest of the world to know that, in fact, the U.N. resolutions were being fulfilled and lived up to would be such that it's unlikely for the folks there to agree to it. And I haven't seen any inclination on their part to agree to anything, except as a ploy from time to time to muse over the possibility, "We might do this or we might do that," and, kind of, play the international community and the U.N. process like a guitar, plucking the right string at the moment to delay something.

But it would clearly have to be a -- to fulfill the import of the U.N. resolutions and the understandings that were agreed upon, it would require an inspection regime of such intrusiveness that, at least thus far, it's unlikely, I think, that those folks would be inclined to agree to even half of it.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if I can follow up on? The other thing that Colin Powell said in that BBC interview over the weekend...

RUMSFELD: I must confess, I did not see the full interview. I saw a snippet on television. And therefore, I'm purposely not commenting on his statement, because I haven't had a chance to read it.

I'm just stating what the president has said and what our policy has been and what I see to be our current policy. And anyone who goes out of here thinking that there's some difference between anything I'm saying and what Colin said, I think would be a total misunderstanding of the situation.

QUESTION: I'm not trying to draw a distinction between what you said, but I just want to...

RUMSFELD: But I want to make sure everyone understood that.

QUESTION: I want to point to something he said and then ask you what flows from that, which is, in answer to the question from David Frost about whether the rest of the world agreed that Saddam Hussein was, in fact, the clear and present threat, Powell said, "I think the world has to be presented with the information, with the intelligence that's available; that debate is needed within the international community so that everybody can make a judgment about this." And my question is, when might we see some of this intelligence, some of the hard evidence about the threat from Saddam Hussein, other than the general statements that have already been made?

RUMSFELD: Well, needless to say, I agree with what Colin said in the quote you just indicated.

I think those are decisions that the president will make.

I believe very strongly that we are living in a new security environment. The president believes that and has said so. It is notably differently. It's different in a variety of different ways. And the debate and discussion that's taking place in the world, I think, is a healthy one and a good thing. And I think it'll be taking place -- it's taking place here in Washington.

It's taking place in other capitals. It very likely will take place in the Congress when Congress returns and begins to have the hearings that they have indicated they may very well have. And I know the president has indicated that he wants to be cooperative and have administrative witnesses participate in those. And one would think that it would be in that context that the discussions about what the fact patterns are would be most appropriately presented.

QUESTION: Is there hard evidence? Are there -- I don't know -- intelligence? Are there photographs? Is there other intelligence? Are you assembling that kind of information so that when the appropriate time comes, the president will be able to make the case and convince the world?

RUMSFELD: Well, you're suggesting that the president wants to make a particular case. What the president wants to do and will do in his own time is to provide information that he feels is important with respect to any judgment he decides to make. And he has not decided what judgments he may make, but he certainly would underpin those judgments with factual information.

QUESTION: Tariq Aziz said this morning -- he characterized you and several other people in the Bush administration as warmongers, as using the issue of inspections as a pretext to try to topple the regime. And he said he is willing to sit down and talk about all of the issues involving Iraq. Do you take that to be a serious offer? Do you take that to be further maneuvering, as you indicated earlier?

RUMSFELD: Well, I have met with Tariq Aziz a number of times, both in Baghdad and in Washington and elsewhere, and clearly he does the bidding of his master, Saddam Hussein.

They have, over a good many years, demonstrated a wonderful talent and skill at manipulating the media and international organizations in other countries. When it's the right moment to lean forward, they lean forward. When it's the right moment to lean back, they lean back. And it's a dance -- it's a dance they engage in.

They will go week after week after week stiffing the international community, the U.N. and others. They then will find that things are going in a way that they're uncomfortable with, and then they will throw out an opportunity of one sort or another and get hopeful people leaning forward saying, "See? There's our opportunity. We do have a chance to work with those people. All we need to do is be more accommodating to them." And, therefore, they'll swing the discussion and the debate that way. There might be inspections. The inspections might be this, that or the other thing. And then you'll find at the last moment, they'll withdraw that carrot or that opportunity and go back into their other mode of thumbing their nose at the international community.

Where they'll be at any given moment is, of course, something that's entirely up to them. But, at least, thus far we do know certain facts.

We know that they have rejected inspections. We know they have not lived up to their obligations under the U.N. resolutions and the agreements that they signed at the conclusion of the Gulf War.

QUESTION: In your view, what would be the merit of inspections if they, in fact, verified disarmament and left Saddam Hussein in power? Would not seem to achieve your goal, or the administration's policy goal of removing...

RUMSFELD: Again, that's a call for the president really. It's not for me. The policy of our government has been regime change. It's been regime change by the Congress, by the successive executive branch over the past two administrations.

And it was rooted in several things. It was rooted in the conviction that the world would be a better place if there were a government in that part of the world that was not developing weapons of mass destruction, was not on the terrorist list, did not pose threats to its neighbors, did not repress its people and subject its minorities to abuses, and did not have any development of weapons of mass destruction.

Therefore inspections have a role with respect to one of those elements. And obviously the world would be a better place if those folks were not developing weapons of mass destruction, but the other elements of the problem would remain.

QUESTION: Along that line, Mr. Secretary, Vice President Cheney said last week that Iraq was once close to producing or obtaining nuclear weapons, and said that they're getting close again. What evidence does the U.S. have that Iraq, Saddam Hussein, may be getting close again to obtaining a nuclear weapon?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think I'll leave that for the coming days and weeks. I mean, we know the obvious: We know that they were a lot closer than any of the experts had estimated they would be with respect to a nuclear weapon. And that was discovered during the post- 1991 period by actually seeing what was there.

To the extent inspectors have been out now for a number of years, we know that we don't know what's taken place during those period of years. To the extent that they have kept their nuclear scientists together and working on these efforts, one has to assume they've not been playing tiddlywinks, and that they have been focusing on nuclear weapons. And, so we know what we know. We know that they had an enormous appetite, that they were very close, within a short period of time to having a weapon. We know that our estimate had been that it was multiples of years compared to what it actually was. And therefore we know we weren't very good at what we were supposedly doing, that is to say estimating that. And we also know that since the end of the Cold War that the proliferation of these technologies has been pervasive, and we know that they have porous borders.

And we know some other things, but those are the kinds of things that would come out if and when the president decides that he thinks it's appropriate.

QUESTION: If I could follow up, when you said you'd do that in the coming days and weeks, does that mean the administration intends to, in the coming weeks, reveal some of this evidence that maybe...

RUMSFELD: Those are judgments that have to be made down the road depending on what the president decides he wants to do.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, about the vice president's speech twice last week, he said that the consequences of inaction against Saddam Hussein far outweigh the consequences of some preemptive strike. Yet we repeatedly hear from the president that he has not made a decision and that he's a patient man. In your assessment, is there a mixed message here or are we just reading it wrong?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, anytime four, five, six, seven people all talk, and they talk about these subjects, and they are asked specific questions by people that are cast in a certain way, and the question contains a reference to something that someone else said, not the full context of it, not the whole text, but some blurb or piece that happened to appear on television or happened to appear in the newspaper, and then somebody responds to that, why, there's no question but that if someone wanted to take all the column inches or all the minutes on television by the top people in any government, at any given time, on the same subjects, and ignored how the question was asked, and ignored the context of the quote, that you could end up juxtaposing things in ways that would sell newspapers, by saying, "Ah ha, there's a disagreement there. He said this. She said that. What about this? What about that?"

That's baloney. These people meet together all the time. They know what each other thinks. Do they sometimes say things one way and someone else might have said it some other, different way? Sure they do.

But what's important is what the president says, and what's important is what the president decides, and what's important is the documentation that's provided at some point if he decides that he feels that's appropriate.

And I think also what's important is that people lift their eyes up off their shoelaces and go back to the fundamental. And the fundamental issue is that we live in a different world today. We live in the 21st century. We're not back in the 20th century, where the principal focus is conventional weapons. We're in the 21st century, where the principal focus must be unconventional weapons, weapons potentially that could involve killing not hundreds of people, but tens of thousands of people: chemical weapons, biological weapons, potentially nuclear weapons. And that means that we have to take that aboard as a people, and we have to talk about it, and we have to consider it. What does it mean? How does it conceivably affect our behavior?

There are clearly risks to acting in any instance, but there are also risks to not acting. And those have to be weighed. People have to talk about them intelligently.

These are important subjects for Congress, for the press, for the academic institutions, for the world community. And that's what this process is.

And I keep hearing people say, "Oh, Europe's unhappy with this, or somebody doesn't agree with that, or some general said this, or some civilian said that." I think what's important is the substance of this discussion. And I see too little attention to it, and too much attention to the personality aspects of it, if you will, and to the trying to juxtaposed what one person said against what somebody else said, for the personality aspect of it, rather than for the substance of it.

And, if you think about our circumstance, when the penalty for not acting is September 11th, if you will, or a Pearl Harbor, where hundreds and a few thousand people are killed, that is a very serious thing. You've made a conscience decision not to act, and the penalty was that -- for those people it's 100 percent; it's not 1,000 or 2,000...

PHILLIPS: All right, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld getting very energetic, very direct and a little heated there, as he talks -- takes questions rather from reporter at the Pentagon about Iraq and the administration's case for an attack, a possible attack.

Basically, in a nutshell, Rumsfeld saying that what we know is that Iraq has rejected inspections, weapons inspections and has not lived up to obligations since losing Gulf War. Also, that there is a evidence that Iraq is closer to getting its hands on nuclear weapon. And as far an attack against Iraq, the president has to make that decision, and he will do it in his own time.

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