CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Condoleezza Rice Gives Press Briefing
Aired November 15, 2002 - 10:34 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now live to Washington. As you can see here, National Security adviser Condoleeza Rice there briefing the press.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADIVESOR: ... attention of the administration. We would ask Americans to do what the president has asked them a number of times to do, which is remain vigilant, because the American people are in many ways the first line of defense. There have been many cases in which Americans who were alert to suspicious circumstances around them have been able to tip law enforcement officials.
I will say that a lot is being done to bring additional protective measures, particularly to critical infrastructure locations around the United States.
RICE: There is a very active now program of coordination on this particular period of time with both public and private entities, and at the federal, state and local levels. And we are raising protective measures in a number of places around the country. But there are not specifics as to time, date or, for that matter, very much about how this might carry out. So we think this is what we need to do at this point.
QUESTION: Dr. Rice, because of these warnings, critics have suggested that the administration is focused too much on the war or possibility of war against Iraq and not enough on the terrorism threat at home. And ordinary citizens continue to ask, Why go after Iraq now if we have this unfinished problem right here at home?
RICE: Well, let me start by saying that the president begins his day at 8:00 in the morning with the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, joined shortly after that by my colleague, Tom Ridge, and the FBI director and his counterterrorism person to review the terrorism threats to the United States.
He does not begin his day on Iraq. He begins his day on the war on terrorism and the threat levels and the threat information that we have about the United States. This is a central focus of this administration.
And the war on terrorism, as the president said back on September 20 when he addressed the Congress, is being fought on many fronts. It is a war that is many times being fought in the shadows, so that it's not always on television screens. Yes it is different than the early phases of the war when we were in a large-scale military operation in Afghanistan, but we should focus our attention also on how much disruption of Al Qaida there has been.
RICE: There have been a number of -- numerous senior leaders of Al Qaida that have either been eliminated, incarcerated or detained someplace. One of the reasons that we have different sources of information that we did not have is that we have some of those people in custody who are informing us about how Al Qaida operates, about what various things might mean.
This is a war on terrorism that is going to be ongoing for a long time, but that is being fought very aggressively and will continue to be fought very aggressively.
That said, it is also the case that the worst nightmare that we would face is the combination of extremism with a hostile regime armed with weapons of mass destruction.
And the president's made very clear that he believes the Iraqi regime is a regime that, both through its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and its long-known support for terrorism, is a potential threat for exactly that nexus.
And so Iraq is a part of the war on terrorism, but the part of the war on terrorism that is going after Al Qaida and disrupting and trying to protect the country is fought aggressively every day, every hour by this administration, and that's how the president begins his day.
QUESTION: Dr. Rice, are you looking for a statement of support from the NATO meeting on Iraq? And are you looking for a military commitment? If not, why not?
RICE: This is a summit that is going to celebrate a historic moment for NATO, which is the expansion of NATO into territories that I think nobody ever thought NATO would expand into. And that is really the central purpose of this summit.
It is also the central purpose of this summit to talk about how to improve NATO's capabilities to deal with the threats that we face today. Now, of course we expect that Iraq will be discussed, and of course the president will discuss Iraq in bilaterals and probably in the NATO Council as well.
But there is a lot of work that has already gone on and is already going on in terms of coalition building for Iraq. We now have a U.N. Security Council resolution that is 15-0, so it's not just NATO that is united about what to do about Saddam Hussein, it's the entire world that is united.
RICE: I suspect that we will hear from NATO partners what they are prepared to do and what they can do. But that's not the purpose of this summit. The purpose of this summit is to invite new members in, to celebrate NATO's future and to talk about how far NATO has come and how it remains a vital and viable alliance some 11 years after the end of the Cold War.
QUESTION: So you're not expecting some sort of statement of support?
RICE: Well, there will undoubtedly be discussion of this, and there probably will be statements about it. But that's not the central purpose of this meeting. But I assume that there will be some kind of statement from NATO about this.
QUESTION: Dr. Rice, why is it necessary for the United States Air Force to control the air space above Prague, to secure Prague during the summit? What does that say about the capabilities gap within NATO? And in what way will that gap be addressed at this summit?
RICE: Well, let's remember that the United States is of course a member of NATO. And so, whatever assets the United States can lend to protection of NATO during the NATO summit, it's perfectly appropriate for the United States to do that.
One of the things that we will discuss at the summit is how to think about getting new capabilities for NATO members. You will have a lot of small members of NATO, for instance, for the first time. And they cannot across the entire range of military capabilities contribute. But they can contribute in specific ways, in niche ways to the overall military capability of NATO. So that will be discussed.
The truth of the matter is that everybody is having to reassess capabilities at this time. Everybody is having to make a transformation. This isn't just something that NATO and the Europeans are having to do. The United States itself is having to make a transformation and having to assess capabilities.
I think you will see that this is an issue that the NATO alliance takes seriously, that member states take seriously, and that we'll make some progress on exactly this.
QUESTION: ... question of financial commitment?
RICE: Some of it is certainly a question of financial commitment. But it's also a question of getting the mission right and determining what capabilities you really need.
QUESTION: What can you say about what you and your colleagues have learned about how Al Qaida is operating now? And if the presumption is that Osama bin Laden is still alive, is he playing the same role that he's played in the past as, you know, sort of the brains and the, you know, the person who sets into motion any plots?
RICE: I don't think that we can be certain of what role Osama bin Laden is or is not playing. What we have to assume is that whatever Al Qaida is doing in terms of command and control has to be different than what it was doing before, because they don't have the home base in Afghanistan, and that is a good thing. We obviously also are working harder in an international fashion to disrupt their activities than we were prior to 9/11. RICE: We just simply have a much larger umbrella of intelligence and law enforcement, a much more coordinated effort of law enforcement and intelligence than the world has seen, I think, ever on any target. And so that is another factor in disrupting and making it hard to operate.
But, of course, it is adaptable. It's an adaptable organization. We have to assume that it's trying to adapt.
Our goal has to be to, every day, with our partners around the world, take as much information as we possibly can, assess it and try to respond to it. And that is what we do on a daily basis.
The Al Qaida operations in Afghanistan were destroyed. Another piece of this is to make sure that there are not other places that they can puddle or other places that they can gain the kind of foothold that they did in Afghanistan. And that's why you see us working with countries like Yemen or with Philippines or Indonesia to try and keep that from happening.
QUESTION: Can I just follow on one point? Assuming that people you have in custody may provide some sort of guidance on plots that may have been discussed at some point in the past, isn't it difficult, because the organization seems to become more decentralized now, to fight it? Are you working on the assumption that where it can puddle together, then plots that were discussed before might ultimately come to fruition?
RICE: Without getting into too great a detail here, I mean, what you have to do is to recognize that there are going to be adaptations that they will make and there are adaptations that we will make.
And that we do have the advantage of having in custody people who can talk about the operation, who can talk about how various people were involved in various operations. That's all very helpful to all of us.
But in many places in the world law enforcement and intelligence are working together in ways that they have not in the past. And I would just emphasize to you the importance of having this as a kind of worldwide activity, not just one that the United States is loosely engaged in.
QUESTION: Dr. Rice, some of us have been told by people here that the president would actually make a speech on Iraq during this meeting, and that it would probably be the Wednesday speech. Has that now been changed?
RICE: The Wednesday speech?
RICE: In Prague?
RICE: The president is going to talk about NATO in Prague...
QUESTION: Is he not going to make a speech at all about Iraq?
RICE: ... and about Europe's future.
The president will have an opportunity when he's with is colleagues to talk about a number of challenges, one of which is Iraq. But the plan for the president's major address is to talk about the future of Europe.
QUESTION: Could you just talk about what you expect, what course you expect the conversations with Putin to take, and what role you think Chechnya will play in those conversations, what the president wants?
RICE: Let me just, going back to the point about Iraq, let me put it in context.
RICE: Iraq is typical or the most important example of the kind of threat that NATO will face in the future, so it would be odd if this were not an issue at the summit, but it is not the reason for this summit.
In terms of the discussions with President Putin, obviously, we expect to discuss Chechnya in the following way: recognizing that terrorism can never be a legitimate method for any cause. And the president has said that to President Putin. He said it to him when the Moscow events took place.
We still believe that the best way to resolve this situation is through a political solution that can take care of legitimate aspirations of the Chechen people, recognizing that Chechnya is a part of Russia, but recognizing that this is a part of Russia in which there are ethnic groups that have particular aspirations and cultural ties.
And so, I think they will talk about that during their meetings. I'd be surprised if they do not.
RICE: Yes, a follow-up?
QUESTION: A follow-up because you once suggested that the difference about the situation in Chechnya is that it has this underlying political problem, where you don't have the underlying political problem with Al Qaida or with other terrorist groups.
First off, President Putin does not agree with that. He says -- he reminds that bin Laden and his like did pose political demands. But even in the broader sense...
HARRIS: We've been listening to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice at the White House briefing reporters on a couple of matters. President Bush is going to be taking a trip next week to Europe, to Prague, Czhechelslovika -- sorry, the Czech Republic, and he's going to be there to meet with the NATO ministersn, and she says that this morning that any expected major pronouncement by President Bush on Iraq should basically be put off to the side, that President Bush will be discussing Iraq there at the NATO meetings, but it will be done it private with other ministers, talking about a plan going forward. The central issue at the meeting is not going to be at all about Iraq.
She also mentioned also this FBI bulletin that was put out recently about spectacular attacks by Al Qaeda can be expected. She said that enhanced security measures have not been taken across the nation's infrastructure, because the threats have not been that specific.
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