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Pentagon Briefing

Aired February 12, 2003 - 12:36   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But over at the Pentagon, the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is meeting with his British counterpart, the defense minister Geoffrey Hoon.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: ... that his country has provided in so many ways.

And I also thanked him for the positive response to our request to upgrade filing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) radar which will be important for effective missile defense, and I assured him that his government's decision would not only contribute to our security but also the security of Great Britain.

Mr. Minister?

HOON: Thank you, I'm delighted to be back here in Washington for the latest in a series of discussions that I've held with the secretary. We've covered, as you heard, a number of topics.

Inevitably, our focus has been on Iraq. The United Kingdom has been playing an active role diplomatically in securing Resolution 1441 in the United Nations and obviously militarily by contributing significant forces around 45,000 to building a credible threat of military force to ensure, as we are determined, to bring about that Saddam will disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary and Mr. Minister, both, you and the president and the prime minister...

RUMSFELD: Could I just make a quick comment. I have to testify up on the Hill, so we're going to have to end this.

RUMSFELD: So maybe if people could ask a question of one of the two of us rather than both, and only one question and no follow-up, then we could get around the room a little bit.

QUESTION: Both of your countries have talked about a coalition -- a growing coalition of the willing to perhaps invade Iraq, if you make that decision to do so. Could you tell us, have other countries agreed besides your countries and Australia to actually put troops on the ground in an invasion of Iraq? Would that be part of this coalition of the willing? Are we talking about three countries with troops?

RUMSFELD: The combat and combat support will be from more than three countries, in answer to your question...

QUESTION: That's actually...

RUMSFELD: ... in the event a decision is made.

QUESTION: Are we talking about ground troops?

QUESTION: What is the United States doing to try to get Osama bin Laden, given the fact that we've heard another tape of him?

RUMSFELD: Well, the effort has been ongoing by literally 80 or 90 nations to share intelligence and to freeze bank accounts and to check borders and to do a thousand things that we've talked about, bringing into play all elements of national power to track the al Qaeda network, the leaders, and that is something that has been ongoing and has been effective in capturing a number of them.

QUESTION: Would the military effort in Iraq in any way detract from the ability to find bin Laden?


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can I ask Mr. Hoon, why is it -- could you explain why Prime Minister Blair has been so much more concerned about Iraq than a lot of other European leaders, particularly those of the major powers? Why is his position identical with President Bush's position? Does Britain have some special knowledge or some special thread?

HOON: I certainly think we have understood the threat in Iraq for longer and a more detailed way than many of our European allies have done and that is because I think we realized much sooner that the appalling events of September the 11th meant that all of us had to concentrate much more carefully on the kinds of threats that we saw so manifested in this country on that day.

And therefore, we have been much more conscious that we cannot afford to turn our back on those kinds of threats, otherwise we risk a repetition of those events. So I think we've just been a lot more determined to avoid those kinds of consequences ever occurring again.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask you, Mr. Secretary, Americans across the country are seeing Reservists called up, they're seeing troops by the tens of thousands shipping out to the Persian Gulf, and there are a lot of people asking the simple question of why would the administration be willing to go to war against Iraq? Can you answer that?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think that the president answered it very forcefully in the State of the Union message, and I don't know how it could be improved upon. In terms of the intelligence basis for it, Secretary Powell presented to the United Nations and the world the case as to why. If I were to summarize it in a few sentences, it is this: The 21st century has arrived, and that world is such that we have a new national security environment; indeed, a new world security environment and it's characterized by the pervasiveness of these technologies of weapons of mass destruction, such that they are available and they are being developed in terrorist states, and the terrorist states have relationships with terrorist networks.

RUMSFELD: And we have seen what terrorist networks are willing to do. And the threat that that poses is of such considerably greater lethality than anything that has been experienced in the earlier periods.


QUESTION: ... don't seem to associate Iraq with terrorism. I mean, you make that connection. But just Iraq itself, why Iraq?

RUMSFELD: It seems to me that the case was made by the president and by Secretary Powell.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what do you make of this latest tape recording believed to be that of Osama bin Laden?

RUMSFELD: I haven't heard it. I'm aware of it. I saw a snippet of it. I don't know that it is or isn't bin Laden. It is something that happens periodically. We all know from time to time an audio or a video has come out. Not any videos in quite some time, but audio tapes.

What do I make of it? Well, in the past there have been a series of these. And on some occasions there have been terrorist attacks that have followed the airing of such tapes; whether there will be this time is not knowable.

But I suppose what I would make of it is that, it's clearly an effort to try to marshal support for the al Qaeda, to try to, I suppose, gain recruits and gain financial support. That's their life's blood. And they have hundreds of people around the world that we're pursuing. And I suspect that it's an effort to rally them.

QUESTION: Do you think it makes the case that the administration is trying to make that Osama bin Laden is somehow tied to Iraq and Saddam Hussein?

HOON: Well, I read the transcript of this tape this morning. And clearly what he makes is the connection with Iraq. The last main paragraph of the transcript that I saw he sets out in detail a connection between his activities and the activities of al Qaeda and Iraq. He said that, not us.

QUESTION: Given all of that, could you go back and remind us? The president said in this building back in September 2001: Bin Laden dead or alive. Either way. He didn't care. But he wanted him.

Nobody's been able to deliver that to the president. Can you explain to the American people why is it so hard -- it is about one man, my question -- why is it so hard to get Osama bin Laden? Why can't...

RUMSFELD: The people on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted for decades. There have been people all over the globe that -- a man hunt is a man hunt. It's a big world, people can hide. And the question isn't do you find him immediately. The question is, are you putting sufficient pressure that makes it difficult for the terrorist acts to occur?

QUESTION: Is there a manhunt for Osama bin Laden by this government?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, yes, and not by this government, but by 70, 80 or 90 countries are engaged in this.

QUESTION: Mr. Hoon, what is your perception of what's happening at NATO with the blocking of France, Germany and Belgium of military assets to protect Turkey? And is Great Britain working to do just that outside of NATO proper (ph)?

HOON: Well, let me make clear. The 16 countries are in favor of getting on with the planning in relation to protecting Turkey, an ally. And the United Kingdom government is disappointed that planning is, for the moment, being blocked. I assure you we are working to have that unblocked.

HOON: The meeting is temporarily adjourned, but it will be resuming later today. We want to see progress there.

QUESTION: May I do a follow-up on that please, sir, in a sense? The United States is perhaps going to put forward to the Security Council a second resolution as early as next week. The president has stated quite emphatically that 1441 gives the United States and its coalition members the authority to go after Saddam militarily if it so desires. How important is the second resolution to Great Britain?

HOON: We've made clear that we want to see a second resolution. We regard that as being important politically for our own position, but also in order to build as wide a possible coalition around the world as we can, so we see real benefit in having that second resolution.

QUESTION: But you'd do it without the resolution, right?

HOON: We've made clear that if that second resolution were unreasonably blocked in the Security Council, then we will take the kind of action that we took in Kosovo where we did not have a specific U.N. Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: You've portrayed the disagreement with the allies as sort of the latest in a series of spats within NATO that's gone back almost to the beginning of the alliance. With action on the Article 4 request now postponed apparently until after the Security Council meets, is that still your characterization of this disagreement or is it more serious?

RUMSFELD: Well, I suppose you can't know that at this stage. But the historical perspective I offered was accurate, that throughout the entire life of any alliance, or any relationship, there are bumps along the way. And I've been through, you know, four, five, six, eight of them over the last 30, 40 years, and observed them, and my impression is that the alliance has value, that it has the ability to make a distinctive contribution in the world to peace and stability, and that that's a good thing, and that ultimately people find their way to reasonably right conclusions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what do you think about the prospects of having more than 500 reporters with you on the front lines in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: Five hundred?

QUESTION: Well, that's what I was told this morning. The plan was for more than 500.

RUMSFELD: I don't know the number. What do I think about it? I think that...

QUESTION: And why did you decide to do that?

RUMSFELD: What we decided was that, unlike Afghanistan, the possibility of conflict in Iraq offered an opportunity for press people to be embedded in forces in the event forces are used.

The advantage of doing it -- there are obviously disadvantages. It's a burden on the troops to have people who are noncombatants connected with them. There's advantages too. And the advantage is that they will see for themselves what's taking place, and be able to, the good Lord willing, report the truth as to what they see and what they find.

We're dealing with a person in the case of Saddam Hussein and his regime that are accomplished liars. And they are consistently, day after day, saying things that aren't true. And it strikes me that having people who are willing to report the truth, the free press from around the world, is probably a useful thing.

QUESTION: Given the jitters that Americans have about their current safety because of the increased terrorism alert, can you tell us -- break your habit of not discussing deployments, and tell us what is being deployed currently around New York, Washington and other U.S. cities to protect the civilian population, including stinger missiles perhaps?

RUMSFELD: I could, but I won't.

QUESTION: Well, this is a different situation than...

RUMSFELD: It's not a different situation. Any time there are threats that are perceived, the prudent thing to do is to take steps that seem to be appropriate. To the extent those steps are described in great detail, it vantages nobody other than the terrorists. And therefore, what we do tends to be not random, but rather irregular. We tend to do things in a variety of different ways, in different places, at different times and the effect of that, we hope, would be to; A, to deter and dissuade; and B, in the event it's necessary, to properly defend.

Who's got a question for the minister? QUESTION: The ideologies, the religious beliefs for both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are totally the opposite, and that was obvious from what's believed to be a tape from bin Laden when he said that -- when he called upon the people to get rid of the communist government in Iraq. So do you still -- does this make you think twice before saying there's a connection between Iraq and bin Laden?

HOON: Well, if this tape is, in fact, from Osama bin Laden, he says specifically in that paragraph that I referred to earlier that they should put aside those differences and make common cause against their perceived enemy, the United States and the United Kingdom. So actually he's categorically saying, if it is him, in that statement that whatever differences there are should be put aside so they can work together in attacking the international community. So if that argument was ever valid, it certainly isn't valid today.

QUESTION: This may be a little off the wall, Minister Hoon, but is it possible that the tape was calculated to fan the flames of hostility between the United States and Iraq? One could argue that al Qaeda considers both Iraq and the United States its enemies and Great Britain. So having the two go to war would fan the flames of discontent in the Middle East and would tend to turn some of traditional allies in that area against the West. I mean, could it be that's what's behind it and not necessarily the connection between the two, but rather an attempt at that?

HOON: (OFF-MIKE) clearly he has his own motivations if this tape is his, but I think what it does demonstrate is the point I made earlier about September 11 that none of us can afford to be complacent about the kinds of threats that there are out there in the world, whether they are a terrorist threat or whether they're a threat from a state like Iraq is today under Saddam Hussein.

HOON: Both have the capability of inflicting appalling damage on our peoples and on our countries. And we have to deal with those threats.

RUMSFELD: I think it's interesting to note that this week the Gulf coordinating states decided to deploy their shield force, I believe it's called, in Kuwait. It involves ships and troops. And it was a unanimous vote of those Arab countries that are along the Gulf there.

QUESTION: And that means what to you, sir?

RUMSFELD: Well, it means that those states have made a conscience decision to participate. And I think very properly provide assistance to Kuwait.


QUESTION: ... Germany and France have called on for increasing the number of U.N. inspectors in Iraq. Just from a purely logistical point of view, how hard do you believe that would be? Do you have any faith that that could actually even happen given the specialized nature of their work? RUMSFELD: I have no idea. I haven't seen their request. It's my understanding it's still in formation.

I have trouble understanding how many additional inspectors -- if you need to have inspectors to see whether or not Iraq is cooperating, one or two will do that. If you think you need inspectors to try to cover a country the size of France, then you need thousands and thousands of them. So I don't know -- I can't quite imagine, why if they do decide to make such a proposal what their purpose might be.

HOON: Please bear in mind that the issue is cooperation. When South Africa invited in inspectors, a handful of inspectors were able to do the job that was required there because they had the full cooperation of the then-South African government. It's about cooperation. It's not about numbers of inspectors.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you were the envoy during Iran-Iraq war. Did the United States provide chemical agents or design of chemical weapons to Iraq? And if so, do you know better (ph) to counter (ph) that?

RUMSFELD: I was the special envoy for the president for the Middle East after the marines were killed in Beirut, Lebanon. I certainly had nothing to do with providing any chemicals or biologicals or any kind of weapons to Iraq at all. It was in The Post for a matter of a few months.

And what the government might have done later through some civilian domestic agency from a medical standpoint, which is, I think, what the press is referring to, I just simply don't know. I don't have visibility into it because I was, at the time, living in Chicago and doing something entirely different.

But I'm sure the historical record can be dug out and find out what, if anything, the United States may have done by way of a, I would guess it would have been on a humanitarian basis. Certainly it would not have been anything to do with chemical -- the intention would not have been anything to do with chemical or biological weapons.

QUESTION: On North Korea, you mentioned you both discussed North Korea, what's your latest thoughts on North Korea? You recently mentioned about a growing danger of North Korea getting enough nuclear bombs that it might be able to sell some of (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: I have no amplification of my thoughts at all. It's something that the president has spoken to and Secretary Powell is working on. And I'm told that -- I'm not quite sure, but I believe he did today or yesterday -- steps have been or are being taken to move the matter into the United Nations, which is, in my view, a good thing.


QUESTION: What Iraqi military preparations are you seeing now? And in particular, anything in connection with the oil fields, moves to, you know, rig them up to destroy them.

HOON: Well, clearly we are aware of some preparations. I don't think it would particularly help to go into any kind of detail about that. But obviously, there are areas of concern not least given his track record of having destroyed oil wells in Kuwait. It must be something that we have to be prepared for and have to deal with.

RUMSFELD: If you want to stay here...


RUMSFELD: ... by yourself, you're welcome to.

HOON: I think that's an offer I can just about refuse.


RUMSFELD: OK. Thank you.

BLITZER: And the defense secretary of the United States, Donald Rumsfeld, the defense minister of Great Britain, Geoffrey Hoon, wrapped up a news conference with reporters over at the Pentagon. They've been meeting, underscoring this alliance between the United States and Britain, basically, seeing eye to eye as far as Iraq is concerned and several other issues concerned as well. Both expressing their deep concern that France, Germany and Belgium continuing to refuse that NATO start taking steps that would protect Turkey in the event of a war. Turkey, of course, being another NATO ally on another point.

They both said , the United States and Britain both insisting, they are working diligently with some 70 or 80 other countries to try and track down Osama bin Laden, but that has not, obviously, happened yet.


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