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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Secretary of Defense, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Address Reporters

Aired April 14, 2003 - 12:52   ET

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

WOLF BLTIZER, CNN ANCHOR: The defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has been meeting with the Kuwaiti foreign minister. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF STATE: ... the foreign minister of Kuwait for a meeting and a luncheon and had the opportunity to express the appreciation of our country and the American people for the steadfast support that Kuwait has offered in this coalition effort, both with respect to the global war on terrorism and certainly with respect to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I should also add that we expressed our appreciation to the minister, his excellency, for the significant humanitarian assistance which Kuwait is offering. They have, with the United Kingdom, built a pipeline into Iraq that's now delivering some 2 million liters of fresh water per day. Their Kuwait relief organizations have sent dozens of trucks with food and medicine and water to a number of Iraqi cities. Kuwait has set up a humanitarian operations center to serve as a focal point for funneling aid into Iraq and is providing some 45,000 meals a day. In addition, has pledged a significant humanitarian relief fund for assistance in Iraq.

We also talked about our shared interest in finding the remaining people that are missing or who are prisoners of war, both from this conflict and also from the conflict in 1991. It is something that the government of Kuwait and the government of the United States share as a deep concern and an abiding interest. And I assured the minister that the United States is doing everything possible to pursue every conceivable lead. And we are hopeful that people in Iraq who opposed that regime will come forward and provide any information that they may have so that we can, in fact, achieve our goal of returning all of those individuals.

Excellency?

SHEIKH MUHAMMAD SABAH AL AHMED AL-SABAH, KUWAITI FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you. Thank you.

I had a very fruitful discussion with the secretary on matters of profound importance to Kuwait. The issue of the POWs is at most importance to us. As we enter this phase of the Iraqi freedom operations, and that is the stabilization phase, the issue of the POWs becomes paramount. The secretary assured me they are doing their best to search for our POWs and the Americans who have been missing in this conflict and also in Desert Storm.

Also, we have discussed the ways of expediting and increasing the humanitarian assistance to Iraq and ways to speed up the stabilization process for Iraq.

I thank this administration for what they have done and their steadfast support to Kuwait's causes, and also in their effort and their deed actually to liberate and to deliver the Iraqis from their bondage.

Thank you.

RUMSFELD: We'd be happy to take a few questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a spokesman at the Syrian foreign ministry today denied, flatly denied U.S. charges that Syria either has chemical weapons or is giving support to or harboring former Iraqi leaders. How do you respond to that, sir?

RUMSFELD: Well, first, I would say that we have seen chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past 12, 15 months.

And second, that we have intelligence that shows that Syria has allowed Syrians and others to come across the border into Iraq, people armed and people carrying leaflets indicating that they'll be rewarded if they kill Americans and members of the coalition. And we have intelligence that indicates that some Iraqi people have been allowed into Syria, in some cases to stay, in some places to transit.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you think Kuwait has more to offer for the coalition in this stage?

RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that Kuwait has been a strong supporter and wonderfully cooperative and helpful, and we appreciate that a great deal. There's no question but that the neighboring countries have been helpful in the humanitarian aspects of this, and we appreciate that, we value it. I know the Iraqi people appreciate that.

And the stabilization period, it's not possible to know how long it will be, but certainly an enormous effort's going in to getting electricity back on and getting water working and seeing that there's a proper distribution of medical supplies. And we appreciate all the help the GCC countries have provided.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you help us understand, is it correct that Ahmed Chalabi and his fighters are now going to Baghdad with the backing and support of the Pentagon or the Central Command? Can you help us understand what they will do there and how we should appropriately understand this issue other than U.S. backing, Pentagon backing for his group in particular?

RUMSFELD: I can't answer your specific question, I'm sorry. All I can say is that the United States government, and that includes the Pentagon, is not backing anybody for any role in Iraq. The Iraqi people are, over time, going to have to make those judgments, and I'm sure they will.

QUESTION: May I have a question for the excellency?

What is your thought, Excellency, about the potential for a civil war in Iraq, or for the potential for more disorder? What is your concern?

AL-SABAH: Well, this is a country that has been kidnapped for the past 35 years. The Iraqi regime, Saddam's regime has basically destroyed, ruptured the very fabric of the Iraqi society. Decent people have been tortured, killed and exiled. It will take long time, I think some time, for the healing process to take hold in Iraq.

Now, saying that, I have full confidence that the Iraqis are actually at this moment are rejoicing, it's a state of jubilation, that that been rid from this tyrannical regime. It's up to them now to settle down and to form their own government. And I'm confident that, from what we hear from them, all of them, that the welfare of the Iraqis and the establishment of a representative government is at the top of their interest now.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, should Syria understand that one of the potential consequences of their actions that you're talking about today is military action by the United States?

RUMSFELD: I didn't say anything like that.

QUESTION: But could you respond to that, though? Is that something that they should consider as a potential?

RUMSFELD: I think what -- I've said what I've said. And I've stated facts. And that's what I tend to do.

In terms of policy, that's for others.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you seeing any more combat operations, significant combat operations inside Iraq? Can you characterize the situation on the ground in Iraq now?

RUMSFELD: The situation in Iraq today is improved over yesterday and it's improved each day, and I suspect it will continue to improve. The reality is that the coalition forces now in a good portion of the country, but not all of the country. They're in a good portion of Baghdad, but not all of Baghdad. They are continuing to find that there are two things. Periodic pockets of resistance; fire fights still exist in Baghdad and elsewhere. The other thing that is of concern is the type of thing where you end up with a suicide car or bomb of some type that is not so much an act of war as it is an act of terrorism.

RUMSFELD: But I'm very encouraged that food and water and medicines are being moved throughout the country. We are encouraged to find a great many people in Iraq are assisting our forces, coalition forces, in finding ways to provide a secure environment so people can go about their lives.

Thank you very much.

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