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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired April 15, 2003 - 13:33   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We've got to go to the Pentagon now. Donald Rumsfeld addressing reporters.
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Coalition forces now control Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit, and only a few Iraqi cities remain contested. Our forces are now going back to the smaller cities and towns they initially bypassed to deal with any regime forces that may remain. We'll continue these efforts until Saddam Hussein's regime has been removed from every corner of Iraq.

Once conditions on the ground permit, the civil administration team will deploy to Baghdad. Even before they do so, the coalition is beginning to hold regional meetings with free Iraqis from all walks of life to discuss the way ahead.

The purpose is to begin a dialogue with Iraqis on the future of their country, to build momentum for the formation of an Iraqi interim authority, and to help pave the way for a free Iraqi government that will eventually be chosen by the Iraqi people.

The first of these meetings was held today in Nasiriyah. It is noteworthy that even before the coalition civil administration team has arrived in Baghdad they are meeting with free Iraqis to discuss handing over authority to the Iraqi people. It underscores our intention to give responsibility for governance of that country to Iraqis as quickly as is possible.

The makeup and responsibilities of an Iraqi interim authority will be up to the Iraqi people, but we envision that it could take on at least two main tasks.

First, it could allow Iraqis to have an immediate role in the administration of their country, including responsibility for running a number of the ministries.

Second, it could take responsibility for laying the foundations of a new Iraqi government, including formation of a draft constitution, reform of the legal system, economic reform, electoral planning and the outlines of a bill of rights to assure a just system that guarantees that all Iraqis, diverse population, has a voice in the governance of their country.

The specific institutions of a new Iraqi government will be decided by Iraqis. A free society should really not be imposed from the outside. We can help by bringing Iraqis together and by helping to create conditions of stability and security that are necessary for a free society to take root. But building a free Iraq is the right and indeed the responsibility of the Iraqi people.

Moreover, a free society is about more than just elections or specific institutions of government. Free nations across the world have different institutions that reflect their unique cultures and their traditions.

What they share in common are certain principles that undergird those institutions: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, individual rights, equal justice under law, checks and balances, protecting minorities against the tyranny of a majority and ultimately a government that is chosen by and answers to the people.

The interim authority will be a steppingstone in that process. This much is certain: It will be temporary; it will be large, involving Iraqis from all walks of life; and it will be open to participation by new leaders from across the country as they emerge from the shadow of Saddam Hussein's repression.

It will evolve, to use the American phrase, from the big-tent approach.

These meetings will help set in motion a process that will lead to a Iraqi government that does not threaten its neighbors or the world with weapons of mass destruction, that does not support terrorist networks, that guarantees the rights of religious and ethnic groups, that permits political freedom, individual liberty and rule of law to prevail so that no Iraqi is forced to live in terror or fear.

General Myers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Well, General Brooks gave a complete brief this morning, so I don't have anything to add from an operational viewpoint.

On behalf of all of us in uniform I would like to add our welcome home to the seven former POWs. We are very proud of them and wish them a joyful reunion with their families.

My congratulations go to the Marines who rescued them. Thank you for bringing them home.

And as the secretary said, you can be sure that we will continue to look and hunt for those that are still missing.

I'd also like to add my condolences to the families of those service members killed in combat-related actions or accidents over the past few days. I think it reminds us the battlefield is still a dangerous place, and we need to maintain our focus on our day-to-day operations.

And with that we'll take questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there's an oil pipeline that runs from Iraq to Syria through which traders say, despite denials from Damascus and Baghdad, that up to 200,000 barrels a day has flowed several years, making millions of dollars for both countries in violation of the oil-for-food program. There are reports that the U.S. military has disabled or perhaps destroyed that pipeline. Can you clarify that or give us any information on that?

RUMSFELD: I'm sure that no coalition forces destroyed a pipeline. We have preserved infrastructure in that country. I am hopeful that they have shut it off. And I have heard that that has happened. But I cannot assure you that all illegal oil flowing from Iraq into Syria is shut off. I just hope it is.

QUESTION: General?

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: ... just to add a little bit to what the secretary said, they would not destroy the pipeline or any of the other infrastructure, whether it's oil or other infrastructure. They did it on the technical advice of engineers.

QUESTION: So you say they've not destroyed it, but have they shut it off?

RUMSFELD: And I answered.

QUESTION: You say there are reports of that...

RUMSFELD: I said we have been told that they have shut off a pipeline. Whether it's the only one, and whether that has completely stopped the flow of oil between Iraq and Syria, I cannot tell you. We do not have perfect knowledge. We do know that they were instructed to shut it down and they have told us that they have.

QUESTION: Thank you. Now that there's no longer a need for no- fly zones over the north and the south of Iraq, what's the future of the U.S. military presence in Turkey and in Saudi Arabia?

RUMSFELD: We have with the Turkish government discontinued the Turkish no-fly zone.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Yesterday or the day before.

MYERS: You announced it, I think...

RUMSFELD: Did I?

MYERS: ... up here. The end of Operation Northern Watch. And the assets there that were supporting it have redeployed.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: Let me finish.

The southern no-fly zone we're still flying out of, obviously, although it's not in a no-fly zone mode. We're doing what we do, our folks are.

The subject of a footprint for the United States post-Iraq is something that we're discussing and considering, and we don't have any announcements to make on it. But that'll take some time to sort through.

QUESTION: But the Incirlik operation has been not only closed down, but all of the aircraft have left, I understand...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: No, all we said was that the Operation Northern Watch has been shut down and the assets that were there for that sole purpose have been redeployed.

QUESTION: So there are still U.S. assets...

RUMSFELD: I didn't say that. I said...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: I don't know why this is hard. We have shut down Operation Northern Watch. The assets that were there for that purpose have been redeployed. We have not made final decisions with respect to the footprint of the United States in that part of the world and won't for some months.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there's been some tough talk by you and by Secretary Powell and by the president about Syria, saying in effect to saying to cease and desist aiding and abetting those of the Saddam regime and also in building or harboring weapons of mass destruction.

The bottom line question is, specifically -- underline the word "specifically" -- how does the Bush administration intend to make that happen? How can you prevent Syria from doing these things?

RUMSFELD: I don't have anything else to add on that. The president's spoken on it, Secretary Powell's spoken on it. I'll leave that to them.

QUESTION: You mentioned a missing American pilot from '91, assuming that's Captain Scott Speicher. Can you update us on the progress that's being made or lack of it in trying to account for him?

RUMSFELD: If and when we have anything to announce, we will.

We, needless to say, have teams of people who have very much focused on the question of prisoners of war. They've had some good success thus far. We're working on the problems and hoping that we'll have success. But we have nothing that we can report.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, given there was a lot of talk about needing to have a -- before the war -- having a lighter, more mobile, faster deploying force, and given the rapid, record speed that the 3rd Infantry...

RUMSFELD: You think we ought to slow down? Is that the...

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: That's not my question (OFF-MIKE).

RUMSFELD: Just checking.

QUESTION: Given the record speed that the 3rd Infantry, you know, got to Baghdad from Kuwait, would you say, first of all, is that lighter, more mobile, faster force now a reality? And if it is, is that because of something that you and this administration has done or was that started before this present administration, or is it a combination of both?

RUMSFELD: Well, first, I would say that the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines and the other forces and units and elements that have been doing such a wonderful job in Iraq have all performed exceedingly well, including the Special Operations people and the Navy and the air assets.

The phrase you use of swifter or more agile or faster are things that militaries have been striving for for decades, hundreds of years. They've been trying to learn to do things better than they've done them in the past.

And my impression is that the armed forces of the United States have been focused on improving themselves for some time, are today and will be in the future.

And I think that looking for the kind of demarcation you've suggested really is kind of chasing the wrong rabbit.

QUESTION: I understand that as troops are moving through they're bringing much-needed medical care and some supplies to folks that they're coming across.

However, in Baghdad there remain a great number of people who are seriously hurt, some of them from the bombing, and aren't getting proper medical care, according to reports that are coming out there and pictures that we've seen.

At the same time there's a hospital ship that has 800 empty beds, and I'm wondering if there's any consideration being given to moving some of the folks, maybe the worst cases in the Baghdad hospitals down there for more appropriate care, special burn care, amputations.

RUMSFELD: The hospital, I don't which ship you're talking about, but I know one hospital ship has some, I believe, 307 Iraqi people that they have taken aboard and are providing first-class medical treatment for.

The medical situation as of the 13th -- today's the 15th, two days ago -- in Baghdad the hospitals do have a heavy load. Jordan announced a plan to send a field hospital in the Baghdad area this week. Medical supplies have been flown into Baghdad last night, on the night of the 12th, for distribution by the ICRC, and there is a massive effort bringing people in.

The UAE has also announced that it is receiving individuals who need medical assistance, Iraqi citizens who need medical assistance, and that process is taking place.

QUESTION: No plans to fill up those empty beds on the hospital ship?

RUMSFELD: I don't know what empty beds you're talking about.

QUESTION: It's a 1,000-bed hospital ship, and the last briefing we had there were about 200 beds full.

RUMSFELD: I just happen not to know...

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: I think as a general rule we're making medical care available wherever we have it, and, you know, if it's appropriate.

I would say since the 13th, a couple of additional items. They opened two additional hospitals in north-central Baghdad that are under U.S. control and security, and the ICRC opened up the big 1,200- bed teaching hospital in Baghdad, as well.

The secretary said, lots of medical supplies coming in, lots of help from several countries to help with the medical situation.

RUMSFELD: The medical situation, you've got to remember two things. One is that hospitals and schools and mosques were used as headquarters for the Baath Party and for the Iraqi military. And there was a lot of damage done to hospitals and schools and mosques as a result of that decision on that part, their decision.

Every day that has gone by since the United States has been in that country the medical situation has gotten better than it was the day before. And that will continue at an increased rate in the days and weeks ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the meeting at Ur outside of Nasiriyah was boycotted by Shi'a groups, subjected to protest.

RUMSFELD: It was also attended by a very large number of people.

QUESTION: Well, you described a big-tent approach that the U.S. would like to see.

RUMSFELD: Is the glass half full or half empty?

QUESTION: What is the answer to the boycott? How do you get the groups that are boycotting inside the tent?

RUMSFELD: Well, you don't. We don't. What's going to happen is it's going to get sorted out on the ground, and that's fine. People demonstrate in the United States and boycott political rallies and things, that's what free people do. And it ought not to come as a surprise.

Our attitude about it is is that the Iraqis are going to have to sort this out. There ought to be a big tent. Everyone who subscribes to the principles that I indicated in my opening statement today ought to be able to participate.

What's going to happen is, as that happens, they'll have meetings. And if you do something, somebody's not going to like it. That's certain in life. It's also true, if you don't do something, somebody's not going to like it. But the fact is, if you do do something somebody's not going to like it, and that's what happening.

So someone will come up and say something, and something else, as happens in democracies, in free systems, somebody's going to say, "I don't agree with that." And they'll either say it from inside the tent or outside the tent.

And what's going to happen is that over each week that goes by, people are going to see that this is going to be a process that's going to go forward. It's going to include everyone in that country that wants to participate based on fundamental principles that I've indicated. And they'll find that they've got a much better chance of affecting it from inside than they do from outside.

And therefore, you say, "What are you going to do about it?"

What's going to happen is, the Iraqi people will do something about it. If they don't want those people in, and those people don't subscribe to the principles that we've set forth, and, indeed, that the Iraqis have set forth -- I just read this e-mail on the statement they made, which is very interesting and very positive, in my view -- then they'll stay out. And that's life. Some people do that. Some people don't vote in our country.

On the other hand, if they decide they want to have an influence and an effect on it, they'll decide to become a part of that process. And it's an interim process, it's a temporary process that's moving through phases toward a more permanent government. And then, they'll have a chance to do that, and that's a good thing.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how confident are you that Iraq still has Scud missiles? And during your evaluation of the bomb battle damage assessments of your bombing in the western part of Iraq, have you found any sort of evidence there?

RUMSFELD: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: None at all? Not even like shells (ph) or anything like that?

RUMSFELD: Please, a little...

(LAUGHTER) ... a half of one. Is that what you want?

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: Look, there are still people shooting and getting killed in that country.

The western area where the Scud baskets were is enormous. It's enormous. There's a handful of people out there, Americans. I mean, there are just not large numbers of special operators out there.

They went out there. They went to the Scud baskets. They were successful in dealing with the people that were out there doing things. And now we're in a stage where, as the fighting starts to end and die down, there will be opportunities for individuals to then look around and see what they find.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you had mentioned earlier that you're still looking at a decision to be made on what size of footprint the U.S. would have in the region. Would you just clarify that to make certain that -- you've always said that the U.S. will certainly leave Iraq. I would presume by that you're not saying in Iraq, but in the region.

RUMSFELD: I'm just stating a fact that right now we have forces in Iraq. Our first choice is to begin drawing them down, and we have been doing that. A carrier battle group's already been announced as leaving; there will be other forces that will be drawn down over time.

We have forces in other parts of that region -- and I spoke of a region, not a country. And we will be looking at what that footprint ought to be going forward, and it's not something that we've come to closure on.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in your opening statement you talked about the political future of Iraq and letting the Iraqis decide. Are there, however, any specific conditions that we're attaching, such as bans on a particular party or an individual or a particular size of an army or the type of weapons that they might have?

RUMSFELD: What we have said is fairly simple, and we've repeated it and repeated it from the outset: that Iraqi ought to be a single country.

And if people want to participate who think they ought to divide up that country into pieces, then we don't care -- we'd prefer they not participate.

It ought to be a country that doesn't have weapons of mass destruction and doesn't threaten its neighbors. And if there are people who think it ought to then our preference is that they not participate.

It ought to be a country that sets itself on a path toward a government that is responsive to the people and respectful of minorities and the diversity in the country, of religious diversity and ethnic diversity.

And if people want to have a different kind of government, then we'd prefer they not participate.

Beyond that we would -- we'd also prefer that people not participate who basically don't represent Iraq, but who think they represent some of the neighboring countries. And that's an unhelpful thing, it seems to me.

So those are basically the standards, and they're not complicated and they're not restrictive, they allow for a great deal of variety and diversity within those basics.

QUESTION: Who, if I may follow, would do the vetting of those conditions?

RUMSFELD: Oh, we just keep repeating the conditions and the people will do the vetting. People on the ground know these folks, they know the bad ones. And, yes, I mean, you did ask about parties, there's no question but that this country's got to go through a de- Baathification process.

The Baath Party does not fit the conditions that I've described. We know what they think, and therefore we know that they ought not to be participants. And we would be hopeful that that's the case.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, who is going to control Kirkuk and Mosul since there is a lot of concern in Ankara, Turkey? In the meantime, any communication with the Turkish government vis-a-vis to the Kurdish people of northern Iraq?

And above all, how do you comment on the cooperation which has been announced among Turkey, Syria and Iran vis-a-vis to the Kurdish people?

RUMSFELD: You want to...

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: The situation that we have in northern Iraq with respect to coordination and cooperation with the Turkish military is that as soon as we had U.S. forces in Kirkuk and in Mosul that we invited in immediately Turkish military liaison officers so we could establish together the ground truth in those areas.

As you know, rumors start fairly frequently, and somebody has to establish the ground truth, and that's why we are in northern Iraq with U.S. forces and with Turkish liaison forces.

That seems to be working very well. I've talked to General Jones, our EUCOM commander, today, who had been talking to General Ozkok in Turkey, chief of defense staff there, who was, I think can be reported as pleased with this level of cooperation. And we think that's gone a long way to sort of dispelling some of the rumors that have come out of northern Iraq.

The situation in Kirkuk is calm. The Peshmerga are out of there.

The situation in Mosul is a little less calm, but still very stable, and that continues.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on the issue of follow-on forces, you've said that this plan has been flexible from the beginning and that there were other forces in the pipeline, that you could turn off the spigot, if you will. Have you decided to turn off the spigot?

RUMSFELD: Yes.

QUESTION: And how so, sir?

RUMSFELD: One of the elements that was in the queue has been taken out of the queue. And we still have other forces that are flowing in, and in some cases they'll be additive, in some cases they'll be replacing other forces over time and in some cases portions of elements may not go; portions would go.

We're also on a very active effort to attract and encourage other countries to offer forces for the phase 4 stabilization process. We've had good luck, good fortune. I was on the phone today with ministers of the defense of the U.K. and of Poland and talking to them about the process. We, all, will be coordinating through the CENTCOM liaison people and talking to other countries about forces that they may want to offer up to provide for a stabilization period so that over a period of time we'll be able to have the kind of security environment that is safe and allows a country to fashion a new government and a new approach to how they want to live their lives.

QUESTION: If I could follow? General Myers, we've heard about the naval assets and Air Force assets pulling out, what about ground forces pulling out?

MYERS: I think the secretary covered that. Some of the reason that the forces that continue to flow are flowing is with a look toward, in the future, to be determined by Central Command and by the secretary, on when you might replace some forces that have been there for some time yet. So that's all part of the planning that Central Command's doing right now.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as impressive as the U.S. military operation has been, no military plan is perfect. Would you concede in retrospect that perhaps the plan failed to adequately protect Iraq's antiquities, particularly the looting, providing enough security for the museum in Baghdad?

RUMSFELD: Looting is an unfortunate thing. Human beings are not perfect. And we've seen looting in this country. We've seen riots at soccer games and various countries around the world. We've seen destruction after athletic events in our own country. No one likes it. No one allows it. It happens. And it's unfortunate. And to the extent it can be stopped, it should be stopped.

To the extent it happens in a warzone, it's difficult to stop. The United States is concerned about the museum in Baghdad, and the president and the secretary of state and I have all talked about it, and we are in the process of offering rewards for people who will bring things back, or to assist us in finding where those things might be.

And I would suspect that over time we'll find that a number of the things were hidden prior to the conflict. That's what most people who run museums do prior to a conflict, which was obviously well telegraphed in advance. But to try to lay off the fact of that unfortunate activity on a defect in a war plan, it strikes me as a stretch.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, this is Miles O'Brien at the CNN Center in Atlanta. We're going to shift from the Pentagon briefing in Washington.

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