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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired May 15, 2003 - 11:31   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN: We're going to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. DEFENSE SECY.: I also want to express my sympathies to the family of those U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq who have been wounded in recent days and to the families of those who have been killed. Our prayers are with them all.

I also want to express my sympathies to the family of those that were killed in the terrorist bombings in Riyadh. We're told that possibly seven Americans were killed, along with the citizens of several other nations, and we deeply regret the loss of those innocent lives.

While the terrorists are still being hunted, this much is clear: As Vice President Cheney put it earlier this week, there really is no treaty, there's no policy of containment or deterrence that works to deal with the problem of terrorism. The only way to deal with the terrorists is to find them and stop them before they launch more attacks.

With the discovery this week of mass graves in Iraq, we have seen still more evidence of the brutality of that regime. The discovery was still another chilling reminder of why so many nations came together to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

One looking at that mass grave and the photographs of it cannot help but feel that it's a good thing that a regime with such disregard for innocent human life is gone and will not possess the tools of mass murder.

The liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq were accomplished by large coalitions of nations, and today many nations, those and others, are stepping forward to help the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to rebuild from the rubble of tyranny. There are now 34 coalition partners in Afghanistan helping Afghans build a more stable, secure and free society.

The liberation of Iraq was conducted with the support of 65 countries, including some 40,000 troops, 190 aircraft, 58 ships contributed by various coalition partners. Today the coalition continues to grow as nations across the globe come together to help the Iraqis build peace.

Each day I look at a map that gives us the conditions -- estimates of conditions in some 27 major cities. It tracks food, water, power, security and various public services.

A few areas have challenges, to be sure. But most areas are progressing, and a growing number actually have conditions that are, today, estimated to be better than prior to the recent war.

Security remains the number one priority in Iraq. The combatant commander will be increasing the number of military police in Baghdad in the days immediately ahead. To strengthen the coalition presence, the commander is bringing elements of the 1st Armored Division into Iraq, as has been planned I think since last year. These forces were in the queue to flow in at this time; it is not some sudden new decision as some have suggested.

There are now about 7,000 Iraqi policemen back in Baghdad, I'm told, and that number should also increase in the days ahead.

At the moment, 24 coalition countries are providing military support in Iraq; some are doing it publicly, others are doing it privately. Thirty-eight nations have made offers of financial assistance, totaling more than $1.8 billion, and humanitarian assistance continues to flow into the country.

Let me offer a few examples. The Czech Republic has deployed a field hospital to Basra and sent aid convoys with medicine, drinking water, tents and blankets. Greece has contributed some 20 tons of food and clothing. Lithuania has sent orthopedic surgery specialists to Umm Qasr. Spain has a 150-person health team in Iraq and is working to repair electrical and water systems in the country, as well. And many more contributions could be mentioned, and will likely be mentioned in the days ahead.

But to see how much the world has changed, consider that in just 20 months Afghanistan went from an ally of al Qaeda in its war on the free world to becoming a member of the coalition of free nations in the effort to liberate and assist Iraq.

General Myers?

MYERS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I join the secretary in extending my condolences to the families of those killed or wounded in operations and hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also to those killed in the terrorist bombings in Riyadh on Monday.

In Riyadh, these brutal murders of innocent civilians remind us that the world is still a dangerous place, and we must not and we will not relent in our determination to defeat terrorism and achieve stability.

In Iraq today, 4th Infantry Division forces raided a regime safe house south of Tikrit where they detained several dozen people.

Also in the Middle East, the Combined Joint Task Force commander for Horn of Africa, Major John F. Sattler, will turn over command to Brigadier General Robeson, United States Marine Corps, on the 24th of May.

And finally, I've just returned from a trip to the Middle East to visit U.S. troops in Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq, and then stopped in Brussels for a NATO military committee meeting on the way back. As I noted in Brussels on Tuesday, although major combat operations have ceased in Iraq, it's still a very dangerous place where considerable difficult work remains to be down, and we're about that work now.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said earlier that the only way to deal with terrorists is to find them and stop them before more attacks can be made. The White House and the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia suggested perhaps the Saudis didn't do enough in advance of the Monday attack. You announced recently, in a visit to Riyadh, that the United States was sharply cutting its military presence there, due in large part that no longer there was a need for Southern Watch, but that you all would keep a fairly small number there for training the Iraqi military and would continue joint exercises.

Following these attacks, is there any consideration to perhaps further cutting back the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia?

RUMSFELD: No. First of all, I think that what I said was that the reason we can draw our forces down, except for the Office of Military Affairs and forces that are involved in training or exercises, was not simply because Operation Southern Watch is closed down but also because Saddam Hussein and his regime are gone.

But there's nothing that's changed our plans. We do plan to draw down almost all of those forces and maintain a relationship in training and exercises and an Office of Military Affairs.

QUESTION: Are you concerned -- either of you concerned that perhaps the U.S. forces that remain there might be in some danger because of this perception that perhaps the Saudis aren't doing enough to prevent this?

RUMSFELD: Look, force protection levels change in country to country all over the world, all the time. U.S. forces are in danger from terrorists, just as people in the United States are in danger from terrorists from time to time. So, no. The answer is no.

We're comfortable that the combatant commander in the region will provide appropriate force protection for our forces in that country and in other countries. There's no difference. And life goes on.

QUESTION: Given the attacks in Saudi Arabia, you haven't really talked about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in some time. When you look at these attacks, what's your assessment? al Qaeda, stronger or weaker? Bin Laden still calling the shots? Was this a new cell that emerged? What's your assessment on this whole thing?

RUMSFELD: I don't think I'm going to get into it. I read the intelligence and I don't make those assessments. The intelligence community makes those assessments. They communicate them to the senior levels of the government, and it's really not for me to do that. That's what they do, and I think I'll leave it to them.

QUESTION: If I could just press you on one small point though, you, in the past, you do have a long record of saying something about bin Laden one way or the other on various days. Do you still have any view, yourself, as to whether or not you think he's alive?

RUMSFELD: I do. I think he's alive or dead. I just don't know. I mean, what can I say? I can just say the same thing over and over again. He's either alive, or he's alive and injured badly, or he's dead. And he's -- who knows?

If he is alive and functioning and playing a role, which I don't know, it is a much more difficult role than it had been previously. It's more difficult in terms of raising money. It's more difficult in terms of moving people and things and weapons and money. It's more difficult to recruit. It's more difficult to retain. And that's a good thing.

The pressure that dozens and dozens and dozens of countries across the globe are putting on that terrorist network is having a good effect.

We've always said that it doesn't mean that there will not be terrorist attacks; we knew that and we've said that repeatedly from this podium, and I suspect there will be more. But it's tougher for them and we intend to make it still tougher.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said yesterday that you have a plan and you're going to use muscle to restore security to Iraq. Can you be a little more definitive for us? And is part of that muscle, is it shooting looters on sight?

RUMSFELD: No, I think everyone who's been asked that question -- I don't know. Some of the press wrote that and it came out somewhere in Iraq. And it was knocked down by everybody who's been asked it in Iraq as having never been said or never been the policy.

We have rules of engagement, have had, do today, they've not been changed.

They permit, obviously, the use of whatever force is necessary for self-defense or for other selected purposes. But that was hyperbole.

QUESTION: What kind of muscle? That connotes something more than you're using now.

RUMSFELD: I mentioned it in my remarks. The combatant commander -- those decisions aren't made here, those decisions are made there, and the combatant commander has a flow of forces that have been put in train since last year, they're continuing to flow in the country. The forces that have been redeployed out of the theater have been, I believe, almost entirely air and sea forces. MYERS: That's correct, except for there were couple of Marine units, I think the 25th MEU and the 24th, I believe.

RUMSFELD: The ground forces are remaining there, and judgments as to how many more will be permitted to flow in and what forces may or may not be allowed to flow out would be recommendations from the combatant commander, which Dick and I would then consider at some point.

But at the moment, the intention on the part of the commanders there is to provide security in that country as best as is possible and create a presence -- a physical presence in places so that people recognize that there are individuals in the coalition who are determined to see that the environment becomes permissive for the people of Iraq.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, yesterday the South Koreans and our president issued a joint statement saying, "We will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea." That is such a strong and definitive statement, can you help us to understand what that means? Does that mean the U.S. is prepared to take military steps to deal with this or does this mean we will continue indefinitely consultations, diplomacy?

RUMSFELD: Well, I must confess, I saw early drafts of that statement, but I did not see the final statement. I was in the meeting that the president had with the president of the Republic of Korea and also in a separate meeting with him. It's not for me to interpret statements by two presidents. They, obviously -- if that's what they issued, they, obviously, know what is meant, and I suspect they mean what they said.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the French government is accusing the United States of a disinformation campaign about France's support for Saddam Hussein's regime. I know you addressed this Friday, but I wondered if you could address that particular charge.

RUMSFELD: I know nothing of such a campaign.

QUESTION: Has there been -- following up on that question, has there been...

RUMSFELD: Certainly, there's no such campaign out of this building. I can't speak for the rest of government, but I have heard of nothing like that.

QUESTION: Has there been any change in the military-to-military relationship with France as a result of the position they took prior to the war in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: There's so many linkages and connections between the United States and NATO allies that I wouldn't want to say yes or no. It may very well be that things are -- I just can't answer the question, because people make judgments at a whole host of levels. And what we've been trying to do in our security cooperation engagement relationships -- that involves the combatant commanders, it involves the services, it involves the people in the Office of Secretary of Defense -- is to work closely with those countries that want to work closely with us. And that logically leads you to countries that are of a certain relationship with us.

So they would more likely be countries that we would make port visits to. They would more likely be countries that we would invite to exercises or things like that. But these things are scheduled so far in advance, I suspect that there's just a whole series of things taking place with all kinds of countries.

QUESTION: At your level, have you taken any decision -- are you inclined to scale back that, you know...

RUMSFELD: All I can remember off the top of my head was some discussion about the Paris Air Show that's come up.

And I don't know precisely, but it's not as though people won't be going from the United States. It may be at a certain level.

But, no -- I mean, the United States is really about wanting to work closely with other countries. We do that. It's terribly important from a military-to-military standpoint.

But to the extent you have so many open slots for an exercise or for -- I'm trying to think -- some activity, you would tend to look at countries that have been, in fact, for example, helpful in Iraq or helpful in Afghanistan. And I suspect that you're going to see that as a pattern, because those are the people you're working with. But it's not a matter that you're anti-something. It's that you want to look forward and be engaged with people that you're likely to be doing things with.

QUESTION: Shouldn't been seen as a signal of displeasure or...

RUMSFELD: Oh, gosh. You know, I guess it's a reality is all, is the way I would characterize it.

QUESTION: General Myers, you briefly mentioned that 4th ID raid. Can you talk about -- well, possibly provide more details, why it was initiated, was it successful, did you get anybody, anything more on that day?

MYERS: We're trying to find out the details right now. What I gave you were first reports. I think some of the earlier reports said there were maybe a couple of hundred people that were detained. We think it's maybe several dozen. We don't know for sure. It's possible they've got one of the people on the black or the gray list. We don't know yet, but we're trying to run that down, so to be determined. And I'm sure they -- not sure, most probably they were tipped off by some sort of intelligence that this is where they ought to go look. You know, that's happening all over Iraq.

One of the things we've said, and I think is coming true, is that a lot of our intelligence is from Iraqis who informed us. It was true during the major combat operations, as well. You know, that's where the Baathists are holed up, that's where the paramilitary are congregated, and it allowed us to take action against them. And my assumption would be this would be right along that line.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, today an Iranian opposition group is out with some details about what they believe to be Iran's weapons of mass destruction program.

What's your assessment of the status of that program, not only the nuclear, but perhaps biological and chemical weapons in Iran?

RUMSFELD: Who came out with a report?

QUESTION: There's an opposition -- an Iranian opposition group today.

RUMSFELD: I haven't seen it.

QUESTION: They say that Iran has weaponized anthrax.

RUMSFELD: I haven't seen the report. I think that it's widely accepted that Iran has had a program in the nuclear area that has been proceeding over a period of years.

QUESTION: And biological or chemical, do you know?

RUMSFELD: I'd have to go back and refresh myself on the latest assessments on that. I just don't have it at the tip of my tongue.

QUESTION: North Korea: Can I ask a follow-up? President Roh also suggested at the White House that this might not be the best time to start reducing U.S. troop levels over there, as he suggested last year when he signed a declaration upon coming into office. You've also suggested maybe it's time to relook at the 37,000 U.S. troop level over there.

In light of the threat North Korea poses with its nuclear capability, what's your view on whether U.S. force levels should remain at that level, at the current level for the foreseeable future?

RUMSFELD: I think it's a mistake to look at it that way, the way you've characterized it -- the way your question characterizes it.

As I say, I was in the meeting with both presidents, and then I left when they went outside and made a statement and may have said something. I just am not knowledgeable of what they said and I'm not going to comment on what they've said.

Our position has been that the existence of nuclear weapons in North Korea is, at the minimum, probable. They have been assessed to have a small number. It has also been assessed that in the event they reprocess, they could have a handful more in a relatively short period of time; not weapons, but the materials for weapons.

That fact, to me, does not make a notable difference.

It's a bad thing. It's unfortunate that that's the case. We wish it weren't the case if in fact it is the case. And the president and Secretary Powell have worked very hard and continue to work very hard with Japan and South Korea and with the People's Republic of China to try to follow a diplomatic path to find a way that the Korean Peninsula would be nuclear-weapon free.

I personally -- and Dick you might want to comment on this in trying to think about it -- I don't think that issue necessarily affects the kinds of things we've been discussing with South Korea about our forces are organized, how they are arranged there.

And it seems to me that so many things have changed in the world since those forces were put there. They're now spread out over dozens and dozens of locations in the country which is not efficient. It's not helpful from he force protection standpoint. It tends to be somewhat intrusive, in terms of the people who live there.

And General LaPorte, when he took that post by me, just as I was asked by the president when he was elected, to look at our arrangements around the world and see if we can't modernize them, see if we can't arrange them so that they fit the 21st century, instead of the end of a conflict 50 years ago, in that case, over in Europe.

So, we're looking all over the globe. And General LaPorte has had good discussions with the Republic of Korea's civilian and military leadership. We certainly consider them a very close ally. We certainly would do whatever makes sense in very close consultation with them.

But if you think of the changes in warfare, just most recently Iraq and Afghanistan, it's rather clear that there are enhancements that can be made to that force and capabilities that can be arranged that would considerably strengthen the deterrent, even though it might change how forces were arranged and what kinds of forces were there.

So the ultimate test is how capable, how lethal, how effective is what you have. And it does not necessarily, as we learned in Iraq, go to the total number of forces.

I'm not going to get into what we might or might not do with the Korean government other than to say, whatever we do we do in very close consultation with them.

QUESTION: General Myers, are there lessons from the Iraq war that are, kind of, starting to shape the way you're viewing U.S. force structure?

MYERS: I'm sure there will be. It's probably too early to tell. There are three points out of what the secretary said that I think are really important.

One is, any changes on the peninsula are being worked very closely between the two militaries, between the two governments. So there's no surprises here.

Two, no change will make the capability on the peninsula in South Korea less than it is today. It'll only improve it -- only improve it. And as the secretary said, that does not necessarily mean more people. It's just capabilities we're talking about, so we're talking about technology as well and how we might be organized.

And the third thing I'd say is that this is not going to happen next week. Anything that happens, happens over time. So we're talking a long view, not a short view. And therefore, you can't connect it with what's going on in the North and South. The security of the peninsula and our ally in South Korea is paramount, and obviously won't be compromised.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, going back to Riyadh for just a moment, as you stressed when you were there, U.S. and Saudi Arabia continue to have close military ties. But I'm wondering, was there any concern about Saudi Arabia's military failing to protect the compound? And also, since most of the terrorists are known to have come from Saudi Arabia, any concerns about Saudi Arabia cracking down on terrorists?

RUMSFELD: I'm not intimately knowledgeable about who protected what or whatever. I'm aware of the general intelligence that led to the visit. I'm aware of what was communicated. But what took place on the ground, I think we'll let the embassy discuss and describe, not me.

We're finding terrorists from all over the world, from almost every country you can name.

And there's no question but that the Saudi government can play an important role in working with the United States and with other countries in attempting to bring all elements of national power to bear to reduce the threats of terrorism, whether it's the money piece, or the transportation piece, or the movement of people piece. And they have had a helpful and cooperative role in this global war on terrorism.

QUESTION: Back in 1994, the U.S. drew up options for an air strike to take out the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

RUMSFELD: I recall.

QUESTION: Have you, as a matter of prudent military planning, updated those plans to give the president a full range of options as he decides how to deal with North Korea?

RUMSFELD: We do not discuss war plans or contingency plans or options or excursions.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you, then, about another, sort of, historical note? Back in 1996, the attack on the Khobar Towers; at the time, many officials in the building indicated they suspected Iran might be behind that attack. With the benefit of the intelligence and hindsight now, have you come to the conclusion that that was, in fact, an Al Qaeda attack in 1996?

RUMSFELD: I would have to go back and refresh myself, but you -- do you have anything to say on this?

MYERS: No.

RUMSFELD: I thought the Justice Department...

MYERS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there were several.

RUMSFELD: I thought they implicated or at least referenced Iran in an indictment -- maybe I shouldn't use the word indictment -- in an announcement they made, which may or may not have been an indictment -- this is a couple of years ago, three years ago, I think. And in the process of specifying some people in another country, which I can't recall which it was, they referenced -- it was -- they referenced Iran.

But someone would have to go back and look at the history of that. I'm not an expert on that.

QUESTION: Given the attacks in Riyadh this week...

KAGAN: We've been listen in to the daily Pentagon briefing. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the podium, talking about a number of topics, including conveying his sympathies to families who lost family members in those suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, also reviewing the security situation in Iraq.

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