Thursday, May 24, 2001 - 1:45 p.m. EDT
(Media availability in the Pentagon with Mario Fernandez, the minister of defense for the Republic of Chile. Fernandez spoke in Spanish. This transcript reflects the words voiced by his translator.)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. The minister of defense of Chile is here with me. He is in the United States as the keynote speaker for the hemispheric defense studies at National Defense University's Seminar on Research and Education in Defense and Security Studies.
I think you gave a talk on the subject of education of civilians in defense in Chile.
Rumsfeld: We're very please you're here and would you want to say anything?
Fernandez: I prefer to speak in Spanish.
I want to thank you very much for your presence here today and I also want to express my appreciation to Secretary Rumsfeld for allowing me to visit him here at the Pentagon. Although my visit was not an official one, I was here for academic purposes.
Rumsfeld: We'd be happy to respond to questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I wonder if I might ask briefly, the affair of high moment in Washington today is apparently the Democratic takeover of the Senate.
Would Carl Levin, who is very skeptical of the technology involved in missile defense taking over Armed Services, and Joe Biden who is a strong supporter of the missile defense treaty taking over Foreign Relations, will it be much more difficult now for the administration to accelerate the missile defense program?
Rumsfeld: Well, time will tell. Of course I know Senator Biden and Senator Levin very well, and I have had occasion to visit with each of them on those subjects over the years and I've always found them to be thoughtful and reasonable and I suspect we'll have the same kinds of discussions that we've had and would have had, quite apart from the control of the Senate.
Q: Mr. Secretary, it's now been several months since the incident on Hainan Island in China. The Foreign Ministry of China has said this morning that the United States has accepted their proposal to chop up, or that they have accepted the U.S. proposal to disassemble the airplane.
Is that so, number one?
And do you have any views on this thing dragging out even longer?
Rumsfeld: Let me not characterize your characterization of what the Chinese government has said because I haven't had a chance to see precisely what was said.
The fact situation is this. Discussions have been going on between the United States and the People's Republic of China with respect to the return of the aircraft. Two approaches have been discussed, neither of which is the one you suggested of chopping up the aircraft.
One is to see if it can be properly repaired and flown out; and a second is the thought of landing a very large cargo plane at the airport where the EP-3 is, taking the wings off, and putting the fuselage and the wings in one or two of these very large cargo planes.
The discussions are going on and we have not received anything official back from them with respect to that.
There is a question, I'm told, with respect to the stress factors on the runway, as to whether it can take a transport that large.
Q: Is that their issue or your technical assessment?
Rumsfeld: It is not an issue that I recall coming up when our technical assessment team went in there. It is an issue which the PRC has raised when they heard the size of the cargo plane that would have to go in to do that. I think that those matters are currently being explored.
Q: But you have a strong preference, don't you, for these two, or one of these two options?
Rumsfeld: Our preference clearly is to get the aircraft back in the United States in the most efficient and cheapest and best possible way.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the size of the aircraft, I assume you mean the C-5, is that correct?
Rumsfeld: We're looking at a larger aircraft.
Q: You have been accused, if you don't mind the term, by some of my brethren, or our brethren, regarding the transformation of being secretive, of not taking Congress into collaboration with what you're doing, not sharing it with the military here. Can we have your views on how you view this and when do you think you're going to have something to tell us, as the President and the Congress?
Rumsfeld: Well, let me say this about that.
We have had dozens and dozens of meetings with members of the House and Senate. I think one has to put yourself into their circumstance.
They care a great deal about the Defense Department and the men and women in the armed services. They are used to having an appropriation bill and an authorization bill up there to deal with. Instead, we had a delayed transition. We had a situation where you have a new president who asked the new secretary of defense to undertake some studies with respect to some issues that he campaigned on and cares about and believes should be looked at.
The new secretary of defense is doing exactly that. And we've done it in very close consultation with any number of people in and out of uniform, over a period of several months.
I must say that it is a difficult situation when you have so few people from the new administration confirmed. We've had -- I've been here now about four months. Paul Wolfowitz has been here a couple of months at the most. And we only received four other confirmations I believe a week ago Friday.
So I feel the process is going along very well. Most of the studies are completed. I had I think a two and a half or three hour meeting again today on the subject of the nuclear forces, the offensive nuclear forces. And we'll have another one tomorrow with Admiral Mies and various, General Shelton and various others from the CINCs' office and from the Chiefs. So I feel it's coming along very well.
Q: Nevertheless --
Q: Could you give us --
Q: Excuse me. Would you at least concede that you might have gotten off on the wrong foot with Congress and some of the uniformed military? And do you think you've recovered from that now?
Rumsfeld: I think that things are going along pretty well. There's no question but that change is not easy for people. Any time anyone raises an issue about reviewing what is, it inevitably causes people who like what is and are comfortable with what is to be concerned about it.
The reality is that no one is going to be making any dramatic changes in anything because that's just not how Washington works. Government doesn't work that way.
These studies have been fed into the normal process here in the building, in the defense establishment. The studies will end up for the most part being addressed in the quadrennial defense review. They'll then become part of the building for the '03 budget. And everybody in town will have every conceivable opportunity -- the press, the Congress, the men and women in this building -- to review every single aspect of it.
And I can assure you, having been here just a few months, back a few months, that there not only is no secret, there can be no secrets. Everything hemorrhages out of this building in five minutes, as you all well know. You're pros.
Q: In the last two years there have been protests taking place in Puerto Rico with regard to the maneuvers of the U.S. armed forces on the island of Vieques. I wanted to know if Chile has any official position in this regard.
Fernandez: No. Chile does not have any official position in this regard, nor should it have. This is simply an issue to be dealt with within the United States and Puerto Rico.
Q: Mr. Minister, realizing the negotiations are continuing is Chile willing to accept the F-16s without AMRAAMs?
Fernandez: Yes, and Chile actually never requested AMRAAM missile capability on the F-16s. The position that has been negotiated between the administration and Congress is perfectly acceptable to the government of Chile, and this is also in line with the policy of the United States with regard to the transfer of technologies to Latin America or any other part of the world, for that matter.
Rumsfeld: I'm going to have to leave to go meet with the Senate Armed Services Committee, but you're welcome to stay here and -- (pause) Thank you very much.
Fernandez: One question.
Q: Has Chile made a firm decision to buy the F-16s?
Fernandez: The answer is yes. The government of Chile had decided to negotiate with Lockheed Martin for the purchase of the F-16s in order to replace its obsolete aircraft. This was, of course, subject to the authorization by the Congress of the United States and if and when that authorization was obtained then we would go ahead and negotiate with Lockheed Martin and proceed to the purchase of the aircraft.
Q: What about the transfer, is there an issue with the transfer of targeting pods for the F-16s? Or did you discuss the transfer of Aegis for your frigates?
Fernandez: With regard to the frigates, no. This did not come up in our discussions.
We did discuss the F-16s, but of course we had a very broad bilateral defense agenda to discuss. The F-16s came up but the issue of the frigates did not come up.
Q: Targeting pods?
Fernandez: I don't want to add anything to what I've already said about the F-16 contract. The fact of the matter is we are now at a very, very early stage, in fact it's a very political stage. All the technical details will be coming up later on when we negotiate the contract.
Q: [In Spanish - not translated]
Fernandez: No. The decision between the administration and Congress is probably not going to change the deadlines that were already established, and we believe that the contract is something that we will have underway by the end of the year or early next year.
And with regard to the possibility of purchasing other medium range missiles or similar missile technology, that has not come up because we have never requested AMRAAM missiles with the F-16s anyway.