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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with CNN Late Edition

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 13, 2001 12:00 PM EDT

Sunday, September 9, 2001 - 1200 p.m. EDT

(Interview with Wolf Blitzer for CNN Late Edition. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) was also interviewed for this program.)

Blitzer: Earlier today, I spoke with the U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about that and more.

(Begin videotape.)

Blitzer: Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us once again on Late Edition. Good to have you on our program.

And let's talk money for a moment, which is of course is at the core of many of your problems right now. You want to significantly increase defense spending at a time when the budget surplus is shrinking, the point that it's only a Social Security, a Social Security surplus.

Do you think it would be appropriate to use those Social Security surplus funds to pay for increased defense spending?

Rumsfeld: The president's budget protects Social Security and it protects Medicare, and his priorities are defense and education.

And this defense establishment has been starved over the past five to 10 years. And we have underfunded equipment, we have underfunded the people, we have underfunded the infrastructure. And it's time to stop and see that we do the right thing for the men and women in the armed forces.

We have a proposal up there which I think we are going to get most of before this is over, if not all. We need every nickel of it.

Blitzer: But, as you know, the money may not be available, so let me repeat the question: If it means tapping into that Social Security surplus to pay for the increased funding that you need over the next several years, that you say you need, would it be worthwhile, would that be a legitimate, emergency funding situation that would justify tapping into Social Security?

Rumsfeld: That is not how the issue comes up. The issue comes up that up that there is X amount of money, and then there are these projections that keep changing every month. Every time the Congressional Budget Office comes out with a new number, everyone says, oh, let's chase that new number.

The president's budget provides for Medicare and it provides for Social Security. And he says, after that, our priorities are the defense and education, and other things need to be sorted through to fit within that budget.

Blitzer: One of the major problems you are going to have dealing with the budget constraints that you have is getting the funding that you need for a missile defense system that the president, of course, says is one of his top priorities.

The Armed Services Committee in the Senate, as you know, says they don't want to go ahead with $1.3 billion dollars that you want because there are they are concerned that there could be a violation of the U.S.-then-Soviet 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. They're going to fund the money, but they want to use it for other defense purposes.

Rumsfeld: Look, the president has said, I have said, Secretary Powell has said, the United States of America is not going to violate the treaty. The Russians know it, we know it, the Senate knows it. It is not going to happen. We're not going to violate that treaty.

Blitzer: You have to make a decision by November or December whether to go ahead with the test that some say would violate the ABM agreement.

Rumsfeld: You can find somebody to say anything you want. The reality is that there is broad agreement that what we have done thus far and what we are currently doing does not violate the treaty. It will not violate the treaty.

Now, at some point, there are tests and research and development activities that we are undertaking that could violate the treaty. But before that, we are dealing with the Russians. The president's been meeting with President Putin. I've been meeting with the minister of defense. Secretary Powell's been meeting with his counterparts. I'm going back over there again the end of this month, and we're going to find a framework that will enable us to get beyond the ABM Treaty which prevents us from having defensive capability against ballistic missiles. We need to be able to defend our population.

Blitzer: So, when you say the United States is not going violate the ABM Treaty, as you know, during the campaign last year the president specifically said, if the Russians don't accept this change, the U.S. would go forward unilaterally even at the expense of violating what he regarded as an outdated, old treaty.

Rumsfeld: No, no. We need to be very precise on the meanings of words here. "Violate" means you breach some provision of the treaty. The treaty provides for a six-month notification for withdrawal. That's not a violation. That is simply saying let's get on with it, let's get a new framework, let's mutually set this treaty aside.

And if we can't, the president has said he would have to give six months' notice and then continue discussing with the Russians how we might establish a new post-Cold War framework.

So that work is important, it's going forward, and the president puts a very high priority on it.

Blitzer: If the Congress determines, as the Senate Armed Services Committee has, that only with congressional approval could you go forward with national missile defense testing, if it were determined to be an abrogation or violation or inconsistent with the ABM Treaty, will the president veto that language?

Rumsfeld: Well, that's a president decision, but certainly -- first of all, I don't think that's going to happen. The Senate committee voted the way you said. The full Senate has not acted on that, the House of Representatives have not acted. Then there'll be a conference committee.

I have a hard time figuring out why some people want the United States to remain vulnerable to ballistic missiles.

Blitzer: I want to explain -- maybe we can have an answer from Senator Joe Biden, who's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was on Meet The Press earlier today.

Rumsfeld: Let me finish this thought, though. I would recommend veto to the president if it happened that that language ended up coming down to his desk.

Blitzer: That Democratic-sponsored language.

All right, listen to what Senator Biden said earlier today about missile defense, as you envisage it. Listen to this.

(Begin video clip)

Biden: Missile defense would protect us from virtually nothing. It will not protect us from cruise missiles. It will not protect us from something being smuggled in. It will not protect us from an atom bomb in the rusty hull of a ship coming into a harbor. It will not protect us from anthrax. Will not protect -- all of which the Defense Department says are much more likely, much more likely threats than somebody sending an ICBM with a return address it on, saying, we just struck you, knowing that'll result in immediate annihilation.

(End video clip)

Rumsfeld: Senator Biden is against missile defense.

One might ask him, why did they have those metal detectors at the Senate Office building? They don't protect you from a truck bomb. They don't protect you from a cruise missile, but why do you have them? Well, you have them because you've learned that there are a spectrum of threats that can damage the American people and damage our country. And what you need to do is try to deal with as many as you can.

That's why the United States spends so much money on the things he's talking about on terrorists. We spend a $11 billion trying to deal with terrorism and force protection.

To select out one and suggest to the American people, if you cannot defend against everything, you should defend against nothing, would be a policy of vulnerability, which I find incomprehensible.

Blitzer: I guess the point that he's trying to make is there's a limited amount of money available. You have to divide it in a way that is most effective, most useful.

Rumsfeld: Exactly.

Blitzer: And he says to spend these billions and billions of dollars for a missile defense system that may or may not work, that may or may not ever have any justification, is money not well spent at a time when there are other much greater and more effective ways to use that money.

Rumsfeld: Right. And there have been people making those kinds of arguments since the beginning of this country. Why should we waste money learning how to fly? Why did the Wright brothers try to learn how to fly airplanes? They'll never do it. Why do we ever have the Corona program for satellites? It'll never work. Eleven straight failures, and now it's one of the most important aspects of our intelligence-gathering capability.

I think that we are spending money on terrorism, we are spending money to defend against cruise missiles. And there are some people who, for whatever reason, find it that, in the one instance of ballistic missiles, the kinds of missiles that hit the barracks in Saudi Arabia and kill 28 Americans and wounded another 90 or so, that one thing we shouldn't try to defend against. That takes a leap from my standpoint.

Blitzer: One of the potential threats to justify a national missile defense shield would be China. Yet now we're hearing that the Bush administration is ready to, A, share information about the missile defense system with China and, B, look the other way as China increases its own development of its nuclear missile program.

Rumsfeld: Well, both statements are flat not true. The United States has not indicated that they're going to look the other way. Indeed the United States is in the process of trying to reduce the total numbers of offensive nuclear weapons in the United States, which we're working very hard on.

Blitzer: So you're going to raise with China its modernization program of its nuclear missile program?

Rumsfeld: The press reports to the effect that the United States was going to look the other way or engage in some sort of a quid pro quo were simply not the case. That's not the U.S. policy, it's not happening.

Blitzer: So the U.S. will raise this issue with the Chinese if they go ahead and modernize their missile program?

Rumsfeld: Well, they are. They've been doing it for years. They've been increasing their defense budget in double digits for the last five years to my certain knowledge. They're deploying more and more ballistic missiles. It has nothing to do with missile defense. That's what they're doing.

Blitzer: What about the other point about sharing with the Chinese the information that you're learning about missile defense --

Rumsfeld: Right.

Blitzer: -- in order to get them on board, if you will?

Rumsfeld: That is nonsense. We have agreed to brief them. We have briefed them. We want people in the world to understand what we're doing. But we have not proposed sharing missile defense capability with the People's Republic of China. We have discussed that with Russia and with our European allies and with Israel and with Japan and with a lot of other countries. But those are the kinds of things that you would do only after very careful consultation. It might involve warnings systems. It could involve some other aspects of missile defense.

But our interest, the president's interest, is being able to deploy a missile defense capability for the United States to defend our population.

Blitzer: You probably saw the cover story in last week's issue of Time magazine.

Rumsfeld: I did.

Blitzer: "Where Have You Gone, Colin Powell?" In this story there are suggestions, a lot of disarray within the senior national security team of the Bush administration -- you, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell --

Rumsfeld: Look, Colin --

Blitzer: A lot of dissension there. And Colin Powell may not be as forceful a figure in this team as a lot of people thought he might be.

Rumsfeld: That is nonsense. Colin Powell is an unusual talent. He is doing a fine job at the Department of State. He works very closely with the president, he works very closely with me. We're on the phone two or three times a day, we meet together three or four times a week. And I have enormous respect for him.

And the thrust of that is totally misdirected. This is a very able person who's doing a terrific job for the country, and we ought to be darned glad he's there.

Blitzer: And the reports -- you've seen them in the papers -- suggesting that Donald Rumsfeld may not be long for this job at the Defense Department?

Rumsfeld: Golly, I'll tell you, you not only read gossip columns but you repeat it.

Blitzer: It's my job to ask you the questions.

Rumsfeld: I can't believe it. Nonsense.

Blitzer: You're staying?

Rumsfeld: You bet.

Blitzer: For how long?

Rumsfeld: As long as it makes sense for the president and for me, and I expect that's going to be a long time. This is a tough job, there's lots to do. And we're hard at it, and we're making good progress.

Blitzer: I want to get to two other issues before I let you go. Saddam Hussein in Baghdad right now, he's trying to shoot down a U.S. or British or allied warplane flying in the no-fly zones in the North or in the South.

Rumsfeld: He's been doing it for years.

Blitzer: He got close with an unmanned, drone, pilotless aircraft. What happens if he succeeds in that?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that he's has been trying to do that. The allied aircraft that fly in those areas, the British, the United States, have been managing their affairs in a way that we periodically degrade and take out his air defense capability.

To the extent other countries keep trading with him and improving his fiberoptics and improving his ability to cue and network, the risk level goes up. And then the United States and the U.K. are forced to go in and take out those capabilities.

Blitzer: Is there a greater threat right now than there was a year ago?

Rumsfeld: It tends to come up and then go down after it's been degraded. Of course you can rebuild these things in two, three, four, five, six months, so it's not something that's static.

Blitzer: A lot of controversy surrounding Israel's policy of what the State Department calls targeted killings of Palestinians suspected of getting ready to engage in terrorist actions.

As you know, the United States, when it sells Israel F-16s or Apache helicopters or other weapons systems, stipulates they can only be used for self-defense, legitimate self-defense. Otherwise those sales must be stopped.

When Israel engages in this kind of policy of targeted killings, is that legitimate self-defense?

Rumsfeld: Well, look, Israel's got a very difficult problem. It has suicide bombers coming in, going into restaurants and hotels and bus stops, and killing themselves and killing 10, 20, 30 people who happen to be innocent bystanders. I don't know if that's targeted killing or not, but it is certainly terrorism and it is violence, and it is something that any country has to deal with.

Where the line comes between calling something defense and calling something something else, is a tough one. A good, vivid example was when Israel went in and took out Iraq's nuclear capability. And some would say, well, that was a preemptive act. Others would say, thank the good Lord they went in and destroyed that nuclear capability or Saddam Hussein would have, within a very short time, had a nuclear weapon and intimidated the entire region.

Rumsfeld: These are tough calls. I'm not international lawyer. And I'm sure that they and the United States and Secretary Powell, who deals with those issues with Israel, handles them very well.

Blitzer: On that note, I'm going to let you go, Secretary Rumsfeld. Good to hear that you're sticking around for a while, and you'll be frequent guest on Late Edition over the next several years.

Rumsfeld: Look forward to it.

Blitzer: Thanks so much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

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