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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz En Route from Brussels

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
September 28, 2001

Thursday, September 27, 2001

(En route from Brussels to Washington after attending NATO meetings.)

Wolfowitz: I think number one we got another very strong affirmation of support from our allies. They said tell us what you want and we'll give it to you. That was almost the attitude of all of them. I think the morning discussion was a very useful opportunity to lay out our overall strategy, basically, elaboration of the things the President has said. I think they appreciated the nuance of it. They appreciated that we don't believe there's a single magic bullet, that we don't believe it's primarily military, and that their support is very important for maintaining the long term resolve and patience that's required here.

Very strong support, by the way, for the importance of keeping this from becoming the Muslims versus the rest of us, or NATO versus the Muslim world.

I thought of, not surprisingly, but in a way I think they were a little surprised to think about, deploying five times in the last ten years, NATO has defended Muslim who were victims of aggression or victims of war-induced starvation. And it is an impressive record, and isn't usually totaled up as five. We sort of think of them individually, and don't principally think of the fact that the people involved were Muslim. I think it made them feel good about what we've done as an alliance in that respect.

I thought there was a lot of understanding for the idea that this is a different kind -- that we're not talking about one grand coalition, that we're talking about flexible coalitions. I think very much it was understood and appreciated.

In the afternoon, I explained why we're convinced that al Qaeda is responsible for this operation, but not necessarily exclusively responsible. But a lot of what I told them is simply in the public record. I'm not sure they realized how much was in the public record. I mean, we had a trial in New York that established the nature of the organization, and responsibility for the East African Embassy bombings. They were responsible for at least two major terrorist attempts that were broken up at the time of the millennium. One in Jordon and then the guy who came across from Canada, planning to blow up L.A. International Airport. They're involved in the [USS] Cole, they're involved in the Philippine hijacking plot, they're involved in the previous World Trade Center bombing. And then what I suppose is the main thing we know post-Sept. 11, which is that some number of the people in those planes have been pretty clearly identified as members of al Qaeda.

The other thing, which I tried to emphasize, is that while there's a lot we know, there's also a lot that we don't know. We don't know how they were able to organize an operation as sophisticated as that. We don't know everyone involved. We don't know all the networks that may have supported them. And while we expect to learn more as this campaign proceeds, we also have to recognize that -- I think the metaphor of draining the swamp applies -- you can work as hard as you can to find as many snakes as possible, but if you can dry up the place where they live, that's even more effective than trying to do both.

Finally, I made the pitch that this was a wakeup call for us about the importance of investing adequately and providing for security. That doesn't mean that every problem can be solved by throwing money at it, but it certainly means that it's penny-wise and pound foolish to say we can't afford $10 billion to prevent something that costs thousands of lives and trillions of dollars or at least hundreds of billions of dollars.

I think they're all -- I shouldn't say all prepared. One senses the consensus that NATO, and the NATO countries particularly, need to increase their efforts in the counter-terrorism area, which is something we've been lobbying for for some time, but I think we now have much more effectiveness at it.

We had some discussions both with the 19 (NATO members) and then when (Russian Defense Minister Sergey) Ivanov was there about the Balkans. A lot of it was focused on immediate details in Macedonia.

I tried to express strongly our support for what NATO has done in the Balkans which I think, overall, even if we started slow, has to count as an historic success. That we want to maintain that success and certainly head off a worse crisis in Macedonia. But at the same time -- and this should not be exaggerated as I think somebody out of the press conference did -- we do have to put them on notice that some of our low density/high demand assets are going to be at an even higher demand now and one place that strain may show up is the demand for UAVs, for example. We just lost three in the last month. We're going to be continually pressed on some of those gaps.

But the basic point remains -- we went in together, we'll come out together. We have more troops in the Balkans than any other NATO ally.

We do believe that it's better both for us and to the people there, if we push harder on getting local people to take on the responsibility for local functions and government functions.

There is a legitimate debate, and it isn't as though one country takes one position and another takes another position. There's a judgment call as to when you're going too far in the direction of providing things for the people there so they don't have take care of themselves, when you've gone too far in the direction of pushing them out on their own before they're ready to walk. Certainly we think in Bosnia that there are a lot of civil functions that are being performed by the military that would be better performed by other people and obviously it would relieve the burden on the military. It's less clear in Kosovo, and even less clear in Macedonia where that applies certainty that would be in Bosnia.

I don't know if this is significant, but at dinner when the secretary general asked if, after the opening, if anyone wanted to get the discussion going by saying something provocative, I volunteered the comment that in our view, the events of September 11th -- number one makes missile defense more important than ever; and number two, makes cooperation with the Russians more important than ever. And the reaction seemed to be, 'What's provocative about either of those points?' So I tried.

I had a good discussion with actually five defense ministers, the Turk, the Brit, the French, the Italian and Russian. The discussion with Ivanov was almost entirely about counter-terrorism. Clearly they are ready to offer all kinds of help, advice, cooperation.

And I guess on a lighthearted note I would say we discussed Operation Achilles Heel. It turns out he got immersed in the same problem. So we have that in common.

Q: So that'll be the first joint operation with them.

(Laughter)

Q: Can you talk a little bit more about the Russians, and what this moment in time means? I mean, is this an incredibly unfortunate tragedy that has proven to be an epiphany for the Russians? Is this opportunism on Putin's part for whatever reason? Are you persuaded that at least he represents a majority of his leadership, and that he can deliver what he's offering?

Wolfowitz: I don't think it's an epiphany. I don't think it's opportunism. I think they have been -- they'd be more likely to say it was an epiphany for us. You know they've been saying all along that terrorism is a problem and it happens to be that we have also. I think it's clear that they view terrorism from that particular direction, i.e. Southwest Asia, as aimed in part at them. An event that they really do see terrorists in Afghanistan threatening the regimes in Central Asia, and thereby in turn, I think, posing a threat to Russia. So I think they see a real opportunity to work with us in dealing with something that threatens them as well.

I think they also see an opportunity to work with us, period. That's a good thing from many points of view. I think psychologically and politically it's important. I think it's very valuable. I think that's really the way they view it. Our approach has been that this is something where we have common interests. In fact, we were saying before September 11th, that one of the important areas of common interest on which a new strategic framework could be constructed is a common interest in countering terrorism. And this brings it home.

But because it's a common issue, it's not something where -- to go back to your opportunism question -- where one side should expect to get paid for the cooperation of the other side. It will be of mutual benefit. But obviously it also, if we can successfully cooperate here, then it certainly improves the atmosphere.

Q: Is the door open to any possible joint NATO/Russian military operation?

Wolfowitz: I think that's ahead of where we are. I think at this point we can say that's ahead of where we are. But is clearly not closed.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Lord Robertson, in his press conference with Minister Ivanov said, and it was almost a kind of a sign that you in fact, in that session with the Russians, had been a little more expansive in talking about the information that the United States had implicating Mr. bin Laden and al Qaeda in the attacks in New York and Washington. I'm wondering if you could talk about, without obviously compromising sources and methods, some of the information, the nature of the information that you talked about, the additional information.

Wolfowitz: Well, the truth is, it's not much more than what I just briefed you on before. The truth is, as far as we're concerned, the involvement of al Qaeda is open and shut. I think the president was pretty clear about it Thursday night. [ Transcript ] And I was much more interested in what we did in the morning, which was to talk about where do we go from here, what's our strategy like. But since a number of them expressed interest in what's the case, what's the argument, I took them through a number of these things, which may have sounded like new facts, but most of them were in the public record, some of them are in the court records. I suppose I added to it the fact that we have identified a number of the hijackers as being members of al Qaeda.

Q: When you mentioned, when you first started talking to us, you said al Qaeda and possibly, I think, other organizations or other networks -- have you identified or do you have information that there was cooperation between al Qaeda and any other groups in the attack on New York and Washington?

Wolfowitz: The important point is -- and again, this is something I stressed to them, we know these groups cooperate with one another extensively, and we can't wait until we prove that one particular group was involved in a particular operation before we consider them dangerous. While we know with, I'd say, near certainty of al Qaeda's involvement September 11th, there's also an enormous amount on September 11th that we don't know. And obviously we want to learn more about it because that would -- most of all, not to make a case but because we're out to find the sleepers. We're out to find those people to break these networks. But we're not going to wait until they're proven -- in our view they've already been proven dangerous and deadly and we're going to take them out wherever we can find them.

Q: I think we all heard some grumbling from some of the other defense ministers about not seeing all the details, or seeing the so-called white paper. Do you think that what you told them later in the day perhaps muted some of that or satisfied their concerns?

Wolfowitz: I didn't hear rumblings. I mean I heard at least one defense minister said to me that it would be helpful to explain why we're convinced al Qaeda's involved. So I tried to do that. I think the president and Secretary Powell explained on Monday why we're not going to do a so-called white paper. It's not something you can tie a ribbon around and say here, you know the whole thing. In fact, I think one of the lessons to be learned about some of the earlier cases, like the first World Trade Center bombing, is maybe we tied a ribbon around it too soon. Given the fundamental nature of these organizations that they're almost, I don't know, right up there -- You know the phrase that I guess comes out of Harvard Business School, and the Pentagon loves it, the core competencies. Our core competencies are high tech, great communications, and stealthy aircraft. Their core competencies, right at the top of the list, are hiding and deception. So it's very important not to too quickly conclude that you have the whole picture because that's one of things they want you to do. We have a part of the picture. We're absolutely sure about that, but do we have the whole one? No.

Q: Are you also concerned that there seems to be a desire on some people's parts to have almost a sort of like a criminal case in place, a prosecutory case in place, before there is widespread action on all these fronts? Does that sort of attitude concern you, in that it might delay action that needs to be taken quickly?

Wolfowitz: If I thought it were really a problem, it would concern me, but I think there are two -- I mean there are images from the past that people are working with. One is the image of the grand coalition of ten years ago, and the other is the image of going to the UN with the definitive case on missiles in Cuba. Those were discrete problems with discrete solutions where making the case was an important part of it. As far as I'm concerned, the case was made when the two towers collapsed and when the Pentagon was blown up. And if we think that breaking up a terrorist cell is going to prevent another one of those things, it doesn't matter whether they were directly tied to those or not.

So there's sort of two basic points that require, I mean there are quite a few, but two that require a break from this image of the Cuban missile crisis or the invasion of Kuwait. It's not one coalition, it's different coalitions for different purposes. I really think that's an idea that people are beginning to understand much better. The other is that it's not a single case against a single group. And that indeed, we have to have a strategy that takes account of what we don't know as well as what we do know. The way you deal with what you don't know is by taking away the sea in which they swim, or the swamp in which they live.

There's a lot about this war that's different from other wars, and even the word 'war' maybe has to be revised. So I think people will take awhile to understand it. I think one of the things the President's was trying to do in his speech Thursday night was to help people, particularly Americans, understand it better. One of the things we were trying to do today was to help our allies understand the way we think about it.

But I'm basically pretty comfortable that people are beginning to understand it, and that we'll get the support that we need.

Q: Did Iran come up at all?

Wolfowitz: Passingly I guess, if that's a proper word. I mean, so fleetingly that I can't even remember who brought it up or in what way. But it was certainly mentioned an example of the kind of regime that would be wonderful to turn. That the Iranians would get out of the business of supporting terrorism and get into the business of fighting it. It would be a huge victory in this campaign

Q: Thank you.