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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview With Al Jazeera TV

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 25, 2003

Al Jazeera: Sir, there are lots of questions which we feel they might be sort of like critical of the United States but we feel that Al Jazeera's audience would like to know your views about. It isn't that we are trying to find fault or anything like that.

Rumsfeld: Fair enough. If I hear a question that has a premise in it that's inaccurate I'll state that and say that -- good.

Al Jazeera: Mr. Rumsfeld, welcome to al Jazeera.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

Al Jazeera: I would like to put it to you straight away the issue between you, the Bush Administration, and Iraq is not weapons of mass destruction. It is for you -- how to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his regime.

Rumsfeld: Well, wrong. It is about weapons of mass destruction. It is unquestionably about that. And the fact that for many years now the Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein has not been willing to cooperate with the United Nations resolutions. And the issue you cast as between the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government is really not the right construct. This is a matter that the world community has addressed. That is why there have been 16, now 17 resolutions by the United Nations Security Council. The last one was unanimous.

This is not a U.S.-Iraqi issue. This is an issue between the United Nations and the international community and a government that has consistently refused to stop its weapons of mass destruction program.

Al Jazeera: Fair enough. If that is the case and let us suppose that the UN inspectors, weapons inspectors would come up and say right, we declare Iraq free from weapons of mass destruction. Would you be satisfied and would you let Saddam Hussein alone after that?

Rumsfeld: First of all it's not me. It's the United States of America and it's the United Nations. The United Nations resolution has found Iraq to be in material breach of their obligations under those resolutions. The Iraqi regime has not cooperated with the inspectors and the idea that the inspectors could come up and say that is just beyond imagination because the inspectors have said quite the contrary that in fact they're not cooperating.

If Iraq were to do that obviously then they would have fulfilled the UN resolution.

Al Jazeera: People hear from perhaps you, from President Bush saying that if Saddam Hussein goes it will be all to the good of the world, of that region. The implication is that you would like Saddam Hussein to, would like to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his --

Rumsfeld: Oh, I see your point, sure. There's no question but that you have Saddam Hussein who's been there and has not responded to political diplomacy and they've not responded to the economic oil for food sanctions, they've not responded to the limited military activity in the Northern and Southern No-Fly Zones. They stand in material breach. His choice -- choices, plural. One is to cooperate and he hasn't done it. We wish he would. A second choice is to do nothing and lead to a potential conflict, which is everyone's last choice. A third choice is to leave the country and have someone in that country that the Iraqi people want that will not have weapons of mass destruction, will not repress the Iraqi people, will not threaten their neighbors. That clearly would be the first choice, would be for him to just leave, go to another country, and allow that country to have a government that's representative of the people of that country and that is respectful of the various ethnic and religious minorities in that country and doesn't invade Kuwait and doesn't make weapons of mass destruction and doesn't traffic with terrorist networks.

Al Jazeera: About trafficking with terrorist networks, I'll come to that later if I may. But if we look back, we find that three American Administrations -- George Bush, Sr., first Clinton, second Clinton -- when they were asked about the purpose of the sanctions regime against Iraq, whether it is to get rid of Saddam Hussein and change the regime in Iraq, they almost swore on the Bible saying that the purpose is not that, it is only for weapons of mass destruction. Now you say that you would like to see Saddam Hussein gone.

Rumsfeld: I think the world would like to see him gone. What happened in the second Clinton Administration, I think you're factually a little off, in the second Clinton Administration the Congress passed legislation that favored regime change in Iraq and the President signed it. So President Clinton and the United States government in toto decided that the only way to get Iraq to cooperate would be for Saddam Hussein to leave and his behavior in the intervening period has suggested that that was correct, and President Bush has followed on the policy of President Clinton.

Al Jazeera: What is the legitimacy of the principle of changing a regime in a country, which is a member of the United Nations? Is that an acceptable way of dealing with things?

Rumsfeld: The United Nations a few months ago passed a unanimous resolution, Security Council Resolution 1441, and in it cited the preceding 16 resolutions that the Iraqi regime has disobeyed. It then said that Iraq stands, as of that moment, in material breach. It asked for a declaration of their weapons of mass destruction and said that if it was not a complete declaration they would stand in further material breach. They did not submit an appropriate full declaration. And they then said that if they did not cooperate with the inspectors they would be in further material breach.

And then it said that in the event that it is determined that they are in further material breach that they should recognize that this was a, I believe the quote was a "final opportunity." This is a unanimous resolution of the United Nations. A final opportunity and that there would be serious consequences, or words of that type.

Now what does that mean? It means that the United Nations has decided that if 17 resolutions are ignored by Iraq that the unanimous voice of the Security Council was that at some point that final opportunity will have been missed and that serious consequences would result. It seems to me that the legitimacy is that the risk of allowing that process to go forward and the development of those weapons and the ignoring of the United Nations -- 17 resolutions -- puts in jeopardy the Security Council and the international community.

Al Jazeera: I'm not trying to sort of find excuses or defend the regime of Saddam Hussein. There are so many regimes in the world that are hated, disliked, if you like dictatorial and so on. In Africa, in your backyard in South America and in Asia. Does this mean that in order to make life better for people you go and get rid of all these regimes?

Rumsfeld: Well, it was a United Nations resolution. It was a unanimous resolution of the international community.

Second, if the United States does anything we won't do it alone. It would be with a large coalition of countries. There are already more countries involved with the United States in the global war on terror than there were during the Gulf War. It would be a large number of nations that would have decided that the threat from that regime is so great -- Here's a country that invaded a neighbor, Kuwait. It's a country that's used chemical weapons on its neighbor Iran. It's a country that's used chemical weapons on its own people. It's a country that has fired ballistic missiles into three of its neighbors. It is a country that is repressing its people. It is a country that, as Secretary Powell indicated, has relationships with terrorist networks and there's the risk of transferring some of those lethal weapons to terrorists. So it's a problem not for the United States alone but a problem for the United Nations and the international community.

Al Jazeera: What do you think is logical to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction even if you would want to wage war on Iraq afterwards? Instead of getting exposed to their use, you attack now while you say those weapons exist in Iraq.

Rumsfeld: Well they do exist. The evidence was laid out for the world by Secretary Powell. It's a fact. The regime keeps denying that they exist and keeps denying and deceiving the international community.

Some people have argued that well, the inspectors are in. Why not give them more time? And of course the inspectors aren't there to find anything. The inspectors are there to work with, theoretically, a cooperative country, but the country isn't being cooperative. There's no way the inspectors can find anything. They could be there for years and not find anything because it's a country the size of France. It's an enormous place. The WMD programs have been designed to be conducted in an inspections environment.

So all time does is allow them to continue developing those weapons, to continue dealing with terrorist networks and put in jeopardy the neighbors and the world.

Al Jazeera: Going back to the point about Saddam Hussein being, peddling with terrorist networks and so on. You haven't produced convincing or compelling evidence that this was the case, especially with Osama bin Laden.

Rumsfeld: Secretary Powell did in fact make the assertions and he presented some evidence. It is possible to present additional evidence, to be sure. To the extent one does that, you then lose your means of collection of that intelligence and defeat the efforts you're trying to make to be able to predict what they might do.

So you're correct, there has been not all the evidence, but some of the evidence has been presented, but there's some evidence that has been reserved because it would be so helpful to the Iraqis to know exactly what we knew.

Al Jazeera: I want to put this to you, even if you want to send me to Guantanamo, and that is --

Rumsfeld: Not likely.

Al Jazeera: That is that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, either you created them or you helped them. I mean Osama bin Laden fought the Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan on your behalf, I suppose. And also you went and, I mean you offered help to Saddam Hussein in the darkest hours of his war with Iran. I think you also met him as a representative of the President, of the American President.

Rumsfeld: Well for you to say that the United States created Osama bin Laden of course would not be correct. He is what he is. There's no question but that there was a period when he was opposing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the United States was also opposing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That does not mean that the United States -- A lot of countries were opposing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In fact there were very few countries that liked it besides the Soviet Union. The Afghanistan people didn't like it, we didn't like it. Most of the countries of the world that don't like to see a nation get attacked didn't like it. And it happens also that Osama bin Laden didn't like it. So that commonality of interests led to that coincidence of being on the same side but it would be a misunderstanding to say that therefore the United States or the United Nations or a coalition of countries created him. He is what he is. He's a terrorist. He's proud of it.

Al Jazeera: This is a question that is in the minds of lots of people that --

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Al Jazeera: -- he was your admirer, he was fighting your war.

Rumsfeld: It was the Afghan war.

Al Jazeera: -- in proxy against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld: It was a war to liberate Afghanistan and to not have the Soviet Union continue to occupy it. Why was that our war?

We were in there trying to help those people, the Afghan people, be free of the Soviet Union. That is not our war. That's a war for liberation.

Now go to the second point of your question. It was about 1982, '83, '84, in that period, and there was a war between Iraq and Iran. Many of the countries in the region were concerned that Iraq could lose and it could cause a problem in the entire region. And the United States was asked to see what we might do. Insofar as I'm aware, the only assistance that was given was some intelligence assistance. If there was more, I'm not familiar with it. But there again, these are neighboring countries and the United States was asked and assisted with Iraq defending against, for themselves against the Iranians in that war and we provided some intelligence assistance as I understand it.

The United States also of course led a coalition of the willing to go in and throw Iraq out of Kuwait and help that country rather than being subjugated by the Iraqi regime.

Al Jazeera: What sort of role are you expecting from the Gulf States in this confrontation or looming confrontation?

Rumsfeld: My hope is that force will not be used. If it is to be used you can be certain that it will be a very large coalition of countries and a large number of countries in that general region will be assisting and participating. There are very few countries who live in that neighborhood of Iraq who admire the regime of Saddam Hussein. He has very few admirers. They know him as well or better than most of the people in the world.

Al Jazeera: If you go to Iraq, your forces, how long do you envisage staying on there?

Rumsfeld: If we went, it would not be with our forces it would be with a large coalition that would be involved. And in the event that it happened there would be a still larger coalition of countries from the region and elsewhere who would be participating in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

The United States is not interested in the oil in that region from Iraq. That's just utter nonsense. It is not interested in occupying any country. We are interested in having our forces go home. But we recognize that a coalition might be necessary for a short period until a government of Iraq could be created by the Iraqis. Look at Afghanistan as a model. We don't want to stay in Afghanistan. What did we do? We assisted the Afghan people with a security environment so that they could have a Loya Jurga and create their own government. That's what they've done. They've created a transitional government.

The United States with obviously the coalition would help with humanitarian assistance, we would help provide stability, we would look for the weapons of mass destruction, we would hope to see an Iraqi government evolve soon that would not have weapons of mass destruction, that wouldn't try to invade Kuwait, that wouldn't use chemical weapons on its neighbors or its own people, that would set itself on a path towards representation for the various minorities and ethnic and religious elements in the country, and that they'd have a voice in that government. Our choice would be to stay as long as we needed to do that, but not one minute longer.

Al Jazeera: If I understand, some people say you are targeting Iraq because it is the weakest side of the axis of evil, and that you want to cover your failures in Afghanistan, you still have unfinished job.

Rumsfeld: The failures of Afghanistan. Did you see the people when the coalition forces and the Northern Alliance and the forces on the ground liberated Kabul? They were singing, they were flying kites, they were happy.

Two million refugees have come back into that country. Is that a failure? People are voting with their feet. Individual people. Neither you or I will ever meet them, but they're making a conscious decision to go back to Afghanistan because they know of certain knowledge that it's better there today than it was before. That is not a failure. That is an enormous success.

There are no longer al Qaeda training camps in that country. They are no longer flying airplanes into U.S. buildings from that country, with people trained from that country. The people have picked a transitional government. It's their government. There are men and women going to school. There are people out driving cars. There's humanitarian assistance being provided. They're training an Afghan National Army. This is no failure. This is a success.

Al Jazeera: Do you think that Iraqi opposition are going to be a reliable partner in after, let us say, the Saddam Hussein regime?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I think there are --

Al Jazeera: They are fractious; it is very well known that they are not united.

Rumsfeld: That's the way it is with democracies. That's the way it is with people who are free to say what they think. They have different views.

What will happen, I would predict that in the event that Saddam Hussein is not there and a new regime evolved, what will happen is there will be people from the Iraqi opposition to be sure, there will be people, Iraqi expatriates, to be sure. There will be more people from inside Iraq who want to participate in that government and it will be a mixture. You will find a uniquely Iraqi solution to whatever that government ought to be and there isn't anybody in the world, in the United States or any other country, that is smart enough to craft a model or a template and say that's what it will be because we don't know what it will be. It will be something that's uniquely Iraqi, just as it was in Afghanistan.

Lots of people ask why is the United States of America the only super power in the world targeting Iraq. They say well, Iraq is a pot of black gold and it is in a strategic position which would facilitate for you the next stage of your agenda for the region. Perhaps Iran is on your list of targets. People speculate about other countries. And also there is the continued Israeli problem.

What is your idea for the region?

Rumsfeld: Well the only idea we have for the region is that it not be producing weapons of mass destruction and it not be invading neighbors, and that it be peaceful, and that it be, that the Iraqi people figure out how they want to run their country free of a dictator like Saddam Hussein and that he no longer threatens the neighbors and threatens others.

There is no master plan. We don't run around the world trying to figure out how other people ought to live. What we want is a peaceful region.

You used the word black gold. I've seen the same kinds of articles and suggestions that that's the case.

You know, I've been around economics long enough to know that if somebody owns oil they're going to want to sell it. If they want to sell it, it's going to end up in the market. And it doesn't matter if they sell it to Country A or Country B. If they sell it, it's going to be in the market and that's going to affect the world price. Money is fungible and oil is fungible. This is not about oil, and anyone who thinks it is, is badly misunderstanding the situation.

Al Jazeera: But it depends on who controls the oil.

Rumsfeld: Anyone who controls it wants to sell it. It doesn't matter. That is not a problem. If you own -- If a bad person owns the oil and a good person owns the oil -- different oil -- and the bad person doesn't want to sell it to you but the good person is willing to, it doesn't matter because then the good person sells it to you. You're not going to be buying this person's oil but this person's going to be selling it to somebody else. And the world price will be the same. Everyone will have the oil they need. They aren't going to horde it, they're not going to keep it in the ground. They need the money from the oil. So it's not a problem.

Al Jazeera: Would it worry you if you go by force into Iraq that this might create the impression that the United States is becoming an imperial, colonial power?

Rumsfeld: Well I'm sure that some people would say that, but it can't be true because we're not a colonial power. We've never been a colonial power. We don't take our force and go around the world and try to take other people's real estate or other people's resources, their oil. That's just not what the United States does. We never have and we never will. That's not how democracies behave. That's how an empire-building Soviet Union behaved but that's not how the United States behaves.

What have we done? We've gone into help Bosnia be free. We've helped Kosovo -- Moslem countries. We've helped Kuwait get free. We helped free the world from Hitler and from the Japanese imperial aggression in Asia in World War II. We didn't keep any real estate. We didn't keep any resources. In fact we gave money. We were the biggest donors of food aid in Afghanistan before September 11th. Before we were ever attacked it was the United States -- not a Muslim country, but a country that cared enough about the people of Afghanistan that we provided food for them.

Think of the people in Iraq today. If Saddam Hussein were gone the sanctions would be gone. The sanctions would be gone. The UN imposed economic sanctions and the people there would be better off.

Al Jazeera: Would you still think that the United Nations is a viable channel to solve this problem at this hour, which seems --

Rumsfeld: We hope so. We certainly hope so. It's important I think not only for the people of Iraq and ending the weapons of mass destruction, but I think it's also important for the United Nations.

When Abyssinia was invaded the League of Nations did nothing and the League of Nations fell because of that. They had resolution after resolution and they couldn't act. The result was that people lost confidence in it. People are now saying the people are going to introduce a second resolution. It's not the second resolution, it's the 18th resolution. The United Nations is going to have to look itself in the mirror and say how do we feel about that? What are we going to do? At what point ought a country like Iraq to begin to believe that the United Nations resolutions mean something?

Al Jazeera: How do you gauge the efficiency of the United Nations when you, for instance, face the French position and their possible use of the veto, also the division within NATO, and with the European Union? These are your allies.

Rumsfeld: Well the division in NATO was 16 with us and three against. Is that a division? No. What it is it's the normal thing. Free sovereign countries come together, look at an issue, and come to somewhat different views. Sixteen agreed with the United States, 14 from Europe, Canada was one; and three didn't agree. There were eight countries who signed one letter and ten countries in Europe who signed another. That's 18 countries in Europe have supported the U.S. position on Iraq.

I think that, how do I feel about it? One would always like unanimity. One would always prefer that everyone agreed with everything you said and everything you did. Life would be easy. It's unrealistic. There's never been unanimity on tough issues, and these are tough issues. They're very difficult issues, and I understand that.

Al Jazeera: Does it surprise you that the largest demonstrations happened in the capitals and the cities of those people who are supportive of your position now vis-à-vis Iraq?

Rumsfeld: Well, it doesn't really because if you think about it, today with the Internet people can organize very quickly and get lots of people to demonstrate, but if you take the population of Western Europe, of those three countries for example. I think you mentioned three countries that have the largest. You take their populations and compare it to the number of people who demonstrated, it's a very small fraction. Even though it was a large number of people, it's a very small fraction of the people. In democracies that's what people do. You don't see people demonstrating in Iraq. You don't see people demonstrating against the government in Iraq because they'll be killed.

Al Jazeera: Mr. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Thank you very much indeed.

Rumsfeld: Thank you, sir.

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