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Secretary Rumsfeld Joint Media Availability with Indian Defense Minister

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
January 17, 2002 12:50 PM EDT

(Joint Media Availability with Indian Minister of Defense George Fernandes)

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. Mr. Fernandes and I have had good discussions today. It is not our first meeting. We met in India some months back.

Needless to say, I thank the minister for the very strong support that India has provided for the war on terrorism since September 11th. Both of our nations know firsthand about terrorism. We have a common interest in defeating terrorism in Afghanistan. And needless to say, the United States' stand against terrorism is principled. We think about terrorism against India in the same terms that we want India to think about terrorism in the United States.

We discussed the crisis and the tension in the region between India and Pakistan. President Musharraf's speech last Saturday and the actions he's taking to implement the steps that were outlined in the speech, we are certainly hopeful will go a long way towards lowering tensions and promoting a constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan. President Bush, of course, has been in touch with the prime minister of India and the president of Pakistan. Secretary Powell has just arrived, I think, right now in India --

Fernandes: Yes.

Rumsfeld: -- and will be conducting meetings there and have forcefully expressed the hopes of the United States that the tensions will be reduced and that discussions will take place.

Today Minister Fernandes and I signed a U.S.-India Bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement, paving the way for greater technology cooperation between the United States and India. And we discussed the good progress that our two countries are making in our security relationships.

We began -- I began, with the Bush administration, my contacts with India in February, less than a month after I arrived at the Pentagon, and there have been a series of meetings since at all levels -- ministers of defense, foreign ministers and at various other levels of the two departments. In the coming months, we have an ambitious schedule of meetings on counter-terrorism, on service-to-service exercises, further strengthening the friendship and cooperation between the two -- the world's two largest democracies.

Mr. Minister, welcome.

Fernandes: Thank you.

Well, I'm grateful to Secretary Rumsfeld for his gracious invitation and for the intensive discussions our delegations just had. The purpose of my visit has been to discuss the issues of defense and security cooperation between India and the United States, which has not only been revived but expanded considerably over the last one year. My delegation has found our discussions today very fruitful and an important milestone in this expanding relationship.

Today this relationship is qualitatively different from the days of the Cold War. After Secretary Rumsfeld's visit to India in November, 2001 we held a successful meeting of the Defense Policy Group. And this meeting took place after a break of four years. We expect to continue these meetings in the times to come. And we believe that we are on a forward movement insofar as strengthening our relations and also insofar as dealing with all the challenges that we are both facing in our respective areas of concern.

Secretary Rumsfeld just mentioned about his visit to India, which was a very brief visit -- not even a full day, he spent half a day. He just came. He sat with us. We had a very serious interaction on various issues, and he left. So I have -- (laughter).

Rumsfeld: It's the story of my life. (Laughter.) Many of these people were with us on that trip, and -- it was, I think, six countries in three days or something.

Fernandes: Yeah, I know. And so, I have today extended a formal invitation to him and suggested that he should visit India at the earliest possible opportunity. And I leave the decision about the date to Secretary Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

Fernandes: Thank you.

Rumsfeld: Charlie, we'll start with you, and then we'll come over.

Q: Mr. Minister, might I ask, as Defense minister are you doing anything, or is anybody doing anything to stop or back away from your military build-up on the border with Pakistan? And are you disappointed all in United States pressure on Israel not to transfer AWACS and other weapons to you for the time being?

Fernandes: Well, I do not think that the United States had put any pressure on Israel as far as I am aware. Just before I left to Delhi, I was confronted with this question by the media, because of some report which they said had appeared in the Washington Post. When coming here, I was told that the Washington Post didn't have any such story. And who has ever used that as some sort of an anchor to give credibility to it was doing disservice both to the United States and to India, and also, for that matter, to Israel. So there isn't any substance as far as I am concerned in this report.

Your first question was about our troops being in the front lines. It is true that troops on both sides are on the front lines. We -- in light of what happened on the 13th of December, when there was this attack on our parliament house -- and that attack was not on the structure of the parliament house alone, that attack, we have absolutely no doubt whatsoever, was designed to eliminate the entire political leadership of the country, whether of the ruling coalition or the opposition. And it is luck or providence, I believe, that saved us. And not just saved us, but saved the country, because the implications of this axis of that suicide mission would have been impossible to really imagine the consequences of it for the entire country and, for that matter, for the entire subcontinent.

So against the backdrop of that, one had to take some really strong steps. And again, we had noticed earlier also that the Pakistani army after doing some exercises had chosen to stay in some of the areas which they considered as soft areas for us. And in the aftermath of that 13 December incident we decided that we need to immediately safeguard our frontiers, and we prepared for any eventuality. And that's where both sides are at the moment.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is --

Rumsfeld: What I'd like to do, we only have about 15 minutes. And rather than people ask two questions at once, if we could do one question, and I'm going to alternate between the U.S. side and others, if I can.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: First of all, sir, I just want you to know that you are doing a great job. There's no question about it.

Rumsfeld: Thank you, sir.

Q: And number -- my question is that -- are you asking India or have you asked Mr. Minister to remove the Indian forces from the tension border, where both forces are aiming at each other and clouds of wars are still there?

And finally, the future of India-U.S. military relationships, sir.

Rumsfeld: Let me respond this way: I think the United States and India have a growing and healthy relationship on a military-to-military basis, which I value and I know that India values. And we look forward to seeing it evolve over the years.

With respect to the situation on the Afghan-Pakistan border, which is of course something that is of considerable interest to us, because we are most anxious to see that the terrorists in the Taliban and the al Qaeda do not escape out of Afghanistan into Pakistan, I don't think it's in anybody's interest that those folks end up in Pakistan, whether -- it's not in Pakistan's interests, it's not in our interest, it's not in Afghan -- Afghanistan's interest, because they can come right back across that border, and it's certainly not in India's interest.

So it is correct that the United States at various levels -- and certainly the minister and I have discussed this subject from time to time, and I'm sure the minister and his government is sensitive to that, just as we are and -- now, from the U.S. side. Yes, Bob?

Q: Can I ask you a question about Guantanamo Bay and the detention situation there? Those who are not -- those detainees who are not put before a military tribunal -- will they be held there indefinitely, then, or will they be returned to their home countries? Have you decided that?

Rumsfeld: The situation is that there are people who have been fighting and killing people in Afghanistan, who are now being held, in some cases, in Pakistan, where they have crossed the border into Pakistan and Pakistan has captured them; in some cases, in Afghanistan, in two or three locations, including Kandahar, where the largest detention center is; and increasingly in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with a couple of exceptions aboard ship -- U.S. ships, for a variety of reasons, medical or whatever.

The issue as to what happens to those people will follow the interrogations and the process of getting as much information out of them as we can, so that we can stop other terrorist attacks.

Then a decision will be made as to their disposition. Some may or may not end up in a military commission. Others conceivably could end up in the U.S. criminal court system. Others could be returned to their countries of nationality and end up being prosecuted there.

It's conceivable some could be kept in detention for a period while additional intelligence information is gathered, or if they simply are dangerous -- and there's no question -- there are a number down in Guantanamo Bay who, every time anyone walks by, threaten to kill Americans the first chance they get; these are quite dangerous people -- they may just be kept in detention for a period. And those issues are all being sorted out by lawyers and experts and people knowledgeable about international law and conventions, which I'm not.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Minister, there is a report in the -- for both of you, there is a report in the Wall Street Journal today that while some action has been taken against terrorists in Pakistan, no action whatever has been taken in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, what they call Azad Kashmir, and also -- (inaudible) -- training have not been closed down. And I want to ask both of you whether you're committed to what Nawaz Sharif and President Clinton signed, namely, the sanctity of the Line of Control.

Fernandes: Well, such action -- call it terrorist action, call it by any other name -- is something that we have been living with for a long, long time. We are a part of the global coalition today, and as a part of this coalition, we have been cooperating with each other in addressing this particular problem.

As far as the border itself is concerned, nothing has changed. This morning when I was about to leave my hotel to proceed to Arlington, I got this piece of news which said that yesterday in Jammu the same terrorists attacked civilians with -- by exploding a bomb -- one person died -- a report which I get almost on a twice daily basis when I am back home. So we have this problem, and what was agreed with Nawaz Sharif may not hold with the establishment that Pakistan has today. But against a backdrop of the recent developments, I have reason to believe that sooner or later these issues will now be on the way to resolution.

Rumsfeld: We have two more minutes. We'll take two questions. We'll take two questions. And the questions can be of either of us, but not both -- (laughter) -- and can be one question. We'll start with you.

Q: Mr. Minister, as the U.S.-India military relationship expands, would India like to buy U.S. military equipment, and are you optimistic that Secretary Rumsfeld would approve that?

Fernandes: Yes, we have had that kind of relationship with the United States for many, many years. Unfortunately for a brief interregnum, if I may use that term, that had come to more or less a standstill. I am very happy that today we have been able to revive that -- today meaning not as in date, but much earlier -- we have been able to revive that relationship, and we look forward to much greater cooperation between the United States military and our military, and also procuring such of these items that we need to procure from here.

Q: Could you list a few items?

Fernandes: Well, I can't just now spell out the various items that we would like to have -- (laughter) -- but we need -- I'll make a point. We started a project together, the Light Combat Aircraft project, together almost two decades ago. And we need the engines for that. We were to have gone ahead together on this project. But then we parted company, and now we have again joined hands. That's just one of the many that one can cite. But this to me is a very, very important one.

Rumsfeld: And last would be someone from the Indian press, possibly? Yes.

Q: This is for Secretary Rumsfeld. Well, you have given very handsome praise to General Musharraf's speech, saying that everything would be changing. But after having faced 10 years of proxy war and having lost 53,000 innocent lives, do you think that there is reason enough for India to dismantle its military buildup?

Rumsfeld: Well, I generally leave these questions to the president of the United States and the secretary of State, Colin Powell. And so to really paraphrase them, the United States, needless to say, did feel that President Musharraf's speech was forthcoming. And I believe that the comments I've heard from senior officials of the Indian government suggest that they, too, felt that, and that the next step, then, is for actions to take place, and that -- I am personally persuaded that General Musharraf is moving within his government to take actions, to follow up on the speech that he made.

The long and the short of it is that India and Pakistan have to make these decisions. It's not the United States that makes these decisions. It's not any other country. I do not believe it is in either of their interests to stay for a long period at a state of high mobilization. I think the tension is unhelpful to them, unhelpful to the world, and I'm hopeful that the leadership of those two countries will continue on the path they seem to be on to attempt to find ways to either directly or indirectly discuss these matters, and that over the coming weeks and days we will see a relaxation of that tension and some dialogue take place that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the variety of issues that stand between those two countries.

Q: What kind of action, Mr. Secretary? What --

Rumsfeld: We -- we -- we thank all of you for being here. (Laughter.) We're going to excuse ourselves.

Fernandes: And thank you.

Rumsfeld: Thank you, sir.

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