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News Conference with Secretary Rumsfeld and NATO Secretary General

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 06, 2004 10:30 AM EDT
News Conference with Secretary Rumsfeld and NATO Secretary General

            SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  Well, very good morning to all of you.  Good to be here in Norfolk, good that the secretary of Defense has come to attend part of a seminar, a NATO seminar we're holding on transformation.

 

            Of course, this is the appropriate place, where Admiral Giambastiani is conducting allied transformation, alliance transformation.  My responsibility, of course, as secretary-general, is to give a push and to give impetus to political transformation as well.  So what we're doing in fact is having a seminar on transformation capabilities, of course also focusing on the different theaters NATO -- where NATO is active, analyzing NATO's political commitments, how those political commitments can be translated into the necessary resources.

 

            We do that after we yesterday had a successful seminar, I think, on the fight against terrorism, together with Russian Defense Minister  Sergey Ivanov, also here in Norfolk.  We're organizing these two seminars back to back, so that the fundamental transformation which this alliance is going through -- and transformation is, of course, a process -- can be made as effective and as efficient as possible.

 

            So it gives me pleasure to be here as secretary-general, and it gives me even greater pleasure to see Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at my side.  Thank you very much.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you, Secretary-General, and good morning, folks.  I'm very pleased to be here.  I was stationed in Norfolk many, many years ago, in 1956, and, as a matter of fact, had a daughter born in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital some 48 years ago.  So we always -- I'm always pleased to be back here.

 

            Last evening I came into town and had dinner with the minister of defense of Russia, Sergey Ivanov.  This morning the secretary-general and I had a good meeting.  He's off to a superb start as the new secretary-general of this alliance, and we're all very grateful to him for taking on these important responsibilities.

 

            The countries that have just come into NATO -- I won't go into what took place here with -- he's -- the secretary-general's already outlined the purpose of the meetings.  I would just say that the countries that have just come in NATO are already bringing a great deal of energy and vitality and drive to the alliance, which is a good thing.  These are countries that for the most part have recently experienced the unfortunate state of where they were repressed and -- over many years.  And they understand freedom, and they, as a result, value it very highly.

 

            Today I spoke briefly with the folks gathered here and talked about the really amazing accomplishments that NATO has achieved just in the last two or three years.  The new NATO command structure is in place.  The new transformation command here is something that is helping move the entire alliance towards the challenges of the 21st century.  The NATO Response Force, which I think is going to have a big effect and impact on the alliance, in terms of its capability to deal with trouble spots; several other things that have taken place; but particularly, the fact that NATO has moved outside of the NATO treaty area and outside of Europe to Afghanistan and has taken on the responsibility for the International Security Assistance Force there, and is in the process of expanding still further with respect to some of the provincial reconstruction teams -- these are impressive accomplishments and a great deal of work remains, to be sure.

 

            We talked about the importance -- the secretary-general did and I did -- about the importance of having the militaries of our respective countries have forces that are usable, that are organized, trained and equipped, and deployable in a relatively short period of time so that they can help contribute to peace and stability in the world.  It is an enormously important challenge.  It's a challenge for the United States military.  We're working on it very hard, just as it is the other nations of the alliance.

 

            So I think that the alliance is very fortunate to have the new Transformation Command here in Norfolk.  It's going to be playing a central role in seeing that this alliance, unambiguously the most important military alliance on the face of the earth, continues to move itself towards the 21st century challenges.

 

            With that I'll stop.  And I assume we'd both be happy to respond to a few questions.

 

            SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  Absolutely.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Yes, sir.

 

            Q     I'm sure you know that the four contractors that were killed last week in Fallujah were from a town -- they worked for a company in a town not far from here, Moyock, North Carolina.  I wonder if you could give us a status update on the campaign in Fallujah, how it's going, what the objectives are, and maybe a word, if you could, sir, about why we're now 13 months into the war and just now, it appears, making a concentrated effort in the Sunni triangle.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  First let me say that the battle as it took place last year came up from the south, as you'll recall.  We were not able to bring forces in from the north until somewhat later.  And the Iraqi forces pretty well threw in the towel about the time that the forces moved up through Baghdad.  And the area north of Baghdad, the area that Saddam Hussein had the highest concentration of support, was an area that really never saw the battles during that early period.  A great many of the people in the service -- in the military, the Iraqi military, and the special forces they had, the Fedayeen Saddam and the Special Republican Guard, just disappeared into their homes and never did engage the coalition forces.  The result is that they were there, and they -- some, the remnants, most, I think, probably have acquiesced in the reality that Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athists are not coming back.  Some are attempting to reestablish their authorities and the preferred position they had in repressing the rest of the people of that country and killing an average of 12(,000) to 25,000 Iraqis a year and filling these mass graves and killing fields that they were doing.

 

            So you say it's later.  It is later.  There are terrorists involved.  There are former regime remnants involved.  And the situation, to go precisely to Fallujah, the situation at the present time is that the forces have cordoned off the city, they have photographs of a good many people who were involved in the attacks against the individuals, and they have been conducting raids in the city against high-value targets.  They've captured a number of people over the past 36 hours.  The city is isolated.  A number of people have resisted and been killed.  And it will be a methodical effort to find the individuals who were involved.

 

            Clearly, all of the people of the city of Fallujah were not involved in what took place.  And I must say, being particularly in a place that's been so hospitable for so many decades to the men and women in the uniform, that our folks are just doing a superb job over there.  It's difficult.  It's dangerous work.  We're going to have good days and bad days.  But the men and women who are serving our country and helping to defend freedom and who've liberated 25 million people in Afghanistan and 25 (million) people in Iraq deserve our praise and our respect and our appreciation.

 

            Yeah.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, I know you're in regular contact with General Abizaid about the force level.  Could you tell us if there's been any change in the last 24 hours?  Are we still looking at adhering to the plan to bring forces down to 113 (thousand), 115,000 range?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  The circumstance we were in when the latest flare-ups occurred was that we had been in the process of bringing in additional forces and beginning to move forces out.  And it was planned to be over about a four- or five-month period, where some 115,000 would go out and 115,000 would go in, but they'd overlap for some extended period so that you would end up transferring the knowledge and the situational awareness that's so important and do what they call a left seat, right seat, and then right seat, left seat pass off.

 

            At the present time we have about not 115,000, but something like 135,000 troops in the country.  We're at an unusually high level, and the commanders are using the excess of forces that happen to be in there because of the deployment process.  They will decide what they need and they will get what they need.  At the present time they've announced no change in their plans.  But they could make such a request at any time, and needless to say we would -- we've asked them periodically if they feel they have the capabilities they need, and that's something that they review on a fairly continuous basis.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     In sort of a follow-up of that, it appears to be deployments by integral units, rather than individuals.  I'm wondering if you have any post-deployment evaluations of mass effects on morale and retention.  And similarly, for the secretary-general, if that same sort of thing is being done by other forces that are deployed from other countries into the theater.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, we have been attempting to use units. There's -- unit cohesion is important and having individual replacements and adjustments continuously can detract from unit cohesion.  It's early to know what the effect on morale and retention will be.  What we do know is, at least for U.S. forces, the situation is that we know that everyone serving today is a volunteer.  There isn't a single person serving in the military of the United States of America, active or Reserve, who didn't stick up their hand and say I want to serve.

 

            And second, we know that the retention and recruiting targets that are set each year are being met; I believe with the single exception where there's one that's slightly below the target goal. That is not to say that that will necessarily continue.  We have to see that.  We won't know until we go further.  As a result we've got all of the armed services, of the United States at least, undertaking a whole series of things to reduce stress on the force.  We're going to be rebalancing the active force with the Guard and Reserve.  We're going to be moving a number of positions that currently have military people in them, get the military people out and putting civilians in those positions so that we have a larger total force capability.  We're going to redo things to reduce permanent changes of stations, the total number in a career, and we have I think 30, 40 things that are being undertaken.  And we have to keep our eye on recruiting and retention, but so far it's good.

 

            I haven't seen details on the other NATO countries that are currently in Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of recruiting and retention.  Do you --

 

            SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  No, the only thing I can say in answer to your question, of course, is that this is not, as such, NATO operation, but 17 out of 26 nations have forces on the ground and NATO's role is supporting the Polish lead of the multinational division.  The only thing I can say is that whenever that will be necessary, of course, the NATO allies on the ground as individual nations will do their job, as I've -- you have seen and I've seen Italian soldiers being involved in certain operations.  We follow that closely, of course, and we go on -- NATO will go on in doing what it's doing, and that's support the Polish division leadership of the multinational division.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Yes.

 

            Q     Do the Kurds continue to be helpful in the stabilization of Iraq?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  They have been.  They are participating, as you know, in the Iraqi Governing Council, and they were helpful during combat operations, and they currently have a very stabile area. There's a tendency to talk about Iraq as though it's uniform all across the country as to what's taking place, and of course that's not the case; it varies fairly substantially.  But the Kurdish area in the north has been relatively stabile.

 

            Questions?  Yes.

 

            Q     Do you feel that we need to have more troops in Iraq?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't know that I would be the best judge.  It takes someone who's on the ground in the military who is assessing it on a daily basis, and we have superb people leading our military out there.  To try to second-guess it from Washington, D.C. it seems to me is a difficult thing to do, and both the president and I frequently ask the military commanders if they have all they need; if they have   what they need not just in people, but equipment and support.  And General Abizaid has the ultimate responsibility, General Sanchez is the senior military person on the ground in Iraq, and they are the ones whose advice we follow on these things.

 

            Yes.

 

            Q     Can I ask one of the secretary-general?

 

            SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  Mm-hmm.

 

            Q     Has the United States discussed with NATO the possibility of NATO getting involved officially in Iraq, of NATO taking responsibility for actions there as opposed to supporting in Iraq?

 

            SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  Here, of course, it's important, very important, to watch the political developments.  I mean, Lakhdar Brahimi is at the moment in Iraq, preparing for what I hope will be a very important U.N. role after the transfer of sovereignty on the 1st of July -- 30th of June.  That's point number one.

 

            Point number two which is important in the discussion is clearly a new  Security Council resolution mandating specifically an international stabilization force in the longer term in Iraq.  It will, of course, be important what the U.N., taking on a certain role -- an important role, I hope, the crucial role -- will ask and will say.  I have, of course, I'll be in touch with the U.N., with the secretary-general, with Mr. Brahimi.

 

            As I said, 17 out of the 26 NATO nations have their forces on the ground and will have the transfer of sovereignty on the 30th of June, 1st of July.  After that date, we'll have a sovereign Iraqi government.  Then it is, of course, up to that Iraqi government, let's say, to decide what that government wants, because then we have a, clearly, cut-off between what is the situation now in the Iraq and what will be the situation after the 1st of July.  And if that will come to a discussion in the NATO alliance, it is not easy to say, too hard to say at the moment, but I repeat, 17 out of 26 NATO nations are on the ground in Iraq, although it's not a NATO operation as such.

 

            Q     Secretary Rumsfeld, would you like for it to be a NATO operation?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, it seems to me that the position of the United States has been to encourage, as the secretary-general indicated, the United Nations to take a larger role.  I think the way the president stated it six, eight, 10, 12 months ago was a "vital" role.  And  I know there have  been discussions about the possibility of an additional U.N. resolution.  That would be helpful, and we have tried to be of assistance to the U.N. representative in his initial entry into the country and more recently also.

 

            The NATO role at the present time, as the secretary-general said, is to be supportive of the Polish division.  And while there are a great many NATO countries participating there, the -- NATO has been focusing on Afghanistan and has, as you know, for the first time in the history of the alliance taken on a responsibility outside of Europe and outside of the NATO treaty area in Afghanistan by assuming responsibility for the International Security Assistance Force and, more recently, for expanding that responsibility to some of the provincial reconstruction teams that are away from Kabul.

 

            I suspect that what we'll see is -- I would be delighted to see NATO take a larger role.  I think realistically, the more -- if one looks at the queue, the queue would be for NATO to take a larger role   in Afghanistan as we move forward, prior, probably, to taking a larger role in Iraq.  I think that's probably a reasonable estimate.

 

            SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  Well, I think, as I stated from the moment I took office in Brussels, Afghanistan is NATO's number-one priority.  And we are expanding, as the secretary said; we are expanding the provincial reconstruction teams.  We need, of course, the forces -- the force protection for those PRTs.  We are trying to go from the north and also into the west.  So that is a major obligation the alliance has entered into.

 

            I said in the beginning I want to see that political commitment the alliance has entered into completely and fully translated into the military resources that requires.  You know that NATO is also discussing within the limits to give support to the electoral process. There will be very important elections in Afghanistan in September.

 

            So -- and as far as Iraq is concerned, I can only repeat what I said.  I mean, political developments, as they will unroll and unfold between now, the 1st of July -- the interim government, what that government does, the Security Council resolution -- are all very important elements in a process answering the question if and when NATO should play a more structural role in Iraq.

 

            Q     Secretary Rumsfeld, the secretary-general has referred several times now to the June 30th deadline.  As you know, some of your political colleagues and friends in Washington in the last 24 hours have suggested that because of the current military instability in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq, that perhaps the United States should visit the idea of extending that deadline beyond June 30th, before the transfer of sovereignty to an independent Iraq.  Do you envision any scenario under which the United States would extend that deadline beyond June 30th?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, first let me make sure everyone's on the same wavelength with respect to the deadline.  The deadline applies to political governance of the country.  It does not apply to the security responsibility, as you know.  And I think some people have misunderstood that, and they've said that because of the spike in incidents and the number of locations where there's conflict taking place, that maybe the June 30th date should be extended.  But of course there is no plan to change in the security situation on June 30th.  The only thing that changes is not the security situation but the political situation, as to where sovereignty resides.

 

            And so at the moment, I've not seen anything that would suggest that that date should be extended.  I think the people suggesting that to some extent may misunderstand the fact that the security -- our security forces, coalition forces, are going to stay right there and do what they have to do.  The president said they're going to stay as long as they have to and not a day longer.  And if I'm not mistaken, yesterday the president was asked this question, and he responded very explicitly.  If you think I'm going to answer something different than he did, you're wrong.  (Soft laughter.)

 

            What else?  That do us?  Okay.  Thank you very much.

 

            SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  Thank you.  Thank you.

 

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