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Secretary Rumsfeld Joint Media Availability with British Secretary of State for Defence

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 02, 2003 9:05 AM EDT

(Joint media availability with Geoffrey Hoon, secretary of state for defence, United Kingdom.)

Hoon: I apologize for keeping you waiting.

We had extremely good discussions earlier, with the prime minister, and again today covering, obviously, the situation in Iraq, particularly the need for reconstruction and rebuilding there and the close cooperation that exists between our armed forces. We've also touched upon Afghanistan and the need for a continuing effort there, as well as, obviously, the wider political situation in the region. Obviously, Donald has recently returned; I was there the week before.

Rumsfeld: I have nothing to add, except that -- to say that two days ago I had the privilege of visiting the U.K. forces that are in the Basra area and had a chance to thank them personally for the superb job they've done in helping to liberate the Iraqi people.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us the role now that you expect Paul Bremer to fill in the reconstruction program for Iraq? And does this reflect some unhappiness on the part of the administration with General Garner's efforts?

Rumsfeld: There are two things I'd say. One is, there is not only no unhappiness with respect to General Jay Garner, there is a great deal of pleasure in the fact that this man has undertaken and performed superbly for our country and for the coalition.

And with respect to Mr. Bremer, there have been no announcements made by the White House on that subject, to my knowledge.

Q: Do you -- (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: I could, but I won't.

Hoon: John?

Q: Mr. Secretary, given the intimacy of your own involvement in the planning of this war, what role did you have in the decision to protect the Oil Ministry but not the hospitals and not the national museum of Baghdad? And could I also ask you, given that the --

Rumsfeld: Let's do them one at a time.

Q: Yeah.

Rumsfeld: With respect to the question, the question assumes that such a decision was made. And I think that premise is very likely inaccurate.

The reality is that the commanders on the ground -- in this case, the land component commander -- has the responsibility for making those kinds of judgments. The air component commanders took great care to protect important sites, including museums and various other areas, hospitals, and innocent civilians. And I suspect there has never been a more precise campaign than the one that was just executed in Iraq.

The people on the ground have the responsibility for making judgments about force protection. Their first responsibility is to win in the conflict. And they went about their business, in my view, in an excellent manner.

Q: But Mr. Secretary, it really does seem curious, then, that the oil ministry was so successfully protected and the hospitals so unsuccessfully.

But the main -- other question I wanted to ask you was about the president's declaration that combat is over. Given that, would it not be now the right time to go for some semblance of legality and involve the United Nations in the very necessary nation-building that now has to take place?

Rumsfeld: Your questions have about eight or 10 opinions wrapped in them, I notice. The president did not say what you said he said. The president said that we have moved from a period of major military conflict to a period of stabilization. It is never this way or that way completely. There will continue to be pockets of resistance, there will continue to be people killed, as there have been killed and wounded in recent days, unfortunately. The activities of the coalition forces, despite your question, were, in fact, legal. And your contention that it requires something else to have some semblance of legality is incorrect. The coalition forces have been in contact through the foreign ministries with the United Nations and the secretary-general. And I suspect that there will be, over the coming period, intensive discussions as to what role the United Nations may or may not wish to play. Personally, I'm hopeful that they do play a role.

Hoon: Can I just answer that, John? What we're doing in Iraq is entirely lawful. It's covered by The Hague and Geneva Conventions, and it's perfectly proper and perfectly lawful.

Charlie?

Q: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Minister, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. Saddam is gone, the war has gone on for eight weeks now. You've found no chemical or biological weapons. You both said that this could be a long task to do so. Having said that, is it essential that you find such weapons and prove that he, in fact, had them when the war started, as you charged?

Hoon: Well, we've always made clear that the effort to locate and precisely identify weapons of mass destruction would take some time. We were well aware in the course of the U.N. inspections of the determined efforts by the regime to dismantle a weapon, to scatter them around Iraq, to hide them. And obviously, it will take time, not least now that we have the cooperation of certain individuals involved in those programs, that we can anticipate that success. But it's an effort that is continuing as we speak.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is it essential that you find such weapons and prove that he had them, as you charge, when the war started?

Rumsfeld: I think the minister responded correctly.

Q: Mr. Secretary, and Prime Minister, may I ask a general question of what's next now --

Rumsfeld: Why don't we do them to one or the other, rather than multiple questions to each? And then we can adjourn and let everyone go back.

Hoon: Richard?

Q: Can I ask both Defense secretaries about a stabilization --

Rumsfeld: Both, you said?

Q: Both.

Rumsfeld: Why don't we try one or the other and do one question, and then we can let a few other people answer questions.

Q: (Inaudible.) -- about a stabilization force in Iraq and how many forces, U.S. and/or British, will be in Iraq and for how long?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I can respond for the United States portion. We don't know. Indeed, it's not knowable. What we do know is we'll have as many forces in the country as is necessary to see that it is a sufficiently secure and permissive environment so that the humanitarian and reconstruction work can go forward, and so that the Iraqi people can fashion some sort of an interim governmental authority and then, ultimately, a final authority.

The numbers that it will require would depend on so many variables that have yet to be determined. In terms of the number of U.S. forces, that one other variable is how many other countries will be coming in to participate. And certainly we hope that it's a very broad coalition. There were some 65 nations involved in the Operation Iraqi Freedom. Minister Hoon had a meeting this week where -- I don't know, how many came?

Hoon: Sixteen.

Rumsfeld: Sixteen countries came and discussed what role they might play. Other meetings of that type are going to be held. And, of course, the larger number of countries that participate, the fewer number of forces from the United States will be necessary.

Q: Mr. Minister, what are your thoughts on the fate of Saddam Hussein?

Hoon: We are continuing to look for all of those who were engaged in what we judged to be criminal activities on behalf of the regime. Determined efforts are being made right across Iraq to bring them to account, and those efforts will go on until we locate each and every one of them.

Q Do you believe Saddam Hussein is alive?

Hoon: I do not know. But certainly we will continue our investigations to either prove that he is dead or that he can be brought to account.

Q: Mr. Rumsfeld, if --

Rumsfeld: I'll tell you what I'm going to do, folks. I'll take one more question, and then I'm going to pack up this group and head back to the United States after being gone for a week.

Q: (Off mike.) --

Rumsfeld: -- after being gone for a week. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let me get two more questions. You, and the lady in front of you.

Q: If, as you have declared, the war-fighting is over in Iraq --

Rumsfeld: Major military combat activity is over.

Q: However you want to phrase it.

Rumsfeld: Well, that's how we did phrase it. And that's how the president phrased it, also.

Q: Absolutely. How do you move on from here? Is there anywhere else that is next on your list in the international war against terrorism? I'm thinking perhaps Syria or other places?

Rumsfeld: You say "however you want to phrase it." I think it's important how it is phrased. And the reason I say that is because it would be a terrible mistake to think that Iraq is a fully secure, fully pacified environment. It is not. It is dangerous. There are people who are rolling hand grenades into compounds. There are people that are shooting people. And it's not finished. So we ought not to leave the world with the impression that it is.

With respect to your other question, the global war on terrorism is a serious battle that the free people of the world have to face. And there is no question but that there are terrorist networks. And I must say that I feel that the -- I've forgotten how many countries it is now that are participating in the global war on terrorism, but the sharing of intelligence and the pressure that has been put on terrorism networks has been increasingly successful. That does not mean there won't be additional terrorist attacks. I'm afraid that the reality is there could very well be. But the number of terrorist -- al Qaeda terrorist planners, for example, that have been scooped up in recent months is growing, and it's making it more difficult -- they're having more difficulty raising money. They're having more difficulty moving between countries. They're having more difficulty attracting and retaining terrorists. So I think that the task for free people is to keep working the problem, and that clearly is what's in front of us.

Thank you very much.

Q Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Last question.

Q: I wanted to ask a general question also to you and both the prime minister. Now that --

Rumsfeld: I'll let you (have it?).

Q: I wanted to get a sense of what is next. What do you see ahead now, both in Iraq and Afghanistan? A general just setting the stage for the what's next.

Hoon: Well, we have to continue our efforts to rebuild both countries. They both have to be restored as cooperative members of the international community. The effort has to be continued in Afghanistan, where it's more advanced. But obviously, we are optimistic, as well, with our efforts, speaking on behalf of the United Kingdom, in the south of Iraq; that we can see a way forward. We've got a significant presence on the ground, British troops working closely with local members of each of the communities that we are responsible for. We have joint meetings between the military and local leaders. They are saying what kind of changes, what kind of improvements in their physical infrastructure they want to see. We're engaged in delivering that. There's great progress there, and from what I saw when I was in Umm Qasr and Basra, we are right to be optimistic about the way forward.

Q: Mr. Secretary, also --

Rumsfeld: (Wait, wait?). We had two final questions. We really do have to --

Hoon: Thank you all very much, indeed.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

Hoon: Thank you.

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