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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Stakeout at Prague Congressional Center

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 21, 2002

(Stakeout at Prague Congressional Center, Forum Hall, Prague, CZ)

Greetings. We had an excellent meeting; it's historic. In my view, the invitees will bring great energy to the alliance. It was a good response to the proposals we made concerning the NATO response force, and to streamlining the command structure. I don't know when they're going to do it, but the draft on Iraq is a very good statement.

Questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, was there any discussion of NATO, as an alliance, perhaps providing military support for any potential invasion of Iraq?

Rumsfeld: I have read so many things and heard so many things today that I can't answer your question. I don't think there was, but I wouldn't want to say there wasn't for sure.

Q: But Iraq was discussed, I suppose?

Rumsfeld: Oh, surely. In fact, Prime Minister Blair made a really excellent statement on the circumstance of the alliance in a world where there are weapons of mass destruction, and terrorist networks, and the battle that's taking place between the rule of law and extremist, fanaticism.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there's been another attack on US soldiers in Kuwait. Can you tell us any more about what happened there, and can you also comment on how Arab sentiment, in response to US gestures on Iraq, is complicating our efforts in that region?

Rumsfeld: I don't know that the latter portion of your question is necessarily correct. I can remember going to Beirut after 241 Marines were killed in the early 1980's. What's taking place in that region is not new, there have been terrorist attacks and problems through my adult lifetime, and that's a long time. So I think trying to characterize it as being hinged on discussions that took place in the United Nations recently would be a misunderstanding of the situation, in the historical perspective. As to the first part of your question, I suffer from having seen two reports which conflict. Early reports tend to be wrong, and I would not even want to go quite so far as to characterize it the way you characterize it. I would just simply say that there are two individuals who have apparently been shot, and they're receiving medical care in Kuwait. What actually transpired is unclear to me.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the Defense Secretary of the UK, Geoff Hoon, has announced publicly that you've made a formal request for forces for possible military action. Could you say what you've asked for, and more generally, could you characterize the responses you're getting from the requests that have been put in?

Rumsfeld: Yes. The United States has consulted a good many countries in the world, pointing out the reality that the only reason that inspectors are about to go in is because of the possibility of the use of force to disarm, as was discussed in the United Nations. It is appropriate, therefore, to begin the process of discussing what different countries might do in the event that force becomes necessary, which as President Bush has said, is the last choice, not the first choice. Those inquiries went out, discussions are taking place, countries are responding, and it's in its early stages.

Q: Could you say if you've asked the United Kingdom for anything specific?

Rumsfeld: I would have to go back and re-read each cable. My recollection is they're fairly generic cables, and countries then respond with the kinds of things that they logically would be capable of providing.

Q: Were all the members of NATO included in those 50 countries, sir? Is that number 50 fairly firm?

Rumsfeld: I didn't say 50, did I?

Q: No, but you asked about it. Is 50 correct? In that ballpark?

Rumsfeld: I have no idea what the number was. I didn't say 50.

Q: How many countries received the request?

Rumsfeld: I just don't know.

Q: State Department mentioned around 50.

Rumsfeld: Oh did they? I didn't know that. In answer to [the previous question], I would assume so, although I don't know.

Q: You mean all of the members of NATO, you would assume?

Rumsfeld: I don't know that. That's the best answer. There are one or two members of NATO that do not have militaries, as such, so in terms of overflights and the various other things that would be logical, I would assume yes, that certainly at the minimum, that would be the case, all the NATO countries and then a number more. I've been in the process of reading their responses.

Q: Could you [clarify] the military's role in soliciting that? I know that the State Department has a role, and the White House has a diplomatic role. What is the Pentagon's role? Is the Chairman going around making these requests? Are you personally making phone calls to people?

Rumsfeld: I don't want to get into phone calls, but the Chairman visits with people all the time. I visit with people all the time. We asked the Department of State to send out a proposal so that the embassies around the world could engage in the process. In the last analysis, the interaction takes place at the combatant commander level, where things have to be put together in ways that they knit together with a degree of effectiveness. If you think about it, there are now - how many liaisons down in Tampa? It's a large number in the forces - and of course, a lot of it gets done at that level, and of course General Franks and others travel throughout the world, as I do, and talk to people.

Q: Sir, what sort of support could NATO bring to a possible invasion of Iraq? What would be helpful?

Rumsfeld: I don't think I want to presume to talk about that. I think that no decision has been made to use force. It may very well not be necessary if Saddam Hussein decides to disarm. Each country, then, would decide what it is they might want to do, and NATO as an institution could decide what it might wish to do.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned Prime Minister Blair's comments about the world in which NATO now finds itself. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about how the discussion went on, for example, Iraq. It's not surprising to hear the Prime Minister saying those kinds of things, but were there perhaps any comments from other allies or new, soon-to-be allies?

Rumsfeld: The soon-to-bes were not there. The invitees will be there this afternoon.

Q: All right. Were there comments from other allies?

Rumsfeld: There were comments from other allies on the subject.

Q: Are there still differences, do you think, or did you detect any, in the discussion over how best to proceed?

Rumsfeld: There hasn't been any decision as to how to proceed, other than to have inspectors.

Q: But you're already talking about who might do what, in case.

Rumsfeld: The inspectors were not in there because of the way that the Iraqis behaved. The fact that they're behaving differently today is a result of the fact that they now are concerned. So it is perfectly appropriate to see that the interaction between preparation and diplomacy benefits diplomacy. I have to let the other countries speak for themselves as to what they said in the private meeting, but the answer is yes to your question, there were countries that discussed it, and very constructively.

Q: Mr. Secretary, just very briefly, you said at the beginning that there was a positive response to the NATO Reaction Force. Has that been approved or when will the heads of state approve that? I know you were hoping to have that at this meeting.

Rumsfeld: At the end of this meeting there will be a comminqué and in the comminqué I'm sure there will a comment on the NATO Response Force and its status and also probably on the issue of streamlining the command structure and on a host of other things. And there very likely will be a separate statement on Iraq. Thank you.