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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability with Polish Minister of National Defense

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 23, 2002 1:45 PM EDT

(Media Availability with Polish Minister of National Defense Jerzy Szmajdzinski. Note: The minister's remarks are provided through interpreter.)

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. I am delighted to have just welcomed the minister of defense of Poland to the Department of Defense. We have met previously at NATO meetings, and needless to say, Poland is a valued and helpful member of NATO, as well as a partner in Operation Enduring Freedom.

I had the opportunity to particularly thank the minister and his country for the role they're playing with respect to mine clearing in and around the Bagram airport in Afghanistan and the assistance they're providing with Special Forces in connection with maritime interdiction.

The -- we had a good discussion. We talked about NATO. We talked about NATO enlargement. We talked about the NATO-Russia relationship, the NATO-Ukraine relationship, and the U.S.-Poland relationship. And it's -- I want you all to know that I arranged this lovely sunny afternoon for his visit.

Szmajdzinski: (Chuckles.)

Rumsfeld: Mr. Minister, welcome.

Szmajdzinski: I have to say that these talks were really very good. We talked about the military relations. We talked about political relations. We talked also about the war on terrorism.

We talked about the recently the Poland unit in the operation of -- in the Operation Enduring Freedom. We talked about the enlargement of NATO, about what relations between NATO and Russia would be -- should be like in the future. We talked about what is important for Poland and United States, about the relations between NATO and Ukraine, which are important for both our countries. We talked about the military cooperation and about the necessity to shape new capabilities of the alliance. And we are convinced that both of us -- both our countries can play an important role in the discussion about the new capabilities of North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

This decision will be made during the summit meeting of NATO in Prague, but we also decided that the informal ministerial meeting, of the ministers of defense, which is going to be hold in Warsaw in September, may be also a good opportunity to talk about new capabilities.

Rumsfeld: Charlie.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you both mentioned the war on terrorism. U.S. Marine F-18s recently arrived in Kyrgyzstan last week, I believe, and now based near Bishkek to launch raids into Afghanistan. Does this --

Rumsfeld: To do what?

Q: To launch raids into Afghanistan. Does this signal increasing cooperation by Central Asian states for the war on terrorism? And do you, perhaps, plan to go back there anytime soon for a visit, as you did in December?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that any number of Central Asian countries have been very cooperative and helpful in the global war on terrorism. We have valued that support and that cooperation.

The short answer is yes, I do intend to go back and visit Afghanistan and some of the neighboring countries in the period ahead. And I suppose we'll be announcing something at some point on that. But I look forward to it.

Q: Could you tell us, sir, when you might be planning to do it?

Rumsfeld: I guess it's not quite set yet. We'll -- when we get close when it's to occur, why, we'll make an announcement. It may very well be that I have to do something before I go, and therefore, when I go is kind of open at the moment.

Q: Mr. Secretary, given what we've --

Rumsfeld: Should we alternate, maybe, and have the Polish press --

Jamie, you're not from Poland, are you?

Q: No. No, no.

Rumsfeld: Okay.

Yes, sir.

Q: I'm from Poland. (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: Go ahead.

Q: My name is Marigo Koski (ph). I'm from Polish Public Radio. Let me ask in Polish, because you have to hear our minister.

(Through Sec. Rumsfeld's off-mike interpreter.) How do you see the necessary (inaudible) relationship between the United States and Ukraine, that (inaudible) defense minister mentioned, and what would (inaudible) in the relationship?

(Same question, through Min. Szmajdzinski's interpreter.) What do you think about the relations of Unite States and Ukraine, which was mentioned here by the Polish defense minister? And that is the role for Poland in shaping these relations?

Rumsfeld: Well, first let me say that, needless to say, Poland and Ukraine have a close relationship, and Ukraine is part of the Partnerships for Peace in the NATO -- under the NATO umbrella. It is a country that has had a special relationship to NATO. And we have -- just in the time I've been back here as secretary of Defense, I've met -- goodness, it must be three or four or five times with the NATO ministers, with the Ukraine minister, I think, at NATO meetings and other meetings. I think it's important that the relationship between NATO and Ukraine continue to evolve and develop, as has been the case with other countries, and we look forward to that.

Q: I think he wanted an answer from the Polish -- didn't you want an answer from your minister? You're okay. Well, can I ask my question, then?

Q: (Off mike.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, given what we've heard from other U.S. officials, not you, but other U.S. government officials about what Abu Zubaydah has claimed in terms of al Qaeda's capability to develop a so-called "dirty" bomb, how concerned should Americans be about the threat of the remaining remnants of al Qaeda being able to smuggle such a device into the United States? Where would you put that on the concern meter for the average American? Hearing these stories, how worried should they be about that?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that I'm the best person to comment on that. It seems to me that the intelligence community and the law enforcement community are addressing a full range of potential threats that come across the radar screen every day. For myself, I'll simply say that we as a -- as people in the world have to recognize that we're living in a time when exceedingly powerful weapons exist, and the -- (interrupted by loud noise of airplanes flying overhead) -- (pause) -- you want to give a little respect for the airplanes flying over? (Laughter.) (Pause.)

We live in a time -- free people all over the world live at a time when weapons of mass destruction exist. Their power and their range grow from year to year. And we know that there are a number of terrorist states that are on the state terrorist list, and have been for many years, that have those weapons. We also know that those states have relationships with global terrorist networks. And what that means is that the impetus, the urgency of the global war on terrorism is underlined and punctuated with each of those various threats that occur from day to day.

We have a task, we have an important responsibility. Our margin for error as people has been shrinking. With two big oceans and friends to the north and the south, over the centuries the United States could be fairly relaxed. Today, with the power and reach of those weapons, one cannot be relaxed. We need to be attentive, we need to -- as the president has said, exist in a state of heightened awareness. And we need to take the steps that are appropriate to see that we do everything humanly possible to put pressure on terrorists all across the globe, and that we find ways to root out the individuals and the networks and the countries that harbor them.

Q: Do you believe Abu Zubaydah, that al Qaeda could build such a weapon if they had the materials, sir?

Rumsfeld: I don't want to get into specifics. What I will say is that we have seen that terrorists are willing to wrap explosives around themselves and blow up shopping malls. We've seen that they're willing to put explosives in their shoes and try to blow up airplanes. We've seen that they're willing to fly airplanes into buildings, tall buildings, and kill thousands of people. It doesn't take much of a leap of imagination to recognize that there are people on this earth who are perfectly willing to go about the world trying to kill thousands, and more than thousands, of innocent men, women and children.

I think what we'll do is take a couple of more questions. And the minister is getting a nice suntan and he's ready for another question.

Szmajdzinski: (Chuckles.)

Rumsfeld: Yes, sir?

Q: Polish Radio, RMF FM. My name is -- (inaudible). I would like to ask both of you, Mr. Secretary, if you could tell us more about the plans for the informal meeting of ministry of secretaries of defense of NATO countries in Warsaw, and if it is a new way of discussing the problems inside NATO when NATO is closer cooperating with Russia. So as far as I understand, the Russian minister will not participate in the meeting in Warsaw.

Rumsfeld: That's my understanding as well.

I'll let the minister respond.

Szmajdzinski: The meeting in September will be the meeting of the North Atlantic Council. We do not exclude the possibility of having the minister of defense of Russia during this meeting.

But the discussion about the increased military capabilities of the alliance will be conducted within the ministers of the alliance and not with Russia.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I have a two-part question. The Canadian defense minister said --

Rumsfeld: And then two follow-ups with that. Yeah.

Q: -- yeah -- (chuckles) -- says that Brigadier General Marc Dumais is going to be the co-chairman of the inquiry into last week's friendly fire incident. And I want to know if that's your understanding, if that is going to be his role, as well as will the American investigator -- or American investigators be able to question the Canadian troops?

Rumsfeld: I -- this is a matter that is going to be handled through the administrative chain in the Department of Defense. There are well-established procedures for how these things are done. When more than one country is involved, obviously, those procedures are adapted. And the last I heard was -- and I'm not involved in it, needless to say, and I should not be considered the authority on the subject -- but the last piece of paper I saw this morning, earlier, was that that is correct, that there is to be a U.S. and a Canadian co-chair of the investigation. And who will be able to ask what of whom, I think, is a matter for the respective countries. But I know, from our standpoint, we expect that there will be full transparency for the Canadian participants.

Q: Do you know if there's any desire upon the part of the American pilot to offer any condolences to the families of the victims?

Rumsfeld: You would have to ask down through the administrative chain. I'm sure that the Public Affairs Office can -- could answer that question. I can't.

Q: Okay. Thank you.

Rumsfeld: Okay. Thank you very much, folks.

Szmajdzinski: (In English.) Thank you very much.