(Briefing en route to Shannon International Airport, Ireland)
Rumsfeld: I will just make a couple of comments. One, yesterday I was in Houston and met with the crown prince [of Saudi Arabia Prince Abdullah], the foreign minister, the ambassador and the vice president. We had a discussion on a variety of Defense Department activities. It was a very pleasant, very cordial meeting.
I guess the first time I met the crown prince, I hosted him in Washington in 1975 or 6, when he was then and is now head of the National Guard. We had a very nice visit and a good discussion. And I got home late, which is not my first choice.
We are going to be visiting some countries around the periphery of Afghanistan. (To staff) Is that -- am I supposed to say we are going into Afghanistan?
Staff: You've already said that.
Rumsfeld: I guess, I don't know. Needless to say we are going to go into Afghanistan, if things work out properly. The countries on the periphery are of course very important in and of themselves, they are also important to Afghanistan. The relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbors is one of the determinants in its security and its circumstances, its economic health and its government's viability. So it's important for the United States, which is of course deeply involved in working to see that the terrorists are removed from Afghanistan and that Afghanistan doesn't become a haven again for terrorists, to be interested in both Afghanistan and in its neighbors.
That's basically the reason for my trip. We do have military-to-military relationships with some of the neighboring countries. Some are members of NATO's Partnership for Peace, others are relatively new relationships and I am looking forward to my visits.
The time I am going to be spending in Afghanistan is going to be focused essentially on the security situation. I hope to meet with -- I will be meeting with my staff in a few minutes, but I hope to meet with the, a number of the elements and people in the county that are focusing on those questions. Needless to say I am also going to be meeting with U.S. troops in each of the countries that we visit where they are located and thank them for the truly superb job they are doing, and indeed they are doing a superb job.
I also hope to meet with a number of folks in the coalition forces that are doing an equally superb job. We have over the period of months since September 11 developed a very close working relationship in Tampa with the liaison groups that has each week evolved and grown and strengthened in the kinds of things that our coalition partners are doing. And I think you will find, as we go along on this trip, you will probably see almost as many coalition forces as you see U.S. forces, and I undoubtedly will be spending almost as much time with coalition forces as I do with U.S. forces as a part of this trip expressing our country's appreciation to them as well.
I think we are coming back on Monday, Monday night, and with that I will answer questions. I will immediately go pick up Reggie at the Friendship Animal Hospital; it is open 24 hours a day.
Q: You mentioned security in Afghanistan. Obviously that is a consideration right now. What do you mean by that? What is a major security concern in Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: Well, if one looks at all of the elements, it would include the U.S. and coalition forces efforts to continue to conduct sweeps and find pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban, which they continue to do. They are continuing to detain people, and thus apprehend people, almost every day in small numbers. They are continuing to look for larger groups, and my impression is that the al Qaeda and Taliban are avoiding, for the time being at least, concentrating themselves in larger groups.
We have people who are assisting the Afghan interim authority in developing its boarder patrol. There are people who are, Germans for example, are working with the Afghan interim authorities police forces, the ISAF and the U.S. and the French and others are beginning the process of working the with the Afghan National Army. The United States and coalition forces are located in a number of spots around the country, which provides a security effect. And last, we have a various numbers of our people embedded in the various Afghan armies located around the country, all of which contributes to a more secure environment -- an environment where people can start going to school, and humanitarian workers can come in and start helping the people who have real needs.
Q: If I could follow up on this. Do you think that al Qaeda and Taliban have realized what went on around Gardez and that's why they aren't trying to regroup again?
Rumsfeld: No, I just don't know. Who knows what people learn? My guess is that as the spring comes and the weather improves and as they find ways to communicate with each other, that they will probably again try to attack the interim authority and opposing factions in the country, as well as US and coalition forces, and attempt to create an environment that is inhospitable for everyone except themselves.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we are going into Bishkek, where we have a pretty good size base. I'm wondering if you would talk about what we are using that base for, and how widespread in the region we are, and how long are we likely to be there?
Rumsfeld: I am not going to talk about the size of our activities or the nature of our activities in different countries. I'll let them do that. We, needless to say, prefer to be arranged in ways that give us more options rather than fewer options. We therefore have activities in a number of the neighboring countries as well as within the country.
We have relationships with these countries that in some cases date back many, many years, through the NATO Partnership for Peace and other things. In other cases the relationships are relatively new. Our basic interest is to have the ability to go into a country and have a relationship and have understandings about our ability to land or overfly and to do things that are of mutual benefit to each of us. But we don't we don't have any particular plans for permanent bases if that's the kind of thing you mean or --
Q: Do you have any sense as to duration, if it's not permanent?
Rumsfeld: Are you talking about the bases?
Q: Right, our presence.
Rumsfeld: Oh. No, I think it is to soon to decide or to characterize exactly how long we would want to keep an airplane or another capability in a specific country. My guess is that, in terms of the relationships with those countries, that they would be long term and they would be you know the kinds of relationships we have in other parts of the world -- but any issues on bases, those kinds of things, we have not addressed anything like that.
Q: Let me ask you about Pakistan. You have talked about that in the past -- the close cooperation with the government. Now I won't ask you what the government has agreed to, because you will say it is up to the government to say what they have agreed to do. But can you talk about U.S. military activity? Are there U.S. military troops operating on that side of the border either for reconnaissance or for offensive operations?
Rumsfeld: The two things I'll say is that we do not characterize what other countries are doing or what we are doing in other countries -- we leave that to those countries.
Q: You do with Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld: That is a different situation. We went into Afghanistan to throw the Taliban and al Qaeda out and we do not talk about what we are doing in there very specifically because a lot of it is operational and inappropriate to talk about. The fact that we do have troops in there we can say. In the case of other countries we don't. For us, it is up to the other country to decide what they want to say.
Q: So you won't even say if there is in fact an operation of any kind?
Q: There are two things you were going to say.
Rumsfeld: Yes. The second thing I will say is that Pakistan has from the outset been enormously helpful and cooperative in the global war on terrorism.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we have heard the FBI was involved in the arrest of Abu Zubaydah. Is that --
Rumsfeld: There is no question that agencies in the United States government, cooperating with agencies of the Pakistani government, coordinated in ways that led to the apprehension of some 50-60 people in 11 or so different sites in Pakistan.
Q: Is it safe to assume that Abu Zabayduh is in Pakistan at the moment?
Rumsfeld: We have made a conscious decision, for security purposes, that we are not going to describe where he is located.
Q: Mr. Secretary what do you hope to accomplish in Russia, and are you concerned that the Iraqi foreign minister will be meeting with the Russian defense minister?
Rumsfeld: No, I am not concerned about anything. They meet together frequently. Every country has its own friends.
I don't know what I will accomplish. I meet with Minister Ivanov, Sergei Ivanov, relatively frequently. We meet at NATO, we meet in the United States, and we meet in Russia. We are in the process of making our way through a set of understandings that may or may not be discussed by the two presidents when they get together in one, two, or three occasions coming up. One is in Moscow in May as I recall, and Colin Powell meets with Igor Ivanov and I meet with Sergei Ivanov as ways of helping to prepare for those trips, those meetings. We have done that before, we are doing that now. And we have a number of things that are under discussion that are very much defense-related, as you know. So again who knows which meetings will have what effect? We meet, as I said, fairly continuously.
Q: The two sides have expressed hope that some agreement may be reached regarding nuclear weapons, perhaps by the May summit. Are you confident or do you expect that it will be done?
Rumsfeld: I am without expectations. The presidents have expressed a their hope that that might be the case. If it is, then their expectations will have been met. If it isn't, then I suppose it will be met sometime shortly thereafter.
Q: The Russians expressed support yesterday about the talks (inaudible) saying there might be a way to get a signature on an agreement
Rumsfeld: What could I say about what they said? If they said that, they said that. The way life works is that you start a discussion and people express their views and they work their way through things and at some point they conclude either that they have successfully worked their way though things and found things where their interest converged. Or they conclude that their interests seem not to converge sufficiently. And, you know, we're patient.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the Saudis --
Staff: Last question you guys.
Q: Mr. Secretary. Is there any description about what changes might (inaudible)? Are they still content with our presence there?
Rumsfeld: The most recent communications I've had have had indicated that, yes.
Q: Yesterday in Houston, when you were there with the crown prince, there was no -- the Saudi's are very upset.
Rumsfeld: I had no such indications. My meeting was on a series of subjects that were defense-related and they were very cordial. What else took place in other meetings is not for me.
Q: But did they say you will have continued access to their bases? Was it a topic?
Rumsfeld: It was not a topic.
Q: So it didn't come up?
Rumsfeld: No, it was not a topic at all. In the specific meeting that I referred to earlier, we have had other visits, [Central Command Gen.] Tom Franks has recently been there, and others, and it has been a very forthright and normal relationship.
Q: May I just ask you this briefly? While I know you don't like to characterize what other countries are doing in the region, in specific terms as you have related, could you at least say that Kyrgyzstan is one of your key supporters or one of your key elements?
Rumsfeld: Well, it seems to me that one doesn't want to embark on a trip and start doing this kind of deal. You know Charlie; that would be wrong.
Q: Yeah, well I mean --
Rumsfeld: Well, I know I am not a diplomat but I am not that stupid.