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Questions and Answers with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at an Honor Cordon with Croatian Minister of Defense Berislav Roncevic at the Pentagon

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 05, 2006

SEC. RUMSFELD: We had a very good meeting. We had been together in a NATO meeting earlier this week. We have made good military-to-military relationships with Croatia, and we are fully supportive of Croatia's aspiration to become a part of NATO. And we're delighted to host the minister and very pleased he's going to visit Minnesota and talk to their National Guard.

Mr. Minister.

MIN. RONCEVIC: (In Croatian.)

Q Mr. Secretary, how concerned are you -- (cross talk).

Q What can the Croatian government do, both for the secretary and the Defense minister, to have the Croatian public more in favor of NATO, Croatia in NATO, for both of you?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, well, that's up to the people of Croatia and the government of Croatia.

Q Mr. Secretary, when do you think Croatia will (join ?) NATO? When?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't know. It's up to the Croatian people and the government, and it is up to the NATO nations to make that judgment.

(Off-mike exchange.)

INTERPRETER: Yes. We're very pleased to have had yet another meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld and had an excellent meeting, although brief, in Albania when they attended the meeting there, the topic of which was Southeastern security, and also that he's very pleased that he has an opportunity to participate in the celebration of 10 years of their relationship with the Minnesota National Guard, which could be an excellent, a very useful model for others. That's what I recall -- (inaudible).

SEC. RUMSFELD (?): Okay?

MIN. RONCEVIC (?): Thank you.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Nice to see you.
MR. : (Nice to see you, sir ?).

MR. : (Inaudible) -- administration.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Okay. (Laughs.) You're on! Thank you. Thank you very much.

Nice to see you, Ambassador. Good to see you, sir. Thank you.

(Off-mike exchanges. Departure of Minister Roncevic.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: Now, Barbara, you asked about North Korea.

Q Mr. Secretary, what is your concern, your level of concern? What can you tell us about your concern about North Korea's statement that it is going to conduct a nuclear test?

(Pause for direction.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: (Off mike.) Oh, you do? You're recording this?

Q Yes, sir, I am.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Good. I'm sure there are going to be pearls of wisdom which we'll want to capture for posterity. I'm just kidding.

Level of concern. The president has put the United States on a track of the six-party talks. They have worked energetically with our partners to try to create an environment that would alter the direction of the North Korean government. From time to time that government makes statements, and from time to time they test missiles. And thus far the six-party talks have not reached the kind of a result which people had hoped.

I think that the president and the secretary of State have been making statements on the subject, and I'll leave it to them. That is a diplomatic matter.

Obviously, we keep track of what's taking place, to the extent you can in a closed society, which North Korea is. But there's a lot we can't confirm as to the public pronouncements they've made. There are some things we can confirm. But I guess I'll leave it there.

Q Well, can I just ask you what you mean by that? Can you confirm that they have made the preparations and they are capable of conducting a test? Should we take this seriously?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't think I need to be in the speculation business. The intelligence community is gathering what information they're able to gather. At some point we'll know if it is words or actually a test. And it will speak for itself.

Q What's your level of concern, though, that if they do test a nuclear device, it could be sold to other countries that aren't friendly, or terrorists?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I think you've put your finger on the problem. North Korea is a known proliferator of weapons technologies. They have sold many missiles and aspects of missile technologies to a number of countries. They consider themselves to be in that business. And I think it's not unreasonable to think that were they to -- they've announced they have nuclear weapons. I can't attest to that because we haven't seen them, but they've said they have them, and I think reasonable people have to be concerned that a proliferating nation might proliferate weapons of that type.

Q Do we have an ability to curb that?

SEC. RUMSFELD: You know, so many of the problems that the world faces today are not the kind of thing that a single country can deal with, whether it's counternarcotics, which takes the cooperation of many, many nations, counterterrorism, and certainly proliferation. The president has put forward the Proliferation Security Initiative, which now has, I believe, 60 or 60-plus nations participating. It still has holes in it, if you will.

It is not perfect. It is not an absolute assurance that you could prevent proliferation, for a lot of reasons, for -- one reason is that it can be land, sea or air. A second reason is that you may recall there was a ship going, I believe, to Yemen some time back. When it was stopped, it was determined that they had weapons aboard, and it was also determined that there was not a legal basis in the international community to prevent those missiles from proceeding. And they proceeded.

So there are multiple problems with it. On the other hand, it is -- we're a long way from where we were six years ago, in terms of the ability to know more and to cooperate with that many nations. But the international community's going to have to do a lot better or else face a world that will be quite different, with multiple nuclear nations and, as your question suggested, the added risk of these very lethal weapons falling into the hands of non-state entities -- a terrorist organization or an entity that is -- does not have high-value things to protect -- a population, an industrial base, a leadership that's identifiable in a certain location.

And therefore the principle of deterrence, which worked rather well between the United States and the Soviet Union for some period of time, is something that is adaptive to nation-states, but it's not adaptive to non-state entities. And the world is going to be -- in the 21st century is going to have to face that and address that important issue.

Q So if Americans see a North Korean nuclear test, what -- should Americans panic? What should Americans think if they see this?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I -- it would depend on what it was, and it would take some technical analysis. And my guess is, we would have the ability to know some things but not all things. We find that to be the case in most closed societies.

I think that to the extent the world became persuaded that they had in fact tested a nuclear weapon successfully, I think there would be several signals for the international community.

One signal would be that the international community had not marshalled the cooperation and the cohesiveness sufficient to apply leverage to North Korea to dissuade them from proceeding with a nuclear weapons program. And that the international community -- that failure on the part of the international community is something that the international community would have to register and ask itself how comfortable are we being that ineffective in this situation in not getting that leverage.

Second, it seems to me the international community would have to look at the world and be concerned that a number of other nations that have the ability to have nuclear weapons might decide that the 21st century is going to -- if the 21st century is going to be a period when North Korea or Iran or some other set of countries end up with nuclear weapons, that possibly they ought to have nuclear weapons. And you might find one, two, three, four, five other nations deciding that because of the ineffectiveness and the lack of cohesion and the inability to marshal sufficient leverage to prevent North Korea from proceeding towards a nuclear program, that it will kind of lower the threshold and other countries will step forward with it, that the 21st century is going to be quite a different place than it was in the past.

So, I mean, those are the kinds of things, considerations, that I think people -- you will lead people thinking about, writing about, and considering.

I'm going to take one more question back there, and then I'm going to go back to work.

Yes?

Q Mr. Secretary, how quickly do you think you would know if they had tested? And would our allies know first? Would the U.S. know first? How would that work?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I think that -- I'm not an expert on the subject. It depends on the kind of a test -- below ground, above ground. And my guess is that our capabilities are probably as good as anyone else, and that what would be knowable early on, we would probably be the country that would know it. Just guessing.

Thank you, folks!
Q I wanted to ask you, would a nuclear test -- just a nuclear test, successful one by North Korea, would that be an aggressive action worthy of a U.S. military action, in your opinion?

SEC. RUMSFELD: You ask a lot of questions like that that are not mine to answer. I wouldn't be the person who would make a decision like that. That's a decision for the country, it's a decision for presidents. It's not for me to speculate.

Q You do run the United States military.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Ah, but -- (chuckles) -- but I serve the president and the government. And those are very important questions and they are not questions that I can respond to.

Q Can we ask how you're feeling? How's your shoulder?

SEC. RUMSFELD: It's much better. I --

Q Even though Mrs. Rumsfeld says maybe not?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it -- you know, during the day I'm fine. And at night, when you're trying to sleep, I'm not. So -- (laughs). They did four separate surgeries in there. A good time was had by all! (Laughter.) They spent 2-1/2 hours horsing around, and then patted me on the back and said, "Have a nice day." (Laughs.) So --

Q But are you getting better?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm finding it -- something amazing I've discovered. You know, when you're 74, you do not recover quite as fast as when you're 14.

Q Even you?

SEC. RUMSFELD: (Chuckles) Even me!

Q Thank you, sir.

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