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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Jim Clancy and Zain Verjee, CNN International

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 24, 2002

(Interview with Jim Clancy and Zain Verjee, CNN International)

Verjee: Welcome to Q&A. Today we focus on the challenges facing the man at the helm of the United States military. Jim Clancy's in Washington at the Pentagon with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Let's go there now.

Clancy: All right. Thanks a lot for that, Zain.

And, Mr. Secretary, welcome to you to Q&A. I've got a lot of questions to ask you about international issues and what our international audience thinks, but first I want to get to a couple of the items of the day. One of them right now -- in Moscow as many as a thousand hostages being held by Chechen rebels. President Vladimir Putin says these guys have a link to international terrorism. What does the Defense Department see?

Rumsfeld: Well, needless to say, the situation in Moscow is still unfolding. I don't know precisely what the facts are. Nonetheless, anyone has to be just -- their hearts go out to those hostages who are being held in the theater, as I understand it. And I'm sure that the government of Russia is doing everything they can to deal with it.

Clancy: Much closer to home: the serial sniper case in the United States. There are sources that say that John Allen Muhammad does have a military record. Do you know anything about his record, the terms of his discharge or any disciplinary problems that he might have had? Now, he's arrested just as a serial -- not as a serial, but I want to say as material witness in this.

Rumsfeld: Is that right? Yeah, I've not seen what the law enforcement people have said about it. I don't have any information on him, but of course, millions of people in the United States have served in the military at any given time. But -- and I don't know whether he has or hasn't or anything about him to be perfectly honest. We have been cooperating with the law enforcement agencies, and my impression of what they've done is that they've cooperated among themselves -- the federal agencies and the state and local agencies -- very successfully, and I certainly hope that they are successful. It's been a difficult time for the people of the Washington area.

Clancy: Mr. Secretary, it is not an exaggeration to say I think the people around the world probably know you better than they do George W. Bush, the President of the United States, because they see you so often in this room at the briefings talking about important issues, issues that affect everyone around the globe. But if I watch their response, if I listen to what they're saying, I hear from them constantly, even from those who would like to support the United States, that the evidence simply isn't there to support unilateral action against Baghdad.

Rumsfeld: Interesting. The President, of course, has not proposed unilateral action against Baghdad, and so I suppose it's not surprising that people don't feel that a decision has been made or that it's time to be supportive of that. What he has -- is trying to do is very difficult. It is to connect the dots, what might happen before something happens. If you think in the United States, right now the Congress of the United States is holding hearings on what happened on September 11th last year, and they're trying to connect the dots. What did somebody know? And what might we have done to have prevented that attack? What could the intelligence community or the law enforcement community or the people who hand out visas -- all of those things -- how might that have been avoided? And that's a difficult thing to do. They're having a great deal of difficulty trying to do that. It's even more difficult to do before the fact.

Now, you used the word "unilateral," which I think is kind of a catchphrase to mean nothing should happen --

Clancy: I mean, you're pushing the envelope. You're leaning forward, in your own terminology.

Rumsfeld: Yeah, the fact of the matter is that the President has put together 90 nations in the global war on terrorism. It's the largest coalition in the history of humankind. It's breathtaking in its breadth and its depth. And they are cooperating all across the globe with intelligence sharing and closing bank accounts of terrorists. It's been a wonderfully successful effort. I can assure you that, if the President decides that something needs to be done, which he has not, with respect to Iraq and if Iraq resists the kinds of inspections that clearly the United Nations as a world body has been attempting to impose on Iraq since 1991, that it would not be alone. There are dozens of countries --

Clancy: But right now --

Rumsfeld: -- who have supported the United States and are supporting the United States. And in the event anything is decided, I can assure you there would be a large number of countries participating.

Clancy: But right now we're not to that point. The point that we're at right now --

Rumsfeld: Because the President hasn't made a decision.

Clancy: That's right. Among other reasons. Another reason that people say is the evidence -- now, you're talking about the war on terror.

Rumsfeld: Mmm-hmm (in agreement.)

Clancy: This link between al Qaeda and Baghdad, people say it doesn't even exist; there isn't a shred of evidence to show that such a link even exists.

Rumsfeld: You're correct. People are saying that. It happens not to be true.

Clancy: Well, what is the truth then? What is the evidence?

Rumsfeld: Well, the truth is that the Central Intelligence Agency, the director of Central Intelligence, has testified and made public some unclassified instances of the relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda. It's there. It's a matter of record. And it's still evolving. It's still unfolding. There's no question but that Iraq is a terrorist state. They've been on the terrorist list for many years. There's no question but that they have used chemicals on their own people as well as their neighbors. There's no question but that they have biological weapons.

Clancy: That's proved. The al Qaeda link, though, is what I think people all around the world are looking and saying this isn't so much a case, in their view, that it's imminent danger to the United States of America. They see an imminent opportunity by Rumsfeld, Wolfensohn [sic] and others to push a very hard-line agenda for regime change, not only in Iraq but beyond Iraq.

Rumsfeld: Hmm. Well, I don't deny for a minute that some people in the press like to paint it that way.

Clancy: Well, it's not only in the press.

Rumsfeld: But the fact is that that's just simply not true. Our job in the Department of Defense is not to make recommendations with respect to these things. It's to be prepared to develop contingency plans for the kinds of things that might occur and, in the event that the President and the Congress and the country decide to do something, be capable of doing it effectively on behalf of the country. It's not our role to decide those things. You might want to correct "Wolfensohn." He's the head of the World Bank just for the sake of --

Clancy: Wolfowitz. I'm sorry.

Rumsfeld: It's Wolfowitz, right, yeah.

Clancy: Of course. Mr. Wolfensohn will be upset.

Rumsfeld: Yes, he would be. (Laughs.)

Clancy: Mr. Secretary, you talk a lot -- and I want to give you an opportunity to bring the point home -- about why development of weapons of mass destruction and the war against terror, the spread of terror around the globe, really have a lot to do with all of us in the world, that this isn't just a US issue whether these two things meet, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld: The -- first, the issues you're raising and that you say people are raising, I think are important issues. And they're issues that need to be discussed. It's useful that they are elevated into the public debate and the public dialogue. I find that helpful. We spend a great deal of time analyzing the variety of risks that could occur in the event that force were used, as well as the risks that could occur in the event that nothing is done. And so I think it's a helpful thing to have that kind of a debate and dialogue in the world, and we welcome it.

The nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorist states is at the heart of the problem. In the last century we were dealing essentially with conventional capabilities. Nuclear weapons have existed since 1945. They've not been used in anger since that year. It's a wonderful compliment to human beings that those things have existed and not been used. The 21st century is a different situation. With the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union, the movement of these technologies all across the globe into the hands of lots of people -- chemical weapons, biological weapons, and in increasing number of instances, nuclear weapons -- mean that the nature of the threat is not that two or three hundred people or even two or three thousand people will die, but that potentially twenty, thirty, or forty thousand people can die -- two hundred thousand people can die. And, therefore, one has to consider that in a different context, a different security environment.

Clancy: Let me follow that up and just ask you this: If Saddam Hussein admitted -- says, "I've got weapons of mass destruction; bring the inspectors in; destroy them; we're not going to -- set up a monitoring program," would the US back down on the idea of a regime change?

Rumsfeld: Well, the regime change is something that the Congress of the United States passed, oh, gosh, I think in 1998. It's been a number of years. It's been the policy of the United States. The people who have watched Saddam Hussein over a period of time have seen him systematically lie and resist inspections. Inspections only work in a country that wants to cooperate with them and they've decided they want the international community to come in and then they can prove to the world that they're honest, open and exactly what they say. You know, you say what if he were to decide to do that. That's like saying what if I were to decide to jump over the moon. The likelihood of him doing that is so small. I just -- it's -- he has a record systematically of preventing inspections and of denying his people the billions of dollars from his oil revenues that he could have if the sanctions were lifted, which he refuses to do because he's unwilling to have inspections because he's determined to have weapons of mass destruction.

Clancy: Are you as determined to see that he's out of power?

Rumsfeld: It's not for me. I'm the Secretary of Defense of the United States.

Clancy: But you have your own personal views?

Rumsfeld: Well, my goodness, I give my personal views to the President of the United States, and it's for him to make those decisions -- and the Congress and the world. And he's been very measured. He's been very balanced on it. He's decided to go to the Congress and received an overwhelming vote. It apparently is the vote of the Congress that regime change is the policy of the United States. He's gone to the United Nations and made his case. And the evidence of the distinctive nature of the Iraqi regime, it seems to me, is compelling and powerful. He made a very strong case. I think people ought to re-read that speech.

Clancy: All right. We're going to have to take a short break here, but when we come back, you're one of the few people that I've ever met that has personally met Saddam Hussein. I want to get your impressions of him.

Rumsfeld: (Chuckles.)

Clancy: That's when we come back with the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, right here on Q&A.

(Commercial break.)

Clancy: Welcome back to Q&A and our conversation with Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense.

It was back in 1983 I think, and it was right when the State Department was announcing they had evidence that Iraq had used chemical weapons against the Iranians during that long and brutal war, you had to go to Baghdad on a US diplomatic mission. You got to meet Saddam Hussein. I want to get a little bit of your impressions about the man personally. Are you sure it was him? Because he's supposed to have doubles.

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) He does have doubles. Well, he said he was him, but we had a -- I went in at the request of President Reagan and Secretary of State George Schultz to serve as Middle East envoy for a period after we had 241 Marines killed in Beirut, Lebanon. And I -- one of the pieces was to visit the various countries in the region and see if we couldn't put some pressure on Syria that was occupying Lebanon at the time, and still is to this day, and engaging in terrorist activities, which they still are today -- cooperating with Iran and bringing terrorists down through the Bekaa Valley into Lebanon and Israel. But one of the pieces of it was to go to Iraq. They were engaged in a conflict with Iran, and our interest was in having them be more of a balance in the -- with respect to the Middle East situation and complicate the world for Syria. And so we went in and visited with him briefly and -- or for a day or so -- and had a good meeting. He's -- he clearly is a survivor. He's tough. And he has -- runs a very repressive, vicious regime.

Clancy: When I hear your description of all of that and I -- you know -- and Bill Tenet, I see a point of view about the situation in the Middle East, and when I hear people talking about regime change -- and abroad there are deep suspicions that plans for change across the Middle East really results in a Pax Americana, with a regime change in places like Syria, Iran and others. And yet, contrast that with North Korea. They've told you, "We have a nuclear weapons program." "Yes, we've got even weapons that are even worse than that." What are you going to do about it?

Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, let me go to your comment about the United States. I'm an American. I live here, and I know the American people. I've been involved in and out of government and business for some seventy years now. And the United States isn't interested in the rest of the world in terms of taking anyone's real estate or changing anyone's views on their religion. That's utter nonsense. The United States was not a colonial power. We didn't go in and occupy Africa and other parts of the globe. We're a nation that recognizes how closely linked we are with the rest of the world from an economic standpoint. We recognize that in Western Europe particularly our views and our values and our political values are very similar.

Clancy: But in the Middle East you want to make those changes to those specific countries.

Rumsfeld: The United States -- the President of the United States makes those decisions, not me as I said. And he has indicated that he would like the United Nations to impose inspections on Iraq that would lead to the disarmament. The goal isn't to have inspections. The goal is to disarm Iraq. Does he want to do that? You bet he does. Is he concerned that if it's not done that the risks to that part of the world and to the United States will be substantial and dangerous? You bet. He believes that, and he's right.

Clancy: Do you think that the situation, the goals that you describe, can be achieved without achieving peace in the Middle East between Syria and Israel, the Palestinians and Israel?

Rumsfeld: Well, think -- picture -- if the Saddam Hussein regime were not in the Middle East, the circumstance in Jordan, in the Gulf states, in Turkey, the economic opportunities that would result if that were not a regime that spends all its money on weapons of mass destruction, that spends its time trying to invade Kuwait, that runs around explaining that those rest of those regimes are illegitimate, that represses his own people and fills the prisons up, do I think the world would be a better place? Sure it would be a better place. I happen to believe in freedom, and I think that that's a good thing. But we don't run --

Clancy: But can you solve the problem without solving that -- the entire problem without first addressing -- I think this is the message that has been heard in the administration from State, and that is without solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem?

Rumsfeld: Well, I've been involved in and out of the Middle East problem since they began in the '50s and '60s, and -- actually the '40s -- and to this day, and they've not been solved. Do I expect that they'll be solved in the next 15 minutes? No, I don't. Should the rest of the world stop until that's solved? That is a very difficult problem. Wonderful people have tried to deal with it. Fortunately, Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin got together and made an important step. President Clinton came close, and Yassir Arafat walked away from an arrangement with Israel that was extremely forthcoming.

Clancy: Although incomplete. But we've only got a couple of minutes left, and I do have to ask you about North Korea. Why is it being dealt with differently?

Rumsfeld: Well, obviously because the President has decided that he believes that attempting to deal with this diplomatically is the right course. He clearly recognizes that both the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation have borders and influence with North Korea and has made a decision to visit with those countries as well as our important allies in South Korea and Japan. And that takes time. It takes discussion. What we do know for sure is that North Korea is a dictatorial regime with 1.1 million troops, the bulk of them down near the demilitarized Zone near South Korea; that is threatening; that has one of the largest special forces teams or elements in the entire globe; and that they looked the United States in the eye and said: "Yes, we have not only violated the North-South agreement, we've violated the nonproliferation agreement, we've violated the International Atomic Energy rules, and we've violated the agreed framework; we have a highly enriched uranium development program. What are you going to do about it?" And so the President has decided to talk to the Japanese and the South Koreans and to develop an approach to deal with that problem. It seems like a very rational thing to me. It doesn't sound like it's Pax Americana. It doesn't sound like it's unilateralist. It sounds very reasonable to me. Wouldn't you think so?

Clancy: Well, I don't know.

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.)

Clancy: We'll have to see how everyone else reacts to some of the comments. I want to thank you very much --

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Clancy: -- you know, for taking the time to be with us. And I think it's good for people to see another side of Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) You mean the "other side" being what the press says or --

Clancy: Well, the other side to that. They see you here in this room in the press briefings, and you're quite a feisty guy to interview.

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) Thank you.

Clancy: All right, again, Mr. Secretary, thanks for being with us.

Zain, that is it from here at the Pentagon. Thanks for being with us.

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