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Background Briefing on Secretary Rumsfeld's Trip to Europe

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
June 01, 2001 2:30 PM EDT

Friday, June 1, 2001 - 2:30 p.m. EDT

(Background briefing by a senior defense official on Secretary Rumsfeld's trip to Europe.)

Staff: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is a backgrounder for the secretary's upcoming trip to Europe, where he leaves on Sunday and will be back on Saturday the 9th. This is a backgrounder attributable to a senior defense official. And this is the person that will be speaking with you and taking your questions.

Sr. Defense Official: Good afternoon.

The secretary will be departing from Washington in the dark of the morning on Sunday morning on his way to -- en route to Turkey, where on the 4th, we will spend the day visiting with the deputy chief of their defense staff, the foreign minister and with the prime minister, with the objective of underscoring the relationship, longstanding relationship between the United States and Turkey, talking about common interests between the United States and Turkey in the region and the evolution of issues within -- inside of NATO, because, as you know, they will move on later in the week to the NACD [North Atlantic Council/Defense] in Brussels. So it will be an opportunity to talk with the Turks there.

Move on from the capital on to Incirlik, where he'll meet with some of the troops who are conducting Operation Northern Watch, get a chance to talk with the folks on the base. As you know, the secretary is always keen to meet with American servicemen and women when he is abroad, and so it presents an opportunity for him to do that with the folks at the combined joint task force.

From there we will press on to Ukraine and Kiev. We will spend some time meeting with their minister of defense and with the president of the country, with the objective, once again, of underscoring the relationship that has been growing with Ukraine over the last decade or so, to talk about the reform process that's taking place there and to further cement relationships with that important country.

We'll go from there on to Skopje, where we will meet with their new Macedonian minister of defense. He's been there not more than a week or so.

And as you know, they're having their own difficulties at the time, and it will be an opportunity for the secretary to meet with them first-hand, see if he can be of some assistance in helping them through the present time. He'll meet with their minister of defense.

And from there he will go on to Camp Bondsteel over in Kosovo to meet with, again, U.S. forces there and have the opportunity to talk with them and see how -- and take the temperature and the pulse of how things are going in Kosovo.

And from there he will move on Greece, where he -- in Thessaloniki, with the main intent of attending the Southeast European Defense Ministerial [SEDM]. It's the first informal meeting of this group. It is a effort that has been underway for some number of years. It's an effort to bring together the countries in that part of Europe into a cooperative relationship with one another.

There are some nine participants in the SEDM, as it's called -- S-E-D-M -- in addition to the United States. The SEDM, the members of the group will also welcome for the first time Ukraine as an observer of their process. And that's another indication not only of Ukraine's further integration here into the West but also the growth of those countries in that part of the world in beginning to undertake their own security operations. And the expectation is that in the not-too-distant future, a brigade that they have put together, made up of representative troops from each of their countries, might even have the opportunity to deploy on peacekeeping operations throughout the region. So it's a fairly important event and a milestone in the evolution of that organization.

From there we will press on -- the secretary will press on to Brussels to prepare for the meeting to be held starting Thursday of the NACD. He'll start that day with a meeting with the secretary- general. The NPG is scheduled next, the Nuclear Planning Group, then the Defense Planning Committee, where they'll meet and discuss throughout the morning the many issues that are confronting the alliance. The afternoon, they'll continue in the format of the NAC, the North Atlantic Council.

During the remainder of the day, he will meet with the Polish minister of defense. He will have some time with the Ukraine Commission on Defense. As you know, there's a group within NATO that looks after Ukrainian issues as well. And so he will attend that, and then have a bilateral later in the day with the Czech minister of defense and talk with him, and then end the day with his own press conference and a ministers' dinner that is always held at the end of the session.

The next day, he will once again be in NATO headquarters, where there will be a meeting of the Permanent Joint Council. That's the organizational arrangement inside NATO that has been set up to have participation by Russia. And so they will have an opportunity to talk there.

During the course of that day, there will be an opportunity for the secretary to meet with the new Russian Minister of Defense Ivanov. This comes as a result of the secretary's initiative; invited him to meet with us here, but he, the Russian MoD was unable -- his schedule didn't permit. But they did arrange subsequently to meet in Brussels, and so they'll have some time to talk.

They'll be an opportunity to speak as well in the context of NATO. As you know, the EAPC [Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council] is going to meet as well, and there will be members from across Eastern Europe and well in towards Central Asia. And so we'll have an opportunity to meet with the minister of defense from Uzbekistan, as well as the minister from Georgia, in a bilateral as a way of getting to know one another and the issues that are important in their part of the world. They have a lunch, then, with the members of the EAPC, and the secretary-general hosting.

The secretary will close that time out with a -- that time in Brussels with a press conference and then, from there, as if that were not enough, we'll fly on to Finland where he will attend what amounts in essence to the counterpart to the meeting that took place in Thessaloniki, where he will meet with representatives of the Baltic countries -- Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, to talk about issues in that part of the world and how developments are taking place there. As you know, that they have made enormous strides putting together what amounts to a Baltic battalion, working on air defense -- or, rather, air sovereignty kinds of cooperation and things of that nature. So it's an interesting opportunity to get up and see how people in Northern Europe are progressing in terms of their own security affairs as well.

There'll be a luncheon in the middle of the day hosted by the Finnish MoD on Saturday, and then a press conference at the end of the day, with a return, leaving Saturday at roughly 6:35 local time to fly back here to Andrews Air Force Base at the end of the day on Saturday.

So that's the outline of the trip and sort of the major points of contact and some of the objectives for the effort.

Q: I'd ask you, I know he'll be discussing bilateral relations and regional issues -- (inaudible) -- all these stops. And will he be briefing people on the U.S. defense initiative, the changes, the studies that are going on? And would you say the secretary -- without putting words in anybody's mouth -- is the secretary anxious that missile defense not take over everything at every stop? That's -- people seem to be so preoccupied with that.

Sr. Defense Official: Well, I'm sure that if he were here, he'd say he couldn't stop them if they wished to. But he does have a number of issues that have been developing in the course of his reviews that he will undoubtedly want to consult with his fellow ministers about. You know, the problems that are facing the American military are not terribly different than those facing the other militaries. I mean, there's a problem of modernization and facing the needs of the coming decades, and they, like he, are struggling with the same questions. Certainly his NATO counterparts know that problem; the Ukrainian minister knows the problem, the Turkish minister knows the problem. So he'll want to talk about other things.

In terms of the missile defense overshadowing everything else, I mean it's clear that that is a subject of great interest amongst our allies, and I think that the secretary is going to be happy to engage in a consultative process with them and continue the dialogue that, frankly, he's already begun with a number of them on a personal basis. So I think it will be --

Q: Will he be actively pushing missile defense, development of missile defense?

Sr. Defense Official: "Actively pushing"? He is prepared for his intervention during the NAC to raise it as part of a larger discussion about the way in which he sees, and the administration, the president see the international environment evolving; the kinds of steps that we here in the United States, and the alliance as a whole, need to take to meet those coming threats, of which one is the missile threat and the weapons of mass destruction threat that is growing up around the NATO alliance. So it will be part of a broader package.

Q: In connection with the Incirlik stop, can you tell us or bring us up to date on where the administration is in its thinking about making changes in the way the no-fly zones are enforced, and particularly in this case the northern (no)-fly zone?

Sr. Defense Official: I can't do that at this point.

Q: Is he going to discuss that with the commander there? Is this going to be --

Sr. Defense Official: My sense is no. I mean, that wouldn't be the purpose of that trip, and the commander is not the one that that conversation would take place with. I mean, I think he's going to go down to Incirlik to see the troops, see how they're doing, find out, you know, what life's like out there on the edge enforcing the sanctions regimes, and so forth. So he won't raise those issues there.

Q: Has the secretary made any recommendations on that question yet?

Sr. Defense Official: Has he made any recommendations on which? I can't talk to you about what he has talked to the president or any of the members of the Security Council about at this point. I'm sorry.

Q: Will he be discussing that with General Ralston?

Sr. Defense Official: He and General Ralston talk about everything related to those operations. And they -- as you know, Ralston's responsibility is for Northern Watch, and General Franks -- I think -- (to staff) -- is General Ralston going to be in? He'll be in tomorrow, right? Yeah. General Ralston will probably be in tomorrow, and they'll have an opportunity in the context of their discussions to raise that issue, and I'll bet that General Ralston will -- and General Franks is in town, and they've talked about it with General Franks. So it's an ongoing conversation. I don't mean to say to you that they haven't been talking about this, but --

Q: I understand that.

Sr. Defense Official: -- I can't reveal any of the substance of it.

Q: (Off mike.)

Sr. Defense Official: They keep working it.

Q: When the various officials went over to Europe a couple weeks ago, one of the reactions was that they didn't come with enough details about the missile defense plans for anybody to make any sort of a judgment as to whether it was a good thing or not. Will he be coming with more details about what you're planning to do on missile defense than has been the case so far?

Sr. Defense Official: Well, I think that the -- you know, the purpose of the original trip two weeks ago was to talk with the allies about the broad outlines of not missile defense but about the changed environment in which we're operating, deterrence, the need for changes in a number of areas, to include both our offensive forces and the defensive capabilities. I mean, that was the context in which that was undertaken.

As the secretary of defense, and the person asked by the president to look after the missile defense activities, the secretary obviously is more deeply versed in the program and the kinds of proposals that are being raised and made. And so I'm sure he'll be willing to engage in as much conversation with his fellow ministers as they think is appropriate for them to make their decisions. So it's not a question of going over to sell them programmatics or to mire them in, you know, stacks and stacks of programmatic detail. You've all been through those things. They're boring as all day. But insofar as they wish to engage in that conversation, he's prepared to do that.

Q: Does that mean he does have specifics in mind?

Sr. Defense Official: In terms of making proposals? No. I mean, this isn't -- no.

Is your question -- Is he going over there to then show them sort of here's the package and look for their -- no.

Q: What the architecture is, what you're going to emphasize?

Sr. Defense Official: No. I think what he'll go over and talk to them about the kinds of -- the approach that he'll want to take to it, the kinds of technologies which are applicable to the problem. They'll probably spend a bit of time elaborating on -- if you recall the president's speech, he talked about intercepting ballistic missiles with various technologies in various phases of flight -- I think that was the phrase; something like that. And I think that the secretary is going to be prepared to talk about that; you know, what we can and can't do to illustrate something about his understanding of the nature of the threat. And you've all sat here and heard him, you know, talk about the characteristics of the threat. And so he'll talk about those kinds of things with the ministers as well.

Q: And the proposal for reducing nuclear weapons, will that be --

Sr. Defense Official: No, that's not going to be part of this trip. That's still -- still working.

Do you want to finish on this point?

Q: Yeah, just to follow up briefly. You were describing that he's prepared to discuss the emphasis and probably the plan on the missile defense. Would he, for example, suggest that -- his interest in something like the air-borne laser program, specific programs like that as part of what --

Sr. Defense Official: Well, insofar as there are proposals on the table for being able to do intercepts in various phases of missile flight, obviously the airborne laser is one of a number of those kinds of proposals.

Q: And would he describe what it's about, how it would work, that kind of thing?

Sr. Defense Official: To the extent that -- again, you know, he's not going over to brief programs. And he will set it up in such a way that he'll be able to explain to the ministers that there are options to do it with airborne lasers, shipboard systems, and so forth, in the boost phase, and you can do them from seaborne platforms and land-based platforms on the back end, and that combinations of those systems are what are likely to produce the most effective sorts of systems not only for defense of the United States but, importantly, for defense of the alliance. He will reinforce, undoubtedly, the notion that this is missile defense, not national defense and theater defense, all right, and try to illustrate the seamlessness both of the alliance commitments and relationships that we have and how that seamlessness is reflected in the way he is thinking about the role for missile defense and how we would conduct missile defense.

Q: Well, when he meets with the Russian -- I'm sorry.

Q: It's all right.

Sr. Defense Official: Let me get one more here.

Q: Well, to what extent is the secretary concerned about a perception, or perhaps a misperception, among the allies that he and Colin Powell have different views of the U.S. role?

Sr. Defense Official: It's remarkable how that stays alive. I just, you know, I must say, watching it from afar -- far? -- actually, quite close to hand -- (laughter) -- I find it incomprehensible. I mean, Secretary Powell was on the phone this morning debriefing him on the trip. They had a long conversation about what each of them thought about those things. And, you know, it's hard for me to find the daylight between them that others seem to be able to find. You know, they each sit in a different place. They have a different jobs. They have a different job. The president expects them to provide advice from where they sit so that he can have their advice on what needs to be done. The daylight that people seem to find between them is a figment, I think, of the observer's imagination. But, you know, I'll leave you to work that out.

Q: Powell himself mentioned some apparent difference over the peacekeeping training mission in West Africa.

Sr. Defense Official: That's not a difference. I mean, there's an interesting case in point. And we're getting way far afield here, and we shouldn't do it.

Staff: Very far afield.

Sr. Defense Official: But, you know, that's -- you know, what we're talking about here is, from the secretary's point of view, secretary of defense's point of view, operational tempo, the role for the military forces and so forth. From the secretary of state's point of view, it's the diplomatic initiatives, regional stability and things of that sort. And so you get two, you know, grown men sort of with very sophisticated views of these things offering, you know, their views to the president on how we might go about best doing these things. Is that a schism? No. I mean, it's two people trying to find the best way to go ahead on policy.

But we ought to go back to NATO, in any event, on Europe, anything on the trip.


Q: Some of the people the secretary will be meeting with are NATO "wannabes." Is NATO expansion on this agenda at all, in Brussels or Europe?

Sr. Defense Official: It's not -- you know how these go, you know. You've got an agenda list, and depending on where you are in time, those issues which are farther out on the horizon tend to be a little lower on the list. So the issue undoubtedly will arise. It will undoubtedly arise when he goes up to Finland. It will undoubtedly arise when he's down at the SEDM. And he's undoubtedly prepared to talk with them about that. But this trip is not, as such, slated to be about NATO enlargement, but if you look at the calendar, that summit is '02 -- sometime November '02, right? November '02.

So you can anticipate as we get later in this year and then into next year, that will start moving up on the ledger.


Q: Can you tell me what days of the week he's going to be in Incirlik and then in Camp Bondsteel meeting with the troops?

Sr. Defense Official: Camp Bondsteel -- it says on Tuesday, 5 June. And in Incirlik, the previous day, in the afternoon of the 4th.


Q: There's been some angst since the Kosovo war over the mismatch of European capabilities versus American. Will the secretary be addressing this issue, seeking input?

Sr. Defense Official: Yeah, in the context of the Defense Capabilities Initiative and things of that sort?

Q: Yeah.

Sr. Defense Official: Yeah, undoubtedly, again, as part of the discussion about the nature of the evolving security environment, the need for forces that can be mobilized quickly, operate in a joint environment, meet the full range of threats and so forth, I mean those will all be issues that he will touch upon. But, you know, I don't that, as was the case about a year or so ago when the DCI was precisely the purpose of the trip, in that sense it is not at the top of the ledger.

Q: Secretary Cohen spoke fairly intensely on that issue many times.

Sr. Defense Official: Yes. Yes.

Q: I mean, will that same level of intensity be carried forward?

Sr. Defense Official: Well, Secretary Cohen, if you recall, raised the issue twice; one time more intensely than the other, and I think the second time for emphasis as much as anything else. And I don't think that the secretary of defense currently differs much in terms of the sense that this is an important thing to do and to move forward, and so on. And he's talked with, as I say -- you know, this won't be his first time that he's met some of these individuals and he's, you know, raised these issues with them before and will continue to do so.


Q: When he meets with the Russian, how will he move forward the idea of cooperating with the Russians on missile defense? Are there -- there have been reports of proposals for, you know, helping the Russians reconstitute some early warning systems, and that sort of thing. Is that something that he'll be discussing with the Russians?

Sr. Defense Official: I don't know that at the moment there is a -- you know -- a package of things that people are talking about at all. We are still at the point of the earliest stages of the discussions with the Russians about need for this kind of capability, about the nature of the evolving threat, and things of that nature.

Now, what the Russian minister of defense might have to say, it will be of interest to all of us because after all, it's what, another week before the presidents will meet to talk about these things as well. And so I think there's some expectation and hope that we'll find, you know, sort of forward movement on the part of the Russians in being willing to talk about next steps.

Q: Has he had phone conversations with the Russian minister so far? Has he had any contact with him?

Sr. Defense Official: No, I think it's been mostly by cable, I think. I'll have to check, if it's that important to you, but I --

Q: Oh, I'm just curious.

Sr. Defense Official: I'd have to check. I don't know.

Q: What about the broader issue of U.S. force presence in Europe and the Balkans? I mean, has he -- I don't know, I mean, has he arrived at any conclusions as to whether those levels should be lower, should be higher, how to go about changing that?

Sr. Defense Official: No. He will take part in the discussions at NATO headquarters on the periodic review of troop levels in Bosnia and Kosovo. As you know, there is a sense that, at least in the Bosnian case, those numbers can probably be drawn down over time. The Kosovo thing has got its own dynamics. And so he will sit there and work his way through that, as he has with the interagency here earlier. So that's an ongoing process. It's a regularized process. And it will take its own course. In terms of any independent assessments, no, there haven't been any of those, those at all.

Q: Will he be sounding out the allies on the possibility of a wider -- their feelings on the current troop stationing within Europe, not Bosnia, Kosovo?

Sr. Defense Official: No, that's not on the list.

Q: In conjunction with that, there are reports that the United States might, as this new security policy evolves, might be looking more toward Asia in the new century. Will he be assuring the Europeans, not only about the troops, but the United States is not about to turn away from Europe?

Sr. Defense Official: There is no question in the secretary's mind that NATO is a basic foundation of not just American security but international security. And so, under no set of circumstances that I could foresee is he going to be talking about a reduced interest on the part of the United States in European security. I mean, I don't see that that's even remotely possible.

You know, everything he has talked about with every one of the minister who have come through in fact speaks to exactly the opposite; that it's essential for the United States to remain involved in Europe, the United States will remain involved in Europe; that we need to have, you know, the levels of cooperation; we go back to the DCI -- I mean all of that as part of the foundation for our security, European security and international security. He's been abundantly clear on that question.

Q: Will he be talking to them about his thoughts, at least up to date, on the force sizing mechanism --

Sr. Defense Official: You know, again, I don't -- you know, his own work, as you know, has now sort of progressed to the next stage. He's started the process of putting the defense review -- the Quadrennial Defense Review in place, and that has a pattern that will play itself out.

And if there is a minister -- and I'm willing to take a nickel bet here -- if there is a minister who raises the question, I'm sure he'll be happy to talk with him about it -- (chuckles) -- but I wouldn't believe that they would. But if they do, I'm sure he'd be happy to engage them for a very good reason, which is to ask them how they do it, because he's still scratching his head and wondering how we ought to do it as well. And so I think it would be an exchange amongst, you know, ministers trying to figure out how you deal with a very difficult problem.

Q: Okay, thank you.

Sr. Defense Official: Thanks.


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