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Media Roundtable with Secretary Rumsfeld at Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 04, 2006

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  We’ve had a number of excellent meetings.  As I may have mentioned, this is my third Shangri-La conference.  We really appreciate John Chipman and the IISS and Singapore for hosting this conference.  I think it’s an enormously valuable thing for all of the Pacific nations to have this opportunity.  We not only have the conferences, but of course it gives us an opportunity to have a lot of bilateral meetings in addition.  I’ve had sessions with the Mongolian Minister, who just left, with Japan and Korea and India, Malaysia, Australia, and had visits with any number of other ministers.  The first night I had a delightful visit with Lee Kuan Yew, who I’ve known for many, many years now -- for decades I should say -- and as always, found him to be thoughtful and insightful and forward looking.  Last evening we had a dinner as well, and the Minister of Defence of Singapore hosted it, and had a lot of good discussions.  So I’d be happy to respond to some questions.

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, welcome to Singapore again.  Soft question, just quickly:  Many in the Bush cabinet and close aides of the President have departed the scene, but you’re still very much a part of the White House.  Would you see yourself as a great survivor, or do you have a special place in the President’s heart?

 

            [chuckles]

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Oh my goodness!  I certainly enjoy working with him, and find him to be a very thoughtful and knowledgeable and strong leader.  So I feel privileged to be able to serve the country and to work with President Bush.

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, can I ask you about Iran and the prospect for bilateral dialogue?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I think it’s a little early to know.  My recollection is that the President made his decision after a good deal of consultation with China, Russia, and the EU-3 countries, that they have not yet presented their proposal to the Iranian government, that that is to happen in the period ahead.  Therefore, it’s obviously not possible for the government of Iran to comment on it in a thoughtful way because they haven’t received it yet.  And I think it’ll just take some time to see what decisions they may make.

 

            QUESTION:  Can you look at Iraq for a while?  I mean you have been instrumental in reviewing U.S.-Iraq plans way back in 1984, according to what I read in -

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFLED:  You don’t believe everything you read, do you?

 

            QUESTION:  But you were instrumental in many ways in shaping policy on Iraq, I mean, but things have changed since then.  Looking back with the power of hindsight, would you think that invading Iraq might be the best of decisions, if you had this power of hindsight?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I think that the fact that 25 or 26 million people have been liberated, the fact that the vicious regime of Saddam Hussein has been taken out, that a government that put hundreds of thousands of people into mass graves is no longer in power, that a regime that used chemical weapons on its neighbors and on its own people is no longer in a position to do that, is a good thing.

 

            QUESTION:  I have a question on Taiwan Strait.  I remember last year you said China posed a threat to Asian countries.  This time you said --

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I don’t think I did.  I don’t think I said that.

 

            QUESTION:  It was reported that --

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  That doesn’t make it so.

 

            QUESTION:  You said China is not a threat to U.S., but China poses a threat to the Asian countries.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I didn’t.

 

            QUESTION:  No?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I didn’t say that.

 

            QUESTION:  You didn’t?  But this time you said it’s only a potential threat, and .

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I didn’t say that.

 

            QUESTION:  So anyway, if China --

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  If the premise of your question is fallacious, how can I answer it?

 

            QUESTION:  Well, it was actually reported last year that it is a threat to Asian countries with their military without transparency.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  That’s a quite different thing.  I did talk about the lack of transparency.  And as I said the other day in the meeting, any country -- any sovereign country -- can do what they want.  They can invest in what they want, and they can manage their affairs in the way they want, and that’s up to them.  But the result is that people look at how they do that, and make judgments, or have concerns, or lack of concerns.  And to the extent a government is not as transparent as most governments of the world are, people wonder why.  Neighbors do.  Others do.  That is a quite different thing from the way you cast it.

 

            QUESTION:  I get your message this time, and I understand that.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  It’s the same message as last time.

 

            QUESTION:  I mean I get your message this year.  But last year actually it was reported and you were challenged by the Chinese foreign affairs official, asking you whether you think that, you truly believe that, China is a threat to the U.S. and you said no.  But before that you said it posed a threat to Asian countries, and then you said it is not a threat to the U.S.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I think your characterization of what I said is not accurate.  I don’t disagree that someone may have written that.  That happens every day that somebody writes something.  I looked at a headline this morning from my remarks yesterday, and I couldn’t believe it.  It sounded like it was from the moon.  But what can you do?

 

            QUESTION:  But, anyway, transparency was the word that you used to outline it.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Yeah, and I said the same thing during my visit to China.  I had a good discussion about it.

 

            QUESTION:  I understand that some China academics, they’re asking, although you are accusing China [of being] without military transparency, they are asking [for] strategy transparency from U.S.  They said, why, then why, should the U.S. fear to the strategic ambiguity?  If, while you need transparency, then well, strategy -- in terms of strategy -- should be transparent as well.  What is your comment on that kind of response from the Chinese?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  It sounds like semantics.  I don’t know quite -- I don’t necessarily accept your characterization of what you’re saying the Chinese have said.

 

            QUESTION:  A lot of commentaries appear in the official media.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I’ve never heard that in my life.  Let me just say it.  You say that to be so.  I don’t know that to be so.  I’ve never heard it in my life, the way you’ve cast it.

 

            QUESTION:  But you agree that in terms of strategy, well, ambiguity --

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  There isn’t ambiguity about our strategy.  Our strategy is published.  It’s written.  It’s put out by the White House, not the Department of Defense.  The President signs it, and it exists.

 

            QUESTION:  Even when it comes to the Taiwan Strait, the situation in the Taiwan Strait?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Absolutely.

 

            QUESTION:  Then what is the strategy on the Strait?  No more ambiguity.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I mean the position of the United States has been the same for, what, three decades.  It hasn’t changed to my knowledge.

 

            QUESTION:  That strategy is called ambiguity, all the while for those past three decades.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well as I say, it sounds to me like that’s semantics.  I don’t think there’s any doubt.  I’m surprised at the line of questioning to be perfectly honest.  I don’t think there’s any ambiguity in the minds of the Chinese people -- a government -- as to what the position of the United States is.  I’ve been in the room when President Bush has explained it to President Hu. 

 

            QUESTION:  I have a couple of questions and I’d like to focus on ASEAN.  You mentioned a number of considerations in your talk and the Q and A session yesterday.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I mentioned what?

 

            QUESTION:  Your security considerations and your areas of concern.  I’d like to understand from you your three top priorities as far as Southeast Asia is concerned.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Southeast Asia.  Certainly the interest of the United States in this part of the world -- we’re a Pacific nation.  Our interest is that the region be peaceful and that the people of the region have opportunities to be prosperous.  It’s that simple.  Our country, the United States, is a beneficiary of the world system.  We participate in it fully.  The things that upset that system are instabilities and failed states, so it’s in our interest as a country, and in the American people’s interest, that the region be peaceful and that the people of the region have economic opportunities to advance and improve themselves, and to benefit themselves.

 

            QUESTION:  I’d like to add another question in this very regard.  What is it that bothers you as far as Southeast Asia is concerned?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well, certainly the tsunami was unfortunate; a lot of people lost their lives.  The earthquake recently in Indonesia is something that is unfortunate.  But I don’t know that I’m bothered at the moment.

 

            QUESTION:  From a security point of view?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well, certainly I’ve been impressed by the additional progress that’s been made with respect to security -- maritime security -- in the Straits.  I think that the countries involved have taken some useful steps forward in cooperating with each other and I was advised today by the Defence Minister of Malaysia that the number of incidents of piracy have dropped from something in the thirties down to less than a handful, which is a good thing.

 

            Admiral Fallon here is the Commander of our Pacific Command, and if you have questions for him that are too tough for me, feel free to ask him.

 

            QUESTION:  The U.S. has a presence in --

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Presence?

 

            QUESTION:  -- a presence in Singapore, I mean fully accessible facilities.  How do you see the development of this relationship in the near future?

 

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  We’ve had a good relationship with Singapore for, goodness, to my certain knowledge, at the minimum of three or four decades, as I’ve been involved in it in one way or another.  I used to meet with Lee Kuan Yew when he’d come to the United States back in the 1970s when I was with President Ford.  We have a relationship that each of our countries feel is appropriate and mutually beneficial.  It’s respectful of the circumstance of each country.  They’ve been helpful in counterterrorism, for example.

 

            QUESTION:  Might you want to see a greater presence in Singapore?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  No, we’re not here looking for greater presence.  We’re here to attend a conference.  And the level of involvement we want is a level that is appropriate to Singapore and to the government of Singapore and the people of Singapore and to the United States.  And I think we’ve found a very nice balance in that.

 

            [To Admiral Fallon]  Did you want to say something?

 

            FALLON:  Mr. Secretary, just as an example, last week, when the earthquake struck in Indonesia, the Singapore Armed Forces made available the facilities -- the air facilities here at Paya Lebar -- for us to take aircraft through here to marry up with some equipment that was being sent from other parts of the region.  And people, doctors and medical personnel, were able to come here and the Singaporeans facilitated that onward movement to Indonesia.  It was seamless.  It’s based on mutual trust, on our experiences together in the past.  And it’s very, very helpful not just to our two countries, but to the region as well.  The government here, the military, has made available its wonderful facilities at Paya Lebar and at Changi for our forces to use as they transit through the area.  We exercise together.  We have a very close cooperation.  It really pays off in these times when we need to help people in the neighborhood.  And the government of Singapore has been particularly accommodating.

 

            QUESTION:  On Malacca Strait security, I want to understand what role the U.S. wants to play in securing the Strait, and are there some new proposals that you discussed, or will discuss, as you travel to Indonesia next week?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  No, there haven’t been any new proposals.  It’s a subject that has come up in the conference and it came up in the luncheon we had with the Ministers of Defense.  But the countries involved -- the border countries, the littoral countries -- are the ones that have the basic responsibility.  And to the extent that those countries are cooperating on an increasing basis, we consider that a good thing for the region and for maritime security.  To the extent they, at any point, are interested in having others be helpful, obviously the United States and other nations of the world have said they’d be willing to be helpful in some sense of a way, but the fundamental responsibility falls to those countries.

 

            QUESTION:  Secretary, where is UBL and does it matter?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  You know the answer.  We don’t know where he is.  Does it matter?  I suppose.  It would be nice to have him captured.  He pops up on the Net about once every six months with an audio, which apparently is his voice.  He hasn’t been on a video for many, many, many months.  He clearly is still involved in one way or another, but he has to be spending an awful lot of time avoiding being caught, so I think he’s pretty busy with that as opposed to masterminding things.  But a very large fraction of the Al Qaeda senior leadership has been captured or killed over the past three years.  They’ve also killed an awful lot of people over the last three years in many parts of the world.  So if you say, “Does it matter?”  I think it does matter.  I think someone who’s done what he’s done, and organized what he’s organized ought to be put away. 

 

            QUESTION:  And when do you see to an ending to this global war against extremists, violent extremism?  Are we close to ending?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I doubt it.  I say that because it strikes me that this is not like a conventional war that starts and ends with a signing ceremony on a battle ship, if you will.  It’s more like the Cold War.  It’s an ideological struggle, and it’s basically a struggle within that religion between a relatively small percentage of the people in that religion and the overwhelming majority of the people who are not violent extremists.  And I think that it ultimately is going to be won in that battle field, that competition, that struggle, if you will.  And it could take time.  There is no one who’s able to look into the future and know how long or in what ways it will be put down.  But clearly, their determination, if you read what they say -- and it’s available on the internet -- is to reestablish a Caliphate that stretches across the globe and to end the regimes that they consider are not sufficiently extreme in the Middle East and in Muslim countries across the globe, and to defeat, if you will, the way free people live.  And they are fundamentally against it; they are trying to stop it -- free people from behaving as free people.  And of course the circumstance of the world if it were to turn back to that dark place would be a terrible thing to see.

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, can I ask you about Iraq, the much-debated question of troop withdrawals – coalition troop withdrawals?  Do you realistically, do you see, given the level of capability of Iraqi security forces now, that next year we will see a very substantial drawdown in coalition forces?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The Iraqi security forces have been trained and equipped now up to a level of about 267,000, I think.  The target of the last government was 325,000 security forces -- a mixture of army, Ministry of the Defense and Ministry of Interior forces.  They are increasingly more experienced.  They’ve been out of their training longer.  They’ve been out doing things.  The people that are involved in their training and equipping have a high degree of confidence -- particularly in the Ministry of Defense forces, less so in the police forces.  The United States Department of Defense has not been involved with the Ministry of Interior forces until very recently, late last year.  And, so they’re not as well advanced.  For them to be successful will require that the new Prime Minister and his government put in place in the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior very competent ministers.  And to his great credit the reason he has not yet put them in place is because he is determined that they be competent and that they govern from the center and that they not behave in a manner that suggests that they think those ministries are part of the spoils of an election victory.  They have to be fair to all the people in that country and that is why it’s taking so darn long for them to get those people in place because there are elements -- political elements -- that are trying to cause him to put people in there who he doesn’t believe will be able to do the job.  When they’re in place and when they then . . .  Two other things he’s done -- the Prime Minister -- already that I find impressive.  The second is the fact that he has announced and gotten the other elements -- the Shia and the Kurds and the Sunnis announced that there will be a reconciliation process and as you’ve seen in history, that’s important and it can make a big difference.  The other thing he’s done is he went down to see Sistani, the leading cleric -- Shia cleric -- in the country, and said they’re going to have to deal with the militias.  So he’s done three important things there that have laid out the direction he’s going that I think offer promise. 

 

            Now, to answer your question.  Clearly it’s our desire to draw down forces.  It’s clearly the Iraqi people’s desire to have foreign forces drawn down.  And, on the other hand, no one wants to do it in a manner that allows any instability.  We’ll see.  But I don’t see any reason why -- as the Iraqi security forces continue to grow in size -- that they’re not going to be able to take over more responsibility.  We’ve already passed over, I don’t know, thirty bases to the Iraqis.  We’ve passed over three or four provinces to the Iraqis.  They’re currently doing something like fifty percent of Baghdad.  They managed the security for the last election and for the constitution referendum.  So I think -- no, I can’t say of certain knowledge -- but I was there last month when Condi and I went over and met with the new leadership, and then I went off and met with the people who were doing the training.  And what we now have are people embedded for almost, gosh, close to a year, with the Ministry of Defense forces, so we know how they’re doing.  We know how good the leadership is, how good the equipment is, how good their communications and linkages are with the intelligence community.  We’ve just started doing that with the police within recent months -- embedding.  The Iraqis wouldn’t allow us to do it previously.  So we’re getting much better visibility into how good they are and what their problems are.  But the reports are very positive.

 

            QUESTION:  I was there a few weeks ago myself.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  What was your impression?

 

            QUESTION:  Mixed.  Mixed.  The insurgency -- let us do one follow up on that.  The debate about the insurgency -- I know you alluded to this yesterday -- but do you agree that the final defeat of the insurgents will essentially be the responsibility of the new Iraqi government?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Oh, absolutely -- of the Iraqi people.

 

            QUESTION:  The coalition is not going to be responsible for that task.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Oh, no way.  You’re not going to be around that long.  No, I mean insurgencies historically they can last six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen years and they end up being dealt with by the government and the people of that country.  What we want to do is get them through a period so that they have the ability to do that.  But it will take some time for them to manage it.  There are still going to be people who -- I mean look at the rest of the countries in the region.  There’s violence in those countries.

 

            QUESTION:  But you’re confident that you’re getting on top of it, the insurgent problem?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I think we’re making -- well, one example is the number of tips.  If you look at the number of tips, they have gone from handfuls up to thousands, where people -- Iraqi people -- have had it getting a belly full of people being killed -- innocent men, women and children being killed.  It doesn’t take a genius to blow up somebody.  And I think the Iraqi people are tired of it.  And the Sunnis who stayed out, who wouldn’t participate early on, now are in.  Not all of them, but more of them than ever.  So I think the Iraqi people have a good chance of making it.

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, may I have your comment on the arms procurement by Taiwan which is blocked by the opposition legislators and whether you think it will affect the strategic balance on the Taiwan Strait?  And also any comment upon the proposed peace treaty by the Communist party as well as the opposition party from Taiwan?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  No, I have no comment on that.

 

            QUESTION:  The arms procurement?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The arms procurement has been -- what has it been, five years?  Taiwan can decide to do what they want to do, and they can decide to buy what they want to buy and they are making their decisions.

 

            QUESTION:  Are you worried about it?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No, I am not worried about it.  Do I look worried?

 

            QUESTION:  You are not.

 

            RUFF:  Maybe one more question -- and then we’ll have to conclude -- if anybody has one.

 

            QUESTION:  What about the peace treaty they have proposed instead?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I don’t know what you’re talking about, to be perfectly honest.

 

            QUESTION:  [unintelligible] Taiwanese opposition party have met with Hu Jintao.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The Department of State handles that, not the Department of Defense.  And there’s a State Department guy back behind me.  So if you want to go beat up on Michael, you go beat up on Michael.  Will you do that?

 

            RUFF:  Last one.

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, one final one then on bilateral relations with Australia.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  They are good.

 

            QUESTION:  I know they’re good.  But having been in Iraq a few times, do you think that we are pulling our weight in terms of our level of military involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The Australians?  Oh my goodness, yes.  It is a blessing to have a relationship like that where the people of that country and the government of that country are so capable -- capable in the sense of deciding something, doing something and doing it so well.  They are enormously capable forces.

 

            FALLON:  Look at all the other things you’re doing, in the South Pacific, in the Solomons --

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  and East Timor.

 

            QUESTION:  So, just with the south, if we decide -- the south of Iraq we’re talking about -- it’s benign and it seems to be in reasonably good shape -- would you like to see us stay on in some other part of Iraq if we move out of the south in ’07?

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  You know, I am an unusual person in this regard.  I want, in direct answer to your question, I want Australia to do what Australia decides it would like to do, and what it thinks is important to do.  And I don’t like to be in a position of telling other countries what I think they ought to do, so I avoid it.  But we are really appreciative to the Australian people, for example, for the role that Australia is playing in this part of the world.  I think the leadership role they’re playing in East Timor is an important one, for example, and the other leadership positions they’ve taken. 

 

            Well, all right folks, nice to see you all.  Did you sit in the conference?

 

            REPORTERS:  Yes, we did.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:    What did you think of it? 

 

            REPORTERS:   It’s kind of plateaued in terms of the value of the Shangri-La Dialogue and it’s got to go up to the next S-curve, that’s what I think.  It’s almost the same program this year, next year.  Hope to see you here again next year, though.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well, I hope to come next year.  I think it’s valuable.  I really do.  I think it gives people a chance -- I’d like to see China increase the level of their participation.  I met with some of the folks who are representing them.  I mentioned this when I was in the People’s Republic of China, but I think it’s a helpful forum.  The more people from China visit with the rest of these folks, I think it develops relationships and demystifies things in a way that’s constructive.

 

            QUESTION:  Are they playing hard to get?  You know, it’s like trying to date a girl and if I have to ask her out a few times before she agrees....

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I’ve been married fifty-one years.  Hell, I don’t even remember what it’s like to date a girl.  That’s a long way ago.  I don’t know that that’s what they’re doing.  I don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing, to be honest.  I’ve tried to figure it out.  I don’t have an answer.  I think they’d benefit and I think the other participants would benefit.

 

            REPORTER:  The inscrutable Chinese.

 

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well, all right folks, thank you.  Nice to see you all.