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Background Briefing on Secretary Rumsfeld's Trip to Europe

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
February 06, 2003 1:30 PM EDT

Staff: I think you're all familiar with our background briefer today, but if you're not, here is his name and title. He can be referred to as a senior defense official in your stories today. I just remind you that this backgrounder is on -- the topic of it is on the secretary's upcoming travels. And as much as possible, we'd like to keep it confined to that.

Senior Defense Official: Okay, great. Thank you very much. Good.

A pleasure to be here today. I'm going to provide a backgrounder on the secretary of Defense's trip to Europe, which begins today. The secretary will leave today for stops in Italy and Germany. He will visit Rome first. Italy, obviously, has been a very key ally in the global war on terrorism and has also been a strong supporter of U.S. efforts more broadly, including, I would point out, taking a leadership role in heading up the recent letter in support of the position on Iraq. Its government understands the need to keep up the pressure on Iraq in the context of where we are today.

The secretary will have meetings with the prime minister and the defense minister, Prime Minister Berlusconi and Defense Minister Martino. Those of you who have traveled before know the secretary and Martino have a very good personal relationship. We expect it to be an engaging meeting. They will focus on -- in addition to Iraq, I think they will also focus on Italian contributions to the global war on terrorism. You might note that the Italians are deploying in March a 1,000-man brigade to Afghanistan.

We'll also be touching on Italy's upcoming presidency of the European Union and follow-on from the NATO Prague summit agenda to keep the momentum going out of Prague.

Then the secretary, after Rome, will go to Aviano, Italy, where he will visit U.S. forces there. The central event there will be a town hall meeting with troops. I believe that will include not only some U.S. troops but also some other troops. (Aside.) Are there other troops involved in that? You don't know? You don't know.

Staff: Yes.

Senior Defense Official: Yes, I thought so.

And then from there, he will be going on to Munich, and of course the key purpose of that trip will be to attend the Munich Conference on Security Policy, which is known as Werkunde. This is Europe's premier European security conference and is widely attended. It will be attended by a wide range of senior officials from ministers of defense, ministers of foreign affairs, national security advisers and, of course, a substantial delegation from the United States Congress. The participants are primarily from Europe, but there are also dignitaries from North America, Japan, Singapore, Israel, India and Pakistan, who will also be in attendance.

The secretary will be a speaker, a featured speaker, in fact the first speaker on Saturday morning. And his speech will look broadly at the role of NATO in our security environment and as well as the importance of the issue of weapons of mass destruction and the problem of Iraq in the context of that new security environment.

He's also going to use his opportunity there to meet with some other officials from countries, including a bilateral with the Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov. And he will also have opportunities to meet with the German defense minister as well as others.

His meetings and the Werkunde proceedings will -- are certainly going to emphasize the situation in Iraq and the next steps that the international community needs to take to ensure that Saddam Hussein is disarmed of weapons of mass destruction. And obviously it follows on some very significant events of the last few days -- Secretary of State Powell's presentation before the U.N. Security Council; the letter signed by eight European heads of state on Iraq; and the more recent letter yesterday from the Vilnius 10 statement on Iraq.

We see Werkunde as a valuable opportunity for officials from key allies and partners, friends, key opinion-makers to share their views on a broad range of security issues and on the dynamics that are shaping the security environment today.

With that as background, I'll take some questions. Yes?

Q: What reception do you think the secretary's going to receive, particularly in Germany, from the German Defense minister, and the Russian minister as well?

Senior Defense Official: I think positive on both sides. We're looking forward to those meetings. There's the -- I know that he's had some -- we've had some preparation for those meetings, so that both sides are looking forward -- and I expect them to be, you know, pretty rich in terms of the exchange of views. There's a lot to talk about, and so I think very positive.

There will probably be some other meetings as well. I know that he -- in the past he's tried to meet with the Ukrainian minister of defense. I think he's going to be there. And there may be some other meetings as well. We're still in the process of putting some of those together. But I expect it to be very positive in terms of the German government and German minister of Defense's views and then -- as the Russian as well.

Yeah? Mm-hmm.

Q: What's the position on having NATO take over supervision of the ISAF, which seems -- (off mike)?

Senior Defense Official: At this point, the -- NATO has not been, you know, formally asked. There's a -- there's really two ways in which NATO could participate. NATO is already going to be participating in ISAF, in the sense that they are going to be providing some support for the Germans and the Dutch when they take over the leadership for the next segment of ISAF, ISAF III, and they'll -- helping to do some force generation, communications and some other elements.

But the German and the -- Germans and the Dutch will have the leadership role, in effect will be planting the -- their headquarters' flag, will be running the ISAF operation.

I think what you're referring to is the possibility that NATO would go to Afghanistan as NATO. And I think at this point that isn't something that NATO is considering. I think that there are still possibilities for other countries to step up and take the lead, as lead nations. There are certainly, I think, countries out there that are interested in that. But -- and in that context, I think NATO would probably continue to play a supporting role.

So there hasn't been -- as I said, there hasn't been any decision within NATO. In fact, there hasn't really even been a formal question within NATO as to whether or not NATO itself should do so. And I think, as long as there are countries that are interested in following up on the German-Dutch operation, that that may well be the course that NATO would take.

Q: No one's signed up for the next six-month stint yet, right?

Senior Defense Official: No, and we haven't even made the transition yet to the -- I mean, the Turks are still there. So, I mean, we have some time. But it's clearly -- is an issue that has to be dealt with, and I 'm sure that, you know, one of the things that will be discussed in our various bilaterals will be what's next; where do we go from here?

One of the things that we would very much encourage is to try to get countries that are interested in ISAF to maybe consider a little bit longer rotation, because the six-month rotation means that by the time you get in there, you're practically already looking for a replacement.

Q: Would you expect the secretary to take advantage of the -- having everybody there in one place in Munich to push the question of NATO beginning to plan active, positive support -- NATO qua NATO -- for a potential military operation involving Iraq?

Senior Defense Official: Well, as you know, NATO is considering actions right now which are primarily focused on defensive operations; things having to do, for example, with the potential protection of Turkey and the like, force protection issues, those sorts of things. And I think that certainly one of the topics of discussion at the conference generally, and certainly -- and one that the secretary would be engaging with his colleagues is how we can move that forward. And I think that there's -- I think that NATO will take a positive step on that, and I think it's an important thing. And so, I would expect that would be part of --

Q: You mentioned bilats with Russia and Germany. Will the secretary be meeting with the French? And is this a hard sell for some of the countries that may be on the fence in regards to Iraq?

Senior Defense Official: No, he will not be meeting with the -- there's no formal meeting with the French minister of Defense. I think she's going to be -- (aside) -- is she going to be there, do you know?

Staff: I'll check.

Senior Defense Official: When I'm saying she's not going -- (inaudible) -- she may not be there. I don't know whether she's going to be there, but I think she's going to be there. We do not have a bilateral scheduled, but obviously, there are going to be a lot of side conversations and things going on.

I wouldn't characterize it as a hard sell. I think there's an enormous amount of support already within Europe for keeping the pressure up on Saddam Hussein. I think that support is building. And certainly, this is an opportunity to continue to build that support. But I guess I would not characterize it as a hard sell because I don't think a hard sell is necessary.

Staff: She'll be there.

Senior Defense Official: She will be there. Alliot-Marie is her name.

Yeah?

Q: Will the secretary be bringing any backup intelligence, classified intelligence, to complement what Mr. Powell laid out yesterday before the U.N., and bringing his own backup in case some of the members want a more detailed look?

Senior Defense Official: We're not planning on giving any formal intelligence briefings to allies. And, obviously, I wouldn't want to get into that. Obviously, that doesn't rule out the prospect that there might be some discussions in those meetings about the intelligence picture.

I think in some ways the conversation that's going on has shifted away from the question -- particularly post-Secretary of State Powell's -- away from the question of the intelligence and more on to the question of Iraqi non-cooperative behavior and what are the next steps. And so I think -- in some ways, I think those are probably more likely topics then delving back into intelligence issues.

Q: Will Rumsfeld be pushing a little bit on the whole notion of what would a post-Iraq look like, by way of the international cooperation and aid, what he would need from old Europe and new Europe, so to speak?

Senior Defense Official: I certainly think that the -- you know, obviously, one of the issues that has to be dealt with, if in fact force is used, that we have to look at the post-Saddam Iraqi situation. And it's clearly an area where there have been concerns raised not just in Europe, but in other circles, about what are the -- you know, how do we envision this, and what might be some of the tools for shaping a better outcome. And so yeah, I think that ought to be, and probably will be part of that conversation. But there isn't -- I don't think there's -- there's no formal -- that's not going to be, I don't think, a major part of his address that you'll be hearing on Saturday.

Q: Will the secretary try to mend fences, considering, you know, the public opinion in old Europe, and old Europe is a majority against war, and the latest statement, you know, there was a controversy about -- in the German press about his putting Libya and Germany kind of in the same -- at the same level in one of his speeches. So is he aware of some kind of diplomatic move from -- you know, in that respect?

Senior Defense Official: I have to say, I'm not familiar with the quotation you're talking about with Europe and Libya, or something like that.

Q: Germany and Libya.

Senior Defense Official: Yeah. So the -- I really can't speak -- can't speak to that. But I think clearly, one of the most -- you know, the countries in Europe, Germany included, are allies of the United States. And those are important relationships. They will continue to be important relationships. And one of the things that I think is the hallmark of relationship is that countries can have differences. And -- so I think the secretary's aware of that. But it's also equally important to underscore that we're facing a very challenging security threat. The nexus of the Iraqi regime headed by Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction, and the potential nexus with terrorism -- terrorists potentially with weapons of mass destruction is a threat that the international community has to face up to. And as I think you know, the secretary's not going to pull any punches in telling his allies and friends how the U.S. sees that security picture and what needs to be done.

QCan you just recharacterize the Italy stop? Is it, like, a thank-you stop? Italy is on board. They were one of the eight that signed that editorial in the Wall Street Journal. They have said they would sign on for anything, for the most part. What is the stop for? Are you asking for something, or is it thank you for helping, or -- ?

Senior Defense Official: Well, one of the -- there's really two opportunities. I mean, the secretary -- I don't think the secretary has been to Rome in the past year. (To staff) Isn't that right? It's been a while since he's been there. This trip was planned before the letter came out and that sort of thing. But clearly, Italy has stood -- stepped up both as a member of NATO, as a key member of the European Union, and has played a leadership role in the global war on terrorism. If you look at the amount of forces that Italy has deployed overseas supporting operations, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere, they are, you know a leading force contributor. And so consultations on a military-to-military and DOD-to-MOD level are very important.

And as I said, the secretary has a good relationship with the minister of Defense. He's going to have an opportunity to meet with the prime minister. I think that those will help to solidify those relationships and to be able to plan for the future.

Yeah?

Q: How would you characterize the speech? Would you expect this to be a major speech? Is it -- obviously, this is the first time he's been there since the --

Senior Defense Official: That'll depend on how you characterize it. (Laughter.)

Q: What's the expectation?

Senior Defense Official: As I said in my opening remarks, I mean, I think, you know, given the sequence of events and things, people are going to be watching what's going on at Werkunde. I mean, I think -- but I think, you know, the speech is aimed primarily as part of a -- as I said, this conversation among key opinion-leaders, decision-makers in Europe and elsewhere on the new security environment, the threat posed by WMD and the role and the -- or the problem of Iraq in that context. And I think that clearly it will be -- it will be viewed, given where we are, as a speech that sets out and expands on U.S. views on that subject. How it's characterized, as I said, I have to leave up to others.

Q: Can we do one more on -- two more --

Senior Defense Official: How about this lady here, who hasn't had an opportunity?

Q: Is the secretary going to (attend ?)-- (inaudible.) And when does he return to Washington?

Senior Defense Official: I think the answer is yes. (Aside.) Right? No. Is it -- when is it?

Staff: (We leave ?) a little bit early.

Senior Defense Official: A little bit early.

Staff: He'll miss the Sunday events.

Senior Defense Official: That's right. That's right. We're leaving Saturday late, I think. Isn't that right?

Staff: In the evening.

Senior Defense Official: Yeah, in the evening. So there are some events on Sunday morning I think that he will miss.

Was that -- that was the one part of your question. Was there another part?

Q: When does he return to Washington?

Senior Defense Official: Okay, I got that. Okay, yeah. He'll be back in Sunday morning, our time.

Yeah?

Q: Will the secretary be discussing with any of the Europeans -- or I noticed you mentioned Japan will be sending some people to attend. Will he be discussing North Korea with them?

Senior Defense Official: I think it's possible, yeah, that that would be a topic that would come up. And no question that it's an issue that is very much related to this problem of weapons of mass destruction, and so I would expect that there may be some consultations on that. But he doesn't have a meeting with the Japanese. Japanese minister, head of this defense ministry, is not coming, as far as I know.

Staff: Not the defense minister.

Senior Defense Official: Right.

Staff: It's going to be deputy foreign minister.

Senior Defense Official: Deputy foreign minister is who will be attending.

Q: Is North Korea something that NATO and European countries, you'd like them to get involved in or that they have a responsibility to? Is North Korea also a threat to the European people?

Senior Defense Official: You know, I think that clearly the focus of U.S. efforts has been to internationalize the problem in the sense that this is a problem that we all have to deal with, and that's why that we've been involved in working this issue at the IAEA, and we will continue to do so. And so I think yes, it's an issue that ought to be and I think is taken seriously by the European Union, by others in NATO, certainly by those in Europe. So it's a security problem that extends beyond the Asia-Pacific region.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

Staff: Some of you have a plane to catch, as has our briefer. (Laughter.)

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