Secretary Rumsfeld Remarks at Roundtable During the Central American Ministerial in Miami, Fl.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Let me just say one thing about Iraq. I've gotten a report that is I find enormously encouraging. It appears that the debates and discussions and pulling and hauling that we've been seeing in recent months in connection with the constitution has at this moment come out in a very favorable place some three days before the referendum.
My understanding of the situation is that they have struck something that might reasonably be considered to be what they had hoped to strike, namely something approximating a national compact that will enable them to shortly after the election -- not after the referendum but after the election in December, would leave the permanent parliament, assembly, to proceed in a fairly prompt and orderly way to address issues among the various groups.
If that's the case, if that proves to be the case, if it holds together over the next there days, you could have a constitution not only passed, which I have believed all along it would pass, but passed with the support of a much broader element within the Sunni community than had previously been the case.
I qualify this because I have not talked to people out there personally. I've been getting reports from people who have talked out there personally. So I'm encouraged and I am hopeful that the way I've characterized it not only proves to be the truth, the correct thing today which I believe it to be, but that it holds together over the next several days which of course -- and I think this is important. If it's right the way I've characterized it, it suggests that the Iraqi people have developed a maturity, a political maturity in political compromise. That is not an easy thing to do, political compromise. It's not something that people necessarily take to, and certainly people who have not experienced that process, have not lived with it, have not seen it operate in their own environment.
If it's right, then we've seen an example of political compromise which is what democracies are about. No one walks away with all the marbles.
PRESS: Can you explain that one step further, Mr. Secretary? If this is indeed correct and this happens, what effect it may have on the insurgency in terms of undermining support in the Sunni community for insurgencies?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think the immediate effect will very likely be what it's always been. A new spike in violence. The last thing in the world the enemies want is success. The last thing they want to see is a democracy in Iraq. the last thing they want to see if people in the various elements in that country compromising in a way that they can get along with each other and plot a future that's peaceful because it creates an environment that's inhospitable for terrorists, and that's a good thing. Therefore there will be even more aggression I would suspect between now and October 15th and now and December 15th.
PRESS: And what does this mean in terms of the Zarkawi [inaudible] letter? Does that come into play also in this?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don't think so. That letter is
what it is. I've read it four or five times over the last weeks and --
PRESS: But it also called for escalating violence.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: But we've already known that. There's nothing new in that.
PRESS: Do you think from watching the Iraqi people [inaudible] violence has something to do with their willingness to compromise?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I try to stick to things I know. I don't know. It might. I think that over time they have to be tired of it. All the civilians that have been killed -- men, women and children -- by the terrorists. The indiscriminate nature of it. The purposeful nature of it on the part of the terrorists.
Now to the extent it can be cast as being violence against the Coalition or violence against the Iraqi government, that is not yet the basis, it doesn't have as its basis the constitution or a new election. Then they can try to mask what they're doing. I think that that argument gets slimmer and slimmer and slimmer and people see through it and understand that the violence is against Iraq, it is against Muslims, it is against innocent people, and it is against men, women and children who have done nothing to the people who are caught in that kind of carnage.
PRESS: While you're in the Middle East thinking, there was another development today. The Syrian Interior Ministry [inaudible] today. The official Syrian News Agency said it was a suicide [inaudible] question about that. Given all the turmoil inside of the Syrian government right now I didn't know if you'd been told about that or --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I have not.
PRESS: -- if this is a sign of [inaudible] perhaps or --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No, I've not been told about it. I've been obviously pretty busy.
I would only say that, and probably prefer to say it off the record, it would be interesting to see if his name pops up in the Nellis Report, I'm almost sure it will. He was one of the architects of [inaudible]. Who knows? It's a tough part of the world. [Inaudible] spent a lot of time over there.
PRESS: Back on the record?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Yes.
I'm standing because I've been sitting all day.
PRESS: People talk about these meetings like the one in Quito and the one here and the [inaudible] countries. And one understands that these meetings generally -- the meetings themselves from the high level people, offer people to speak out and exchange ideas and that actual decisions aren't made at these meetings. Were there any decisions, is there any decision being made here to do anything concrete right now? We realize this is evolving, it's moving forward, but has anything -- is an decision being made, being finalized?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I've already had five bilaterals and I guess the other Ministers have probably had five bilaterals. That's a lot of bilateral meetings that are taking place. If you multiply it out, it's a bucket.
What happens is that this particular conference lets people have those multiple bilaterals, and in those meetings things do get agreed upon or decided. Directions get solidified between two countries, and instructions are given to people [inaudible] General [Crack] or Roger or somebody else or people in their Ministries to go do something and let's try to get that finished, let's get that closed, let's initiate this new thing. A lot of that happens.
What you saw in the conference -- I guess you weren't in the conference, you were just in the opening statements.
PRESS: -- closed meetings.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well what I saw was a bunch of countries together that clearly understand in every inch of their bones the truth --
We don't allow latecomers. Sorry. No, you missed the whole beginning of this. There's no way you can catch up. [Laughter].
What you saw is the theme of it is the relationship between security and economic opportunity. And that linkage they understand, they get it. It isn't as though -- And the discussion that came up today throughout the plenary sessions focused on that truth, and it is a truth. They're not separable. You can simply not create an environment that's hospitable to investment and enterprise and opportunity for people in a circumstance that lacks security and safety. It just doesn't happen. And it damages people. It damages their opportunities. And that causes you to behave in a certain way once you understand that.
The next step off of that clearly is to recognize that no one country can do any of -- To deal with any of these transnational threats alone. It just can't be done. We can't, let alone any country between us and Colombia. They just can't. They need to cooperate. They get it. That is I think an important fact.
The way they are all leaning forward and cooperating it strikes me is not to necessarily be expected. We find all parts of the world where people are leaning back, not forward. And here at the political level at the very top, and we had all these Presidents into Washington prior to CAFTA and they came over to the Pentagon and had discussions, meetings and everything. At that level they're leaning very far forward. There's a lot of very good leadership at this moment in this part of the world in my view.
The militaries are leaning forward. They understand that they need to cooperate. They understand they need to cooperate with each other and they need to do the same problem we have in the United States, trying to develop much more intimate interagency linkages so that you can bring all of the elements of your government to bear on a set of problems. I think that's a good thing.
How would you, Roger, say this? I don't think you'll see any announcements of any decisions.
ROGER: They presented a lot of [inaudible] --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: -- rapid reaction force. They're adapting it to disasters as well as to peacekeeping operations.
ROGER: They started it as a dual-purpose thing but they are narrowing down the focus on maybe directed [inaudible] as such deal with humanitarian or have an engineering force or medics or something like that. That's happening in the working groups. I haven't been in the working groups so I have no idea what they're talking about [inaudible].
PRESS: Have there been any specific requests for any other aid to either Guatemala or any of the countries from the U.S. military?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well it's an interaction between the -- Just as in the Pakistan problem, CENTCOM kind of has the coordinating lead but we're bringing assets from elsewhere, outside of CENTCOM. Europe, the United States, wherever we have to. The same thing here in South America. John has kind of a lead in coordinating it because he deals with particularly the Guatemalans.
JOHN: The major effort with Guatemala obviously [inaudible]. More probably we would have partnered with them to determine, try to assess their needs and provide that. That was [inaudible] to do search and rescue and then to deliver the humanitarian relief supplies out to the people in the small villages and towns that were cut off.
With regard to El Salvador, we offered an assessment team when the volcano started to act up and finally did a small eruption. The El Salvadorans took that and we now are tied in with them quite close if there's a follow-on event.
For the flooding we offered assistance and support and they have the situation under control. They got the shelters up quickly and moved out.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We have some precedents. The discussion goes on continuously. They keep saying what about this, what about that, and then John doesn't have that kind of capability within his AOR, so it goes back into Washington and the Joint Staff and the Joint Forces Command looks at --
PRESS: Are you all ready to perhaps put some money in that rapid reaction force pot? He talked about it might be easier to get political acceptance out of [inaudible], get some money for it. I mean he talked about things like a trust to perpetuate -- I'm just wondering if [inaudible] help them finance it or --
VOICE: -- through the global peace operations [inaudible] the President's initiative to support peacekeeping capabilities worldwide. They were ready for that.
PRESS: -- the legwork several years in advance.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The thing that struck me of course is I look at the things in the macro sense and the fact that we've had observers from Colombia and Mexico and the Dominican Republic participating with these countries from Central America I think reflects a full appreciation on all of their parts that that's necessary, that you need that linkage and those relationships. It isn't just the central part of Central America, but these problems that we face are things that reach across the entire area.
PRESS: -- from Mexico now. Do you think that reflects some worry about Chavez and what he might be doing?
One of the problems we have in Mexico is --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You realize you're not going to make it with this crowd. This is Charlie's fourth question. You've had your hand up and you've been leaning forward but you never actually get it out. We all want to help you. [Laughter]. We're here to help you, I want you to know that.
PRESS: I guess what I'm saying is U.S. relations with Cuba for some time have been a burr under Mexico's saddle, so to speak, but do you think they're a bit worried about Chavez and the hookup between Chavez and the Cubans and what's going on? And perhaps that might be softening or warming them up towards Washington.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I have no idea.
PRESS: Sir, [inaudible] anything that came out of the meetings or the bilats or --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Roger's good behavior. [Laughter].
PRESS: -- a step forward that you didn't expect [inaudible].
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I have felt the cooperation when I've visited each individual country. I have felt it in prior meetings. But it is palpable, you can feel the recognition on their part that they're a part of a portion of the globe that's important, that's sizeable together, that they want to do well, that they have internalized the concepts of democracy and recognized that to be successful with free political and free economic systems they've got to bring these threads together and cooperate to a greater extent. I think it's impressive and admirable. And there tends to be an undervaluing of leadership in the world, I would submit, and I think that we have in this part of the world some leaders that are impressive and doing well for their people and understanding the directions that they're charting are tough ones, but they're doing it in a way that recognizes the reality that they have to try to do more of it together, and I think that's impressive. It's fun to see. It's a good thing.
PRESS: Mr. Secretary, in your speech you were talking about some bad actors who would like to take Central America back to this history of chaos and [inaudible]. Who were you referring to?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Who do you think?
PRESS: You tell me.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think that there are always going to be in the world forces in this part of the world and other parts of the globe, people, movements, groups, interests that are different from those of us who believe in free political systems and free economic systems. And they will rise and fall over time. I believe that if one reads history carefully the great sweep of human history is for freedom. There will always be people who will try to weaken it and to put in its place some approach to governing that is fundamentally inconsistent with freedom. We see it in every part of the world from time to time over the decades in my lifetime. And I guess I'd just leave it at that. People have to recognize that freedom is under challenge fairly continuously in many parts of the world, and that it does need to be defended and it has to be nurtured and protected and allow it to flourish, and those that oppose it have to be discouraged and ultimately lose heart.
PRESS: But you seem to be [inaudible] narco-terrorists and gangs and that kind of thing. Were you talking about right wing groups, Sandinistas, that kind of thing? People who are part and parcel of the [inaudible]?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You [inaudible].
PRESS: Are you going beyond narco-terrorists and criminals and that kind of thing? Are you talking about right wing groups? People --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: My lord, you live in a neighborhood where a gang takes over, I don't care whether it's Chicago or wherever, that is against freedom, that is against the people being able to get up in the morning and go where they want and say what they want and do what they want because fear and intimidation take over and they own the streets and they own the town and that's dangerous.
PRESS: How about some of these people who are democratically elected like Chavez?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Throughout history there have been complications like that. There have been plenty of people who ultimately navigated over to a rather extreme position who were elected in the first instance. He's not the first one.
PRESS: What strategy do you have in the case of [inaudible]? Do you have any idea what the United States would do [inaudible]?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No, those are the kinds of things that the President and the Department of State fashion, not the Department of Defense.
Even if you're late you get to ask a question. What was so damn important? That you just didn't -- [Laughter].
PRESS: He will never be late again. [Laughter].
PRESS: [Inaudible] Minister of Defense from Nicaragua [inaudible]. [Inaudible].
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I guess I can talk about that. Yeah, I did. It's a subject of interest to us. You calibrate me, I don't want to say anything wrong, but this has the benefit of being true, that they have addressed this issue and the political leadership in the country has addressed it, the military leadership has addressed it. They've addressed it in a constructive way, they've had a degree of success.
The obstacles to their completing that process do not lie within the military and they do not lie within the political leadership of the country. I think it's safe to say thus far they lie in the parliament.
VOICE: And specifically in the path between [Alleman] and Ortega.
ROGER: Can I add something to that, sir?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Sure, in a minute. But what I said was we recognize the effort they've put into it, we appreciate that, and we appreciate the success they've had, and I was particularly impressed with the very strong assurances that during a period when they are not able because of obstacles in the parliament and in the [inaudible] to complete the task of destroying, they have in every way possible guaranteed their security. That is, from my standpoint, encouraging.
ROGER: Sir, the [inaudible] issues of many countries have spoken to Nicaragua about it. They are [inaudible] civilian aviation worldwide. As you know, we have given the Nicaraguans our concerns and given them also a sense of how to satisfy the concerns, and [inaudible]. [Inaudible] satisfied those concerns.
They have put the missiles that they have in a very secure place. They have gone out to look for missiles that might be elsewhere. The leadership of the army went to the Nicaraguan Assembly and lobbied for destruction of the missiles. All these things were very positive.
Those steps had not been taken early on.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I'm going to excuse myself. Off the record. Sanity requires that I play squash, so I'm going to excuse myself. I will leave you with the collective wisdom of the folks here in this room. With a high degree of confidence that there's almost nothing they don't know.
PRESS: Thank you.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Not that squash is more important, it's just that [I want to play it].
PRESS: Definitely more fun. [Laughter].