Rumsfeld: We've had very useful discussions here yesterday and today. The range of topics including operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and Kosovo reflect NATO's increasingly global role and responsibilities. If one thinks back not too many years, the thought that you would end up in a NATO meeting talking about NATO's activities in Afghanistan and Iraq and Kosovo would be stunning.
I think the world is witnessing a period of historic change. We've seen the election in Ukraine. We've seen what's happened in the Palestinian Authority. We know that 25 million people in Afghanistan have elected the first popularly elected president in the history of their country and are preparing for parliamentary elections in I believe June and clearly are on a path towards democracy. Another 25 or 26 million people in Iraq have been liberated and have gone out by the millions -- despite threats, despite signs on the wall saying you vote, you die. And had the courage and the conviction to cast their ballots.
The Iraqi security forces secured with an inner perimeter and an outer perimeter, some 5,000 polling places in Iraq successfully. And the confidence that that had to give people in that country to see other people coming out of their houses, being willing to do exactly the opposite of what the terrorists told them to do. The terrorists declared war on democracy and nonetheless they went out and voted.
I think it's important that the free world stand with those countries. NATO has played and will continue to play an important role.
The alliance members know well that extremists seek to prevent democracy from taking root in those countries and alliance members recognize that the NATO countries remain top targets for extremist attacks. If the world changes, so must NATO. Those of us who strongly support this alliance recognize the need for it to continue to transform itself to meet the 21st Century challenges and threats. This includes making NATO forces more capable, more useable, more deployable. It also entails organizational reforms to streamline the NATO bureaucracy and get it better arranged for the 21st Century. I'm confident that as these things take place they will be important in making sure that NATO remains probably the most successful military alliance in world history.
Finally, I want to extend my very warm appreciation to our French hosts for their hospitality. I guess I first came to Nice in 1951 as a midshipman. That's a long time ago. I've been back many many times. In fact the most recent visit here, my wife and I came for a vacation in August 2000 -- never imagining that I'd end up back in government. But it's a pleasure to be back here and I'd be happy to respond to some questions.
I'll take the easy ones, and Nick Burns is here if there's anything that really requires a diplomatic touch. [Laughter]. He's a diplomat.
Press: Ede [inaudible] in Brussels.
I wanted to ask you now that [inaudible] find that [inaudible] France and Germany [inaudible] to Iraq?
Rumsfeld: I've been involved with NATO for a great many years. I was a NATO parliamentarian back in the 1960s and I was a NATO ambassador in the 1970s. I've seen these ups and downs and curves and relationships in the NATO partnership and they have a rhythm to them. It's not surprising, ought not to be surprising that from time to time there are disagreements or differences in perspective. But clearly, each country in NATO is simultaneously a sovereign nation and makes its own decisions, and in addition a member of a very successful alliance.
I think the answer to your question is that countries do make their judgments based on their best interests and their best judgment. That's understandable. It's always been that way. So there's really nothing new that's been occurring here.
One has to say that this has been a particularly good period for NATO. If you think of the recent years we've created the NATO Response Force, we've modernized the NATO military command structure. NATO has taken steps with respect to Afghanistan and Iraq, as I mentioned, that were really unthinkable not too many years ago. The Bosnia effort has been moved over to the EU under the [Berlin Plus] successfully and that's an accomplishment for NATO. So there's a lot of good things happening in this alliance it seems to me.
Press: Mr. Secretary, Will Dunham with Reuters.
What threat does a nuclear armed North Korea pose for the world?
Rumsfeld: When we have a press conference in the United States Reuters always gets to ask the first question and I think he's a little hurt I didn't pick on him first today. I'm sorry I didn't start over there.
[Inaudible]. One is obviously, a country that has the procedure pattern that North Korea does of being probably one of the world's leading proliferators of ballistic missile technology, for example, is a threat in sense of proliferators and that is a worrisome thing, that a country of that nature that has the practice of going outside of most international agreements and understandings and breaks the Agreed Framework that they'd entered into and the North/South Agreement they'd entered into, so their respect for agreements is modest. So one has to be concerned about it from a proliferation standpoint.
If you believe them, that they have weapons. I do not know with certain knowledge that they do. I know I'm told that today in the press they indicated they do, but they've indicated other things from time to time that haven't necessarily proved out. So I just don't know whether they do.
Assuming they do, and I don't want my comments to be confirming that they do because I can't authoritatively do that. I see intelligence estimates and I know there are countries whose intelligence say they have them, and they say they have them, and they may have them, but I don't want to confirm that because I just can't do that.
And also, given their dictatorial regime and the repression of their own people, one has to worry about the weapons of that power in the hands of leadership of that nature. I don't think that anyone would characterize the leadership in that country as being restrained.
Press: [inaudible] Tribune.
[Inaudible], does this mean you might give up the whole idea of [inaudible]?
Rumsfeld: That's cute. That's nice. Let's try one over here. [Laughter].
I was every bit as praiseworthy I think last year. I do. I mean I've been pleased each year that I've been involved with NATO at the fact that NATO may not instantaneously do the right thing, but NATO does over time find its way to the right decisions. It could not have survived all these years and been so successful all these years if it doesn't -- I mean it isn't a single country that just makes a decision. It's now 26 countries. One has to expect there are going to be differences of perspectives within them.
No, I guess the short answer to your question is I think that NATO is an enormously valuable alliance. It has the capability of doing a number of things. No one ever suggested that it ought to be the only mechanism on the face of the earth that does anything in any part of the world, and that if it doesn't do it it should not be done.
So I think your question while clever misunderstands the euphemism.
Press: [inaudible]. I've got another unsolvable question.
Rumsfeld: This is for Nick Burns, the Ambassador to NATO.
Can NATO solve a simple problem? The U.S. risks over-stretch without the 25 European nations and the European nations risk insignificance without the U.S.. Do you think NATO can solve that problem?
Rumsfeld: I think in one sense NATO does solve that problem and is solving it. If you think of the number of NATO nations that are involved in Iraq and the number of NATO nations involved in Afghanistan, the number of NATO nations involved in Kosovo, the advantages are several.
First, from a stress standpoint and just having that kind of broader capability and capacity is a very helpful thing from the standpoint of those countries.
Second, the breadth of involvement on the part of NATO countries in these kinds of activities puts a lot of countries with a stake in the success of those activities and that's a good thing. Everyone does not have to do everything and indeed it's unlikely that everyone will do everything.
Take the Iraq situation. Some countries are putting trainers in Iraq to train there. Some people are training people outside of Iraq. Some countries are providing money for the trust funds to assist in the types of things that need to be purchased to achieve the training and equipping of the Iraqi forces. Some countries are providing equipment, in fact significant grants of equipment for the people. So there's four different ways just in one country that people can be helping.
Could you be more precise on [inaudible]?
Rumsfeld: I'll try. I didn't realize I was anything other than precise, but possibly I have been.
Kosovo is an important activity. NATO and non-NATO nations are involved. The understanding on the part of NATO nations was that we would go in together and out together. There are discussions taking place inside of NATO today and inside the leadership, the military leadership, as to what's the best way to have our forces arranged. Is it a macro approach or an area approach? What would be the most efficient way to do that? I think those discussions are underway at the military level aren't they, Nick?
But it is clearly a responsibility that this organization has undertaken along with some friends from other countries and it's a good thing we did.
I don't know what precision you were looking for. Could you be more precise in your question? [Laughter].
It's not clear to me I want you to be more precise.
Press: [inaudible]. [Laughter].
[Inaudible] Kosovo [inaudible] European nations, even under a NATO umbrella.
Rumsfeld: Well, those are obviously decisions that the President would make, not me. But our position has been and remains that we're a part of this collective effort. It's an important effort. And we intend to continue to be part of that important effort. Is that precise? Thank you.
Are we getting close to the end, Larry? I'd like to get out of here before I make a mistake.
Press: Mr. Secretary, what role, or do you think the Iraqi election played a role in changing the world's view on the mission in Iraq judging by the contributions you're receiving today from countries at the table? And look forward if you can about your concerns about caveats for some of these countries were received.
Rumsfeld: Let's take the subject of caveats first. If you think of it, if you have forces from, for the sake of argument ten countries, and they're in a country doing a job, whether it's Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, wherever. Iraq. To the extent they are functioning under different authorities from their governments it becomes enormously complicated for the military leadership. If the rules of engagement that are provided to the soldiers, the troops from one country are this wide and the rules of engagement that are provided by another country to their troops are much narrower, the difficulty in managing that from a military standpoint is clear.
The other thing is, we're up against enemies with brains. They watch to see what happens. And to the extent they see an area where the troops have a rule of engagement that prevents them from being – doing much - for whatever reason, that becomes a target. They say to themselves that's the weak link so they will go after that. And it has kind of a non-intuitive effect which is somewhat dangerous.
So what we're trying to do in NATO is to have countries, parliaments, develop a comfort level and an understanding that to the extent we're going to operate together it's much better if there are very few restrictions or very few differences in the rules of engagement, and that is something that takes some time.
In some instances they're mandated by parliaments, for example; in some instances they're politically difficult for one country because of promises that have been made or campaign pledges and the like. So it takes some time to work those out, but the tension is that to the extent they're not worked out it can be a bit more dangerous and a bit more difficult on the ground in whatever country might be involved.
The Iraq election. I think that the elections in Afghanistan were, I was there for the inauguration of President Karzai and I don't think anyone could be there or who had any familiarity with what took place on the ground in Afghanistan -- women walking hours to go vote for the first time. The threats that were issued by the Taliban and the al-Qaida beforehand. The influencing on the part of a lot of observers that it's too dangerous, they couldn't have elections, the alliance shouldn't do it. Then to have those elections and have the [Bonn] process play out over time step after step after step. An interim government, a constitution, election of the president, and coming up this summer, parliamentary elections. It has to be a reassuring thing.
A lot of people said the Afghans, they've had droughts, they've had civil war, they had occupation by the Soviets, they have no background in democracy and freedom and they won't be able to handle it. And they are handling it. It's a tough thing to do. It's a bumpy road. Thomas Jefferson said no one moving from despotism to democracy should expect to be transported on a featherbed. It's tough business and it's hard and you have to learn it and you make mistakes along the way, but that has to be reassuring to see what's happening in Afghanistan.
So too in Iraq. Iraq has got a ways to go and there are going to be some bumps in the road, let there be no doubt. It's just tough business. But they have a lot going for them. They've had an election when people said it couldn't happen. They showed enormous courage to do that. The security forces, the election workers, the voters, and God bless them for doing that. It shows I think that the power of freedom is enormous and if one just looks back over history, the sweep of history is in favor of freedom. What's happened in Iraq is on the side of freedom. That's a good thing.
I do think that anyone in the world looking at that has to be encouraged. To think that that country with its oil wells, with its water wealth, with its educated population, with its geographic location, with its set of neighbors. If it is successful in navigating that path towards democracy it will be obviously a wonderful thing for the Iraqi people but it also will be a wonderful thing for the region and the world.