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DoD News Briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld and Minister Nelson from the Pentagon

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Australian Minister of Defense Hon. Dr. Brendan Nelson M
June 28, 2006 02:50 PM EDT
SEC. RUMSFELD:  Hello, folks.  The minister of Defense of Australia is standing to my right.  He is -- Dr. Nelson is here on his first visit as minister of Defense.  He is -- we had a good visit in Singapore very recently, at the Shangri-La Conference.   

 

            As you folks here know, our countries have fought side by side for, I guess, ever since World War I, and cooperated very closely in so many activities, as we are today.  The performance of the Australian military is uniformly excellent.  They are a country that we train with, we exercise with, and we work -- and very effectively -- with today in any number of activities.   

 

            We certainly appreciate the leadership role that Australia has taken with respect to East Timor and elsewhere to provide security and stability in that important part of the world.   

 

            I'll let the minister talk about the specific subjects we discussed in our earlier meeting, except to say that we did discuss the maturity and the depth and the strength of our partnership.  We are making progress towards developing systems to better defend our respective countries.  We are improving the ability of our militaries to train and fight more seamlessly together.  We've -- in NATO -- and other countries in NATO are interested in developing a somewhat closer relationship with Australia, not as a member of NATO but a country that has similar values and that cooperates with NATO, for example, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.   

 

            I should also say that we're -- today we're meeting almost 10 years to the day since the terrorists destroyed a U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 of our servicemen and wounding hundreds more.  The Khobar Towers bombing was one episode in a -- the long war that has been declared against the United States and our allies and indeed against freedom. 

 

            Few nations have been as resolute or shown as much clarity in their determination to protect freedom from the specter of terrorism than Australia. 

 

            Mr. Minister, you have the podium. 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  Oh, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, and I thank you and the United States government for the welcome that I've had here in Washington. 

 

            As you say, it's nearly 90 years that we've fought side by side with one another.  In fact, every major conflict since World War I has seen the United States and Australia serving alongside one another. We do so because we share your values.  We believe that the freedom of human beings is best served by liberal democracy and free enterprise and also for the prevention of human servitude. 

 

            We take the view in Australia, whilst we are relatively remote from the United States -- we're a large continent of 20 million people -- we take the view that the war against terrorism is not something that we wait to turn up on our doorsteps.  We lost Australians in Bali from people who had signed up to the same ideological insanity as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We believe that if we do not take on people who have hijacked the Islamic faith in the name of evil, that if we simply say that it has nothing to do with us because we live in a more remote part of the world, then we will most certainly leave the next generation of Australians and people throughout the world hostage to a force that they many never control. 

 

            The extremists have a fanatical opposition to the United States and countries which share its values, including Australia, and they also have a particular approach to other issues -- the treatment of women in other regions which is incompatible with a free way of life which is so endeared to the American people. 

 

            We are certainly increasing substantially our expenditure on defense.  We are determined to see that our defense forces are interoperable with the United States, and we remain with you shoulder to shoulder to support the heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan and other theaters, including in our own region for the foreseeable future. 

 

            Thanks. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you. 

 

            We'll try to -- we have a number of representatives of the press from Australia, and what we'll do is possibly alternate and start with someone from the U.S. and then go to someone from Australia, and since we have a guest from another country, try to behave with a modest amount of decorum.  (Soft laughter.) 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  (Inaudible.) 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I know that's asking a lot of a few of you, but -- yes? 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, what is your level of concern over the increasing financial cost of the United States of the Iraq war?  And what accounts for this increase in cost? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  The cost of any conflict in history has been impossible to predict.  The cost of September 11th has been estimated by various people, and it was enormous; hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars. And the price to our country and to other countries of another September 11th would be potentially multiples of that.   

 

            What -- all in all, if you add everything up, the United States government today is spending about 3.7 or 3.8 percent of gross domestic product on defense.  When I came to Washington in 1950, during the Eisenhower and the Kennedy era, we were spending 10 percent of GDP.  When I was secretary of Defense 30 years ago, we were spending 5 or 6 percent of GDP.  And today we're spending 3.7 or (3.)8 percent of gross domestic product.   

 

            So the benefit that the American people have from a security system that enables the kind of opportunity that we have and that other stakeholders in the global system have is what -- it undergirds those opportunities.  And I think what we have to do is accept the reality that it is going to cost some money.  I know people were up testifying recently that we're going to have to see that we get our equipment refurbished and reset so that we have the kinds of capabilities that will be necessary to contribute to peace and stability in the world. 

 

            Australia.  Yes? 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering whether or not you've given any guarantees today on the transfer of technology for the Joint Strike Fighter Program to the minister.   

 

            And just a follow-up, if I might, too, on North Korea.  I'm just wondering how, for both of you, how concerned you are on China at the moment on whether or not China is not doing any heavy lifting on the North Korean issue. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  With respect to the technology transfer, my understanding is that most of the issues either have been worked out or are being worked out quite successfully.  And we discussed the subject.  We recognize the interests of Australia in particularly the Joint Strike Fighter.  I took the minister by to meet Gordon England, the deputy secretary of Defense, who works these issues, which I do not to any great extent. 

 

            And I know of no issue that's a problem there. 

 

            With respect to North Korea, it is worrisome to the world, to their neighbors and others to see the steps that appear to be being taken by the North Koreans with respect to the preparation of a missile launch.  They've not made any announcements to the world as to their intentions, or no notice to mariners or of any type, which leaves a lot of unknowns that people have to address.   

 

            I know that the Department of State and the president have talked to a number of other countries and urged them to interest themselves in the subject.  It's not for me to characterize the extent to which one or another country may or may not have done so. 

 

            U.S.  Pam? 

 

            Q     Mr. Minister, with the handover of Muthanna province, that frees up some, I think, 400 or 500 Australian troops that are there. Are you going to be withdrawing them from Iraq or redeploying them in the country? 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  Well, look, we're going to redeploy them.  We've got 1,350 Australian defense force personnel in the theater of Iraq, 460 of them in Al Muthanna province, and have, up until now, been protecting the Japanese engineers who have been engaged in very important reconstruction community projects in Al Muthanna.   

 

            When the Japanese finally are withdrawn, which will be toward the end of July, we will be redeployed to Tallil.  We'll have 30 of our people at the basic training center at Tallil; we'll have another 33 at the counterinsurgency unit at Taji, 20 kilometers north of Baghdad. We'll be providing mentoring and training and support for border patrols along the Saudi border in the southern end, once we are redeployed.  And we will also, under circumstances we've been negotiating with the Iraqis, the U.S., the British and our coalition partners, we’ll also be providing backup to the Iraqi security forces in Al Muthanna.  We’re actually very impressed with the Iraqi 2nd Brigade, whom we have trained in Al Muthanna and will be there to provide support for this next important milestone phase in Iraq.  This is about the Iraqi people in Al Muthanna taking control of their own affairs and us being there to provide support.   

 

            I'd also say in relation to data and technology for the Joint Strike Fighter, we are confident that all of our requirements will be met on the JSF, the technology and data transfer.   

 

            And as far as the cost of the war and terror is concerned, we -- like America, we can measure the cost of the war, but we cannot measure the cost of not taking up the war against terrorism. 

 

            Q     Sorry, just to be clear, so no anticipated reduction in the number of troops? 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  No, we don't.  Look, we are there -- we are there until the job in Iraq is done.  And what that means is when the Iraqi -- the democratically elected Iraqi government -- and who would have thought four years ago anyone would be saying that?  But when the democratically elected Iraqi government is able to manage its own affairs, having been supported by the United States, the British, Australians and the other partner countries, when it is able to conduct its own affairs and we've negotiated the arrangements, then and only then will we be in a position to talk about such things. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Someone from Australia? 

 

            Yes? 

 

            Q     The Hamdan decision from the Supreme Court is expected to be handed down tomorrow. 

 

            In the lead up to that, President Bush has said on several occasions that he would like as many Guantanamo Bay inmates as possible to be repatriated except for the, I think, the throat-cutters or cold-blooded killers was the expression.  Has there been any discussion about the possible repatriation of David Hicks?  Are there any circumstances under which he could be repatriated, or is he in that category of throat-cutters and cold-blooded killers? 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  Well, the Supreme Court decision we're expecting tomorrow, and that will determine the veracity of the military commission.  From Australia's point of view, we want to make sure that in a fair and legal and expeditious way that David Hicks, his case is considered, and then, what happens after that will be a matter for the outcome of the judgment, I would expect. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Jamie. 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, I'm just reading here the dispatch from the Associated Press, which says -- out of Baghdad -- it says:  Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered to halt attacks on the U.S-led military if the Iraqi government -- if President Bush set a two-year timetable for withdrawing foreign troops from the country.  I'm wondering what your reaction is to that, in particular, but also, perhaps more generally, the idea of reaching some sort of negotiated or settlement with the insurgent groups in order to end the violence in Iraq as a general principle.  Is that something that you would support? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Obviously, I haven't seen this report, and there are periodic reports of that type.  I think that what the prime minister has announced and what Condi Rice and I heard when we were there not just from the prime minister and the Shi'a leadership, but also from the Sunni and from the Kurdish leadership, is that the -- it is in everybody's interest that there be some sort of a reconciliation process in that country.  Now it's easier to say that than to do it. But the prime minister has launched it.  He has opened that subject up for discussion, debate, and I'm sure that their parliament and the various interested parties in the country will engage it.  And over some period of time, there will be a process.  Other countries have engaged in reconciliation processes of various types, and I think it would be a good thing if they are able over time to come to some understandings among all of the elements of the country as to how they feel it would be appropriate to resolve some of those issues and then go forward.  What they'll end up deciding, I don't know. 

 

            Q     Would it be appropriate to trade a timetable if you saw real reduction in violence in Iraq? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  The president's view has been and remains that a timetable is not something that is useful. 

 

            It is a signal to the enemies that all you have to do is just wait, and it's yours.  And the president properly, in my view, and our coalition partners have said that it is condition-based, it depends on the pace at which the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government are able to assume responsibility for their country.  And we're not -- the goal is to succeed.  The goal is to -- is not to trade something off for something else to make somebody happy.  The goal is to succeed, and that means exactly what the president has said.  It's condition-based. 

 

            Q     But if it was conditioned, this timetable, on a real reduction in violence, something that would be very easy to verify and see if it was actually taking place, what would be wrong with that? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  The -- I've stated what the position of the United States government is.  I think it's the correct position. 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  And Australia would strongly endorse that position and those remarks, I can assure you. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Australia? 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, on the subject of Afghanistan, the president there has been critical recently about the lack of international attention that's being paid to his warnings about the upsurge in violence and the Taliban.  What's your assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, and do you think that there may be a need to commit further forces to that country to counter that? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, first of all, let me say that I think President Karzai is a -- has a very difficult job, and he is doing it very well.  It is the first time in, I don't know, 500 years that that country's had a popularly elected president, a parliament, a free press and is engaging in governing that country in a manner other than through dictatorial methods.  And that's tough.  That's hard work, and it isn't easy.  And as Thomas Jefferson said, you don't go from a monarchy or a dictatorship to democracy on a featherbed.  It is a difficult task. 

 

            The situation in Afghanistan at the present time is characterized by the season.  It is summer.  Historically, the level of violence increases during the warmer months.  It's a harsh environment in the winter.  And we've seen this each year. 

 

            My personal view is that the government will be successful.  The number of troops that we have there and that other coalition countries have there are in fact going up.  As NATO took over the north, took over the west -- it is now in the process of taking over the south. They have actually increased the number of troops.  We have over time both reduced and then increased our force levels, again because it's condition-based, and I would suspect that we would continue to do that. 

 

            And simultaneously, I should add, the Afghan security forces are increasing in size and experience.  And we've been working with -- they are short of equipment, in my view, and we've been working with other coalition countries to try to increase their participation in the training and equipping of those forces. 

 

            U.S.  Yes?  

 

            Q     Mr. Defense minister, in light of the North Korean missile threat and the plan to deploy Patriot interceptors to Japan, is Australia planning on acquiring any of its own missile defenses, such as Patriot interceptors?  And also, what is your country doing diplomatically to work on the North Korea issue? 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  Well, look, I'll take the second part first.  We strongly support the six-party talks in relation to North Korea.  Our prime minister is in China at the moment and has held discussions at a very high level with the Chinese government, and I understand that this is one of the issues that has been discussed in terms of China's dialogue with North Korea. 

 

            No, we're not thinking of acquiring any of the missiles of that type.  We are about to build three Air Warfare Destroyers with an Aegis combat system on them, and at some time in the future they may possibly play a role in interception.  I think particularly for an Australian audience, what we're seeing in North Korea at the moment is essentially one of the worst fears that's held by people throughout the world, including Australians.   

 

            And I think people need to reflect on the fact that there are very few countries in the world that are in a position possibly to deal with it, and the United States is foremost amongst them.  And in fact, we've discussed -- the secretary and I have discussed this issue, and we hope, of course, it won't be necessary, but should North Korea launch what proves to be a missile, Australia would strongly support the United States dealing with it effectively as it sees fit. And obviously, we continue to support the processes of the U.N. and the six-party talks, and hoping that that's not ever necessary. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Australia?   

 

            Q     Mr. Minister, your talks with Boeing.  Are they still telling you that the Wedgetail project is running behind schedule?  Is that still a problem for Australia? 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  Look, I've had a meeting with the CEO, Vice President of Boeing, Jim Albaugh, and its new project director for the AWAC, the Wedgetail, and we are very disappointed with Boeing's performance on this project. 

 

            We have discussed rescheduling and a re-timetabling of the project. I've asked my most senior people to now spend what will probably be a number of weeks renegotiating the schedule with Boeing.  But I'm confident we'll get the capability and the outcome that Australia needs and has signed up for. 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, there's been a lot of discussion on Capitol Hill about potential troop withdrawal plans, even the label, "the Casey plan," after an article was printed over the weekend.  Do the politics of troop withdrawal on the Hill trouble you at this time? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well -- let me think how I should characterize my view of that.   

 

            (Laughter.) 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  (Laughs.) 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  It is -- certainly it tends not to be helpful. But we're a democracy and people can do what they want and say what they want and offer opinions as they wish, and we survive that and life goes on. 

 

            The status is exactly where it's been.  That President Bush and I met with General Casey while he was here in Washington.  I believe he goes back this evening.  He will -- as the new minister of Defense and minister of Interior get their feet on the ground and staff-up their ministries, he will be meeting with them and discussing a way forward jointly between the United States and the coalition countries with the new Iraqi government, which is a four-year government.  And they will be discussing how they think it's appropriate for us to continue passing over bases, and passing over provinces, and passing over various military responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces as they're able to assume those responsibilities.   

 

            At some point, General Casey then will come back and discuss with us and with coalition countries what he believes is an appropriate way forward, having been fashioned with this new government.  And until that happens, we don't have any announcements to make.  And it should happen in the period ahead.  How long it will take is an open question.   

 

            But we continue to believe that we're there to succeed.  And our forces are doing a superb job.  And the new government is taking important steps forward, I believe, and making good decisions with respect to a reconciliation process; with respect to their desire to review the pace at which the Iraqi security forces are being developed, the size of those forces, the relative mix between Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense forces. 

 

            And I think that's, obviously, exactly what a new government should do, and we'll see where that comes out. 

 

            Q     But do the Democrats have a point when they complain that they're being chastised for advocating publicly what they say General Casey is simply planning for privately? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Oh, goodness.  They feel this way, someone chastises -- I'm not going to get into all of that, and I didn't chastise anybody.  Let's stick with the facts. 

 

            Q     (Off mike.) 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Is this the last one? 

 

            STAFF:  We’ve got time for one more. 

 

            Q     The Wedgetail Boeing issue. 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  Yeah. 

 

            Q     When they won that contract about six years ago, they said they were going to have it -- you know, that you would have that plane by, you know, two years earlier.  They're fairly far behind now.  Can you flush out a little bit of why you're disappointed?  And this is your version of the AWACS, so it's pretty important to my understanding. 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  Well, it's extremely important to us, and recently, we were informed that there were what I would consider to be significant delays in the project.  I've discussed this, and I've said now in two meetings with the CEO vice president, I don't think it's appropriate me to say much more about it at this stage.  But there'll be some -- I'll be providing some further information in relation to the AWACS in the not-too-distant future. 

 

            Q     (Off mike) -- when you overpromised Australia what they couldn't deliver on -- in the schedule that you were asking for? 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  Well, I wouldn't describe it in those terms.  I think Boeing has let the Australian government down, and I think they've let themselves down.  And as I say, I don't think it's appropriate at this stage -- I don't intend to say much more.  Now, what I intend to do is to make damn sure that Boeing delivers on the project. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you, folks. 

 

            MIN. NELSON:  Thank you.

 

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