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DoD News Briefing - Secretaries Rumsfeld and Martinez

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 24, 2001 2:00 PM EDT

Monday, September 24, 2001 - 2 p.m. EDT

(Special briefing with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez on mortgage rates for members of the Guard and Reserve called to active duty. Also see the HUD news release .)

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.

I'm pleased to be here to introduce the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who is here to discuss an innovative program that will help military Reservists who are called up.

As you know, in the aftermath of the attack here -- and President Bush is calling up a number of thousands of Reservists to active duty -- they're leaving their jobs, and many, of course, take a hit in their paychecks. And this program is designed to ease their mortgage burdens and actually do some additional things as well with respect to renters, as the individuals serve their country.

And I certainly want to salute the secretary, my friend Mel Martinez, the -- his HUD team, for this effort. It's a good one.

It's helpful. It's going to be appreciated. And I'm delighted to introduce the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Mel, you have the floor --

Martinez: Thank you.

Rumsfeld: -- and then we can respond to some questions.

Martinez: Okay. Well, I'm really pleased to be here with you today. The secretary and I have been talking about how we can help the folks that are being called to active duty.

And first of all, let me say, as I come to your building, that I'm so pleased and proud of you and the people who work with you for being in business. I think we all are trying very hard to follow the president's counsel on that and make sure that America is back to business.

And so, along those lines, in order to assist those folks who are citizen soldiers and who are being deployed and who are being called to active duty, people who have mortgage payments and car payments and other obligations of everyday life, we want to today advise that we have issued a letter to all FHA-approved lenders, advising them of their obligations under the 1940s Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act. And this is an act which advises all lenders to reduce interest rates on mortgages to no more than six percent to all members of the military on active duty. The lenders are also prohibited from foreclosing against any military personnel during and immediately following their tour of active duty.

The relief act also helps military renters too by ensuring that they cannot be evicted from their property or by allowing them to terminate lease arrangements, if it was in their own interest to do so, without any type of repercussion.

I'm also taking additional steps and encouraging mortgage lenders to postpone principal payments on all servicemen and -women during their tour of duty, if they chose to avail themselves of that opportunity.

In addition to that, beginning tomorrow, HUD will have a toll-free number for servicemen and -women who have questions concerning their mortgages -- a number that they can call. And the number is 1- 888-297-8685. And we will also post additional information on our web site, for those who would be interested in doing that.

This follows other announcements that we've made at HUD last week concerning mortgage payments and foreclosure possibilities on the families that were directly impacted by the tragedies of September 11th, and now we want to make sure that we're doing what we can for the men and women who serve our country and who are really at the front line of defending our country and, as you so eloquently said the other day at the Cabinet meeting, those who stand as a sword and a shield, protecting the many from the tyranny of the few.

Well, thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, President Bush -- I'm sorry.

Rumsfeld: I'll be happy to respond to one or two or three questions. And then I'm going to leave Mel here with you to answer questions on his area.

Yes?

Q: President Putin said today that the Russian government is going to supply -- actively now supply military equipment and arms to the Afghan opposition. Does the United States also intend to provide military support for the Afghan opposition in order to get rid of the Taliban?

Rumsfeld: We don't have any announcements to make with respect to the activities either with the Aghan Northern Alliance or with the various tribes in the southern part of the country.

Q: Is that under consideration?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think as the president said, we are considering a whole range of things, the purpose being to attempt to create a situation where it becomes in people's interest to not support terrorists or terrorist networks, and, where they exist, to attempt to make life uncomfortable for them and expel them or turn them in.

Q: So the United States welcomes this move on the part of the Russians to militarily support the opposition?

Rumsfeld: My impression is that they have been in close contact with the Northern Alliance for some time. I don't know that there's any change in policy.

Q: Mr. Secretary, understanding this is more than just a military campaign and, as you've noted, the lack of conventional military targets, can you just give us some general idea how you can hit the terrorists and the people that support them militarily, given the lack of conventional targets? Is there a general way you can speak about how you get to them militarily?

Rumsfeld: It seems to me that what we've said is correct, that we are looking at the full range and spectrum of things that can be done both from a military standpoint as well as, as the president announced today, from a financial standpoint, and diplomatic. Clearly, the decision by the United Arab Emirates to sever their relationship with the Taliban is an example of the kinds of things that can be very helpful.

Q: Can you just tell us the new name of this operation?

Rumsfeld: I may do that tomorrow. I'd like to let it build a little bit. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, what evidence does the U.S. government have that the Taliban may not only harbor Osama bin Laden, but could actually be directly involved in the sponsorship or in terrorism itself? And if so, doesn't that make the Taliban a legitimate military target in this new war on terrorism?

Rumsfeld: Well, there's no question but that -- again, we've been very explicit about this -- that the only way we can defend the way of life of Americans, free people, is to not think you can defend against every conceivable terrorist everywhere in the world using any technique.

The only way to do it is to carry the effort to them. And when you say to them, it means to the terrorists, the terrorist networks, the people that help them, the people that sponsor them, the people that finance them, and the people who tolerate them. And it means that you have to undertake a host of things, all across the spectrum. And clearly the president said I think, in his speech -- I can't remember the exact word, but he said that if you're in that position as a terrorist or someone assisting terrorists, then you're not with us.

Q: Mr. Secretary.

Q: Does that mean then -- could I follow up? Does that mean then, Mr. Secretary, that the U.S. is intent on overthrowing the Taliban regime?

Rumsfeld: It means what I said. We are intent on altering behavior. We're intent on attempting to take the steps so that the American people and our interests and friends and allies and deployed forces can go about our business, not in fear. And that means that we want countries to stop behaving in the way that I've just described. And we intend to do things that will help encourage them. And the kinds of things we would do would run across the full spectrum.

Let me get the last one.

Q: Okay. I wonder if you could take -- since it was so crucial in the Vietnam War to define what we were trying to do, could you take another stab at what would constitute victory in this war against terrorism? Would it be to stamp it out? Would it be to reduce the threat? How would you define it?

Rumsfeld: Well, first to say what it isn't. I think the idea of eliminating it from the face of the earth is setting a threshold that's too high. I think human beings are human beings and there are going to be people who are going to attempting to do -- who will attempt to terrorize their neighbors and their friends and the people in their regions.

What we are attempting to do is to assure that we can prevent people from adversely affecting our way of life. We are a free people. We need to be able to go out of the door in the morning and not be fearful for our life. Children have to go off to school, and we have to have reasonable expectation that they'll be coming home from school. And people have to be able to say what they think and go where they think and engage in the kind of legal activities that they wish to engage in.

And that is what this is about, because this terrorism problem in the world strikes at the very heart of what we are as a people -- free people. And a victory is that -- in my view, has to be characterized as the kind of an environment where we can in fact fulfill and live those freedoms.

Q: One last thing. Would that mean the operative verb would be to stamp out terrorism or to reduce terrorism?

Rumsfeld: I think what we need to do is to deal with terrorism so that it does not threaten our way of life. I think trying to stamp it out in every single locale all across the globe in perpetuity sounds like a pretty big task to me. And it is the aspect of it that affects the American people and our interests -- and I mean, let's look at the damage that has been done. We've lost thousands of people. Others, many thousands, are fearful.

We've seen significant economic harm to people in this country and elsewhere in the globe. The United States is linked with so many nations across the globe that we need to -- we need to be able to engage in the kinds of things that Americans engage in. And so I think that to the extent we are able to deal with this problem in a way that permits that, we would have every reason to feel that we had accomplished something very important for ourselves and for the people with whom we have various kinds of relationships around the world.

Q: Do you have enough forces in place to act now if you had the intelligence that allowed you to?

Rumsfeld: The goal has been to get our forces positioned in a way that we feel that when the president has made a decision that he is convinced there's something we can do that is useful and will be helpful in achieving the goals that I've just articulated, that we'll be able to salute and go do it.

Q: Would the American --

Q: Can you describe the --

Rumsfeld: I'm going to step away. Thank you.

Mel, you have it.

Martinez: Thank you, sir.

Rumsfeld: You're talking to an insightful, thoughtful, talented --

Martinez: Cannot spell "Taliban," but otherwise --

Rumsfeld: -- kind, gentle Pentagon press corps.

Q: Who are all under deadline to go file on what the secretary just said. (Laughter.)

Martinez: If you have a question or two on the announcement, I'd be glad to answer.

Q: Mr. Secretary, does this affect any active-duty forces at all?

Martinez: Yes, it does. It affects all active-duty forces. But what has to happen is that they have to have incurred the debt previous to the time of entering the service. For those who are being called to active duty, then it would be those, obviously, who incur any debt prior to the date of their call.

Q: A soldier serving in his third year of active duty, if he had incurred the debt for the house, say, four years --

Martinez: Before his date of service.

Q: -- then it will be capped at 6 percent.

Martinez: Correct.

Q: But isn't this people who are being currently called up under the national --

Martinez: Both. It basically applies mostly to people who are being called up, because hose are the people who are going to have the FHA mortgages and who are going to have -- you know, people in active duty oftentimes do not have private residences, that live on base and that kind of thing. So the bottom line is that we think it will apply mostly to those who were called up, but it will apply really across the board. It doesn't make a distinction between active and inactive.

Q: Is this an order for the mortgage companies to do this, or is this a suggestion?

Martinez: No, no, it's an order. This is -- I mean, it enacts a law that that is activated from time to time -- the last time in 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, and now we're calling it into being again. This is the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act.

Q: Including the provision of nonpayment of principal?

Martinez: Correct. Correct.

Q: For how long?

Martinez: That's for the time of -- for a year, basically, which is the time of their call. So -- yes?

Q: Does this affect DoD civilians who are deployed downrange?

Martinez: No, it would not affect civilians.

Q: If this affects FAA -- FHA-insured mortgages, how many -- what percentage of the home mortgages would that --

Martinez: Well, in the overall population, it's about 7 percent of all mortgages. We happen to think that it'll apply to a much higher number than that. Actually, it applies to conventional mortgages as well. So we're directing all FHA insurers to do it, because they have a special relationship with the federal government. But it really applies to all mortgage lenders, including conventional lenders. So it applies to all mortgage loans.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Would it apply ARMs and fixed 30-year --

Martinez: Sorry?

Q: Would it apply to ARMs and fixed 30-year mortgages?

Martinez: Well, it does not allow any rate to be above 6 percent, so yes, it would.

Q: Folks that want to refinance, would it --

Martinez: You could not refinance. It would have to be the mortgage in existence at the time of the call.

All right. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what kind of penalties are there if the mortgage company doesn't --

Martinez: Penalties for mortgage companies --

Q: (Off mike) -- they don't do it --

Martinez: Well, I would imagine that they'll have several penalties. I'm sure they will follow though. They've been very cooperative on the other issues that we've dealt with.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

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