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Secretary Rumsfeld En Route to Saudi Arabia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 03, 2001

Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001

(Press briefing en route to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Rumsfeld: Well, I have no statement to make and I would be happy to respond to your thoughtful, insightful questions.

Q: Why are we doing this trip? Seriously.

Rumsfeld: We're doing it because we had planned to go earlier this year to all of the countries we're going to, plus four or five countries that [Under Secretary of Defense for Policy] Doug Feith is going to be going to after I return home. Indeed, I think that we're going to cover most of the countries that we had intended to cover, but simply weren't able to. We had planned to go to the exercise, Bright Star, and then we've had so many other things going on that I thought that we could do it.

The secretaries of Defense, as you know, have made a practice of visiting our friends in the region and I've been in office now about eight months and not been there, when we've had a practice of visiting maybe two or three times a year. So I'm thinking about all of the activity in the region and things that are being deployed to the region and it seemed like it would be appropriate for me to make a visit.

Q: There's a sense of urgency, is there not, to this trip, that was laid on in a big hurry because of what happened September 11th?

Rumsfeld: There's no question that as a result of September 11th and the president's decision that we should embark on a major campaign to deal with terrorism across the globe, that we have been deploying forces into the region. As a result of that, we have these relationships with the countries there, and it seems to me that sitting down face-to-face with them would be a helpful thing to do.

Q: Sir, do you have all the access that is necessary for the operation and is your trip aimed in part at enlarging that access?

Rumsfeld: The decisions as to what it makes sense for us to do evolve as we go along. As a result, we're almost always in contact with countries to make adjustments in things that we are doing with them. And undoubtedly those adjustments will be made as we're flying in this airplane. So I don't know that it's ever static.

On the other hand, I'm not there to negotiate any particular things. I'm there to solidify relationships with Egypt, for example, a country that we have a long relationship with. I remember visiting Egypt for the first time in 1970 when I was a representative of the United States to Nasser's funeral, and met President Sadat for the first time 31 years ago. There were a lot of Soviet soldiers all over the country at the time.

Q: Just to follow up. In terms of Central Asia and in the Gulf, is the access that we've received so far sufficient to launch the operation in that nothing further is required?

Rumsfeld: First of all, we haven't announced any operation. As I say, given the circumstances that we have with each country, I've kind of decided that it's best announced by each country, rather than by the United States because at each base, things vary from time to time and there are certain sensitivities, so I've avoided getting into the business of trying to characterize --

Q: I'm not asking about any particular country but I mean collectively, has sufficient access been given?

Rumsfeld: As I say, I'm not there to negotiate with any one of these countries. These are relationships that are longstanding, with the exception of Uzbekistan, and that's a situation that it's important for us to get to know them and establish a relationship.

Q: Will you be seeing (inaudible)?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'll tell you the truth is that I have been so busy that I have not looked at precisely who I'm going to be seeing on this trip.

Q: Mr. Secretary, people are already drawing comparisons between this trip and the trip that Secretary of Defense Cheney and Colin Powell made just prior to the launch of the Gulf War. Is that an appropriate comparison?

Rumsfeld: I really don't think so. If you think about it, with the Gulf War, Iraq had invaded Kuwait and was threatening Saudi Arabia. And the president of the United States had announced that it would not stand. In this instance, there has been a terrible attack on the United States. We have lost more people in one day than at any time since the Civil War. And we're dealing not with the invasion of another country; we're dealing with a terrorist that spans the globe. So I would personally not characterize it that way.

Q: Will you be sharing with the leaders any evidence of Osama bin Laden's connection with the attacks?

Rumsfeld: I think that I will not be sharing the evidence. I would be happy to, but I think that has been done amply. The evidence of the attack is on television every day. The linkages between the terrorist networks involved are on television every day. And it strikes me that anyone who is slightly interested has a very clear idea of what took place the fact that a terrorist organization that's being harbored by more than one country, and has relationships with other terrorist organizations, was directly involved. I don't know if we need any more evidence, or do I think that anyone is asking for any more evidence, except the Taliban.

Q: Is it true that we are going to Uzbekistan after visiting the Middle East?

Rumsfeld: I think we are.

Q: And what role do you expect the Uzbekistanis to play in the fight against terrorism? Will there be U.S. bases there or will there be staging? I mean, what are you going to do?

Rumsfeld: It seems to me that it's an open question. In the event that we end up looking for them in some way, clearly it would be a new relationship in a sense, and I would think it would be for them to characterize it themselves. I really think that each country has a set of sensitivities or circumstances that makes it, to me, very logical that they ought to characterize it for themselves. And I'm not there to do any negotiations with them. I'm simply there to meet with them and help them understand what it is that we're about.

Q: Would you like to have bases there? Would it be helpful to have a place on the ground that --

Rumsfeld: We want countries across the globe to recognize the seriousness of this threat. We want them to understand the damage that was done to our country, and the threat that exists in countries across the globe. We want them to cooperate in a lot of ways. We want them to cooperate in diplomatic efforts. We certainly want them to cooperate by freezing the accounts of these terrorist elements. To the extent that things may or may not be done from a military standpoint, clearly it would be desirable for countries to participate in that.

Furthermore, we want them to participate by giving us intelligence. The countries on the periphery of Afghanistan in this case can have a lot more information than countries that are not on the periphery. They've seen and followed what goes back and forth, back and forth across these borders and as I've said, I really believe that before it's over, it's not going to be a cruise missile or a bomber that's going to be the determining factor. It's going to be a scrap of information from some person in some country that is being oppressed by a dictatorial regime, that's been sponsoring a terrorist organization, that's going to provide the kind of information that will enable to pull this network out by its roots.

Q: Are there any U.S. troops currently in Uzbekistan?

Rumsfeld: No. I'm trying to think about how to answer that. I mean any U.S. troop. I would guess that there is someone there at the embassy or making some sort of a visit, there's got to be. I mean we're in country after country across the globe.

Q: What about combat troops?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'm not going to get into semantics. (Laughter)

Q: Well, let me ask it another way. How many ground troops do you expect eventually to put on the ground in Central Asia, shall we say.

Rumsfeld: You've got to be kidding me.

Q: Well it's obvious that the 10th Mountain Division is en route right now, not far to the north of us right now.

Rumsfeld: We have forces that are moving around the world all the time. Might it make sense to announce where they're going? There are some times when these forces are in an overt mode and they need some statement in the United States, you know, before the plane leaves. Then they land in another country and everyone knows. They see the plane and they see the helmets. There are some times when forces are not overt or open, and they do things that are not publicized and for very good reason.

We had a good discussion on this today, with some of your colleagues, about how we want to deal with that. And I must say it is a complex set of issues as to how the Department of Defense and [Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs] Torie [Clarke] and the public affairs officials in the departments ought to deal with those questions. I pressed them on those issues and I have been doing my best to try to find a way to handle it in a way that is responsible from the standpoint of informing the public and responsible from the standpoint of a press corps that has a record of being very responsible. I'm also going to be careful what I say.

Q: Are ground forces being deployed? And as a part of special forces?

Rumsfeld: The problem with that is -- as you know, we've got Marine units aboard ships that have been deployed, and they're in the region, for example. There's almost no question that you can ask me that I can answer with a yes or no. I mean there's always going to be something that's happening and that's changing. I don't have any troop movements to announce tonight.

Q: What is your basic message?

Rumsfeld: Now, that's what I'd like to talk about. I should have opened with that.

Q: What is your basic message for your visit to Riyadh and are you willing to ask them whether they're inclined, on the basis of --

Rumsfeld: No. We're not going to be making requests of the Saudi Arabian government. We have a longstanding relationship with them. I've met with the leadership in that country any number of times. I served as Middle East envoy for President Reagan and spent time there. We are respectful of the circumstances of the countries in the region. We understand that.

What we intend to do there is what we intend to do in each of the countries, and that's to visit with them about the fact that our interest is create a condition or set of conditions so we can engage in a sustained effort against terrorism networks in the region and elsewhere.

That means we need to have the kinds of capabilities, in reasonable proximity to the problems, so that we can gather information and to the extent that information becomes actionable, to take the kinds of steps over time that will enable us to root out terrorists and to persuade countries and entities that are harboring terrorists that they'd best stop.

Q: It sounds like that with Saudi Arabia, it's more of an intelligence matter.

Rumsfeld: I wouldn't characterize it that way. I mean I like the way I characterized it. In fact, if we could replay it on the camera, I'd do it. I honestly believe that it will be a scrap of information that will turn the tide. We are getting wonderful intelligence cooperation from all across the globe. But in the case of Saudi Arabia, here's a country with which we have a very good relationship with and we have had it for a very long time. And we simply want them to understand, first hand, face-to-face. That as a representative for the president of the United States, that our interest is in a sustained effort and in creating the conditions that will permit that.

Q: Are you unhappy with the level of support that you're getting from Egypt and is this visit in any way intended to turn that around?

Rumsfeld: I'm not unhappy about anything. I'm a realist. The people who live in those neighborhoods have a very different perspective and a different set of problems than do the people of the United States. I've lived overseas and I've spent a lot of time overseas and I think we have to be respectful of that and understand that -- that every country in the world does not get up in the morning and look at the world exactly the way we do. They've got different neighbors than we do, they have different problems than we do, they have political circumstances than we do, and they have different histories than we do.

What we need from each country is everything they can possibly do to assist us in that effort, whether it's political, or financial, or military -- and we're not debating that everyone cooperate with respect to every aspect of everything we do. We have our own idiosyncrasies as a country. And that's fair enough. So, no, I'm not disappointed. I understand the fact that each country has a different situation.

Q: Mr. Secretary, given the hard-line positions of both President Bush and the Taliban, are U.S. military strikes against Afghanistan inevitable at this point?

Rumsfeld: First you have to think of what Afghanistan is. It is a relatively small country that has seen three or four years of drought. It has a population with a per capita GDP about the size of a plane ticket from Washington to L.A. Where people are fighting and many of them oppose the Taliban. There are tribes to the south, there's a northern alliance in the north, and there are people in the Taliban who don't agree with the Taliban's decision to become a nurturer of the al Qaeda. There are all kinds of gradations and I've been looking at overhead photography of Afghanistan and it is hungry. You can see hundreds and hundreds of people walking across the barren land, drought-stricken land, trying to find food. It is a tragic situation.

What we are about has nothing to do with the Afghan people. The Afghan people are being badly treated by the Taliban. If it a mistake for anyone to try to characterize the concern we have about terrorism and the enormous loss of life in the United States, and the threatened loss of life in the United States, and to our friends and allies, and to our deployed forces. I mean it's not unique to the United States. But to characterize that as having anything to do with the people of Afghanistan, it doesn't make sense.

Q: So, are attacks against the Taliban inevitable?

Rumsfeld: Well, I guess time will tell.

(Crosstalk)

Q: Tony Blair said today the Taliban needs to either surrender bin Laden or surrender power.

Rumsfeld: He said that?

Q: Yes, that was the choice, basically. Did he frame that correctly?

Rumsfeld: Well, I guess there are those who think it might be nice if they did both.

Q: Are you included in that group?

Rumsfeld: I'll have to wait and see what the President has to say about that.

Q: Do you know where bin Laden is today? I mean do you have any better handle on where bin Laden is?

Rumsfeld: I have a handle, but I don't have coordinates.

Q: Will you be visiting any troops in Saudi Arabia?

Rumsfeld: I hope to visit some troops during this trip.

Q: And what will your message to them be?

Rumsfeld: How grateful we are for them. We may see them at Bright Star. I hope we have the chance.

Q: Thank you.

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