Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2001 - 11:30 p.m.
(Joint press conference with Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan, Prince Sultan's Palace, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
Sultan: -- The friendship established long ago between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on frankness and serves the interests of both the American and the Saudi people. As you know, your Excellency, this country is a holy country. It is distinguished by having the two holy mosques and the Qibla which is for all Muslims all over the world. Muslims direct their faces to the Qibla five times a day. Hence, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leadership and people are obliged to serve all Muslims and humanity all over the world and to respect all the divine religions which came by messenger from the prophets Moses, Jesus and Prophet Mohammed, may peace be upon them all. I would like to state once again that we are friends, and our friendship leads to all good things and benefits both our countries and also recognizes the divinity of service of Muslim and Arabs and this has been the approach of the people of Saudi Arabia throughout our history.
Rumsfeld: Your Royal Highness, may I on behalf of President Bush and the people of the United States thank you for your hospitality and the privilege of meeting with His Majesty King Fahd and the Crown Prince. This has been an important day for us, to have the chance to be here to express our personal appreciation to you for the sympathy that your government has offered concerning the tragic events that took place in the United States. I've been to this country a number of times over the years and benefited from the friendships and the relationships, and I recognize the importance of the Kingdom's responsibility to the holy places. Our delegation includes civilians and military personnel, people who have participated with your country in important activities over the years, both civilian and military. We are here of course at a time when President Bush is determined to do what can humanly be done to deal with the problem of terrorism across the globe. He has resolved to proceed in a measured and thoughtful way across the broad front, doing what is possible to provide for the self-defense of the United States and friends and allies and deployed forces across the globe. We are grateful for the wonderful, spontaneous cooperation we have received from so many nations, and for the expressions we have received from your country. We thank you so much for your hospitality.
Q: (Inaudible question about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process)
Rumsfeld: In response to the second question, President Bush made a statement that the United States is very much in support of the Mitchell approach and regards both President Bush and Secretary Powell and working with both sides of the process attempting to bring them together and we're pleased that the meeting took place between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the PLO representative Mr. Arafat.
Q: (Inaudible question about whether the U.S. intends to continue the fight against terrorism beyond current concerns about bin Laden and the Taliban.)
Rumsfeld: First, the concern the United States has with respect to terrorism and the devastating attack on the United States, goes well beyond the Taliban. And as President Bush has indicated, we are anxious to have the support of countries across the globe, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in any way and in any aspect of the fight against terrorism that is appropriate for those countries. As His Royal Highness said, the United States and Saudi Arabia have a long and close relationship and we were deeply gratified when the spontaneous support that came from the officials in this country and expressions of sympathy with respect to the tragic loss of life in the United States.
Q: I have a question for the Prince. The United States has asked organizations to freeze or impound the funding of 27 organizations that are linked to bin Laden. Saudi Arabia has not yet agreed to take this step. Will Saudi Arabia agree to do this, and what specific military activities is your government prepared to offer us? Will you allow the United States to have a combat air center here? Will you allow the United States to fly bombing missions against the Taliban? Will you allow the United States to board aircraft for refueling and other purposes?
Sultan: First of all, I would like to stress that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not approve by any means and does not agree by any means to the support of terrorism, terrorists or criminals in any way, and there is nobody in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who funds such groups. And if we find them, we will take all the necessary measures in that respect. As far as any request from the United States for support or any support the Kingdom will be making, there are no such requests presented by the United States at present. This matter was not a point of discussion between the two sides. Thank you.
Q: Concerning the suspects' list: the list of suspicious people included names of Saudi people. The names kept changing on that list, and then some of those names were mentioned on a pending list; some were deceased some time ago, and some turned out to be alive. Most of the names that were mentioned on the list were sons of well-known families in the Kingdom. For those who were called suspects but were not actually suspects, and for those who had died long ago, you should offer an apology.
Rumsfeld: I'll apologize, but I'm having trouble understanding the question. I am not involved in the law enforcement aspect of the problem, so I am not knowledgeable about specific names. It is my recollection, however, that in some cases, people were using false passports. And that may have caused some confusion on names, but I'm not aware of anyone who is due an apology. And that may just be due to my lack of knowledge on the subject.
Q: (Inaudible question about launching of attacks against Muslim people).
Sultan: I would like to respond by saying that some of the press, the Arab, Kuwaiti and international newspapers, gave some false reports. Some of the satellite TV channels actually, were also reporting such information. What we need to underscore here is that we have not received any requests from the United States in this field and we did refuse all that was said in the press.
Rumsfeld: Even though the question was not to me, may I make a comment? There is a portion of the question that talked about offensive attacks against Muslim people. I think it is important for me to underscore the fact that the United States of America is concerned about terrorists who go around murdering people in large numbers, thousands of people in the United States and elsewhere on this globe. This is not an issue of any religion, Muslim or otherwise, it is not an issue of any country or any group of people, it has to do totally with terrorism.
The United States has a large Muslim population and more come there every day, every year, because they like living there and we like having them. The United States has a record of shedding blood to move the Iraqis out of Kuwait, a Muslim country. The United States assisted in Kosovo and Bosnia on behalf of Muslim people. The United States has been assisting in humanitarian aid in Somalia. This year before the attack, the United States gave something like 170 million dollars in food aid to Muslims in Afghanistan. Now, it may serve some peoples' purposes to try to equate an effort against terrorism on this globe as in some way being against Muslim people, but that is false and untrue. And the propagation of that nonsense only serves the terrorists.
Q: (Inaudible question about launching strikes)
Sultan: Given the chance, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia cannot guarantee any country in the world, and the United states cannot do so either, but I can say that there is no suggestion for the United Nations to strike either an Arab or non-Arab country, so --
Q: Mr. Secretary of Defense, did you give the Saudis a list of the terrorist suspects in the attacks on the United States?
Rumsfeld: I am, as I said, not involved with the Federal Bureau of Investigation that is conducting the investigation. It would have been on that basis that those communications would have taken place and I have every reason to believe that that relationship between our two countries is so close that any information I am sure has been made available to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Q: Prince Sultan, have you expressed any concerns to Secretary Rumsfeld in your meetings today about the possibility of U.S. military strikes on the Taliban? And, if you have, could you share with us what some of those concerns were.
Sultan: We did not actually discuss this matter with His Excellency because we do not feel there are any specific strikes that are going to be taken against the Taliban. At the same time, we believe that we cannot ask for things that are beyond the things we can ask for.
Sultan: First of all, our religion, Islam, is against terrorism, against criminals, and --
Q: Has the United Sates taken into account the consequences of strikes in Afghanistan, mainly because terrorism is not a country or something that can be destroyed by strikes?
Rumsfeld: The answer is yes, we recognize that terrorism is not a country. Terrorist networks exist in the world; we know that. Anyone who looks at Afghanistan and sees the millions of people starving and suffering from drought and hostile treatment by the Taliban, has to understand that there are any number of people in Afghanistan who would love to see the al Qaeda network out of Afghanistan, and many who would like to see the Taliban out of Afghanistan.
Q: Yes, can I just ask the next question? The U.S. is said to have solid information that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are behind the terrorist attacks. Do you agree with that intelligence and are you assisting the U.S. in helping to track down these terrorists?
Sultan: Bin Laden has revealed himself as a criminal and a terrorist; he said that he committed certain terrorist attacks. So we believe that he is a terrorist. At the same time, for the Saudi people he does not represent the Saudi Arabian people and we hope that our press does not repeat saying that he is a Saudi citizen. He is not. He is a terrorist at any time and in any place.
Q: (Inaudible question asking if Israel would join the coalition)
Sultan: First of all, there is no such request that Israel joins the international coalition. Second, the Arab answer is with the Arab leaders and the Arab League. We have not been asked such a question, and we did not hear that Israel is requested to be a part of the coalition to fight terrorism.