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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 14, 2003 12:45 PM EDT

Photos of the Media Availability are at http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Apr2003/030414-D-2987S-018.html, http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Apr2003/030414-D-2987S-004.html

RUMSFELD: Good afternoon. I have had the privilege and pleasure of hosting the foreign minister of Kuwait for a meeting and a luncheon, and had the opportunity to express the appreciation of our country and the American people for the steadfast support that Kuwait has offered in this coalition effort, both with respect to the global war on terrorism and certainly with respect to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I should also add that we expressed our appreciation to the minister, His Excellency, for the significant humanitarian assistance which Kuwait is offering. They have, with the United Kingdom, built a pipeline into Iraq that's now delivering some 2 million liters of fresh water per day. Their Kuwaiti relief organizations have sent dozens of trucks with food and medicine and water to a number of Iraqi cities. Kuwait has set up a humanitarian operations center to serve as a focal point for funneling aid into Iraq, and it's providing some 45,000 meals a day; in addition, has pledged a significant humanitarian relief fund for assistance in Iraq.

We also talked about the -- our shared interest in finding the remaining people that are missing or who are prisoners of war, both from this conflict and also from the conflict in 1991. It is something that the government of Kuwait and the government of the United States share as a deep concern and an abiding interest. And I can -- I assured the minister that the United States is doing everything possible to pursue every conceivable lead. And we are hopeful that people in Iraq who oppose that regime will come forward and provide any information that they may have so that we can, in fact, achieve our goal of returning all of those individuals.

Excellency?

AL-SABAH: Thank you.

I had a very fruitful discussion with the secretary on matters of profound importance to Kuwait. The issue of the POWs is utmost importance to us. As we enter this phase of the Iraqi Freedom operations, and that is the stabilization phase, the issue of the POWs becomes paramount. The secretary assured me that they are doing their best to search for our POWs and the Americans who have been missing in this conflict and also in Desert Storm.

Also, we had discussed the ways of expediting and increasing the humanitarian assistance to Iraq and ways to speed up the stabilization process for Iraq.

I thank this administration for what they have done and their steadfast support to Kuwait's causes and also in their effort and their deed, actually, to liberate and to deliver the Iraqis from their bondage.

Thank you.

RUMSFELD: We'd be happy to take a few questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a spokesman at the Syrian Foreign Ministry today denied, flatly denied, U.S. charges that Syria either has chemical weapons or is giving support to or harboring former Iraqi leaders. How do you respond to that, sir?

RUMSFELD: Well, first I would say that we have seen the chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past 12, 15 months. And second, that we have intelligence that shows that Syria has allowed Syrians and others to come across the border into Iraq, people armed and people carrying leaflets indicating that they'll be rewarded if they kill Americans and members of the coalition. And we have intelligence that indicates that some Iraqi people have been allowed into Syria, in some cases to stay, in some cases to transit.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you think Kuwait has more to offer for the coalition in this stage?

RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that Kuwait has been a strong supporter and wonderfully cooperative and helpful, and we appreciate that a great deal. There's no question but that the neighboring countries have been helpful in the humanitarian aspects of this, and we appreciate that, we value it. I know the Iraqi people appreciate that.

And the stabilization period, it's not possible to know how long it will be, but certainly an enormous effort is going in to getting electricity back on, and getting water working, and seeing that there is the proper distribution of medical supplies. And we appreciate all the help that the GCC countries have provided.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you help us understand, is it correct that Ahmed Chalabi and his fighters are now going to Baghdad with the backing and support of the Pentagon or the Central Command? Can you help us understand what they will do there and how we should appropriately understand this issue, other than U.S. backing, Pentagon backing, for his group in particular?

RUMSFELD: I can't answer your specific question, I'm sorry. All I can say is that the United States government, and that includes the Pentagon, is not backing anybody for any role in Iraq. The Iraqi people are, over time, going to have to make those judgments, and I'm sure they will.

Q: May I have a question for the Excellency? What are your thoughts, Excellency, about the potential for a civil war in Iraq or for the potential for more disorder? What is your concern?

AL-SABAH: Well, this is a country that has been kidnapped for the past 35 years. The Iraqi regime, Saddam's regime has basically destroyed, ruptured the very fabric of the Iraqi society. Decent people have been tortured, killed and exiled. It would take a long time, I think, some time for the healing process to take a hold in Iraq.

Now, saying that, I have full confidence that the Iraqis are -- actually at this moment are rejoicing; it's a state of jubilation that they have been rid from this tyrannical regime. It's up to them now to settle down and to form their own government. And I'm confident that the -- from what we hear from them, all of them, that the welfare of the Iraqis and the establishment of a representative government [are] at the top of their interests now.

Q: Mr. Secretary, should Syria understand that one of the potential consequences of their actions that you're talking about today is military action by the United States?

RUMSFELD: I didn't say anything like that.

Q: Yeah, but could you respond to that, though? Is that something that they should consider as a potential --

RUMSFELD: I think what -- what I've -- I've said what I've said. And I've stated facts, and that's what I tend to do. In terms of policy, that's for others.

Q: Mr. Secretary, are you seeing anymore combat operations, significant combat operations, inside Iraq? Can you characterize the situation on the ground in Iraq now?

RUMSFELD: It -- the situation in Iraq today is improved over yesterday and it's improved each day. And I suspect it will continue to improve. The reality is that the coalition forces are now in a good portion of the country, but not all of the country; they're in a good portion of Baghdad, but not all of Baghdad. They are continuing to find that there are two things: Periodic pockets of resistance; firefights still exist in Baghdad and elsewhere. The other thing that is of concern is the type of thing where you end up with a suicide car or bomb of some type that is not so much a(n) act of war as it is an act of terrorism.

But I'm very encouraged that food and water and medicines are being moved throughout the country. We are encouraged to find a great many people in Iraq are assisting the -- our forces, coalition forces, in finding ways to provide a secure environment so people can go about their lives.

Thank you very much.

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