RUMSFELD: Minister of Defense of Australia, you have the floor, sir.
HILL: I will. I’d like to say a few things. We are finishing a trip around the region and we’ve been meeting with our forces to congratulate them on their efforts and thanking them and also meeting with Gulf States and thanking them for their cooperation and support. We are particularly pleased with the outcome and we believe the threat of weapons of mass destruction is being removed, which is our principal goal. We also now see that the Iraqi people have got the opportunity of freedom and that the line has been drawn in the sand in relation to weapons of mass destruction in a way that other despots have got to take seriously these issues, that they can’t simply get away with a game of bluff. So we really do believe that our investment as a country has been worthwhile. We want to thank the United States for this leadership of the coalition. I think they did a superb job, Mr. Secretary, and it’s been great working with your people again.
RUMSFELD: Thank you very much. We have had an absolutely superb relationship with the Australian forces. Land forces, special operations forces, sea forces, air forces, all of those, and the working relationship is excellent. The ability to work together technically is excellent. And we will also be participating in the process of the lessons learned so that as we go forward we’ll be able to maintain that very close relationship. We’d be happy to respond to a few questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary. Two quick ones. Are you moving operations on the CAOC [Combat Air Operations Center] on Prince Sultan to Al Udeid. And number two quickly, Gen Blount said today in Baghdad that …
RUMSFELD: Let me do one at a time
Q: Yes, sir.
RUMSFELD: We’ve not made final decisions with respect to how we’re going to be arranged at various bases. General Franks is thinking about that with his staff. The one thing we do know is that we’re going to be able to reduce the size of our forces, obviously, for a couple of reasons. One because, a few reasons, one is because the Operation Northern and Southern Watches are over and not necessary anymore, so those capabilities can be moved. Second is that the forces that were necessary to liberate Iraq are not necessary during the stabilization period, and as we move into that we ought to be able to make adjustments. And third, Iraq was a threat in the region, and because that threat will be gone, we also have the ability to adjust some of our arrangements. So we have good friends and allies here in the region; we’ve had long running multiple-decade relationships; and we intend to maintain those relationships.
Q: Gen Blount said today in Baghdad that you may release Tariq Aziz. Is there some reason for that and when might you release him?
RUMSFELD: I haven’t heard anything about that.
Q: To your knowledge there is no intent to release him?
RUMSFELD: I have heard nothing about it.
Q: Mr. Secretary could you (inaudible) on your trip to Saudi Arabia tomorrow and give us a general feel for how important that is and just a general sense of it?
RUMSFELD: We have a long relationship. And if and when I go there, well, I’m sure we’ll renew the friendships we have there. Crown Prince Abdullah was a Head of the National Guard back when I was Secretary of Defense twenty six years ago and I’ve known him a long time and we have had a very good and close relationship.
Q: And again you’ll be talking to any troops there or…?
RUMSFELD: I just don’t announce my schedule.
Q: Or just a general sense of your overview of how important it is to talk to the troops in this area, in this region?
RUMSFELD: Well, I’ve been doing that. It’s a wonderful opportunity to say thank you personally to these young men and women who’ve done such a superb job , as the Defense Minister said, they really performed in a brilliant way.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned your gratitude, the gratitude of the Iraqi people when you were talking to troops today, but to what extent if any are you tracking any evidence of anti-American backlash in Iraq, and the extent to which that might undermine what Gen. Garner’s trying to do?
RUMSFELD: Well, what the United States is trying to do in Iraq and what the Coalition is trying to do is create an environment that’s permissive and secure so that the humanitarian workers can come in and assist the people who’ve been badly treated for many decades under Saddam Hussein’s regime to create an environment that is hospitable to the Iraqi people fashioning an interim Iraqi authority, and then ultimately a permanent Iraqi government, a representative one. There are going to be people all across the spectrum. You can be darn sure that the members of the Ba’ath party aren’t going to like the United States. You can be sure that they’re not going to like the Coalition. And you can be sure that people left over from the regime aren’t going to like the Coalition. And you can be sure that the remnants of the Fedayeen Saddam aren’t going to like the Coalition. And you can be sure that the people who stocked weapons caches in all the schools and hospitals all across this country and used Red Crescent ambulances as military vehicles aren’t going to like the Coalition. But we don’t do that and we don’t think that way. And when people are free, they’re free to think what they want to think, and that’s fair enough.
Q: With that munitions dump, one of the first reactions, right or wrong, but one of the first reactions was to blame it on Americans. Did that raise any flag for you?
RUMSFELD: I expect there to be a the diversity of opinion, just like we have in our country. We know what we do and we know what we don’t do. And we don’t blow up ammunition dumps and we don’t do things such as we’ve seen, where the Iraqi regime was telling Iraqi citizens who were threatening to support the Coalition and were attempting to escape from the Iraqi…cities still controlled by the Iraqi regime. We don’t do those things.
Q: Mr. Minister, does Australia plan to provide any troops in a peacekeeping role in Iraq?
HILL: We’re planning to make a contribution in the next (inaudible). We want to identify each area where we think we might be useful. For example today we have fifty air force air traffic controllers going into to help with Baghdad International airport. We can get the traffic moved more quickly in the airport which will be helpful in terms of humanitarian and (inaudible)
RUMSFELD. Why don’t we take one last question from someone else.
Q: Mr. Secretary, how do you characterize the reactions and actions of the Gulf States, some of the Gulf States, to the coalition forces? They expressed opposition to the war almost to a man even though of course Qatar is the headquarters. Do you think that Saudi Arabia in particular has something to answer for here?
RUMSFELD. You know, I’m old fashioned. I have always thought that it’s best for other countries to characterize how they feel about things, and they do. What I do know is that the countries in this region have been enormously cooperative with the coalition. They have been helpful in the global war on terror and the people I have met with and talked to are relieved that Saddam Hussein is gone.
Q: Do you think there is a change in attitude since you’ve won the war?
RUMSFELD: I’m not going to express my opinions about their attitudes. You can talk to them and they will tell you what they want to tell you.
Q: How did your talks go today with the Amir?
Q: Did he express the desire to keep U.S. forces here and to keep…
RUMSFELD: You must not have heard me say that I like to have them say what they want to do and …
Q: Will you ask him to do that?
RUMSFELD: Look, we have a wonderful relationship with the leadership in this country and it has been a good one and I expect that it will continue to be a good one.