WOLF BLITZER: We begin with the United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He's just back in Washington after a week in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. Among his stops, Baghdad. Earlier today, I spoke with Secretary Rumsfeld about this new military phase in Iraq.
Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Late Edition. Welcome back to the United States from a trip out there. A lot of people are wondering, any progress in determining the fate of Saddam Hussein?
RUMSFELD, U.S. Department of Defense: No, not really. Although, each day that goes by we have access to more and more people, my guess is that at some point someone is going to give us a piece of information, a scrap of information that will help sort that out.
BLITZER: What do you think, alive or dead?
RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. If you don't have evidence he's dead, you've probably got to assume he's alive.
BLITZER: And you assume he's alive because you would have presumably heard some sort of chatter, some intercepted communication, one of the prisoners tell you he's dead?
RUMSFELD: Possibly. But, basically, our task is to go find the senior regime people. We're finding a lot of them. And have a good percentage of the total already.
BLITZER: That search for his DNA at that Monsour crater, that second so-called decapitation hit, is that over with? You've searched and you haven't found any DNA?
RUMSFELD: I don't know. I was gone a week and I haven't paid attention lately, but I know there are lots of places that they're looking, and a lot of people they're talking to. And if he's alive, we'll find him.
BLITZER: The prisoners that you have, the leadership that are in U.S. custody right now, coalition hands, what do they say to you?
SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, some provide information as pieces of information that might be useful as to behavior patterns, and habits, and relationships, and locations, that type of thing.
BLITZER: What about Saddam Hussein specifically, do you think he's alive or dead?
RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. I shouldn't say what they think because I haven't been following the interrogation deeply, things from all these people. But he was a person who had, at one time, maybe three or four doubles that pretended they were him. He was a person who was very concerned about saving his own life, and his security. And went to great lengths to not have anyone know where he was going, or when he was going. He's sleeping in a different place almost every night, in private residences, and the like, around Baghdad, and some other places. So, anyone who pays that much attention to security is going to be difficult to find.
BLITZER: His two sons, Uday and Qusay?
RUMSFELD: Same thing.
BLITZER: You have no idea if they're alive or dead?
RUMSFELD: I have roughly the same amount of information on them that we do on Saddam Hussein.
BLITZER: Which is not conclusive either way?
BLITZER: Alive, dead, where they are. But do you believe if they are alive they're still in Iraq? Because there have been these reports they may have slipped out and gone to another country?
RUMSFELD: It's always possible It's ‑‑ you know, one person can move around, and furthermore they had stolen so much money from the Iraqi people that they had the wherewithal to do lots of things, and they went to great pains, they had multiple residences, and multiple bodyguards, and multiple ways of doing things, and money stashed outside. So, who knows. We'll find out.
BLITZER: What about weapons of mass destruction? Are you frustrated that you haven't found any hard evidence yet?
RUMSFELD: I'm not frustrated at all. Anyone who goes into Iraq and sees those people who they liberated, and sees what a vicious dictatorship can do to people, and compares it to their neighbors in Kuwait, or Qatar, or the UAE, it's so refreshing and wonderful to see their faces, and what's happened, their circumstances so much improved.
Furthermore, we always knew that Saddam Hussein could function in an inspections environment. They spent a great deal of time dispersing materials and documentation to multiple locations, private residences, and the like. So, it's going to take time. We're not going to stumble over anything. What we're going to do is, we're going to find people who come up and say, look, we know where something is, or here's some documentation that was put in this house we just found.
BLITZER: Have you found any people like that yet who might provide you those leads?
RUMSFELD: They're talking to an awful lot of people. Many of the people that we've brought into custody were the result of some Iraqi coming up to us and saying, say, folks if you go down the street there about a block and a half, and take a look in that building, you're going to see one of your deck of cards folks.
BLITZER: But the president says Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister, he's still lying.
RUMSFELD: I'm told that that's what the president said, and I've only seen one of the debriefings on him, and I haven't seen any in the last week because I was out of the country. But the one I saw, it was pretty clear that he was dissembling.
BLITZER: And the others, the other scientific advisors, and other military officers, senior officials, you sense they're still dissembling as well?
RUMSFELD: I don't know. They're being interrogated by groups of people from the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Central Intelligence Agency, and the FBI, and as those reports come out, we'll know more.
BLITZER: Why not let some of those former U.N. weapons inspectors who worked for Dr. Hans Blix and Dr. Mohammed El-Baradei come back and join you and continue their search? I interviewed Dr. El-Baradei last week. He said they would very much like to come back in and have access to people and places they didn't necessarily have access to before the war.
RUMSFELD: Well, it's a possibility I suppose. The Department of State and the White House do the negotiations with the United Nations, not the Department of Defense. The task is a big one. There are many teams of people that are out looking at the sites that we're aware of. As I say, I don't think we're going to just stumble on something. I think people are going to come up finally and say, here's what happened, here's what they've done. And already there are things that have been related to us that have been helpful.
BLITZER: But what you're saying is that you're open to U.N. inspectors perhaps joining U.S. inspectors in the search for weapons of mass destruction?
RUMSFELD: Well, as I say, that's not something the Department of Defense deals with. That's something the Department of State and the White House are dealing with.
BLITZER: But they would have to ask you, you're in charge of the military, military is in charge of Iraq.
RUMSFELD: We've got multi-agency teams doing what they do. They're out looking at the sites that we have knowledge of, and of course the reality is that if we have knowledge of a site, and a suspect site is probably the way we should phrase it, it's very likely that things are not there. And the only way I know we're going to get it is through people. And, if anyone has any ideas, we're always happy to hear them.
BLITZER: The president announced that the U.S. is moving to this next phase now, the major combat is over, now the stabilization, the reconstruction is underway. Is Lieutenant General Jay Garner, who is the man you want to be in charge, going to be effectively replaced by Paul Bremer, the former State Department Advisor on counter-terrorism?
RUMSFELD: See, your question says that you think you know what I want.
BLITZER: I don't know what you want. That's why I'm asking the question.
RUMSFELD: You said it that way, as though you do know. The truth is that Jay Garner is doing a terrific job, and he has got a team of people pulled together from all the departments and agencies, indeed from some other countries, and they began work long before the war. And, as the war progressed they moved into the region, and then they very recently have moved into Baghdad. It is a big job they have. And the president has not made any announcements with respect to others who might be helpful. I know ‑‑ I was just with Jay, and have a great deal of confidence in him. And you mentioned Paul, his name is really ‑‑
BLITZER: Paul Bremmer?
RUMSFELD: His name is really Jerry Bremmer, that’s what he’s called, but he’s a first rate individual.
BLITZER: He strongly supported you, he was on this program many times.
RUMSFELD: Was he?
BLITZER: And he strongly supported the administration’s desire to get rid of Saddam Hussein.
RUMSFELD: I’ve known him for years, and he’s a very talented person. And if the president makes some judgments like that, we’ll just have to see what they may.
BLITZER: I’ll read to you what Newsweek writes on its online column, and get your reaction. You won’t like what they write, but I’ll read it to you anyhow.
RUMSFELD: How do you know what I’ll like?
BLITZER: I know what you like.
RUMSFELD: You keep saying, you climb in my head and ‑‑
BLITZER: Well, maybe you’ll like what Newsweek says, let’s read it. Bremmer’s imminent appointment counts as a win for Secretary of State Colin Powell of the behind the scenes battle over who will control the future of Iraq. Powell’s State Department under Donald Rumsfeld over how Iraq will be governed and how long the U.S. presence will last.
RUMSFELD: That is an inaccurate and mischievous report.
BLITZER: Okay. I knew you wouldn’t like it.
RUMSFELD: I didn’t say I didn’t like it. Why do you keep saying this? Are you a psychiatrist or something?
BLITZER: You don’t like mischievous reports?
RUMSFELD: You asked me what I thought of it, and I said it was mischievous.
BLITZER: Tell us what’s wrong with it?
RUMSFELD: I’d rather wait, and if the president decides he wants to make an announcement, let the president make the announcement. That’s the way we do these things in government. Colin Powell and I have been discussing these things over a sustained period of time. We’re very much in agreement on how things are going. If there are people elsewhere in the departments that have different views, and they lead to articles like that, that’s their business, not mine.
BLITZER: Will Iraq effectively be divided into certain sectors, the U.S. military controlling one sector, the British military a second sector, the Polish military a third sector?
RUMSFELD: I think the way to think of it is that the coalition, which is led by General Franks, will be dealing with the entire country. How he allocates forces, and disperses and deploys forces is something that remains to be seen. Already he has assigned the U.K. forces, the British forces, to the Southeastern portion of the country, in the Basra region. But, they’re all under the same coalition leadership. That just happens to be where they’re deployed. The way you phrased it sounds a little different.
BLITZER: Will there be a similar opportunity for the Polish troops along the same lines as the British troops have in the South.
RUMSFELD: Very likely.
BLITZER: Where would the Polish troops be?
RUMSFELD: Those final decisions haven’t been made.
BLITZER: But, you’re dramatically going to try to scale back the U.S. military presence in Iraq over the next months and years, I assume?
BLITZER: Right now there are, what, 150,000-200,000 troops?
RUMSFELD: I don’t want to make assumptions about that, the kind that you just made in your question. It’s an open question. We’re going to have a difficult job, and we have to see that that country has proper security. And we’re going to have as many people in there as we need for as long as we need them. We’ll also have as few people as possible, but as many as are necessary, and we’ll stay as short a time as is possible, but as long as is necessary. And anyone who thinks they can look out into the future, and know precisely what that’s going to be, just doesn’t understand the variables that are involved. So what we agreed among ourselves is that we’ll do exactly what I just said.
BLITZER: Will there a role for United Nations peacekeeping forces in Iraq?
RUMSFELD: I can’t say about peacekeeping forces, what the United Nations might or might not decide. I know that the president and Prime Minister Blair, who has just done a terrific job, and been a wonderful ally and friend, they’ve talked about the United Nations having a role, a vital role, an important role, some characterization like that, and I was in Checkers with Prime Minister Blair day before yesterday and we talked about it. And I think it’s really we’re closely cooperating with our allies to fashion some sort of an approach, then we’ll just have to see what the Secretary General and the Security Council decide to do by way of reacting to resolutions. And that’s yet to play out.
BLITZER: What about some of the countries who opposed you, were not partners in the coalition of the willing, France, Germany, and Russia, in particular, what if any role might they play?
RUMSFELD: I have no idea. We had 65 nations that were involved in this coalition, across the world. There were some countries that weren’t, those were several of them. What they’ll decide as we go forward is really up to them.
BLITZER: Are you open, if they want to play a role, to letting them join you in Iraq?
RUMSFELD: That’s really a question for the president, not me, and time will tell. I think that it is going to be a task that is not going to be easy. It’s going to take some time. And we certainly would want people engaged who were cooperative, and wanted to do it in a constructive way. We would not want people involved who wanted to behave in an unconstructive way.
BLITZER: Do you want to offer some sort of assessment, how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, and how much it will cost?
RUMSFELD: You know, before the war began, people ‑‑ everyone kept saying, how long is it going to last, what’s it going to cost, how many casualties will there be? And I would say the truth, we don’t know, it’s not knowable. And people said, you know, you must know. We don’t know, nor do we know now how long this stabilization period will take. We hope it’s short, we hope that the Iraqi people will step forward and engage this process of creating an interim authority, and then a constitution, and a final government that can best serve the Iraqi people. The rest of the world can’t figure out what makes the most sense in Iraq. How long that will take, I don’t know. But, we do know that the humanitarian assistance has ben so good that there really is not a humanitarian crisis generally in the country. There may be pockets of distribution problems, medicines and that kind of thing. But, there are a lot of people helping, and it’s coming along very well. The real problem that country faces, and god bless the wonderful young men and women, and their families and their loved ones who let them do this, go over there and spent many months, and did such a wonderful job, they have contributed to the liberation of those people. Now those people have to engage, and take over that process. And we’ve got terrific folks over there trying to help them do that, and only time will tell.
BLITZER: Should the Iraqi National Congress leader, Ahmed Chalabi be one of those leaders? Last week on this ‑‑ someone here on CNN, the foreign minister of Jordan, Marwan Muasher told me that he’s a crook, he’s wanted for embezzling money from a bank in Jordan and he should really have no role in a future Iraq.
RUMSFELD: Well, the wonderful thing about this process of democracy is that when someone sticks their head up, somebody doesn’t like it. And therefore there will be that process, just like in our country. There will be a debate, there will be a discussion, and ultimately people would decide who they want, it won’t be us who will be deciding who is going to be doing anything, it will be the Iraqi people over time. My guess is the interim authority will serve as a mechanism so that the Iraqi people can look at it and say, we like this, or we don’t like that, we want to be involved, we don’t want to be involved. The people who don’t want to be involved are going to be making a big mistake, because the people who are involved are going to be the ones that are going to have an affect on what that country is going to look like in the future.
BLITZER: But, you have confidence in Chalabi?
RUMSFELD: I don’t know the man well. I’ve met him on one or two occasions. He has been selected by the leadership council as a spokesman for that group. And he is there, he’s contributing, and how it will shake out, what his role will be, what other people’s role will be remains to be seen.
BLITZER: We have to take a quick break, up next, Syria, is Syria beginning to get the message from Washington, and what about North Korea and its nuclear weapons program, is it time for the United States to launch a preemptive strike? I’ll ask the Secretary of Defense, we’ll bring you the rest of the interview when Late Edition returns.
BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We return now to my interview earlier today with the United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
I know during the war, before the war, you were very concerned about the position of the Syrian government cooperating with Iraqis, having an open border, if you will. Has the situation improved, especially in the aftermath now of the Secretary of State's meeting with Bashar Al-Assad?
RUMSFELD: Well, I guess time will tell. I talked to Secretary Powell this morning on the phone a bit, and it's not ‑‑ I think you need to let the dust settle on that. He, in my judgment, had a visit that was worth doing, and the president asked him to do it, and it was the right thing to do. We'll see what progress comes. You know, words are one thing, actions are another.
BLITZER: But right now you're open-minded as far as Syria, whether they will crack down on terrorism, and take some of the other steps that you want them to take?
RUMSFELD: I know what they've been doing, and it's been unhelpful. I know that Secretary Powell was just there, and advised them that it was unhelpful, and gave them some pointers, and some suggestions for the future. In my view, they were making some unwise decisions previously. What they'll do after this visit remains to be seen.
BLITZER: The Secretary of State has written you a letter expressing apparently some concern about the length that the prisoners can be spending, those detained at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, about 600 or so of them. Is there any movement in trying to determine the fate of those individuals?
RUMSFELD: I don't think that's quite accurate as to what he wrote me about.
BLITZER: Tell me what's right.
RUMSFELD: I think what he wrote me about was the fact that he interagency process where we have all these FBI and Department of Justice and CIA and DIA, and what-have-you, involved in interrogating these detainees, it takes time to find out what intelligence they have. It also takes time to figure out what law enforcement process might be appropriate. And what Colin and I have been concerned about, both of us, is that it's taking so long. There are a number of countries, and the Department of State has the responsibility of dealing with those countries, who have foreign nationals in Gitmo, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, being detained. And those countries, understandably, would like to know when they could have those people.
So the interagency process takes a great deal of time. Colin and I are trying to speed up that process, and that's what that's all about.
BLITZER: Let me just, a couple of nuggets to sort of wrap up before I let you go. Victory parades for the troops, I remember covering General Schwartzkopf, the parades in Washington and New York after the first Gulf War. Do you want the troops to be honored in that way when they come back, to have parades in New York, Washington, and elsewhere?
RUMSFELD: There's no question but that the troops, the young men and women do such a superb job that there has to be a way to honor them. And there will be. And General Franks and his team did just a superb job for our country and for the world, and, indeed for the Iraqi people who have been liberated. What's the best way to do that? In the case of 1991, the task was to go in and get them out of Kuwait, and they did it, and they were properly greeted coming back to the United States. In this instance, it was a very different task, it was to remove that regime, and it's part of the global war on terrorism that is not over. We still have to face the problem of a number of global terrorist networks, and terrorist states that exist that work with those global networks.
And, on the one hand, we will, in fact, find a way to honor the courage and dedication and talent of these young men and women, and we’ll do it well. Whether it would be a model off the 1991 thing, I don’t know. I kind of doubt it, because it’s such a different circumstance. Certainly, our war plan was not modeled off of 1991.
BLITZER: One final question on North Korea, if the North Koreans pursue their nuclear weapons ambitions, a preemptive strike, is that something that is out there?
RUMSFELD: I’m not one who speculates about things like that. I know that back in the 1990s, in the Clinton administration, Secretary Perry called in the former Secretaries of Defense, and we had a discussion and they clearly had teed up a military option, that they were considering, and they then at a certain moment were able to do some things that persuaded them that that was not appropriate. But, those are very serious issues, and I leave them for the president.
BLITZER: You don’t want to speculate about that right now?
RUMSFELD: I certainly don’t.
BLITZER: Any speculation about you, the Defense Secretary, how much longer you want to stay at the Pentagon?
RUMSFELD: Why, you have any suggestions?
BLITZER: No, I’m just asking.
RUMSFELD: No, we’ve got a lot of important work to do, and we’ve got a good team of folks, and we’re making good progress. I really feel that the Afghan campaign, and the Iraq campaign have been successful. I think that we have a lot of hard work yet to do in Iraq, and I think we also have a lot of hard work to see that we keep getting this department turned and arranged for the 21st Century threats that this country and the world face.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us on Late Edition.
RUMSFELD: Thank you.
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