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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Brussels

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 18, 2001

Monday, Dec. 17, 2001

(Media availability en route to Brussels)

Rumsfeld: Someone said you had some good footage on CNN of Afghanistan.

Q: We've done okay.

Rumsfeld: Going up the stairways of those buildings that are all destroyed reminded me of when I was Middle East envoy and moving around in Beirut and pieces of Lebanon visiting the (inaudible) in places where they are all bombed out like that. It is a sad thing to see a country that has been that destroyed. Their entire infrastructure is in such bad shape. It is going to take a good chunk of time to create a livable situation there. Well, what's up?

Q: NATO.

Rumsfeld: NATO, my old home.

Q: The European Union is pressing the United States not to move the war on terrorism beyond Afghanistan without approval from the international community. How do you see that and is the United States willing to let other people run the war on terrorism despite its desire to have help?

Rumsfeld: First, I would say that it's not clear to me that your premise was correct, Charles. I don't believe that the European Union is doing that at all. I think a member of the European Union may have opined on that subject, but I do not believe that the other members have rushed in support, wisely it seems to me.

The position of the United States from the outset has been and remains that the mission will determine the coalition; that the coalition must not determine the mission. For the simple reason that coalitions aren't appropriate, a single coalition may not be appropriate for every conceivable activity. To the extent one doesn't understand that and tries to allow a coalition to be the coalition for every conceivable activity, the activities get dumbed down.

What we have got to do is to recognize that people are different, countries are different, they do have different histories, different perspectives; and they're interested in and capable of helping to do certain things, but not others. We have always said we understand that, we recognize it, we appreciate it, we value the support they give us on the things they feel like supporting and we don't take it amiss at all that everyone doesn't do everything. That is perfectly natural.

Q: Mr. Secretary I understand the British got that provision knocked out, right?

Rumsfeld: I have not been following it closely, but to my knowledge only one country opposed it and it had life for about thirty seconds. But I didn't say that. Charlie suggested that in his question.

Q: Getting back to the situation in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Powell said that we have destroyed the al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Your thoughts on that statement?

Rumsfeld: The first rule of war is that it is the presidents who decide when something conclusive has been achieved. In my view it is fair to say that depending on the context of the question -- how he was asked it, when he was asked it, what was said before, what was said after, and I have not even read what you said he said -- but with all those provisos, I do not want to start a series of these articles that somebody doesn't agree with somebody else, because I don't find them useful. I am more interested in the substance.

The fact of the matter is, as Secretary Powell knows well, there is still any number of al Qaeda loose in that country. That is why we are there, that is why we are chasing them, that is why we are bombing them. That is why we are working with Afghan forces to rout them out of tunnels and caves.

It is true that they are running and hiding and not dominating the country of Afghanistan as they had previously. It is also true that the Taliban is no longer a legitimate government of Afghanistan, if it ever was. It too is in a state of some disarray and it is running and hiding, but there still are a lot of Taliban in the country and they are still armed. It it's going take time and energy and effort and people will be killed in the process of trying to find them and capture them or have them surrender.

That should not in any way suggest I disagree with the quote to begin with, because I don't know the basis of that quote. I would not want my comments to be juxtaposed adversely to my friend Colin Powell.

Q: What will you do to any reporter that does it?

Rumsfeld: I will comment on it at an appropriate time. (laughter)

Q: What are your thoughts on the fact that the senior al Qaeda leadership, especially those close to Mullah Omar, have escaped? I wonder if you think or suspect that this has been done with the complicity of Afghan opposition that US forces have worked with?

Rumsfeld: You say senior al Qaeda close to Omar?

Q: Yes, as well as bin Laden, but certainly Omar, his defense minister, his top intelligence chief.

Rumsfeld: We are still trying to sort out who we have and who we don't have, and who has been killed. It is not an easy process. We are aggressively trying to put some discipline into that process of listing the people that are of note and tracking down where they are, whether we have them, whether they are in prison someplace, and whether they have escaped. What we will then do is get control of those we do want on the list. We will pursue those that we don't have wherever they are and we will try to determine those that people say are dead. That's not an easy thing to do.

Second, to the extent that we find people who aspire to high office or high position in Afghanistan, have been involved in preventing us from getting our hands on people who are responsible for what is going on in Afghanistan, will find the United States not terribly friendly to their aspirations.

Q: You mean if they were complicit in the escape.

Rumsfeld: (no audible answer)

Q: Mr. Secretary about those who were reported captured in the Tora Bora area, is there anybody you know that you can tell us about?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. There are 30 or 31 prisoners as of last night that I know of. They also interestingly seem to have captured a good deal of Chinese ammunition. They are still aggressively pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban people in that region. Until they get a chance to interview them, interrogate them, sort them out, and see who they are, it is hard to know what their level of seniority was in those activities.

Q: Were there any Taliban or al Qaeda leaders captured?

Rumsfeld: In these latest groups I don't have any of their names and serial numbers yet.

Q: Did bin Laden escape from the Tora Bora area?

Rumsfeld: That presumes he was there.

Q: Yes it does.

Rumsfeld: Since we did not know that with precision, and we don't know if he is there now, it would be difficult to answer that question.

Q: Are you saying you do not know where he is?

Rumsfeld: I am saying that it is a question mark as to his exact location. There are people who continue to speculate that he may be in that area or may have been in that area or that he may be somewhere else. My feeling is until we catch him, which we will, we won't know precisely where he was when we catch him.

Q: One quick follow up on Tora Bora. Has it fallen like the senior commander said?

Rumsfeld: There is a long mountain range between Kabul and Afghanistan. A portion is called Tora Bora. There is still fighting going on there. There are still people scrambling in the mountains looking for people. There are people going in the tunnels acquiring various types of material and information.

Q: And the bombing is still going on?

Rumsfeld: I have not checked this morning on bombing.

Q: Are U.S. Special Forces going into the tunnels?

Rumsfeld: We have Special Forces and special operations people who are working with the Afghan units on the ground. What particular things are they doing at any given moment? They are capable of doing lots of things.

Q: And those 31 who have been captured. Are they still in the camps in the hands of opposition groups, or have we moved them to this -- There was some talk by a spokesman down in Kandahar that they were building this detention facility and they were told get ready because people are coming.

Rumsfeld: The odds are that the prisoners are in the hands of the Afghans because the U.S. forces we have on the ground are in sufficiently small numbers and their activities are sufficiently important. I would doubt that they would be allocated to guard duty.

You're right, we are fashioning a detention center that would be able to hold some number of hundreds of prisoners. When and at what point these people would be moved to that particular facility, I don't know. It is not an easy thing to manage prisoners if you are engaged in a battle so they tend to try to keep them away and see that they are disarmed and at the earliest possible time move them to a detention facility.

Q: On the meeting with your Russian counterpart today. This is the first meeting since the president's announcement about the ABM treaty. Please describe your agenda with Mr. Ivanov as you move with Russia into this new relationship. Also, last week NATO adopted the "NATO at 20" language including Russia. Are you in favor of that? Do you think it complicates the planning of the organization?

Rumsfeld: The agenda that I will have with Defense Minister of Russia Sergei Ivanov will be undoubtedly very similar to the agendas we have had at previous bilateral meetings. I am meeting with him today, we know each other, and we've have had a number of meetings. We will undoubtedly be discussing the way forward and a framework to be used in our improving relationship.

The same kinds of discussions we had prior to the six-month notifications, we will be having during the period of the six-month notification. Nothing has changed except that the clock is running. We will undoubtedly talk about the changes, the decisions they have made to move their strategic offensive nuclear weapons down to levels President Bush announced. I think Russians announced 1,500 to 2,200 and we announced 1,700 to 2,200 (inaudible).

I will probably be explaining to him the elements of the president's decision, and the idea that it is a journey, you put yourself on a path towards that journey for a decade. And the kinds of things we will have to do as we proceed on that journey by way of reducing from thousands down to relatively small numbers, and some of the additional things that are required in respect to our infrastructure so that we will be able to get down to those numbers.

We will undoubtedly be talking about the importance of transparency and predictability, which both of our countries recognize as important for our respective populations to feel comfortable as we make that dramatic a change in our numbers of strategic offensive nuclear weapons.

I am sure there are any number of other things we will talk about. We are cooperating with respect to terrorism. We are cooperating with respect to things like counter proliferation. Both areas are of considerable interest to me and to other countries, and I am sure it will be very constructive.

Q: A NATO at 20 question sir?

Rumsfeld: You are asking for my -- oh I remember. That's a separate subject, not so much Ivanov as to explain NATO at 20.

The president has, as you know, met with President Putin and he has met with Prime Minister Blair and various other world leaders and talked to them on the phone. He has indicated his view that the United States and NATO ought to try to fashion a relationship with Russia that is appropriate for the 21st century. We are trying to do that bilaterally. The president is working to do that bilaterally and multilaterally with respect to the economic sphere -- recognizing that it is very much in Russia's interest to turn West. It is very much in Russia's interest to become more closely connected to the Western European and North American economic communities.

From a security standpoint NATO is the instrument and the president and President Putin have both indicated their desire to try to find ways for Russia to interact with NATO in a way that is satisfactory from Russia's standpoint and appropriate from NATO's standpoint.

We have done that with other organizations and countries in the past. We have an institution in NATO that has a military component that is dominate -- that is, the centerpiece of NATO -- and yet we have had for years a relationship with France that is not a part of the defense planning mechanism. It is apart from that. We have managed to function as an institution.

Back in my day there were 15 members and NATO was one and we functioned at 14 for things that involved the integrated military command system and we functioned at 15 when things that were appropriate for France to be involved in permitted that. More recently as we have added numbers, we are now up to 19 NATO members. We have fashioned two or three layers -- we now have 18 with France being the 19 and there is that relationship which continues. We also have the Partnership for Peace, which adds a new tranche of nations for peace. We additionally have a level where we meet with the Ukraine. We have had, with the Ukraine and Russia separately. And now what is in the process is finding a way to take Russia and include them on a category of issues that are appropriate for their involvement, since they are not members of the integrated command, just as France is not. And they are not signatures to the treaty, which France is, but which Ukraine and Russia are not. Yet, we recognize the changed world; that it is the 21st century, that the Cold War is over. So how do we do that? We will be discussing that. We will be discussing that bilaterally and (will) be discussing it multilaterally. It is something the secretary general needless to say needs to think through.

Q: Do you envision Russia having a veto on certain issues or category of issues?

Q: Are you concerned about that? That this is a trick or perhaps Russia having a veto over certain things?

Rumsfeld: Well let me say this about that: I don't know how it will evolve. It is not written, it is at this point theory and it is not something the United States or Russia will determine. It is something that the institution will have to fashion. It will take discussion and consideration. If one thinks about it, NATO tends to operate on the basis of consensus. Therefore, for something to be considered outside of the 18 -- that is to say the NATO signatures that are part of the NATO integrated military command -- requires a consensus and that issue then goes up to the NAC (North Atlantic Council). We may be getting into a level of detail here that is --

Q: No, no. We're with you here, I promise.

Rumsfeld: But that requires consensus from the 18 to elevate an issue to the 19 to include France. One would think, certainly thus far, given NATO's relationship with Russia, NATO's relationship with the Ukraine, and NATO's relationship with the Partnership for Peace nations -- there again it has taken a consensus in this case of the 19, including France, to take an issue for consideration or discussion or in some cases decision up to a higher level -- a level that would include Ukraine or Russia or Partners for Peace. One would think that would be how it would operate with respect to Russia at that point where these things are discussed. Now I don't know that, but it certainly is a model that exists which answers your question.

(The rest of the discussion occurred on an off-the-record basis, by mutual consent).