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Rumsfeld Stakeout Following NBC Meet the Press

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 24, 2002

(Media Stakeout following Meet the Press, NBC-TV)

Q: -- that we now know that bin Laden is alive and his possible whereabouts. Can you update us on that?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I've seen those reports. I have no idea what their basis is. I see an enormous amount of intelligence information and most if not all that is reasonably validated and I have nothing in my experience that can support those articles.

Q: So you don't even know if he's alive?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I have not seen any recent evidence that he is, which would -- if I were he I would not want the world to have recent evidence that I was alive. So it doesn't surprise me and it doesn't lead me to believe that he is or he isn't.

Q: Are there U.S. (inaudible) or special forces on the ground in Iraq?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Iraq? My recollection is that from time to time Americans in very small numbers from various departments and agencies do have communications with the Kurds and others in Iraq. Whether there happens to be one or two people there at the present time I just don't know, wouldn't know. But if you're asking me are there reasonable numbers of U.S. forces, the answer is no.

Q: You were quoted as saying that only outside intervention would overcome Saddam Hussein. Are we planning that, and are you planning talks with Minister Blair on that?

Secretary Rumsfeld: The President deals with Mr. Blair, and the Department of State does its diplomatic relations, and the Department of Defense does what the President requests with respect to operations and we don't discuss operations. I think there's been a great deal of discussion about Iraq and Iran and North Korea particularly since the State of the Union message, and that's not surprising.

The purpose of that speech and his characterization was not to say that the United States was planning to use force against those countries. It was to try to point out to the world exactly how terrible those regimes are and the numbers of people, for example, that are starving in North Korea and in political prison camps by the tens and tens and tens and tens of thousands. And the repressive nature of the Iraqi regime. And the fact that in Iran, they have been being notably uncooperative with respect to the al Qaeda terrorist network and others. And all three being on the terrorist list. That I think was the point. I think focusing world attention on the repressive nature of those regimes and their inhumanity to their own people, let alone their threat to other people and their obvious and well-known engagement in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and various techniques and capabilities and ballistic missiles, I think it was a very useful thing for him to do.

Q: In the spring the U.S. Security Council is supposed to (inaudible). What is your (inaudible)?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I think that when one thinks about international inspectors in Iraq, we have to recognize that there were a lot of very fine, dedicated people who were trying to do that and they did go in there during the period that Saddam Hussein allowed them in. But they went in under very restrictive requirements. And their ability to find out what was actually taking place in that country while inspectors were in there was minimal.

The real information that they were able to get came from defectors who left the country, provided the inspectors the information, the inspectors then went in and in [a] few cases, before the Iraqis were able to move things, they were able to discover some things and destroy some capabilities -- chemical, biological, that type of thing.

Now it's been a number of years since the inspectors were in there. The Saddam Hussein regime has had numerous opportunities to go underground, to develop mobile capabilities for biological weapons, to continue to advance their capabilities, and the idea that we could now say oh, that's wonderful, we can go back in with the same old inspection regime and [face] it when we couldn't even find much then, that now, after all these years, we could have good knowledge about his weapons of mass destruction capabilities, I think would be a misunderstanding of the situation. Technologies evolve, he's been purchasing mobile capabilities for biological weapons, he has been under this so-called oil for food and humanitarian regime that has existed. He's been able to acquire a number of dual-use capabilities that on the one hand can be seen as benign in their use, and on the other hand, can be seen as being a platform for a weapon. And his capabilities have been advancing over this period because of that.

Q: (inaudible)

Secretary Rumsfeld: The United States has put FARC on the terrorist list. It is clearly an organization that is threatening the democratic system in the country of Colombia. The President of Colombia has had a policy of attempting to be patient and to deal with them and apparently from what I read in the press and in the cable traffic, has reached the end of his string and has decided that the FARC has not been cooperative, has not been responsive, and has indicated that some Colombian forces may very well be going into the area, the safe area that the FARC and other terrorist groups had controlled.

The role of the United States in Colombia is restricted by congressional legislation and executive policy to be oriented towards the drug problem, which is what the original involvement of the Department of State and to a very limited extent the Department of Defense was there for.

Whether or not the Congress and the Executive Branch will decide that they want to adjust those constraints so that they, the use of assets in that country no longer need to be restricted solely to the drug problem, but could also be broadened into the problem of terrorism remains to be seen.

Q: Can you tell us the status of the British prisoners in Guantanamo Bay? Would you expedite them to Britain if they asked for it?

Secretary Rumsfeld: There are a very small number of people who either are, have British passports or claim to be British in one way or another. They have been visited by the authorities from Great Britain. To my knowledge they've not been requested by Great Britain. We've been interviewing them and attempting to find out what they know.

Without addressing the UK situation let me say broadly our interest is not in holding people. If other countries are going to... once we've interviewed them and figured out what kind of intelligence information they have, if other countries of their nationality are interested in having them for the purpose of prosecution for their behavior and will keep them off the street so that they don't go right back and start flying airplanes into our buildings and killing thousands of Americans, my first choice is not to have a lot of people in Guantanamo Bay. My preference would be to have as many people go to their own countries and be dealt with there -- assuming the countries have decided they want to handle it in an appropriate way and prosecute.

Q: Sir, is it our feeling that Iran has people at work to destabilize the current Afghan government?

Secretary Rumsfeld: There's no question but that the countries surrounding Afghanistan have a history of interesting themselves in what's taking place in that country. On the one hand they have a legitimate interest in having an Afghanistan that is not unstable and creating problems for them and forcing refugees into their country. On the other hand at various times in history neighboring countries have had an illegitimate interest where they've decided they want to decide what's going to take place in that country for the Afghan people and they have provided weapons to people and tried to provide money and assert influence to control the Afghan government, the Afghan army or elements of the Afghan population. The former is understandable, the latter is unacceptable and there's no question but that over time Iran's been engaged in both.

Thank you. It's nice to see you all.

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