(Media availability with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Georgian Defense Minister General Lieutenant David Tevzadze)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. I am here with the defense minister of the Republic of Georgia, Mr. Tevzadze. He has visited us here previously, and we have met on several occasions at NATO functions. Georgia, of course, is a member of the Partnership for Peace.
In addition, the United States has a military-to-military relationship with the Republic of Georgia, which has recently been enhanced in that we have, as you know, a number of trainers that have arrived very recently in Georgia. I think there are some 26 people there at the present time. And the first phase of the program will take it up to something in the neighborhood of 75 U.S. trainers to train the national staff, and then the second phase will go up to, I believe, 150 total trainers who will be involved with tactical training of four battalions.
I should add that the effort that we're engaged in with Georgia is something that is not a U.S.-only activity. We have the Turkish government armed forces have trainers in there, and Germany has been cooperative. Recently, there was a donors conference, and some 15 countries, many of which have offered to participate in various ways to assist the Republic of Georgia and their armed forces and the minister of defense in developing a better anti-terrorist capability for their armed forces.
So we're very pleased to have you here, Mr. Minister. We thank you for coming. And you're welcome to make any remarks you would like to.
Tevzadze: First of all I wish to thank your leadership of -- I mean defense establishment in the United States and also your political leadership because of the decision that helps not only Georgia; actually it helps for stability of the region itself, and it's very important. And also, it will help Georgia also to be helpful for others not only in that respect, to manage its own territory, but with more deeper involvement in anti-terrorist war.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Q: Mr. Secretary, given the controversy over both his Enron stockholdings and over Crusader, have you continued faith in Secretary White's ability to lead the Army? And despite the fact that you --
Rumsfeld: Let me just answer that --
Q: All right, sir.
Rumsfeld: -- yes, I do. I certainly have confidence in Secretary White.
Q: And so you don't intend to seek his resignation over --
Rumsfeld: No -- (laughs) -- my goodness, no.
Q: Also --
Rumsfeld: You don't believe everything you read in the newspaper, do you, Charlie?
Q: (Pause.) Also, you've made clear that you haven't signed off yet on the fate of Crusader. But for all intents and purposes is it now dead?
Rumsfeld: I think that the way to -- my recollection is that where we are, we are engaged in a 30-day process where we are going to be looking at alternative ways to use the funds from the Crusader to determine precisely how it would be best to accelerate some precision munitions and to see that we have the kind of capabilities between -- that are appropriate and necessary between now and the availability of the capabilities that are designed for the objective force.
Q: Well, the Crusader itself, then. But you're going to use those funds for other things.
Rumsfeld: I think -- I think I'm -- I think I'd rather have Paul precisely describe that.
(To staff) Has that been done yet by Paul?
Staff: Not yet, sir.
Rumsfeld: So I'd like to defer to that. He's been working very hard on it, and the precise language that he will attach to it will be available, one would think, relatively soon.
Q: Sir, on the --
Q: Mr. Secretary, on the same subject, may I -- ?
Q: What do you make of the Army's arguments that they have made to Congress that canceling the Crusader would cost American lives on the battlefield?
Rumsfeld: The Army has not made those arguments. Someone -- individual, someone with an overactive thyroid -- (laughter) -- seemed to get his hands in his mouth ahead of his brain. And the -- that happens in life. And it certainly was not Secretary White, if that's what you're wondering, nor was it the Department of Defense, and we're looking into it.
Q: Whoever, is that a valid argument, Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: Of course not.
Q: Well, can you clarify your support for White again? I mean, the front page, USA Today, implies he's out the door at the end of the day --
Rumsfeld: And I just said don't believe everything you read in the newspaper.
Q: So you're reiterating your support for him at this point?
Rumsfeld: I just did.
Q: If an IG report comes down and says, though, that the Army inappropriately lobbied Congress in violation of the Anti-Lobbying Act -- which you're well aware of, as a former congressman -- might that change your opinion?
Rumsfeld: There is no question but that the Army -- not the Army, but some individuals in the Army, were way in the dickens out of line. It was not Secretary White, and he's advised me of that case.
Q: I was going to ask you that. How do you know it wasn't Secretary White? What --
Rumsfeld: But wait, there's someone here -- wait, wait, wait, wait. There's someone here from the Republic of Georgia. There you are.
Q: Yes. I'd like to know what kind of help you are going to provide the Republic of Georgia? Only 100 trainers, that's all? And I know you gave $53 million, right?
Rumsfeld: Well, look, the Republic of Georgia and the United States are very friendly nations. We have a military-to-military relationship that is really an expansion of the Partnership for Peace/NATO relationship. And I'm not going to stand here and enumerate the various things it involves. It's a multi-faceted relationship; it involves diplomatic and economic, as well as security issues.
And the thing that we were discussing today was what I explained in some detail, and that is up to a maximum of 150 trainers for a very specific purpose, with other countries participating, and it is a program that we -- they and we believe will be a useful thing from the standpoint of the Republic.
Q: I have another question for the minister --
Q: May I follow that?
Rumsfeld: So I wouldn't want you to say "only" like that.
Q: Another question for the minister --
Rumsfeld: Wait. The minister wants to respond also.
Tevzadze: Yes, I will. I think our military-to-military contacts are, since 1995, actually, and during this period it's very difficult to me to say how much billions were spent by the U.S. I wish to assure you that what was done during these years, and especially since 1998 up to this day, is much bigger than any millions you can count. You know, so --
Q: Minister, again, is there any possibility that those four battalions of Georgian troops trained by the United States would be deployed anywhere near or along the boundary with Abkhazia, the breakaway region in the northwest of your country?
Tevzadze: No, for two reasons. First of all, we don't have any reason to deploy them there because the process which is going on with the Abkhazian part of Georgia, we are committed until all the resources will not be resources for peaceful settlement of the conflict, at least in the nearest future, we will not be try to come to a military resolution of the problem, is one thing. And another thing is, I don't have any facilities nearby Abkhazia, as you mean, border -- (chuckles) -- so-called, which will be suitable for these four battalions to be deployed from there --
Rumsfeld: The minister has a few more meetings here in the building shortly. What I'll do is take just a few more questions. Yes, indeed.
Q: Mr. Minister, can you bring us up to date on your view about the potential al Qaeda presence in your country? Do you believe now that there are al Qaeda either members or influences in your country? Do you believe that there are al Qaeda elements that have escaped the fighting in Pakistan, come through Chechnya, possibly, come to your country? What is the status?
Tevzadze: You know, actually, for me personally, it is very difficult to believe in that, because to come from Afghanistan to that part of Georgia, they need to [cross] at least six or seven countries, including [the] Caspian Sea. But better information, perhaps, have the agencies -- we are working slightly in different --
Q: Nonetheless, do you believe, if not from Afghanistan --
Tevzadze: You know, in physical world, there is nothing excluded.
Q: Is there al Qaeda influence in your country now?
Tevzadze: No. No, al Qaeda influence can't be in the country.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, can we go back to a question you didn't answer?
Rumsfeld: Sure. (Laughter.) You mean I wasn't asked.
Q: The contacts with Secretary White that you've had --
Q: -- has he assured you he didn't send those talking points up or had nothing to do with them?
Rumsfeld: He has.
Q: Does he know who did?
Rumsfeld: We -- as I indicated, we have an Inspector General study going on, and it's -- it'll be available, and we'll find out, and then we'll see what happens.
Q: Has that been given to Secretary Wolfowitz yet? It was supposed to be done today, we understand.
Rumsfeld: I have not seen it. I don't believe it's been given to Secretary Wolfowitz, and when it is, why, we'll sit down and discuss it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, one --
Q: A question --
Rumsfeld: Just a second. One second. Yes?
Q: Could you give us an update on the security situation in the Pankisi gorge area? What kind of insurgency are you dealing with? How many people are there?
Tevzadze: I'll tell you the situation in Pankisi dramatically improved since the program -- train-and-equip program was loudly announced. Yes, it seems strange even for me, but that's true.
Q: And could you quantify that? How has that change manifested itself?
Tevzadze: I'll tell you, first of all, it's become easier to work inside the gorge for law enforcement agencies of the country, and it lets -- I should say, first effect of the program.
Rumsfeld: We'll take two questions. One, two.
Q: Mr. Secretary, in the coming days, the V-22 Osprey is supposed to go back into flight testing, and I'm just wondering what your attitude toward the program is. Is it -- is it so transformational, as the Marines say, that if the flight-testing goes well, that program succeeds? Or could it still be cut for budgetary reasons because it's so expensive?
Rumsfeld: That is a subject like all weapons systems that gets addressed in an orderly way. And the defense planning guidance, as I recall, has some reference to it, but that's a classified document, and I don't know that I want to get into what it says precisely.
Q: Well, do you have any strong feelings about whether the aircraft would be transformational or not?
Rumsfeld: I think what I'm going to do is leave that question where I ended it. It seems to me that if I start elevating out one weapon system over another and blessing or not blessing or marginally blessing or quasi-blessing or pseudo-blessing, it is an unuseful project for me. And I think that the defense planning guidance in the budget for the coming year will speak for itself. It will show what the not just Rumsfeld, but the combined judgment and wisdom of the civilian and military leaders in this department have concluded is appropriate. And it isn't so much one-weapon system against anything else. It's the mix of capabilities and how they interact with each other in a way that provides the kinds of net capabilities that this country's going to need. So it really -- it is really not useful for me to do that, to pull things out, yes.
Q: And what would you say to lawmakers like J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, who say that the Crusader is necessary to protect soldiers, and he's going to be fighting to keep it?
Rumsfeld: Well, you know, the Constitution has Article 1, which is the legislative branch of the government. It's not the executive branch, and it's not the judicial branch. And the Congress has an important role to play. And the president disposes, and the Congress -- proposes and the Congress disposes. So what will happen will be what happens every year. That is that the best judgment of this department will be marshaled and presented to the Congress and the world, persuasively, one would hope. And we will then go make our case. And we will do it on weapon system after weapon system. And we all know we begin with the truth, and the truth is, change is hard. No one wants anything to change. And the resistance to change in large bureaucracies and in legislative branches and in contractor communities is enormous. And what we will have to do is see that our arguments are persuasive, that we marshal them well, that we deal with the people on the Hill so that they understand that the totality of what we're presenting is rational and coherent and makes sense for this country. And that's our task.
Q: Are you saying Congress is an obstacle to change? (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: Of course not.
Q: I was just wondering. (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: I said it was Article I of the Constitution. (Laughter.) You're not listening carefully.
Q: You're saying that you're not going to hold Secretary White responsible for this overactive thyroid problem. Is that -- (laughter) -- is that right? I mean --
Q: In other words, he is not responsible for members of his staff who might have done this.
Rumsfeld: Well, now, let's just take a minute and discuss that.
I am responsible for this department. There are things that happen in it, not unlike the one we're discussing at the present time, that I may not like or agree with, in which case it's my job then to find out how we get most of the department working in the right direction together in a constructive, positive way. But I'm still responsible for the department. And the secretary's responsible for the Army. But in an instance where someone in the Army out of thousands and thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of human beings does something that he, she or it clearly should not have done and will not do again, it seems to me that the task is to find out the facts. And it isn't a matter of ready, shoot, aim, it's ready, aim, fire. And we're still in the aiming business.
Q: There isn't a witch-hunt?
Rumsfeld: Now, Pam! (Laughter.) That's like "quagmire", and "kangaroo courts", and "torture", and all these other words that inflame the public, that --
Q: "Quagmire", or "kangaroo court", or -- (laughter) -- you used the word "fire". That was your word. (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I said It's not ready, fire, aim.
Q: Are you referring to Secretary White?
Rumsfeld: No, I'm not! I've already discussed that. (Laughter.) What's the matter with your folks? Come on!
Q: Sir, if you haven't read the Inspector General's report --
Q: (Off mike) -- on this.
Rumsfeld: We got to go.
Q: If you haven't read the Inspector General's report, how can you make these sweeping -- these statements of support for White? Aren't you -- isn't it --
Rumsfeld: Because I've talked to the secretary, and he had no knowledge or awareness of the talking points.
Q: But the Inspector General is looking in it. Shouldn't you wait to see the report --
Rumsfeld: I'll wait for the rest of it. I've spoken on the first piece.
Q: All right.
Q: Thank you.
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