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Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld

Presenters: DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Pace
May 30, 2002 12:30 PM EDT

(Also participating was Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff)

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.

Yesterday I was with the young men and women of the class of 2002 who graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, and had a wonderful day with them. They're terrific young people, and eager and anxious to get out and serve their country.

We'd be happy to respond to questions.

Charlie?

Q: Mr. Secretary, the president said this morning that he's sending you to India and Pakistan next week because of the tense situation there. What do you hope to accomplish when you're there, sir? Will you carry a message from the president?

Rumsfeld: I've not quite decided when I will go, and it will be sometime next week in connection with my visit to NATO, for one thing, and possibly some other countries as well. And I think I'd probably prefer to visit with the people in Pakistan and India rather than do it through the press.

Q: Oh, but you have expressed concern from this podium over the situation there. I mean, do you plan to pass on those concerns? Will you meet with your counterparts in both countries?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I plan to meet with them and visit about the situation.

Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, do you think war between those countries can be avoided? Do you see a shift towards a potential nuclear or even a conventional outbreak there?

Rumsfeld: You know, it's a sensitive subject, and it's almost like the subject of threat warnings. Almost anything anyone says in response to a question, someone will characterize as something other than it is.

My instinct on this subject is to simply recognize that the two countries are clearly in a situation where they are not talking directly to each other, and they have substantial disagreements, particularly with respect to the LOC [Line of Control] in the Kashmir area. So, I don't know what else one can add.

Q: Have you been talking to Mr. Fernandez and --

Rumsfeld: I have not spoken to him in recent days, no.

Q: And his Pakistani counterpart, sir?

Rumsfeld: No, I have not spoken to either one.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

On the same subject, there are reportedly a thousand-plus U.S. military personnel in Pakistan, and figures go as high as 60,000-plus civilians in Pakistan and India. And there's been some discussion that since the Pentagon probably has a contingency plan for evacuating these people, that you may order such a plan, in effect. Do you have any plans to do so?

Rumsfeld: No. The department always has contingency plans for various types of activities, including those. But as you know, the Department of State has certain travel advisories out. Pakistan has, I think, been on a -- with respect to U.S. officials, on a -- I forget how it's characterized, but nonessential people may leave voluntarily or something with respect to Pakistan.

But no, we've not announced any plans to evacuate.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: What leverage do you believe that the United States or that you are going to have in getting these two sides to back down?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that I -- it's for me to characterize that. It seems to me that what you have is two countries, each of which has a great many conventional forces and nuclear power, as well. And it's in their interests, as much as anybody's. It's the millions and millions and millions of people who live in those two countries who would be damaged by a conflict.

Yes.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that al Qaeda is causing problems in Kashmir and possibly trying to ramp up the tensions between the two countries?

Rumsfeld: I don't know of certain knowledge. I've seen reports to that effect. It's possible. But I wouldn't want to assert it, because I can't prove it.

Yes.

Q: Mr. Secretary, will you visit American troops in Pakistan?

Rumsfeld: Probably. I generally do when I go to a country. So I hope so.

Yes.

Q: Mr. Secretary, if Pakistan starts pulling out great numbers of troops from the west, impinging on our war against terrorism and al Qaeda, what leeway does the U.S. have to fill that void with U.S. troops or into Pakistan, itself -- increasing the number we already have there?

Rumsfeld: The number of battalions that have been Pakistani battalions that have been located along that Afghan border has not changed. And we hope it will not change.

Q: And if it does change, though, does the U.S. have the leeway and the authority or understanding from Pakistan that we can put our own troops in to fill the void?

Rumsfeld: We, obviously, would leave to Pakistan how they would characterize what they or we might do in an instance like that.

Q: Well, might we do that, though? I mean --

Rumsfeld: It's not for me to say. It's up to Pakistan to make judgments like that. And it's a hypothetical question anyway because they haven't been moved.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is there any consideration of --

Rumsfeld: Surely we'd have to be more attentive inside Afghanistan, if the -- if Pakistani forces were not on the opposite side of the border, we'd have to find ways to do it from within Afghanistan, for sure.

Q: Within, but not necessarily --

Rumsfeld: That subject I'm not getting into, because as Adlai Stevenson once said, "That's a bridge we'll jump off when we get to it." (Laughter.)

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, is there any consideration of withdrawing U.S. forces from Pakistan, or bringing back any troops that happen to be in India, because of the rising tensions between the two countries?

Rumsfeld: We've made no decisions with respect to that.

Q: And if I could just ask General Pace a question.

Rumsfeld: Thank goodness!

Q: General Pace, earlier this month, an expended surface-to-air missile tube, an SA-7 missile tube, was found outside the Prince Sultan Airbase. And at the time, CENTCOM officials said they weren't quite sure what to make of that. I'm just wondering, now that several weeks have gone by, if you have any clearer idea of whether or not that represented an attempt by someone to shoot down one of the U.S. planes at that base?

Pace: As you know, that expended round was found by Saudi security forces; they told us about it, as you said, about a month ago now. We've gone back and checked all of our flight records and there are no reports by any U.S. aircraft or any aircraft that we were able to identify, of any sightings of surface-to-air missile firings. That does not mean it was not fired, it simply means we do not know if that particular weapon was fired at that location or simply dropped off there.

Regardless, we take very seriously the fact that that our opponents do have surface-to-air missiles, shoulder-fired surface-to-air-missiles. And we take precautions on the ground and in the air any time we have our aircraft arriving or departing.

Q: Do you have, at this point, any better understanding of how that expended missile tube got there, whether it was fired there or someplace else and brought -- do you have any better understanding?

Pace: Do not.

Rumsfeld: In the back.

Q: Mr. Secretary, right now you've got the situation between India and Pakistan, the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, the issue of Iraq looming, not to mention the overall war on terror, the turmoil in the Middle East. Is this an unusual number of dangerous hot spots around the world? And if so, does it strain your ability to plan for these various eventualities?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that we live in a dangerous and untidy world. There are a good many things taking place in the world at any given time. It is higher than normal, I would say, but -- but it's not unique. There have been other periods in our history where we've seen multiple difficulties and tensions.

I guess the short answer is no. It requires a good deal of attention and application on the part of people throughout the government -- the Department of State and the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. But in terms of being able to plan and be attentive to those various problems, I think that those activities are moving along in a normal way.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, are you in favor of allowing U.S. trainers currently in the southern Philippines to actually start working at the company level and go out on patrols in the counterterrorist operations there?

Rumsfeld: I've not decided on that. I'm waiting for the new combatant commander in the region to make his recommendations to me. I think it's scheduled for some time later this week or next week they're going to be --

Pace: That's right, sir --

Rumsfeld: -- one would hope.

Pace: Within the next couple of days.

Rumsfeld: Yes. And so after I have a chance to really understand what his views and perspectives are I'll know better what I think about it. Kind of old fashioned. I like to know what the person on the ground thinks about it.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you've said that there are no contingency plans -- or there are no plans to evacuate U.S. troops from Pakistan right now --

Rumsfeld: No decisions have been made with respect to that.

Q: No decisions have been made.

Rumsfeld: I said there are plans. We always have plans on the shelf for evacuation.

Q: What would trigger an evacuation? What sort of event would trigger an evacuation? And if that occurred, would that be a signal from the Pentagon, from you, that you think that war is inevitable?

Rumsfeld: No. One can't know about inevitability and things like this. Things have a way of starting and then proceeding in unpredictable ways in life. And certainly wars can escalate in unpredictable ways.

The kinds of decisions you're referring to have to be made before one gets to the end of that road. Indeed, we have so many people in India and Pakistan civilians, for example, people who live there, people who work there; we have a great many tourists who travel around through those countries. And decisions about that tend to proceed along a path of the kinds of things that the State Department has already done. For example, a travel advisory about Kashmir and those types of things. And they look at these things. And for the most part, people have to look out for themselves, just inevitably, because they have to be aware that if they're going into an area that's tense, that they would want to be sure that they have very good reason for being there. But it is not something that happens all at once, and it is not something that is perfectly predictable. For the most part, those decisions are decisions that are made by the Department of State, anyway --

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Rumsfeld: -- except with respect to U.S. forces.

Q: Back to India and Pakistan; I find your responses curious. It almost sounds as though you are unhappy that the White House has announced that you are going. Usually there is a political purpose when a high-ranking Cabinet officer is sent and it is announced like that from the White House -- especially into a very troubled area. Why --

Rumsfeld: No.

Q: -- has the government announced your trip, if there's not sort of a perspective that you can provide us on?

Rumsfeld: Well, first, I think it's important to realize that there have been near-continuous interactions between the United States and Pakistan and India. They've been at the military level. They've been at the civilian level. They've been at the Department of State. They've been telephone calls by the president, by the secretary of State and others. I think that to select out one particular trip or one particular phone call is probably a mistake. I do have -- have been discussing the possibility of going to India and Pakistan in connection with my trip to Europe for the NATO meetings coming up. I've not visited with either of those countries as yet on the phone about the upcoming trip. And it just seems to me that it's more appropriate to do that, rather than to do it through the press.

Q: So isn't the situation there deteriorating gravely now, as has been expressed by a number of other officials in this government? And isn't that a focus of your concern, even though you seem reluctant to express the deteriorating situation there?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'll tell you why, just for the heck of it. When there is a situation that is sensitive between two countries, and we have an interest in each of those countries -- our country does -- we have relationships that have been developing and building and improving with both India and Pakistan now for many, many months, since I came into office, for sure -- since President Bush arrived. And the Department of State is the department that has the principal responsibility with respect to diplomatic relations between those two countries. The Department of Defense, obviously, has a great deal of interest, given the situation in that part of the world.

Therefore, my natural inclination, as has been the case in the past on matters that are for the most part in the -- just as in the case of the Middle East, I tend to be cautious about what I say about the Middle East because Colin and the president are intimately involved in discussions with those countries, and rather than injecting a difference voice that might use a word differently, that someone could then take as a calibration or a difference or a message, an announcement to those countries in a way that would be unhelpful to what the president and the secretary are doing, I tend to be somewhat cautious about it.

Q: With that set of thinking, then, why would you go? You might express a different point of view than Colin Powell. You might express a different point of view --

Rumsfeld: Well, I'll be talking to the principals involved. And I will not be expressing a different point of view at all. The question isn't whether I would be expressing a different point of view; it's whether someone may carry it and interpret it and translate it into a different point of view.

Q: Is your trip meant to send a signal to both of these potential (inaudible) by the United States government? Isn't it an important signal?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that I would not be going on this visit if we were not concerned about the situation between the two countries.

Q: Let me ask, Mr. Secretary, since you're not going as the chief diplomat, as the secretary of State, what are you going for, in terms are you offering a carrot? I mean, what type of military assistance in Kashmir, or troop presence, or?

Rumsfeld: There are a whole host of issues between those two countries that are of interest to the United States and where they have an interest with respect to the United States, and I will be discussing that range of issues.

Q: If I could follow up on that a little bit without getting into specifically what you intend to discuss, I'd like to ask about your understanding of the situation. Do you think that Indian and Pakistani leaders understand the gravity of the circumstance that they're in a way that you would agree with it; or are people there thinking that a war is winnable or desirable? What are your thoughts?

Rumsfeld: That is a very good question, and I'll know a lot more about the answer when I complete my visits. But I think you're putting your finger on something that's quite important. It is important that people work off the same set of facts and the same sheet of music, and that having a relatively clear understanding about what the implications of various things might be is a useful thing. But for me to prejudge precisely how they might have different perspectives on this, having not been there in recent weeks, would probably not be a good idea.

Q: Sir, given the United States' own actions to stamp out terrorism in foreign countries, what right do you think India has to exercise its military power to stamp out cross-border terrorism?

Rumsfeld: Well, there's no question but that countries, sovereign nations make judgments about that. And to the extent a country is a victim of terrorism, we have indicated that we personally believe that it is clearly within their right to try to stamp it out. Now, what does that mean in a given instance; that's a separate question, and it's not for me to answer. That's for Pakistan and India to sort out.

Q: General Pace, I wanted to ask you about the mechanics, the theoretical mechanics of evacuating up to 64,000 people from that region. There's a news account today that said Pacific Command has a team that's being put in place, sir, to plan an airlift, massive airlift. Theoretically, what would that take? How many airplanes? And is there any kind of number in theater, even?

Pace: First of all, the responsibility for declaring or not declaring an evacuation of noncombatants squarely lies with the U.S. State Department. The U.S. military would assist if requested to do so and as directed by the president and the secretary.

As you know, each embassy worldwide has plans that they have developed over the years to evacuate U.S. citizens and others. We routinely, as part of that planning along with the country team, the ambassador, go in with U.S. military planners on occasion to assist in just reviewing the plans to make sure they're solid. That is happening now in both Pakistan and India and many other places in the world just to make sure that all the plans are current.

With respect to the exact numbers of aircraft, et cetera, that is very much in the State Department's lane as far as how many planes they think they would need to get into the country to evacuate the numbers of people that the ambassador says need to be evacuated.

Q: From a military standpoint, do we have those kind of assets even in theater?

Rumsfeld: First of all, your numbers are low in terms of what is already even known as far as the numbers of people in those two countries. And second, what is known is undoubtedly low, because only those people, those tourists, for example, who want the department to know they're there or going and register as such. So there are undoubtedly more people -- you have to assume there are going to be more people. And then there always are other countries that want some assistance. So I think it's a mistake to take a particular number and chase it and try to translate that into numbers of aircraft, because they're both big countries and people, obviously, for the most part make their own judgments about where they go. And I think that wouldn't be a useful exercise -- to tie it to numbers of ships or aircraft.

Q: I was just trying to make a point. If it were --

Rumsfeld: It's a big job.

Q: Yeah, do you have --

Rumsfeld: And for the most part, people would have to get out on their own, through commercial activities. I mean, that's --

Q: As opposed to U.S. airplanes bringing them out, like -- a la Saigon after the Vietnam War ended?

Rumsfeld: This is a very different situation.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: Sir?

Q: (To colleague.) I'll defer to you, and then if I may come back.

Q: When you said his number was low, as opposed to what's known, what number is the U.S. government using for what's known?

Rumsfeld: We don't have a good number at the present time. It's internal, and it is based on estimates.

Q: Changing the subject slightly, Mr. Secretary, if I may you're going over to a NATO conference. The president just came back from Rome. NATO, as we know, was organized to thwart the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. Russia's now at least a working member of NATO, although not a full member. Has NATO outlived its usefulness? Why do we need it anymore?

Rumsfeld: The short answer is no, it has not. And it is -- if it didn't exist, you would probably try to invent it. It is an important link between North America and Europe. The countries of those two continents are clearly that believe in free political institutions and free economic institutions. And we have had a valuable and important continuing relationship for decades. We're participating, for example, currently in the Balkans and several countries. We're cooperating with many NATO countries with respect to the global war on terrorism.

The fact that the Soviet Union doesn't exist clearly changes the role of NATO. And the only other thing I would do is slightly calibrate what you said about Russia being a working but not a full member. As you will recall, the announcement was that they would have an arrangement with Russia where the countries of NATO would decide the kinds of issues that would be appropriate to discuss with Russia, sitting with the 19 NATO nations and that they will be selected by the 19 countries.

Q: Another question for General Pace. We were told about a raid last week west of Kandahar, in which it was suspected to be a Taliban leadership compound. Today we hear that -- I think virtually all the people who were captured in that raid have been released and that they weren't Taliban or al Qaeda. Is this another case of flawed intelligence or -- what happened in that operation?

Pace: Actually, the intelligence that we went in on indicated that there were Taliban leaders in that location. As you rightly recall, we captured 55 during that particular raid. They were brought back to the Kandahar area and underwent the initial screening. During the process of that screening, 50 of them were determined to be not identifiable as Taliban members; five are still of interest to us and have been retained.

And I think that what is happening is exactly what should happen, which is when we receive intelligence that's corroborated, that is actionable, that we go and conduct the raids. And the fact that there was not a large concentration there is not necessarily bad news.

Q: Are any of those five thought to be senior Taliban?

Rumsfeld: One has been positively identified not as a senior person, but positively identified as a Taliban official. I wouldn't call him a senior level, but below the senior level.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you have said --

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: At least one.

Q: You have said in recent days, and including today, that a war between Pakistan and India would obviously put millions of people at risk on both sides, given the fact that they both have nuclear weapons. And you said from the podium last week that a war between the two countries could go on for some time rather than a fast, violent nuclear exchange. Do you --

Rumsfeld: Well I don't think I did say that.

Q: I thought you said that it could go on for some time.

Q: He said it would not be short-lived.

Q: Would not be short-lived, I believe.

Rumsfeld: Fair enough.

Q: Would you be willing to share with either country, or both countries, intelligence the United States has to impress on them what might happen to their own country if such a war started?

Rumsfeld: Certainly, I'd like to be as helpful as I can to both countries.

Q: In terms of providing intelligence on perhaps the consequences of a nuclear war?

Rumsfeld: I'm happy -- we've done a lot of thinking about that here in this building and in the United States government, having had nuclear weapons for -- what? -- 55, 57, 58 years now. So we've given a lot of thought to their use and what the effects are -- what the immediate effects are, what the lingering effects are, and what the secondary effects can be with respect to other problems.

So -- yes?

Q: Getting back to China supplying missile technology to Pakistan, have you been talking to them at all about helping out in defusing the situation?

Rumsfeld: You'd have to ask the Department of State. I have not personally, but I suspect that the Department of State has.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you talked earlier about an untidy world. One of those untidy places is Congress, which returns to work next week.

Rumsfeld: Now, really! That is -- (laughter) --

Q: And they'll be trying to make final judgments on the defense budget. And you have some issues, I think, there -- the Crusader and some of the other allocations that they differ with you. Have you done -- been personally involved in trying to shape the votes there?

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Q: To what extent? I mean, what are you doing to try to let them see the light of your wisdom?

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) But no, we've had visits with a great many people in the House and the Senate. And I have, Paul Wolfowitz has, other senior folks in the department have, and we intend to continue it.

Q: Are you confident that they'll see the light?

Rumsfeld: Well, "hopeful" is the right word. Hopeful.

Q: Mr. Secretary, nobody's talking about radioactive fallout with all of this. I mean, is that an issue here in this country if there's a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan?

Rumsfeld: Is it an issue here physically in the United States?

Q: Yeah. I mean --

Rumsfeld: Not likely.

Q: Radioactive --

Rumsfeld: No.

Q: No, it's not an issue.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you characterize the current activities in western Pakistan to hunt down senior al Qaeda leadership, given what is happening on the India-Pakistan border, and if there have been any changes in those activities?

Rumsfeld: Not there have no changes, to my knowledge. (To General Pace): Do you know of any?

Pace: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: No, I think the numbers of troops are roughly the same as they've been along the border, Pakistani troops. And our troops are doing with various people various things on the Afghan side and cooperating with people on the Pakistani side.

(Pause.)

We've exhausted the questions.

Q: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: That's good. Last question.

Q: If you do conclude that a war between India and Pakistan is inevitable, will U.S. troops be pulled out of both of those countries and out of Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: I thought I answered that. Determining something as to its inevitability when your interest is to try to have it not be inevitable is a difficult thing to do. And the implication of your question is that at some moment, you throw up your hands and say, "It's inevitable, there's nothing we can do and it's hopeless." And of course, that's just not the way human beings who care about other human beings behaves. The United States has, as I say, a good relationship with each of those two countries. It has been a set of relationships that have been improving over time, and we -- our hope and efforts will be aimed to see that it continues to improve with each of those countries and that they stand down from the tensions that exist today.

Q: Have a safe trip.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.