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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability in Qatar

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 11, 2002

(Media availability at the Emiri Diwan, Qatar.)

Rumsfeld: It is a pleasure to be here. We have had good meetings with His Highness the Heir Apparent and his Chief of Staff. Qatar is an important and valued defense partner. I expressed our appreciation for the excellent contribution that this country is making in Operation Enduring Freedom.

They have helped in freezing bank accounts that belong to terrorist organizations, they have helped in a variety of ways and all of that assistance is appreciated. I have also expressed thanks for their assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan. They have provided some help with respect to the Afghan National Army, which the United States, France and other nations are assisting with. They have also made a commitment to build two hospitals in Afghanistan. And of course these are all-important contributions to stability in that country. Progress is being made and we are aware of the work of the so-called Loya Jirga, the Grand Council, that is making some headway in moving from an interim Afghan government to a transitional Afghan government.

In our meetings here we discussed security in the region and needless to say I confirm the commitment of the United States to contribute to peace and stability in this area and to our strong and growing defense relationship between the two countries.

Now I would be happy to respond to questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in light of your approaching trip to India and Pakistan, what do you make of the steps that India has taken over the past day or so to take the edge off the tensions with Pakistan, and what do you hope to accomplish by your trip to the region?

Rumsfeld: The situation with India and Pakistan appears to be a level, as opposed to an escalating situation. The two governments have been in touch with world leaders -- Prime Minister Blair, President Bush, Secretary Powell and others. Deputy Secretary Armitage was been there some days ago.

There are a lot of rumors about what various countries are doing. There is a lot of speculation in the press about what they are doing. I've been, needless to say, studying the cable traffic and I think that there is a growing awareness on the part of everyone in the world that clearly a conflict there would be a terrible tragedy for each of those countries, and indeed for everyone in the entire region and the world.

My impression is that there have been some hopeful signs, and I look forward to going in there this evening into India and having an opportunity to meet personally with the leadership there and have discussions with them.

Q: It is reported that you have some definite proposals that you are carrying to discuss with the leaders on India and Pakistan. I mean, how do you intend to deal with the issues. Is that correct?

Rumsfeld: What do you have in mind?

Q: Well, you have some definite proposals by the U.S. to deescalate the situation.

Rumsfeld: Well, we do. There is no question. We certainly have things we can discuss with him, and things they have been discussing, and I look forward to meeting with them. But I am certainly not going to preview my discussions with them. I am going there to meet with them, and I think it would not be very gracious to be meeting with them through the press before I meet with them.

But I have -- our country has good relationships with both Pakistan and India; we value those relationships. They have been relationships that have been strengthening in recent months and years, and needless to stay our country has an interest in each of those two countries succeeding and doing well. Clearly the kind of tension that has existed is harmful to each country; it is very expensive and very stressful to maintain forces on high alert.

It is clear that people are reluctant to travel in those countries when there is kind of tension so from an economic standpoint it is difficult, quite apart from the rest.

Q: Sir, your comments about Iraq lately have raised tensions in the region. Are you planning for a new war against them? You said in Kuwait that Saddam is something like a big liar.

Rumsfeld: What did I say about Iraq? Oh I remember that.

Q: Why do you refuse? This is what I mean. The agreement to bring Iraq and Kuwait together, and bring stability and peace to the region. This is what you said in Kuwait -- you said you are against Iraq and Kuwait working together.

Rumsfeld: No, I didn't. Let me tell you what I did say, or as close as I can remember.

I was asked a question about Iraq announcing the day before that they do not have weapons of mass destruction, and they asked me what I thought about that. I said "That's a lie," and I may have said even that. "That's a world class lie."

Now that's true; it is a lie. They do have weapons of mass destruction. They've used chemical weapons on their people, they have had an aggressive program to develop nuclear weapons, and there is no question that they are developing biological weapons.

Now why did I say that? I said that because it is true. The truth has a certain virtue it seems to me. What I said didn't raise tensions, what raises tensions in the region is Saddam Hussein developing weapons of mass destruction and threatening neighbors.

Now to go to the second part of your question. Yes, I was asked what I thought about the proposals or ideas that had been floated between Iraq and another country, or other countries in the region, and I said that you have to simply look at Iraq and look at the number of times they have lied, and look at the invasion of Kuwait and look at the threats they make to their other neighbors about the illegitimacy about their regimes. Now, at the present time I suspect Iraq is trying to talk softy and be less aggressive because of the pressure of the UN on inspectors. But I think that their history is such that I think that relying on it would be quite risky -- relying on their soft, gentle side that they're putting forward would be quite risky.

Q: Mr. Secretary, given the efforts that you are undertaking to gather support for toppling Saddam Hussein. Can we assume -- ?

Rumsfeld: Wait a second, when you began that question by making an assertion as to what I am doing, I think it's unfortunate, because then it causes me to have to untangle an inaccurate assertion before I can even begin answering your question. And if I just answered your question based on an inaccurate assertion, that would be a disservice to your readers or listeners, as the case may be.

Q: But it is my point of view, based on what you have been saying.

Rumsfeld: Okay. So why don't you start with a question?

Q: Yes. Is it true, as we feel, that the purpose of your visit is to gather support to topple Saddam Hussein's regime?

Rumsfeld: That's not true.

Q: No?

Rumsfeld: No. I am here. I have been Secretary of Defense of the U.S. since January 2001. We have very close relationships in this region, and I am apologetic, but I have not been able to get here earlier than that. I hoped to come last year. We have broad military-to-military relations, and political relationships, and economic relationships. I am very pleased to be here and have a chance to revisit countries that I visited when I was President Reagan's Middle Eastern envoy. I have had multiple reasons for my visit.

Q: What do you think the new positions put forward by the leadership of the Palestinian authority?

Rumsfeld: I really would have to say that the Middle East issue is more for President Bush and Colin Powell, who are working on that. I have not personally had a chance to look at the details of the reorganization that was announced on the Palestinian Authority, nor have I read any other issuance from Washington. Since it is not within the Department of Defense purview I am inclined not to try and speculate on it. I just don't know the answer to your question.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that Pakistan's President Musharraf has done everything in his power to stop search and seek patrols from going over the Line of Control?

Rumsfeld: I will be visiting with him in the next few days, but from everything that I have read or seen -- public or private -- he has made a very firm commitment to prevent infiltration across the Line of Control permanently. That has been announced by a number of knowledgeable people.

I would also say that he has been uniformly helpful in the global war on terrorism. With respect to Afghanistan he has maintained troops on the Afghan border, he has provided leadership in helping to conduct cooperative raids on safe houses for al Qaeda terrorists. In one instance he went to 10, 11 or 12 different locations and arrested some 50 people, a number of whom who were quiet high ranking, and have been providing very important intelligence. So we are very fortunate to have President Musharraf assisting us in Pakistan with respect to the global war on terrorism.

Q: Sir, if I may follow up. Do you believe the facts of the ground support the announcements that he has made?

Rumsfeld: Well, I've not been on the ground in the LOC in Kashmir. It is a difficult part of the world. It is 15- to 20,000 feet high in the northern three-quarters of the LOC. It's mountainous. I don't know anyone has perfect visibility into what is taking place there.

Second, there is a concern that very likely, there were already militants in there and that someone could engage in an act that could create an incident that someone could say, well, you know those people just came across the LOC. But they might very well have already been there.

Needless to say, a third worry is the fact that we know al Qaeda and Taliban left Afghanistan and transited into Iran and into Pakistan and it's conceivable that some of them might decide that it would be in their interest to create an incident, purposely, not for the benefit of Kashmir, but to cause a conflict between India and Pakistan, with the hope that they could pick up the pieces to their advantage.

So this is -- each side is doing what they are doing. They are reflecting on where they are and the danger that exists with a million people facing each other -- armed people -- and they are taking steps, or thinking about taking steps, and each is going to have to be aware that it is not going to be a perfect process. That is to say, things can still happen for reasons other than either of those two parties. And to the extent that we are all aware of that, and they are, then I think that such an incident would be less likely to cause a miscalculation.

Q: Have you, on the Indian side, yet seen any specific gestures on their part to reduce tension, either diplomatically or militarily.

Rumsfeld: I am going to wait until I visit with them later today.

Q: Is it true, the news report, that the United States has moved the moved the command center from Saudi Arabia to Qatar? And if it's true, will the center here in Qatar be used for future wars?

Rumsfeld: I tell you, I'm not the right one to answer that question. I think that we have so many headquarters units, and we have had some here, and we have them in other countries and they may be for a service, or they may be for a certain category -- the air or the navy -- and when you say, "the headquarters," I think that's too broad for me to be able to respond. There are folks in the military who meet with the press regularly and could keep you posted.

We are constantly making adjustments in how we are organized in different countries and at sea, as well as on land, because of the situation in Afghanistan and the great deal of activity in this region. In the U.S. Central Command, we have made any number of adjustments. But generally what I do is leave it to the countries involved to make announcements as to what they are doing because it is these countries who have to make judgments about how they are going to help us be arranged.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I want to know if your country or administration has been applying pressure on anyone with respect to the Loya Jirga, particularly in support of the king in arresting of representatives there in Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: I don't believe that the United States has put pressure on anybody with respect to the Loya Jirga. I think that that we have an ambassador there as we do in many, many other countries. Our interest have been in seeing that the process has integrity, that the people are able to have a sufficiently secure environment, that they are able to get into the area in Kabul where the discussions will take place. And to my knowledge, we have asserted no pressure on anybody for anything with respect to the outcome. The only role we have played is to try to help provide a more secure environment in the country so the local elections could take place and people could then transport themselves to the capitol for the Loya Jirga.

Q: Is it true that you are planning action against Iraq in October?

Rumsfeld: You know, that is an interesting question. I keep hearing that in the press. I think the person that the --

We are doing actions already. Our policy of our country has been for some time in successive administrations, that the world would be a better place if there were a regime change in Iraq. That in fact, a person who is developing weapons of mass destruction, and threatening neighbors is not a good thing for the world.

Now the Congress has passed that legislation, the administration, President Bush, has spoken on the subject. We have diplomatic activity taking place. We are involved with the sanctions to try to prevent war materials from going into the country. We are involved with coalition partners in Operation Northern and Southern Watch. And at least as of this moment that is exactly what we are doing.

Q: The Gulf countries have been noticeably silent about your visit. In view of what they have been saying about Iraq, are you at all concerned that Iraq is winning the battle for public opinion in the region, you know, on the question of the threat the country presents to its neighbors?

Rumsfeld: Well, with respect to the first part of the question, I have no way to calibrate. You said they have been noticeably silent. The meetings have been excellent. We have had a series of --

Having spent time in this region over the years as Secretary of Defense a quarter of a century ago, and as the Middle East envoy for President Reagan, I can say that the meetings we have had have been notably warm and constructive, and cooperative. And I will leave it to the countries that we have visited in the Gulf region to determine what volume they want to put on that.

Q: But do you feel that they share your view of the threat that Iraq poses?

Rumsfeld: I really don't think that it's for me to speak for those countries. They have public spokesmen, they have media -- they meet with the media, and they can characterize what they think, rather than me meeting with them, and then going out and characterizing what they think. There are certain facts that are not debatable, and I have stated facts about Iraq that are not debatable.

Q: What is the best outcome that you can reasonably expect from this visit to India and Pakistan, and also, do you believe that, you know, the threat of nuclear war has been diminished fully?

Rumsfeld: You know, in my role as a representative of the United States that is just about to go visit India and Pakistan, it seems to me that talking about it -- a subject that can be then interpreted, or carried in the media or the press in a somewhat inflammatory way is a worrisome thing. So I try not to. I try to respond in a way that is precise and accurate and direct, but not inflammatory.

The situation is as well known to everyone in this room as it is to me, in terms of what the externals are. The externals are that you have two important countries that have something like a million people facing each other that are armed and they have a history of having had conflicts over Kashmir and each country has nuclear weapons.

Now, where are they? Generally in a set of relationships that are tense, it is either getting better or it's getting worse, worse or it's getting better, or it is level.

I have responded that my personal view is at the moment is something like level. It's not getting worse, and that's a good thing. I have also asserted, which I believe that -- that each of these countries has a role to play in the world that's important, and that a conflict between them clearly would have a damaging effect on their circumstance and their people. I think that responsible leadership, as each of these two countries have, will address those issues in a responsible way.

I think we will take one more question -- two more questions.

Q: Sir?

Rumsfeld: I am sorry. Why don't we take three more questions? You get a question, and you can get a question and you can get a question too.

Q: The United States has expressed some criticisms about Al Jazeera's coverage of the war in Afghanistan. You said that you were fed up with the graphic coverage of the war in Afghanistan and the way the network seemed to be overtly assisting the terrorists. Do you still have the same reservations, and since you are in Qatar, will your schedule allow you to visit the Al Jazeera station?

Rumsfeld: Well that's a good question. Al Jazeera had an opportunity to be here today and visit me. Is there anyone from Al Jazeera here today?

Q: Yes. Here.

Rumsfeld: There you are. How am I doing? I've appeared on Al Jazeera. I have done programs, a program with Al Jazeera. I don't know what the ratings were, but I did it. I don't remember precisely what you are saying, and I just looked at the Assistant Secretary of Defense [for Public Affairs] Torie Clarke over here, and she seems not to remember so I am not saying that I did not say something like that because I may very well have. But I don't think I said it to Al Jazeera.

I think what I was asked at a press briefing what I thought about the coverage in Afghanistan at some point and one of the problems that I cited was this: the United States would find a location where we believed there were al Qaeda and Taliban troops, and would try to bomb that area. We know of certain knowledge that in at least one instance the al Qaeda and Taliban went to that area, went a few blocks away, and grabbed stretchers out of a hospital and brought people over there and set the stretchers there, and then asked the press to come take pictures.

Now I don't know if it was Al Jazeera that took the pictures, but press people took pictures and said that it looked like it was a medical facility of some type that was bombed. Now we were not on the ground, and we couldn't go in there and say that's what happened because we weren't physically there -- the Taliban and al Qaeda controlled the ground.

Q: And then there was the Red Cross.

Rumsfeld: Shish, shish.

Q: I was just wanted to remind you about the Red Cross.

Rumsfeld: Yes, that's right. It was the Red Cross. You can interrupt me anytime. (Laughter)

Our problem was that the world would see and hear all of this and believe that the United States was in there bombing innocent civilians intentionally and we were not. The United States was not fighting against the Afghan people, we were fighting against the Taliban government and the al Qaeda that had taken over that country, and turned it into a terrorist training camp.

It was not the U.S. fighting a religion, as the Taliban were promoting. There have recently been some articles -- a Los Angles Times article went in and interviewed a whole series of people, and said that they had information that a person wrote a story about an attack, a bombing attack that killed al Qaeda and Taliban, sent in the story, and when the story was printed, it was totally lies saying that the people in there were innocent men, woman and children.

Now let there be no doubt that the Taliban and the al Qaeda were trained to lie. They're trained in disinformation. They are trained to deceive the press. And they consistently, actively deceived the press as to what was going on.

If Al Jazeera carried that -- I know a lot of newspapers did -- I don't remember specifically citing Al Jazeera, but if they were doing what others were doing, then it's possible I did. Now I'm in Qatar and willing to take questions.

Q: Currently what is the size of the U.S. military presence in the Gulf, and do you have any plans to reduce that presence? Are there any threats facing the U.S. military presence here in the region? And the third point is, why do you reject any rapprochement between the Gulf States, Iraq and Iran?

Rumsfeld: And Iran?

Q: Yes.

Rumsfeld: Both? (Laughter) Wow. That's not a question that's five questions. Well, first of all, we don't discuss the size of military presence around the world for good reasons. It changes every day; we have ships coming, ships going, people coming, people going, and needless to say the presence is larger than it was before the Afghan activity began, but we don't give numbers.

Second in terms of are we reducing it, do we have any plans to reduce it? As I say we reduce it or increase it fairly continuously. Do we have any plans at the moment to make significant changes up or down? Not that I know of.

Third, is there any threat to them? There are threats that exist all across the globe. There are hundreds of terrorists trained in Afghanistan in al Qaeda training camps. These people are moving all around the world, they are financed and they are determining to kill innocent men, woman and children. So there are threats in every corner of the globe. We see threat information to that effect repeatedly.

Then you said, why are we opposed to Gulf states improving relations with Iran and Iraq? Was that roughly the last of four questions, three questions? Was that it?

Q: Yes.

Rumsfeld: That was it. We are not. Gulf states are sovereign nations -- they do whatever they want. Countries do that all the time.

The only thing I would say about Iran is that they are developing nuclear weapons, and let there be no doubt. They are engaging in terrorist activities and transporting people down through Damascus and into the Beccah Valley. They are repressing their people. They have harbored al Qaeda, and served as a facilitator for the movement of al Qaeda out of Afghanistan down through Iran.

Iraq is what it is. I've already commented on Iraq. It is entirely up to Gulf countries to decide what kind of relationships they want with people like that.

Q: Excuse me. You described Iraq normalizing relations with Kuwait as something like a lion embracing a chicken. Don't you think that such a statement is demeaning to small countries in the Gulf?

Rumsfeld: Well anyone who knows me would know that I would not say anything demeaning about a country in the region. These are very close friends, and that would be an unhelpful, inaccurate, inappropriate characterization. To the extent that anyone suggests that, I would suggest that they not suggest it, because it was certainly not meant in any way to be inappropriate.

Last question.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what can you share about how advanced the planning was in the detaining now in U.S. military custody of Jose Padilla. Did he have the actual capability to make a dirty bomb and as an enemy combatant, do you expect him to be court martialled?

Rumsfeld: The question involves an individual that has just been transferred from the Justice Department to the Defense Department.

He is an individual who unquestionably was involved in terrorist activities against the United States, and he will be held by the United States government though the Department of Defense and be questioned.

If you think about it, the task we have is to try to protect the American people, and our friends and allies around the world from terrorist acts and we, we -- to do that one has to gather as much as intelligence information as is humanly possible. Here is an individual who has intelligence information, and it is, in answer to the last part of your question -- will be submitted to a military court, or something like that -- our interest really in his case is not law enforcement, it is not punishment because he was a terrorist or working with the terrorists. Our interest at the moment is to try and find out everything he knows so that hopefully we can stop other terrorist acts.

It seems to me that the problem in the United States is that we have -- we are in a certain mode. Our normal procedure is that if somebody does something unlawful, illegal against our system of government, that the first thing we want to do is apprehend them, then try them in a court and then punish them. In this case that is not our first interest.

Our interest is to -- we are not interested in trying him at the moment; we are not interested in punishing him at the moment. We are interested in finding out what he knows. Here is a person who unambiguously was interested in radiation weapons and terrorist activity, and was in league with al Qaeda. Now our job, as responsible government officials, is to do everything possible to find out what that person knows, and see if we can't help our country or other countries.

If you think about it, we found some material in Kandahar that within a week was used - information, intelligence information -- that was used to prevent a least three terrorist attacks in Singapore -- against a U.S. ship, against a U.S. facility and against a Singaporean facility.

Now if someone had said when we found that information or person, well now let's us arrest the person and let's start the process of punishing that person for having done what he had did, we never would have gotten that information. People would have died.

So I think what our country and other countries have to think of is, what is your priority today? And given the power of weapons and given the number of terrorists that exist in the world, our approach has to be to try to protect the American people, and provide information to friendly countries and allies, and protect deployed forces from those kind of attacks.

I think the American people understand that, and that not withstanding the fact that some people are so locked into the other mode that they seem not able to understand it, I suspect that overwhelming that the American people will.

Thank you very much.