(Also participating was Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff)
Rumsfeld: Well, good afternoon.
Yesterday I visited Suffolk, Virginia, to meet with the Joint Forces Command. The command is leading the transformation of our military forces for the new challenges for the 21st century. It was quite a remarkable and exciting display of ideas and innovation that are really energizing the work we do. It was a very good reminder that if we do not change in the defense establishment and improve our military, that our enemies will surely be improving theirs.
I had the pleasure of being with Kristin Krohn Devold, the Norwegian minister of defense, there. She was visiting the Joint Forces Command because of the importance that transformation has for our NATO allies, as well as for the United States. Norway, of course, is a valuable ally in Operation Enduring Freedom. They provide troops, funds and services for the war against terror. The minister and I discussed the fact that both of our nations need to transform our militaries, and we recognize the importance of joint and combined, as well as coalition, capabilities.
The Joint Forces Command is capitalizing on the information revolution, as it must, and on the advanced technologies that exist today. They are testing the forces and equipment for the near term and for the future. It's developing new concepts of war-fighting and testing those concepts through joint experiments and training both forces and leaders to operate effectively in joint operations.
The most powerful example of their success in the war we are now waging against terror -- is in the war we're now waging against terrorism, and we certainly owe our men and women in uniform the best tools, the best training, the best technology and the best organization and leadership.
I have a lot of respect for General Buck Kernan and his team at the Joint Forces Command and the work they're doing. They're doing an excellent job. They're making our military stronger, more interoperable, more responsive and agile. And as a result, they're making America safer.
General Pace, do you have anything to add?
Pace: Sir, I have nothing significant, so we should probably go right to questions.
Rumsfeld: Well, before we go to -- well, we should go to questions.
Do you have -- want to have questions today? (Laughter.) Or do you just want -- you just want to skip it?
Pace: Yes, sir, we will. (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: Okay, you'll -- all right, we'll have questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you were asked in Suffolk yesterday, perhaps naively, why the United States simply doesn't just bomb Iraq's weapons of mass destruction out of existence. And you said clearly that a lot of those sites are buried deep underground. Some sites are in trailers, which can be camouflaged and are very mobile, and that air power alone simply couldn't handle that kind of task. Would it then follow that any military attempt -- any military attempt -- to oust Saddam, which would be a much more daunting task, could not be accomplished by air power alone -- that it would require a lot of troops if one was to do that?
Rumsfeld: Well, as your question properly suggested, that's a big "if" as to whether or not anyone intends to do that. The point I think I was making is that not just in Iraq but in other countries, as well, the extent to which countries are burrowing underground and -- is -- makes the task of knowing about, let alone dealing with weapons of mass destruction very difficult. The extent to which dual-use capabilities enable countries to have things that are mobile, that are not known to others, makes it difficult.
If you go back and think of just in the case of Iraq, the number of inspectors who were milling around that country for a good many -- good, long period and the difficulty they had except when prompted by defectors to know where things were -- so it's a difficult job, and -- but I don't know that I set in the context of -- that you moved it the question.
Q: No, but I --
Rumsfeld: Yeah. Right.
Q: My question: Would it then follow that any military attempt to oust Saddam would be much more daunting than that? Would it be likely to require ground troops as well as air power?
Rumsfeld: I don't know that I'd want to make a judgment on anything regarding that, because it would conceivably leave the wrong impression, and I could make -- I already know of one instance: If the Iraqi military turned on them, it probably wouldn't require anything.
Q: May I do a follow-up to that, Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: Nice thought. (Laughter.)
Q: So may I do a follow-up to that, please?
Q: Bear with me a second as I back into this, but you were livid last week and asked the FBI to investigate leaks. And there was another leak, The New York Times talk about the "inside-out" type of attack taking Baghdad, which I imagine gets you even more livid.
Now the question, first question --
Rumsfeld: That's a word I've never really applied to myself, but --
Q: Pardon me.
Rumsfeld: -- I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. (Laughter.)
Q: It makes you not a happy camper. Let me put it that way.
Rumsfeld: That's true.
Q: But getting -- specifically now, one, has the FBI agreed to investigate the leaks? And two, are these legitimate leaks or could it be a disinformation program by the Pentagon -- (laughter) -- to try and frighten Saddam Hussein to allow the inspectors back in? And if they are allowed back in, do you think they would find all the weapons of mass destruction?
Rumsfeld: I think it's -- first of all, it's not any kind of a campaign by anyone in the Pentagon. It's leaks.
Second, I do not know whether or not the FBI has engaged the subject.
(To General Pace) Do you, Pete?
Pace: Sir, I know we've asked them to.
Rumsfeld: Yeah, I haven't heard.
Pace: I am not sure if we've given them all the information they need yet to make their determination.
Q: If inspectors should be allowed back in, regardless, do you think they would find all the weapons of mass destruction or would that be insufficient?
Rumsfeld: It would take such a thoroughly intrusive inspection regime, agreed to and then lived up to by Iraq, that it's difficult to comprehend -- even begin to think that they might accept such a regime. It would have to be without notice, it would have to be anywhere, any time. And I still suspect it would require the assistance of defectors and people -- insiders, simply because of the ease of hiding things.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that Iraq is using mobile biological-weapons laboratories in trailers?
Rumsfeld: Yeah, I think it's safe to say that Saddam Hussein and his regime have developed the ability to make any number of things mobile. They have mobile missiles. They have mobile radars. They move around a lot of things to avoid detection or if not detection, at least to avoid having them attacked.
Q: So bio-weapons laboratories on the move is something you believe they're using?
Rumsfeld: I think that that's a reasonable conclusion.
Q: And to follow up briefly --
Rumsfeld: I would go on and say that it really may not even be necessary that they be mobile, because with no inspectors on the ground, there's nobody there to even look at them. But biological weapons can be developed in such small -- rooms like this, that they need not be big or noticeable.
Q: And to follow up briefly: You gave a brief synopsis of what the feeling is about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq yesterday. What is the Pentagon's belief or status of what Iraq is working on or has?
Rumsfeld: Oh, that they have chemical weapons and biological weapons and they have an appetite for nuclear weapons and have been working on them for a good many years, and that there's an awful lot we don't know about their programs.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Can I follow up on that? Mr. Secretary, as the questions at the briefing illustrate, there's an awful lot of speculation these days, in the press and among the punditry, about possible U.S. military action in Iraq, and the downside risk of some of that action, everything from Saddam using chemical weapons, to the New York Times weighing in with a story suggesting it might have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. Do you believe that you and other members of the Bush administration have adequately prepared the American people for what might be at stake if the U.S. were to exercise a military option in Iraq?
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't -- first of all, we don't know if the United States is -- would exercise a military option with respect to Iraq. And therefore, my impression is that what's happened in the world -- and it's not just this administration, it's been a good many years that people have had as a policy for this country regime change in Iraq. The Congress has opined on it, the prior administration opined on it, clearly President Bush has. There are a variety of ways to address it, diplomatically, economic and military. We've got Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch going on.
You know, it is certainly a relatively easy thing for someone to write an article or a column or make a speech or comment on "this could happen or that could happen or this could happen or that could happen." And your question is, has the administration disabused the world of all of those conceivable things? And the answer is, I suspect not. But the American people have a very good center of gravity, and I don't know that we've not done anything we should have done. I think we've discussed things and talked about things to the extent they've matured and developed in a fairly forthright, direct way.
Q: So you don't agree with members of Congress who think that the administration has not been forthcoming with the American people? And they intend to hold hearings to try to get some of this information out in front of the public.
Rumsfeld: I think your statement that that's the view of the Congress suggests that there's 435 members of the House and 100 members of the Senate who have a common view. And they don't. They're all over the lot, as people are, as anyone looking at things. They look at it and have different views. There may very well be some members of the Congress who feel that way. I personally happen to think that if there are hearings, that's something that the Congress does from time to time. I've been asked questions about Iraq up in hearings already. I don't know that that's notable. I don't know that it demonstrates any particular opposition to anything, because there's nothing to oppose at the moment.
Q: Given all the speculation about this plan and that plan, could you tell us, where is the Pentagon and the U.S. military today in terms of planning for any possible military operation in Iraq?
Rumsfeld: The -- several things I would say. And maybe Pete'll want to comment, but one of the responsibilities of the Department of Defense is to see that we have thought through a host of different contingencies and possibilities. So, as long as I've been aware, as long as there's been a Department of Defense, and certainly as long as I've been around -- and that's a long time -- there have always been on the shelf plans -- sometimes they're called war plans; sometimes they're called contingency plans; sometimes they're called operations plans; sometimes they're called NEO's, noncombatant evacuation plans; a whole series of, you know, many handfuls of conceivable things that could happen in the world are looked at by this department, thought through, analyzed, and then a plan is developed.
I've never seen a plan implemented. What happens is, when something happens that's close to that type of an event, the plan is taken off the shelf, looked at, and then recast, recalibrated to fit the fact pattern that actually occurred. Because these things are done one, one-and-a-half years, cycles where they're then renewed and refreshed.
(To Gen. Pace.) Is it two years or --
Pace: Two years.
Rumsfeld: Two years?
And so they're always going to be slightly out-of-date. They're always going to be needing refreshed -- to be refreshed. And they always exist, and they have always have. And the good Lord willing, they always will; otherwise, we wouldn't be doing our job.
Q: And what's the status of the possible Iraq invasion plan that --
Rumsfeld: We don't talk about specific plans. We talk about 'em generically, like I just did.
Q: Mr. Secretary, last week it was reported that Iraq was seeking specialty steel for a centrifuge system, which is a sign that it's reconstituting its nuclear program. Are you concerned about Iraq's efforts to build these facilities for nuclear fuel, for nuclear weapons?
Rumsfeld: Well, without seeming to validate any particular piece of reporting -- let me put it that way -- needless to say, this individual and others ought to be interested and concerned any time any country that's certainly a terrorist state and on the terrorist list and has relationships with global terrorist networks tries/is seen as developing and making more mature any of their weapons-of- mass-destruction activities.
Q: Nothing specific related to the nuclear program?
Rumsfeld: I think I've answered it about -- we would -- I would always be concerned when any terrorist state, and particularly any state that has relationships with terrorist networks, is indicating that it is further developing and maturing weapon-of-mass- destruction programs of any type.
Q: Mr. Secretary? You haven't mentioned Afghanistan. What is the latest as you're thinking about Afghanistan in terms of -- has anything new been accomplished there? Any new terrorist suspects? And also, about the assassination attempt that was thwarted -- just an update on your thinking there in Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld: I don't know that it was an assassination attempt that was thwarted, myself. I know that that's an assumption that some people rush to, but whether it has any validity or not, I don't know. General Franks and I are going to be testifying tomorrow -- I think part of it's a classified session and part of it's an open session -- on the subject of Afghanistan.
I guess the short answer is that every day that goes by or every two days that go by, another detainee or two or three are taken. Some more information is provided by local Afghans to coalition forces. They say, "Come, look: Here's a cache. Find it" or "We've heard this news that is not helpful to the Karzai government --" or " -- not helpful to the coalition forces; you ought to be aware of it." And we go out and find some rockets or some timers or something else.
It's a continuing process. The al Qaeda are still in the neighborhood. The Taliban are still in the neighborhood. The -- there are differences of opinion in -- and views between various regional authorities, with the opportunity that that offers to Taliban to say, "We'll support you if you'll do this," or "We'll support you if you do that." So it is a situation that is not settled yet completely.
And I'm encouraged because refugees are going back; NGOs, nongovernmental organizations, are able to move around the country and provide assistance. We're increasingly getting assistance from local Afghans who are saying, "Here is a cache. Here are some people that are up to no good." And I think that almost every day that goes by I see the situation somewhat more reassuring. That is not to say there will not be an assassination attempt. It's not to say there won't be a terrorist attack. It's not to say there won't be a rocket that is fired at one of our safe houses. They will be. But I've been impressed.
(To the general.) Is that your assessment?
Pace: (Inaudible.) Sir, that, plus there's still a lot of work to be done. It's still a very dangerous environment.
As you know, over the weekend we had five U.S. soldiers wounded, two friendly Afghan soldiers killed, three -- for sure -- enemy killed, perhaps two more, and two enemy detainees picked up.
So as we continue to patrol, we continue to seek to expand the security environment, and we find these caches, we're still going to run into pockets of al Qaeda and pockets of Taliban.
Q: Lawmakers usually like to ask, though, "Do you think you're going to be pulling out of there any time soon?" What would you respond?
Rumsfeld: Oh, we -- I think it would be foolhardy to even begin to suggest a time that one could say that this task is done. We know that there are still al Qaeda over the borders, and we know that there are still Taliban hiding in the villages and the mountains. And we know that the -- here's a country that went through a vicious Taliban government. They went through a drought. They went through a war with the Soviet Union. They went through a civil war. They don't have governmental structures. They don't have a taxing system. They don't have police forces or military or -- they have nothing but a history, and recent history has been a terrible history. So it is important that people recognize the magnitude of the job that's being faced by the transitional -- yeah, the transitional government it's called. And no, no, no dates.
Q: You say that Saddam has chemical and biological weapons, but it's been pretty vague what you've said. And I wonder if there's any way you can get into detail about exactly what he has? And clearly, a lot of this is classified. But how do you build support, both here and abroad, for regime change or possibly military action without any more detailed information about his WMD capabilities?
Rumsfeld: Well, one of the ways you do it is you -- you're right, to the extent people are reading off the same sheet of music, they tend to sign the same song. And reasonable people looking at the same set of facts tend to come to reasonably similar conclusions. And we have been briefing our NATO allies, we've been briefing members of the House and Senate, we've been briefing others. And it just takes time for people to internalize what's taking place every month, every week, every year.
Q: Can you brief us? (Laughter.)
Q: Mr. Secretary, what global terrorist networks do you believe that Iraq has relationships with? Is al Qaeda one of those terrorist networks?
Q: Could you elaborate on that, sir? (Laughter.) Because I don't think any -- I think the evidence that -- talked about in the press about that has been a bit murky. Could you --
Rumsfeld: Well, life's murky. I mean, we're not on the ground down there. But are there al Qaeda in Iraq? Yes. Are there al Qaeda in Iran? Yes. Are there al Qaeda in the United States? Yes.
Q: Has there been state sponsorship, for example --
Q: (Off mike.) (Laughter.)
Q: Oh, oh!
Rumsfeld: Ohhh! Dim the lights! (Laughs; laughter.)
Q: Many months ago you were asked whether -- right after September 11th, whether you thought there might have been state assistance or state sponsorship to the people who perpetrated 9/11. What do you think now, 11 months later, whatever it is?
Rumsfeld: There's no question but that there was state assistance. How in the world could al Qaeda have trained thousands of people in Afghanistan absent state assistance?
Q: But I meant other than allowing them to be in Afghanistan. Do you think there's other states?
Rumsfeld: Well, are they in Iran now? Yes. Are they in Iraq now? Yes. The fact that they're in the United States and we don't tolerate it does not mean that some other countries that they're in do tolerate it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the bill of particulars that you have laid out over the months with regard to Iraq has to do with the leadership, the threat to its neighbors, the evidence that they are interested in building weapons of mass destruction, possible -- and the concern that these weapons of mass destruction might be passed to terrorist groups. Hence, regime change is something the U.S. favors. The same can be said in the bill of particulars for Iran, North Korea, Syria. Does the United States, do you, favor regime change and potentially military action against those countries that are doing often the same things and some even greater support for terrorism than is Iraq?
Rumsfeld: Would it be a good thing for the world if the government of Iran stopped repressing its people? You bet. If you're asking me personally. Now, is that our policy in the United States government? Well, the president articulates U.S. policy and the secretary of State.
But there's no question but that the people of Iran are being ruled by a minority faction with severe fundamentalist rules and laws and requirements and are imposing that on the Iranian people. And it's harmful to them. And goodness knows, I would wish them better than that. I have a feeling that the people of Iran know that. And I have a feeling that in my adult lifetime we may still see the people of Iran do something about that regime.
I don't think that's possible in some other countries. In North Korea -- the president's talked about that as well. If you think of the people that are starving in that country, the people that are fleeing that country, the people that are in prison camps in that country, one can't help but feel great empathy for the people of Korea. It's a terrible, terrible thing.
Q: The issue here is threat to American vital interests and potential threat to the United States, as you have outlined it with regard to Iraq. Some of those other countries pose an equally great threat to American interests with their ties to terrorist groups and with their already well-established programs for developing weapons of mass destruction. They would seem to be a higher degree of a target for the United States, with the kind of policy that appears to be just focused on Iraq.
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that the word -- that I would want to leap into a question with the word "target" in it. But you're quite right, the policy of the government of the United States has been to regime change for Iraq. That's the Congress and the executive branch both. It has not been that for some other countries. And I guess life's just untidy. And -- but you're quite right in pointing out that the other countries, that the president included, for example, in the Axis of Evil, have some similar characteristics.
I think we should stop.
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