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Media Availability with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
January 26, 2001 2:30 PM EDT

Friday, January 26, 2001 - 2:30 p.m. EST

Rumsfeld: My goodness, gracious! It's a full house!

Q: It's your own fault.

Rumsfeld:

Q: Thank you.

Rumsfeld: I like it!

Before I start, I want to introduce Mel Laird in the back. All you young folks probably don't remember, but Mel, would you stand up now? (Applause.)

Mel and I served in Congress together, and he's a long-time friend, and I'm delighted he's able to be here today for the welcoming ceremony.

Thank you for taking a few minutes today so that we can visit. I am looking forward to working with all of you. The Pentagon press corps certainly has a proud history of outstanding professionalism. And under whose tenure was the Correspondents Corridor opened? Mel Laird. So there you are.

This has been quite a day for me. We've been over at the White House and met with the president and the vice president. And in a few minutes we'll wander out and have the welcoming ceremony. The opportunity to serve, as the president said, again is an unusual one. I remember my time here well and with a great deal of pleasure. It's a wonderful institution. The men and women in uniform are so special and so important to our country. And certainly the dedicated civilians here in the department and across the globe do a superb job for our nation.

The department, during my time here this time, will be guided by the goals that the president has set forth. I agree with them, I think they're important, and intend to do my best to see that they are achieved. The challenge we face is not as obvious as during the Cold War, as the president's indicated, but it's just as noble, and it's to turn these years of influence into years of peace.

The task before us is to ensure that we have, without question, the world's strongest and most capable military institution.

A strong military does not guarantee peace and stability in the world, but we know that the opposite is true -- that weakness is provocative, that it does invite and entice people into doing things they would otherwise avoid, and our task is to see that we fashion deterrence to fit this new national security environment.

I've been asked why -- why I said yes -- and came back to this obviously enormous task that faces this building, this institution and our country, and I would say Theodore Roosevelt's observation that, "Far and away, the best prize life offers is to work hard at work worth doing," and this work is certainly worth doing. And I am ready and eager to work hard at it.

Let me say a few words about my first days. I have -- I guess I've been here four days now -- seems like four months -- but it's been an interesting time. I have met, as you know, with senior Pentagon officials, those that are here on basically a permanent basis. I've met with those who have departed and thanked them for their service and their dedication to the country. I've met with those that have agreed to stay during this transition period and had any number of meetings with them. They are, as you know, the continuity in this department. The process of bringing people in with the new administration is a long and torturous one. I know -- I've just been through it, and it involves hundreds of pages of forms and questions, and it takes a bit of time. So I am very grateful to the members of Secretary Cohen's team who are here and assisting during this period.

I've had meetings with the chiefs and have been meeting with the chairmen once or twice a day. I've been meeting with the members of the national security team in the White House -- Secretary Powell, Condi Rice, Vice President Cheney and the president. It is a terrific team of people, and I am just delighted to be working with them on a whole set of very interesting and very challenging issues for our country.

I've met with George Tenet and indicated on a number of occasions my personal interest in seeing that the intelligence capabilities of this country are improved and elevated, that we fashion them to fit the demands facing us in the world.

It is a more complex, more diverse set of problems and issues, and I intend to work very closely with the members of the intelligence community to see that the president has the best possible information as he tackles his assignments.

The -- I've met the senior enlisted officials and have had discussion with them about the important issues facing the men and women in the armed forces, and the need we have to see that they are the best and that we can attract and retain the kinds of people we need to make sure that the armed forces in the United States can do the assignments they face.

I have been receiving briefings and meetings, a combination of receiving briefings and giving some thoughts of my own on issues such as ethics, security, in this -- in the Department of Defense. I've had a couple of -- three meetings on the budget. I've spent a good deal of time on personnel, looking at the department and the kinds of qualities and characteristics that I think would be important in filling the very important senior levels here at the department. I've been just meeting on ongoing operations, key policy issues, intelligence issues.

In the coming week I'll probably be focusing on budget, missile defense, personnel, the needs of the men and women in the -- in uniform, the QDR.

I'm going to be preparing to go to Munich for the Wehrkunde conference. As a former ambassador to NATO, I feel very strongly that that alliance is an important one. It's a central part of our success in this world. It's important not just to the United States and Europe, but I believe it contributes stability well beyond. And I look forward to meeting with my counterparts during a brief trip to Munich. I hope also to be able to stop and meet with some servicemen and their families on my departure.

I'd be happy to take a few questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary -- (off mike) -- sir.

Rumsfeld: Who am I supposed to start with?

Q: Oh, you're supposed to start with Charlie.

Q: Start with Charlie.

Rumsfeld: Listen, if you think I'm going to mess up my first day, you're wrong.

Q: Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Q: I hope you'll come down and chat with us often.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Q: You mentioned NATO, and being a former NATO ambassador, and you're a two-time secretary now. The European allies are very concerned about cross-Atlantic ties, including two issues: NMD and U.S. participation in peacekeeping.

During your confirmation hearings, you described the ABM Treaty -- you appeared to deride the ABM Treaty as ancient history. Are you and the United States ready to scrap that treaty, even if it means sour ties with the allies?

Rumsfeld: Well, first, I don't think I was disparaging of the treaty. I think it -- I think I compared it as being as ancient as I am, is what I said. It was a long time ago that that treaty was fashioned. Technologies were notably different, the circumstances in the world were notably different. The Soviet Union, our partner in that treaty, doesn't exist anymore. The focus that we necessarily had during the Cold War was on attempting to have a stable situation, given two nations with overwhelming nuclear capabilities. And all of that has changed.

We're in a very different world. The Soviet Union is gone. The principal threats facing the United States are not the fear of a strategic nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. And it strikes me that we should accept the treaty in that sense. And I think that it ought not to -- personally believe it not to inhibit a country, a president, an administration, a nation, from fashioning offensive and defensive capabilities that will provide for our security in a notably different national security environment.

The president has not been ambiguous about this. He says he intends to deploy a missile defense capability for the country. He has concluded that it is not in our country's interest to perpetuate vulnerability. And the Russians know, they have to know, that the kinds of capabilities that are being discussed are not capabilities that threaten them in any way. They also have to know, if they look around the globe, that there are other threats; that there are nations with increasingly capable weapons that, because of the proliferation of technologies, are posing threats not just to the United States, but to other countries in Europe and to, ultimately, Russia.

So I think it's something that's manageable. I don't know quite how it will be managed. The National Security Council will be addressing these questions in the period ahead, and certainly the treaty itself is an issue that Secretary Powell and the president and all of us will be discussing.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can the United States --

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: Another contentious issue is the issue of China, and one of this administration's next challenges will be dealing with the issue of arms sales to Taiwan, which China opposes, even though there's been a buildup of missiles across the Taiwan Strait. Do you have a position on whether we should sell Aegis ships, which could be used for missile defense down the road to the Taiwanese?

Rumsfeld: Well, there are laws on the books that characterize our relationship with Taiwan, and these are issues that the National Security Council will be addressing. Certainly Secretary Powell has an interest in that, and it's not something that we have met on, at this stage.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yeah, I owe you.

Q: Ari Fleischer, the president's press secretary, said that the president has asked you to do a sweeping force structure review different from the QDR. When do you intend to start that, or have you started it already? Do you have a target date for its completion? And do you have any initial views on such weapons systems as the F-22, V-22, Joint Strike Fighter and the -- ?

And there's a follow-up.

Rumsfeld: That's nice. You're right. The president's press spokesman has in fact correctly characterized what the president has asked us to do. We will be doing it. We have not done it. It is something that is complex and it will take some time and, even if I had preliminary views on things, it would be unwise for me to opine at this stage.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a corollary to that? One of the buzzwords, buzz phrase, throughout the campaign that has scared a lot in this building and the defense industry is this whole notion of skipping a generation of technology. Can you clarify, even in the broadest terms, what it means? Should people be scared that this is a buzzword for, really, cancellation of major weapons systems?

Rumsfeld: Well, I discussed this at some length, as I recall, in my confirmation hearing, and I think there are various ways that one can move forward with respect to new technologies.

It may, in some instances, involve a notably different system. It also may involve the same platform but notably different capabilities on that platform.

And I can understand that -- oh, any change is difficult for people; any concern that something might not be exactly as it's been gives people pause and concerns them. And so I understand what you're saying; that's a fair comment. The reality is, it's not something that someone comes in and divines, it requires a good deal of thought and attention, and that's what we'll be doing.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: I better go in the back here. Yes?

Q: Sir, the military tests every new secretary that comes into the building. That's traditional. Could you tell us what your response was to the chiefs going up to the Hill with a "wish list" before you were even established, and what you have told them about whether they should do that again?

Rumsfeld: He's trying to start a fight! As Pierre Salinger said, "I'm plucky, but I'm not stupid."

The facts are these: I got up this morning, looked at the Early Bird, and I saw two articles, one next to the other, and one said one thing and the other said the exact opposite, and neither was really right on the mark in terms of the conversation that I've had with the chiefs, and in terms of what the chiefs have been doing. So I think that we'll have -- we have, and I think we will have, a very good understanding of what makes sense and how this building and this effort that we're all engaged in can best accomplish its goals. And I think that you'll find that, you know, people will be pulling in harness and doing the right thing.

Yes?

Q: Along the budget line, before you go to Congress with the budget supplemental for '01, are there any plans for you to, I guess, push for a round of BRAC or two, or outsourcing, anything like that; try to cut some of that out before you go there with it?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think the question of a supplemental is an open question. I had my -- one of my early meetings on budget this morning, and will have some more early in the week. And any decision with respect to BRAC is yet ahead. I mean, as I indicated in my hearing, I'm realistic; I look at force structure and believe that base structure out to reasonably fit it in some way, and to the extent it doesn't, obviously one has to be respectful of taxpayers' dollars and find ways to see that we do the best possible job we can.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in your swearing-in --

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Q: You're calling on me?

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Q: Thank you. Given your expression of the president's clear intent to go forward with national missile defense, do you expect decisions in the next few weeks or months? And do you expect to see construction begin at Shemya this year?

Rumsfeld: I don't want to put a time limit on myself until I really dig in and wrap my head around those issues a bit more. And, obviously, the second part of your question keys off the first.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, at your swearing in ceremony today over at the White House, the president said that one of the top priorities for you will be to improve trust between the American public and the military. Do you believe there is a gap in trust and understanding? And how will you go about that?

Rumsfeld: I think that it is important that the men and women in the armed services feel that they are treated properly, that they're valued, that they're appreciated, and that they're supported. And I think to the extent that the Congress and the executive branch undertake a series of steps that accomplish that, we'll find that we'll have a truly outstanding fighting force.

Q: Is the point that you feel there's a shoring-up that needs to be done, as a result of the last eight years?

Rumsfeld: You know, I'm looking forward, not back.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: On Latin America, specifically on Colombia, you said at your confirmation hearing that you had a vision of the drug war in Colombia. Could you clarify that, especially now when there are more and more evidence that the guerrillas in Colombia are operating like a drug cartel? How do you think the Colombian government should the aid that it is getting for the Plan Colombia in this case?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's my understanding that the situation in Colombia is -- the lead for that is at the Department of State. My preference would be for questions on that to be to the Department of State.

I think what I said at my hearing is quite apart from Colombia; it's what I sincerely believe to be the case, and that is that the drug problem in the United States is overwhelmingly a demand problem, and that to the extent that demand is there and it's powerful, it is going to find ways to get drugs in this country, to our detriment, to the detriment of the human beings who use them, and to a society as a whole.

Q: Mr. Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: Two years ago, you signed an open letter with a number of other officials who were --

Rumsfeld: Well, I've signed a number of letters. It's amazing, I never had any idea I'd be back here when I did that.

Q: Well, you did.

Rumsfeld: Which one was that?

Q: This particular open letter had to do with the Iraqi opposition. And among the things --

Rumsfeld: I still feel good about that one.

Q: Well, let's just run through some of the things that you were advocating for the past administration. Among the things that you were advocating was that the administration bomb the pillars of support of Saddam Hussein in an (inaudible) campaign, and that the United States have equipment and, if necessary, forces ready to help the opposition if things went to the extreme. Do you still feel that those are both good strategies?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know, we're going to be having meetings on that subject in the period ahead. And I've had some preliminary discussions with members of the national security team. And I think that it would not be wise for me to get into the details of it. It is going to be an administration policy, a presidential policy. Secretary Powell will be deeply involved. And certainly the Department of Defense is involved, given the degree of -- level of activity there. But I don't think it would be useful for me to --

Q: You seemed to have strong feelings on that subject at that time, and you still do, I gather.

Rumsfeld: Well, I think that the policy of the country is that it is not helpful to have Saddam Hussein's regime in office. That is government policy, as I understand it.

I think I'd best excuse myself. We're going to have some folks up there. And I look forward to seeing all of you again.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

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