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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Interview on ABC News Sunday

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 12, 2001

Sunday, February 11, 2001

(Interview by Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson on ABC-TV This Week)

Roberts: Welcome to the program. Last week, it was taxes. This coming week, it's defense, as President Bush plans to visit several military bases, Sam.

Donaldson: And there's a big fight over money, Cokie, and joining us now in his first Sunday interview, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

Secretary Rumsfeld, good to see you.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much. It's good to be here.

Donaldson: Back to the future for you.

Rumsfeld: [Laughs] I guess so!

Donaldson: I mean, 24 years ago, you were Secretary of Defense.

Rumsfeld: Indeed, it was quite a surprise to find myself back in this post.

Donaldson: Well, let's talk about the things that you're now confronted with. Beginning with the USS Greeneville. What happened there? How come that submarine sank the Japanese fishing trawler?

Rumsfeld: Well, that's what the investigation that's been put underway will determine and it clearly was just a terrible tragedy and most unfortunate. I've spoken to the defense minister of Japan, Minister Saito, and our secretary of state, Colin Powell, has spoken to their minister of foreign affairs and we're doing everything humanly possible to try to find the remaining participants on that ship.

Donaldson: Well, the commander, before surfacing the submarine, was required to make an acoustical look and a visual look with his periscope. Did you do that? Could he have done that and still not seen the trawler?

Rumsfeld: Well, that's what the investigation will determine. There's certainly no way to know in real time what took place. He has been reassigned, pending the investigation. And the admiral of the Pacific Fleet has undertaken an investigation.

Donaldson: Well, there are nine people who at the moment are missing and perhaps lost and we'll not recompense them. But I take it the United States government will make reparations for this accident to the proper people in Japan.

Rumsfeld: The United States government has brought the families over and it's been putting people up and taking care of the situation and certainly we will do the proper thing when the facts are fully sorted out.

Donaldson: Let's talk about Lieutenant General Earl Hailstone, who is the commander of U.S. forces on the Okinawa chain. As you know, the local council complained that he should be removed because the council had passed a resolution saying the U.S. forces should be reduced after a young school girl - and there was another incident about a U.S. military serviceman looked up her skirt.

And General Hailstone wrote an e-mail, apparently, denouncing the council, saying that it was a damaging resolution and let me just show you something else he purportedly said: "I think they're all nuts and a bunch of wimps." Why hasn't he been removed?

Rumsfeld: He has apologized to the public officials in Okinawa and expressed deep regret over the fact that an e-mail that he wrote, which he should not have written, was made public. And the proper authorities have met with him and discussed the situation.

Donaldson: Secretary Rumsfeld, let's get to defense spending. In the campaign, President Bush seemed to promise large increases in defense spending on readiness and all the other fields. But now, says he wants to wait and not, for awhile, present any supplemental. Is this breaking a campaign promise?

Rumsfeld: No, indeed. It seems to me a perfectly rational and logical thing for a president of the United States to do to engage his brain before he opens the taxpayers' wallet.

What the president has said, and certainly I agree fully with it is he wants me and the Department of Defense to undertake a defense review, a series of task forces looking at a number of these subjects and report back to him in a relatively short period of time, at which point he'll make his judgments with respect to adjustments or no adjustments with respect to the budget currently before -- that the OMB, the Budget Bureau, has put forward.

Donaldson: But you so "adjustments" or "no adjustments" which seems to open the door. Let me remind you, sir, of what you said during your confirmation hearing on the 11th of January. You said before the committee, "Is it clear that there needs to be an increase in the budget?" "There is no doubt in my mind," you said. And then here is a portion of the colloquy with the committee chairman, John Warner.

Warner [at confirmation hearings]: You're commitment today is to work towards a significant increase?

Rumsfeld [at confirmation hearings]: Yes, sir. Absolutely.

Warner [at confirmation hearings]: That's what I wanted to know.

Donaldson: So, when you say now whether there might not be an adjustment, is that conflicting with what you told the committee?

Rumsfeld: Not at all. That was my opinion then, it remains my opinion. And the decision, of course, is the president's. And he will make a judgment after we make our case. And I think that's a perfectly responsible and proper thing for him to do.

As you know, there are any number of organizations from the Congressional Budget Office, the CSIS here in Chicago and Washington, D.C., experts from Brookings, former Secretaries of Defense Jim Schlesinger and Harold Brown, all of whom have come up with varying numbers that they believe would be appropriate to increase the defense budget.

What we are going to do is complete our defense review, make our case to the president of the United States, and then he'll make a judgment as to what he wants to do, what he believes he should best do for the country. He is committed to seeing that we have a strong national defense. He is also committed to seeing that the quality of life for the men and women in the armed services is appropriate to the wonderful job they're doing for this country. We need to be able to attract and retain the very best people in this country in the armed forces.

He's going to be making visits on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday to look at the circumstance of the men and women in the armed services and I think that that will reflect his interest and his concern and his commitment to see that the quality of life for the men and women of the armed forces is met.

Donaldson: Well, let me just wear this bone one more time. Senator Warner, as you know, this past week wrote a letter to the president and seven other senators joined him.

Rumsfeld: He did.

Donaldson: And part of the letter reads as follows: "Experience has shown us that an emergency supplemental for defense is unfortunately the only way to address some of the critical readiness and quality-of-life problems. These are bills which must be paid now." Will you send up a supplemental now?

Rumsfeld: That is exactly the decision that will be facing the president when we've concluded our defense review.

Donaldson: Mr. Secretary, you've made the case to our allies why this country should build a missile defense system. Not a full one, but one capable of stopping some threats. But which threats? Who do you have in mind?

Rumsfeld: Well, the purpose of missile defense is to be able to deal with relatively small numbers of ballistic missiles, presumably with weapons of mass destruction as warheads. The system threatens no one, at all. It is a defensive system. And the only people that ought to be concerned about a missile defense system, it seems to me, is anyone who wanted to threaten the United States or threaten our friends and allies.

Donaldson: But you say it's no threat to Russia. In fact, you tried to make the case that Russia could overwhelm this system you have in mind, if it chooses.

Rumsfeld: Well, there's no question. It's designed to deal with relatively small numbers, not hundreds and thousands of weapons.

Donaldson: What about China?

Rumsfeld: China is not a concern. It's not a party to the ABM treaty. It is a country that is increasing its defense budget in double digits, year after year. And it is not -- I don't believe that anyone can make a case that missile defense is a particular problem to China.

On the other hand, if some country decided it wanted to be aggressive to its neighbors and acquire additional territory by force, then having a missile defense system is not a bad idea, it seems to me.

Donaldson: So the system would not protect this country against Russia, would not protect this country against China, you seem to be warranting that as part of your argument for the system. Who, then, do you have in mind?

Rumsfeld: Sam, the cold war is over. The idea of mutual assured destruction and massive retaliation was a concept that made sense during the cold war. We do not get up every morning and expect the Soviet Union to come back into life and come racing across the north German plain or to be poised with a ballistic missile attack against the United States. The problem we've got is that the cold war is over and we're seeing the proliferation of these technologies all across the globe.

Donaldson: Let's look about Iraq, now. And let's look at a Defense Department report that was released just this month. Part of which reads as follows, that "Baghdad, likely, in the absence of UNSCOM inspections and monitoring during 1999 and 2000, we're concerned that Baghdad, again, may have produced some biological warfare agents." The report also said that Baghdad likely also has warheads capable of delivering chemical or biological agents. Do they?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that Saddam Hussein and his regime have had an enormous appetite for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons over a sustained period of time. There's nothing new about this. They have been, in varying degrees, successful in developing those types of capabilities. The absence of inspectors makes their ability to continue that process, obviously, easier for them.

Donaldson: How are you going to get the inspectors back? For two years they've not been there.

Rumsfeld: Well, I understand, and therefore, reasonable people have to assume that this individual, Saddam Hussein, has continued his energetic efforts and we obviously have some information and there are things, obviously, we don't know because of the absence of inspectors.

Donaldson: You do have some information?

Rumsfeld: The United States certainly is able to determine some things with respect to what's taking place in the country.

Donaldson: Has he, in fact, built up his chemical, biological and maybe nuclear agents?

Rumsfeld: You can begin with the correct assumption that he has a very strong desire to have all of those capabilities. That existed prior to the Gulf War. It existed during the Gulf War. And it existed after the Gulf War. Indeed, we know he's had the continued effort with respect to the development of ballistic missiles.

Donaldson: Mr. Secretary, when do the allies do something about that? Do they wait till he uses them?

Rumsfeld: Secretary of State Colin Powell is, as you know, going to be leaving for the Middle East very shortly. He plans to talk to our allies and our coalition partners and to address questions exactly like the ones you're posing.

Donaldson: It's said, sir, that you and Powell are a little bit at odds on this. That you're the hawk --

Rumsfeld: That is utter nonsense! Colin -- there's not daylight between Colin Powell's views on Iraq and my views on Iraq. Maybe a little sliver. [Laughs] No, seriously --

Donaldson: A little sliver, sir?

Rumsfeld: No, really. We talk every day and we both are trying to figure out how we can best be arranged to see that the Saddam Hussein regime is not successful in continuing to develop those types of capabilities and threatening their neighbors.

Donaldson: Secretary Rumsfeld, there's a lot more to talk about, but unfortunately, our time is up. Will you come back?

Rumsfeld: Indeed. I'll be delighted to.

Donaldson: It's good to see you, sir.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

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