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Joint Media Availability - Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary General Robertson

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 08, 2001 12:45 PM EDT

Thursday, March 8, 2001 12:45 p.m. EST

(Joint media availability at the Pentagon with NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson)

Rumsfeld: Greetings. Greetings. What a distinguished gathering.

Q: We might say the same thing.

Rumsfeld: It's impressive.

Robertson: Yeah. We know some of these guys, don't we?

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Robertson: Matching pin stripes, yeah -- I know.

Rumsfeld: I got all gussied up today because I've got distinguished guests here.

Robertson: I should be wearing a kilt, eh?

Q: (Off mike.)

Robertson: (Laughs.) We have an equivalent.

Rumsfeld: We had a very good meeting and a good lunch and talked about a host of issues involving NATO. We talked about the European defense initiative, we talked about missile defense, we talked about our defense review that's taking place here, and we talked about aspects of the transatlantic relationship.

I didn't mention to you, Lord Robertson, that I am the one who dedicated the NATO corridor here in this building a long time ago, and Joseph Luns was here for that. We had a very nice ceremony. I am one individual who feels very deeply about the importance of the transatlantic relationship and the relationship between the United States and our NATO allies. The Partnership for Peace group that has expanded the NATO alliance is a truly amazing aspect and dimension to this durable treaty. And we had a discussion about that, and the meetings you had I believe with -- how many was it, 46?

Robertson: Forty-six, yeah.

Rumsfeld: Forty-six other countries. So --

Well, I'll turn it over to you. And as you -- say whatever you'd like, and then we'll respond to questions. We're glad you're here.

Robertson: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, and I'm delighted to be here and to have my first meeting in the Pentagon with the new American secretary of Defense. This is the era of the defense minister: a former defense minister, secretary general of NATO, a former defense secretary, a defense secretary of the United States of America filling the positions of vice president of the United States and the United Nations special representative in Kosovo. So I think we must have learned something that we are deemed to be so valuable to do these other jobs. But it's good to greet somebody who's got such a long track record with NATO. As a former -- not just as a former American Defense secretary, but a former American ambassador to NATO himself, Secretary Rumsfeld knows how important NATO is to the wider world and how important it is to the United States of America.

So I am here not just as a friend of the United States. I'm here as part of the United States and of the 19 other countries that make up this remarkable alliance.

And what we have discussed today is how important NATO is, still the cornerstone of the community of shared values that has been its bedrock since its formation 52 years ago in this capital city of the United States of America, and still based on these shared values of freedom, democracy, of free markets and of the rule of law. And I'm delighted that Secretary Rumsfeld has underlined today that in the review that he's doing of the military, he sees NATO as a key tool of the United States and, indeed, of the western system as an agent of change, an agent of relevance, as an agent of peace and understanding and of stability in the world today. And U.S. leadership and active participation in NATO is still a key to the dynamism of the organization.

But we are, of course, a new and modern NATO; 46 nations in the Partnership for Peace, greater European sharing of the burden -- not just in NATO itself, but there are only 15 percent of the troops in the peacekeeping forces in the Balkans that now come from the United States of America -- Europe carrying that burden that has been the controversial issue for so long in the alliance; our relations with Russia and the Ukraine and NATO's key role in crisis management.

We spoke today about events in the Balkans, the peacekeeping forces that are there bravely and professionally carrying out the will of the international community. We talked about the current sensitivities in the area; the phased and conditioned release of the ground safety zone between Kosovo and Serbia, which the North Atlantic Council this morning decided upon; the assurances that we give to the ethnic Albanian population in the area that their interests are still a matter of priority to us and their safety and security a matter of long term concern to us, but that we make a key difference between the ethnic Albanian extremists who are causing mischief and trouble in the ground safety zone and in the north of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the vast majority of ethnic Albanians in the area who simply seek peace and stability in the long term.

We spoke about the European Security and Defense Identity, and I'm delighted that President Bush, Secretary Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld have given their support to this unique and historic project, which will increase the capabilities available to the alliance and which will build a European capability for the Petersburg Tasks that will be umbilically connected to NATO and to NATO structures.

And we spoke about missile defense, an important and current issue, but where the alliance has no intention of being divided or split in any way and where we are keen to get right down to the promised consultations on missile defense -- on the how and the when, rather than on the whether, which has been decided by the will of the American people.

Rumsfeld: Questions. Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, I might ask of the recent upsurge of violence in Macedonia and Kosovo, has that raised concerns in the administration that the peacekeeping effort in the Balkans might be an endless military exercise? And is the United States prepared to stay the course, no matter how long it takes?

Rumsfeld: Well, the president has addressed that subject in recent days, and you know his answer and his response. There is no question but that the administration, as well as NATO, as the secretary general has indicated, has been very attentive to the difficulties and, indeed, on a couple of occasions, skirmishes that have taken place along the Macedonian border.

The situation at the moment is -- at least the last time I -- prior to the lunch -- the last time I looked, is relatively stable. And it is a difficult part of the world. I must say, I have a great deal of respect for the secretary general. He's got a difficult job and he has been in relative -- almost constant touch on these issues with the NATO countries, as well as with the government of Macedonia and the other governments in the region.

Do you want to --

Robertson: This is not an endless commitment, but it's a commitment we intend to see through. And I think the allies were very reassured by the commitment made at the North Atlantic Council foreign ministers meeting last week by Secretary Powell when he made it clear that we went into this common mission together, we will come out of it together.

At the moment, these skirmishes are of concern. We want to prevent what can be limited, localized skirmishes becoming bigger or spilling over into the wider region. But we consider this to be an issue of seriousness and sensitivity, which if handled properly, and weighing up all of the factors, should lead to a longer-term sense of stability and security in the area.

So we're not setting any deadlines for how long we're there. The job will be done, but I'm optimistic that it can be done in a shorter period than the pessimists suggest.

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, how concerned are you that U.S. peacekeeping forces in Kosovo could be drawn into essentially a shooting war with these ethnic Albanian extremists?

And, Secretary Robertson, to you, the decision to open up this buffer zone to allow Yugoslav forces back in, how do you know that's not a prescription for more violence and more fighting?

Rumsfeld: With respect to the ground safety zone, opening up, I'd like to comment on that. If you'll recall, it was established at the outset because it was felt there was a need to separate the NATO forces from the Serb forces. That was the purpose of the five-kilometer ground safety zone. Since that time, there have been a great many developments, including a different government and different attitudes, and it has not proved to be needed, from that standpoint.

On the other hand, it has been used by small groups, relatively small groups of people, who have used the fact that the Serbs have essentially stayed out of the ground safety zone, used it as an opportunity to engage in various types of attacks. And it has been pretty much restricted to a relatively small segment of the entire ground safety zone.

Q: Well, given this outbreak, these skirmishes that have occurred, if I could go back to my original question, how concerned are you that U.S. peacekeepers, who are supposed to be keeping the peace, could be drawn into a shooting war over there?

Rumsfeld: Well, I mean, that's one of the risks of a peacekeeper. And there is no question but that the NATO forces in the region have, from time to time, been involved in skirmishes, as the situation arose. In this case, in the most recent case, there was some shooting and there was a period where some individuals were in a house, as I recall, and then have since been -- are no longer in the house.

But you raise the question, can you get into a shooting war? Shooting is shooting, and it has been going on throughout the period that troops have been there in one level or another. And it's been relatively minor and it remains relatively modest.

Q: Secretary Robertson, could you address the question about whether allowing Yugoslav army forces back in might worsen the situation?

Robertson: Well, we don't want to create a worse situation. The phased and conditioned reduction in the ground safety zone will be done on the basis that we are actually making the area more peaceful not less -- not more dangerous. And it will only be done on a conditioned way. And I expect, and we have been given assurances by the Serbs that they will act with moderation and with sensitivity. And that, of course, will be watched at every stage we go along.

So I go back to the point that has been made by the North Atlantic Council that the reduction in the ground safety zone, which is sovereign Serbian territory, will be done in a phased and conditioned way.

Q: Mr. Secretary, change the subject briefly. But may I give Lord Robertson a piece of intelligence to take back? Not only did the secretary dedicate the NATO Corridor, but if you walk down the "A" Ring here and look at all the official portraits of all the secretaries, beginning with the first one, Secretary Rumsfeld is the only one in shirtsleeves. I don't make any judgment on that; I just wanted you to take it back as raw data.

Mr. Secretary --

(Scattered chuckles.)

Robertson: I need to assess that intelligence, I think.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in the wake of meetings yesterday with the Korean -- South Korean president, and with your meetings with Lord Robertson, intelligence experts still say that North Korea -- and it's very hard to get intelligence out of there -- could possibly have ICBMs capable of hitting the U.S. in the next four or five years. And they also say that even going four more, it would be impossible to put even a limited defense system in place by then.

What will you do if in fact North Korea abridges the agreement and starts testing or starts building missiles capable of hitting the U.S.? Would you advise the president perhaps to conduct a first strike, or what would you do?

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) You've got to be kidding. (Laughter.) I mean -- (laughter continues) --

Q: (Off mike) -- but wouldn't it give them the latitude of striking us first?

Rumsfeld: Look, the -- there are so many hypotheticals we could fashion around here, and we could spend endless hours discussing them, and it would be unuseful for me.

The -- you are correct; there's no question but that North Korea has had a considerable appetite for ballistic missiles of various ranges. And they have also been a significant proliferator of those capabilities throughout a good many countries across the globe, and they still are.

We are approaching the missile defense issue in a fresh way and have made some progress in our thinking. And very likely we'll be visiting with the National Security Council at some point in the period ahead and discussing the things we think we think at this stage, and getting guidance and ultimately decisions from the president as to how to proceed.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Staff: (Off mike) -- I'm sorry to interrupt -- (off mike) --

Q: Could I ask you just a follow-up question, Mr. Secretary, on that same subject, your thinking about missile defense? In your mind, is theater missile defense a higher priority than national missile defense?

Rumsfeld: I have gotten to the point where I now am sufficiently into this subject where I've concluded that "national" and "theater" are words that aren't useful. At least for me they're not, in how to think about it, for this reason: What's "national" depends on where you live, and what's "theater" depends on where you live.

The United States has friends and allies that we're linked very tightly to. We have deployed forces in the world. Our interest is in recognizing that ballistic missiles constitute a threat and weapons of mass destruction constitute a threat -- not the only threat, but a threat, one of the threats. And I would say that the so-called "asymmetrical" threats constitute more significant threats today than the risks of a major land, sea or air war, where some country decides to threaten Western armies and navies and air forces. I think that the threats of terrorism and cruise missiles, as well as ballistic missiles, information warfare, are all things that we need to be attentive to.

And so I feel that we're approaching it in a rational way by avoiding something that could create significant differentials in vulnerabilities. And my interest is in seeing if we can't find ways to develop defenses against ballistic missiles where we have interests. And we have interests in NATO, we have interests in the Middle East. Obviously, you've all seen the Scuds flying in there during the Gulf War. And so I've pretty much stopped using those two words.

Q: By differentiation of vulnerability, do you mean different between the United States and its allies, or --

Rumsfeld: Yes, indeed. I think, for example, that over time, one has to recognize that it's every bit as important to us to be able to defend this piece of real estate and our population in this location as it is to defend our deployed forces and to have our allies feel equally secure to the extent that's possible. So I've pretty much stopped using the words, to be perfectly honest.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can I ask you a really parochial question on the Army black berets?

Rumsfeld: Why don't you ask the secretary general a question? (Laughter.)

Q: Well, this is about -- (laughter) --

Rumsfeld: And now that I know your question, I think you should definitely ask him -- (laughter).

Q: Have you asked the Army to do anything about that issue, or is that for them to decide?

Rumsfeld: I have not asked the Army to do anything particular about that.

Q: A question for the secretary general. (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: Now you're talking. (Laughter.) It's the last question.

Q: What sort of latitude do NATO troops have, including, of course, U.S. troops, to deal with these Albanian extremists if they are, in fact, crossing the border into Macedonia and causing havoc there? What ability does NATO have to deal with that once the border is crossed?

Robertson: The KFOR troops operate within Kosovo. That is where the agreement is, that is where the mandate is. It doesn't go beyond that. But in the areas that they have responsibility for, they are increasing their patrolling, they're increasing the numbers; and their robust presence, I believe, is having an effect on those people who use that whole border area, ill-defined as it is, heavily mined as it is, as a sort of an adventure playground for violence. And I believe that the diminution of the violence in the last few days has a lot to do with the fact that KFOR remains robust and strong and determined, and we will continue to do that.

Rumsfeld: But the direct answer to your question, they have to have the ability to defend themselves.

Robertson: Yeah.

Rumsfeld: I mean, the rules of engagement permit them to do that.

Q: But to go into Macedonia to deal with these Albanian extremists?

Rumsfeld: They have -- correct me if I'm wrong; you're the expert on this. But my recollection is that anywhere there is a ground safety zone where it currently exists, the KFOR forces tend not to go in there. But they are not prohibited if, in fact, they are being fired at from that five-kilometer area.

Isn't that correct?

Robertson: Well, they don't go into the ground safety zone. But they have the right to protect themselves and the population in Kosovo. That is what they're there for. They are peacekeepers, and to do that. But they respect borders, inevitably respect borders. And they also respect the mandate. But we treat this with toughness, but also with sensitivity. And that is why those on all of the different borders and boundaries around Kosovo have made sure that they know business. And I think some of the upsurge in violence has been to do with the fact that these insurgents, these ethnic Albanian armed groups and others know that their time is coming to an end.

Staff: Thank you very much.

Q: We'll try and have some haggis for you next time you come.

Robertson: Well, I'll look forward to that. Pentagon haggis.

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) Watch your step.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Robertson: Thank you.

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