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Rumsfeld on Iraq: 'Goal is disarmament'

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

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(CNN) -- CNN Correspondent Jamie McIntyre talked one-on-one on Saturday with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Washington and questioned him on Iraq and the U.S. battle against terrorism.

MCINTYRE: Let me start off with the news from Baghdad today. Iraq said today that it will not cooperate with any new U.N. Security Council resolutions that run contrary to an agreement that it believes it reached with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Your reaction to that?

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know that I have a reaction. Certainly, one can't be surprised. Anyone who has watched the past decade has seen the Iraqi government defy some 16 U.N. resolutions and change their position depending on what they thought was tactically advantageous to them and kind of jerk the United Nations around. So it is no surprise at all.

MCINTYRE: But by taking that tack, does Iraq effectively play into your hands, or into the United States' hands, by giving you justification for moving ahead with possible military action?

RUMSFELD: Well, of course those are judgments that the president will make after talking to Colin Powell and others who were working in the U.N. piece of the puzzle. But it is not U.N. and Iraq -- I mean, the United States and Iraq, it's the Iraq and the United Nations. So they couldn't be playing into our hands in any sense. They are doing what they have done to the United Nations over a period of many, many years, and that's to defy them.

MCINTYRE: Let me ask you about inspections, because I listened very carefully to what you said this week as you were testifying before the House and the Senate about inspections, and you seemed to very clearly say that you didn't think inspections could work. You said that they tend not to be effective when the target is determined not to be disarmed. But at the same time, the U.S. seems to be pressing for this resolution for inspections. How do you square that?

RUMSFELD: I wasn't aware that the United States was pressing for a resolution for inspections. And I don't believe it's correct. I think the president's speech is the United States government's position.

There are various other countries that are floating resolutions of various types, including a number that involve inspections. There's no question about that, and certainly they are being discussed with the United States representatives. But I -- to my knowledge, the United States has not proposed any resolution that suggests inspections.

What I -- I'd like to clarify, or at least amplify, on what I said, or what you read that I said. I said a good deal about it, but I said that inspections do have a place in the world if the country is cooperative. And the goal is disarmament. The goal is not inspections. And inspections can work if a country is cooperative and they want to prove to the world that they have, in fact, disarmed. That is when inspections work because you can go in and inspect and then validate what that country has done by way of disarming.

In this instance, one would -- to favor inspections, one would have to make a conscious judgment that Iraq was cooperative. And that means they'd have to review the past decade and come to that conclusion. And that's a difficult thing for a reasonable person to do, it seems to me.

MCINTYRE: You were also pressed this week about whether there was anything short of war that Saddam Hussein could do. And you seemed to indicate -- well, one thing you suggested was he could leave, perhaps seek asylum somewhere. Is that a practical possibility?

RUMSFELD: Only he would know.

MCINTYRE: Where could he go?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness. I'm sure there are countries that would be delighted to have him. There are countries that have taken Baby Doc Duvalier and Idi Amin Dada and the Ethiopian dictator.

MCINTYRE: Would that be acceptable to the United States if Saddam Hussein was able to leave with perhaps a large sum of money and live comfortably in some other country?

RUMSFELD: The goal of -- that is a question for the president, not for me. The goal, in my view, is that Saddam Hussein not be a threat and not have the relationships they do with terrorist states and not threaten their neighbors and not have weapons of mass destruction programs.

If Saddam Hussein decided to take a handful of his family and senior leaders and go away and no longer would Iraq have those weapons and no longer would they threaten their neighbor, I think that would be a -- I personally think that would be a good thing for the world. But whether it's reasonable or not, I have no idea.

MCINTYRE: Let me take you back about...

RUMSFELD: I was being pressed by senators asking me if there's any way that it could happen, and certainly that's one way .

MCINTYRE: Well, let me take you back about 20 years ago. The date, I believe, was December 20th, 1983, you were meeting with Saddam Hussein. Tell me what was going on during this meeting.

RUMSFELD: Well, Iraq was in a battle, war with Iran. And the United States had just had 241 Marines killed. And President Reagan asked me to take a leave of absence from my company and serve as a temporary special envoy, and I traveled throughout the Middle East for a period of months. And we were trying to get the Syrians to get out of Lebanon and stop killing Americans at the Marine barracks. And among other things, we believed that it would be helpful if Saddam Hussein's Iraq would behave in a way in that region that would be helpful to our goals with respect to Syria and the terrorist threat that existed. And we decided it was worth having me go in and meet with him.

In that visit, I cautioned him about the use of chemical weapons, as a matter or fact, and discussed a host of other things.

MCINTYRE: You were pressed during the briefings -- during the hearings this week by Senator Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, on the question of whether the U.S., in any way, aided Saddam Hussein in his chemical weapons program. At the time, during the hearings, you said you had no knowledge of it. Have you looked into it since then?

RUMSFELD: I had no knowledge. I have no knowledge today. I also, I think, advised him that I thought it was most unfortunate that even the implication of that would be raised simply because of some article that somebody wrote. I cannot believe that that would be true, and certainly I would have had absolutely nothing do with it.

The cables from the visit I had with Saddam Hussein and [Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister] Tariq Aziz indicate that I cautioned them about their own chemical program, let alone what was suggested by the Senate hearing.

MCINTYRE: Again, listening very carefully to the words that you said this week, I got the distinct impression that there's nothing Saddam Hussein could do that would result in him remaining in power. There's no way he could comply with what you expect of him. Is that true? Is there any way that Saddam Hussein could do something and remain in power?

RUMSFELD: Well, the president set forth the problems to the U.N. The U.N., over a period of 11 years, has set forth the problems to Iraq. Clearly, a regime, a government in Iraq that ended and disarmed weapons of mass destruction programs, stopped threatening their neighbors, stopped repressing their people, and where the people would be freed of the terribly vicious regime that's imposed on them, would solve the problem.

Now, is he capable of behaving in that manner? You're as good a judge as I.

MCINTYRE: Secretary Rumsfeld, you're going to an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers next week in Poland. And I understand you're carrying a U.S. proposal for a rapid reaction force. Tell me about that.

RUMSFELD: Well, if you think what we've been trying to do in transforming our military, it is to enable our forces to respond more quickly, to do it with a smaller number of -- a smaller footprint, as we say here at the Pentagon, and to be capable of dealing with the problem, a variety, a range of problems, very quickly.

NATO is an important institution. It's a military alliance. We're a significant member of it. And my proposal is really no different than the kind of thing we've been doing here in the United States. Suggesting that one of the transformational things NATO could do would be to develop a quick reaction force that would be able to respond to a problem in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months, and to have the kind of agility to deal with the types of problems that exist today.

MCINTYRE: Is this a move on the U.S. part to push NATO more into what they call "out-of-area operations?" For instance, will you be pressing NATO allies to take a bigger role in Afghanistan, perhaps in the International Security Assistance Force?

RUMSFELD: Well, that's two questions. In answer to the first question, no, it's not a matter of pushing NATO into doing more things out of the area. They have to decide that in each case, as they have in the past.

And they have a variety of ways of doing it. They can do it as NATO, or they can do it with a NATO command structure that then brings in other countries besides NATO countries, as we have, for example, in Bosnia or Kosovo.

But with respect to what NATO might or might not do in Afghanistan, that would be totally disconnected from the proposal that the United States will be making in Warsaw later this week.

MCINTYRE: What kind of a pitch will you be making to the NATO allies, many of whom are still reluctant about supporting the United States for possible military action in Iraq? I think only really Great Britain has said it would support unilateral action by the United States. Everybody else seems to be waiting for some sort of U.N. imprimatur to be put on the action. What kind of a case will you be making to those allies?

RUMSFELD: We'll certainly discussing the situation as it's evolving.

I think you're technically incorrect and there are other countries that have indicated either publicly or privately that they're in a position to be quite cooperative with respect to what the United States might or might not do with respect to Iraq.

MCINTYRE: One of the NATO allies, Germany, is in the middle of an election campaign. In fact, there will be elections there tomorrow. And there's been a thread of anti-American sentiment in some of those election statements.

Will you be meeting with your German counterpart? Do you think that will come up at all? And do you find that helpful or unhelpful?

RUMSFELD: The German government recently released its defense minister. Whether or not the replacement for that person will be in Warsaw, I have no idea. I certainly have no plans to meet with that person when I'm there.

MCINTYRE: What about Russia? You met with the Russian defense minister here. Russia is a key to what happens in the United Nations Security Council. The Russian officials who were here in Washington this week seemed to indicate that they thought Iraq might be fairly close to complying with disarmament.

How far apart is the United States and Russia, and what needs to be done there?

RUMSFELD: I think it would not be correct to suggest that either one of the ministers suggested that Iraq was close to disarmament. I think you might go away from some of the comments they made saying that they favor inspections, and that Iraq might be close to agreeing to some sort of inspections. I didn't hear everything they said here, but at least in the meetings with me, I would characterize it that way. I think that Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov will be in Warsaw. We did talk about Iraq while he was here. He and his foreign minister had a meeting with President Bush that was -- where the president spoke very forcefully about his views on Iraq and indicated that he had, only hours before, had a discussion on the phone with President Putin of Russia.

So certainly, President Bush and Colin Powell are working with the Russians on this matter.

MCINTYRE: The U.S., we're told, has some 800 troops in the East African nation of Djibouti, including some special forces. What are they doing there?

RUMSFELD: We have troops in a number of locations around the world, and the Horn of Africa has been an area that is of interest from the standpoint of the global war on terrorism. And we've gotten some very good cooperation from some countries in that part of the world, on the Horn. And they have a variety of purposes. And I just don't really get into the details what they're doing in different places.

MCINTYRE: In fact, Yemen just recently rounded up a couple of more al Qaeda suspects. Was there any U.S. involvement in that?

RUMSFELD: That particular action was done totally by the Yemeni forces. You're right, we do have forces in Yemen, and we have been assisting them with some training, and they have been cooperating with the global war on terrorism. And we have been pleased with the actions that they've taken recently to try to round up al Qaeda terrorists.

MCINTYRE: You know, no interview would be complete if we didn't touch on the subject of Osama bin Laden. Has his trail gone cold? Is there any more evidence about his fate?

RUMSFELD: Except in the media, I've not heard much about him. Indeed, I don't believe I've seen a hard piece of information that would persuade me that he was alive since last December, and it's now September.

He may be alive. He may be dead. He may be injured. But I've not seen anything that persuades me that I could have high confidence with respect to any one of these three answers.

MCINTYRE: So you're not of the growing opinion he might be dead?

RUMSFELD: Well, back in February and March, I indicated he might be dead.

MCINTYRE: Well, we'll leave it there.

RUMSFELD: But I just don't know. And I don't believe other people who speculate know.

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