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Pentagon Briefing

Aired May 24, 2002 - 10:36   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And we have breaking news right now. Actually, it's not so much breaking news as it is the Pentagon briefing. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is now taking questions from reporters.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... remains over time in a position to do whatever the civilian leadership of the country asks it to do, and this department is clearly in a position to do what the civilian leadership has asked us to do or may ask us to do.

With respect to any one country, we obviously don't get into discussions about what conceivably could be done. And I don't mean to give that as a pointed answer to Iraq, it's a pointed answer to any country you might have happened to have mentioned. We simply don't discuss that subject.

QUESTION: Might I follow up? Are you receiving mixed messages or one message from your military leadership that perhaps this might not be the time, given other pressures in the war on terrorism, to invade Iraq?

RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, we've not proposed that a country be invaded to the military, therefore I don't know that it would -- I think it would probably be incorrect to say that the military has proposed something other than what I've proposed or anyone else has proposed.

The problem with -- first of all, there is no military as such, just like there's no Europe and there's no administration. There are elements, there are people. And obviously you can find someone in a uniform who will tell you just about anything you want to be told.

And the idea that there's some sort of a single voice that speaks from this building, either on the civilian side or the military side, is simply not true, until the president makes a decision about something, in which case, people recognize that that's the elected leadership of our country, and then we go about our business trying to fulfill it to the best of our ability.

But I think that it would be inaccurate to characterize -- maybe, you'd like to comment.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS VICE CHMN.: I can't imagine a more robust flow of information between the military officers and the civilian leadership. Daily, the chairman and the vice chairman, the secretary and the dep-sec-defs sit down first thing in the morning and discuss world events. And as the day unfolds, we get together several times a day.

The Joint Chiefs have access and are involved in a dialog, so any portrayal of there being a lack of opportunity or anything other than what it truly is, which is an open dialog between the civilian leadership and military leadership is inaccurate, and I very much appreciate the opportunity I have to speak my mind on whatever topic I decide that I should speak up on.

QUESTION: So if you didn't feel it was time (inaudible) feel free to say so?

PACE: I'm not going to go to that point.

(LAUGHTER)

I would tell you that I absolutely, not only feel free, but I feel duty bound to speak my mind to the civilian leadership of this country when it comes to operations involving the military.

RUMSFELD: I would want to underline something I...

(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE REPORT)

COSTELLO: We want to go back to the Pentagon live now and check in again with Donald Rumsfeld.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

RUMSFELD: ... the rate of usage of different things changes. And so your assumptions are that you go into something saying to yourself, "I've got 100 percent of what I would likely need for that." But then you get into something and you discover, "My goodness." You're using it at a rate that's different, which means that you've actually got 200 percent, and you don't need half of what you got. Or you using more at a faster rate, and therefore you've only got 50 percent of what you think you might need.

And then what you do is work with the people who make these various capabilities and either start getting rid of the things you don't need or increasing the things you do need. And it's a constant process. It's not complicated.

How'd I do?

PACE: Sir, you did great. I would simply add to that that your military is ready today to execute whatever mission the civilian leadership of this country gives us to do.

The fact of the matter is, the more time you had to prepare for that kind of mission, whatever it is, the more elegant the solution could be. But as we learned on September 11, we don't always get the chance to pick when we have to respond. And when you think about what your military did for you between 11 September and 7 October when they mustered the force and went to a landlocked country, halfway around the world that we weren't even thinking about having to go to combat in, it gives you some flavor for the flexibility that we bring to the table.

So I'm very comfortable that whether we have warning or not, that we'll be ready to respond.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, but it is true that the military has said repeatedly they are stretched to thin. They need...

RUMSFELD: Wait a minute, "the military has said repeatedly," now come on.

QUESTION: How about uniformed officers?

RUMSFELD: You just heard what he said. He's in one.

QUESTION: Aren't there other branches in the military?

RUMSFELD: Well, sure there are other branches. But the military does not say what you just said they say. Individuals from certain parts of the country -- world will say that this or that needs to be increased or decreased. That happens all the time. It happens in war time, it happens in peace time.

QUESTION: Many officers and also members of Congress have said repeatedly, recently over recent months, "They're stretched too thin. They need more people, thousands of more people."

QUESTION: So wouldn't it lead one to believe that if you were to engage in another military conflict that it would be a problem, you would be stretched thin, even more so?

RUMSFELD: I thought he just answered it. I thought he answered it well.

PACE: One thing I would add to that would be the fact that, in fact, as directed by the secretary, we are looking at what we're doing worldwide that we've been doing for many, many years to determine whether or not the mission that we went on X years ago is still a valid mission and are there things that we can do to reduce the number of things we may be doing that are no longer needed.

But as far as our current missions and responsibilities and projected ones, I'm very comfortable that we are ready to respond. RUMSFELD: You know, just a little footnote in history. I believe the record will show that nine-tenths of everything that was taken over to the Middle East to fight the war of Desert Storm a decade or so ago was brought back unused. Now, what does that suggest? It suggests that...

QUESTION: Overkill.

RUMSFELD: Well, no, no. What it suggests is it's hard to know precisely what you think might be necessary and you want to be safe, so you have more than you think you're going to need.

But that's not irrelevant. When you hear people say what they're saying to you, and then you hear someone in uniform stand up and say to the world what General Pace just said, and you want to, kind of, weigh them, I'd give a little more weight to Pete myself.

QUESTION: Well, just follow up to what you said. Nine-tenths they brought home. So you're saying next time you won't have to bring nearly as much?

RUMSFELD: I didn't say a word. I just said it's an interesting little footnote in history.

QUESTION: Can I shift gears for a second to something else completely: Iran? The president, on the trip to Europe, in the last couple of days, has talked about his concerns about Russia's nuclear relationship with Iran, and in particular Iran's efforts to get nuclear weapons.

I wondered if you can shed any light, your views, on your concerns about the progress you are worried about that Iran may be making in its nuclear program, the proliferation risk that that would pose on Iran, and whether you also have concerns that Russia has an ongoing nuclear relationship with Iran that is of concern to you?

RUMSFELD: Wow, I've just been asked the question that leads to an answer which is then characterized as inflammatory in the media, and the question is, should I refuse to answer...

QUESTION: No...

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: ... and therefore not be accused of being inflammatory or alarmist or something, or should I just give the same honest answer I've given for six, eight, 10, 12 months?

QUESTION: The same honest answer.

RUMSFELD: All right, if you will promise not to characterize it as inflammatory or alarmist or anything.

QUESTION: Well, there are a lot of witnesses in the room...

RUMSFELD: OK. You bet I'm concerned about Iran and its unambiguous effort to develop -- already has some weapons of mass destruction but to develop the full spectrum of weapons of mass destruction. It's clear. Its unambiguous. And that is something that has been discussed in roughly the same tone of voice by me and by dozens of people over a prolonged period of time. It's not new. The president's concerned about it. And the president, apparently, has raised it in his meetings in Europe, with, I suspect, more than one friend and ally. It's something that we raise repeatedly in meetings with other countries, because it's something that ought to be of concern to that region and to the world.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the assessment that some people make that now Iran could be within several months of having some sort of usable, realistic nuclear device? Do you think they're years away? Do you think they're making recent progress in nuclear weapons?

RUMSFELD: Oh, there's no question about it. They've been getting assistance, and they've been making good progress and they've been determined to accomplish that goal.

And I'm not going to get into how long it will take them, but there's no question but that they're on a path to achieve that. And they're receiving assistance from countries they shouldn't. QUESTION: Follow-up on that: Pointing down to the missile defense issue, there was a report today that they've launched their fifth Shahab-3 flight test.

QUESTION: A, is that true? B, what's the significance in terms of the regional threat on missiles? And, C, what's your concern about this is a reminder that Russia is actively helping Iran develop that missile?

RUMSFELD: They've been getting help from North Korea, for example, with respect to missiles. They also have developed their own indigenous capability to produce ballistic missiles of increasing range. I have not seen any data that I could answer the question about the Shahab test that you're referring to.

Have you?

PACE: No, sir. I have not.

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