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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired December 23, 2002 - 11:01   ET

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

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about to begin the briefing.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: First, I want to express my personal sympathies to the family of Army Sergeant Steven Checo, who was killed last Friday when his unit came under attack from hostile forces in Afghanistan. We deeply appreciate his courageous service while defending the country he loved.

Journalism, too, can be a difficult and dangerous assignment. We also want to express sympathies to the family of Patrick Bourrat, the French journalist who died Saturday in the Kuwaiti desert.

On Thursday of last week, the administration set forth the inadequacies of the Iraqi declaration, which is described as, "failing to meet the U.N. resolution's requirements," unquote. The U.S. is continuing to discuss with members of the Security Council how to gain Iraq's compliance with its international obligations.

Thanks to President Bush's leadership, the U.N. passed a unanimous resolution giving Iraq an opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations, and inspectors are back in the country for the first time in many years.

We've arrived at this point because of the growing international diplomatic and military pressure. The moment Saddam and his ruling clique seem to feel that they're out of danger, they will undoubtedly see no incentive to comply with their international obligations. That is why, after the passage of Resolution 1441, the U.S. and coalition countries are continuing to take steps to keep pressure on the regime.

Among other things, we've continued patrolling the skies over the north and south no-fly zones, we've continued developing a humanitarian relief and reconstruction plan for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq; we've continued working with the Iraqi opposition; we've taken steps to prepare for a post-Saddam transition; and we're continuing to work with friends and allies to keep the military pressure on Iraq.

RUMSFELD: For example, the recent Internal Look exercise in Qatar, tested the new Central Command's deployable headquarters. I was there week before last, General Myers was there last week. And it should indicate to Iraq that the U.S. and its coalition partners are prepared to act if necessary.

Similarly, we're taking prudent and deliberate steps with respect to alerts and mobilizations and deployments of U.S. forces, active Guard and Reserve. These include alerting reserve combat, combat support and combat service support forces; deployment of combat and combat support forces needed to pave the way for future deployments -- in the event that that becomes necessary -- activating mobilizations bases for processing of reserved components.

I expect that we and others could continue to make prudent force flow decisions in the weeks and months ahead, depending on the degree of Iraqi cooperation.

RUMSFELD: None of these step reflect a decision by the president or the United Nations or anyone close, to my knowledge, to use force. The president has not made such a decision.

Rather, they are intended to support the diplomatic efforts that are under way to enhance force protection in the region and elsewhere in the world, including the United States, and to make clear to the Iraqi regime that they need to comply with the U.N. obligations.

In the period ahead, we'll continue to work with the United Nations member states to encourage Iraqi compliance. As the president said, the use of force is the last choice. The goal is for Iraq to comply with U.N. resolutions.

This is our last scheduled briefing this year. It's been an eventful one for military and media alike. Reporting can indeed be difficult and dangerous, as we saw last week. I salute you and your colleagues for your professionalism, and I wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday.

Last, I want the men and women in uniform to know how much we appreciate the sacrifice, especially those who are serving far from home and loved ones during this special time of year. All Americans know that our country can celebrate this season of peace only because the armed forces of the United States voluntarily stand ready to defend freedom and defeat terror, and we are grateful to each one of them.

General Myers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Good morning, and thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I just got back this morning from a troop visit to Qatar, Afghanistan and Kuwait, and I can tell you that our young men and women on the front lines of this global war on terrorism are doing a superb job.

They are highly motivated, despite being away from families during this holiday season. And they're ready to take on any mission that our nation may ask of them.

On one sad note, the secretary mentioned the death of Sergeant Steven Checo. I was in Baghran just six hours after his death. As you know, he died because of firefight near Shkin. His unit is based at Kandahar. And we went there later in the day and, as you could imagine, the troops there were clearly saddened by the lost of one of their own.

So I would like to add my condolences to those of the secretary for Sergeant Checo's family.

As the secretary said, we are continuing our deliberate and steady force buildup in the region. It's important to posture our forces appropriately to compliment our diplomatic efforts. We want to ensure we can act quickly should it be necessary.

With me on the trip was comedian Drew Carey and baseball great, Roger Clemens. They were a great morale boost to the troops for our folks serving in those tough front-line positions. And I want to publicly thank both of them for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet and entertain our troops. They were absolutely tireless in their efforts.

And I also want to thank the USO and the Armed Forces Entertainment Office for sponsoring them.

This morning at 7:30 a.m., Eastern Standard time, a U.S.-manned Predator reconnaissance vehicle was reported missing in southern Iraq after being fired upon by Iraqi military aircraft. The Predator is assume lost.

And with that, I think we'll end there and take your questions.

QUESTION: Charlie's spot.

RUMSFELD: You're in (ph) Charlie's spot?

QUESTION: Yes, I'm Charlie's spot?

On North Korea, the North Koreans announced steps to unfreeze a reactor that's been idle since 1994 in a nonproliferation pact with the United States.

QUESTION: Some experts think the North has been emboldened by current U.S. preoccupation with Iraq. Do you share that analysis? And is the United States any less likely to resort to the use of force in North Korea because of the focus on Iraq and the war on terror?

RUMSFELD: I have no reason to believe that you're correct that North Korea feels emboldened because of the world's interest in Iraq. If they do, it would be a mistake.

QUESTION: But the United States is no longer postured to fight two major regional wars at a time, since the QDR. Are you saying that, in fact, the United States is entirely capable of pursuing the war against terror, Iraq and North Korea at the same time?

RUMSFELD: The answer to the last question is yes, we are perfectly capable of doing that which is necessary.

And second, I would correct your first portion of your question in this way. You said, I believe, that we're no longer capable of fighting two major regional conflicts since the Quadrennial Defense Review. That's false. We had limitations and shortcomings prior to the Quadrennial Defense Review. The Quadrennial Defense Review was a reflection of reality.

Second, we are capable of fighting two major regional conflicts, as the national strategy and the force-sizing construct clearly indicates. We're capable of winning decisively in one and swiftly defeating in the case of the other, and let there be no doubt about it.

MYERS: Can I make a comment on the North Korean reactor? I heard on the radio this morning that North Korea's claiming that they're restarting it to add electricity to their country. And the fact is, as I'm told, is that that reactor adds negligible electricity to the power grid in North Korea, and most of the electricity it produces is consumed by the reactor itself to run things.

QUESTION: But the big question is, what happens if they move to reprocess the plutonium from the spent fuel rods that are currently under seal at Yongbyon?

The Clinton administration had drawn a kind of red line, saying that it was ready to use force if the North Koreans moved to use that plutonium. Is that also the policy of the Bush administration?

RUMSFELD: The situation today is somewhat different from then. And it is, as you know, a subject that has been under intensive discussion by the president of the United States with the People's Republic of China, with Russia, with Japan and with South Korea, and those discussions are ongoing.

Yes?

QUESTION: General Myers, do you see today's action by the Iraqi aircraft issue -- downed this drone, penetrating the southern no-fly zone -- as an escalation of things we've been seeing in the no-fly zone with the recent firings there (ph)?

MYERS: I don't. We've lost to other Predators, I believe, to hostile fire in southern Iraq. They attempt to shoot down all our aircraft that fly over southern and northern Iraq in support of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. They got a lucky shot today and they brought down the Predator. But I do not see it as an explanation. It's been something they've bee doing for literally the last couple of years.

RUMSFELD: I think that's an assumption on our part.

MYERS: Yes.

RUMSFELD: It is not a fact. We do not know for sure that it was shot down.

MYERS: We're still looking at...

RUMSFELD: We know we've lost communications with it. QUESTION: Your thoughts on the fact that there have been these increased firings, and this firing today as the Iraqis are saying that they're completely complying on all fronts with the U.N. resolution.

RUMSFELD: Well, they obviously aren't. And they've been making a strenuous energetic effort to shoot down U.S. aircraft for many, many, many months now -- manned and unmanned.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, both you and General Myers mentioned it vaguely, but I wondered if you could elaborate a little bit on the deployment, the massive buildup of air, land and sea forces in the next month, and what sort of message...

RUMSFELD: I don't know that we said anything about massive buildups of air, land and sea forces in the next month.

I don't think you did or I did.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are you going to do that.

RUMSFELD: First of all, we don't announce alerts or activations or deployments. Never have; I doubt if we ever will, unless it's for some domestic emergency of some type, like a forest fire.

What I did do was to specify that no decision has been made with respect to the use of force. It is the president's last choice, not the first choice.

However, there wouldn't be inspectors back in Iraq had there not been and were there not now the possibility of the use of force. And as a result, the United States, and I presume some other countries, will from time to time be making decisions with respect to how to manage that capability on our part in a way that is consistent with the diplomacy and with our -- the world's desire to have Iraq comply with the U.N. resolutions.

If you think about it, a decision was made a number of years ago for the United States military to put in the reserves and the Guard, as opposed to the active forces, a whole set of capabilities that are necessary if you are going to in fact be engaged in the use of force. That means that you cannot do the things you normally would do with active forces -- to prepare ports and prepare air fields and to train people and to begin that process of being able to respond in the event the president makes such a decision, without activating reserve and Guard.

So we're doing that. It's a shame that we're organized that way, and we intend to see that we're no longer organized that way in the future. But at present we are organized that way.

Second, there are, in the case of Guard and reserve, some instances where they need 30, 60, 90 days notice. They have to get their teeth fixed. They have to fill out papers. They have to get training. They have to get (inaudible) equipment up to speed. And as a result, unless you want to wait 30, 60, 90 days, if and when the president were to make such a decision, you have to take steps now.

And as a result, what we're doing is, in some instances we're not even alerting. What we're doing is, we're saying, "Here is an alert order, not that we intend to activate you or mobilize you or deploy. But we intend to give you an alert so that you can get all that stuff done, get your paperwork through, get your teeth fixed, get your medical exams, do the kinds of things that needed to be done, so that it won't take 30, 60, 90 days in the event we need your services."

So that is the process that's taking place, and it is in a very orderly and deliberate and prudent way. Dick Myers and I have spent many, many hours with the individuals who manage this.

At the present time, the Department of Defense is malorganized (ph) to deal with something like this. We tend to be organized to either do everything or do nothing.

And what we're trying to do is to -- here we've got the control over the activation of Guard and reserve in the services, the three services, the four services.

We have -- the Joint Forces Command has a voice in all of this, and in some cases there are capabilities in the combatant commander's hands. So you've got all of these six or eight different places where you may want to bring forces to a different state of readiness.

So we're working with all of them and trying to get those threads up through the needle head so that it remains clear to the Iraqis that it's in their best interest to disarm. And in the event that the president does make such a decision, he has the ability to do it in some reasonable period of time.

It is not a simple thing to do, what we're working very hard trying to do it in a way that doesn't unduly inconvenience a group of people by activating them before they're needed. So it's a process that's going to be going forward as we move ahead.

QUESTION: But, General Myers, would you also say this might also put a little bit of pressure on Saddam Hussein, ratchet up diplomacy?

MYERS: I think we've always said that this is going to complement the other diplomacy that's going on. Certainly, he has to know that the world is serious about the U.N. SCR 1441. And after all, it becomes his decision then how he wants to respond.

RUMSFELD: There wouldn't be any inspectors in there now if he weren't concerned about that. That's for sure.

QUESTION: But why do we continue to think that Iraq is a bigger threat than North Korea, especially given this weekend's developments?

RUMSFELD: We've been over this a number of times. The three...

QUESTION: But this is the first time since -- I mean, this is a much more severe (ph) development.

RUMSFELD: That's true. That's true.

But I mean the three countries in the axis of evil are each different, each represents a danger to the world, and they're quite different in their circumstance.

They went through a long period of years, with respect to Iraq, with respect to diplomacy, and it fail flat on its face. The diplomacy didn't do any good. The inspectors have been out for years. The Iraqi regime has thumbed their noses at the United Nations annually for a good period time. Now, at some point, if the United Nations is going to be relevant it has to decide how comfortable is it allowing its resolutions to be totally ignored.

The situation in North Korea is a fairly recent one. The diplomacy that's under way there is in its early stages with the United States and the interested neighboring countries. It seems to me a perfectly rational way to be proceeding.

Yes?

QUESTION: Over the weekend, there were some statements from Saddam's regime inviting U.S. government personnel, the CIA, along on the inspection. Do you have any response to that...

RUMSFELD: I have no idea what the decision will be with respect to that. I read the same statements. I'm not sure if they're accurate or if they were actually given by responsible people there. And I don't know quite what the United States might consider doing.

RUMSFELD: I suppose they invited intelligence people. And as I recall, I suppose the intel community is thinking about that at the present time.

Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I have a question to you and one to General Myers. To you, sir, do you think it's theoretically possible that the inspectors would stay for a long time in Iraq and prevent any development of weapons of mass destruction by their very presence and the alert they might get from satellites from the U.S.?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. As we've said, the purpose of inspectors, U.N. inspectors, is not to go into a discovery process and it's not a deterrent or preventative technique, historically. As your question suggested, conceivably could be.

In fact, what it's been -- it has only worked in situations where the country has decided to cooperate, and the country says, "I want to prove to the world that we do not have these things. And if we do have them, we'll destroy them." And they invite the inspectors in so that the international community can say, "Ah ha, you're right. They're cooperating. They're doing exactly what we wanted to them to do. And isn't that a good thing?"

Inspectors have never been successful in terms of a discovery process. it's an enormous country. You know, it's bigger than Texas, or as big, I guess. I haven't looked lately. But it is a very big place. And they've got enormous, miles and miles and miles of underground tunneling. I mean, I don't know how inspectors on the surface of the earth can even know what's going on in the underground facilities that the Iraqis have.

So I just don't know the answer to your question.

QUESTION: General Myers, do you have any -- can you shed light on the circumstances of the death of Patrick Bourrat? There are different versions on how he died and where, whether it was in a (OFF- MIKE) or on the spot.

RUMSFELD: Well, there were a lot of press people standing right there watching.

MYERS: I was in Kuwait right after that, matter of fact. And there was a field exercise that reporters were permitted to observe. And there was an observation place for the press corps, safe distance away for tanks. And I think armored personnel carriers were moving by.

MYERS: And my understanding is that the reporter...

RUMSFELD: Is he a reporter or a photographer?

QUESTION: A reporter.

RUMSFELD: Is he?

MYERS: ... left the observation area and went very close to where these vehicles were moving down this path trying to get a picture, I'm told, and was hit by one of the tanks -- and of course they're 60 tons or more -- and my understanding is was hit in the chest and passed away in the hospital actually.

RUMSFELD: But the report we received is that he departed from the controlled area where there was engineering tape. And the report I received also was that he was taking a photograph. I don't know that that's true, but that's what (inaudible).

MYERS: The tank driver, as soon as he caught the vision of this person, brought the 60 tons to a halt as fast as he could, but the individual was already hit. And that's, obviously...

QUESTION: But the cameraman has a slightly different version. He's saying that he actually tried to warn a photographer and was hit. And also...

RUMSFELD: You mean there was a different photographer out there?

QUESTION: Yes. Well, I don't really know myself. But, I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: It's amazing to me that... QUESTION: ... and the Pentagon have a slightly different version. And also...

RUMSFELD: I don't have a version.

QUESTION: No? OK.

RUMSFELD: There must have been a lot of press people there, and it's hard for me to believe that with all those press people standing there, that they can't find a reasonably agreed-upon conclusion as to what actually took place. So I would think -- and clearly the Pentagon does not have a version. We were not there. There were a lot of press people there, and there were people from Central Command in Kuwait who were physically there.

MYERS: And were on scene...

RUMSFELD: And they've spoken.

MYERS: ... and within minutes, I know that. And that's the ones I've talked to.

RUMSFELD: And it's a terrible shame. Just a shame.

MYERS: It is.

QUESTION: General Myers, could I ask you to go back over one thing you said. You said that the United States is continuing its deliberate and steady buildup and that you want to ensure you can act quickly if necessary. Do you have some indication or any reason -- or do you have any concerns at the moment that Saddam Hussein could suddenly make some aggressive move in this period of time? Are you now postured to deal with any aggressive move that he might make?

And my other question is, given all of that, is the United States, has the Bush administration made the commitment to let the inspectors get out of Iraq before any hypothetical military action would take place?

MYERS: On the first part -- and I think the secretary covered it in his statement, I covered it in mine, I believe -- I think we remain postured. You know, one of the reasons we conduct Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch under the previous United Nations Security Council resolutions is to ensure that the Iraqi regime can't attack the Kurdish population as it has done in the past, to make sure they can't attack the Shi'a population, as it has done in the past. That's part of what we're doing over there.

So we are -- yes, we're ready and postured, and have been, for some time to know when that might be happening and then take appropriate action. And I don't think we're worried, particularly worried one way or the other. This has been a potential for the last 10 years anyway.

I might remind you that he also, in the north, also used chemical weapons on the Kurdish population. And so that's part of the reasons we're over there.

This buildup...

RUMSFELD: It's one of the reasons for the northern and southern no-fly zone.

QUESTION: (inaudible) -- I do want to also ask about the question of inspectors -- is...

RUMSFELD: Wait a second. You were...

MYERS: I think I'm done with that part of it. I was just going to say that, as we said in our opening statements, of course, now we're under a new U.N. Security Council resolution, 1441, we think by posturing our forces over there. As the secretary said, we probably wouldn't have a 1441 and we wouldn't have the compliance -- as poor as it's been up to this date -- by the Iraqis if it hadn't been for the fact that we have forces postured in the region to be ready to take whatever action is necessary.

MYERS: So we'll continue that deliberate force flow that we've been conducting now for several months.

RUMSFELD: And then you asked -- the second question before you started with a third was about inspectors getting out?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) commitment to let the inspectors get out before any hypothetical military action would begin?

RUMSFELD: We're in close touch with the inspectors on deconfliction, on all kinds of things. When they go south of the 33 and are they going to go north at 36, we know it and we work with them.

QUESTION: But do you have a commitment to let them get out?

RUMSFELD: We don't have commitments to do anything. I said, we are in very close coordination with the inspectors and we deconflict. And obviously that is something that we do just in the normal course of things. It doesn't have anything to do with commitments or lack of commitments. It has to do with just orderly good business.

Yes?

QUESTION: Could you, General Myers, give us, maybe, narratives of both the firefight in Afghanistan and what happened with the Predator, and the Predator -- was a U.S. aircraft able to give chase? Did they see it on radar? Was the Predator armed?

In Afghanistan, was it an ambush and what was the outcome of the...

(AUDIO GAP)

MYERS: ... situation and what they know. On the first, since I got to Baghran shortly after that happened, I was briefed on it. To some extent, it was our forces that saw a group of individuals, that they approached them, mounted and then dismounted. And these individuals started to flee, but firing back as they were fleeing. And one of the shots obviously, or unfortunately, hit Sergeant Checo. And that was the situation.

QUESTION: And did they get away?

MYERS: Not to go into too much detail, but we think we know one of the aggressors was killed. And we think a couple of more have been picked up, traced back with some help from coalition partner and traced back to a hospital and picked up actually.

QUESTION: Mr Secretary, some Iraqi opposition members have been vocal saying -- should President Bush order some military action in Iraq -- asking that the Iraqi army soldiers be spared from an initial attack because if it happened, they believe large numbers of them would turn on Saddam immediately. Is that something that you believe would happen, should an attack come to fruition?

RUMSFELD: I guess I don't really get into the beliefs, mights, should, hypotheticals.

The fact of the matter is, in the Gulf War, 70,000-80,000 of the Iraqi army surrendered almost instantaneously in a matter of hours and days. I think it's not unreasonable to suspect that the same might occur in even larger numbers in this instance.

RUMSFELD: But it's not knowable. So, one, the combatant commander, needless to say, has to be prepared for both contingencies. He has to be prepared to cope with a situation where they do not surrender. And by the same token, he has to be prepared from a humanitarian standpoint to be prepared for a situation where they might very well. In which case, you have to suddenly switch what it is your task is. And I can assure you that General Franks has thought these things through very carefully. And there's a good deal of evidence that suggests that not everyone is terribly enthusiastic about Saddam Hussein and his regime.

Yes?

QUESTION: Is there a military option on the table for preventing North Korea from manufacturing nuclear weapons?

RUMSFELD: For preventing them from manufacturing their weapons?

QUESTION: Nuclear weapons.

RUMSFELD: Nuclear weapons.

Well, let me just put it this way, that the task of the department, one of the assignments of the department is to prepare for a whole host of contingencies. We tend not to get into details as to what those contingencies might be.

Yes?

QUESTION: What is the status of the effort to train and equip Iraqi opposition? I think the president freed up some money for that. But have you signed an order yet for that to go forward?

MYERS: We have allocated -- the secretary has approved, I think it was just a little bit over $9 million to do some of the preparation of the training facility. We're still in the process of vetting the individuals that might be trained. And we look to start training them potentially right after the first of the year or some time after the first of the year.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Hungary has announced their readiness to do it. But I didn't... RUMSFELD: If I said yes, that would then suggest that that might be the only place where it might be done, which would not be accurate, necessarily accurate. It might also not be inaccurate, but I'm...

(LAUGHTER)

... but I'm disinclined...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: I know. I'm disinclined to mislead anyone.

RUMSFELD: So I'll...

QUESTION: How many folks are you going to train?

RUMSFELD: It's a number that's low at the present time and growing.

QUESTION: What kind of vetting process are these individuals going through?

RUMSFELD: Very carefully.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned diplomacy on North Korea, but probably the most important country that we're not talking to is North Korea. And some of our allies seem to think that there's...

RUMSFELD: We're not talking to them? Assistant Secretary Kelly was over there. That's when they took the occasion to announce that they were trashing every one of their international agreements. How can you say we're not talking to them?

QUESTION: But are we talking to them now. We'll be talking to them about this particular...

RUMSFELD: This is State Department stuff. And I thought I indicated earlier that, yes, we are engaged in a process of discussions -- the United States, President Bush, Secretary Powell -- with the People's Republic of China, with Russian Federation, with Japan and the Republic of Korea. And that process is ongoing. There are a variety of interactions taking place.

QUESTION: Is our rhetoric in any way responsible for pushing them to the point where they feel like the only option that they have is to pull these restrictions off and start going down the road again of building nuclear weapons?

RUMSFELD: That's an interesting question, one of those like, "Stop me before I kill again," that type of thing?

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, really. Their actions are a result of decisions by the leadership of the country. The leadership of the country is currently repressing its people, starving its people, has large numbers of its people in concentration camps, driving people to try to leave the country through China and other methods, starving these people. Their economy is in the tank. People at all levels are unhappy with that leadership. It is a government that has made a whole host of decisions that had nothing to do with us.

I don't know why they decided they wanted to have those concentration camps. I have no idea why they decided that they wanted to end up, after a relatively few years, with an economy that's 1/36 the size of South Korea's.

Think of that. Here are the same people on different sides of a line and the GDP in South Korea's 36 times, or something like that -- it's close enough for government work -- that of North Korea.

Why would they do anything they do? Do you think the idea that it's the rhetoric from the United States that's causing them to starve their people or to do these idiotic things -- to try to build a nuclear power plant. They don't need a nuclear power plant. Their power grid couldn't even absorb that.

If you look at a picture from the sky of the Korean Peninsula at night, South Korea is filled with lights and energy and vitality and a booming economy; North Korea is dark. It is a tragedy what's being done in that country. And the suggestion that it is a result of rhetoric from outside, I think, misses the point. We have a very strange situation in that country.

I've got to remember that I'm speaking about diplomacy here and be diplomatic.

(LAUGHTER)

MYERS: I might just add that it was 1994, I think, is when all this came up, and they made a fundamental decision there to continue this uranium enrichment business at the same time they were allowing the IAEA to put seals on the fuel rods. And so, I mean, this has been a longstanding, obviously, policy of the North Korean regime. RUMSFELD: One of the comments by one of the people to, I'm told, to Assistant Secretary Kelly was something like what you just said: "Oh, it was your rhetoric that made us do it." And it turns out they had started doing all this well before President Bush came into office, well before the axis of evil speech.

It's utter nonsense.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that sir?

RUMSFELD: Why not.

QUESTION: Were you suggesting that the uranium enrichment activity that we confronted them with a few months ago -- Kelly -- that that had been going on since 1994?

MYERS: I think they admitted that they had been pursuing that all along.

QUESTION: Really.

RUMSFELD: I did not know that.

MYERS: If you don't know it, but maybe I don't know it.

(LAUGHTER)

Well, given that we read a lot of the same...

RUMSFELD: We do know it started well before...

QUESTION: During most of the framework agreement time, '94.

MYERS: I think I'd stick with the fact the decision was made a long, long time ago that they were going to continue on that program at the same time that they agreed to have the fuel rods under the monitor of IAEA.

QUESTION: As you work your way through the base closure process next year, will any of the bases under consideration be overseas? And if so, can you shed a little more light on that?

RUMSFELD: Yes, to both questions. There will be bases overseas that will be addressed energetically and thoughtfully. And we need to do exactly the same thing with respect to the rest of the world in our basing structure as we do in the United States of America. And it would be a mistake not to. And we fully intend to do it. And we're engaged in that process already.

Throw light on it? I'm not sure how much light I can throw on it, except to say that the same set of problems exist -- roughly the same set of issues exist overseas as exist here. We have a base structure that does not really fit the 21st century. It does not really fit the circumstances of our country and our friends an dallies around the world. And we do intend to be working with our NATO friends and allies and our friends in northeast Asia and elsewhere to see that we adjust our footprint and manage our basing structure in a way that makes sense for the future.

Yes?

QUESTION: For General Myers, I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit, other than the unfortunate death of the soldier, how did you find the rebuilding and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: I did talk to Lieutenant General Dan McNeill, who is the commander of the task force over there that's responsible for our department's activities in Afghanistan. And I think he would tell you and I believe and I think the secretary believes, that the situation in Afghanistan has improved over time. And we stood up here and talked about the facts that backed that up and the fact that 2.3 million refugees and internally (inaudible) people have moved back in, that there are a large number of nongovernmental organizations and private organizations back in their schools and so forth.

That I think the operations in about three quarters of that country will probably shift in the near future to what we call stability operations where the reconstruction that's so important for the long-term stability and prosperity of the Afghan people will take place and will enable other nongovernmental organizations and so forth to come in.

So there is still that piece of Afghanistan that is to the east, near the Pakistani border, that has about three groups in there that are not only anti-coalition and anti-the-new-transitional- administration, that being the Al Qaida, the Taliban and the Hekmatyar's group, as well. So that will be problematic for some time to come.

But generally, the trend is positive. International community has put a lot of dollars behind this. We need more. But they've put a lot of dollars toward it. And generally, a positive situation.

RUMSFELD: I have a meeting in the White House, so we're going to have to cut this. We're already 10 minutes over. We'll take two questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you just said that the North Koreans don't need a nuclear power plant. Their power grid can't even handle it. Yet, it's U.S. policy -- it has been since '94 -- to supply two lightwater nuclear reactors. Are you suggesting that that is wrong- headed (ph)?

RUMSFELD: No. I wasn't there. I didn't walk in their shows. And there's no question but that North Korean wanted exactly what they got in the agreed framework. They happened not to want it badly enough to continue with the agreed framework because they trashed it.

But I wasn't there. I don't know what was on the table. My personal view is that they would have been fine with fossil fuel electric power. They certainly need electric power, there's no question about that.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting that you would oppose... RUMSFELD: But I don't walk around the Christmas season talking about wrong-headedness (ph) or things like that. I'm much to sensitive and...

(LAUGHTER)

... into the season.

QUESTION: Notwithstanding the sensitivity, just on the matter of public policy. Would you oppose going back to plans to supply...

RUMSFELD: It's not for me. That's the State Department does those things, and I defer to them.

Pam was the last question for the day, and the good Lord willing for the year.

QUESTION: For each of you (inaudible), the training for the Kurds, what will it entail? Is it lethal training? What kind of equipment are they getting? And who's conducting it? And what are you vetting to keep out, what are the types of the characters you don't want?

And, Mr. Secretary, last time you were here you got rather exercised about keeping a management reserve fund in large acquisition accounts. Could you talk a little bit about that? Are we going to see that in this budget? Which kind of acquisition programs will get it? And how will Congress maintain its oversight if there are surplus funds? I mean, there's a potential slush fund. That's why -- they used to do this and they stopped doing it.

RUMSFELD: People who are against them call them slush funds.

QUESTION: People who are for them call them management reserves.

RUMSFELD: Exactly. Yes, I think she's got it. I think she's got it.

(LAUGHTER)

MYERS: I don't think she needs your Christmas present. I think she's got everything she needs now.

(LAUGHTER)

The forces are being trained for a variety of things. Some might be as interpreters, some might be as management of forces that have decided not to continue the battle. Others might be assisting in humanitarian activities. Others...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: And who's conducting it? Is it Special Forces or is it other coalition partners doing it?

RUMSFELD: "It" suggests that it's a single thing.

QUESTION: OK, not a single thing...

RUMSFELD: I suspect that what will be taking place is that people appropriate for each of those disciples will be doing it.

QUESTION: Americans or coalition?

RUMSFELD: Certainly Americans. How many coalition? I don't know.

Do you know that?

MYERS: I don't know.

QUESTION: And the vetting process, who is it meant to keep out?

RUMSFELD: Bad guys.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Bad like KDP?

MYERS: You can imagine that folks will infiltrate a group like this and know what's going on.

RUMSFELD: Spies.

MYERS: So just try to determine the true intentions of those that might volunteer.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: Furthermore, the United States has a set of principles with respect to Iraq, that we would like an Iraq that's disarmed of weapons of mass destruction, an Iraq that is not a threat to its neighbors, an Iraq that is a single country, an Iraq that doesn't engage in ethnic cleansing inside of its country, an Iraq that in some form or another will end up providing representation for the various elements in the country and that they'd have a voice in what happens in that country.

And therefore, when you vet, to the extent you find people who don't subscribe to those basic principles, one would add those people to the list of spies who would just as soon not train.

Have a nice holiday. And unless something untoward happens, we won't see you until the...

MYERS: Happy holidays.

RUMSFELD: Have a good holiday.

HARRIS: The year's final press briefing at the Pentagon is brought to a close by a defense secretary who seemed to work himself into a good mood, at least by the end of it, having quite interesting comments to make about North Korea.

Briefly, though, we did learn, first of all, that breaking story that we had coming into the hour about the Predator, that unmanned drone the U.S. -- that was shot down in the southern no-fly zone. He did confirm that that was shot down by an Iraqi aircraft. Still trying to figure out exactly what it was that brought it down.

And also, he said there was more evidence of continued energetic efforts to shoot down U.S. aircraft, and that this is now the third drone that's been lost there. As for North Korea, the secretary said it would be a mistake for North Korea to think that the U.S. and the world is preoccupied by the situation right now in Iraq. He said the U.S. is quite capable of carrying out activities in two different parts of the world at the same time.

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