|U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A Long and Very Valued Relationship |
U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A Long and Very Valued Relationship
DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Wednesday, October 3, 2001. Media availability at the Riyadh Conference Palace Hotel. Source: News Transcript the United States Department of Defense.
Rumsfeld: As I think Torie [Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs] may have mentioned, I've been in Saudi Arabia a number of times over the decades, and the first time I came was immediately after the 241 Marines were killed in Beirut and the United States of course was visiting its friends in the region, and looking for support and advise and counsel, so I came here at that time. It's interesting that I would be back now so shortly after the attacks in the United States.
I hosted His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah 25 years ago at the Pentagon amid his visits to the United States and I met with His Majesty King Fahd on any number of occasions in the 80's and 90's. I mention that because it is a long and very valued relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The president appreciated greatly the immediate and spontaneous expressions of support the United States received immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
You've probably noticed the president and I and others like Secretary Powell have all attempted to remind the world that the United States is engaged in efforts against terrorists and certainly not against religion or any group of people or indeed any countries specifically. It is the people who terrorize and who harbor terrorists that are the focus of our attention.
I've just had a very good visit with His Majesty King Fahd. We visited about a host of aspects of our relationship, which is a strong and long, decades-old solid relationship, which we value and they indicated they value it greatly. I renewed my acquaintance with His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah and just came from there, and we'll be going back and having dinner and them some more meetings with His Royal Highness Prince Sultan, the defense minister.
I'd be happy to respond to questions.
Q: Sir, you mentioned on the plane that it was important not just to look at this as a military matter, but to cut off financing. The Bush administration has released a list of 19 nations that have agreed to freeze the assets of 27 organizations and individuals linked to bin Laden. Saudi Arabia is not among the nations that have yet agreed to do that, nor is Egypt. Did you raise that with them, and have they indicated that they are prepared to take these steps?
Rumsfeld: Those are issues that Secretary O'Neill and Secretary Powell have been addressing. As I've indicated on a number of occasions, we understand that each country is different, each country lives in a different neighborhood, has a different perspective and has different sensitivities and different practices, and we do not expect every nation on the face of the earth to be publicly engaged in every single activity the United States is. Indeed we expect just the opposite.
That's why I've been careful always to use the phrase coalitions plural, because there is not a single coalition. There are any number of countries that are doing things that are public. There are any number of countries that are doing things that are exactly the same as the countries that are doing them publicly, but they're doing them privately. And, for a variety of reasons that makes sense to them, and it make sense to us, frankly, that people ought to be able to characterize what they are engaged in themselves rather than having the United States attempt to characterize what they are engaged in. I can assure you that we are very appreciative of the public support that Saudi Arabia has given to the United States in this effort and the things they are doing to assist us.
Q: Could I follow that up? One of the problems in the battle against terrorism has been a certain toleration or even accommodation with the problem caused by a number of nations in the Middle East. Are you expecting or asking for a greater role by the Saudi government in the battle against terrorism in general?
Rumsfeld: I think it would be a mistake to connect my visit to one or more countries, including this one, as an effort to alter the degree to which they are engaged in this effort against terrorism. That is not the purpose of this trip. This is a long-time relationship that's multi-faceted, that we value and they value and because of the fact that I've been in office now for some eight months and not had a chance to come to the region, and because there is a great deal of movement in part of the world with respect to change relating to the Department of Defense, it seemed appropriate for me to come, and I guess that is context for this visit.
Q: Mr. Secretary, are there issues remaining over the American use of bases in this country for operations that could be related to the battle against terrorism that have yet to be resolved?
Rumsfeld: We have had, as you know, longstanding military-to-military relationships that have evolved over time. They are healthy; they are exactly the way the kingdom wishes them to be. And we're appreciative and recognize that the advantages that accrue to both countries by the way we fashioned that relationship, and it is what it is and it is for them to characterize it.
Q: Did King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah express to you any qualms or reservations about potential strikes on Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: They expressed the warmest and best wishes and respect to President Bush for the way he has conducted himself during this crisis.
I guess the answer to that would be that we had a very substantive and interesting and thoughtful discussion about the nature of the problem and the complexities of the problem. And the importance of dealing with it in a way that recognizes the kinds of things I've talked of in terms of secondary effects which could occur, and I emphasized the fact President Bush is very sensitive to this.
As you know, he has been forceful in reminding the world of our involvement in assisting Muslim countries, such as Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo, the problems there as well as the humanitarian assistance we supplied in Somalia and are currently providing in Afghanistan, and the fact that we have a large Muslim population ourselves and that we respect the religion and the people of Islam and we recognize there are elements in the world -- terrorists and terrorist networks -- that make an active effort to try to turn that portion of the globe against the West and the United States, and that we have to be aware of that and not let that happen because it is not the case. We have, as I say, a large Muslim population in the United States.
Q: When you talk about secondary effects, are you were talking about the potential for regional instability?
Rumsfeld: No, I was just thinking that if you think about it, when an event of this magnitude arrives on the world scene, it is always possible that the relationships can change in the world, favorably and unfavorably. And I have been struck in the case of the favorable part of it by the number of nations who have stepped forward and offered support and assistance. I think that's a healthy, good thing. So, in a tragic event sometimes come effects that weren't anticipated the day before they occurred.
Q: So you feel there is more cohesion now in the relationship, in the last three weeks, as the result of what happened?
Rumsfeld: I think that there has been a very definite pulling together in the world of countries with a sense of purpose about this problem and an awareness of the importance of dealing with the problem.
Q: You're talking about this relationship with the Saudi government or the totality of the relationship, not just the present day but --
Rumsfeld: It is a very solid relationship. I don't know that I'd want to calculate gradations in it over three weeks.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the Saudis were very public last week in saying they didn't want offensive strikes mounted from their bases. What can you tell us to what extent your visit here, and for that matter with other countries, is to iron out what it meant by offensive, to iron out the exact behaviors that U.S. troops can do from areas like this.
Rumsfeld: To the extent that nations are well knitted together at the top and have a good understanding and appreciation of the thinking of the senior people, those kinds of things get worked out. I must say that I know as an American that we have distinctive perspectives and distinctive relationships that aren't identical with many of our friends in NATO, for example. Certainly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the keeper of the holy places in their religion has a special responsibility and we recognize that and are comfortable with it. These things don't tend to pose problems as long as there is a good strong relationship at the top and in this case there certainly is.
Q: Sir, is that what this mission about, to get --
Rumsfeld: No, as I say, those types of things get worked out at a different level that mine. They evolve, they change, and I tend not to get into the micro-pieces of what the Defense Department is or is not given in a given country.
Q: Did you brief the Saudi leaders on your plans and strategies the months and weeks ahead?
Rumsfeld: I certainly gave them a very good sense the president's thinking, of the conviction he feels, the determination he feels, and the way he has approached this as president in terms of recognizing that it is a long-term effort, not a quick problem. Recognizing that it will take, that it is not possible for a single country to accomplish it, that it will take intelligence information from people all over the globe, it will take cooperation from people all over the globe, and that we have to be determined and steady and measured in what we do.
I did give them a sense that we are in the process, as we are, of attempting to set the conditions for a sustained effort that we do intend to proceed on all fronts using the full force of the United States government and the resources of our government and the resources of our friends and associates around the world. And, we talked about a number of things, past, present and future.
Q: Did you talk about the possibility of military actions?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I don't think there's any doubt in anyone's mind that at some point that that too will be a part in this process in some way.
Q: Sir, you talked on the plane and just recently this a sustained effort that has to be continued for a time and that you need to have capabilities in proximity to the problems so they can respond to intelligence when it becomes actionable. This suggests any enhanced American military presence in the region broadly defined would have to be here for some time and not just for a brief operation, to come and go. Is that a message you've been trying to explain out here?
Rumsfeld: No, it hasn't been the message. I would say that terrorism is a worldwide problem. As I've indicated, the al Qaeda network alone, setting aside the other networks, has activities in 50 or 60 countries. It isn't confined to a single nation or a single region and all of the aspects of our effort I think will ultimately be seen and felt in all the regions of the world.