Sending Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to South Asia
The Cabinet Room
The White House
May 30, 2002
11:17 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: We started the Cabinet meeting today with a prayer from Secretary
Mineta, who in his prayer reminded us that this is a somber day for America.
It is a day in which we've removed all the debris from Ground Zero. On behalf
of a grateful nation, I want to thank all those who participated in the clean
up of that deadly site; and want our nation to continue to offer our prayer
to those families and friends and citizens who still hurt as a result of the
attacks of September the 11th.
As well, I talked about our trip, as did the Secretary. We had a very successful
trip to Europe; successful bilaterals with France and Germany and Italy. And,
of course, the highlight of the trip was signing the treaty with Russia, that
really signifies to the world that the Cold War is over, Russia is our friend
and we need to work together. And then we went -- I've signed an agreement with
NATO and Russia that basically said the same thing. And this is a good -- this
is the dawn of a new era in relationship with Russia that will be very positive
for our country and for world peace. And, after all, that's what we work to
achieve, which is world peace.
I'll be glad to answer a couple of questions. Yes, Fournier and then Randy.
QUESTION: Mr. President, the FBI is lifting restrictions on domestic spying,
including against religious institutions and political organizations. Is there
a risk of going too far in the battle against terrorism and actually losing
some freedoms that are very important to the country?
THE PRESIDENT: Of course, the Attorney General will be briefing the nation today
about what we intend to do. And here's what we intend to do: we intend to honor
our Constitution and respect the freedoms that we hold so dear.
And, secondly, we want to make sure that we do everything we can to prevent
a further attack, protect America. The FBI needed to change. It was a organization
full of fine people that loved America, but they -- the organization didn't
meet the times. And so I appreciate Director Mueller's reform measures. This
is a man who came on to the FBI not many days before the September the 11th
attack. And he's now reforming this important agency, all aimed at preventing
a further attack. Our most important job is to protect America. And the initiative
that the Attorney General will be outlining today will guarantee our Constitution,
and that's important for the citizens to know.
Randy, and then John.
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you preparing to activate plans for evacuating
American civilians and troops from Pakistan and India? And how much concern
do you have that the stand-off over Kashmir is allowing al Qaeda to regroup
and operate in Pakistan?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the Secretary is -- both Secretaries are
analyzing what it would take to protect American lives, if need be. Secondly,
we are making it very clear to both Pakistan and India that war will not serve
their interests. And we're a part of a international coalition applying pressure
to both parties, particularly to President Musharraf. He must stop the incursions
across the line of control. He must do so. He said he would do so. We and others
are making it clear to him that he must live up to his word.
Al Qaeda is a -- they'll find weakness and we are doing everything we can to
continue to shore up our efforts and -- on the Pakistani-Afghan border. And
they shouldn't think they're going to gain any advantage as a result of any
conflict that may be -- or talk of conflict between India and Pakistan, because
we're still going to hunt them down.
This is a long war. You know, I was just reflecting the other day, we've only
been at this for -- we've haven't even been fighting this war for a year yet.
And we've got a lot of work to do. And there will be moments where the al Qaeda
thinks that, you know, maybe America is not after them, and they'll feel safe
and secure. And, you know, they think they'll kind of settle into some cave
somewhere. But they don't understand the intention of this administration, which
is to patiently hunt these people down. And that's exactly what we're going
QUESTION: Are you sending Secretary Rumsfeld next week to the region?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he's going there; Deputy Secretary of State Armitage is
going this week. And then Secretary Rumsfeld is going, as well.
QUESTION: This week or next, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Next week.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Next week.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, early next week. John, last question.
QUESTION: Sir, a two part if you don't mind. One, there seems to be a sense
again in the Middle East with respect to a period of treading water. CIA Director
Tenet is supposed to go. I'm trying to get your sense of whether you have seen
any tangible proof from the parties that they are willing to take the steps
necessary to move beyond the stand-off. And you have it on the table day also,
your domestic policy team -- I'm wondering if you come back from the trip, if
you discuss today a sense of frustration, if you will, that Congress went home
for Memorial Day without acting on many of the things a few months back you
had asked them to do.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me address the second, first. We have been pleased
with how many of our initiatives have moved through the House of Representatives,
and been frustrated by the fact they haven't moved through the Senate.
Having said that, I was pleased that the Senate moved the trade promotion authority
bill and hope when they get back that they call a conference quickly and get
this bill to my desk. It's important for people who are looking for work here
But there's still a lot of work to be done in the Senate. They've got to get
this supplemental done quickly. It's important that we get a supplemental out
and, frankly, a supplemental that doesn't bust the budget. And we'll be looking
forward to working with the senators, to explain to them that the supplemental
ought to focus on emergency measures, measures that are needed to fight the
war, to button-up the homeland. But the supplemental shouldn't be viewed as
an opportunity to load up -- to load it up with special projects.
In terms of the Middle East, we are sending -- we sent Ambassador Burns there
yesterday; Director Tenet is going -- all aimed at providing the steps necessary
to provide the institutions that will create stability in a potential Palestinian
state. And that's very important. That's very important because it begins to
say that people are responsible; it's tangible evidence that what I said in
the Rose Garden is what we mean -- that people need to be responsible for their
actions. Mr. Arafat needs to be responsible. And part of that responsibility
is to reform a security force so that it will actually keep security in the
The Secretary was telling me that there was some talk of a new finance minister
being promoted in the Palestinian Authority, a person that has got international
standing. That is a positive development, because one of the things that worries
us is spending any international aid on an authority that might not keep good
books, that the money might not actually go to help the Palestinian people,
but might end up in somebody's pocket. And that concerns us.
So, John, to answer your question, we are -- we are making progress on a strategy
that will put the underpinnings of a Palestinian state in place, and it's going
to take a while, we recognize that. But we're going to continue to work the
issue very hard.
QUESTION: Have you seen enough from the parties to schedule the conference the
Secretary wants to hold or --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the scheduling of a conference is a matter of making sure
that the -- that we find the right place and the right time to do so. And the
Secretary is working on that.