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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Press Briefing

Aired March 1, 2004 - 13:29   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We've got to go to the Pentagon now. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff, next to him.
Let's see if they're talking about Haiti.

DONALD H. RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... leading elements of a multinational interim force.

U.S. forces are being deployed to secure key sites in the Haitian capital. Their mission is to contribute to a more secure and stable environment during this initial phase in order to help support the constitutional political process, to protect U.S. citizens, to facilitate the repatriation of any Haitians interdicted at sea, to help stand up the interim force and to create conditions for the arrival of a U.N. multinational force.

The initial contingent of U.S. Marines arrived in the capital last night. Additional U.S. forces are deploying currently and will continue to do so over the next several days.

We're working with the new Haitian government, the United Nations and the Organization of American States to stand up the interim force, and we're in contact with a number of countries that have expressed a willingness to contribute forces or other types of support.

Last night, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing support for the transition in Haiti, and we're already working to establish a U.N. force that will take over from the interim force.

The U.S. will take on the initial leadership of the multinational interim force in Haiti.

RUMSFELD: The leadership of the follow-on U.N. force will be determined in the period ahead. Indeed, the leadership of the interim force might even pass before the U.N. force arrives.

The situation in Haiti demonstrates the need for greater international capacity to conduct global peace operations.

At the last defense ministerial meeting of the Americas in Chile, I discussed ways to improve the hemisphere's peacekeeping capabilities through better integration of individual nations' capabilities so that we can improve the overall capability of the region to conduct peacekeeping and stability operations. As we work to strengthen these capabilities in the Western Hemisphere, we're also looking at ways to improve the worldwide capability of free nations to conduct peace operations. We're committed to looking at friends and allies around the world and through alliances such as NATO to improve these capabilities.

Finally, while events in Haiti are on everyone's mind, a historic event took plays in Baghdad today when the Iraqi Governing Council passed the transitional administrative law that will serve as the country's interim constitution until the completion of a permanent constitution.

This interim constitution includes as its cornerstone a bill of rights that provides protection of individual rights that are unprecedented in the history of Iraq, and indeed the region. It guarantees freedom of religion and worship, the right to free expression, the right to peacefully assemble, to organize political parties, to vote, to a fair trial, and to equal treatment under the law. Discrimination based on gender, nationality, religion or origin was prohibited.

RUMSFELD: The rights guaranteed by the interim constitution are precisely those the Iraqi people were denied for three decades by the regime of Saddam Hussein. The interim constitution thus puts into law the end of the Hussein era and the birth of a new nation, where the Iraqi government answers to the people instead of oppressing them.

This is a historic day for the people of Iraq. They have taken an important step forward on the path to building a free society. And free people everywhere join with them in celebrating this remarkable achievement.

I want to express my congratulations to the members of the Iraqi Governing Council who have worked long and hard to fashion this document.

I might add that today is General Myers' 62nd birthday. I'd say he's still a very young man from my vantage point.

Dick Myers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you for the birthday greeting, sir. And I think with that we'll just go straight to questions.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I wondered if you could tell us how many U.S. troops do you think in a round figure might be required, might be sent duty, and how long do you think they would stay in?

And also President Aristide is claiming now that he was virtually kidnapped by the U.S. military and forced to leave Haiti.

RUMSFELD: One second, let me start. I'm writing down this series of questions. You're going to go to the third one now? QUESTION: All right. How many troops and how long and was President Aristide forced out of Haiti by the U.S. military?

RUMSFELD: Well, you've asked them differently the second time. Let me go to the first one.

There are in the few hundreds there now. The number is growing.

RUMSFELD: It's going to increase above that. The entire force over time will be what is necessary.

But my guess is that when all of the other countries that have volunteered forces, plus the U.S. forces are there, for this interim period -- relatively short period -- that the numbers will probably be less than 5,000 total, of everybody. And ours will be down in a small fraction of that. I don't know what the number will be, but for the sake of argument, say 1,500 or 2,000 or less. But time will tell. We'll have what's needed.

And as additional forces come in, why, we'll be able to size it and determine what makes the most sense. And that'll be subject to the recommendations of the commanders.

You said that Aristide was claiming he was abducted or what was the word?

QUESTION: Virtually.

RUMSFELD: Virtually?

QUESTION: He claims he was virtually kidnapped and forced to leave...

RUMSFELD: I don't believe that's true, that he is claiming that. I just don't know that that's the case. I'd be absolutely amazed if that were the case.

There may be somebody saying that he's saying that, but I don't believe that.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. military help him leave, facilitate?

RUMSFELD: The Department of State and other countries worked with the Haitian government, and I think I'll leave it to the Department of State to characterize what took place.

But I was involved in phone calls, most of the night and most of the morning, and was involved in the entire process, and the idea that someone was abducted is just totally inconsistent with everything I heard or saw or am aware of.

So I think that -- I do not believe he is saying what you are saying he is saying. And if somebody else is saying it, that's a quite different thing.

QUESTION: Given the proximity of Haiti to the U.S. and the refugee problems that have existed in the past, is it in the U.S. interest to be the leader of the peacekeeping force or is that something that you want a different country to take on? And who might that be?

RUMSFELD: Well, the reality is that when something needs to be done and -- the concern in this case was that the president had made a decision to resign. And the new president -- under their constitution -- requested assistance. And the question is what kind of a gap do you want between the resignation and departure of one person and the capability of the new government? How long a gap is desirable, given the instabilities that existed there?

The judgment was made -- and properly, in my view -- that the gap should be very short. And when you look around as to who can fill a gap in a very short period of time, there are not a lot of candidates.

We stepped up, and the president asked the United States to do that. The United States is doing that. We are the lead elements of the interim force. And we would be in the lead of that force until such time as we -- the circumstances were such that we could pass it over to some other country.

Obviously, we'd like to see some other country take that lead, and they will eventually.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Well, it's a hemisphere problem. It's not just the United States problem. We've got a lot of things we're doing, and once the situation's stabilized, and it -- I think -- would be appropriate to pass the lead off.

MYERS: As you know, there is a U.N. Security Council resolution that addresses this. And there are countries in the hemisphere that have shown a willingness to step forward and they're being worked with by the Department of State and by the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in reference to the earlier question about the departure of Aristide, what exactly was the U.S. military role in getting him out of the country?

RUMSFELD: The U.S. military role was to -- the Department of State managed that entire process.

QUESTION: For example, was that a U.S. military aircraft?

MYERS: It was a contract aircraft that State...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) contract to the State Department or...

MYERS: Right, State worked on that.

MYERS: And we also provided security from -- and I don't know the exact details of this, but our fast team was providing security for our ambassador who was intimately involved in this operation. But it's a better question for the State Department.

So we just made sure that they weren't subject to the violence in Port-au-Prince as they moved to the airport.

QUESTION: But the fast team did not actually go to the airport with him and escort or to move him out?

MYERS: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, President Aristide has told others -- and we expect to hear this from himself some time today -- but has told others that about 20 combat troops came to his residence and forced him to leave against his will; didn't allow him to make any phone calls.

Now, set that aside for a moment, because I know that you have some question about whether he's actually saying this. But just so we know...

RUMSFELD: You just said he has told others. And, of course, you don't know that. Others are saying they were told by him and...

QUESTION: Lots of others are saying. And they're all saying the same thing.

RUMSFELD: Is that right?

QUESTION: We expect to hear from Aristide himself some time shortly.

RUMSFELD: Good.

QUESTION: But just tell us, you know, without -- you're disputing that. Just tell us what exactly did the U.S. military do. Did they go to his residence in combat gear and escort him? What can you tell us about what the role the U.S. military played?

RUMSFELD: Well, it'll be interesting. First, you say he has told lots of others.

QUESTION: Well, he's told several members of Congress, including Charles Rangel. He's told Randall Robinson, the head of TransAfrica. He's told Congresswoman Maxine Waters. He's had a series of conversations today.

RUMSFELD: As I say, this process, to the extent the United States was involved was, was through the Department of State. And questions, I would think, should be directed there.

If you're asking me, from the phone calls I was on that night and from my meetings today, if I have any awareness of U.S. military being involved of going in -- what'd you say? -- combat gear to his house and transporting him to an airplane, I have no knowledge of that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary what is your...

MYERS: And I don't either.

And I would say the only thing they could have done, and this is, I guess on my part, is to provide protection because, you know, there were at times there was some violence in Port-au-Prince.

MYERS: So just to make sure.

But there was no forceable...

QUESTION: Whether or not Aristide is telling the truth, how unhelpful might it be if he's going to be in some third country claiming that he was essentially deposed by the U.S. military?

RUMSFELD: Before the United States made a decision to send in a lead element of an interim multinational force, we had -- I believe -- in hand a letter of resignation signed by the president.

QUESTION: He wasn't coerced in any way to sign that?

RUMSFELD: As I've said three times, certainly not to my knowledge.

The Department of Defense was not involved in that process. The Department of State was and the embassy. And I've heard nothing that would lend any credence whatsoever to the kinds of questions you're asking.

MYERS: Can agree with that and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the phones all that night. I mean, this doesn't jive with anything that we've heard.

QUESTION: Representative Waters is claiming on Pacifica stations on the West Coast that Aristide was led away in handcuffs by U.S. Marines and claiming that the Marines were part of a coup to remove him. I wonder if either one of you gentleman would comment on her comment or claim?

RUMSFELD: I'm trying to pick the right words.

If you're asking me, "Did that happen?" the answer is no.

QUESTION: But any embellishment?

RUMSFELD: I think not today.

QUESTION: General Myers, what's the security situation now in Port-au-Prince? Have there been any incidents of shooting at the Marines or have they been asked to lay down their arms?

MYERS: I'm not aware of any incidents against the U.S. forces in that are in there or the French forces or the Canadian forces. The situation was reported this morning as relatively calm overnight, and they were going to see how it progressed today.

There is good news in that the new -- I think they call him the director general of the police force -- is reported to be very good, and has been appointed to work the police effort -- get the police back on duty.

But we know of no incidents.

QUESTION: Have you asked the rebels to lay down their arms?

MYERS: Yes. That was asked earlier, I think, by the Department of State.

QUESTION: General Myers, can we talk about -- I know you don't want to talk specifically about rules of engagement of the Marines that are there. There were scenes in '94 when U.S. troops were there, and behind them there was looting taking place, there was violence against citizens of Haiti.

QUESTION: Are these Marines allowed to intervene in the protection of citizens of Haiti? Stop looting? How far can they go and what can't they do?

MYERS: Good point. We're not going to talk about the ROE, but they're going to be adequately armed, not just with their personal protective gear and their offensive weapons, but with the rules that allow them to do the job they should be doing.

QUESTION: Which includes protecting citizens of Haiti?

MYERS: I'm not going to get into the specific details; it's unfair to them.

QUESTION: What sign are you getting at all that there may be a mass migration via vessel from refugees?

MYERS: None.

QUESTION: None?

MYERS: None.

QUESTION: What plans do you...

MYERS: In fact, there have been no migrants picked up trying to leave Haiti, in the last two days anyway.

RUMSFELD: And the ones that were picked up have been returned...

MYERS: Have all been repatriated.

RUMSFELD: ... peacefully to Haiti.

QUESTION: Do you have any plans in place, in case there is a mass migration, to either help people come to the U.S. or aid them so they're not just bobbing in boats out there?

RUMSFELD: There are certainly Coast Guard plans to dissuade people from attempting to leave toward the United States. And those that demonstrate a willingness -- a desire to do so have been returned to Haiti under U.S. laws and policies. QUESTION: General Myers, as for security, can you tell us...

RUMSFELD: I should -- I'm sorry. I should say there are obviously instances, relatively few instances, one or two, where somebody has a legitimate reason for fleeing. But that is, again, not a Department of Defense issue.

MYERS: Total number there's been over a 1,000 repatriated and a few more today.

RUMSFELD: There may have been one or two that have been looked at for legitimate purposes.

QUESTION: Is it recently? In the last couple days?

MYERS: Which number?

QUESTION: A thousand repatriated?

MYERS: Right, that's been in the last three or four days.

QUESTION: General Myers (OFF-MIKE)

MYERS: Well, probably, yes, there was a group in early February that went back early. Within the last three or four days there's been about 800.

QUESTION: The U.S. ambassador down there, James Foley, has said the U.S. made a mistake back in '94 staying only two years. Do you foresee a years-long commitment for at least some level of U.S. forces?

RUMSFELD: I have not seen the ambassador's statement and I don't know what he may have said or what the context was.

Certainly, the number of people that need to be involved in a peacekeeping operation in Haiti is relatively small.

RUMSFELD: And as General Myers said, there are a large number of countries that have already volunteered people. And the U.N. has already passed a unanimous resolution indicating that it is going to sponsor a U.N. multinational peacekeeping force.

I would think that any role for the U.S. would involve a relatively small number of U.S. forces. And for what period? There's no way to predict it at the present time.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to leave the live coverage of the briefing for just a moment.

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