For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 13, 2001
Press Background Briefing by
A Senior Administration Official
the Roosevelt Room
5:22 P.M. EDT
OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for
coming. I understand that our ground rules are BACKGROUND.
I just wanted to start out by saying a
couple of things. It's been, what, about 60 hours now,
something like that, and it's an extraordinary period of time and it's
not business as usual. I think we are obviously trying to
get America back open for what it is we do as a country. But
it's not business as usual, and I think what the President has made
clear is that this is a long struggle that we are embarking on now, not
something that's going to be over in a few days.
It's also the case, just from my
perspective as somebody who spent, really, the first 24 hours just
trying to deal with the consequences of what we were facing, trying to
assess what had happened, trying to think about what we were going to
do in those first several hours, that I don't have an answer to every
question you might have. Okay? I just don't.
And, in fact, there are a few that I
really have to place off-limits. You're welcome to ask, I'm just
saying up front I am not going to be able to talk about options the
President may or may not be considering; I'm not going to be able to
talk about operational issues around the world. But I'll try
to be as helpful as I can.
Q What options is
the President considering? (Laughter.)
OFFICIAL: Ron, I knew that was -- that
Q Can you tell us,
is there any evidence of any state sponsored terrorism here?
OFFICIAL: Well, we're assessing the complete
situation. We've got all of the assets of the U.S.
government and, I might say, we're getting a lot of help from a lot of
other countries, as well, to try to assess the information that we have
on what happened, who was responsible.
I think the President made very clear in
his statement that we know that terrorism is not just a matter of the
terrorists, but that there often are support networks, as well as
others who harbor them and support them. And we're trying to get a
sense for who it is and how to go about it. We're going to give
opportunities to those who we might suspect of supporting to
demonstrate that they're not being supporting.
Q The President
suggested today that this was an opportunity to save generations of
Americans by whipping terrorism. You said that, remarking on
something that's happened over the two days. Does the
President see this as a multi-year campaign, rather than an effort to
retaliate against a series of terrorist acts? Is this
fundamentally different from all we've done in the past?
OFFICIAL: This is fundamentally different from what we've
done in the past because -- look, we will -- undoubtedly, over a period
of time a number of things may unfold here. But you cannot,
in one action or even in several actions, begin to really cripple
terrorism in the way that we hope, along with partners around the
world, to be able to cripple terrorism. So, yes, this is a
long struggle, not a short one.
Q Can I clarify
what you said? When you said multi-year, were you saying
that, yes, it will be a multi-year --
OFFICIAL: If it takes multi-year, we'll devote
multi-year. And I think it's probably a good thing to think
that it probably will.
Q Can you clarify,
you say that you are giving those countries that you may suspect of
being involved in any kind of state-sponsored terrorism, to prove that
they are not. Can you flesh that out a little
bit? Would that include, for instance, saying to
Afghanistan, produce Osama bin Laden? Is that --
OFFICIAL: I'm not going to get into details. But you know,
for instance, the Secretary of State talked about the fact that we
talked to the Pakistanis today about the efforts that we would like to
have them make. We know that it is a difficult situation in
Pakistan, but we have also been in long conversation with Pakistan
about what they might be able to do to help in this effort against
terrorism. This goes back to the Clinton administration,
having these discussions with Pakistan. I think what we're saying is
it's time to step up.
Q What did you ask
them to do?
OFFICIAL: Again, I don't want to get into specifics of what
was said here. You may want to refer this question to State,
because State is the one that had this discussion with the
Pakistanis. But I can tell you we've asked them to do some
Q -- borders, cut
off fuel, that sort of thing?
OFFICIAL: I'm sorry?
Q Stay the
same? Close the borders, cut off fuel supplies?
OFFICIAL: Yes, there were a number of actions that they were
specifically asked to take.
Q Are they taking
OFFICIAL: It's not been three hours yet, John. We'll
see. But I think we're hopeful -- Pakistan, we have a long
and good relationship with Pakistan. It's been difficult, as
you know, since Musharraf came to power by extraconstitutional means,
but we do believe that Pakistan has reason to want to help
us. But we'll see if they do.
Q In conversations
with other world leaders, is the President also making specific
requests of countries like Saudi Arabia, or is he simply receiving
condolences? These are not, as an official suggested today,
just good, you know, offers of goodwill that they're --
OFFICIAL: Well, a couple of things are
happening. First of all, people are offering a lot of
goodwill, and that's important at this point. And I think
the point that's been made repeatedly in all of the President's calls
is that everybody who has called, in effect, says, it could have been
There is an understanding that the United
States was the target, but that terrorism targets freedom, terrorism
just doesn't target the United States. And so I think there
is a kind of commonality of purpose that is emerging here.
I think a second thing that I'd say about
these phone calls is that the President is listening to the people that
he's been talking with on their ideas about how to further rally the
globe against terrorism. There are a lot of things that he
can do internationally, with partners -- intelligence, of course,
support to military options. You can also do a great deal on
the financial side.
But there are a lot of things an
international coalition can do, the different members of a coalition
can do. But the President has been largely rallying folks
who understand, I think, that they've got a stake in this, too.
Q Let me ask you,
we've asked the Pakistanis many times before to help us with Osama bin
Laden and in dealing with the Taliban. How confident are you
now that they are going to cooperate and what are the incentives?
OFFICIAL: Well, Pakistan -- ever since we've been here, the
Pakistani government has been coming in to see all of us and tell us
they don't want to be isolated from us; that they want to resume a
normal relationship with the United States; that they understand that
there's a lot at stake.
And I think what we're saying is that it
is not possible to have any of that if we can't get cooperation on
things that matter to us when there's been an attack on the United
States. I think I would say that there's a new resolve to
make clear to Pakistan that it's time to step up.
Q -- have pretty
good connections to Osama bin Laden --
OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, you mean responsibility? Is that what
you're saying? John, we are going to assess the
information. I think that we are doing that rapidly. We are
also, we're sifting out this information that we have, but
we are getting a lot of help from other people. And we don't
want to be premature in determining who might have done it, because
there might have been not just one but multiple organizations that were
involved in this. And so we're not going to go out there
before we're ready. But we will be ready, eventually, to
tell you what we know.
Q Can I just follow
up to that? Other administration officials have said that --
information of connections with bin Laden --
OFFICIAL: I think that right now what we need to do is -- as
I said, again, this happened 60 hours ago. We don't want to
be premature, not because we don't want to name or finger someone, but
because we want to make sure that we understand all the connections,
not just a connection.
Q When you talk
about a coalition, are you talking about some kind of formal
instruments that would bind nations into cooperating in economic and
military ways? Because they're already, everybody -- all
nations are basically against terrorism and say the right
things. What will turn it into practical action?
OFFICIAL: There are a lot of ways that partners can help in
this war on terrorism. Again, underscoring that everybody
has a strong interest in doing something about terrorism. I
don't think there is a country on the globe that's not concerned, and
there are some that are more concerned than others.
And intelligence cooperation is extremely
important, for instance. Cooperation on financial assets is extremely
important, for instance. So there are a lot of different
things that different partners might be able to do.
I just want to note that there are a
couple of formal organizations that have stepped up. Of
course, there is a U.N. Security Council resolution; and, remarkably,
NATO, for the first time in its history, with an Article 5, saying an
attack against one is an attack against all. So there is a
lot of support out there. I don't really want to try to
speak to, you know, how formal, in what groupings, because, as I said,
it's been 60 hours. We'll get there.
administration has said that -- want to reach out to him, has ways of
reaching out to Afghanistan. Have we been able to do
that? And what are your expectations there?
OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch the first part of
Q One of the other
governments that you wanted to reach out to was Afghanistan, in
conducting this investigation. Have you been able to do so,
and what are your expectations if you have yet to speak with them?
OFFICIAL: Well, we do have ways to contact the Afghan
government. I think that's well known. But there
obviously are issues concerning Afghanistan and terrorism, in general
-- I mean, not just this incident, but terrorism in
general. Afghanistan has been branded as one of those
countries, so we know that there is something there. We'll
see. We have not yet reached out to them.
Q And your
expectations? What will you be asking of them?
OFFICIAL: We're asking the same thing, essentially, of
everybody, which is that if you're doing anything to help terrorists,
stop doing it. And we're going to be watching, and we're
going to be assessing whether people are really doing it. So
we're essentially asking the same thing of everybody.
Q Why have you not
reached out to them? Because you know that they are --
OFFICIAL: It's just a matter of time. We have to
get our planning underway.
Q What's the state
of this international coalition in, sort of, concrete measurable ways,
be it financial cooperation, a promise to support a military action, or
shared intelligence? In other words, what's the state of
that coalition beyond a sort of shared value system?
OFFICIAL: Well, again, I wouldn't focus so much on the
international coalition. As I said, what we believe is that
there are a lot of states out there that understand the seriousness of
what we're facing and are ready to sign up to try to deal with the
scourge that we're all facing.
Obviously, different countries bring
different assets to the struggle. And I think that one thing that we
are going to be assessing and talking with people about is what can
different countries best do in support of a long-term effort?
What we don't want to do is to have a
quick burst, while everybody is focused on what happened, and then lose
sight of the fact that it's going to take some time to root out
terrorism. It took some time for the world to get itself
into this situation; it's going to take some time for us to get out of
the situation. And so this has to be sustainable.
And different countries are
going to bring different assets. And I think part of what
the President is beginning to do is to get an assessment of what kinds
of assets different countries bring --
Q The Secretary of
State, yesterday, said that one of the issues behind the NATO action
was possibly overflight rights. Is the United States going
elsewhere in the world looking for overflight rights? And,
specifically, have you asked that of Pakistan? And as a
follow-up, the United States already had a massive counterterrorism
campaign and effort going on. What is going to be different
about what you're doing now? Is it just going to be more --
just more, bigger, different rules of engagement?
OFFICIAL: Let me take the second question
first. Again, it's been 60 hours -- let me just say, we came
in with a focus on counterterrorism. We came in with a
strong view that we needed to look hard at how we needed to organize
the government to deal with counterterrorism, and how we needed to
organize the government to deal with consequence management should
something happen. I think you know, the Vice President had
begun to work on exactly these issues.
None of us expected to be trying to put
this into play because we experienced this particular
incident. But it's not as if we haven't thought about how
you might get a more robust effort against counterterrorism, by
mobilizing others and the assets that they have; by making certain that
the entire government is functioning on one page as to how to deal with
the counterterrorism threat; and by -- what we've gotten, though, is a
kind of new energy to this out of the horrors of an attack of this
magnitude on the territory of the United States.
And things are going to
change. It's the President's goal to change them in a way
that matters; to take advantage of what is a horrendous situation to
mobilize the world to really take this on, and to be successful at it.
But as I've said, you have to have a
sustained focus. One of the concerns that everybody has to
have is that after we get through the first phases here, that everybody
just kind of goes back to doing what they were doing. This
President is committed to not doing that. He's going to keep
a sustained focus until we make some significant progress on this
Q My first
question, though, about --
OFFICIAL: I'm sorry. I can't get into what we
have requested of anyone. But, we'll see. We're
not at that level of operational planning.
Q You said you've
given the Pakistanis a chance to prove themselves. Are you
also giving the Taliban the chance to prove themselves, or are they
just so complicit with past horrors committed by bin Laden that it's
really just too late for that?
OFFICIAL: We'll see. But our view is if you tell
everybody, at this point -- when the President said, we're going to
make no distinctions between those who perpetrated the crime and those
who harbor -- that's a very powerful and differently important
statement. Because it says you can't be on both sides of this
struggle. You can't harbor terrorists and wink at terrorists
and let terrorists use your territory and let them use your financial
networks and do all of those things and, at the same time say, we're a
friend of the United States.
Q Are you
confirming, then, that you're putting the same amount of pressure on
the Taliban that you are on Pakistan, or any pressure -- maybe not
equal -- but is there any pressure being applied?
OFFICIAL: There will be a concerted effort now, some in
concert with others, some by the United States alone, on anyone that we
think may have harbored terrorism related to this event, but related to
the terrorist threats to the United States --
Q So that includes
the Taliban --
Q -- a couple of
things. One, you said there could have been multiple
organizations. Is that your suspicion? And, two,
when you talk about the coalition you seem to be saying it's a
different kind of coalition than the one Bush 41 built in the Persian
OFFICIAL: Yes, that's a very good point, Jim, because as the
President has been saying in some of his briefings, this is a different
enemy. It doesn't have a capital. It doesn't have
So the kind of coalition that you have to
put together, the kind of partnerships that you have to put together
have to bring different kinds of assets to bear than we're accustomed
to in kind of building an alliance if you're about to go out and fight
a traditional enemy. So, yes, it is different than what we
did in the Gulf War.
You had another point, though.
Q When you said
multiple mobilization --
OFFICIAL: I'm just saying we're checking out everything
before we decide to say, okay, it was this. We're checking
Q In your
conversations with the Russians, have they made any suggestions they
would be helpful to you if you went into Afghanistan?
OFFICIAL: The Russians were the first to call. The Russians
-- the President had already had some discussions with Putin about
whether or not there was anything in counterterrorism. We
will -- I think that they will try to be helpful. But,
again, different countries are going to bring different
assets. We've not gotten to the point yet of trying to
assess exactly what comes from whom, but I think the Russians will try
to be helpful.
Q Because they know
Afghanistan like no one else, obviously. (Laughter.)
OFFICIAL: That is true. We'll see. But
the Russians have pledged cooperation, and we'll certainly try to take
them up on it, we'll see what that means.
Q Under the heading
of holding accountable those who harbor terrorists, Paul Wolfowitz as
much as suggested that you were prepared to remove from power any
government that continues harboring terrorists. Is that the
policy of this administration?
OFFICIAL: The policy of this administration is to make
certain that we do not do what is so often done, which is to make a
distinction between whoever we find out perpetrated this exact crime
and the people who supported them in various means.
Now, I don't think we're going to get into
a discussion of what "hold accountable" does or does not mean, but it
just means that they are not -- shouldn't consider themselves -- if
they've been a sanctuary for terrorists, we will not consider their
Q So you're saying
this time, prove yourself innocent. Those of you on our
suspect list, you have a chance, prove yourself innocent before we go
OFFICIAL: That's correct.
Q Any other
countries you're looking at as harboring terrorists -- people involved
possibly with this incident or other ones besides Afghanistan?
OFFICIAL: We are assessing the entire
situation. We're looking at everything at this
point. But as we find out who actually perpetrated the
crime, as we find out who they were connected with, as we find out who
could be considered harboring them, I think it will come clear.
But I do want to say something that Jim
Angle brought up and asked about, don't assume that this is a
single-pronged, one-time event. This is going to have to be
a multi-pronged event over a period of time. So the
questions about, is it this person or is it that person, is it this
group or is it that group -- we're trying to do something more
comprehensive here, and that's really --
Q If I could just
follow up to that, because how is the administration sort of dealing --
you see, obviously, tremendous anger on the streets of New York,
everywhere in the country. Is there any pressure of this
administration feeling to act quickly? You talk about this
to be a multi-pronged, sustained campaign, but isn't the administration
facing pressure to do something rather soon?
OFFICIAL: The President is going to do something at a time
of his choosing. And he wants to do something that matters,
but he understands that doing something that matters may not mean just
doing something that matters once, or not just doing something once
that matters. So I believe that he's spoken clearly to the
American people about the fact that this is a long struggle, and we'll
kind of see what unfolds here.
(ONLY THE FOLLOWING PORTION OF THE TRANSCRIPT IS ON THE RECORD.)
Q You were the
first person to bring word, to see him Tuesday morning. Many
of us were with him all of last year, and he talked about the need for
-- the military and the importance of foreign policy -- (inaudible) --
and he had some very clear domestic priorities -- and this morning in
the Oval Office he said essentially, this has become the issue of my
presidency, which I take as a sea change. Can you walk us
through any of the -- without getting into the operational side -- any
of the thoughts or observations he's made over the last 60 hours that
indicate that kind of a shift?
DR. RICE: This is a
transforming event for all of us, for the country, for any of us who
were going through it, and clearly for the President of the United
States. We've always known that something like this could
happen on American soil. We've all had it as a
nightmare. But you couldn't watch those planes go into the
World Trade Towers, you couldn't go out to the Pentagon like we did
yesterday and see the side of the Pentagon cratered, you couldn't go
through the moments when we didn't know how many planes were still in
the air, what else was next on the list, and not be transformed by it.
It is, in many ways, the toughest moment,
I think, for a President of the United States, to see the country
suffer in that way. And it's a defining moment also, at
which the President steps up and says, I'm going to use this terribly
painful moment to try to make the world better the next time
around. That's what America has always done -- whether it
was after Pearl Harbor, where it committed the United States in ways it
had never been committed to the international system. I
think that was the sense of what I got from the President.
And it was, in many ways, almost
immediate. The interesting thing is that, you know, we were
all trying to deal with the immediacy of the situation, we were all
trying to deal with the consequences of the situation, we were all
trying to assess what was happening, But in his very first statement to
his National Security Council he said: this was at attack on
freedom and we're going to define it as such, and we're going to go
after it, and we're not going to lose focus; and we're going to
minister to the country and deal with the horrors that people are
experiencing and the consequences; and we're going to get through our
period of mourning, but we're not going to lose focus and resolve on
what happened here and what this means for the United States of America
in its leadership role to mobilize the world, now, to deal with this
scourge. And I think it was much quicker with him than it
probably was with any of the rest of us.
I'll just close by saying that it was
pretty remarkable, those first few hours -- coming out of the Situation
Room and being told that there was -- we heard that there was a second
plane into the World Trade Tower, and then, as we were coming out, that
something had hit the Pentagon, that something was likely headed for
the White House. To get down then to the secure facility and
hear the code name for Air Force One, there's something headed for Air
Force One -- I don't think that you can underestimate, at that moment,
that you're sorting lots of information and you're trying to deal with
the consequences, but you recognize that something's changed forever in
the way that the United States thinks about its security.
The other thing the President has been
very focused on is that even though we are going to be vigilant, we're
going to make sure that we do everything we can in terms of security
measures and so forth, we're not going to let the terrorists win by
changing our way of life. And I think he has said that very
effectively to the congressional leaders that he has had down here, to
the families, to the young rescue workers who are at the Pentagon.
END 5:52 P.M. EDT