14 September 2001
Transcript: Senior Administration Official Briefs on U.S. Strategy
(Official says it's a "long struggle we are embarking on now") (4120)
President Bush "has made clear that this is a long struggle that we
are embarking on now, not something that's going to be over in a few
days," a senior administration official said some 60 hours after
terrorists attacked major buildings in New York and Washington.
"You cannot, in one action or even in several actions, begin to really
cripple terrorism in the way" that the United States, along with its
partners, hopes to be able to "cripple terrorism," the senior
administration official said at a late afternoon White House briefing
"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, the senior official
said. "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."
Asked about help from Pakistan in the search for those responsible for
the attacks on the United States, the official said "we do believe
that Pakistan has reason to want to help us. But we'll see if they
Asked about the role of Osama bin Laden, the senior administration
official said "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."
The official said "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."
But once the government knows for sure, the official repeated
President Bush's statement that "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," said the senior.
Following is the transcript as released by the White House:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
September 13, 2001
PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
The Roosevelt Room
5:22 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
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.) SENIOR
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Ron, I knew that was -- that question.
Q: Can you tell us, is there any evidence of any state sponsored
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
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?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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 --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If it takes multi-year, we'll devote
multi-year. And I think it's probably a good thing to think that it
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 --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
Q: What did you ask them to do?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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 specific
Q: -- borders, cut off fuel, that sort of thing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry?
Q: Stay the same? Close the borders, cut off fuel supplies?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, there were a number of actions
that they were specifically asked to take.
Q: Are they taking them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
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 --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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 us.
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
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
Q: -- have pretty good connections to Osama bin Laden --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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 --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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.
Q: The 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?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch the
first part of the question.
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
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
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?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
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 issue.
Q: My first question, though, about --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
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?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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 Gulf War.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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 --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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?
SENIOR 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 sanctuary --
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 forward.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION 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.
(end White House transcript)
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