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Text: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

Monday, Sept. 24, 2001

The following is a transcript of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and HUD Secretary Mel Martinez on relief for reservists called up for duty and their families. Rumsfeld also answered questions on U.S. plans for retaliation on terrorists and countries that support them.

RUMSFELD: Good afternoon.

I'm pleased to be here to introduce the secretary of housing and urban development, who's here to discuss an innovative program that will help military reservists who are called up.

As you know, in the aftermath of the attack here and President Bush's calling up a number of thousands of reservists to active duty, they're leaving their jobs, and many, of course, take a hit in their paychecks. This program is designed to ease their mortgage burdens and actually do some additional things as well with respect to renters as they individually serve their country.

And I certainly want to salute the secretary, my friend Mel Martinez, his HUD team for this effort. It's a good one. It's helpful. It's going to be appreciated. And I'm delighted to introduce the secretary of housing and urban development.

Mel, you have the floor, and then we can respond to some questions.

MARTINEZ: I'm really pleased to be here with you today. The secretary and I have been talking about how we can help the folks that are being called to active duty.

And first of all, let me say as I come to your building that I'm so pleased and proud of you and the people who work with you for being in business. I think we all are trying very hard to follow the president's counsel on that and make sure that America is back to business.

And so along those lines, in order to assist those folks who are citizen-soldiers and who are being deployed and who are being called to active duty, people who have mortgage payments and car payments and other obligations of everyday life, we want to today advise that we have issued a letter to all FHA-approved lenders advising them of their obligations under the 1940 Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act.

This is an act which advises all lenders to reduce interest rates on mortgages to no more than 6 percent to all members of the military on active duty. Lenders are also prohibited from foreclosing against any military personnel during and immediately following their tour of active duty.

The Relief Act also helps military renters, too, by ensuring that they cannot be evicted from their property or by allowing them to terminate lease arrangements if it was in their own interest to do so, without any type of repercussion.

I'm also taking additional steps and encouraging mortgage lenders to postpone principal payments on all service men and women during their tour of duty if they choose to avail themselves of that opportunity.

In addition to that, beginning tomorrow HUD will have a toll-free number for service men and women who have questions concerning their mortgages, a number that they can call, and the number is 1-888-297-8685. And we will also post additional information on our web site for those who would be interested in going there.

This follows other announcements that we've made at HUD last week concerning mortgage payments and foreclosure possibilities on the families that were directly impacted by the tragedies of September 11. And now we want to make sure that we're doing what we can for the men and women who serve our country and who are really at the front line of defending our country, and as you so eloquently said the other day at the Cabinet meeting, those who stand as a sword and a shield protecting the many from the tyranny of the few.

Thank you.

RUMSFELD: I'll be happy to respond to one or two or three questions, and then I'm going to leave Mel here with you to answer questions on his area.

QUESTION: President Putin said today that the Russian government is going to actively now supply military equipment and arms to the Afghan opposition. Does the United States also intend to provide military support to the Afghan opposition in order to get rid of the Taliban?

RUMSFELD: We don't have any announcements to make with respect to the activities either with the Afghan Northern Alliance or with the various tribes in the southern part of the country.

QUESTION: Is that under consideration?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think as the president said, we are considering a whole range of things, the purpose being to attempt to create a situation where it becomes in peoples' interest to not support terrorists or terrorist networks and where they exist, to attempt to make life uncomfortable for them and expel them or turn them in.

QUESTION: So does the United States welcome this move on the part of the Russians to militarily support the opposition?

RUMSFELD: My impression is that they have been in close contact with the Northern Alliance for some time. I don't know that there is any change in policy.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, understanding this is more than just a military campaign, and as you've noted the lack of conventional military targets, can you just give us some general idea how you can hit the terrorists and the people that support them militarily, given the lack of conventional targets? Is there a general way to speak about how you get to them militarily?

RUMSFELD: It seems to me that what we've said is correct--that we are looking at the full range and spectrum of things that can be done, both from a military standpoint, as well as the president announced today, from a financial standpoint and diplomatic. Clearly, the decision by the United Arab Emirates to sever their relationship with the Taliban is an example of the kinds of things that can be very helpful.

QUESTION: Can you at least tell us the new name of this operation?

RUMSFELD: I may do that tomorrow.


RUMSFELD: I'd like to let it build a little.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what evidence does the U.S. government have that the Taliban may not only harbor Osama bin Laden, but could actually be directly involved in the sponsorship or in terrorism itself? And if so, doesn't that make the Taliban a legitimate military target in this new war on terrorism?

RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that, again, we've been very explicit about this; that the only way we can defend the way of life of Americans, free people, is to not think you can defend against every conceivable terrorist everywhere in the world using any technique. The only way to do it is to carry the effort to them. And when you say, ``to them,'' it means to the terrorists, the terrorists networks, the people that help them, the people that sponsor them, the people that finance them and the people who tolerate them. And it means that you have to undertake a host of things all across the spectrum. And clearly, the president said, I think in his speech, I can't remember the exact words, but he said that if you're in that position as a terrorist or someone assisting terrorists, then you're not with us.

QUESTION: Does that mean then, Mr. Secretary, that the U.S. is intent on overthrowing the Taliban regime?

RUMSFELD: It means what I said. We're intent on altering behavior. We're intent on attempting to take the steps so that the American people and our interests and friends and allies and deployed forces can go about our business not in fear.

And that means that we want countries to stop behaving in the way that I've just described, and we intend to do things that will help encourage them, and the kinds of things we would do would run across the full spectrum.

We'll make this the last one.

QUESTION: OK. I wonder if you could take--since it was so crucial in the Vietnam War to define what we were trying to do--could you take another stab at what would constitute victory in this war against terrorism? Would it be to stamp it out? Would it be to reduce the threat? How would you define it?

RUMSFELD: Well, first to say what it isn't. I think the idea of eliminating it from the face of the earth is setting a threshold that's too high. I think human beings are human beings and there are going to be people who will attempt to terrorize their neighbors and their friends and the people in their regions.

What we are attempting to do is to assure that we can prevent people from adversely affecting our way of life. We are a free people. We need to be able to go out of the door in the morning and not be fearful for our lives. Children have to go off to school and we have to have reasonable expectation that they'll be coming home from school. And people have to be able to say what they think and go where they think and engage in the kinds of legal activities that they wish to engage in. And that is what this is about.

This terrorism problem in the world strikes at the very heart of what we are as a free people. And a victory is that, in my view, has to be characterized as the kind of an environment where we can, in fact, fulfill and live those freedoms.

QUESTION: Well, one last thing, would that mean the operative verb would be stamp out terrorism or to reduce terrorism?

RUMSFELD: I think what we need to do is to deal with terrorism so that it does not threaten our way of life. I think trying to stamp it out in every single locale all across the globe in perpetuity sounds like a pretty big task to me, and it is the aspect of it that affects the American people and our interests.

I mean, let's look at the damage that has been done. We've lost thousands of people; others--many thousands--are fearful. We've seen significant economic harm to people in this country and elsewhere in the globe. The United States is linked with so many nations across the globe that we need to be able to engage in the kinds of things that Americans engage in. So I think that to the extent we are able to deal with this problem in a way that permits that, we would have every reason to feel that we had accomplished something very important for ourselves and for the people with whom we have various kinds of relationships around the world.

QUESTION: Do you have enough forces in place to act now if you had the intelligence that allowed you to?

RUMSFELD: The goal has been to get our forces positioned in a way that we feel that when the president has made a decision that he is convinced there's something we can do that is useful and will be helpful in achieving the goals that I've just articulated, that we'll be able to salute and go do it.

I'm going to step away. Thank you.

Mel, you have it.

MARTINEZ: Thank you, sir.

RUMSFELD: You're talking to an insightful, thoughtful and talented...

MARTINEZ: I cannot spell Taliban, but otherwise...

RUMSFELD: ... kind, gentle Pentagon press corps.

QUESTION: Who are all under deadline to go file on what the secretary just said.


MARTINEZ: If you have a question or two on the announcement, I'll be glad to answer.

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Secretary, does this affect any active-duty forces at all?

MARTINEZ: Yes, it does. It affects all active-duty forces. But what has to happen is that they have to have incurred the debt previous to the time of entering the service. For those who are being called to active duty, then it would be those obviously who incurred any debt prior to the date of their call.

QUESTION: A soldier serving in his third year active duty, if he had incurred the debt for the house say...

MARTINEZ: Before his date of service.

QUESTION: ... then it'll be capped at 6 percent.

MARTINEZ: Correct.

QUESTION: But isn't this for people who are being currently called up rather than active...

MARTINEZ: It basically applies mostly to people who are being called up because those are the people who are going to have the FHA mortgages and who are going to have--you know, people on active duty oftentimes do not have private residences. They live on base and that kind of thing. So the bottom line is that we think it'll apply mostly to those that were called up, but it'll apply really across the board. It doesn't make a distinction between active and inactive.

QUESTION: Is this an order for the mortgage companies to do this or is this a suggestion?

MARTINEZ: No, no, it's an order. I mean, it enacts a law that is activated from time to time, last time in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, and now we're calling it into being again. It's the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act.

QUESTION: Including the provision of nonpayment of principal.

RUMSFELD: Correct.

QUESTION: For how long?

RUMSFELD: It's for the time of service--for a year, basically, which is the time of their call.

QUESTION: Does the affect DOD civilians who are deployed (inaudible)

RUMSFELD: No. It would not affect civilians.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company