Armitage Says Success in Iraq Will Weaken al-Qaida
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
May 27, 2004
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage
On Al Arabiya Television with Nadia Bilbassy
May 26, 2004
QUESTION: Mr. Armitage, thank you very much for joining us.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you, Ms. Bilbassy, for having me.
QUESTION: And let's start by asking with the latest. Basically, now, we're
hearing that the America is on alert. There is a report coming from Britain that
al-Qaida is now recruiting 18,000 people. There is a possibility that America
might be attacked this summer, in fact.
I mean, how could this Administration convince the world that America is safer
now by going to Iraq and starting another front there? I mean, this is -- you're
playing into the hands of the critics now.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we were going to face this battle, sooner or
later. We realized that September 11th, 2001. We feel that, thus far, we have
not been attacked again in the United States. One of the reasons is we've been
so vigilant and we've kept people so much on alert. It's difficult, but we have
to do it.
The question of Iraq, we do feel, is something that, if we resolve it correctly
and leave the Middle East with a country which is stable, which is secure and is
democratic, then we'll have, in a very major way, changed the balance regarding
al-Qaida for the good.
I think witness to this is Mr. Zarqawi, his own statements and letter, that he
wrote before the Arbayeen in Iraq, where he said, basically, that democracy
would strangle them, strangle the terrorists.
QUESTION: Yeah, sure. But, I mean, how can you say that now America is safe
because we're expecting an attack? I mean, how could -- I still cannot see,
really, the logic of that.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think we have not been attacked for two
years. We're very vigilant. We do realize, as my colleagues in government today
have stated, that there are al-Qaida cells here in the United States, as there
are in most of the countries of the Middle East. And if we're alert and look for
anomalies in behavior, we'll stop them before they hit us. So, I think we're
QUESTION: Talking about al-Qaida, any news about bin Laden? Would we know that
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I don't know where he is. But, sooner or later, a
fellow, 6 foot 5, can't hide forever.
QUESTION: So you're confident that the United States will get him?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, I am. But I'd say, whether it's the United
States or the coalition -- it's a coalition fighting in Afghanistan, and he'll
be brought to justice, one way or the other. I don't know if it will be U.S.
soldiers, or German soldiers, or British, or whomever, but they'll get him.
QUESTION: Another news that came together today, and it is quite disturbing,
which is the Amnesty International report just been released, they were talking
about how the U.S. -- it was -- I mean, slammed the U.S., basically, and heavily
criticizing it. And they were talking about bankrupt vision when it comes to the
war on terror.
I mean, how do you feel on your -- considering what happened in Abu Ghraib, the
credibility and the image of America in the Arab and Muslim world? Now, you have
Amnesty International talking about abuse of human rights. I mean, how are you
going to win the heart and minds of people?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I haven't read the report, but I certainly know
about it. But it was preceded by other reports, such as the ICRC report, which
spoke very harshly of the treatment of people in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo, and
First of all, we have to realize that Abu Ghraib has been a terrible stain on
our honor and on our souls. And the first and most important thing we have to do
is make sure all abuse stops; and, second, those who are guilty are punished.
And it's going to take a while to work out of this. We hold ourselves to a
higher standard. So we're deserving of some criticism when we don't meet our own
QUESTION: And talking about the punishment, they already have six soldiers going
to be on trial; we have General Sanchez, who is going to be moved. Is this our
way of trying to sweep the whole thing under the carpet and say, well, that's
it? Because there is many people, including General Zinni, who has asked for Mr.
Rumsfeld to resign. I mean, are we likely to see any heads rolling beyond that
what we saw already?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I suspect it will go beyond six soldiers. I don't
know where it will stop, but I'll say this. The whole world saw a nation which
brought their top civilian and military leaders of the Department of Defense
before the U.S. Congress, made them publicly explain their behavior. The whole
world is witnessing punishment which is being meted out in a way that's
transparent and can be seen, and we'll continue that process.
That's also a signal for the world. Where it stops, I don't know. That will be a
function of what the various investigations show. But we'll get to the bottom of
it, guilty will be punished, and hopefully we'll have learned from this terrible
QUESTION: We're talking about Iraq now. Let's go to the Security Council and
this new resolution. There is confusion. Yesterday, Tony Blair came and he said
something like, I quote what he said, he said, "The new Iraqi government will
have the political control over final military operation. Secretary Powell said
the American troops will be under American control."
And do they have the veto? Does this new Iraqi government have the veto,
ultimately, to overlook any military operation?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, first of all, Ms. Bilbassy, I see that you
quote yesterday's comments by Mr. Blair and through Mr. Powell, and today he had
other things to say.
QUESTION: Let me correct myself. He changed, he changed, but still there is
confusion. He changed his stand, but there is confusion.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Here are the facts, that U.S. soldiers will always be
under U.S. command. That's for sure. Iraqi soldiers will always be under the
command of Iraqi generals, and the Iraqi General, under the Ministry of Defense
of Iraq. If the government of Iraq agrees that a certain operation should be
conducted, and that their soldiers should work with multinational force
soldiers, they would temporarily work for a U.S. commander.
Equally, a sovereign Iraqi government can decide that her soldiers should do the
operation alone, without any multinational help. And that's fine, too.
Ultimately, these are decisions that Iraq is going to have to make. You know,
we've faced this already. We faced it in the question of Fallujah. We were
hitting Fallujah. The Governing Council came and talked to us about a better way
to do business, and we amended our way of doing business.
So this is -- it's not very difficult to imagine being able to find a way
forward with a sovereign Iraqi government.
QUESTION: Now with this multinational force, what exactly do you mean? I mean,
the name changes, does that mean that you will have more countries join you? Or
is this the current coalition that they are going to be under the UN command? Or
how does it work exactly?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Oh, no. First of all, I don't know if any other
countries will join us. There is a call in the resolution, as you've seen, for
nations to provide some soldiers to guard the United Nations and their
facilities -- I think, a very worthwhile endeavor. But they will come under the
overall command of the multinational force commander. You can't have two
different, or three different, four different organizations running around all
trying to do basically the same thing, someone has to take charge.
Whether there will be additional troops or not, we'll have to see. We've just
started informal discussions in the New York. The text of the resolution was
only given to the permanent representatives on Monday morning. It's only
Wednesday, so give it a little time. I think we will have a resolution, and it
will be one that -- and, by the way, the Iraqis have to look at it, as well, and
pronounce themselves on it.
QUESTION: Well, absolutely they are the major player there.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, absolutely.
QUESTION: But, I mean, why can you lead, if you want the UN to play a major
role, and you want to convince the Arab world that you are there because you
liberated them, and you are there for their own good? Why don't you operate
under the UN command?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, you're making an assumption that I think is
unwarranted. You're assuming the UN wants to take that -- that responsibility.
QUESTION: So you think they --
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I would say they don't. They have very big concerns
about the security environment. The tragic death of my friend, Sergio de Mello,
and has, I think, seared the hearts of many in the United Nations. And so, I
don't think the United Nations wants that type of role. They do want to be part
of the development of the new Iraq, and they'll, I think, with us, and other
interested parties, find a way to be very participatory in the development of
And I would note that Ms. Parena -- Ms. Pirelli, rather, Carina Pirelli, who has
been working so hard to develop an election process, an election commissioner is
soon to issue a report that, I think, will be very -- reflect very favorably on
the United Nations.
QUESTION: So you're stepping in because the UN may be unable to do it, and
because NATO are busy elsewhere, so that's why you think it's --
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, NATO is also busy in Iraq. Seventeen of the 26
NATO members are with us in Iraq. But the United Nations, I don't think, is
quite willing to take over the whole responsibility. They're doing an excellent
job in the development of an electoral process, hopefully, to be ready to go, no
later than January '05. And we'll have a major country in the Middle East with a
democratic election, which will be very interesting.
QUESTION: I hope so. Now, considering that the Secretary already said if this
new Iraqi government has asked the U.S. to leave, the U.S. forces to leave, they
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes.
QUESTION: But do you think that's realistic, I mean, considering everything
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, realistic for whom?
QUESTION: For the Iraqis, for the Americans, for the region.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think it's very unlikely that this interim
government, for seven months in office, would ask us to leave. But if they were
to ask us to leave, we would, but I think it's unlikely.
QUESTION: Yes, it's unlikely. I agree. It's unlikely.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: But our job is to develop security forces, as rapidly
as possible, train them, and get them in position to be able to have Iraqis
providing for Iraqi security. We believe that Iraqis will fight for Iraq. They
may not particularly want to fight for Americans or British, but they will fight
for Iraq. And so, we want to give them the wherewithal to be able to fight for
QUESTION: Talking about this new government, now there is talks -- I don't know
if it's been confirmed or not -- that the new head is going to be Mr.
Shahristani, who is a very well known Iraqi nuclear scientist, who was a regular
at Abu Ghraib, has been there for 10 years. And, basically, the reason, or the
focus was that he is close to the Grand Ayatollah Sistani.
I mean, do you see this as advantage of somehow trying to win Sistani to accept
this government? Because without his acceptance, it's going to be a problem for
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, again, Ms. Bilbassy, you're making the
assumption that Mr. -- or Dr. Shahristani will be the Prime Minister candidate.
I can't make that assumption, and I'll wait till I see what Lakhdar Brahimi has
But the broader question, the broader question of Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani is
a real one. He is a prominent voice, one of the most prominent voices in the
Shia community. Shia is the dominant population in Iraq. Clearly, we, and
everyone, should listen carefully to what he has to say. Thus far, his comments
have been very enlightening. He has spoken about the need for elections and
legitimate government. It seems to me that his is a voice we should listen to.
QUESTION: One last question about Iraq, before we move elsewhere.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Sure.
QUESTION: Saddam Hussein, what's going to happen to him? Is he going to be tried
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, what will happen on 1 July, is the Iraqis will
make decisions on what they want to do with him. And I've seen that the grand
majority of Iraqis, in any opinion poll, no matter what they say about the
population -- the popularity of the United States, they say they'll want Saddam
Hussein to be brought to justice, and I suspect Iraqis are able to do that. And
there are a lot of people out there who owe him a debt, not a good debt.
QUESTION: Let's talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And we'll start
with the situation in Rafah, the destruction of the houses there. We have the
Israeli Justice Minister, he came and he said a woman in her destroyed house. It
reminds him of his grandmother. And he made a reference to the Holocaust. And he
said, basically, that Israel, if continue with this policy, it might be expelled
from the United Nations and it might be a trial that they hate.
And then we have the United States basically come in, the spokesman, day after
day. Basically what they tell us is, we are deeply concerned, we are troubled,
et cetera. And the strongest condemnation of Israeli policy came from you,
basically, that you used the word "catastrophic."
But how, I mean, this double standard. When you trying to talk about human
rights, when trying to talk about the Middle East, trying to win the hearts and
minds of people in the Middle East, do you see it clearly? What does it take for
the U.S. to condemn Israeli action?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think you've seen, in the question of Rafah,
a very strong U.S. response. I can't say that it was determinate in bringing
Israel to a different point of view in the last few days. It may have been. You
ought to ask that question to Israeli officials. But we were quite strong and we
talk with Israelis all the time about it. We were very strong on the question of
Rafah. We don't like the specter of collective punishment; we were very clear on
But we don't want to look at this as a zero sum game, either. We condemn the
Israelis and that makes the Palestinians happy. We condemn the Palestinians and
that makes Israelis happy. The fact of the matter --
QUESTION: But you always do it from one side, sir, if I may interrupt you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: -- no, the fact -- this is not true. We have
condemned on both sides collective punishment, assassinations, things of that
nature. We equally note, however, that there are Palestinians who, on occasion,
who are not looking for peace, primarily Hamas, who are willing to entice people
to be suicide bombers and do exactly to Israel even more than they think Israel
is doing to them.
Our view is, both have to stop, both have to show restraint, and let's get about
the vision of two states living side by side.
QUESTION: But practically, what are you going to do about this? We have a
situation where the suffering of the ordinary people is continuing. You have --
people would argue you have a brutal occupation on one hand and you have a
corrupt Palestinian Authority on the other hand. And meanwhile, the suffering
continues practically. I mean, what the U.S. can do in an election year, to be
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, it's not just the U.S., although I admit we
have responsibilities. We have responsibilities to Israel and we have
responsibilities to the Palestinians because we're all part of the human
condition. And I would note for you and for your audience that it is the United
States who is the leading supplier of aid to the Palestinians. Only Saudi Arabia
has lived up to their commitments under the Arab League. Everyone else talks.
So I think that we ought to say, what can we all do? You correctly point out a
corrupt Palestinian Authority. So perhaps the countries in the region could make
it very clear that a corrupt Palestinian Authority is no longer acceptable and
that the people, the Palestinian people deserve much better, because they
QUESTION: But they need to see more action on the ground. They need to see -- I
mean, just explain to me why the U.S. abstained from voting against the
Israelis' resolution in the UN.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: In U.S.-Israeli context, that's quite a strong move
by us and it was noted by such as the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian
Authority greeted that with a great deal, I think, of appreciation. That's maybe
not the right word for such a -- such a terrible situation, but I think they did
acknowledge that this was positive, on behalf of the United States. And in
Israel, it was noted.
QUESTION: Practically, more --
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Would you feel better --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: -- if we just hollered and screamed at Israel? Would
that make you feel better?
QUESTION: I don't -- I mean --
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Not you personally, but would it make people feel
better? We want a solution to the problem. We don't want just to feel good about
ourselves because we raised our voices. We want to find a solution.
QUESTION: But people will feel -- they will feel that somebody is standing by
them, at least. And I think when it comes to a humanitarian situation like
destruction of homes in Rafah having been condemned by every other human rights
organization except for the U.S., this is when people think that you need to
step in and you need to feel that, morally, you are on their side.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think morally we're on the side of those who want
peace and want to show restraint. And that's why we've constantly and
consistently urged this. You don't know the content of our discussions with
Israel. Only a few do. One particular neighbor, Jordan, does understand the
discussions we've had. So it may not be satisfying to you, but over time, I
think it works and Israel has shown some restraint. We want the same restraint
on the Palestinian side so we can get back to a more positive agenda and get
back to the roadmap.
QUESTION: I mean, people not just asking for peace, that's everybody asking for
that, peace and justice. But talking about Jordan, when King Abdullah canceled
his visit, he postponed it, he came back. Then finally, you give him this letter
of guarantee. I mean, what does it exactly mean? I mean, we saw it, we read it.
How does it change the realities on the ground?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, the realities on the ground regarding a
two-state solution are as the President has said, that we're not going to
prejudge the outcome, it's not our job to do it, and the final status
negotiations have to be a subject of discussions between the two parties.
We've equally noted that there have been some changes on the ground. Everybody
in the Middle East -- everybody in the Middle East knows the basic outlines --
basic outlines of a final solution. And it's time for the two parties to sit
down and start talking seriously about it. That's where we are and we're not
going to prejudge the outcome.
And I think that was very satisfying to our friends, our Arab friends, and by
the way, to Israelis, too, because they're afraid that if we try to prejudge the
outcome it will go against some of their interests.
QUESTION: With the King Abdullah, he already talked about the concept of
transfer. There was widely reported became here that he was fearing that the
Israeli policies in the West Bank will ultimately drive the Palestinians out and
this is what the Israelis want. Did they express that with you? I mean, are you
really fearful that --
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I have a --
QUESTION: -- a Palestinian state will never come to existence?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I have worked both with -- had the honor of working
with King Abdullah and his father, King Hussein, for almost 20 years. And of
course, that fear has always been a fear of Jordanians. And then there were some
at one time who would say that Jordan is Palestine. I think those fears are
assuaged right now. And I think that King Abdullah knows that we'll never do
anything that would help bring that about and that we're -- we're really
rigorously working for a peaceful solution.
I think he said, more or less, that when he was with our President.
QUESTION: I'm going to jump to Syria because we have limited time.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Sure. Jump around.
QUESTION: So I just wanted to ask you about, basically, we have this
Accountability Act that was passed --
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Right.
QUESTION: -- was not pleasing the Arab leaders. But basically, did you, at one
point, did you negotiate the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon? Did you talk to
them at all at this point?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I thought that was negotiated in the Taif
QUESTION: But I mean lately. I mean, if you want to open a dialogue, would you
-- did you talk to them?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We have talked to them about removing themselves from
southern Lebanon. We've talked about their stopping supplies of arms disposal.
We've talked to them about opening up their own society. They've recently
suffered some real violence with Syrian accords.
So there are a lot of things that we've talked to the Syrians about. But we seem
to be talking and they're not listening.
QUESTION: So what does it take to --
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we started down a path of some sanctions and
there were a warning. And we hope that young President Assad will view those as
a warning and perhaps heed the advice that Secretary Powell gave him last May,
May a year ago, which was, you've come to a fork in the road and you can go
either way. And one fork is good, open -- Syria can be part of what we think is
going to be a new Middle East, a new economy, new ways of life for Syrian
people. Or you can realize that you're the last Baath party, and all that that
It's his decision. We'll see what he does.
QUESTION: But Mr. Armitage, you still signed a letter to the previous
administration when President Clinton was in power asking for this change for
regimes in the Middle East. I mean, these are still viable considering what
happened in Iraq. Do you think it's a good idea to do it and whether the way to
do it is by going to war?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: On the question of Iraq, as the President has said,
he wasn't willing to wait while the storm clouds gathered. And he thought that
successive UN resolutions in many years had gone by and Saddam Hussein was not
paying attention. Indeed, he was shooting -- shooting at U.S. and British pilots
every single day. And it was only a matter of time before we had trouble with
him and the President wasn't willing to wait.
The question of regime changes is not something to be taken lightly. The best
thing that you want to do, I think, is have change come from within, to have
change that moves in transparent direction, one that can be seen, and that
offers a better alternative than the present one.
And there's a lot of change going on in the Middle East now, in every single
country, every one -- some in the civil sector, some in governance, some in
education, including education for women. So there's a lot going on and I think
it's a very hopeful sign.
QUESTION: Tell me what you think of your vision for this Greater Middle East
Initiative. We have a phenomenon now where you have each President is propping
his son to take over. You have the case of Mubarak in Egypt. You have -- Qadhafi
(inaudible). You have President Assad himself. I mean, how can you go when you
talk about promoting democracy in the Middle East and you have these countries
and governments trying to already prepare who's going to take over? How does it
work? Where does it fit in the U.S. concept of democracy in the Middle East?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, first of all, the Greater Middle East, I think
the impression is that this initiative is something that will be pushed down on
the heads of each particular Middle Eastern state and have no regard for culture
or for the unique characteristics of the states. And that's completely wrong.
We do acknowledge and see that in every society in the Middle East, there are
changes. Some are very necessary changes, like the elimination of corruption,
the need for better education for all citizens, as I say, including women. You
see some NGOs beginning in different societies. Civil society is changing. We
think these are very good signs and they lead over time to changes in thinking,
to include the political systems.
And we're not in a hurry. We think these things have to move at a speed
comfortable to the people of the region.
QUESTION: But why don't you work with the forces of democracy, whether it's
civil societies, NGOs whatever?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Why do we work with them?
QUESTION: That's the right way to bring democracy to the Middle East, rather
than working with governments that many people describe as corrupt.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, you have to -- the only places where the winds
of changes weren't happening -- Iraq (inaudible), Syria, and in other state --
Iran. But in every other state, there are changes. And we and other friends,
European friends, want to work with those forces. They're not anti-government.
In fact, many times the governments themselves are sponsoring NGOs and things of
that nature. They just want to help it.
QUESTION: The Arab summit, finally question I'm giving. The Arab summit in
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Right.
QUESTION: I mean, have you been briefed before they met? And who brief you
afterwards? Who do you talk to to know what's happening there?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we talk to all the states in the region, and we
talk to our folks in Cairo, talked to Abr Moussa and others. So we talk to just
about everybody and we get the views of who said what and who did what and we've
seen the document that talked about some of the needs for reform. That Arab
summit took a long time putting together after the misstart. But we're happy it
QUESTION: Right. Okay, one last question.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Sure.
QUESTION: The time is over, but I'm sure there is one question that I have
forgotten somewhere. Oh, yes, the important question. American embassies in the
Middle East. If you go anywhere in Cairo or Jordan or Oman or anywhere -- any
Arab Middle Eastern countries, you will see its like a fortress. You cannot
reach the street. Residents complain, in fact, that the security is so heavy
they cannot reach their homes.
Again, this idea of trying to come close to the people in the Middle East, and
then they will see the embassies as no-go area. How can you try, through this
public diplomacy, trying to reach the people in the Middle East? I mean, it
gives you an idea, an image about what America's like.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, well, we're faced with a dilemma. We have to
keep our people safe. You saw what happened in Tanzania and Kenya when our
embassies were attacked. Even more recently, we've had planned attacks in
Jordan. You've seen, I was in -- the last two times I've been Saudi Arabia,
there have been attacks and our embassy has been threatened. And until we're
sure that security can be provided by the local population satisfactory to meet
our standards, then we're going to have to be that way. But we have to stay
engaged with these countries, if for no other reason than to help trying to
bring Egyptian, Saudi or any other visitors to the United States so we can learn
from them, we can share with them our views, but we can learn, more importantly,
So the answer is not to disengage. The answer is to get the entire environment
in the Middle East in a more secure and beneficial place than it is today.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for this interview.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you very much.