Home Page


Armitage Says Success in Iraq Will Weaken al-Qaida

Office of the Spokesman
May 27, 2004


Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage
On Al Arabiya Television with Nadia Bilbassy

May 26, 2004
Washington, D.C.


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 demonstratively safer.

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 in Iraq.

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 standards.

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 lesson.

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.


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 Iraqi democracy.

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 will?


QUESTION: But do you think that's realistic, I mean, considering everything else?

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 Iraq.

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 the U.S.

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 to say.

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.


QUESTION: Saddam Hussein, what's going to happen to him? Is he going to be tried soon?

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 that.

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 frank?

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 certainly do.

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 --


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.


QUESTION: So I just wanted to ask you about, basically, we have this Accountability Act that was passed --


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 Accords.

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 means.

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 Tunisia --


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 happened.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, one last question.


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, from them.

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.


(end transcript)


A simpler version of this page for printingPrinter-friendly Version

Home | Official Documents | Budget and Finance | Transcripts | Press Releases
Requests for Proposals/Solicitations | Business Center | Webmaster
Privacy and Security Notice

Volunteers For Prosperity First Gov USA Freedom Corps White House Foreign Aid in the National Interest