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Interview on CNN's The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer

John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
July 12, 2007

QUESTION: And joining us now from the State Department, the Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

QUESTION: You speak not only as the number-two man at the State Department, a former ambassador to Iraq, former head of national intelligence. On virtually all of the political goals that were set for the Iraqi Government, so far, they've failed. Do you have any confidence that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is up to the job?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, I think that this is work in progress. It's not easy. I think it's not only up to Prime Minister Maliki, but all the different elements of the Iraqi body politic. They have to work together, both in the government and in the Council of Representatives. And I think they are making their best efforts and we've seen some progress, although not -- perhaps not as much progress as we would have liked on all fronts.

QUESTION: The President said he's sending the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to the region in August to try to maintain some support, to get support for this strategy. What's disconcerting to a lot of people, especially on Capitol Hill, that the Iraqi parliament planning on taking vacation in the month of August. I spoke with Muwafaq al-Rubaie, the Iraqi National Security Advisor, on Sunday. He said they're going to work through July, but then they're going to take off in August. Is that acceptable while American troops are dying?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, I think what's important is that they keep working on the different aspects of legislation that's before them, whether it has to do with national reconciliation, oil revenue, provincial governance, and so forth. And as the report -- the interim report, I would want to stress -- that was issued today indicates, the results are mixed. On about eight fronts, they're making progress. On eight others, they have not made satisfactory progress. And on a couple of them, it's just too early to assess.

But again, I just want to stress this is an interim report. It's work in progress. And I think we have to give the Baghdad surge and the other elements of the policy at work a chance to show results.

QUESTION: But the Iraqi parliament -- the members of the parliament, they very often don't even have enough members showing up while they're in session to have a quorum. Is it acceptable to the U.S. Government that they take vacation in the month of August?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, we have, of course, kept the pressure on both the government and on the Council of Representatives to deal with the urgent issues that are before them. As I indicated earlier, the results so far are mixed. But our message is going to continue to be that they've got to work as hard as they can and to the best of their ability to achieve the various benchmarks that have been established and to achieve a more secure, peaceful, and politically stable Iraq.

QUESTION: Has the war in Iraq, Mr. Secretary, strengthened or weakened al-Qaida?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, I think it's certainly weakened -- al-Qaida has taken some real hits inside of Iraq during the past year. If you just look at the western part of Iraq - al-Anbar Province, the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, towns that I visited last November. I visited Fallujah during that period in November of '06. Ramadi was forbidden territory; it was pretty much under the control and influence of al-Qaida. Fallujah had made substantial progress from the time that we liberated it in 2004.

I returned -- I had the opportunity since last talking to you, Wolf, of returning to Iraq in the month of June. And I visited Ramadi, which has now been freed from al-Qaida influence and control, and it's a real success story. So I think some real inroads have been made against al-Qaida in Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, what about big picture, though, the overall worldwide al-Qaida threat facing America? Has the war in Iraq made that a more formidable, dangerous threat or has it reduced the al-Qaida threat to the United States?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, what I would say is, first of all -- and this is an issue, as you correctly point out, that I've followed not only in my present position, but previously as Director of National Intelligence -- al-Qaida does not have the sanctuary that it had prior to 2001 when it had an entire country to use as a platform to conduct terrorist activities against the rest of the world. And that, of course, as we all know, resulted in the 9/11 attacks. There is no such platform available to al-Qaida at this time.

But what we do know is that in the hinterland there between Afghanistan and Pakistan, there has been some regrouping. And I think the important point to make here is that there is continued plotting by these al-Qaida elements in the Waziristan area against the West, against the West in general, both Western Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world. But I don't think one could say that al-Qaida has anywhere near recouped the strength and the capability to strike that it had when it controlled Afghanistan.

QUESTION: What --

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: One other --

QUESTION: Go ahead.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: But one other point, if I may make, is that, of course, if, for some reason, we were to precipitously depart Iraq and, for some reason, al-Qaida were then to come under greater control of territory in that country, I think that would be the replication of the very same danger that we confronted and faced with respect to al-Qaida and Afghanistan. And we must not allow that to happen.

QUESTION: John Negroponte is the Deputy Secretary of State. Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: I appreciate it.

2007/575



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