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Interview by Mr. Hafiz Mirazi of Al-Jazeera

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
August 22, 2003

MR. MIRAZI: Deputy Secretary Armitage, thank you for giving us this opportunity and let me start first by the, what the U.S. is trying to do now to save the peace process that is getting close to a cliff, as Secretary Powell mentioned?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, thank you, Mr. Mirazi, for having me on the station.

You're right. Yesterday, Secretary Powell said, in answer to a question as to whether this was the end of the roadmap that the end of the roadmap was a cliff, and both sides would fall off.

We've sent John Wolf back to the area to try to reengage with both the Palestinian Authority and Israeli interlocutors. We're really urging both sides to come together and start cooperating.

We've discussed with our Arab friends the need to prevail on Mr. Arafat to allow all the security forces to be put at the disposal of Mr. Dahlan, and of course Prime Minister Abu Mazen to try to stop the cycle of violence; and we'll continue to urge that.

MR. MIRAZI: I believe Ambassador John Wolf was sent urgently to the area. Any other top U.S. officials are planning to go as well?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we'll let the situation develop and see if someone will go to Israel and to the territories to try to work things out. I, myself, am planning a trip to some of the Arab capitals some time in September. It's been quite a while since I've been out there and I need to touch base with our friends.

MR. MIRAZI: The appeal or the efforts to ask the Arab countries, or even to ask for the help from President Arafat, in the statements made by Secretary Powell, make some people wonder whether Arafat is now an obstacle to peace as he was described before by U.S. officials or he could be a catalyst and someone who would help the peace process.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't like the way that question is asked. If this man wanted to be helpful to the peace process, he would have already unleashed all of the security forces long before today to allow Prime Minister Abu Mazen and the Security Chief Dahlan to have the best possible opportunity to bring about a better situation.

So I think the fact that up until now all of the security forces haven't been made available to Prime Minister Abu Mazen seems to indicate that Mr. Arafat has some mixed views on the situation.

MR. MIRAZI: But that also would mean that Arafat is still relevant to the peace process and maybe U.S. officials need to meet him when they go to the area.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: U.S. officials do not need to meet him. U.S. officials need to work with the prime minister, with Mr. Dahlan, with Mr. Fayad and all of their colleagues.

We find them to be good interlocutors, and we find that they are able to have constructive conversations with the Israelis so that's what we'll concentrate our time on.

MR. MIRAZI: Deputy Secretary Armitage, was the assassination by Israel of Ismail Abu Shanab, the Hamas leader, justified? Helpful?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't know that I'd say that any, any killing is justified, but I would have started the question, I think, by decrying the fact that 20 citizens of Israel were killed and over 100 wounded on Tuesday. And by the way, five Americans were killed in that bombing and 16 or so wounded. And I decry those deaths, just as I decry the deaths of Palestinian citizens.

MR. MIRAZI: But no assassination attempt, or no assassination is justified, including what Israel did with Abu Shanab?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think that -- what -- we've targeted killings, you know our position quite well on this matter, but I will state that it was Israel who was struck heinously by this bomb on Tuesday, and Israel does have a right to defend herself; and we support that.

But our position on targeted killings is well known. It's been enunciated on your station and many others.

MR. MIRAZI: On Tuesday, as well, the UN Headquarters in Baghdad was hit --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah.

MR. MIRAZI: -- the highest casualties for the UN in the recent history at least. What the U.S. could do to protect the UN since the security and the safety of people in Iraq should be the responsibility of the Occupying Force, UN, U.S. and UK?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, my understanding of the particular building in question was that the UN themselves wanted to provide the security themselves and didn't want it to look as if it were a military position, and they didn't accept security. So I think it's impossible for the UK, the U.S. or anyone else to guard a building which doesn't want to be guarded or an organization which doesn't want to be guarded.

And I think the answer to the broader question is something that John Abizaid said yesterday, our CENTCOM Commander, when he said that one of the keys is to get a much greater Iraqi face on the security apparatus in the country. And so we're redoubling our efforts to put more police on the streets and more security forces who are Iraqi in the streets. And this takes a greater training effort on our part.

MR. MIRAZI: John Abizaid said, as well, that he does not, or implied that he doesn't need more forces, especially international ones because that might complicate coordination on many other things. And that was said on the same day that Secretary Powell, in New York, was asking for more international involvement. Is that contradictory? Or there is no coordination between the state and the defense?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I mean, we could be accused of having no coordination, but I think we actually have a great deal.

What Secretary Powell was doing in New York, in addition to meeting with the Secretary General was discussing with colleagues in the UN several possible avenues of, to go forward. One, of course, was to decry the violence against the UN and note that this is a blow to the international community as well as a strike against the Iraqi people and also, of course, to honor a great diplomat, Mr. Sergio de Mello, as well as to discuss the need for continued assistance in the economic and financial area and to encourage or to authorize the troops from various countries to participate in the stabilization.

John Abizaid, also, I think, noted that there are 30 countries right now who have forces, who are providing forces. I think the total number is 22,000 in addition to the U.S. WE have another five countries who are in the process of deploying, and we are having discussions with 14 others. So if we have a modicum of success with any of those 14, I think we'll have enough troops.

The real key, however, is to allow the coalition forces who were there for stabilization to do stabilization operations, and not have to be guarding buildings and guarding bridges and things of that nature. And in order to have that, we have to have more Iraqis taking security duties.

MR. MIRAZI: The French, as one of the members with veto power are saying that, "If you would like us to participate with the international community, it has to be given to the UN, not the U.S., to control to the operation and the process in Iraq. Also, we need to know when the occupation is going to be ended."

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, it's impossible to know when the coalition presence will end. Clearly we have to bring about a situation of stabilization and we have to have a -- and Iraqi Government constituted with a constitution. And I -- though we want to hurry and do that as quickly as possible -- I can't give you a date certain.

And I noticed that Kofi Annan, yesterday, made it very clear that the UN accepts the fact that President Bush has stated that the UN must have a vital role, but that role does not extend to the UN being in command of the military. They don't want it. They have some views about taking more of an effort in the political side and the economic side and these are things we discussed with them.

MR. MIRAZI: What the Arab governments could do, and so far are not doing to help you in Iraq?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I noticed that they're starting now. I think the most helpful thing would be to listen with an open mind to the Iraqi Governing Council.

I notice our friends, as I understand it, our friends in Egypt, are starting to do this, and others have started to be more open-minded about this. I would hope that, eventually, the OIC and the Arab League would find the IGC a good beginning point for the Iraq of the future. And I think that would be very helpful.

MR. MIRAZI: But you would accept the reservation, whether from the UN or the Arab League that that Council cannot be considered a legitimate representative of Iraq?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think the legitimacy of that body is something that Iraqis should decide. I don't think other countries should make that determination. It's quite clear that it is a temporary body, and that it -- the IGC will not necessarily be the result of a constitutional process. But right now, it seems to me, if they are willing to stand up and to make decisions for the betterment of the Iraqi people, then it is up for the Iraqi people to decide if they're legitimate; not some other country.

MR. MIRAZI: Some of the forces fighting the U.S. in Iraq are believed to be people who are getting or sneaking into the country from Iran and Syria as Secretary Rumsfeld --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: And some from Saudi Arabia, as well.

MR. MIRAZI: -- and some from Saudi Arabia. Would you tell me some more detail about that of Saudi Arabia?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, let me say the detail from all three.

The borders are quite porous, as you'd imagine, and the fact that we've captured a certain number of foreign fighters in Baghdad and around Iraq indicates that the ways that these people are getting into the country is from Iran and from Syria and from Saudi Arabia.

So at a minimum, we know they're not being stopped from entering. I'm not in any position to assert that the Governments of Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia are in any way responsible. But as a minimum, I can state that they're not -- these fighters are not being stopped at the borders, and this is something that causes us a great deal of concern.

MR. MIRAZI: Have you contacted the Saudi Government? Have you tried? And what was the response?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we've had teams talking to the Saudi Government on a number of issues, and I must say that post-May 12th, and the horrible bombing and terrorist attack in Riyadh, I think the Saudi Government has had a renewed effort to try to bring extremism under control because they realize that those who perpetrated the bombing in Riyadh are as intent on harming the people of Saudi Arabia as they are in attacking American or foreign interests.

MR. MIRAZI: How about Iran? The latest Israeli assessment of Iranian capabilities, mentioning the year 2005 as the time that Iran could possess a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it, would the U.S. share the same assessment of Israel?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we have our own assessment of this, and it's not, I think for me -- it's publicly stated -- but let me just make the point that any nation, including Iran, can be accelerated or retarded in their ability to develop weapons of mass destruction by assistance from outside nations.

And if assistance is not provided, then the length of time that it would take to have a weapon is much longer. And our view is, we want to do absolutely our utmost to try to keep Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them because we feel in the first instance, it's not in the interest of the region, or more broadly, Europe, either. And it's certainly not in the interest of the Iranian people to have the world community looking at them so negatively at a time when Iran needs to join the world and move positive with a -- more positive agenda.

MR. MIRAZI: So a preemptive strike against Iran is not on the table?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: What we generally say is something different. No matter the situation whether it's Iran or anything else, we don't take any options off the table. But our efforts with Iran are, at present, limited to diplomat efforts.

MR. MIRAZI: Concerning the Hizbollah, and that might have some relationship with Iran. Almost a year ago, you were quoted as --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Are you questioning that Hizbollah has some relationship with Iran? Are you --

MR. MIRAZI: I'm asking --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: -- no, but are you questioning that fact?

MR. MIRAZI: No, I'm --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Okay.

MR. MIRAZI: -- I'm just asking what kind of relationship, because there is a relationship but I wonder if the U.S. would believe that any activity that Hizbollah is doing, even on daily basis, is directed from Tehran or not?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I'm not saying that it's directed from Tehran. And we all know the history of Iran and Hizbollah in the early '80s. But certainly funding for Hizbollah comes from Iran and, primarily but not exclusively, through Damascus. Weapons are provided from Tehran, primarily but not exclusively, through Syria. This is an unarguable point.

MR. MIRAZI: And what are you going to do with Syria?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We have -- Secretary Powell has been to Syria. Mr. Burns, Assistant Secretary Burns was recently there and had very frank and open talks and will continue to try to bring sense to this situation with our friends in Damascus.

MR. MIRAZI: Almost a year ago on September 5, 2002, you were quoted as saying on Hizbollah, that "they are on the list and their time would come. There is no question about it. They have a blood debt to us, and we are not going to forget it. And it's all in good time." That's still your opinion now, sir?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes, my opinion is that if Hizbollah does not eschew violence, and does not content itself only with a political role, that at some point in time in the global war on terrorism, they are going to have to be addressed.

We've made this quite clear. President Bush has made it quite clear. There is a choice, however. Hizbollah can eschew violence as a weapon and terror as a weapon and just follow a political route. And that leads to a different, a different answer.

MR. MIRAZI: So the blood debt could be settled peacefully?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I -- I personally, I think my country collectively, is still suffering from the horror of both the Embassy bombing and the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut and will not forget it.

But as I say, if Hizbollah itself follows a political route, then there can be a separation of those who actually conducted the operation, and the political leadership of Hizbollah.

MR. MIRAZI: Is that what you're doing now with Libya? You're settling a blood debt?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: With Libya -- this is complicated. We have reached, as you know, an agreement on the Pan Am 103, where the Libyan Government has accepted responsibility and has made a compensation payment to the families. This was something that we, and our British colleagues, had worked rigorously on.

This does not end our bilateral differences with Libya at all. But it does, in some small way, relieve, and I want to emphasize in a small way, this relieves the suffering of some of the family members and also does apply the guilt to where it does truly belong, and that's on the shoulders of the Government of Libya.

MR. MIRAZI: How about the French objections to the settlement?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, the French have their own problems with Libya on the question of the UTA bombing. And the French are not so much objecting, as I understand it, to the agreement that the UK and the U.S. have with the Libyan Government. They want more equity in their own agreement with Libya. So that's -- as far as I'm concerned, that's a bilateral matter they have to deal with the Libyan Government on.

MR. MIRAZI: The perception among some people in the Arab world that the U.S., as long as the Libyan Government or any other government is willing to pay the bill, is going to give Washington what Washington wants.

The issue of democracy is, will be put aside. And we witness in the Arab world also, the phenomena of presidents are almost inheriting or grooming their sons to be president in the future, to succeed. And some people think that this is going on with the blessing of Washington. What do you think about that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: You've kind of mixed two questions. On the question of Libya, as I stated earlier --

MR. MIRAZI: -- because I only have two minutes.

(Laughter.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: As I stated on the question of Libya, we still have our bilateral differences with them. And if Libya wants to open up and be a free open society and eschews the possession and the development of weapons of mass destruction, that would lead to a good path.

On the more general question of, what I'll say is democratic process in the Middle East, this is happening. You've seen the Crown Prince Abdullah in Saudi Arabia has opened up his country a bit to democracy. You've seen what's happen in Bahrain, where there's been a rather robust opening to democracy. The Middle East is not immune to this and there's nothing at odds with democracy and Islam.

We are doing our best to try to bring about situations where there is transparency in government, lack of corruption, and educational opportunity for all, and particularly women. And we believe if we are successful in kind of developing that as our approach to the Middle East, this will have a very beneficial effect on the very democratic process you --

MR. MIRAZI: So you would welcome, even, inheriting daughters more than sons, yes?

(Laughter.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I would welcome the people of any particular country making their own selection, and if a woman is selected, I think that would be a fine thing.

MR. MIRAZI: Mr. Armitage, my last question would be about the future of Powell/Armitage partnership in the State Department. People are talking about that this is the term that they are not going to renew both together. Everybody knows there are very strong relationship between you and Secretary Powell. Are you considering serving in a second term with Secretary Powell here?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, first of all, it's my policy never to accept or reject a job which hasn't been offered. The Secretary and I both serve at the pleasure of the President, and we're going to continue to serve at his pleasure.

The spate of stories to which you refer was dismissed yesterday as August nonsense by Secretary Powell. There's not much else happening in Washington other than some underemployed reporters making up stories.

MR. MIRAZI: On behalf of underemployed reporters, I'd like to thank you.
(Laughter.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: You appear to be quite well employed, sir.


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