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Richard L. Armitage Interview on Al-Jazeera

Interview on Al-Jazeera

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary

Washington, DC February 6, 2003

Question: So does Washington really want to reveal the truth or are they looking for a justification or a pretext for its war on Iraq, especially in view of the escalation to this war in the world. We have Mr. Richard Armitage.

The evidence provided by Mr. Colin Powell, it seems that it was not convincing except for those who were already convinced with Washington, and did not gain new people with this line.

Deputy Secretary Armitage: I don't think I agree with you. If you are referring simply to the comments at the Security Council, I believe most of those comments were written before Secretary Powell made his presentation. However, Secretary Powell met privately and individually with each member of the elected ten of the Security Council and all his Permanent Five Security Council colleagues, and we have a much different count as to how the Security Council is coming out, much more favorable to the point of view Secretary Powell is putting forward.

Question: So maybe this might be true but nobody declared anything in front of the public opinion in the world, so we are committed with what has been declared, even though these presentations were prepared earlier, but did not say anything other than that.

Deputy Secretary Armitage: I think you should continue to follow reports from the various capitals, the 15 capitals of the nations in the Security Council, and I think you will see that public opinion in those countries will have an affect on governments and is having an affect on governments.

Question: What do you think of Major Amir al-Sa'di, who said that Colin Powell was selective in choosing the evidence from Blix and Blair reports and therefore he employed everything in those reports.

Deputy Secretary Armitage: No, Secretary Powell was very deliberate and said yesterday that we are not showing you the best evidence we have and we necessarily keep it back. We were selective in that we only showed the tip of the iceberg. Much of that information came from members of the Security Council themselves, from their intelligence services; so don't make the mistake to think that it was only U.S. intelligence.

Question: But precisely the intelligence information, it cannot be verified in terms of credibility, and so fabrication is valid ultimately, even -- only theoretically speaking.

Deputy Secretary Armitage: I am not going to speak theoretically. I will speak practically. Here you have a leader, Saddam Hussein, and a regime in Iraq who has already been found guilty yet again in Resolution 1441 of violations of their agreements under successive resolutions. If there is a credibility gap, whether you look at the remarks of Dr. Blix or Dr. El Baradei, the gap is in Baghdad, not in the Security Council.

Question: Some people say that even inside the institutions of the Administration of the U.S. there is some difference -- disagreement in security and intelligence who are not necessarily with or agree with all the information that has been provided.

Deputy Secretary Armitage: I think a careful review of the tapes of yesterday's presentation by Secretary Powell will show that the Director of Central Intelligence, Mr. Tenet, was seated right behind Secretary Powell. That was deliberate, and it indicates clearly to all people of the Security Council that our intelligence agencies stand firmly behind every bit of that information.

Question: Mr. Armitage, allow me to consider some of the information that was presented by Mr. Powell which seemed sort of ridiculous to some people, when there is a tape recording of a telephone call between two officers, Iraqi officers, who are talking openly about prohibited weapons. How would they dare talk about such weapons without code naming maybe and also when they referred to some scientists signed an agreement that if they tell anything they would be killed? I don't know such a paper should not be signed. What do you think of these allegations?

Deputy Secretary Armitage: Well, first of all, if scientists signed those papers and we have good information that they did, I think they had very little choice. That is one of the problems -- the nature of the regime of Baghdad gives people very little choice. On the question of the telephone calls, we have those recordings and many, many more and so do other intelligence agencies. I can't speak to the stupidity of certain officers and their telephone calls, but those are absolutely valid recordings.

Question: Mr. Hans Blix today in an interview in Al-Hayat newspaper from London, is blaming the U.S. because it was supposed from the U.S., according to the Article 10 of Resolution 1441, that this information should be given to the inspectors, not to be declared in front of the world as has been done yesterday.

Deputy Secretary Armitage: I haven't seen the interview in Al-Hayat that you refer to, but more generally Hans Blix up to this point I think has expressed great satisfaction with the amount of intelligence that has been given to him. You will note that we were talking in the presentation of Secretary Powell of things that generally immediately preceded the inspectors' arrival. We do have some concerns that the inspectors have been spied upon, as Secretary Powell alluded to yesterday, but I am unaware that Dr. Blix or Dr. El Baradei are unhappy with the amount of information which has been provided.

Question: If we assume that the information that has been provided by Mr. Powell yesterday was correct, if you provide this information to the inspectors, couldn't that be a possible way to have -- prove evidence to indict Iraq?

Deputy Secretary Armitage: Look, Iraq has already been indicted. If you read carefully Resolution 1441, 15 members of the Security Council, including Syria, have indicted and found guilty Iraq. The inspectors themselves are not policemen. That is not their job. They are not there to discover clues. They were there to verify disarmament and the only way they can verify disarmament is if the government of Saddam Hussein makes a decision to be completely transparent and open. They have not made that decision.

Time is running out. Even Mr. Blix the other evening said that it is five minutes to midnight and the time for diplomacy is running out.

Question: Mr. Armitage, there is some information also provided by other American officials, and Mr. Hans Blix in New York Times on the 13th of January, and he disclaimed the information and now Mr. Powell is repeating that information though Blix is not agreeing or disagrees with this information, like listening to the inspectors' calls, moving, let's say, equipment and some kind of maneuvers and providing some security personnel as scientists to the inspectors. How would you justify that?

Deputy Secretary Armitage: Well, I would say that Dr. Blix, with whom we have had many conversations, certainly did not yesterday evidence any discomfort with what was said. I am unaware of anything, as I say, in London in Al-Hayat, but we have had a very good and open relationship with Dr. Blix, and I would be a little surprised if things were exactly as you just characterized.

Dr. Blix has had previous experience in Iraq. He and Dr. El Baradei know very well the nature of the regime --

Question: Your point is -- your point is, excuse me, sir -- there is another session to be held on the 14th of February in the Security Council. Can we consider this session as a countdown for war? How would you take that?

Deputy Secretary Armitage: Right before the last presentation by Dr. Blix many people in the Arab world and in the world at large were saying that that report would be a countdown to war. There's no magic clock. There's no magic countdown. There's no D-Day event. We will be interested to hear what Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei report to the Council, and our President will make a decision after that on the way forward.

Question: If we assume that Blix and Baradei came back from Baghdad with a new evaluation different than your perspective, would you accept to review your position and policy towards Baghdad?

Deputy Secretary Armitage: I always have to see what Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei bring back, and we would await the results. I will assume nothing in advance of their report.

Question: But how can Washington convince the great majority of the international public opinion that Washington wants to attack Iraq whatever the results might be, whatever these resolutions are there without maybe a UN authorization?

Deputy Secretary Armitage: I don't know that the United States is ever able to convince the entire world of anything, but I notice that people said that George Bush would never go to the U.N. President Bush did that. People said he wouldn't have the "stick-to-itiveness" to see the difficult discussions through to a resolution and he did. People said he would never allow the inspectors time to do their work, and he has. People said he would never allow Hans Blix to give a report basically saying that Iraq was not cooperating without calling military action forward. Mr. Bush has done that.

At every step of the way, Mr. Bush has shown patience, but as he has indicated, the patience is running out, and it is time for Iraq and Saddam Hussein to make the choice to avoid war and it is his choice.

Question: But Mr. Armitage, who would decide that patience is running out and there is no time? Is it Mr. Bush or the Security Council?

Deputy Secretary Armitage: We have said that we prefer to work through the Security Council but our President won't wait indefinitely. We do feel that the nexus of a thirst for weapons of mass destruction, the unaccounted for weapons that Dr. Blix indicates that the Iraqis have, and the nexus with terrorism all make time of the essence as far as we are concerned.

I am sure that you would like me to give you an exact timetable, but as our President has not made a decision on war, I can't give you that timetable.

Question: Do you need a new resolution from the Security Council? Don't you think there is some signs, kind of a disagreement here? You are keen on having UN resolutions, but in a way that is in violation of international legitimacy?

Deputy Secretary Armitage: That is a serious allegation that you make, and I don't understand how it is possible. If you have a UN Security Council resolution, by its very nature it will be legitimate internationally. What we have said -- in direct answer to your question -- is we do not need another resolution. It is desirable, but the language of 1441 is very clear: If Iraq is found in material breach, then there are serious consequences.

Further, there are resolutions -- 678, for instance -- dating from the end of the Gulf War that make it very clear that already the Security Council has language existing warning of the use of all necessary means to compel Iraq to obey the provisions of that particular resolution. So all the authority necessary to satisfy international law already exists.

Question: Mr. Armitage, from Washington, thank you very much.

Deputy Secretary Armitage: Thank you very much. [End]

Released on February 7, 2003

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