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Richard Boucher Interview on Al-Jazeera

Interview on Al-Jazeera

Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesman

Washington, DC February 11, 2003

QUESTION: We are on air now, Mr. Boucher. Thank you very much indeed for joining us this evening, and welcome to the program. And first of all, we would like to ask, if we may please, don't you think, Mr. Boucher, that Secretary of State Mr. Powell to be rather worried or anxious about the fact that the bin Laden message proves that he is still alive and maybe even Mr. al-Zawahari, his right-hand man as well, instead of worrying about the content of the message?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we do worry about the content of the message. We know that al-Qaida is out there, that they're still a danger to us all. This tape didn't just threaten the United States. He threatened half a dozen Arab governments -- Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen. He's threatening the whole world. We've said this is a fight for civilization to protect civilized countries against this kind of terrorism, and I think that's demonstrated again by this tape.

So the fact is there's still a threat out there and we all need to continue to cooperate in fighting against this kind of terrorism.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, Mr. Powell said today that this message shows there is a partnership, as he (inaudible), or a link between Iraq and al-Qaida. What was he basing this assertion on, especially the view of the fact that what we hear the entire tape now and it showed nothing of the sort?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think it did. If you remember when the Secretary was in front of the United Nations, he laid out very carefully how the ties between the Iraqi intelligence service and al-Qaida had been built up over the years, the contacts through the 1990s, even when bin Laden was in Sudan; how the Iraqi intelligence service offered safe haven to al-Qaida after they were expelled from Afghanistan and were no longer able to harm the people of Afghanistan, the Iraqis offered them a place to go. And so we saw them set up and the Secretary outlined the contacts.

Now, after that, there were people who argued, well, these two ideologies are too different, they'll never get together. The Secretary made clear that we thought they were bound by a common hatred; that is what brought them together. And I think that's really what you did have bin Laden confirming today in this tape. In the tape, he says it doesn't matter if people are socialist, we're going to fight together with them to destroy everything that we can.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, but this does not show or prove any link between Iraq and Usama bin Laden, and especially when he considers the Arab Ba'ath Party as infidels and Saddam Hussein personally as well.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, he does. And he even says that in the tape. But he threatens everybody in the Arab world except for Saddam Hussein. He says, in fact, that he wants to fight with Saddam Hussein. And the Secretary of State laid out very carefully, if you look at his presentation, how those ties have been built up, how the links have been built up, and how it was that al-Qaida came to have safe haven in Iraq.

We're very careful about making the case on solid grounds, not overstating it, but this does confirm that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein seem to find common cause together.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, do you believe that what -- the version of this message that got to you, that your received, maybe is different than the one we have just broadcast a little while ago, and maybe the difference lies with the source which provided you with the message?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it was essentially the same. We had heard a lot about this tape in advance, and therefore the Secretary was able to describe it. But I heard the broadcast, at least I heard the translation of the broadcast that was just carried on Al-Jazeera, and in there he says that we will fight with the socialists, the socialists of Iraq, the Ba'ath Party.

And so I think what I am telling you is what your viewers just heard on the air.

QUESTION: Don't you think, Mr. Boucher, finally, that when Secretary Powell says that the relationship, or what he suspects of existing between Iraq and the al-Qaida organization, are not constant as some may wish to be strong enough to prove the existence of such a link? What is your comment about that?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it is clear that there is a link. It is clear there is communications, there's contacts, there's channels. We know of eight high-level meetings through the 1990s. We know of operations in places in Northern Iraq where the al-Qaida associated groups are existing and operating, where also the Iraqi intelligence service has a presence. We know how they contact each other. We know how the assassin who was in Jordan, that the materials came from al-Qaida operatives in Iraq.

So we know all those things. That's solid fact and that was laid out by the Secretary of State. We're not claiming more than exists. We're talking about contacts, we're taking about safe haven. We're saying Iraq has given a harbor to these -- to this group, and that therefore channels of communication exist, channels that could come back to haunt us all if a weapon of mass destruction or other technology or information was passed through that channel.

QUESTION: Finally, Mr. Boucher, you say that Iraq provides a haven for such people who belong to or support al-Qaida, and maybe you're referring to the group called Ansar al-Islam which are on the part of Northern Iraq which is outside the control of the Iraqi Government.

In view of all of this, we must ask you therefore, what is your comment on when somebody says that Colin Powell has become rather desperate to find a link or a piece of evidence to prove others to -- to others that the American stance has what -- has enough justification to wage war against Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: I think you're ignoring the facts. The Secretary of State laid out a very careful case in front of the United Nations. People can get on the Internet and review that case in great detail. It's there for all to see in dozens of languages.

The point is that this group operates in Northern Iraq. We know the Iraqi intelligence service is up there and offered them safe haven there. We know that Mr. Al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad, got medical care, set up an operation there. We know this by tracing back throughout Europe and other parts of the world the people who have been caught. And where did they get their materials from? Where did they come from? They tell us: from this network that operates out of Iraq.

So it's not just one place, one time. It's a whole network of information that describes a network of terror that has been able to operate now from Iraq because the Iraqis have given it safe haven.

Let's remember as well the question of the UN Security Council resolution is not just the question of their ties to terrorism. Their ties to terrorism makes it all the more dangerous. But the fact is, as the inspectors have said, Iraq has not cooperated with the United Nations in disarmament. Iraq is not disarming peacefully. And the United Nations' responsibility is to see that Iraq is disarmed so that the Iraqi regime can't use these weapons of mass destruction again, and so that others that they have links and ties to, including terrorists, can't ever get their hands on them.

QUESTION: Another final question, Mr. Boucher, if we may, please.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, we have several final questions.

QUESTION: If some American forces are -- if you got a copy of the message before we got our hands on it, why didn't you publish them or broadcast them? Does this mean that now you are getting messages from the source of Usama bin Laden even before the media outlets can get them?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know when you got your copy, but certainly we're not a TV network. We're a government. We do collect information. We talk to a lot of people. We want to know things. We understood you had it, but I think I'll leave that to the broadcast people to talk about what they had and when they decided, how they decided to broadcast it.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher in Washington, thank you very much indeed for joining us this evening.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to talk to you.

QUESTION: You're welcome. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

MR. BOUCHER: Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.


Released on February 11, 2003

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