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Richard L. Armitage Interview by Radio Sawa

Interview by Radio Sawa

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC July 9, 2003

QUESTION: What are the obstacles that's preventing day-to-day life, like electricity, telephones, general security from going back to normal or stabilizing in the country?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: There are two main obstacles to this. The first is the antiquated infrastructure. Saddam Hussein did not invest in infrastructure and an infrastructure was kept, such as electricity, water, et cetera. To the extent it was kept workable, it was done by excellent Iraqi engineers, but there were no investments because Saddam Hussein was plundering the country.

The second main obstacle was quite clear, it's sabotage. Sabotage are those who, as our President would say, want to continue to hurt the Iraqi people. And I think these are primary -- primarily a Baathist element, and so, to some extent, criminal elements, and those are the two obstacles.

QUESTION: What impact does the downfall of Saddam Hussein have on the Arab world?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think the first and most immediate impact was the removal of threat to the Arab world. He had been more than a threat in the past, an invasion of Kuwait is witness to that, so that is removed from the scene.

In terms of the spread of democracy, my own view is that the democratic spread will happen with or without the downfall of Iraq. It is almost an inevitability. And, in fact, in many parts of the Arab world, we see the beginnings of a more democratic tradition. And, certainly, there is nothing at all that is at cross purposes between democracy and Islam.

QUESTION: Does democracy have to be established in Iraq and consolidated for it to expand elsewhere in the Arab world?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I think not. Certainly, we're going to work rigorously to have democracy established. But the fact of the matter is democracy has been moving forward, even, to some extent, before the war, the recent war in Iraq. I would point to Bahrain. I would point to some of the recent comments and movements toward democracy of Crown Prince Abdullah in Saudi Arabia. And so there is a movement afoot already in the area.

QUESTION: What are the plans for making the Iraqis more active partners of the coalition in managing Iraqi affairs, leading toward taking over full governance themselves?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, just in recent days, we have seen a, for lack of a better term, a "city council" in Baghdad established, which puts more of an Iraqi face on that aspect. The plan, as announced by Jerry Bremer, was to have an interim governance council established, which will have Iraqis who are much more involved in giving advice initially to the coalition authorities.

We already see in many of the ministries, Iraqis daily assuming greater and greater positions within the ministries. We want to accelerate this. I even saw today an interview on television. And the advisor I think was a former police commissioner in New York, talking about how rapid he wants to expand the Iraqi police force, so they can get back on the streets as a force for good, and not as a force for the thuggery supporting the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: Is the United States and our coalition partners prepared to accept troops from Arab countries and help -- and build a national coalition that helps restore stability and security to Iraq?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, as a general matter, we would be willing to accept some niche troops. But these are things that have to be worked out, both by Jerry Bremer and I think with the advice of an interim government council in Iraq, and we would be very much informed by what our Iraqi friends say about this.

QUESTION: Has the acknowledgement by the White House that the President and Secretary Powell used -- inadvertently used inaccurate information in their speeches, does that hurt American credibility in the region?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I continue to believe that at the end of the day, we'll have a much more full understanding of the weapons of mass destruction program that Saddam Hussein was involved in. Clearly, there is no doubt in the President's mind that Saddam Hussein was involved in a program. I don't think there is doubt in the minds of most of the leaders of the coalition.

The fact of the matter is that we even recently have uncovered some information which leads to, I think, bolstering the comments made by our friends and others about a nuclear program, the engineer -- scientist -- excuse me -- recently came forward to show where he had buried the centrifuged parts in his backyard, in a rosebush, I believe, is witness to that.

So I think as the documents are exploited and people continue to come forward free of fear of a reemergence of Saddam Hussein, then the full dimensions of the program will be made known.

QUESTION: There is almost silence in the Arab world concerning discovery of mass graves in Iraq. What's your reaction to that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I am as horrified by these discoveries. I am very angry about it. I thank God that the coalition forces moved when they did because that will at least eliminate any other mass graves being prepared for future victims of Saddam Hussein.

And I'm also a little embarrassed that many people who kept silent or actually supported the regime, the Iraqi regime, now have to face the full dimensions of their inaction when faced with the sorrow of families who are now reclaiming their loved ones, whose face were unknown until the discovery of these mass graves.

QUESTION: Moving to another subject, how do you assess the Syrian/American relations at the moment?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think they're mixed. Secretary Powell went to Damascus, had a very good and frank exposition of views with President Assad and wanted to be fair, has to acknowledge there has been some cooperation on the question of Iraq and the border, and we do acknowledge that.

And by the same token, Syrians continued assistance to Hamas, to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and to Hezbollah is something that's going to bring Syria into juxta position with the United States. And we hope Syria chooses to totally and completely distance themselves from terrorism and be a force for good in the region.

QUESTION: How would the provision for direct aid to the Palestinian Authority help the peace process?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, clearly, United States law has prevented, until yesterday, when I signed a waiver, the provision made directly to the Palestinian Authority. We believe the emergence of Prime Minister Abbas was deserving of direct support, so that he can very rapidly make a difference in the lives of the citizens of Gaza and Bethlehem, where the Israelis have withdrawn.

So I think it very much empowers the new Prime Minister, and I hope it very much alleviates the problems that the citizens have had. And that's our hope.

QUESTION: What makes the roadmap more successful or has a chance of more success than other attempts in the past?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think the first instance is that the Israelis feel that -- our Israeli friends feel that they have a competent interlocutor in Prime Minister Abbas, and I am somewhat heartened by that.

I think, second, the personal involvement of the President of the United States and his commitment has shown, both at Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba, recently, also give impetus to the roadmap.

QUESTION: One of the key Palestinian organizations that agreed on the three month truce with Israel has publicly taken responsibility for the bombing on Monday in Israel. What is the United States and the Palestinian Authority doing together to try to reinforce the truce before it collapses?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, first of all, the ceasefire or the so-called hudna is not a solution. It is simply something that gives some breathing space for a final solution. And I believe, if I am not mistaken, that the group which claimed credit, had not officially and formally signed on to the hudna.

But in direct answer to your question, clearly, the Palestinian Authorities have to shut down all those who are rejectionists -- and just a ceasefire is a breathing area, but dismantlement of the ability to use terrorism as an instrument is what must be called for, and what we'll be looking for.

QUESTION: Is the Saudi Arabian Government cooperative enough in the fight against terrorism?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think after the terrible events of May 12th, and the bombing in Riyadh that the Saudi Arabian Government has awakened to the need to be very vigilant. And we have all seen in recent month-and-a-half, quite an aggressive campaign against terrorists with everything from detentions and arrests to actual shootouts of terrorists. So I think at present the Saudi Arabian Government is seized with a need to defeat terrorism. They have been stung badly by it.

QUESTION: Mr. Deputy Secretary, thank you very much.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you. [End]

Released on July 18, 2003

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