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Dick Armitage Interview by Ian Pannell of BBC

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC
October 6, 2004

(10:25 a.m. EDT)

MR. PANNELL: Mr. Deputy Secretary of State, thank you for giving us an interview on the BBC. First of all, let's talk about the election process in Afghanistan. Now, there have been a lot of warning voices out there and some of them are in the newspapers today, saying that the process is deeply flawed, saying that there's intimidation and violence across the country, that there are Pashtun parts of the country where the election is being boycotted, that there's fighting continuing in the south, that Hamid Karzai has been unable to visit many of the areas in his campaigning process, and that fundamentally this won't be either a representative or a particularly fair election.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think you ought to go on and finish the statement, that more than 10.3 million people have registered, so the citizens of Afghanistan will have registered a number that's far exceeded the United Nations expectations, seem to think there will be a vote. The fact that almost 42 percent of the people who registered are women, or that women registered at a higher percentage in the countryside than they did in the cities, notwithstanding intimidation.

So I think what you're seeing is a first attempt at a democratic election which will be observed by OSCE, the UN, IRI, many others, as well as 2,000 Afghan trained observers, and we'll all be able to make a judgment on how free and fair it was. But I think the judgment that matters, frankly, is not what Rich Armitage thinks or, for that matter, what the BBC thinks. It's what the people of Afghanistan think that matter. Thus far, they seem to feel pretty good about this upcoming election.

MR. PANNELL: But do you concede that it won't be fully representative in a way that, say, some people have concerns of the election?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, no, I won't concede it before the fact. You know there are going to be 4,800 polling places in Afghanistan with 25,000 stations altogether. There will be violence, there is no question in my mind. There will be some intimidation, there will be no question about it. I remember elections in many other countries -- South Africa or Indonesia or any other place -- sort of historically as they developed towards democracy in which things weren't as good as they ought to be. But they got better each time, and I think this election on Saturday the 9th will be a very good harbinger of things to come and I'm looking toward the spring elections, the parliamentary elections.

MR. PANNELL: And if I could talk about the progress that's been made in the country, of course, there are many positive things -- schools opening, girls going into --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I thought you'd get around to that.

MR. PANNELL: Girls going to schools. The people are allowed to do many things that they were forbidden from doing under the Taliban. And yet, one of the major concerns on the international horizon, and domestically as well, is the increase in opium production.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Absolutely.

MR. PANNELL: Afghanistan is now responsible for three-quarters of the world opium production. There's a suggestion from the French Foreign Minister that maybe there's time to institute some kind of international force to deal with the drug situation. What are your feelings about that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: First of all, yesterday I saw Minister Bill Rammell. We talked about this matter. Of course, the UK is the lead country on this. We are supporting the efforts of the UK. We're both putting a lot of money and energy into it. And I completely agree that if we don't get a handle, along with the Government of Afghanistan, on the narcotic problem, and then we'll have a very successful operation, or the patient would have died.

So I have said to other people who have asked about this French idea I'd be more than happy to talk about this. But it's quite clear to me that we're going to have to have buy-in from the government, the government of the day after 9 October, before we do anything. They have to be part of the solution.

MR. PANNELL: Do you think Afghanistan is still part of the war on terrorism? Do you think Usama bin Laden is in the country?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't know where he is, but I think most people suspect he is in that area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and perhaps, like many, many others, travels back and forth. I know one thing: he's in a hole and it's a tough for him to move around. But beyond that, I couldn't say where he was.

MR. PANNELL: Mr. Armitage, if we could move on to the situation in Iraq. Charles Duelfer's report on the Iraq weapons process is expected to report that the country posed a diminishing threat, that it didn't possess, or more importantly, didn't have concrete plans to develop nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Is it fair to conclude that there wasn't a gathering threat in Iraq?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I think you'll see when you listen carefully to Charlie's report that he'll say there was a missile program, which was in violation of various UN Security Council resolutions, that Saddam Hussein himself speaks about the benefits to his country, possession of WMD, you'll see he does that. You'll see that he had the capability and the intention. He did not, apparently, have WMD. That's clear.

MR. PANNELL: So this is a very far cry from the warnings that were given by the Administration beforehand. It's now transpired that there were no strong links between al-Qaida and Iraq, there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11, no weapons of mass destruction, and now the new report is going to suggest there weren't even any concrete plans.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think all of us have addressed this. Prime Minister Blair recently addressed it as his party conference, or caucus, whichever the proper term is. Our President, for his part, just as I believe Prime Minister Blair, believes this was the right decision, that we know one thing for sure, and that is that Saddam Hussein is not going to pose a threat to anyone now or ever again, that he's not going to kill his own people now or ever again, that he will not be able to conduct war against his neighbors now or ever again, that his soldiers and special services won't be able to rape and mutilate people now or ever again. So, from our President's point of view, this decision was rational and it needed to be done, and he wasn't willing to take the chance.

MR. PANNELL: Well, what Mr. Blair said was that the issue of weapons of mass destruction was wrong, that they were mistaken. The President hasn't said that.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I just said it a minute ago to you. I just said there were no WMDs.

MR. PANNELL: Okay, just one final question. So, in retrospect, given the evidence that we now know, and given what we have seen in Iraq and what your people have done over there, would you be in support of this, the invasion of Iraq, again?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think the President has spoken very clearly about this. He said, given what he knows, he would do it again, for all the reasons I mentioned just before your previous question.

MR. PANNELL: So you're happy that that would be the right thing to do?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Look, I'm never happy when anyone suffers, so I wouldn't characterize a decision to go to war or anybody being happy or not. Necessary.

MR. PANNELL: Okay, Mr. Armitage, thank you very much for joining us.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you.

2004/1073 [End]

Released on October 6, 2004


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