Richard Armitage on Iran's Role in Iraq
August 01, 2003
On the Record
This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, July 14, 2003. Some of the text has been edited for clarity, not content.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Tonight: Another soldier murdered in Iraq, No. 32 since May 1, when President Bush declared the major hostilities over, this as President Bush faces questions about his intelligence team and the war against Saddam. And new troubles with Iran. I asked Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage what kind of problems Iran creates for us, if any, in Iraq.
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RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Iran has interest in seeing that the Shia population of Iraq basically adhere to a line that comes from Iran. I don't think, ultimately, they'll be successful, but it's a bit of competition that we're engaged in right now.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is Iran actually going over into the border and not adhering to the Iraqi-Iranian border and trying to stir up Shi'ite Muslims there?
ARMITAGE: Well, there are two issues. One is the encroachment on the border, and that has happened in recent days. Now, to be true -- or to be truthful, the border is rather amorphous, but the Iranians have encroached upon it. The activities inside Iraq that are stirred up by Iranian money and Iranian clerics is another and a separate issue.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is that something that the State Department is heavily focused on, or is that more of a military issue, at this point, or both?
ARMITAGE: Well, I'd say both. Paul Bremer in Baghdad is very concerned with the encroachment of Iranians both on the border and their influence in the south. We have State Department officers who work in the south to try to, one, understand the depth of that Iranian involvement, and two, to try to blunt it where we can.
VAN SUSTEREN: In Iran today -- or at least, in the last few weeks -- there have been student demonstrations and it's pro-democracy. It's sort of interesting because 20 years ago or 30 years ago, it was students who created the Islamic Republic, who are now trying to stop this pro-democracy demonstration. What is our role, if any, on helping the pro-democracy movement?
ARMITAGE: I think, as a general matter, clearly, the United States globally supports the development of democracy and the democratic yearnings of all people. In this particular family spat, as Secretary Powell calls it, we probably ought to stay out of it and try to create the conditions that would allow democracy to flourish but not interject ourselves in something the dimensions of which we may not fully understand.
VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of -- and there's a Canadian journalist who was beaten to death in the last couple of days in Iran. Any of our business?
ARMITAGE: Well, yes, it's a great violation of human rights. Of course, it's our business. It's our nation's business. But I'm saying I don't think any of us understand fully the parameters of what's going on in Iran, and we ought to approach it gingerly.
VAN SUSTEREN: What about the nuclear program that we're -- I assume we're suspicious that Iran is creating one?
ARMITAGE: We're very suspicious. We've been very active with the international community and the IAEA. We have to stop that program. The development of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to carry them would be a very destabilizing effect, should Iran be able to accomplish that.
VAN SUSTEREN: Iran says they're doing it for energy, but they've got a lot of oil, haven't they.
ARMITAGE: Oh, they've got a lot of oil, and I think a peaceful use of nuclear energy is one thing, but I think we have good reason to wonder if there aren't covert programs and programs which we haven't seen to develop fissionable material for weapons. And it's a huge concern of the United States.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a time problem? I mean, at what point should we really be worried about Iran?
ARMITAGE: Well, I would say about a year ago. This is not something that's not right around the corner. We've been worried for some time. We've been working with the international community, and it's our view and my view that we're making some progress, particularly with our European friends, who seem to share this concern.
VAN SUSTEREN: And what's our status in Iraq? How do you assess how we're doing in Iraq?
ARMITAGE: I think it's mixed. Each day is better than the last, but the security situation stays very neuralgic. We unfortunately lost another serviceman today and had several wounded. So it's a day-to-day thing. But Jerry Bremer feels that each day we make progress. I think we made progress yesterday when we stood up the interim governing council. And this puts an Iraqi face to what will be ultimately Iraqi decisions, and that's a step in the right direction.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you expect that other countries will be giving us some support in Iraq, in terms of forces?
ARMITAGE: Oh, yes, sure. I certainly do. The Poles are moving in. We've had several others. El Salvador recently announced that they were willing to take a niche capability and sort of relief us of some of our duties in that regard. So it's moving forward with some -- apace.
VAN SUSTEREN: You say mixed. What are the good points and what are the bad points?
ARMITAGE: Well, the good point are Iraqis are free of Saddam Hussein. The region is not afraid of weapons of mass destruction. People aren't afraid of a midnight knock on their door from the Mukhabarat of Saddam Hussein. The bad news is that there are still pockets of resistance and there's still violence occurring. There's still difficulties in some areas in providing goods and services. And it's a matter of priority for the coalition provisional authority to be able to provide these.
VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of the controversy that's been going on the last couple days about the statement that the president had in his State of the Union that there -- that Saddam was getting some uranium from Africa, and that that made it into the State of the Union, and apparently, the intelligence community in this country, up until that point, said it was not true?
ARMITAGE: I think Secretary Powell said the other day it's overblown, overdrawn and overwrought. There's quite a frenzy about it, and it's a pretty small item. We didn't go to war because of some report about Uranium in Niger. I think at least political Washington is quite shocked that someone like George Tenet, our excellent director of the Central Intelligence Agency, would stand up and actually accept responsibility for this. And they don't know how to deal with it, and so they're gumming it to death.
VAN SUSTEREN: How does a mistake like that happen? Is it the bureaucracy?
ARMITAGE: I think that's exactly -- it's a mistake. It's not good. It was a bad thing, but it was a mistake. And it just happened. Someone took their eye off the ball. George Tenet accepted responsibility, and it's a really stand-up thing to do.
VAN SUSTEREN: Liberia -- your thoughts. What's going to happen in Liberia?
ARMITAGE: Well, Kofi Annan this afternoon spoke with Secretary Powell, and latterly with President Bush about the situation. I think there's a great anticipation that we will participate in some manner. It would be a great disappointment in Liberia and elsewhere if we didn't. The exact form and shape of that participation, whether it's military or humanitarian or what, is going to await the outcome of those discussions and some assessment teams which are in the area now.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, someone sitting in the Midwest watching TV tonight has the question, Why would we spend the money and risk lives in Liberia? What's in it for us?
ARMITAGE: Well, first of all, a philosophical -- if you're a fan of John Donne's, there's no man is an island. We're all part of a whole, and any man's suffering would diminish us. And there's plenty of suffering to go around in Liberia. But historically, we do have a role in Liberia. It was established as a home for freed slaves, and we've had very close ties there. So it's time for us to step up.
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VAN SUSTEREN: More with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is next.
VAN SUSTEREN: Back with more of our interview with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. How does the State Department decide to send American troops to a certain area when there are many regions with similar problems?
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ARMITAGE: I don't think there is a set criteria. Each situation is sui generis. In this case, we have some historic ties to Liberia. Also, the French have stood up in Cote d'Ivoire, the British in Sierra Leone. It's generally seen as our time to stand up in an area of historic interest to us in Liberia. Beyond that, I think that although we say we don't want to be the policeman of the world and et cetera, when 911 is dialed, it's the United States that has to answer the call.
VAN SUSTEREN: You mentioned France. What sort of relationship -- I mean, how would you describe our relationship it today?
ARMITAGE: Well, it was quite neuralgic a couple of months ago. I think we're a little better off now. President Chirac, President Bush had a pretty good discussion at the G-8. And I don't think any of us have forgotten the recent unpleasantness, but we're going to get past it because we've got great interest, and our two peoples have a lot of work to do in the world.
VAN SUSTEREN: Does Liberia focus or play into this at all, in terms of helping the relationship or hurting it?
ARMITAGE: No, I don't think Liberia, per se. The French have stood up in Cote d'Ivoire to try to dampen down the violence there. And I think they set a good example, and we're going to probably do something like that in Liberia, but the final decision hasn't been made.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's jump across to North Korea.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, what about North Korea?
ARMITAGE: A bad situation. What about it?
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what are we going to do about it, if anything?
ARMITAGE: Well, we're go to let diplomacy play out. We've been delighted with activities of China. They've taken a very robust leadership, and indeed leadership role in trying to bring the North Koreans to the table with the United States and with South Korea and Japan, as well as China. This is a noteworthy development and one that we want to encourage, but we're not in a hurry.
VAN SUSTEREN: But -- you say we're not in a hurry, but some people have said that North Korea is going to become the Wal-Mart of weapons of mass destruction.
ARMITAGE: Yes, I probably said that.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, maybe it's you I'm quoting. Wasn't that a good source? I mean, and it seems like there must be some timeline, where we better get -- we better make -- fish or cut bait on something.
ARMITAGE: You know, it's very bad policy for any U.S. official to put our government, our country in a cul-de-sac by having some artificial timeline. However, your basic premise that the North Koreans could be a proliferator and proliferate fissile material and weapons of mass destruction is a very real one. Hence, that's why the president announced in Poland a couple of months ago his proliferation security initiative, which has at its heart the ability of the international community to reach out and stop proliferation when it's seen either by air or at sea.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you satisfied that we can gather enough intelligence so we know exactly what North Korea is up to or is not up to?
ARMITAGE: I don't know that we'll ever know with 100 percent clarity what anyone is up to, but I noted that we gathered enough intelligence to be able to stop a North Korea ship several months ago on the way to Yemen with Scud missiles after they'd taken great pains to disguise both the cargo and the destination. So I think we're not as good as we need to be, but we're better than the North Koreans probably think we are.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, it makes a big difference -- or at least, I think so -- whether we get them before they can make these weapons or whether we get them after they have the ability to make these weapons.
ARMITAGE: Oh, of course.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do we know where they are in this continuum of making weapons of mass destruction?
ARMITAGE: We have a view on where they are. It's gained from intelligence, and we won't discuss it. But why don't we just take them at their word? They say they're reprocessing the spent fuel rods at Yongbyon, and generally, that's seen as in six or eight months giving them enough fissile material for a weapon or two.
VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of all of those countries -- Iran, Iraq -- I'll leave France out of it -- Liberia and North Korea, which one of those countries, you know, has the potential to keep you up at night?
ARMITAGE: For different reasons, they all keep all of us up at night. But North Korea and Iran are the ones that have the biggest potential to be more global in scope. And Liberia is, of course, a regional problem. But as I say, we have historical relations with them, and we need to step up. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,93579,00.html