U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
On Wolf Blitzer Reports
September 21, 2001
MR. BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.
The news today is that the Taliban has rejected President Bush's demand that Usama bin Laden and the al-Qaida organization be handed over. What's your reaction?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't think that's so surprising. The Taliban is a government who starves their own people in order to maintain control, who depends on al-Qaida and Usama bin Laden for a certain amount of finances. They are the sea in which U.B.L. swims and I don't find this reaction so surprising at all.
MR. BLITZER: Is there any expectation they might accept this demand.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, there's always a hope, but there wasn't a great expectation.
MR. BLITZER: So what's next now that they've rejected it?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think the President was very clear last night: give them up or share their fate. And I'm afraid the Taliban has chosen to share the fate of al-Qaida.
MR. BLITZER: Does that mean the United States specifically is going to go to war against the Taliban?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: First of all, I think that it's the United States and many other countries that are going to have activities against the Taliban and al- Qaida. And it won't just be military. We are beginning a long campaign. It will be political, it will be economic, it will have an intelligence aspect. And most probably, it will have an aspect of military operations.
MR. BLITZER: Is there any indication that the American public should be bracing for that military action any time soon?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, first of all, I'm not going to speak about that publicly. I think that's a decision that our President will make and when he does, he will inform the American people.
MR. BLITZER: Is Pakistan fully on board in terms of meaning working against the Taliban and Usama bin Laden to end this situation over there?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I believe if you want to listen to President Musharraf's speech the other evening, you see that he made a decision for his country which he felt was in the best interests of his country. And as far as I can see, they are very intent on living up to the discussions and the agreement that we have with them.
I think there are different voices in Pakistan. Some of them are very less enthusiastic about the course of action that President Musharraf has chosen. But I think the majority of his countrymen are with him.
MR. BLITZER: As you know, I was in Pakistan last year. And I could sense -- and you've been there many times -- the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the support, the sympathy for the Taliban, if not for Usama bin Laden. How worried should the US be that all of this support could represent a threat to President Musharraf?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think that everything you say is true. But the greater threat to President Musharraf and to Pakistan would have been to remain on the course on which they were embarked. And I take some issue with your characterization of this as some manifestation of Islam. What U.B.L. and al-Qaida represents is a perversion of Islam. It's simply a perversion of a great religion of the world for a secular aim and a twisted secular aim at that.
MR. BLITZER: Why do you believe they have so much support, Usama bin Laden and his group, among some rank and file Moslems, Arabs at large?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I suspect that Usama bin Laden and al- Qaida depend on lack of opportunity and lack of hope to get adherents to their cause. We stand for just the opposite; we are a country of hope and a country of opportunity. Hence, we are a threat to the ability of al-Qaida to recruit and attract adherents.
MR. BLITZER: The President was very forceful, very clear in his speech to Congress. He said the US is going to go after terrorists and the states that sponsor or harbor those terrorists. Clearly, Afghanistan, you've outlined pretty bluntly what's going to happen next. What about the situation in Iraq?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, the President has made it very clear that if you harbor terrorists, if you are the sea in which terrorists swim, then you will pay a price. Which price you pay is something for the President and indeed the international community to decide. Iraq has been involved in terrorism in the past. I think right now, we'll concentrate on al-Qaida first and after that then maybe we'll take a look at Iraq.
MR. BLITZER: I want to read to you from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal today that said this: The terrorist threat won't vanish until Saddam does. Indeed, if Mr. Bush decides to leave Saddam out of his war plans, so-called moderate Arab states are likely to be even warier of joining an anti-terror coalition because they fear the US isn't serious about a long-term campaign. What's your reaction to that?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think the Wall Street Journal is dead wrong on this. I think the moderate Arabs are intent on helping us clear up a problem of terrorism. They realize that they will be victims in this phenomenon if they don't help us. The problem of Iraq is a long term one. Iraq has invaded its neighbors in the past, and I believe it's because of US presence in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that Iraq doesn't do it again. That's well understood by the moderate Arabs.
MR. BLITZER: You've seen the stories in the newspapers about a division within the Bush Administration involving going after Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, supposedly in favor. Others, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, much more cautious. How serious is this so-called split?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: My friend Paul Wolfowitz can certainly speak for himself, but I haven't seen the split among the people who make the decisions at the top. Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Rice, and indeed the President and the Vice President. They've been very clear on our objectives. And, as far as I can see, there's unanimity there.
MR. BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Russia. You just have come back from Moscow. How serious is this Russian support for what the US is trying to do?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, the Russians issued a statement as I was leaving Moscow saying that, as a result of our talks, they would render all possible support. The Russians have 20 percent of their population who are Moslem. They've got a large border with the 'Stans. They're very concerned about the phenomenon, about the spread of terrorism, and I think they're going to be quite cooperative with us in trying to stop it.
MR. BLITZER: For our viewers who may not know, the 'Stans are Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, all of the so-called 'Stans, the countries of Central Asia, some of which border Afghanistan.
Are you on board with some of those countries -- for example, Uzbekistan -- to use some facilities there as potential staging points?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I'm not going to get into that. We have relationships with all those countries. We have good relationships.
I'm not going to discuss publicly where we may or may not stage from.
MR. BLITZER: But are the Russians, the Russian Government in Moscow, supporting any initiative that the United States may have in working closely with some of those countries like Uzbekistan?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We have shared a lot of our plans -- not all of them -- with the Russian Federation and they have, in return, shared some of their plans with us. We have activities regarding the Northern Alliance, which is fighting the Taliban. They do some things, we do some things. And so there is a fair amount of cooperation.
MR. BLITZER: And you would expect it to continue, although I guess you would acknowledge that if, in fact, the US were to launch major strikes against Iraq, then all bets are off as far as Russian cooperation is concerned?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think if we were to launch major strikes against Iraq, then holding this great coalition which the President has worked so hard to fashion -- holding it together may be a little more difficult. I think that we will keep our eye on Afghanistan in the first instance and then, laterally, as the President has said, we will chase terrorists and these terrorist cells to wherever they ultimately may be.
MR. BLITZER: You noticed that the President in his speech Thursday referred to Egyptian Islamic Jihad, obviously a threat to the Egyptian Government, the Islamic movement in Uzbekistan. And he referred, of course, to al-Qaida in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Why didn't he mention some of the other terrorist organizations out there that have links to Iraq specifically, or Iran, or Syria?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think only for the amount of time he had, he was getting a lot of ideas over to the American public. But there's no reticence to the Administration to mention Hizballah and Hamas as well, and I'm sure that's what you -- those are the organizations to which you were referring.
MR. BLITZER: That means those organizations are currently supported -- if not sponsored -- and certainly harbored by governments like Syria and certainly Iran. Does that mean that Syria and Iran potentially are targets of this new US war against terrorism?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, Mr. Blitzer, in the first instance, it means they're going to have to make a decision. Are they going to support terrorism or not? And then we'll see where we take it from there.
MR. BLITZER: A blunt warning. Let me ask you about your own personal background. You served four tours in Vietnam. A lot of people are looking at the terrain in Afghanistan and they are wondering this: Is the United States about to get sucked into another Vietnam-like quagmire?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think the United States has made it quite clear and will continue to make it clear that we have no desire to stay in an occupied Afghanistan. This is not our wish. We are going to go do what we need to do and then leave.
So I think we have learned a lot from history. I think we're wiser. We at least know the questions to ask before embarking on military activity. So I think we're not going to get dragged down into a quagmire.
MR. BLITZER: I'm sure you've seen some of the videotape that some of the Usama bin Laden al-Qaida organization has released, in part some of it taken -- videotape of individuals preparing for action against the United States, against the West. How serious of a military threat is this organization?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think that's something that you ought to refer to the Pentagon for an answer. I think that they have certain capabilities. On the low end, they can be dedicated fighters. We have great capabilities. And if it comes to military action, then we'll acquit ourselves quite well; I don't think there's any doubt of it.
MR. BLITZER: Is the -- should the American public be prepared for the long haul in this new war?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The President has made it very clear, this is going to be a long campaign. And terrorism has a great reach, it has many tentacles, and the President is intent on slicing off these tentacles wherever they may be.
MR. BLITZER: I want to thank you very much. Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State, for joining us.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you, Mr. Blitzer.
MR. BLITZER: Thank you.