U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
Deputy Secretary Of State Richard Armitage
By NBC's Matt Lauer
On The Today Show
September 27, 2001
QUESTION: Secretary Armitage, good morning to you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Good morning, Mr. Lauer.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about something that's happened in the last 24 hours. The Reverend Jesse Jackson says that a representative of the Taliban has contacted him, asking him to come to Pakistan on a peace mission.
What do you make of the Taliban reaching out to Reverend Jackson?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It seems to me they're trying to delay making a decision on their own. Reverend Jackson informed Secretary Powell yesterday that he had this invitation, and Secretary Powell informed Reverend Jackson that the demands laid on the Taliban by our President are not negotiable, and Reverend Jackson will now have to make a decision whether he wants to go or not.
QUESTION: Well, would you encourage him to make the trip?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I personally wouldn't, but I don't think it's my decision. I think he will make his own decision.
QUESTION: And if he goes, just to reiterate, he is not there going to make a deal. The demands of the President -- he says his demands are not open for discussion or negotiation. Those still stand?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We are not interested in a dialogue; we're interested in action and no negotiation. The demands are not subject to dialogue.
QUESTION: Secretary Armitage, in the last couple of days, it seems, administration officials have been tripping over themselves trying to say that our goal is not to overthrow the Taliban. Why don't we want to overthrow the Taliban?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think the President has made it quite clear that the Taliban has a choice. They can either render Usama bin Laden and his lieutenants to us and dismantle the camps and free detainees, or suffer the same fate. They still have a choice. We are hopeful they will make the right choice. But I think, as time goes on, it becomes less and less possible for them to get out of this.
QUESTION: The President asked them to turn over bin Laden, to close the terror camps and allow US inspection of those camps. Their response, if I remember, was one word, it was "no." So having given us that response, now why don't we want to overthrow them?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think the question of who governs Afghanistan is something that is going to have to be decided by Afghanis themselves. There are divisions in the Taliban. The Taliban themselves may decide to change their own leadership. I don't know that it's necessarily something that we have to decide right now.
QUESTION: There is a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. People are on the move, trying to flee the country. Other people are dramatically short of food. Is there any more that we can do, the United States can do -- and I know we do a sizeable amount already. But is there anything more we can do to end the suffering of the Afghanistan people, now?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, you're right, we do a lot. We have provided $174 million worth of humanitarian assistance this year. The President has ordered us to be prepared to alleviate the suffering of the new refugees who will be arriving in Pakistan and other neighboring states. We have to do it in a manner that does not allow this food to fall into the hands of the Taliban.
But, yes, there is more we can do and there is more the international community can do. And we are looking for other partners who are willing to step up and alleviate this problem.
QUESTION: But given the scope of the humanitarian crisis brewing right now, Secretary Armitage, don't you think if we strike Afghanistan with our military, we run the risk of making conditions even worse for the people there?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't know how it could be made much worse. The Taliban themselves have been repressive of their own people. And as far as I'm concerned, they have been using food as a weapon against other Afghanis. I think if it becomes necessary to use military action, and the fact that we're also providing for the sustenance and, indeed, in some cases the shelter of Afghan citizens makes the point, that we're after terrorists and murderers and not interested in waging a war on the Afghani people.
QUESTION: In the past day, the Saudi Government has announced that they are cutting off diplomatic ties with the Taliban. How important was that for the administration?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think the combination of the UAE and laterally the Saudis cutting off the ties was a great victory for President Bush and this coalition. And I think slowly the Taliban is seeing the noose tightening and they will have to make a choice soon.
QUESTION: Pakistan has withdrawn its people from Afghanistan but they continue diplomatic ties. Is it the administration's position that we want Pakistan to continue talking to the Taliban?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, Pakistan is welcome to continue talking to the Taliban, as long as they are sending the same message that the President sent. Pakistan is the last country to have relations with the Taliban. I think it is becoming increasingly difficult for Pakistan to hold that relationship. And it will be another case of a country having to make a choice in the not-too- distant future.
QUESTION: I guess what I'm asking, though, would complete isolation of the Taliban be counterproductive?DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think they are a self-isolating government right now, and I don't think it would be counterproductive.
QUESTION: Finally, do we have any more idea today than we did, say, two weeks ago where Usama bin Laden is?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't think it would be for me to comment publicly. We get a lot of information. A lot of countries are pooling their information on his whereabouts and the whereabouts of his lieutenants. And I think, ultimately, we will be successful in this hunt for Usama bin Laden and the al-Qaida network.
QUESTION: Secretary Richard Armitage. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you, Mr. Lauer.