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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

22 May 2004

Any Limit To Iraqi Sovereignty Will Be Self-Imposed

State's Armitage says interim government to enjoy "all sovereignty"

The Iraqi interim government that will assume control of the country on June 30 will enjoy "all sovereignty," and any limit on its authority will be self-imposed, said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Speaking in a May 21 interview with CNN International's Zain Verjee, Armitage said the interim government that will rule the country until the proposed January 2005 elections will be empowered to make decisions on various fronts, ranging from money to operations and the running of prisons.

"To the extent that there is any limit on their authority, it will be self-limiting," he said. "They are an unelected government, and as such, they probably will decide among themselves not to make decisions, which would tie the hands of future governments over the long run."

Armitage said the interim government also will be bound by the Transitional Administrative Law, negotiated by Iraqis after the fall of the Ba'athist regime.

Asked if the June 30 transition of power to the Iraqis would be merely symbolic, allowing the United States, in reality, to continue running the country, he said, "I don't think they'd put up with that."

He also said the Bush administration was not putting forward individuals to serve on the interim government, because "we may get it wrong."

Instead, U.N. special representative Lakhdar Brahimi "has been hard at work identifying through a consensus process people who are highly valued and highly respected in Iraq," he said.

Armitage said he feels the Iraqis need to have a government that works for and represents the hopes and aspirations of "the entirety of Iraq and not just for one ethnic group, or not just for its ... self aggrandizement or interest."

He warned that violence would likely escalate before the June 30 handover and the 2005 elections, saying there were some who seek to derail democracy in Iraq and in the region. He also said the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, most recently responsible for the murder of American Nicholas Berg, has stated his desire for an Iraqi civil war "because he said if democracy comes it will strangle our efforts."

Turning to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by U.S. soldiers, Armitage said "I couldn't be angrier, I couldn't be sorrier about it."

"I think the only way to recover is by making sure that we leave no stone unturned in the investigation," he said, adding that "it will go up the chain of command as far as it must" and if the abuse is found to be more widespread, "we'll punish more than just the seven or so soldiers."

On the Middle East conflict, the deputy secretary said the United States has been "putting a lot of pressure" on Israel to show restraint in Gaza. He pointed to the May 20 White House statement critical of Israel's actions and the U.S. abstention on the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning its operations in Gaza. "[T]hese are not missed in Israel," he said.

The United States is now working to try to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Rafah, he said.

On South Asia, Armitage said the Bush administration is looking forward to working with the government of the new Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and wishes him success in "transferring the economic improvements that Indian has received down to village level and lower levels."

He said "there's every reason" for the rapprochement between Pakistan and India to move forward and that the United States is in contact with both sides, but not as a mediator.

The deputy secretary also said if reports of U.S. military incursions into the Pakistani territory of North Waziristan were true, any such incursions were accidental.

"The Government of Pakistan has been working very assiduously in the fatah for the tribal area, and we don't want to do anything to interfere with that," he said.

Following is the transcript of Deputy Secretary Armitage's interview with CNN International:

(begin transcript)

Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release
May 21, 2004


Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage On CNN International with Zain Verjee

May 21, 2004 Washington, D.C.

(3:30 p.m. EDT)

MS. VERJEE: Is there going to be a real break in power on the 30th of June in Iraq or will it just be symbolic?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, it will be a complete turnover of sovereignty. Jerry Bremer will no longer be the sovereign authority and the Iraqis will take full command of their futures.

MS. VERJEE: Exactly how much sovereignty will the Iraqis have?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: They'll have all sovereignty. They'll make decisions on their money; they'll make decisions on their -- the conduct of operations; they'll make decisions on the day-to-day running of the government.

To the extent that there is any limit on their authority, it will be self-limiting. They are an unelected government, and as such, they probably will decide among themselves not to make decisions, which would tie the hands of future governments over the long run.

MS. VERJEE: So they'll have the authority to have their own budget, decide what to do with it; they'll have the authority to make their own laws; they'll be able to run the prisons? Will they -- will they make --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, they will be able to run the prisons; they'll have their own laws.

They have laws already in the Transitional Administrative Law, and under the Transitional Administrative Law, only an elected body can make law, so they will still be bound by the TAL, which, of course, an Iraqi body negotiated in the first place.

MS. VERJEE: There's a fear -- there's a feeling that on the 30th of June it will be, essentially, a symbolic handover where you'll put an Iraqi face on the occupation. But essentially, the U.S. will still run the country.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think that people who say that don't have a good sense of Iraqis. I don't think they'd put up with that.

Jerry Bremer, who has done a magnificent job, will leave, and our new Ambassador, John Negroponte, will join 48 other countries and their ambassadors as the 49th ambassador to the new Iraq.

MS. VERJEE: The Iraqis will then run their own ministries and so forth as well? They fully run all 13 ministries?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: They already run 13 fully. They will run them all.

MS. VERJEE: And one of the other issues that's raised is, how come at this late date -- you know, just 40-odd days to go before the transfer of power -- that a lot of issues, some of the Iraqis say, have not been resolved? They don't know who will -- who of the individuals will actually comprise of the caretaker government.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, Lakhdar Brahimi, the representative of Kofi Annan, has been hard at work identifying through a consensus process people who are highly valued and highly respected in Iraq who can fill these jobs for the seven months before elections take place in January 2005. And I suspect in the very near future those names will be publicly identified.

MS. VERJEE: Is there any particular person or individual that the U.S. wants Lakhdar Brahimi to either push or is interested, or that thinks can really hold Iraq together on the 1st of July?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: You know, the U.S. view of this is less important than what Iraqis think. And I think if we try to pick for Iraqis, we may get it wrong. So that's why Lakhdar Brahimi has been running this.

He's discussed with us various things from time to time, but it's not important what we're thinking. It's important what Iraqis are thinking about these things.

MS. VERJEE: What has he told you?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think I'll keep that quiet. That's the essence of diplomatic communications -- we'll keep them to ourselves.

MS. VERJEE: King Abdullah of Jordan had said that what Iraq needs on the 1st of July is a strongman, someone from Saddam Hussein's former army ranks to run the country, that can hold it together. You think that's a good idea?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I don't. I understand the desire, and historically, for hundreds of years, Iraqis have responded to a "strongman."

No, I don't think it's appropriate now. I think what they need is a government which represents their hopes and aspirations in which we've seen is working for the entirety of Iraq and not just for one ethnic group, or not just for its self -- self aggrandizement or interest.

MS. VERJEE: Do you think that political institutions like a caretaker government, like the handover of power and what will happen after that, do you think they can really evolve in Iraq in the midst of a pretty intensive guerilla war?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It's just a tough thing. I have been heartened; however, by Mrs. Carina Pirelli, who works for the United Nations and has been involved in trying to bring about electoral commissions. And she has found that even in the violence, there is no end of nominations for people who are willing to serve in the seven electoral commission positions. And I think this speaks very well for the desire of Iraqis, even though there are mortars and bullets flying, to have ballots flying as well.

MS. VERJEE: Do you think the violence will escalate before June the 30th?



DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think those who want to derail democracy in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq, will exert every effort, not only until June the 30th, but probably until we actually have a vote in January 2005.

MS. VERJEE: Even though you're saying that, really, that this is a legitimate handover of power to a caretaker Iraqi government, the perception in much of the Arab world, you know, will be that they don't really -- they aren't really controlling the strings; it's the Americans that are pulling the strings. What do you say that will be convincing to the Arab street, to people in the Arab and Muslim world, that America isn't there, really, as an occupier after the 30th of June?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, nothing I say is as important as what Iraqis do after the 30th of June, and we'll let Iraqis make their statements about whether they're sovereign or not. It's much more important than what I say --

MS. VERJEE: But it is important because you're going to be controlling security after the country. There is going to be a significant American presence still on the country.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes, there will certainly be --

MS. VERJEE: And the perception -- and that's the important perception.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, no. I think -- there will certainly be a significant American perception, but the whole effort is to get Iraqis standing up more rapidly -- police forces and military forces -- so they can control their destiny, and that we can remove ourselves more and more into the background, and eventually leave.

MS. VERJEE: Are you looking for an exit strategy for Iraq now?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, of course, you're always looking for an exit strategy, but we're not in a hurry. We want to get it right.

MS. VERJEE: How long, how long do you think you'll be in Iraq for?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We were asked that in congressional hearings the other day, and any answer I give you would be wrong. So I can't estimate, but I'll tell you this: January of 2005, when elections are held in Iraq, that is going to be heard throughout the Middle East in a way, with a clarion clearness that has thus far been missing in Middle Eastern politics.

MS. VERJEE: Are you going to put a time cap on a UN resolution? That's what Russia, Germany and France are pushing for.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We are discussing that with our partners, and it might be helpful to have a certain period of time in which these things should be reviewed. We're not opposed to that per se. We will pulse all of our friends and see what their views on this are, and I'm sure we can accommodate the --

MS. VERJEE: Do you think it's important, though, to put some kind of time cap on it?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: If it's important to most of those involved in the process, then it will be important to us. But I think that any time period that would be put into a resolution would be something, which would call for a review in that time. That seems perfectly reasonable.

MS. VERJEE: What about the idea of a UN protection force in the resolution? Is that something that you still want?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: To protect the UN particularly?

MS. VERJEE: Right.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Oh, I think very much so. You'd want countries, the nations of the United Nations, to make available forces to protect the United Nations.

MS. VERJEE: Do you think countries would be willing to get involved?


MS. VERJEE: Who have you talked to that has expressed a willingness to do that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we had 33 -- yesterday, a meeting with 33 of our coalition partners who have troops on the ground, and I didn't detect among them any sort of diffidence about being involved. And I'm sure others would come for a strictly-UN mission, so I'm pretty bullish about it.

MS. VERJEE: And also, you know, it's, to some degree, quite optimistic. But --



DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I'm not optimistic or pessimistic.

MS. VERJEE: All right, fair enough. Do you think though, that realistically, when you look at the situation in Iraq today -- at the security situation, which, as you said, is likely to get worse before the 30th and even after the 1st of July, do you think that there is a possibility that Iraq could disintegrate into civil war?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think one always has to be alert and aware of that, and some forces are trying to bring that about. The Jordanian terrorist Zarqawi has stated and written this is exactly what he wants because he said if democracy comes it will strangle our efforts. But he was unsuccessful in bringing about that civil war during the time of the Arbayeen; and our job is to make sure he continues to be unsuccessful. And our job is turning into an Iraqi job rather rapidly.

MS. VERJEE: The pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib have only made your job difficult in Iraq and in much of the rest -- in much of the Arab and Muslim world. How are you going to recover from something like that? How are you going to win the hearts and the minds of the Iraqis?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: That's going to be a slow recovery. I couldn't be angrier, I couldn't be sorrier about it. I think the only way to recover is by making sure that we leave no stone unturned in the investigation, and those involved are seen as having been punished for this horrible abuse.

And I might say that it was not missed in the Middle East when the U.S. Congress called the Secretary of Defense, himself, up to testify and called our three military commanders back to testify. This makes an impression on people, but we have to follow through, and it's not going to happen in a hurry.

MS. VERJEE: There is also concern, though, that seven soldiers will be scapegoated, and the real responsibility lies at the doorstep of the Secretary of Defense. Do you think that that's the case?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think, as I said, there will be no stone unturned in the investigation and it will go up the chain of command as far as it must. I've got the confidence that the U.S. Army, who does these things pretty well, will uncover every stone and we'll see where it goes.

MS. VERJEE: From what you know, from what you've read, seen, talked to, discussed about this issue, is it just the case of a few bad apples, or was it the result of a wider systemic pattern, as Amnesty International and the Red Cross have both said?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I listened very carefully to Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross. And if it is wider, we'll find it and we'll punish more than just the seven or so soldiers. But I suspect that as we go forward, you'll see more and more people being brought forward. It looked to me like slightly more than seven, but investigations have to ensue.

MS. VERJEE: What about consequences to investigations?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: What about it? What do you mean?

MS. VERJEE: Well, for -- Donald Rumsfeld says, "I was at the helm. I take responsibility," for example. Those that take responsibility, there should be consequences for.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we have to find out where the failure was, first of all, and make sure that we punish appropriately. I think Mr. Rumsfeld has suffered terribly. I see the anguish on his face when I deal with him every day. Don't kid yourself. He is very much involved in trying to get to the bottom of this, and he couldn't feel worse.

MS. VERJEE: Newsweek magazine had this to say about the United States, and I'd like to read it to you and have you respond to it: "On almost every issue involving post-war Iraq, troop strength, international support, credibility of exiles, De-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Washington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now, most have been reversed. It's often too late, though, to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed hopes for a new Iraq, it has had the much broader effect of turning the U.S. into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world."

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I certainly hope that's not the case, and I would note that Newsweek could have written another article. They could have written an article that talked about the daring and the speed of the military operation. They could have written an article about those things that didn't happen. For instance, the oil fields weren't set afire because of our prior planning. Or they could have written an article about how during the Arbayeen -- both Arbayeens since the invasion of Iraq -- there has not been great violence to the pilgrims, who are finally able to worship, so there are two sides to every story, and I think this one needs to be told in a little more balanced way.

MS. VERJEE: But would you concede, though, that some of the issues that it raises, for example, the reliance on exiles, the issue of de-Baathification, there were mistakes that were recognized, corrected and reversed?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, you know, you have to -- in our sports analogies you say we have to have "audibles." And as we've moved forward, some things we've planned for better than others. I hesitate to call them mistakes because we were in new territory. But I think the important thing is we were able to audible, that is, to make changes and to adjust, and by the way, to continue to adjust.

The recently -- the recent combat around Fallujah is a perfect case in point. We were heading on one track. The Iraqi Governing Council had some views. We listened carefully to them; we adjusted. We adjusted in a way that I think generally found acclaim in the Arab world.

MS. VERJEE: But you put a former Saddam strongman in there that was resented, and then put in another one when you realized, apparently, that that was the wrong guy.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, about a day and a half later.

MS. VERJEE: Right.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Not much harm was done.

MS. VERJEE: Right, all right.

The war on terror -- do you think that since the invasion of Iraq, America is safer?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It's hard to tell. We were going to have to deal with Iraq at one time or another. The President wasn't willing to wait while the storm gathered, he said, any further.

There are still plenty of terrorists out there. Our President has steeled our nation to understand that this is a long war. Whether it's safer or not, time will tell.

MS. VERJEE: The Israeli-Palestinian issue -- what's going on in the region now? In Gaza, the Israelis today are saying that, "We're redeploying; we're not withdrawing." What is your sense of what's really happening on the ground, and how much pressure are you putting on the Israelis to show restraint?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think you've seen that we're putting a lot of pressure on a rather remarkable White House statement, our abstention on the UN Security Council resolution -- these are not missed in Israel. What's going on today, as I understand it at this minute, there has been a re-deployment.

We are working very rigorously through our Ambassador to try to get humanitarian assistance in to the people of Rafah. There may be some movement in that way. I certainly hope so. And when you lack restraint, innocent people are killed. And we're seeing the result of that. And as the White House said the other day that Israel's -- we believe that Israel's security has not been enhanced by this.

MS. VERJEE: Just a final question for you.


MS. VERJEE: With the recent engagement that the United States is showing with the Palestinians, when you look at the peace efforts or reviving the peace efforts in general, is there anything new, you think, that we're going to hear from the United States, any new initiative to push a dead roadmap forward?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, you know, it's the only roadmap that exists. It's the only plan that has been endorsed by both sides of the question. And I would say, as I've said in the past, there are a lot of holes and ruts in the road, but it's the only road we have. We've reengaged with Abu Alaa. We will try, as -- with the Israelis and the Palestinians to bring them to a better position so we can realize the vision of the President, two states living side by side in peace and security.

MS. VERJEE: Thank you very much, Mr. Armitage. I appreciate it.


MS. VERJEE: Thank you.


MS. VERJEE: Thank you. Well, I think I'm out of time.


A PARTICIPANT: Do you have time for one more question on Pakistan?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Pakistan or India. I was kind of interested in the new government.

MS. VERJEE: Yeah, that's -- I wanted to ask about that as well.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: You can ask whatever you want. Go ahead.

MS. VERJEE: Is that okay?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Sure, sure, go ahead.

MS. VERJEE: Yeah? Yeah. Okay.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Wait a minute. Let met get my head back in the --



MS. VERJEE: South Asia, yeah. So I'll just do Pakistan and then India. Is that all right?


MS. VERJEE: I talked to the Pakistani Foreign Minister this morning, and he had expressed dismay at U.S. incursions into Pakistani territory in North Waziristan, and saying that this was unhelpful. What would you say to that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I saw some news reports of that, and if true, it would be unhelpful. I'm sure it was an accident and we'll take precautions to make sure it doesn't happen again. The Government of Pakistan has been working very assiduously in the fatah for the tribal area, and we don't want to do anything to interfere with that.

MS. VERJEE: There is a new government in India, a dramatic entry into power by a Congress party in India. What are your thoughts on that, and how do you think it will affect efforts toward peace in the region between India and Pakistan?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we're looking forward to the swearing in of the new Prime Minister, Prime Minister Singh. We're looking forward to working with his government. We note that he's noted as an economic reformer and hope he'll be successful in transforming -- or transferring the economic improvements that Indian has received down to village level and lower levels.

I don't think that a Pakistan-India, a sort of gradual rapprochement will be harmed at all. We've talked to Pakistani friends. You may have talked to Mr. Kasuri about this this morning. There's no reason that we should see a hiatus. In fact, there's every reason to, to be able to move forward and we're looking forward to that, and we're talking to both sides about it.

MS. VERJEE: Is there a clear roadmap ahead that you are involved in?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, no. What is involved is the strength and the daring and the courage of the leaders on both sides of the question. We make our views known to both sides, but we're not mediating. We're not in the middle of it, and I don't know of a clear roadmap -- there's a general roadmap, which was determined between former Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf, and I think that still exists.

MS. VERJEE: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.


(end transcript)

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