United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Southeast Asian Journalists

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
January 28, 2003

(Interview with Southeast Asian journalists.)

Wolfowitz: -- now for some time, the effort to disarm Iraq of what I think are properly called weapons of mass terror, by which -- the usual phrase is weapons of mass destruction--but in the hands of a government that deals with terrorists, I think the real issue is the danger that these chemical or biological or radiological, or even nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. And I think they are weapons of mass terror. That is what concerns us, that we are trying in every way we know how to deal with the Iraqi issue peacefully, if at all possible, and making use of the United Nations, which had originally some sixteen resolutions on the subject. And last November, of course, we passed Resolution 1441, which was to give Iraq one last chance to comply with its requirements to disarm. We've been waiting 12 years for Saddam Hussein to do so, and as far as we can tell, he still has not made the decision to meet that requirement, even though he agreed to it as a condition of the ceasefire at the end of the Gulf War 12 years ago. And as the President has made clear, if the Iraqi regime continues to defy the U.N. by refusing to disarm itself, then if necessary, we will disarm them by force, disarm it by force.

In that connection, and I think particularly for my friends from Malaysia and Indonesia -- but all of you probably run into this question -- if it comes to the use of force, this is not going to be a war against Iraq. It is a war only against the Iraqi regime, and it's a regime that has been abusing its own people in a most gruesome way for decades now. And if we have to use force, we will do it with the maximum care to avoid harming innocents, maximum care to avoid harming the Iraqi economy.

And I'm convinced that when that regime is gone, the Iraqi people will be nearly unanimous in greeting it as an act of liberation. We saw in Afghanistan in 2001 that when the Taliban fell, almost all Afghan people rejoiced at their departure. I think it's nothing compared to how relieved the Iraqi people will be if this man goes, but as I say, our goal is focused on disarmament. And if we can achieve disarmament by peaceful means, then we will deal with the other problems in other ways, but I did want to make that point because we're not at war with the Iraqi people; we're not at war with Muslims. In fact, I believe it's the terrorists who are at war with Muslims. It's the terrorists who want to impose a very narrow and intolerant view of Islam on their fellow Muslims.

And we've seen in Indonesia, for example, how just a tiny number of these extremists can do horrible damage to a whole country, horrible damage to its economy, horrible damage to its reputation, because most Americans don't understand what I understand, which is that these people are just a tiny, thin minority. But since you have influence with your people, the more you can help us to explain that we are not only not at war with Islam or Muslims, we are very much supportive of Islam and Muslims, and the size of the Muslim population here in the United States, I think is a demonstration of that fact.

I might just add -- and then I'm happy to try to take questions -- I made a fairly major speech in New York last Thursday. The main point I made in that speech is that the whole idea behind Resolution 1441 is that if Saddam Hussein has had a fundamental change of attitude in policy, and really wants to comply with the requirements of the United Nations, and give up these weapons of mass terror, then there is a model that works. We've seen it in the past, that countries that want to disarm have done so. They've done so according to a pattern that we call cooperative disarmament, and when it happens, you know it.

And I mentioned three historical examples. South Africa was one under President de Klerk. They said, "We're giving up our nuclear weapons," and they got rid of them, and convinced the whole world that they had done so. The Ukraine is another example, and Kazakhstan is another example. Both of those gave up the weapons that they inherited from the old Soviet Union, and there are other examples. Those are the three I picked out because they're the most dramatic.

And what we're seeing from Baghdad is almost -- not almost; it really is the complete opposite of cooperative disarmament. When you have cooperative disarmament, in the first place, there's a national commitment to doing so. In the case of Iraq, there's a national commitment to hiding and concealing everything they have, and it hasn't changed. When you have cooperative disarmament, the institutions of the state participate in dismantling the weapons. In the case of Iraq, the institutions of the state participate in hiding and concealing the weapons. In Iraq, the concealment effort is headed by none other than Saddam's son, Qusay, and the special security organization that he runs. And the estimates are there are some twenty Iraqi intelligence and security people hiding weapons for every single inspector there is in Iraq. You can imagine how outnumbered they are.

And the third point is, when a country wants to do cooperative disarmament, it opens its books; it opens its laboratories; it provides its scientists to be interviewed. And Iraq has done none of that. They gave us 12,000 pages of lies, basically, in this document that was supposed to be their final declaration. They have presented numerous obstacles to the inspections, including refusing to allow U2 surveillance flights, which was supposed to -- one of the things that the U.N. inspectors have requested.

And what I think is most chilling of all, they -- we have numerous reports through various defectors and intelligence sources that they are threatening Iraqi scientists who cooperate with the U.N. with the most dire punishments, including not only death, but death for their families. That is the opposite of cooperative disarmament. And it means also, I think, that for whatever reasons, Saddam Hussein is determined to hang onto the anthrax that he has and the botulinum toxin that he has, and the ricin that he has. And these are the weapons that terrorists are actively seeking today. In fact, the terrorists that were arrested in England had ricin. If they get their hands on Saddam Hussein's ricin, they will be much more dangerous.

So, that's the danger we're trying to prevent. It's a danger to us, but I think it's also a danger to the whole world. The Philippines has experienced terrorist attacks; Malaysia has experienced terrorist attacks. Indonesia has experienced some of the worst ones. Thailand, you've had -- you're Thai, right?

Q: Yes.

Wolfowitz: I mean, you've had -- not quite as bad. You've all been victims and we've been victims, and we can't leave the world's worst weapons in the hands of one of the world's worst dictators. And that's the heart of what we're concerned about here. So, I'd be glad to try to answer questions.

Q: (Inaudible).

Wolfowitz: I don't know, but I think what Secretary Powell said, which is that time is running out on this process, I think the -- in many ways, the credibility of the whole United Nations system is at stake here. We went along. We kind of got sucked into a game 12 years ago of, well, we'll just play this out a little longer. We'll let him issue yet another declaration, which will turn out to be lies. We'll try it again; we'll try it again. We kept compromising the inspection system until finally, there were no inspectors left. 1441 was his last chance, and it was a fresh start for the United Nations. And again, to quote Powell, "The time is running out." If we're going to be credible here, we've got to bring this to a decision. I don't know how long. That's a -- in our country, that's a decision for the President to make, and obviously, it's not a decision he's going to make by himself. He's going to be consulting with all of our friends and partners, including -- your government's very important; obviously, the ones who are on the Security Council. We don't have a lot of time if we're going to be serious.

Q: Sir, you've mentioned the weapons idea, like for example, they bought the anthrax and everything. Is there evidence of some of that already in the hands of terrorist groups in other countries?

Wolfowitz: I would say our basic concern is what could happen, and the distinct possibility that it could happen. It's not just sort of purely theoretical. We know that there are ties between the Iraqi regime and a whole range of terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, and we know that Saddam has these weapons. Whether he's actually turned them over to terrorists is not something that -- I mean, we're not prepared to wait until that happens, and it's -- if you stop and think about the situation in Afghanistan, by June or July or August of 2001, it was already too late to do anything in Afghanistan. The terrorists were all in the United States by then. In fact, the last hijackers arrived in April of 2001. The pilots all arrived the year before. You can't -- it's in the nature of this kind of threat that the only time you really have hard evidence that it's on you is when it's hit. You know, a lot of Indonesians didn't believe that there was a threat until Bali happened. And I think it's enough to have evidence that he has the weapons, and we have evidence of that. It's enough to have evidence that he works with terrorists; we have that. And what we're trying to do is to stop him, remove those weapons from his hands before he hands them over to terrorists.

Q: Sir, I think (inaudible) about what is a question on a lot of people's minds is what appears to be a contradictory way that the U.S. is dealing with Iraq and with North Korea. Can you explain it a bit? Why is the U.S. --

Wolfowitz: Happy to, yes. We get this question here a lot, too, and it's not, in my view, contradictory at all. But if I could just start by mentioning, when the President spoke a year ago at the State of the Union message, and he identified North Korea and Iran and Iraq as three countries that posed a common danger -- which is that they were countries that were all hostile to the United States quite openly -- that had weapons of mass destruction and were developing more, and then had ties to terrorists. And he said, "They represent a common danger in that respect." And there was an outcry around the world and here, "Why is the President lumping all these three countries together? Doesn't he understand they're different?"

Well, over the course of the next few months, we laid out three different policies for each of those countries. And now that North Korea has emerged as exactly what the President said they were, which is a country that pays no regard for its agreements, people say, "Well, how come you're treating North Korea differently from the other two?" They are different. That's what the whole world said. They have a -- pose a common danger, but each one in a different way. I would say among the many differences, the one that I would urge people to focus on most clearly is that we have now seventeen U.N. resolutions demanding that Iraq comply with the terms of the 1991 ceasefire. Quite a few of them address this issue of weapons of mass destruction. We have yet to bring the North Korean issue to the U.N., much less to have a U.N. resolution. And at the last meeting of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, they decided to give North Korea one last chance before they brought it to the U.N.

There are other differences, too, and I could go into them, but the point is, we are very serious about both policies. The fact that we have a North Korea problem, and we do, and the fact that we're going to deal with that problem in a deliberate and careful way should not then become a reason for saying, "Well, Saddam, you -- we said you had one last chance, but it turns out you have a lot more chances until we're finished dealing with North Korea." You have to take them the way they come.

Q: You mentioned that --

Wolfowitz: You're next, because I know you've been waiting.

Q: You mentioned that you're trying to resolve the conflict peacefully.

Wolfowitz: Umm hmm.

Q: But there is a continued sending of troops surrounding Iraq. So, is there any mixed signals with that policy?

Wolfowitz: No. In fact, that's a very good question, because people ask it all the time, but it's an opportunity to say something very clearly. There is no hope of solving this peacefully unless Saddam understands that there's a threat of force. We've had 12 years of clear evidence that he will never give up these weapons unless he has to. And to be honest, many of the people who mean well, who want to prevent a war, are sending their message in the wrong direction. Every time Saddam sees that some other country says, "Washington, you should wait," he says, "Oh, I have a little more time. I don't have to be serious." Every time he hears another country say, "Washington, we're with you if Saddam doesn't disarm," Saddam has to start taking it more seriously. I don't know whether he'll change, but I know the only hope, the only hope that he will change, is if he's convinced that it's his only alternative. And as long as people keep sounding as though he can play this out, that he has many more years, he has another 12 years, then he knows he's winning, and he won't change.

You know, there's a historical example that's helpful, although I don't think we're dealing with a leader that's as rational as Nikita Krushchev was, but in 1962, President Kennedy resolved the Cuban missile crisis peacefully by a clear threat of force. If he hadn't had that threat of force, the diplomatic solution would not have worked.

Q: Yes. How is the (inaudible) active participation of the Arab countries in solving this problem in order to avoid war if possible?

Wolfowitz: Well, first of all, by the way, I don't know of any country that doesn't want to avoid war, most emphatically including the United States. I mean, this President, our President, has had to meet with widows of soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan, and every one of those meetings is agonizing. And he knows that if we go to war against Saddam Hussein, that it will -- he'll have more such meetings. The only reason he's prepared to face that is because he thinks the risks of leaving Saddam with his weapons is even worse.

So, no one wants a war, but for some fairly obvious reasons, I think the Arab governments are particularly afraid of a war. For one thing, they're afraid about how their own people will react if there's a war. For another thing, I think even though most of them know that Saddam is a terrible dictator and that his people are treated horribly, the idea of the world attacking and taking on an Arab government is obviously not appealing. So, they're doing what they can diplomatically to try to avoid one, including a lot of creative efforts to convince the people around Saddam that the best thing he could do would be to leave peacefully. And I think there are any number of Arab governments who would be happy to give him a comfortable home to retire in, if he would just leave, and maybe that's a way to avoid it.

But if I could just say, I mean, it's important to understand that for anyone who lives in that neighborhood, it's a very, very dangerous thing to come out openly against this Iraqi regime as long as it might still be in power a year or two or three from now. They're waiting to see what the United States does, and it's fair enough. So, I think there are a lot of countries, Arab countries particularly, but a lot of countries that are sitting on the fence, and who may privately tell us that they'll support us, but they're certainly not going to do it openly.

And I think there are another group of countries who won't even tell us privately they'll support us, but when the time comes, I think they will be very helpful in building a different kind of Iraq afterwards. I think there was a period in the 1990s when the Arab governments said, "Why aren't you Americans doing something about Saddam Hussein? He's a terrible dictator. You leave -- you're a powerful country. The only reason he's still there is because it serves American interests." Well, that was wrong. He was there because we don't want to have to go to war, but September 11th changed the calculations for us, and I think they understand just how bad a leader he is.

Q: Sir, in the fight against terrorism, particularly in Southeast Asia, what is the U.S. plan towards this region? You are going to open another front? You see any front that should be opened or (inaudible) the campaign there?

Wolfowitz: Well, thank you, first of all, for shifting ground, and if we can stay off Iraq for a while, there is a much bigger world out there, and Southeast Asia is a big part of it. And I think you can speak for yourselves, but I think I know what I'm saying, that almost everyone who knew your part of the world was shocked at how far al Qaeda had gotten into Southeast Asia. When I came into government in 2001, and I heard some people say, "There are al Qaeda in Indonesia," I said, "Look, there are some extremists in Indonesia. There's Lasco Jihad. There's some people you may not like, but they're not international terrorists and they're not tied to al Qaeda." Well, I was wrong; we were all wrong, and unfortunately, every day we learn more about these connections.

And I think -- so, the problem is there, number one. Number two, sometimes people make the mistake of saying because there are big Muslim populations in Southeast Asia -- not only in Malaysia and Indonesia, but obviously, in the Philippines also, and in Thailand also -- that somehow that's the heart of the problem. I mean, look, we found a lot of terrorists in Germany. In fact, the whole September 11th attack was planned, in many respects, in Germany, in European countries. It's a worldwide problem, and I don't think -- I'm glad that people in Southeast Asia seem to be more comfortable admitting now that they have this problem, instead of saying that it's a shame on Indonesia; it's a shame on Malaysia; or to say that we've got the problem. We've got the problem here. The Germans have the problem in Germany; you have the problem in Southeast Asia.

I think -- and what you also have in common, for the most part, with the United States and Western Europe is that terrorists love democratic countries. They love civil liberties; they love police forces that obey the law. And they've found for a long time that the Philippines is a comfortable place to operate, not because your country likes terrorists, but because your country treats people fairly decently, and they come in and out fairly decently. And Indonesia's now a democracy, and I'm delighted with that, but it also means that the terrorists have advantages they didn't have in the old days. So, I think we all need to be realistic about the need for good law enforcement, and we're wrestling with that problem here in the United States. How do you get the right balance between the civil liberties that we're fighting for and the terrorists that take advantage of those civil liberties?

But then, let me just say the third piece to me about Southeast Asia is that I think a big part of winning this war in the long run is not just winning the fight on the battlefield against the terrorists, but winning the peace in the sense of helping the countries that are the targets of the terrorists build a kind of society that is, in itself, an answer to terrorists.

I've given several speeches, starting with the one I gave in Monterey last May called "Bridging the Dangerous Gap for the Muslin World." And the theme I was really trying to push there, and I've been trying to push over and over again, is that there are hundreds of millions of allies in this war on terrorism who are Muslims, who understand that what the terrorists want to do is to subjugate their fellow Muslims. And we need to find ways of bridging that gap and reaching out to them, and I list a number of the things that I think we ought to be doing in that regard.

Southeast Asia is important in that dimension, Indonesia particularly, but the whole region. In fact, when I gave a speech in Singapore on the way over, even I -- who think I know something about East Asia -- I thought about it for the first time. I believe roughly half the Muslim world lives in South and East Asia, if you include the Pakistan (inaudible). It's easily 600 million. So, to the extent this is to some extent a fight for the soul of the Muslim world, well, that fight is very much -- Southeast Asia is a very important part of it, and I think the terrorists recognized it before we did, but we've got to catch up.

Q: Sir, last October it was said that as the United States would cooperate with Malaysia and (inaudible) particularly to set up an antiterrorism center in Kuala Lumpur. Details have been pretty sketchy. All we have heard so far is there's not going to be military cooperation. You will not involve the Malaysian population, but can you give us more details on that?

Wolfowitz: I think I can't, and I -- a lot of the most effective work that is done here is obviously cooperation among law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies, and it goes on daily, and it's very effective and I know about some of it. I only know about some of it. When it comes to the military, where I know a lot -- I think I'm supposed to know most of what we do -- we don't view the terrorism problem in Southeast Asia as primarily a military problem. The only exception that I know of is in the Southern Philippines, where we have, in fact, been working with the Philippine armed forces to develop their counter-terrorism capabilities, because there you do have these sort of wild jungle areas where terrorists engage in a kind of classic guerilla warfare, but it's the only place, I think, in Southeast Asia where the terrorists present a military challenge. For the most part, it's a law enforcement and intelligence challenge. And what my colleagues at the CIA and at the FBI say is the cooperation has been very good, and it's been improving and they don't even like answering my questions too much. So --

Q: A follow-up?

Wolfowitz: Yes.

Q: Military challenge with the Abu Sayyaf?

Wolfowitz: Yes.

Q: Is what kind, more soldiers, or --

Wolfowitz: No. I mean in the sense that they're able to take advantage of sanctuaries in the jungles and wild areas that police are not equipped to deal with. And so, you need small-scale military special forces kinds of activities. And it's not -- let me be very clear. Our role has been to train and support the Philippine military, so that they can do their job. We're not taking over the task there, but I just meant to distinguish it from elsewhere in the region, where it seems to be entirely a police and law enforcement matter.

Q: You think Abu Sayyaf is still a threat?

Wolfowitz: Well, people -- I think there's been real progress. I think the work in Basilan Island really was a setback for them, not just from a simple military point of view, but I think also in terms of building public support there for the -- against the terrorists. But as you probably know, they sort of moved from there to somewhere else, so --

Q: Yes. Just a follow-up, sir, to just mention -- there was a clamor for that to move to the next island, you know, that same activity, the successful activity that was on Basilan Island.

Wolfowitz: Umm hmm.

Q: There's what they call a clamor, that we move down to -- what's near?

Q: Sulu.

Wolfowitz: We're still in the process of evaluating the kind of lessons learned from the Basilan experience, to see what makes sense going forward, but we're still very supportive of the principle that the Philippine armed forces are very determined, and quite capable of reaching the level that they need to have. And so, our effort is to support their capabilities and grow their capabilities. We're not looking to take over missions that we don't have to.

Yes, sir?

Q: (Inaudible) back to Iraq. Everything is related to Iraq. Would you think that if, you know, there's going to be war in Iraq (inaudible) so many people concerned about that (inaudible) in many parts of the world. My second question is, could you confirm or deny the (inaudible) Iraq, talking about that in the Los Angeles Times --

Wolfowitz: You know, we're -- on the last point, there's a sort of handicap, because for a lot of good reasons, people never want to say, "We'll never do this, or we'll never do that," but let me just say I agree with the person who said, "It's hard to think of any military target in Iraq that we can't take care of with conventional weapons." Our conventional capabilities are so awesome that people may be reluctant at completely renouncing the nuclear option, but I think we believe we have all the capabilities we need with our conventional forces, and I guess I'd just leave it there.

The -- someone asked Secretary Rumsfeld if the war in Iraq would inspire the terrorists to attack the United States, and his answer was, "I don't think they need any inspiration." And I think that's the -- I mean, these people have already made their intentions very clear. Might some of them -- somebody's tape ran out -- I'm sure some of them, if they're successful, will claim that they did it because we took some action in Iraq, but I think we know better. I think we know they're planning to do whatever they can do already.

If you just think back to my example, suppose we had taken some action against Afghanistan in June or July of 2001, they would have attacked the World Trade Center, and then they would have said it was a retaliation. I mean, these people have made their intentions horribly clear, and they don't -- they may refer to pretext, but I think we shouldn't be deceived by that.

Q: Sir, there's a report that early next week, the U.S. government is going to review some of the (inaudible) information. So, what kind would be -- what kind of information would it be?

Wolfowitz: I think you have to wait and see. And we're going to have to wrap this up here. So, you and then you, and then real quick.

Q: (Inaudible).

Wolfowitz: I mean, you know there's evidence going back to Ramzi Yousef in the mid-90s that there have been some pretty major league operators that have exploited the Central Philippines, and then you have these sorts of guerilla groups in the south. It's hard in any country to assess what's the full extent of the problem because their main strength is their ability to hide. Once they're out in the open, they're a very weak force, but they hide very well. So, it's hard to estimate it, but I think -- I mean, all the evidence that you've got and we've got is that it's a very serious problem.

Q: Do you think the (inaudible) will successfully conclude an agreement with the MILF and the (inaudible) army, and at the same time waging a war against terrorism with U.S. support?

Wolfowitz: I don't think I can get into that one. Yes?

Q: Sir, I have a question and then I have (inaudible). How inhuman Saddam is, because I was in Kuwait during the Gulf War, but this war against Iraq is still have a negative impact to the Muslim-dominated country that is war against Muslim. How do you (inaudible) this public diplomacy in a Muslim-dominated country like Indonesia?

Wolfowitz: I think the main way -- I mean, it's very dismaying to me that people seem to be sometimes so ignorant of the facts that they don't bother even reading the first article or book about Iraq. You don't have to read very much to understand that this is not the government of the Iraqi people, and the only way I can think of to puncture that ignorance is the testimony that will come out. And it will come out in millions and millions of Iraqis telling about what their government did to them; and that the day Iraq is liberated, what you're going to hear from Iraqis is not, "Why did the Americans attack Iraq," but "Why didn't the Americans do this much sooner?" If there's going to be any complaint, it's going to be a complaint against the whole world for abandoning them. And I hope they go to some of these Muslim countries and some of these European countries that seem to be so willing to speak up for Saddam Hussein, and go and say, "This is what you were defending and it was terrible."

But if we agree the Taliban was mistreating their people, it's nothing compared to what Saddam has done, and to what is unquestionably -- and this is the tragedy of it -- Iraq could be, should be, one of the leaders of the Arab world. Some of the most talented people in the Arab world are Iraqis; 4 million of them have left their country because it's so terrible. And I think, myself, that if the Iraqi people get the kind of government they deserve, then the Arab people will have a spokesman for the Arab world that will be able to stand up and say to the Israelis, "You're not the only democracy in the Middle East. We're a democracy, too, and we want to see a settlement of this issue with the Palestinians." They will have a spokesman that is not yet another dictatorship, but a spokesman that really speaks for the voice of the Arab people, and demonstrates that Arabs can do it, and I believe they can.

I -- you know, when I was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia 20 years ago -- you know, it was that long ago. I started December of 1982, and when I became Assistant Secretary, Japan was the only democracy in East Asia. And I remember going to the Philippines and being told by some American diplomats that, "Yes, Marcos isn't a very good leader, but we're not sure the Philippines can do any better." Well, the Philippines has done a lot better, and Korea has done a lot better and Taiwan has done a lot better. And with all its problems, I would argue Indonesia's done a lot better, and Thailand's done a lot better. And now, people don't say that -- they used to write books about how Asians didn't like democracy. They like Confucian systems where everybody told everybody else what to do. Well, that's wrong. It's worse than wrong. I think it's as wrong applied to Arabs, and I think a free Iraq could be a demonstration to the whole world of what Arabs are capable of. Thank you very much.

Staff: Sir, I think we could squeeze in a couple of quick photos.

Wolfowitz: Okay.

Additional Links

Stay Connected