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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with KABC-TV

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
March 23, 2003

(Interview with Carlos Granada, KABC-TV (ABC), Los Angeles, Calif.)

Q: The first question is how do you see things going out there right now in the Middle East?

Wolfowitz: Well, we're in the middle of a war.

Q: Right.

Wolfowitz: And nobody should forget it. I think so far in early stages it's going well, but it's still early stages.

I think the one thing that is absolutely certain is what the end is going to be. The end is going to be the end of a regime that threatens the United States and that terrorizes its own people. The sooner the pillars of that regime -- including the Iraqi military -- understand clearly that it's over, I think, and the sooner they do the honorable thing, which is to stop fighting for that criminal -- it will be better for everybody including themselves, including the Iraqi people, including the whole world. And, by the way, it's happening in large numbers. There are Iraqi units that are deserting, there are Iraqi units that are surrendering, but there are also bitter enders who seem to want to die.

Q: What can you tell us about the POWs that were taken I guess early this morning or late last night?

Wolfowitz: Well, we know that there are a number of Americans that are missing and until we have more precise information we want to be careful about commenting.

We have seen from Al Jazeera that some of them apparently have been taken prisoner and some have apparently been killed. It is very important to stress to the people who are holding them that there are very clear obligations under the Geneva Convention about the proper treatment of prisoners including a prohibition on anything that humiliates them. And that sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later, we will be in control of that country and if they violate the Geneva Convention they will be punished.

We, by the way, have hundreds of Iraqi prisoners. They're being treated well. They're being fed. Frankly, a lot of them are quite relieved to be in American custody. It's a lot better than being under Iraqi command.

Q: The report of the U.S. soldier being under investigation right now for somehow being involved in that grenade attack in Camp Pennsylvania, what can you tell us about that?

Wolfowitz: It's obviously a tragic incident. It's under investigation. When it's under investigation we can't comment. But I think what is more remarkable is the incredible spirit with which that unit has pulled back together. One brigade of that division is already deep inside Iraq. They don't seem to be phased at all.

The quality of the young men and women defending our country out there, the bravery, the confidence, the morale is just incredible. We as a country really need to be grateful to them. I have to tell you, the whole world is impressed by them.

Q: There are reports of Iraqis using women now, civilians, as shields, bringing them into certain places. How is that going to alter or change what the Army has to do now?

Wolfowitz: That's another war crime. The use of civilians as human shields is a war crime. I think it's particularly despicable if, as we're hearing, they're taking political prisoners and trying to set them up as human shields.

It's not going to alter the result. They ought to understand this. The people who are responsible for that are just sealing their own fates more deeply than they will otherwise.

Q: You were worried about the Iraqis using weapons of mass destruction or mass terror, as you like to call them. They haven't used anything yet, but as they start getting more desperate do you think that that will happen?

Wolfowitz: One reason maybe they haven't used them yet is because I think it's now fair to say and the world ought to notice that General Franks and his people really had a -- I don't use the word brilliant lightly -- but I think I would call it a brilliant plan. Because Saddam Hussein expected weeks of heavy air bombardment before anything came on the ground. He thought he would be able to see the ground attack coming. General Franks flipped that around. The ground attack began before the air attack. I think we were able to secure some of the more threatening points within his arsenal, including hopefully the western desert of Iraq. I say hopefully because it's a great big area and you can never be sure you've got everything. But those SCUD baskets which kept bombarding Israel during the war 12 years ago, and I was sent out there by President Bush to work with the Israelis. I know what it was like when those SCUDs were landing and I know where they came from. The United States now controls the area that those came from.

So we've achieved some success, but one of the great dangers of the use of chemical and biological weapons is going to come when we confront that inner circle of Republican Guards that are around Baghdad. It's one of our many remaining serious concerns.

Q: No matter what happens in Iraq, some people say that the big issue is going to be the Israeli-Palestinian situation in the Middle East. That's going to be the destabilizing or stabilizing factor in the future. What do you think about that? After this is over?

Wolfowitz: Many people -- including the President of the United States -- he's made it clear that we consider that a very important issue. It's my belief, but it remains to be seen, that without the Saddam Hussein regime around, it will be easier to make progress on that issue. It's not an accident that when Anwar Saddat heroically made the first major step toward Arab-Israeli peace, it was Saddam Hussein who summoned all the other Arab leaders to Baghdad to organize the opposition summit to the peace process. And I think it's not an accident that some of the big strides that were made in the last decade -- the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Conference -- happened right after the defeat of Saddam. And we know that this is a man who provides money to incentivize suicide bombers and probably does a lot of other things to destabilize the Arab-Israeli issue that we don't even know about.

So his removal has got to be a good thing, but it doesn't end the problems in the Middle East, and the sooner we can end those bloody scenes of Israelis and Palestinians killing one another, the better we all will be.

Q: Since '91 you've been feeling that Saddam Hussein should be out of there. Does it matter to you if he's dead or alive? Would you rather he be alive to capture him?

Wolfowitz: It's not his personality that is at issue, it's his regime. His regime is on its way out already. I think it's probably up to the Iraqi people to decide what they want to do with him if he's still alive.

I would also say, my own views have evolved. I didn't realize in 1991 just how dangerous this man would be. I didn't realize just how stubborn he would be. I didn't expect that he would sacrifice 100 to 200 billion dollars in oil revenues just to hang onto his chemical and biological weapons. I didn't realize he'd developed links to a terrorist organization like al Qaeda.

September 11th, frankly, I think for all of us, changed the assessment of how dangerous this regime was, how long we could afford to continue living with that danger.

President Bush is very aware that war is an ugly, brutal business. He took every possible step -- including that last 48 hours -- to let the regime leave to try to avoid the bloodshed that we're seeing now. But I don't think he's ever had any doubt that the cost of inaction, the bloodshed that would result from inaction in the long run would be much more serious, and I think he's right in that judgment.

Q: You were in Turkey back in December. It's very important to get the Turks on our side. Do you worry about the reports that they would go into the north in the Kurdish area? Do you worry about that? Is that going to be a big problem if that happens? How can we stop them?

Wolfowitz: I don't think they will. We've had a lot of pretty direct discussions with them to make clear our concerns. They have legitimate concerns in Northern Iraq, but the way to make sure that those get taken care of is working through us, not by intervening unilaterally. We've tried to make that clear.

I think one of the mistakes they made, frankly, was turning down our proposal for a cooperative action in the north which would have been useful. It looks as though maybe we don't need it. We're getting lots of people into the north by the southern routes and we'll try to make sure that the kinds of problems that would in any way prompt a Turkish intervention are just not going to happen.

Q: Thank you very much, sir.