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Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz Interview with Lebanese Broadcast Corporation

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
February 25, 2005

            Q:  First of all, how would you describe Syrian-US relations at the moment?

 

            A:  Before I do that, if I just might say, speaking personally and I know speaking for my government I'd like to express our condolences to the Hariri family and to the Lebanese people for this terrible tragedy and express good wishes for the speedy recovery for Minister Basil Fleihan.  This was a terrible blow, but maybe out of -- The response to this terrible blow has been really magnificent by the Lebanese people and the support that is coming from the whole international community.  Maybe out of this tragedy something really good could happen.

 

            Q:   Dr. Wolfowitz, you speak about the response to this blow. What do you mean, exactly?

 

            A:  Well, actually -- in a sense to go back before this terrible assassination in fact Resolution 1559 lined the whole world up, and most importantly my country and France leading together in support of free Lebanon, in support of withdrawal of the Syrian occupation from Lebanon.  And now the Lebanese people have come out by the tens of thousands in the wake of this assassination, not just to express their sorrow, but to express their demand for that implementation.

 

            I think you saw during President Bush's trip to Europe this week that he was very strong in expressing his support and the European leaders he met with, particularly President Chirac of France, were very strong in expressing their support.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, let me go back to my first question, how would you describe this response? You mentioned about a certain response on your part as Americans. Would you elaborate on this further?

 

            A:  I think most importantly our response in many ways that we can find is to support the people of Lebanon.

 

            You know, in some ways what happened here reminds me of what happened in the Philippines more than 20 years ago when I was at the State Department, actually, as the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of East Asia.  And in a process that actually began with another horrible political murder of Benigno Aquino, the Filipino people took their own fate into their own hands with a lot of support from the United States and from other countries.  But the key thing there was the Filipino people and the key thing here is goi

            There are many ways we can support them.  We can support them with UN Resolutions.  We can support them with pressure on the Syrian government.  We can support them with helping other countries to come to their aid, but very clearly, France and the United States are committed to the full implementation of Resolution 1559.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, how would you categorize Prime Minister Al-Hariri's assassination? Some people here are saying that Israel and the United States are among the most prominent beneficiaries from the repercussions of this assassination. How would you respond?

 

            A:  I think it's terrible to say anyone's a beneficiary of something terrible like that.

 

            I think the important point is even before this assassination the world spoke with a very clear voice at the United Nations on the need for Syria to finally live up to its obligations in Lebanon.

 

            This is about what's good for the people of Lebanon.  If the people of Lebanon get what they deserve, then it will be good for the whole region, and I think ultimately it will be good for Syria as well.

 

            It's time to change course in the whole Middle East.   It's time to move forward, not to stay stuck in the past, to go backwards.

 

            Regardless of who's responsible for this terrible murder, clearly the era of assassination and murder in Lebanon has to end.  The era of Syrian military occupation has to end.  The Syrian intelligence presence in Beau Rivage and Anjar has to end.  And there have to be free elections this spring.

 

            The most important beneficiaries will be the people of Lebanon, but I think the whole world will benefit when they benefit.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, Syria announced that it will abide by the Al-Ta'if agreement and announced that it will withdraw to Al-Biqa. In your opinion, is this enough?

 

            A:  I don't think it's enough.  I think it's a first step.  But I think again, it was very clearly agreed at the United Nations, it was very clearly agreed with the various leaders that President Bush met with on his recent trip to Europe that that's only a first step.  The Syrian military has to withdraw.  And maybe even more important than the troops themselves, the Syrian intelligence presence has to be removed from Lebanon.

 

            Syria needs to stop interfering in the affairs of its neighbors, and that includes Iraq as well.  But Syria will be much better off, I believe, when they concentrate on their own affairs and concentrate on moving their own country forward.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, you spoke about implementing Resolution 1559, which includes an article calling for disarming Hizballah and the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Some people in the Lebanese authority say that there is no mechanism to do this and that the only people who can do this are the Syrians themselves and not the Lebanese state. The Lebanese authority itself is saying this. What do you think?

 

            A:  Clearly ending terrorism in general, and that includes the terrorism that's sponsored by Hezbollah is a very important part of moving the whole region forward.  It's an important part of the Arab/Israeli peace process.  I think the Syrians, it's very much in the power of the Syrians to effect that change and it's important to them to contribute.

 

            It's very much in the power of the Syrians to stop a lot of the terrorism that's going on in Iraq today.  You can debate the percentages, but there's no question that a great deal of it comes out of Syrian territory.

 

            But Syria will be much better off in the future if it will stop this policy of trying to destabilize their neighbors and instead concentrate on stabilizing their own society and moving their own society forward.  And I believe if they follow that course they will find the world ready to move with them.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, from your position at the US Defense Department, are there plans in progress to deal a military strike to Syria?

 

            A:  Everyone always wants to bring that question up first, and I think it's the wrong question.  The real question is how to effect political change in Lebanon.

 

            Let me go back to the Philippines I mentioned it.  I guess probably many of your listeners weren't even alive when this happened, but in 1986 the people of the Philippines voted for a new President and the dictator at the time, Ferdinand Marcos, tried to steal the election and a million Filipinos turned out in the streets.  It was an enormous change and it happened without any military action.

 

            The next year a similarly large change took place in South Korea in similar circumstances with an election, and again, without any military action.

 

            That's really the model that I think we should be aspiring to.  It's the best model for everyone and the Lebanese people have made it very clear it's the model they want to follow and they have the capacity to follow it, so people should get out of their way.  That includes the Syrians, definitely.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz you said that my question to you just now about a military strike on Syria is always asked first. Who always asks this question first and why, in your opinion?

 

            A:  I got asked that in the Congress once.  If you want to say why do people ask it, I suppose they ask it because of Afghanistan and Iraq, but I think Afghanistan and Iraq are exceptions, and they're exceptions that took place because of the security threats emanating from those two countries.

 

            Look at the great sweep of the last 20 years.  I mentioned the events in East Asia, and it's not just the Philippines and Korea.  It's Taiwan, it's Thailand, it's Indonesia.  There was a peaceful revolution in the 1980s that brought democracy to virtually every country in Latin America.  We saw freedom sweep through Central and Eastern Europe, and it hasn't stopped sweeping.  Just recently there was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.  Once again, the force of people wanting their freedom is a powerful force and it's a much better force for change than military force.

 

            Q:  So you are saying that the Lebanese people must act in a democratic way, as you put it. But you, as Americans, how far can you go in your pressure on Syria? What kind of pressure or sanctions can you place on Syria to implement Resolution 1559?

 

            A:  Well, there are a number of sanctions that we've imposed already under U.S. law.  I guess there's what you would call unilateral sanctions, the U.S. acting by itself.  There are other things that we're considering.  But I think what's very important about Resolution 1559 and the solidarity that was demonstrated on the President's recent trip to Europe is that when the international community acts together when sanctions are imposed not by one country but by many countries, and especially by all of the advanced countries, they have much more serious effect.  I hope that's gotten the attention of the regime in Syria.

 

            But it isn't only sanctions.  It's the lost opportunities that Syria has sacrificed by these years and years of stagnation that result from a failed policy of trying to maintain stability by occupying its neighbors.  If that energy and those resources instead went into opening up Syria, making Syria a place where investors wanted to come and put their money -- Syrians, like every other immigrant population in the United States, Syrian Americans are great business people.  They do very well here.  There's no reason they can't do well in Syria.  But it requires a real change of course by the Syrian regime.

 

            Q:  Reports are coming from the Pentagon -- for instance Al-Hurrah television reporters are speaking about military plans under way to strike Iraqi activists inside Syrian borders who are helping those carrying out operations against US forces in Iraq. Is this possible?

 

            A:  As a rule we don't discuss future military operations for very good reasons of military security.  And I will certainly say that the activity of insurgents in Iraq is a matter of obviously the deepest concern to us. 

 

            But once again let me appeal to you.  People who want to raise the specter of American military action, it seems to me are trying to distract attention from the much more important thing which is taking place in front of our eyes which is hundreds of thousands of Lebanese with a lot of courage, because the assassination of Rafik Hariri demonstrates how dangerous it can be to stand up in Lebanon and stand for the freedom and independence of Lebanon.  But tens of thousands of Lebanese are doing it.  Just as 8.5 million Iraqis just a few weeks ago stood up and voted in spite of these horrible threats from the terrorists to murder them if they voted, and some of them were murdered.

 

            That's the really powerful force here.  It doesn't mean the United States doesn't have military capabilities, but that's not the way change is going to come in Lebanon.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, have you spoken with President Bush about the assassination of Prime Minister Al-Hariri? How did he receive the news?

 

            A:  As I said at the opening here, he very much was, he was horrified by this kind of political violence.  He was saddened by the idea that people in the 21st Century still think that you can hold back this force of freedom by killing people.  And at the same time I know he's been inspired by the reaction of the Lebanese people and the courage the Lebanese people have shown.  Maybe I should say, even a man like Walid Jumblatt who has said some not so nice things in the past has had a lot of courage in standing up to the Syrians.  We admire that.

 

            I think it's a new era and the President very much recognizes that.  He had very good conversations with President Chirac on this issue and I understand that they really came away in complete agreement on the way ahead.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, it is ironic that Minister Walid Junblatt himself had made a strongly worded statement criticizing you when you were in Iraq. I am not sure if you remember this.

 

            A:  I do, but look.  Let's just consider it rash words.

 

            His courage in the present situation and his willingness to recognize the significance of 8.5 million people in Iraq standing up and voting, that's what really matters now.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, some people believe that US pressure on Lebanon and Syria to implement Resolution 1559 basically seeks to paralyze Hizballah and render it incapable of striking Israel, as a prelude to striking Iran. How true is this?

 

            A:  I guess you're just demonstrating there are a lot of conspiracy theories out there.

 

            It's true, we don't like what Hezbollah does.  We're not looking for pretexts in Iran, we're looking for Hezbollah to end terrorism and Iran and Syria to stop supporting terrorism by Hezbollah.  One of the reasons for that is that terrorism is now one of the major obstacles to another hugely promising development which is the real possibility now perhaps of realizing this vision that President Bush has spoken about so eloquently, the vision of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.  That for the first time in a long time seems to be a vision that we could truly realize.  Terrorism is an obstacle to that, as well as something that's just wrong in itself.

 

            Q:  What is the nature of your intentions against the Islamic Republic of Iran? Are you carrying out espionage against Iranian nuclear interests?

 

            A:  We don't have intentions against Iran.  In fact our concern is that Iran seems to have intentions against us and against its neighbors.

 

            Iran is a great country.  They are remarkable people with a great civilization and a great culture and a very important place in the world.  They shouldn't be pursuing nuclear weapons.  That's bad.  They should certainly not be supporting terrorism.  They shouldn't be destabilizing their neighbors in Iraq or Afghanistan or trying to destabilize the Arab/Israeli peace process.  Those are bad policies of a government that I think most of the Iranian people tried to vote out of office some years ago when 75 percent of them voted for President Khatami who was clearly a kind of opposition candidate.

 

            The Iranian people I think want a better government.  They deserve a better government.  When they have that better government I don't think there will be any issues between Iran and the rest of the world.

 

            Q:  How do you see the Iranian-Syrian alliance, which was announced a few days ago?

 

            A:  My impression is that Iran has distinguished itself again, unfortunately, in a bad way.  It's the only country that seems to have, in the wake of the horrible assassination of President Hariri stepped up and expressed its support for Syria and affected support for Syria's bad policies in Lebanon.  It's a mistake. 

 

            I can say the same things about Iran I said about Syria.  There's a way forward for Iran, it's a way of progress, it's a way of entering the modern world, it's a way of entering the community of nations.  It’s a way of having a peaceful Afghanistan and a peaceful Iraq living in friendship on its borders.  But it's going to take some substantial changes in Iranian policy to get there. 

 

            So much of the world has changed for the better over the last 20-25 years.  You see it in East Asia, you see it in the old Soviet Empire, you see it in Latin America.  You're starting to see it in important parts of the Middle East.  It's really time for this decaying Iranian dictatorship to get with it.  Its people clearly want them to get with those changes.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, you compared Lebanon to the Philippines. Some compare it to Ukraine. Would you not agree that the situation in Lebanon is different? In other words, could not the increasing pressure on Syria be a threat to Lebanon? Can we consider the Lebanese opposition leaders -- such as Walid Junblatt, for instance, and even Lebanese officials -- could be in danger?

 

            A:  Look, it's a difficult and risky business.  That's why we are so inspired by the courage that they're showing.  I was similarly inspired years ago by the courage of people in the Philippines, we've been inspired by the courage of the Ukrainians.  They have to make their own judgments about risks and we have to figure out what we can do to help them.

 

            That's why I keep saying at the end of the day they are the leaders, they're the ones who have to make their assessments of how much they can move things and we need to figure out how much we can support them.  But peaceful change is the answer here, and I think when people come out in the kinds of numbers that they did in Manila in 1986 or in Kiev last year or Beirut this year, it's a powerful force to be reckoned with.  The leaders of those movements particularly, it takes enormous courage and all I can do is say we have enormous admiration for them and we'll do our best to support them as we can.

 

            Q:   Thank you, Dr. Wolfowitz, for this interview.

 

            A:   Thank you.