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Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz Interview with CNN Turk

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 06, 2003

(Interview Cengiz Candar and M. Ali Birand of CNN Turk)

 

            CNN Turk:  Welcome Mr. Secretary with Cengiz it’s been a bit tight you can imagine to come over to Washington you know to see for 36 hours so if jetlag I think we can manage that but thank you for giving your time.  

 

Wolfowitz:  Thank you to have the two distinguished journalists like you here it’s a great privilege for us.

 

CNN Turk:  That’s great but let me fire the first shot.  We’ve had, we know how keen you are around Turkish American relations.  We’ve had a wonderful relationship starting Korea and the Cold War, Afghanistan whatever you name it.  But something went wrong, dreadfully went wrong.  We started with strategic alliance with strategic relationship.  Strategy is gone the relationship I don’t know how it’s going, and in the meantime we are having two different versions, one version from Pentagon and one version from State department, but yeah we’ve had a bit of trouble but it’s no problem.  We want to have your view on those relations.  Where are we standing?  Is it the crisis or what happened?

 

Wolfowitz:  I think we had a big disappointment.  But it remains the case that this has been a strong alliance over many years.  I think it will continue to be a strong alliance and it remains the case that Turkey is a very important country in this era because it’s a country with a Muslim majority that has a strong democratic tradition and I think it remains the case that Turkey can be an important model for that part of the world that we are trying to move in a more positive direction.  But I don’t think if we want to sustain this strong alliance and indeed strengthen it in the future then we ought to understand what went wrong, we ought to understand the nature of that disappointment and some of it has to do with, if you like, the U.S.-Turkish bilateral piece of it. But I think it’s more helpful to think of the disappointment in terms of the failure to understand what was going on in Iraq.  From a U.S. Turkish point of view there is good news and bad news.  The good news is that a majority of the parliament did vote to support us in the things that we asked for.  The bad news is that because of the procedural issues that wasn’t a big enough majority to get it done and that many of the institutions in Turkey that we think of as the traditional strong support is the alliance were not as forceful in leading in that direction.

 

CNN Turk:  Which traditional alliance are you talking about?

 

Wolfowitz:  Well I think you know which ones I mean but I think particularly the military.  I think for whatever reason they did not play the strong leadership role on that issue that we would have expected.  But I think the bigger disappointment has to do with the general failure of the Turkish public reflected also in the government, about what the stakes were in Iraq and that here you have a neighbor with an overwhelmingly Muslim population where the people were suffering under the worst dictators in the world.  And one would have thought that Muslim solidarity would have led people to say lets help the Americans liberate these people and that isn’t what happened.

 

Okay, that’s past.  We are now in the present and future.  The present and future is there’s a spectacular opportunity in Iraq to help these newly liberated people achieve their real potential and I think that’s what we need to work on together, Turkey and United States and I think what Turkey needs to do is look into its democratic soul and say, yes we believe in democracy, we believe in democracy for Muslims and Arabs.  There’s an opportunity now, whatever happened in the last few months, there’s an opportunity now to work with the Americans to build that in Iraq.  Let’s seize that opportunity and do everything we can as Turks to support it.

 

CNN Turk:  But if you make a prognosis of what went wrong earlier, since you mentioned for example the military the traditional institution which had strong connections to the United States did not play a leadership role, so for the future to repair the relationship and bring it back to its original level that means that you have to need a leadership role to be played by those who haven’t played it.  What kind of a role the military might have because after all the military is not working in Turkey’s parliament political parties (inaudible)?

 

CNN Turk:  And they have been criticized by getting involved in politics.

 

Wolfowitz:  I’m not suggesting you get involved in politics at all.  I mean, I think, all I’m saying is that when you had a issue of Turkey’s national interest and national strategy I think it’s perfectly appropriate, especially in your system, for the military to say it was in Turkey’s interest to support the United States in that effort.

 

CNN Turk:  Didn’t they say that?

 

Wolfowitz:  I don’t know.  My impression is they didn’t say it with the kind of strength that would have made a difference.  But look lets not dwell too much on the past.

 

CNN Turk:  Let’s stick to the past.

 

(Laughter)

 

Wolfowitz:  No.

 

Voice:  Were you surprised that when you heard that the Turkish Parliament rejected it?

 

Wolfowitz:  They didn’t reject.

 

CNN Turks:  Passed through?

 

Wolfowitz:  They didn’t pass through.  In fact lets, I don’t know how many Americans are going to watch this program but lets not keep mis-educating people that Turkey’s parliament rejected it.  They did not get the majority that was needed and it’s true we did not get the full support that was needed.

 

CNN Turks:  Thanks to the Turkish constitution.

 

Wolfowitz:  And I think at the end of the day, I think Turkey has paid a bigger price for that than we have.  I think for one thing the whole economic package could have been something much more substantial.  But I also believe we would’ve achieved more rapidly the kind of stability in Northern Iraq that is as much in Turkey’s interest as it is in ours.  But we are where we are today and achieving stability in Northern Iraq remains in Turkey’s interest, it’s very much in our interest, we need to work together to make sure that that’s achieved.  I think it can be achieved.  We’ve been saying repeatedly and very emphatically, starting with my trip in Ankara back in July, that we oppose an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq, that we strongly support maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq. I think it’s very interesting and positive that today both of the key Kurdish Barzani and Talabani are in Baghdad trying to become major forces in a future integrated Iraq.  That’s a positive development, which we all ought to welcome.  We need to work together to make that happen.  We need to work together, although it’s mainly going to be our responsibility, but to make sure that the very difficult property claims that people are making in the north get resolved peacefully and not through force.  There are going to be a lot difficult problems in the period going forward.  And I just, you know every so often I hear some people suggesting, well the right reaction for Turkey to this bump in our relationship is, well we should make more friends with Iran and more friends with Syria.  Excuse me, that's absolutely the wrong way to go.  The right way to go, as I say, is to think about where the real democrats, where does democracy need to be supported.  It’s going to be a huge boon to Turkey when the sanctions are lifted from Iraq when trade can move easily across the borders and when Iraq begins to realize it’s real potential as a democratic neighbor of Turkey.

 

CNN Turk:  This is also a matter of debate within Turkey itself but whenever an argument is brought it is not the time to have a close relations with Iran and with Syria at juncture of history.  Some come up and say that they are our neighbors, when I mean some, they are officials following Islam, they are our neighbors it’s very natural that we would have these kinds of relationships.  And look the American Secretary of State goes to visit Syria and historically the American Secretary of States like they are one of them, Warren Christopher  visited 22 times, never stepping his foot in Turkey.  So if this kind of an argument comes, we and Turkey feel that there are different signals coming from Washington.   Which kind of signal we have to be the recipient more than the other?

 

Wolfowitz:  I’m sorry I think there’s one signal with respect to Syria.  This Secretary of State--I’m not going to talk about previous ones--this Secretary of State went to Syria and delivered a very tough message about how Syria needs to shape up and stop supporting terrorism and stop interfering with Iraq.  That’s the message that ought to come through and I think anything, that Turkey does what Syria or does with Iran should fit into an overall policy with us, of getting those countries to change their bad behavior.  In the meantime, it seems to me, I know this is an American view but, if I were Turk I’d believe I would say in spite of whatever has gone wrong in the last year, Turkey’s strongest friend in the world is the United States.  Turkey’s real interests lie with the United States and when we look at our neighbor to the south this newly liberated country called Iraq, we have the same interest the Americans do in keeping it a unified country and making it a democratic country and helping to change the economy from this sort of Stalinist structure that the Iraqis have lived under for 30 years, into the kind of free enterprise economy that’s going to be a huge boon to Turkey and all the neighbors.

 

CNN Turk:  So in a way, you are not against Turkey’s having relations with Syria and Iran but you want the same message to go to those (inaudible).

 

Wolfowitz:  Absolutely, I mean of course they are your neighbors.  But you want them to behave as neighbors.  You don’t want to suggest that well they can ignore the message of the Secretary of State of the United States because our powerful Turkish friend is ignoring it also.  I think it’s very important that we be coordinated.

 

CNN Turk:  We need to discuss some misunderstanding as well for the time being and for the future of Iraq between two countries, two allies, Turkey and the United States and they are recently.  We have two different interpretations about an incident that took place in Northern Iraq near Kirkuk between the American forces and the Turkish Special Forces.  According to the American media the Turkish Special Forces were trying to bring weapons into (inaudible) Kirkuk they were intercepted by the American military there and then escorted back to Turkish frontier.  Why would Turkish Foreign Minister say it was and humanitarian aid convoy which was assisted by some security personnel so they were there to secure the free travel of the humanitarian aid convey.  So what’s the interpretation since we are speaking here in the Pentagon?  What happened?

 

Wolfowitz:  Well I don’t think I want to get into it.  You want to do history I want do the future.  What happened shouldn’t have happened.  And it was clearly something that was done ignoring everything that we have said.  But it was fixed.  I don’t think it’ll happen again, I think Secretary Powell and Foreign Minister Gul had a very good clear discussion about it and hopefully we are on a better track now.  But that’s a good example I think, of where, whatever Turkey does in the north, and we understand Turkey has important interest in the north.  It’s got to be coordinated now through the coalition, through General Franks.  We can’t any longer have unilateral action in Northern Iraq.

 

CNN Turk:  Why the question for the future then?  On the same issue there is a small Turkish military presence in Northern Iraq.

 

They had to record it with the coalition forces you are saying right?

 

Wolfowitz:  Well as long as they are there, yes.

 

CNN Turk:  And the short coming future?

 

Wolfowitz:  The goal ought to be, they shouldn’t be needed in the long run.  But lets in the meantime…

 

CNN Turk:  That’s what I’m after, I mean now there’s a Kurdish authority--kind of a self-rule in Northern Iraq.  Who happened to become America’s close allies in the last war effort there?  So in the coming future if they come up and say that we don’t need anymore, the Turkish military presence despite it’s small (inaudible) military personnel.  In such a case, by being the real leader to the element in the area, in Northern Iraq what (inaudible)?

 

            Wolfowitz:  The real military elements in Northern Iraq are the coalition forces.  We now have very substantial heavy American forces up north and that is the real military element and everybody better listen to the instructions of General Franks including any armed groups, any Kurdish groups.  But I think the goal has got to be a free and democratic Iraq where Northern Iraq is never again a sanctuary for terrorists to be attacking Turkey.  We’ve got to find a way to make sure that doesn’t happen again.  When we are confident about it then there is absolutely no reason for any Turkish presence.  But if there’s going to be a presence as long as it’s there it clearly has got to be under the direction and control of the coalition.

 

            CNN Turk:  Do I understand well?  You are saying that for the near future this Turkish presence, Turkish military presence in Northern Iraq will not be needed? 

 

            Wolfowitz:  I didn’t say near future, I said the goal is to get to a situation where Northern Iraq is stable, is not a source of trouble for Turkey, and then it certainly isn’t needed.  I don’t know how quickly we get to that goal.  It’s impossible to write timetables for Iraq, everyone wants us to say, when are you going to be out, when is this going to happen, when is that going to happen and we keep saying we’d like things to move as quickly as possible but we are going to stay as long as we are needed and we are going to have to call signals as we go.

 

I believe, I haven’t kept count of the days, I think this is around 50 days since the start of the war, we are not yet two months past the start of the war and there’s a lot more work to be done.

 

CNN Turk:  But only 15 days ago you yourself had said that minimum 6 months.

 

Wolfowitz:  Well let me again, since what I said, it’s close to what I said, what I said more precisely, is in 1991 we left Northern Iraq after 6 months, not without leaving some troubles behind us as you know as well as I.  But I said Northern Iraq is simple compared to the whole country.  I think we are going to be around for a while.  There are two different issues here.  One is how long are we going to be around.  The other issue is how quickly can Iraqis begin to run their own affairs.  And I can imagine a situation for some period of time where Iraqi’s are increasingly or may be entirely running their own affairs but they say look, until things are really settled down, we’d like you around--not actively telling us what to do but just being there to keep other people out.

 

CNN Turk:  You said that Northern Iraq should not be trouble for Turkey as well.  You touched everybody but you didn’t touch PKK yet.  Is it, is PKK will be staying there because that’s the main reason for Turkish military?

 

Wolfowitz:  PKK is a terrorist organization.  I don’t think we can tolerate a terrorist organization in Northern Iraq.  How we deal with that is a difficult issue, I can’t give you the answer right now but I think we are absolutely clear in agreement with Turkey and I think with the major Kurdish groups that these people are terrorists and troublemakers and we don’t need that kind of trouble.

 

CNN Turk:  As long as you are there and after the transitional period you will let the Iraqis to administer themselves, there will be less American military presence it seems and it’s spoken that Americans, British and Polish troops will function as peacekeeping troops there.  Now Turkish military is very enthusiastic to take part in peacekeeping mission in Iraq but it seems that the name of Turkey is not mentioned for the future of.  Why don’t you want Turks as peacekeepers?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well let’s start with what we do want.  The British and Poles were with us from the beginning.  Each of them has offered to organize a division of peacekeepers and that is going to meet our immediate needs.  I wouldn’t rule out a role for Turkey, but I think right now we are looking to those people who were with us in the coalition to build a core of the peacekeeping function.  My experience is if you talk to Iraqis almost every one of their neighbors, including Turkey, is viewed from a historical perspective that is not always positive.  Let me just put it that way and I think we need to work through….

 

CNN Turk:  They don’t want the Turks there?

 

Wolfowitz:  That’s putting it to strongly.  I’m trying to put it not just diplomatically but with some subtlety, because I remember, starting in 1992 and I think right up through 1996, when people said, oh we can’t possibly have Turkish peacekeepers in Bosnia because of four centuries of history.  And I kept saying, well but hasn’t anyone noticed that the history of Turkey in the last century is very different from the Ottoman period.  Well it turns out that there are Turkish peacekeepers in Bosnia, there are Turkish peacekeepers in Kosovo, and all that history has been put behind people and I think based on that I would say it’s possible to get to a similar situation in Iraq.  But you don’t do it over night.

 

CNN Turk:  I have a commercial break.

 

CNN Turk:  You are putting the records, I think, straight and what you are saying is very important now in order to be really (interruption).

 

CNN Turk:  You understand Turkish so I don’t need to.

 

            Wolfowitz:  I wish I could--a word here and there, I wouldn’t exaggerate.

 

            CNN Turk:  We’ve had a very interesting in order to put the mood here, for me to understand, the mood here first is, Secretary Rumsfeld was in Incirlik and he didn’t even call people in Ankara.  In subcontracting, the Turkish firms are a bit, not too much welcomed, we seem that there’s a bad feeling, a kind of bitterness a kind of a punishment and now we are hearing that Incirlik is going to be downgraded and moving on.  What’s going to happen?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I suppose I could say we are not the ones who said get out of Incirlik.  It was the moment when one might have expected an ally to say, okay, all of the restrictions are off,  you use Incirlik for anything you need to.  Instead we were told Operation Northern Watch is finished so leave.  We don’t want to be in places where we are not wanted and we don’t want to be in places where we may be wanted but are no longer needed.  As you may have noticed, when Secretary was Saudi Arabia we came to a mutual agreement that with the threat from Iraq removed, we can bring down our military presence substantially.  And frankly we don’t go around looking to have more military presence than is necessary.

 

            CNN Turk:  So Incirlik is fading out?

 

            Wolfowitz:  It’s hard to see what the purpose is.  I mean I don’t want to say anything categorical at this point because I can’t say that any decision has been made.  But certainly the experience we had in Incirlik is not one to encourage us to think of it as an important installation in the future.  I think that, I’ll come back to what bothers me personally, quite honestly and that is, for years and continuing to this day, I admire Turkey because of Turkey’s strong efforts to develop a democracy out of a tradition that wasn’t democratic at all.  And I know some people say, oh, but Turkish democracy is very imperfect.  Most democracies are imperfect by the way.  I still like Bernard Lewis’ comment that you should measure Turkey by where it came from not where it has to go to still.  But I think of Turkey as a very important representative of free democratic traditions in the Muslim world.  And I think that is a very important thing to stand for these days.  So to me the disappointment is that that country, that I admire so much, was prepared to make it difficult for the Iraqi people to be liberated, was prepared to seemingly do deals with one of the worst dictators--somebody who has probably killed a million Muslims.  Okay that was yesterday.  But if we are going to have new page, than lets have a Turkey that instead of looking with suspicion at everything that goes on in Northern Iraq, instead of saying well we don’t care what the Americans problems are with Iran or Syria, they are our neighbors. Lets have a Turkey that steps up and says we made a mistake.  We should have known how bad things were in Iraq but we know now.  Let’s figure out how we can be as helpful as possible to the Americans and frankly that’s going to help Turkey’s interests, because Turkey is going to be one of the countries that benefits most and most immediately from an Iraq that is prosperous and free and democratic.

 

            CNN Turk:  What Turkey should do?  Let’s get a little bit more concrete?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I imagine that Turks.

 

            CNN Turks:  You have expectations.

 

            Wolfowitz:  I’d like to see a different sort of attitude than I have yet detected and maybe it’s there.  I haven’t been to Turkey in a little while.

 

            CNN Turk:  Are you intending to come?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I’d love to come.  I always love to come Turkey.  But I think that Turks are creative, imaginative, intelligent people.  I think they can think of a lot more things than I can think of, for how Turkey can be helpful to a democratic Iraq.  But stop thinking of it as something bad that has happened.  Stop thinking of it as a threat to Turkey.  There was a lot of, I think, confused thinking over the last 10 years that somehow Turkey would be safer with this horrible dictator left in power.  Well he out of power now.  Lets figure out how to make Turkey safe by helping the Iraqis build a stable democratic country.

 

            CNN Turk:  This dictator that you mentioned, Saddam Hussein.  If you assume that he is alive and captured, where are you going to try him, here in the United States, or Iraq because it’s all the same, a matter of?

 

            Wolfowitz:  There are a lot of people who have claims on justice against him there.  There are the Kuwaitis, there are the Iranians, there are Americans, and of course the Iraqi people.  I’ll be happy when he’s either captured or killed.  I think it will be a good thing.  And if he is captured then we will have sort out all of those claims but I be speculating.

 

            CNN Turk:  Will the capital punishment enforce?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I’d be speculating.

 

            CNN Turk:  Our last five minutes, I want to just rap it up.  So what you are telling us is that this strategic alliance or partnership is over?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Oh no, I hope didn’t say that.

 

            CNN Turk:  No you didn’t say that but after, that’s my deduction.

 

            Wolfowitz:  No I don’t think so.  I think it’s suffered a disappointment, a severe disappointment.

 

            CNN Turk:  So it needs repair?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I think we have an opportunity for repair and cooperating on maybe the most important project of this century, which is to build a free, democratic Arab country to your south. And frankly, if we can work together to achieve that in Iraq it will more than repair whatever damage has been done.  So maybe that’s why I keep wanting to focus on the future.

 

            CNN Turk:  So given the Shi’ite majority of Iraq and refer to what Secretary Rumsfeld said earlier that the repetition of any Iranian type regime is impermissible.  How do you think that theocracy, the chance of theocracy, to prevail over democracy, and how you will (inaudible) if it would be a majority rule?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well democracy is about more than majority rule.  It’s very much, at least the way we use the term and we insist on the term.  That is why I keep saying free and democratic.  Democratic tyranny is not something that we could support.  And I frankly don’t think that most of the Shia wants a clerical tyranny over them.  They got rid of one tyrant.  They are not about to have another kind of tyrant.  We had a very interesting meeting here just last week with a group of very distinguished Shia clerics from the United States, almost everyone of whom has taught Shia Arabs, ties to major communities in Iraq, and what came through to me is that these are people who do believe in religious freedom who had been denied religious freedom now for decades.  It was a marvelous thing that we saw during the (inaudible) pilgrimage in Southern Iraq, that a million or two million pilgrims came to Najaf and Karbala for the first time in 26 years.  It was completely peaceful.  There were a few thousand people that organized an anti-American demonstration, so what runs on all of the media, the 3,000 anti-American demonstrators.

 

            CNN Turk:  You don’t see any kind of religious (inaudible) Iran?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I see some Iranian meddling which worries me and I’m sure there are people who have agendas that are undemocratic.  But I think if we can organize conditions that are stable enough for the Iraqi people to freely and openly express what they want, I think there will be an overwhelming rejection of those people who want to either restore the old Ba’athist tyranny or impose a new Iranian-style tyranny, or come up with some other kind of tyranny.  Freedom and democracy I think will--if we can create the conditions for the Iraqi people, to express their views freely we will be overwhelming (inaudible).

 

            CNN Turk:  Mr. Secretary, I just wanted to refer to your idealism to see democracy expanding in the Middle East and just to pose a kind of a philosophical question to you.

 

            Wolfowitz:  I think I’m a realist, not an idealist.  I do believe in those ideals.

 

            CNN Turk:  Military action brought open the roads for the establishment of democracy in Iraq.  Could this be a rule to bring democracy to a military action kind of a Machiavellian theme that ends justify the means?

 

            Wolfowitz:  No, no, no.

 

            CNN Turk:  Democracy is (inaudible) the military action.  Who is next, this is the question all around the region?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I don’t think military should be used to impose a political system on anybody.  And what we have done is to remove a political system that was imposed on people. But we did it because that political regime, that dictator, was a threat to us.

 

            There is no one model but if I had to say a model that I like, it’s the models that we have seen in East Asia where countries have made peaceful transitions to democracy largely of their own volition, the way it happened in Korea, the way it happened in the Philippines.  In its nature democracy is something that should come from the people themselves.  But in Iraq, anyone who spoke for democracy was shot.  In Iran it’s a little better.  Seventy-five percent of the people were able to vote for a different government, but 5 years later they still have the same old government.  So you can’t say that’s truly democratic.  What I think the impact of a democratic Iraq can be on the region, is the impact of a positive example  The impact of demonstrating that Arabs are capable of democracy so that people can no longer say, whether they are local rulers  or whether they are foreign powers that, well gee this may not be a good situation but it’s the best that these miserable people are capable of.  I heard that said about Koreans, I heard it said about Philippinos, I heard it said about Taiwanese.  I think it’s false.

 

            CNN Turk:  Mr. Secretary I should say thank you and thank you very much for joining us.  I want one reply, yes or no.  This administration is going to back Turkey for EU membership or is it out of (incomplete)?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Yes.

 

            CNN Turks:  Thank you very much.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Thank you, it was fun.