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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Indonesian Television

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
December 01, 2001

Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2001

(Interview with Ms. Rosiana Silalahi of the Indonesian Television network SCTV)

Silalahi: Mr. Wolfowitz, thank you so much for joining us on (unintelligible). We appreciate it very much.

Wolfowitz: You're very welcome. Good morning to you. I think it's pretty early out there.

Silalahi: I believe that, first of all, that you believe your mission to combat terrorism (unintelligible) over yet, even after the fall of Taliban regime. But my question is, how long do you need, how long the time until you pull out your troops from Afghan?

Wolfowitz: I think it's much too early to start making predictions about that. There's a lot of work to be done. There are still some very important pockets of where the Taliban continue to retain control in Afghanistan. I think it's only a matter of time before those places are free from their grasp as well. But we also have a lot of work to do ourselves with our Afghan friends in hunting down the terrorists who remain in Afghanistan and who remain dangerous.

But beyond that, we want to work with the Afghan people and we're already beginning this through the U.N. and Bonn to develop a framework for post-Taliban Afghanistan that will provide some political stability for that country and provide a framework in which we can bring humanitarian aid, reconstruction aid, assistance in things like education and medicine so that Afghanistan can make some real progress. They deserve it after years of misery.

Silalahi: So on the other way, you are not convinced yet that Taliban regime or al Qaeda network still lost yet, and still could take over the power sometime in the next horizon.

Wolfowitz: I'm convinced they've lost, but there's a difference between losing and being completely eliminated and that's what we want to achieve. We want to eliminate the terrorist networks, we want to eliminate the Taliban leadership, and really though this is not a job for the military and it's not a job just for the United States. The international community has to work to help the Afghan people put together something that will replace the Taliban with something that's much better.

A point that I hope your listeners understand and in any case I'd like to repeat it, that throughout Afghanistan the Afghan people have greeted the departure of the Taliban as an act of liberation and it's very clear that the Taliban leadership allowed a foreign terrorist to hijack Afghanistan just the way the al Qaeda has tried to hijack your religion and hijack airplanes. They also took a whole country and put it into misery in order to advance their objectives.

What we've seen in the outcome of this campaign already with some three-quarters of the country out of their control now, liberated, is that the people of Afghanistan have really welcomed this result. This was never a war against the Afghan people, it was a war against a rather evil leadership that was doing great damage to that country.

Silalahi: So now you are (unintelligible) to Osama bin Laden dead or alive.

Wolfowitz: When we say eliminate the al Qaeda leadership we mean more than just Mr. bin Laden. Obviously he is the ultimate leader but there are many other people in the leadership who are responsible for the evil deeds that they've done over the last years and responsible for September 11th. And frankly, we think that whole terrorist network in Afghanistan is something that ought to be eliminated.

Silalahi: How convinced are you, sir, that Osama bin Laden and all the citizens of the network still somewhere out there in Afghan, there in the (unintelligible) or in the caves there, and they are not yet walking out of the Afghan and coming to the other countries?

Wolfowitz: It's important to understand that while we have very good intelligence it's very far from perfect and there's a lot that we don't know, and in this case we're looking for someone who is clearly doing his very best to try to hide from us. So people have to understand we're not completely convinced about where he is.

Most of the information that we're getting, everything from sophisticated intelligence to just street gossip and rumors suggest that he's still somewhere in eastern Afghanistan. We continue to look for him and we continue to chase down every rumor.

As I think you may know, there is a very substantial reward now, $25 million, for information -- up to $25 million for information leading to his capture. So we have reason to believe that there are a lot of people in Afghanistan who are looking for how they can get a piece of that reward money.

So we have a lot of things working to try to get information about Mr. bin Laden, but that doesn't mean that we know for sure where he is, it doesn't mean we can be absolutely sure that he can't escape.

But I think one thing we can also be sure of is that any country that harbored him would be making a terrible mistake and I think every country in the world understands that now.

Silalahi: (unintelligible) Do you believe in that (unintelligible), and how (unintelligible) those kinds of weapons that they have now?

Wolfowitz: We've heard the claims. The evidence to back up the claims is in some cases rather weak, actually. On the other hand, we know that biological weapons are a real possibility. We know that at least one individual, maybe others in the United States are distributing a very lethal biological agent in the form of anthrax. There are others around.

This is obviously our highest priority, and when President Bush and other members of our administration talk about the danger of state support for terrorism, what they are particularly concerned about is those states that are developing chemical and biological and nuclear weapons and are also supporting terrorists because that makes a particularly lethal, dangerous combination.

But do we know, or do we suspect today that al Qaeda has biological capability against the United States? We really don't know. We just have to be on our guard.

Silalahi: Talking about al Qaeda network, sir, how strong do you think their power, not just to put then in Afghan, but to put them together in other places around the world? Do you think they are still in power, and could you think like the attack of September 11th?

Wolfowitz: The simple answer is yes. We estimate that there are al Qaeda cells in some 60 countries in the world, so including definitely the United States and pretty definitely Indonesia. So when we eliminate al Qaeda in Afghanistan we still have a lot of work to do. And from the best we can figure out about the attacks of September 11th, the criminals who conducted that attack were all in the United States well before September 1st. So as important as it is to eliminate al Qaeda in Afghanistan, it's not going to eliminate the ability of terrorists elsewhere to conduct those kinds of attacks.

But beyond that, and it is important I think for people to understand this. I think the world was taught a lesson on September 11th about how dangerous these networks are. Even the ones who's ambitions have never yet been quite as horrible as al Qaeda.

I think over the last 20 years the world came to accept the fact that there were these international terrorist networks and they weren't very nice things to have around, but we didn't consider them high on our list of priorities of problems.

I think what September 11th was, what we would say in American slang, was a wakeup call. It put us all on notice that these groups have access to weapons including improvised weapons like hijacked airplanes that can be devastating in their consequences. I think we all have to worry about that.

Indonesia is a country that needs to think about that, particularly because Indonesia is now a very free and open country in which people can move around quite easily and organize things quite easily, and most of that is a wonderful blessing of democracy. But as we learned in the United States, there are criminals and terrorists who take advantage of that, too, and it's something we both need to worry about. Both our countries do.

Silalahi: You mentioned earlier that you find al Qaeda network also in Indonesia. If so, how does the Indonesian government, our government deal with these?

Wolfowitz: Bear in mind that it's a difficult problem. It's a difficult problem here in the United States, it's a difficult problem in any country. We don't have the magic answers. If we had the magic answers, September 11th would have never happened. To this day we still don't feel that we have come close to cleaning up the terrorist networks here in the United States.

But the answer is going to be primarily very good intelligence work, very good police work, very close cooperation among different countries.

I think one of the best things Indonesia can do is to cooperate with your ASEAN neighbors in Malaysia and Singapore and Thailand and the Philippines, all of whom I know are concerned about terrorist penetrations in your part of the world. Cooperating with the United States, sharing intelligence with us.

Often in the intelligence world when two people sit down each with part of the picture and they get together they find they have more than just the two pieces added together. They have a much clearer picture of the whole problem.

So all of those are things that need to be done. We are working hard with your government and very interested in working even harder.

Silalahi: We also got information that several bank accounts from al Qaeda network is in our bank, the national bank here. We also heard that you asking us for close them down but we haven't done it yet. Are you disappointed?

Wolfowitz: I'm glad you brought up that because clearly going after the financial networks is a significant part of how you go after these terrorists. There are two aspects to it. One is to freeze those accounts so that the terrorists can't use the money, but also to use the information that you get from tracing those accounts to figure out which people are part of those networks.

We have made requests to your government, and I have to admit that Indonesia, like a number of countries including in some parts of the United States, this is still an area where bankers are kind of reluctant to do what needs to be done. But I think the bankers too have got to understand that September 11th was a wakeup call and that certain compromises with what was traditional standards of banking secrecy just cannot be extended to people who exploit those rules in order to blow up the World Trade Center or blow up the Pentagon or maybe the people who blew up the Jakarta Stock Exchange. You've had your plague of terrorists also. And I think going after the things that fund them and using their bank accounts to trace who they are and where they are and cooperating with other countries and following those leads wherever they lead is a very important thing to do.

So I hope that Indonesia can move from this relatively (inaudible) response to a much more vigorous one.

Silalahi: If we still have not done it yet, how would you react? How would you respond to this?

Wolfowitz: This is something that it really takes experts to work out all the details. Our people, our experts are in our Department of the Treasury, and I assume the experts in Indonesia are in your Finance Ministry and in the Bank of Indonesia. We're, to be honest, learning as we go how to identify the accounts that need to be frozen, how to trace those accounts, and I would really urge the closest cooperation between your Finance Ministry and our Treasury Department, and I think it's something that experts can judge much better than we can talking here.

Silalahi: Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, I believe that you are the one who knows much better about Indonesia from long (unintelligible) in the Cabinet. The attack from United States to Afghan (unintelligible) impression among most of the community here. So how do you respond to this issue? How do you respond to those who ask if we're ending diplomacy with you since you have attacked Muslim country in Afghan?

Wolfowitz: Let's get something clear. We did not attack a Muslim country. We did not attack Afghanistan. The people who attacked Afghanistan were al Qaeda and the Taliban. And just look at what the crowds are saying in Mazar-e Sharif, in Kabul, in Herat, now in Kunduz, and pretty soon in Kandahar. In all the cities in Afghanistan the people are cheering the departure of the Taliban.

This was not an attack on Afghanistan. It was in fact an act of liberation for Afghanistan. I would urge Indonesians to look at what the Afghan people themselves are saying and think about what that means, and look at those horrible pictures of women being executed because they laughed in public or they wore white shoes, and the spectacle of people saying the Muslim religion requires that women cover themselves with a burka.

You know I lived in Indonesia for three years. I know what Indonesian Muslims are like, and their view of the religion is not at all this medieval view that the Taliban tried to impose on the Afghan people.

So to be very honest, it would be very helpful for Indonesia and for American understanding of Indonesia if Indonesian Muslims would speak up and say this is what Islam is about. It's the way it's practiced in Indonesia. What the Taliban did in Afghanistan is a travesty, it's extremism, it's not our religion. I think it will be good for Indonesia if more voices are heard in this country saying that kind of thing. Frankly, it would be good for the Muslim world as a whole.

The president of the United States has been very public and said repeatedly, over and over again, we have no quarrel with Islam. We have no quarrel with Muslims. We have a quarrel with terrorists, some of whom happen to be Muslims and claim that they are acting out of religious motives. But the president of the United States and every member of his cabinet has said over and over again that we have no fight with Muslims.

If you look at the way the American people have reacted after this event, I think by any standard it has been remarkably careful in the treatment of our own Muslim population. We have millions of Muslims here, including immigrants from the Arab world and they've been treated very well, even after September 11th.

What we need to hear more of is not the president of the United States saying this is not Muslims, we need to hear more Muslims saying this is not a Muslim act, this was an act of terror and more denunciation of Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda coming from Muslim voices.

I have hundreds, I'd say maybe even a few thousand Indonesian Muslim friends and I know what they think of terrorism and I can be sure of what they think about the attack on the World Trade Center. But we're not hearing enough of those views here in the United States. I don't know if it's because our press isn't reporting it or your people aren't saying it, but it would be helpful to hear much more of that kind of thing.

And I have to go back to your question. When I hear Indonesians talk about our attack on Afghanistan, those are the wrong words. We did not attack Afghanistan. Al Qaeda and the Taliban attacked us, misusing Afghanistan as a base. What we have done, I believe, in our own self defense has also been a great service to the Afghan people.

Silalahi: Mr. Wolfowitz, the following question is that the negative impression (unintelligible) to the war in Afghan, but it's also caused by the way you, your foreign diplomacy in Middle East peace process there. The United States is accused of defending Israelis more rather than Palestine. Could you explain how this case will be changed sooner or later, I mean the diplomacy in United States, in dealing with the Middle East and become more neutral in talking with Palestine and Israel.

Wolfowitz: Look -- I'm sorry -- our diplomacy has been exercised more vigorously in support of promoting a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians than any country in the world, and I think if it weren't for American diplomatic efforts Israel would still be occupying the Sinai; Israel would still be at war with Jordan; there would be no Palestinian authority in the West Bank and Gaza. We have made some progress. The last year or year and a half things have slipped backwards. It's not because the United States hasn't been trying. We are trying very hard and we continue to try.

The key to moving forward is to bring at least a ceasefire, not an end to the violence but at least a pause in the violence. Then we have laid out very clearly through Senator Mitchell's report of a year ago, and in Secretary Powell's speech just a few days ago, what we think is the way ahead. We think the way ahead is a Palestinian state and a Jewish state in the territory that used to be the old British Mandate.

We think frankly that the lines of an agreement are sufficiently close that it is tragic that the two parties can't come to some kind of agreement. The United States is working very hard to get there and we will continue working very hard. There's no question that there's a lot, the whole region would benefit from peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Silalahi: Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, before I let you go, what about our (unintelligible) there, (unintelligible) the one who is allegedly linked to the September 11th issue?

Wolfowitz: Actually all I know about that case is, to be honest, what I've read in the newspapers. But the truth is as an American official I'm not supposed to comment on cases that are before our courts. It's, to be honest, part of what we consider fair, due process. You don't have public officials judging someone's guilt or innocence outside of the court system. So I really can't comment on that case and I don't know any more than what your own readers know from the newspapers.

Silalahi: Right. Mr. Wolfowitz I would like to also raise the question, if you find any terrorist network in other countries like Indonesia, Iraq, would you extend the battlefield out there?

Wolfowitz: As I said, there are other terrorist groups, just al Qaeda alone there are terrorist networks in some 59 countries outside of Afghanistan including the United States. So to think that we're going to go to war with 59 countries including ourselves is of course silly.

What we want to do is, different countries, we work differently. There are countries that are clearly opposed to terrorism and will work with us to cooperate in rooting out the terrorists, and Indonesia is clearly in that category. There are countries that used to support terrorists and they're having second thoughts about it because they realize it's a very dangerous business to be in and they've seen what happened to the Taliban. And at the end of the day there may be some other countries as stupid as the Taliban who say we're going to continue supporting terrorism no matter what the world thinks, no matter what the United States thinks, but we've made it clear what we think about that kind of behavior, so it can't be tolerated.

But the more we can solve this problem through diplomacy, through politics, through international pressure the better we will be. Indeed, we tried for three years to get the Taliban to get rid of al Qaeda. We had U.N. resolutions, we did everything. And even after September 11th, President Bush gave the Taliban one last chance to change their ways, and they may be wishing now that they took it, but they missed it.

Silalahi: Last question, sir. Talking about the fact September 11th, war in Afghan, and then the possible (unintelligible) from the al Qaeda network. What could you, immediate danger, be happening in the next horizon or in the short term?

Wolfowitz: I wish I knew. If I were that kind of prophet I guess we would have been able to prevent September 11th. These people are in an evil way remarkably clever. They come up with ways of killing people that we never thought of before. So I can't sit here and predict.

We are trying to anticipate every way they might attack us or attack our friends. We are on guard against things that we didn't even think about being on guard against a few months ago. You've probably read about the new, extraordinary procedures we have to make sure that hijackers don't get on airplanes here. So hopefully we've closed off a lot of the possibilities, but there may be a surprise out there waiting and we have to therefore constantly be on our toes, constantly thinking. Ultimately the best defense, as the like to say in my country, the best defense is a good offense. The best way to defend ourselves is to get rid of these networks, to get rid of these criminals, and then maybe we can live a more normal life everywhere.

Silalahi: Sir, thank you very much for joining us (unintelligible) Indonesia. Thank you very much.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.