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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Fox News Sunday

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
February 17, 2002 12:00 PM EDT

(Interview with Brit Hume, Fox News Sunday.)

Hume: New intelligence this week suggests that the al Qaeda terror network is rebuilding. Also, administration officials said again this week if the war on terror expands to Iraq, the United States is prepared, if necessary, to go it alone there.

To discuss these issues and more, we welcome Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Good morning, sir.

Wolfowitz: Good morning. Good to be here.

Hume: Nice to have you.

Let's talk about Iraq for a little bit. The president has said several times, reiterated by aides, that Saddam Hussein must allow weapons inspectors back in. Any weapons inspectors? Whose weapons inspectors? What does he have to do to get out of the doghouse?

Wolfowitz: The president, I think, made it very clear, and it was a very important speech to make, in identifying those three countries as countries that have this very dangerous connection between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. And he basically said, look, we can't continue living with that. We've sort of accepted it as a necessary evil. It's an unnecessary evil.

Hume: Speaking, of course, about Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

Wolfowitz: North Korea, right. And, you know, he put the whole world on notice that these are problems. And he's really, in effect, invited a dialogue about how you deal with it. But what he said is we can't continue living with those evils any longer.

Hume: Well, what about Iraq, specifically, though? He has said with regard to Iraq -- this obviously doesn't seem to apply in the same way to the other two countries -- that Saddam Hussein must let the weapons inspectors back in. In this sense, is he referring to the U.N. weapons inspections regime? Is he talking about other weapons inspectors? What needs to happen? If Saddam Hussein were to ask you, "Look, I want to get out of trouble with you guys. I want to do this. What do you want me to do?" What would you say?

Wolfowitz: Well, I think, first, I'd say prove it. I mean we've had a long record of deception and pretense in, inspectors out, inspectors deceived and tricked. I think we're the man from Missouri on this one. And as the president said the other day, he's not going to start speculating in a great deal in public beyond what he said about the danger of this problem. And I think we're going to listen to people and we're going to have ideas, and there isn't any fixed solution. There's a mix of things, diplomatic pressure, political pressure, military pressure. But the problem has to got to be dealt with. It can't be walked away from.

You know, I hear people say that somehow the president made a mistake by identifying these countries as problems, that it was simplistic, it was outrageous, the president of the United States shouldn't talk like that. It's so much like what people said 16 years ago when Ronald Reagan talked about the Soviet Union as an evil empire.

Hume: Well, let me just stop you for a second on that and let's look at what a couple of people have said about this. Hubert Vedrine, who is the French foreign minister, had something to say. "Today," he said -- this is back on February 6th -- "we are threatened by a new simplistic" -- your word -- "approach that reduces all the problems to the world to the struggle against terrorism." And from Germany comes this from Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, and this was only yesterday, quote: "The international coalition against terror is not the basis to take action against someone, and least of all unilaterally. All European foreign ministers see it that way. This is why the phrase 'axis of evil' leads nowhere." Now that's pretty strong stuff coming from two close allies, particularly Fischer, as recently as yesterday. You said you wanted to start a dialogue. What would be your response to that kind of dialogue?

Wolfowitz: Well, I'd say, first of all, the notion that we're unilateralists is just nonsense. The president is on a trip right now to Asia to talk to two of our closest allies and to one of the most important countries in the world, China, about building relationships, including in the war on terror. And, by the way, not just the war on terror. It's part of the longer-term policy of addressing what is perhaps the most important area of the world, or one of the most important areas in the world today. We're not being unilateralists in Afghanistan. In fact, I think Americans should recognize we're getting a lot of contributions from other countries. Right now, today in Afghanistan, if you count up the troops in Kabul as part of the international security force, as well as those who are fighting with us, there're more non-Americans than there are Americans.

What I would say to people who say we're being simplistic is it sounds an awful lot to me like people who said when the war in Afghanistan started that the Americans are attacking Afghanistan; it's going to send the Arab world and the Muslim world up in flames. We weren't attacking Afghanistan. We were liberating the Afghan people. And it's become very clear now that that criticism that we heard was a simplistic criticism. And I think some of the criticisms we're hearing today are simplistic.

Hume: And what about the idea that you hear, this phrase "axis of evil," leads nowhere?

Wolfowitz: Look, I think what leads to a very, very dangerous place is the mixture of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists who, as they demonstrated on September 11th, don't even care about their own lives, much less the lives of other people. We now, after September 11th, have a graphic, clear understanding of what commercial airliners can do. We can't wait until we have a graphic, clear understanding of what biological weapons or nuclear weapons can do before we do something about breaking that connection.

Hume: And you say do something. Do what now?

Wolfowitz: Well, I don't want to be simplistic. There're a lot of things we can do. But what we can't do is continue living with that problem.

Hume: All right. Let's turn to the situation in Afghanistan now. As has been discovered now, these some 70 caves said to contain a trove of ammunition, and somebody called it "the heart of darkness" of al Qaeda. What have we learned from those caves and what's been found in them?

Wolfowitz: We're learning a lot. But we're also learning that there's an enormous amount that we don't know. And I think we have to understand that that is part of this war on terror as well is that these people have -- I mean one of their key expertise, areas of expertise has been how to hide, how to conceal. That's how they were able to get people into this country and onto airplanes. And we're not going to solve this problem overnight. They're rooted into some 60 countries around the world. We have been able to get leads out of Afghanistan that have helped us, for example, in rolling up an al Qaeda network in the Philippines. We're getting information about the kinds of people they've trained and were able to pick up people elsewhere based on that.

Hume: This came from this stuff in these caves?

Wolfowitz: I think from places in Afghanistan. I don't know if it's specifically those particular caves. But it is hard work and we're still at it, and it's one reason, too, that people have got to remember the war in Afghanistan is very far from over.

Hume: Was the discovery and uprooting of these caves in some sense delayed by the fact that earlier military actions were so focused on areas where intelligence suggested Osama bin Laden might have been hiding?

Wolfowitz: I don't think so. I think -- look, we're talking about a very big country. We're talking about, frequently, very fragmentary information. And we're trying to do what we're doing there without a huge American occupation force, which will cause us bigger problems in the long run.

Hume: There's a new bin Laden tape said to have been discovered south of Kabul by friendly forces. What do you know about that tape?

Wolfowitz: Nothing. I just heard about it for the first time this morning.

Hume: But do you believe that there is, in fact, such a tape and that bin Laden is on it? Or --

Wolfowitz: Honestly, I don't know, Tony (sic).

Hume: All right. I'm Brit.

Wolfowitz: Sorry.

(Laughter.)

Hume: That's all right. That's okay. I'm sitting his normal place.

Wolfowitz: That's right.

Hume: Let me ask you about the captives being held at Guantanamo Bay. What is eventually going to happen to them? Are they going to be tried? Are they going to be sent back? What's going to happen to them?

Wolfowitz: There're a lot of options for them. I think the most important thing right now is to focus on the fact that, first of all, these are dangerous people, and they're still trying to hurt people. They make threats all the time, and we've got to keep them secure.

Our principal objective is to get whatever information we can get them to give us about networks elsewhere. Then, ultimately, there are decisions about whether, if they are guilty of a crime, is it something to be tried in the United States, or is it something to be tried in another country? If it's in the United States, there're various options for doing that. So we're a long way, I think, from taking these people to trial.

Hume: Does their cooperation help their cause in terms of whether they'll be tried and where?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely. Well, look, I mean the more people give us, the more it might extenuate whatever they're guilty of.

Hume: Is it possible, then, that we're going to have a kind of prisoner of war camp, not in the legal sense, at Guantanamo Bay for an indefinite period of time?

Wolfowitz: I think that's probably a good way to think about it. I mean, at the very least, where these are dangerous people, we don't want them just turned loose on the streets. So either we detain them ourselves or we turn them over to a court in the United States, or we turn them over to another country.

Hume: And how long could this go on down there?

Wolfowitz: It's a long struggle. The president has repeated, Secretary Rumsfeld has repeated from the beginning, this war on terrorism is going to go on for a long time. And I think people better get used to the fact that it's going to be going on for a long time. We've had some wonderful early victories in Afghanistan. I think that's almost made people's expectations too high and think it's all over. We've been blessed that so far, at least, there hasn't been a repetition of major terrorism since September 11th, although Richard Reid did try to take down another airliner. I think the American people, the whole world have got to understand that this struggle continues. It continues to be very dangerous. The people we're holding in Guantanamo are very dangerous. And their friends around the world are very dangerous.

Hume: Now, reports continue to come out of that area where the Predator bomb hit that say, no, no, hit the wrong people. Can you offer anything further on that?

Wolfowitz: We're looking into it. We're trying to figure out from what evidence we've been able to recover who it could have been. And we don't have the answer yet.

Hume: Well, it was said at the time at the Pentagon that it was believed it was a proper target and that it was, indeed, coordinated by the CIA with military planners. Is that the case? And do you still believe that this was a proper target?

Wolfowitz: Based on everything we know so far, we still think it was a proper target. But we don't know a great deal more than what we knew the day we took that shot.

Hume: All right. Now, let me turn to --

Wolfowitz: But, Brit, you know, people should understand, too. I mean everyone wants us to get bin Laden and get the worst al Qaeda people. And they need to understand that every time we take an action, it's going to be based on intelligence that has gaps in it. That's the nature of the business that we're in. And, again, I think it would be important, because we're going to continue operations in Afghanistan for a long time, to understand that we've make judgments based on intelligence that isn't 100 percent perfect. If you wait for 100 percent perfect intelligence, a lot of bad guys are going to get away.

Hume: One last, quick question on Iran. They're saying that they've detained 150 al Qaeda suspects. (A), do you believe them? And, (B), do you believe that if they do, if they are holding them or have been holding them, that they're handling them properly?

Wolfowitz: Look, you have to be very wary about believing a regime like that too quickly. What I do believe is that the president has gotten their attention. I don't think they'd be talking about detaining al Qaeda suspects if the president and people in this administration hadn't been very candid about identifying that as a problem. And I go back to the people who say that it's somehow simplistic to identify a problem. I think it's simplistic to pretend that things will get better if we don't talk about what's wrong.

Hume: I want to take one last crack with you on Iraq. You said earlier when asked what Saddam Hussein would have to do to get out of trouble with the United States and its friend that he'd have to show you. The question is, show you what?

Wolfowitz: You know, in 1991 at the end of the Gulf war, Saddam Hussein was given -- he was told to get rid of all of his weapons of mass destruction. He was given six months to prove to the world that he'd gotten rid of them. And over the last ten plus years, all he's done is proven to the world that he continues to hold onto them; he continues to develop them. That has got to stop.

Hume: Public destruction of such weapons? Acknowledgement that he has them? Is there anything that would be a first step?

Wolfowitz: I don't want to speculate. I think if we got to that point, we would know it.

Hume: All right. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a pleasure to have. Thank you for coming.

Wolfowitz: It's good to be here, Brit.

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