Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2002
(Media Roundtable at the U.S. Embassy Rome)
Feith: Good afternoon. It's nice to have a chance to meet with you. I saw and chatted with some of you a few weeks ago.
I've just completed participation in the conference of the Southeast European Defense Ministers and we met pretty much all day today. The event began last evening. We had discussions of the issues relating specifically to this Southeast Europe Defense Ministerials organization, in particular, the issue of getting the brigade that is going to be doing peacekeeping work moving forward, in the hope that it can deploy and do some missions probably in connection with NATO and probably in the Balkans sometime next year.
At the conference, we were given the opportunity to provide a briefing on the war on terrorism, and in it we discussed the operations that the coalition forces have been engaged in Afghanistan. We discussed the danger in particular of the overlap of the countries that are supporting terrorism, and those countries that have dangerous and irresponsible regimes that are pursuing weapons of mass destruction and the overlap of those two lists represents a significant strategic danger. The danger comes together in an especially acute form in the regime in Iraq, and we discussed that issue, and I explained that the U.S. position regarding the recent declaration about weapons of mass destruction that Iraq has given to United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNOVIC) at the United Nations is going to be studied very carefully.
The United States expects to spend a significant period of time reviewing, very meticulously, this Iraqi declaration. We do not think that we are going to have any kind of definitive conclusions about it in a matter of days, it will probably take weeks. We intend to review the declaration carefully, using all of the sources of intelligence that we have. We intend to consult with other countries that have intelligence and insights into the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs, and consult with the countries on the United Nations Security Council and other countries and develop as broad a base as possible, and as solid a base as possible, for whatever conclusions we are going to come to about the truthfulness of that Iraqi declaration.
I also had the opportunity to consult bilaterally with a number of the defense ministers at the conference, and I am sure that of particular interest to this group is the fact that I was able to have very useful meetings with the Italian Defense Minister Martino and with officials in the Prime Minister's office and in the Foreign Ministry. In those meetings, we talked about this issue of Iraq and the recent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction declaration.
We talked about the building of a coalition for possible military action in Iraq. Our view is that the only chance that exists to avoid war is if the Iraqi government understands that there is a solid coalition that is ready to disarm Iraq by force, if the Iraqi government does not disarm itself cooperatively with the UN. It is our hope that we can avoid war. It is our hope that the Iraqi government will come to the conclusion that it has no option, no realistic option, other than cooperating with disarmament. The building of a coalition in advance, and preparing a military option, is the best way, we believe, of minimizing the chances that any kind of military action would be required.
It is also the case that, if military action is required, the stronger the coalition that can be put together, the faster any military action could be done, and one would expect the lower the cost for everybody involved, and so it is highly desirable to have a broad base of support for our diplomacy and for military action, if it's required. We also discussed Afghanistan and I expressed, once again, the gratification of the United States that we are working so well with the Italian Government that the Italian Government has been providing important support to operation enduring Freedom, with the promise of the deployment of the Alpini battalion in March, with the contributions that Italy has made to the International Security Assistance Force, and we are pleased with that cooperation. We think it is important for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and ensuring that Afghanistan does not, in the future, revert to serving as a base of operations for terrorism.
With that, I will be happy to take your questions.
Q: You said you had some bilaterals, Mr. Under Secretary. Did you meet with any of the Turkish officials, and if so, has any progress been made in trying to get assurances from Turkey that their bases could be used, which would be essential for any action against Iraq?
Feith: I did have a chance to talk to the Turkish Defense Minister. I think it was yesterday if the time change hasn't thrown me off. I think it was yesterday that President Bush met with Mr. Erdogan in Washington. And there have been important talks there on the issue of Turkish cooperation on bringing the kind of coalition together that could induce Saddam Hussein to cooperate with the disarmament.
Q: But nothing specific out of your talks with the Turkish Defense Minister yesterday, no progress in getting any firmer assurances that they will allow use of their bases? ...
Feith: I would describe any meeting that produces better mutual understanding as progress. And I think we had a good meeting and ideas were exchanged, thoughts were exchanged and that's inherently progressive.
Q: Mr. Secretary, could you elaborate on the potential members of this coalition?
Feith: There are a number of countries cooperating with the US on the war on terrorism. And as US officials have explained since the Sept. 11 attack, we have a policy in discussing the coalition, and that policy is we let each country that is contributing decide for itself how it wants to characterize its contributions to the coalition effort. There are countries that are contributing militarily, there are others that are contributing intelligence, there are others that are participating through their law enforcement efforts, there are others that are participating by clamping down on the financial flows to terrorist organizations, and we let each country decide how it wants to explain its own role in the war on terrorism. So I'm not going to get into more detail than that.
Q: What kind of help could Italy provide in a war against Iraq? Did Martino tell you something about this?
Feith: As I said in line with the answer to the previous question that's a question that should be addressed to the government of Italy.
Q: Do you have any reason to believe that the ship that was intercepted by the Spanish was not headed for Iraq?
Feith: I have been on the road the last two days or so, and I don't have the latest information of what we know about where that ship was headed. It's possible that you're more current than I am at this minute. I haven't a chance to connect back to the Pentagon since I finished my meetings today.
Q: But if you had to think of three countries in that region where Scud missiles would be headed ...
Feith: I would not say that I have any information to rule it out, but I don't have any information at all, so it's not very useful, sorry.
Q: You mentioned the importance of a broad base of support. Often government coalitions aren't backed by popular support. Does this concern you and your department, especially given the rise of anti-Americanism?
Feith: We understand the importance of explaining our views, making our case to publics. Our closest allies and friends around the world are democracies and democratic governments are good to deal with and difficult to deal with because they're democratic and they have to answer to their people. And it complicates life in all kinds of ways when you have to deal with the public, but it makes policy better, and it makes your friendships truer, and recognizing that we think is helpful when we're working with our democratic friends to present the kind of explanations and evidence that allow them to persuade their publics that if they're cooperating with us, it is in the common interests of the two countries. And so I think your question is very well taken, it's an extremely important point, and I think we have it at the fore of our mind.
Q: You said before that the US has come to the meetings for the last few days with the notion that the best way to prevent a war, prevent an armed aggression on Iraq is to build a coalition and to be prepared. If I'm not misunderstanding, if Saddam Hussein believes that if he doesn't cooperate then there will be an armed intervention, this will lead him to cooperate?
Feith: That's pretty much the logic.
Q: Have you found that the other defense ministers with whom you've been meeting from the other coalition countries share that point of view?
Feith: I'm loath to talk for the other defense ministers. I think if you want to ask what their views are it's best to ask them directly. What I would say is that I had a very respectful hearing when I presented that as our view, and I was pleased with the opportunity, I was pleased that the communiqué that was agreed by all of the defense ministers at the SEDM meeting today gave a strong endorsement of the demand that Iraq comply with its obligations to disarm under the new UN Security Council resolution 1441 and the previous resolutions that it built on.
I think there is a common understanding of the very serious danger represented by the Iraqi regime, given its history of using weapons of mass destruction against its neighbors, against the Iranians, against its own Kurdish citizens, its history of aggression not only against Iran, but against Kuwait and against Saudi Arabia and against Israel. I think that there is an understanding that the time has come for the Iraqi regime to cooperatively comply with its international obligations, or to be compelled to do so.
Q: You said it might take weeks before the report is sorted through, translated, analyzed, backed up by other intelligence, etc. You're trying to gain momentum now, but this could stretch out to weeks, maybe go back to diplomacy and getting perhaps another resolution. It could be perhaps months. Do you think this momentum for this understanding, that this is the only way to go against an aggressor nation like Iraq, can stand the test of time, can it last for a couple of months, until Spring?
Feith: If I understood your question, it assumed that there was going to be an analysis followed by diplomacy. What I was suggesting is that diplomacy is going to be part of the analytical process. We are going to be doing our own analysis, and we're going to be doing it together with other countries that have information about Iraq, other countries that can help us understand the declaration as best as possible. So the diplomatic effort, the professional exchanges with diplomats and with intelligence people, is part of our analytic process that's going to be occurring over the next several weeks. And we think that the world expects a careful analysis, rather than any hasty judgment, and that's what we intend to provide.
Q: Russia today stressed that although different copies of the documents have been distributed to Security Council members, finally it's only the inspectors that should decide or point out violations from the Iraqi side. Do you agree?
Feith: That's not consistent with the UN Security Council resolution 1441. 1441 makes it clear that it's the Security Council that decides whether Iraq is complying not the inspectors.
Q: Yes, but who should point out eventual violations or whatever, should refer to the Security Council, should be only the inspectors or eventually also...
Feith: The UNMOVIC people can be one source of information, and one of the few really promising possibilities from UNMOVIC's work would be if UNMOVIC would, for example, find Iraqi engineers and scientists who are involved in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, and get them out of the country under circumstances where they're not subject to intimidation by the Saddam Hussein regime, and question them about what they know about the Iraqi WMD programs and the nature of their stockpiles, of their facilities, the locations and the like. And that would be a particularly useful function that UNMOVIC could perform.
It's worth pointing out that there is a very common misconception about inspections. UMOVIC does not have the capability to uncover WMD in Iraq that the Iraqi government is trying to conceal. That is not, in our view, what UNMOVIC can be expected to achieve. What UNMOVIC could be expected to achieve is to monitor Iraqi disarmament done cooperatively by the Iraqi government, if the Iraqi government concludes that it must cooperate in its own disarmament. Then UNMOVIC could be there, it could watch the disarmament, it could monitor it, and it could certify to the world that it's happening.
But if the Iraqi government is going to continue its denial and deception policy, and is going to continue to work to conceal what it possesses in the way of WMD, then it is unrealistic to suppose that inspectors are going to be able to uncover what is hidden. Iraq is too big a country, it is too easy for a tyrannical government of that of Saddam Hussein, which controls the country and maintains secrets and has all kinds of facilities that it has built underground and that can be concealed. It is too easy for the Iraqi government to hide what it has, and it is unrealistic to expect that UNMOVIC in the absence of extraordinary good luck could find what the Iraqi government intends to conceal.
And so it's very important to be clear on what UNMOVIC can accomplish and what it can't accomplish. Now one thing, as I said, it can accomplish would be to talk to people who know about the Iraqi program, and can reveal the secrets, and Iraq is under an obligation to make those people available for interviews outside the country. That's what UN Resolution 1441 says. And in the past when UNSCOM, the previous inspection regime, was inspecting Iraq, much, most of the good information that UNSCOM obtained about Iraq's WMD programs it got not from inspections, but from defectors. And it's clear that the key to finding out what Iraq has is having the people with the knowledge in Iraq, the Iraqis who are involved in these programs, come forward and say what they know, and that is a much more effective way to find out what is going on in the country in this field, than playing hide-and-seek, cat and mouse games, with an Iraqi regime that's intent on defeating the purpose of the inspections.