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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Channel News Asia

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 31, 2002

(Interview in Singapore with Shankar Aiyar, TV Channel News Asia.)

Q: President Bush has decided to send Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to South Asia to defuse the crisis there. What is it that the Secretary of Defense can do to pull back the two countries from war?

Wolfowitz: It's not just the secretary of defense, our deputy secretary of state, Mr. Armitage, is going between the 6th and 7th -- I think are the dates. Secretary Rumsfeld will be following and the British foreign secretary has been there just recently, Jack Straw. It's almost a procession there. It's a measure of how concerned the whole international community is about the danger of a war between India and Pakistan. We all need to do everything we can to defuse this crisis and to warn both parties that war is not the solution.

Q: This has been happening several times in the past. You've had crises like this breaking out between India and Pakistan and then a series of visitors coming in from outside of South Asia to apply pressure and then matters get defused finally. What is it that can be done now concretely to actually stop the two of them from going to war?

Wolfowitz: I should make one point clear which is I represent the Department of Defense and our State Department really has the lead on these issues. They handle it very well. Secretary Powell is a great secretary of state. We're here in a supporting role and when a thing is as sensitive as it is, I don't want to start stepping on the area of very well crafted diplomacy.

Therefore one of the most important things we can do for both sides is to warn them on one hand of dangers of war. I might say they understand already, but I'm not completely sure they do and I certainly think that there should be no mistake in just how bad it could get. At the same time to talk with both sides about what could be done to improve the situation in deep and very positive ways -- to build a much different positive kind of relationship that this can be avoided.

One of the many tragic aspects of this confrontation is that it comes at a moment when we were looking forward to a brand new era in our relations with India and for rather different reasons a brand new era in our relations with Pakistan. With India it was based largely on the change of relations at the end of the Cold War but also the fact that India has emerged as a major force in the world economy, a major force in our economy particularly through computer and software industry. The world's largest democracy, we're the two largest together so we see great potential for us in the co-operation and it's completely different from the frosty relationship we had throughout the Cold War.

With Pakistan it becomes an opportunity out of tragedy. The events of September 11 have suddenly made it possible for us to remove some of the barriers to our relationship with Pakistan, certainly moved President Musharraf and importantly we shifted Pakistan in a very different direction in respect of the only way to -- domestic terrorists. Those are very positive things. We do not want to lose them through the kind of war that is in danger of breaking out. I'm sure that one of the messages that everybody will be taking is that message that there is a very bright future for both of you. Don't screw it up.

Q: Well the troops have been shifted -- Pakistani troops are being shifted from the Afghanistan side to the Indian side and there is talk of this affecting the U.S. war against Pakistan and the rest of the world against terrorism being fought there. To what extent is this going to damage US efforts?

Wolfowitz: It is a problem. It is one of the reasons why we would like to see this crisis resolved peacefully and as quickly as possible. There's no question that it weakens our ability to work against the terrorists. Quite a few of them have moved out of Afghanistan, we believe into western Pakistan. But as important as that interest is, and it's hugely important, it pales in comparison to our interest in avoiding the catastrophe that could come out of the war between those two countries.

Q: That leads me to the question, because of the fear of nuclear weapons being used in South Asia, is there anything that the U.S. forces or the U.S. could do to prevent actually a nuclear war breaking out and keep the conflict, if it does break out, at a conventional level? Would you think of using U.S. force for instance?

Wolfowitz: First of all, any decisions about the use of U.S. force, decisions can be made only by the president of the U.S. and not decisions for people like me to be speculating about.

I believe that it's quite clear that the real responsibility for avoiding this has to rest with leadership of Pakistan and I believe they should disabuse themselves of illusions that once the war begins there is some easy way to control it or to keep the level down. One of the great dangers is that once war starts, they have a dangerous dynamic and that is obviously one of the things that worries us very greatly.

Q: Let's go to the Philippines now -- U.S. troops are pulling out of there on the 15th of July and now a reward of $5 million is being offered to get hold of these people. Is this an indication of a failure of a joint operation between Philippine forces and U.S. troops in the Philippines?

Wolfowitz: We have a six-month agreement with the Philippine government. When it does expire, that particular terms of reference expires, I would anticipate that we will continue working closely with the Philippines. Beyond that period we'll go with never using US military forces to accomplish specific objectives in the Philippines but rather to improve the capability of the Philippine armed forces themselves to control their own sovereignty. It's a very important point -- Filipinos are very happy to take our assistance and training in improving their capabilities. So we're considering very carefully as we enter this next phase exactly what's appropriate.

Q: $5 million per head being offered by the U.S. Isn't that a sign that they're desperate?

Wolfowitz: I would not use the word desperate. We've put a lot of patience into this. The question with war on terrorism, we're dealing with very difficult problems, very difficult people. We keep looking around for the best ways to handle it. In the case of the Abu Sayyaf group, we obviously were very concerned that they continue holding hostages including two Americans. We're exploring all the different ways we can of putting pressure on them and we'll keep at it but we can't measure defeat or victory by any individual standard. Just al Qaeda is into some 60 countries in the world including my country, including Singapore, including the Philippines.

Q: Two very quick questions. One is there any chance of the U.S. troops presence in the Philippines continuing beyond the 15th July? Would the U.S. like to suggest that to the Philippines?

Wolfowitz: We're looking at what makes the most sense from our point of view. We'll be open to suggestions in the Philippine government. I'm quite sure that with this cooperation which has been very successful will continue in some form, whether it would be exactly the form that it's been up until now. We don't want to speculate but I'm reasonably confident that we have both found this improvement in Philippine capability to be of mutual benefit and we requested money from the Congress in the supplemental budget this year to continue that cooperation. We requested it because we intended to put it to use, I think that's a measure of our intentions.

Q: A last question -- about yourself. An academic now in policy. What does it feel like?

Wolfowitz: When I was an academic, they said I was a former government official now you ask me what it feels like! I've spent a large part of my life in government and the opportunity to have even a small influence on very big decisions is something that keeps a lot of us working late at night. A lot of my experience has been here in East Asia and one of the most incredible experiences of my whole life was when I was assistant secretary of state for East Asia during the last years of the Marcos regime. I watched President Aquino of the democratic movement in the Philippines grow. We did our bit to help achieve a peaceful transition in that country. I must say it gives me a personal interest and desire to see democracy succeed in the Philippines. I might say an even stronger desire to see democracy succeed in Indonesia which is the country I've lived in for three years. This whole part of the world is exciting. It is that part of the world that used to be described with that phrase oriental fatalism and so I think it would change but for the last 30 or 40 years has been one year after another. By and large 1997 has been the exception, but most years each year was better than the last year and I think people look to next year being better than this year. It's a region where people do more solving of problems than creating of problems and I must say it's a satisfying place to work.

Thank you.