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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with NTV News in Istanbul

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 14, 2002

(Interview with NTV news anchor Mithat Bereket in Istanbul)

Bereket: Welcome to Turkey, to Istanbul, sir.

Yes, I mean it is nice to see you here and thanks a lot for sharing your time and let's start with a direct question. Nowadays, everybody is wondering about this. I mean two simple questions actually. "When" and "how" about the operation in Iraq? Very simple but very important questions. I mean, what is going on?

Wolfowitz: First of all, let me say something, which is that this is a visit that was actually planned back in last December but we had to postpone it two times. We finally got it on. And it is to discuss a whole range of US - Turkish issues. We've got such a close relationship; even just in the defense field alone there are six or seven major things to discuss, from participation in Joint Strike Fighter to our peacekeeping operations in the Balkans to our work together in Afghanistan. And, of course, Iraq is one of those issues, but I think a lot of people are assuming that the United States has made a whole lot of decisions. The truth is, the President has stated very clearly a problem and he has presented that problem to his own government to think about solutions and he is interested in discussing with close friends, especially friends like Turkey, what the solutions are. And I am really here more to listen than to tell people we have decided this, this, and this, because we haven't. Turkey has some unique perspectives on this part of the world and it has some very substantial national interest in this part of the world, and I am really here to understand those better and to go back and help people in Washington understand those better.

Bereket: A lot of discussion is going at the moment about the possible operation on Iraq in the American press as well. I mean, in your opinion, what sort of an operation do you believe must be organized to topple Saddam Hussein?

Wolfowitz: There is a lot of discussion in press. Some of it is well informed and some of it isn't. There is a lot of discussion in the Administration. There is a recognition that this is a major issue, that there aren't simple answers, that it is very important to think it through, to think through not only how we achieve that result but how to make sure that when we achieve that result that the outcome is something that is good for everybody. And those issues that I don't have answers to, I have ideas; I am here to learn about Turkish ideas and be able to communicate some of those ideas back to my colleagues in Washington.

Bereket: So to sum this up, can we say that there is no decision taken yet in this Administration vis-à-vis an operation, a possible operation on Iraq?

Wolfowitz: That is a fair conclusion, and what again, I repeat, the President has said very clearly there is a problem there that we can't continue to live with indefinitely but we are open to all kinds of suggestions about what is the best way to deal with that problem. We have not made any decision, any final decisions yet.

Bereket: You mentioned briefly, but could you please elaborate: in your meetings in Ankara, what will you tell Turkish officials, I mean, what is the purpose of your visit?

Wolfowitz: The purpose of my visit, most of all, is to listen, to learn, to try to get a good feeling of the range of issues that exist between us, and obviously most importantly those that are in the defense area. But I shouldn't say most important -- from my perspective the ones that I am most responsible for are in the defense area. Most important probably is if I can improve my understanding of Turkey's current economic situation and the things that Turkey would like to see from the United States by way of help. I am not an economist. I am not from the Treasury Department, but I can go back and give my perspective on what Turkey needs. And it is very important. Turkey's economic success is very important to the United States, because Turkey is a wonderful partner and a strong partner is what you want to have.

Bereket: Where do you place Turkey in this region? I mean, where does the American Administration place Turkey in this region: in the Middle East, or vis-a-vis Iraq, for example? I mean, what will be the expectations or what are the expectations from Turkey?

Wolfowitz: Well, for one thing we don't place Turkey in this region, we place Turkey in both straddling Europe and Asia, which gives Turkey a unique importance. And, frankly, for many years, I personally have understood Turkey's unique importance in the whole Muslim world. I was the American Ambassador for three years in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. And I believe Indonesia and Turkey are the only two countries with Muslim majorities where Islam is not the state religion. As Americans, who believe in the importance of separating church and state, we think those examples are very valuable examples and we would like to see those become models of success for other countries. So we think of Turkey in many respects, but obviously in this region Turkey is one of the strongest countries in this region, one of the biggest countries in this region, one of the most economically important countries in this region, and, of all of our allies, one of those most affected by what takes place in this region. So we have a lot to talk to Turkey about.

Bereket: And coming back to Iraq again, one of the biggest, let's say, worries or reservations of Turkey, vis-à-vis the Iraqi possible scenarios, is the integrity of Iraq. I mean, it seems that the Kurds in northern Iraq are eager for, at least, an autonomous northern Iraq, or maybe a federal state, after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Now, I mean, what is your position on that and what will you tell Turkish government to convince the Turkish government on the integrity of Iraq?

Wolfowitz: Well, our position is very clear that we have to maintain a territorial integrity of Iraq, and there cannot be a separate Kurdish state and our position is influenced very strongly by understanding the Turkish interests, because we do not want an outcome in Iraq which causes problems for Turkey. We want an outcome in Iraq that helps Turkey, which creates a prosperous Iraq that becomes a valuable trading partner for Turkey. And we believe that, in fact, that is an outcome that is achievable. But one of the things I am very interested in learning during this visit is what ideas Turkish officials have about how best to ensure that that positive outcome is the result and what things we need to think about ahead of time to make sure that the negative outcomes don't happen. But, I think Turkey and the United States are the two countries with greatest capabilities to influence the outcome. So, it is very important for us to coordinate our thinking.

Bereket: For a long period of time, I mean, it was a situation like with or without you when you think about Saddam in Iraq. I mean, it seems that everybody, including the United States, preferred the weak Saddam and a weak Iraq, but the integrity of Iraq, than to an Iraq without a Saddam, but a disintegrated Iraq. Now what sort of a future do you wish to see in Iraq? Will it be a federal state, for example?

Wolfowitz: I think that the reality is that Iraq is disintegrating under Saddam. I think that anyone who thinks that he maintains the territorial integrity of Iraq should visit northern Iraq today. That is not the answer, clearly isn't the answer. What the answer is, exactly, is hard to say as long as he is there suppressing real opinion in Iraq. But I do believe that the more the international community insists that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be an outcome, the more we will influence the various people who influence that outcome to understand that that's the direction we have to go.

Bereket: You always mention the increasing importance of Turkey to the United States, especially after the events of the 11th of September. Now, what do you mean exactly, and why do you think the importance of Turkey has increased?

Wolfowitz: Because I believe that, as I said in comments earlier today, to TESEV, I believe that what the terrorists are really after is not only to kill Americans, but to -- it is not too strong word to say -- enslave their fellow Muslims, to force on them a kind of tyrannical world view that abuses Muslim ideas and says all the terrible things that the Taliban stood for, for example, in Afghanistan. So I think we are in a battle for hearts and minds, if I could put it that way, in the Muslim world, and I believe a country like Turkey that is overwhelmingly Muslim, but is secular and democratic, is a very important symbol of what the terrorists are opposed to. And Turkey's success can be a very important symbol to a billion Muslims that you don't have to go the way of the terrorists, that, in fact, going the way of the terrorists brings you death and destruction, while going way of democratic, free enterprise, and freedom can bring you real success. So Turkey's success has got a strategic importance. I have thought that this has strategic importance for a long time, but September 11th underlines this.

Bereket: And Turkey is now having some political turmoil and the resignation of Foreign Minister Ismail Cem is happening, I mean, in Ankara. How do you see all these things happening in Ankara?

Wolfowitz: I see it as democracy. It is difficult. I think I quoted earlier Bernard Lewis saying democracy is difficult, but it is also possible. And each democratic country that I know of has different ways of arranging things. We think we've got a great system in the United States, but if you noticed in November of 2000 we almost couldn't figure out who had won the presidential election. So, it is not a perfect system, but I believe, as Winston Churchill said, it is not a perfect system but it is better than all the alternatives.

Bereket: Very lastly, I mean, when Minister Kemal Dervis came to Washington, just after he was sort of appointed as a minister, he was asking for some financial support. You made a speech mentioning that beforehand Turkey should fulfill some structural reforms, and when you are looking from today's perspective -- you are in Turkey, you will be discussing with Turkish officials, it was nearly about a year or two ago -- how do you see Turkey now? Do you think this government fulfilled or succeeded those reforms?

Wolfowitz: It is interesting that you think it was that long ago. I believe it was more like four or five months ago, but I think it is a measure of how much Turkey has been going through in the last few months that it seems such a long period. I have to judge by what the officials in the US Treasury Department say and what I know they say is that Turkey has taken some remarkable strides, taken some very difficult positions. That's why the United States has been so strong in encouraging the IMF to support Turkey. But as we have been saying all along, and I've said in those remarks you mention, no amount of IMF support will work without the policy changes that Turkey has to make. I'm not an economist. I hope to learn a little more about these issues while I am here, but I do have a sense that a good deal has been accomplished and the problem now - and we've seen it in other countries - is that politics is starting to overwhelm economics. Sometimes if you have a bad economy it is difficult to have things going well politically, if political uncertainty casts a shadow on the economy. So the challenge for Turkey is to pull the two pieces together, and I am not here to prescribe how that should be done, that's beyond me, but I have a lot of faith in Turkish creativity and ability to work these things out.

Bereket: Forgive me for just one more question about Afghanistan, because you will be going to tonight and it is very important. I mean, how do you see the situation in Afghanistan and what are the plans of the United States army for the near future in Afghanistan? And a very simple question that comes up on all the time: why the US Army couldn't manage to seize or catch Bin Laden in Afghanistan?

Wolfowitz: You know we have accomplished a great deal, I believe, in Afghanistan. And the al Qaeda, a lot of them were killed or captured; many of them got away. Frankly, it was never our intention to put a hundred thousand American troops in Afghanistan and try to seal the borders, which you cannot do anyhow. I think part of what has been very successful is that we have accomplished a great deal without becoming a foreign invading force, which is not a good thing to be in Afghanistan. Our challenge in the future going forward is on the one hand to continue pursuing packets of Taliban and al Qaeda. And most of the al Qaeda people have fled but there are Taliban who are still dangerous. And secondly to help the new Afghan government get its roots down and to establish a level of security around the country. There are some people who sort of seem to think that this should have happened overnight. They forget what kind of a country Afghanistan is, and I see no appreciation of what it is like to survive 20 years of civil war, as that country the country has. There are security problems there. What to me is more impressive is how few security problems there are, given the history of that country, and Turkey, if I may say so, is playing absolutely critical role by taking the leadership of the security force in Kabul. It is that force that has provided the foundation on which the Afghan people assembled there. They call it a Loya Jirga. It is an assembly of notable leaders. They freely chose a leadership for the first time in more than twenty years. It is a great step forward. Turks should be very proud of the role their country is playing in making that progress possible.

Bereket: Sir, thank you very much for being with us, thank you.

Wolfowitz: My pleasure, thank you.

Bereket: Thank you very much and have a nice, safe trip to Turkey back from Afghanistan. Nice to see you again.