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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview With Turkish Print Journalists

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 17, 2002

(Interview with Turkish Print Media Journalists Sami Kohen, Milliyet Leyla Tavsanoglu, Chumhuriyet Ekrem Dumanli, Zaman Istanbul.)

Wolfowitz: Thanks for coming out to the airport. I have to go to an early meeting at the White House tomorrow morning, so I have to get back tonight. Thank you for joining us. It is embarrassing to say that I am old enough to be have been working on U.S.- Turkish relations for more than 25 years now, and I keep developing more and more appreciation for how important this country is for the United States. I think also I have a perspective on how far this country has come ever since I've been visiting here and I had been looking forward to this visit for some time. It was actually originally planned for last December and we had to postpone it a couple of times. Some people said that with the political uncertainty here we should postpone it again and finally the judgment prevailed that, no, that that is part of what we need to understand. The situation in Turkey, economically, politically, the present uncertainties.

This is a real strategic partnership. One way to understand a strategic partnership is when you have a strategic partnership, trade and economic issues become of interest to (the Department of) Defense, so the major things that we discussed here included qualified industrial zones, which I am just getting educated about. And I remember back a year ago when we were discussing Turkey's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. It was the Secretary of the Treasury obviously, but my boss, the Secretary of Defense, played an important role in those discussions. So it is a very broad agenda of things that we discussed. Contrary to what you read in the press, it wasn't all about Iraq and though we did discuss a range of regional issues, that being one of them, I keep being impressed at how important Turkey remains to the United States.

I used to say this back before September 11, that even after the Cold War it was obvious Turkey was important. Its strategic importance didn't diminish with the end of the Cold War. Just that the range of issues changed. Nobody worried about Bosnia and Kosovo back then. Now we do and we work with Turkey. No one ever dreamed we'd be deploying American troops to Afghanistan. Even as recently as September 10, it would have sounded absurd. And here we are in partnership with Turkey, and, as you may know, on this trip I also had the opportunity of visiting the commander of the Turkish forces in Kabul - where Turkey has taken the lead in that security assistance force. And doing a very impressive, professional job, which we've come to expect from Turks and in this case we are extremely appreciative because it is not an easy job. And even though other countries have shied away from the responsibility, Turkey took it on and we're also appreciative of the fact that Turkish troops have fought with us elsewhere.

On the subject of Iraq, again, contrary to some reports we didn't come here asking for any decisions. The purpose of this visit, really, across all the issues, was an exchange of views, an opportunity to benefit from Turkish perspectives. We really honestly came here to listen. The president has made very clear his view of the Iraq problem. That it is a country that is hostile to the United States. It supports terrorism. And it has weapons of mass destruction and is busily acquiring more. And that is a danger we cannot live with indefinitely. It is too dangerous to wait until after something has happened.

But beyond that there are many hard decisions, which he hasn't made yet. And one purpose of my visit was to help bring to him as much as I could the Turkish perspective on the whole issue. Whether anything should be done, but also if things are done, how they should be done, and, most of all, I shouldn't say "most of all", but very importantly, what kind of Iraq do we want to see after Saddam Hussein and how can we ensure that this is an Iraq that is democratic, an Iraq that maintains the territorial integrity of the country, an Iraq that doesn't lead to a Kurdish state, an Iraq that respects the Turcoman minority. What I learned from here is that from the Turkish perspective, they are not a minority but one of three constituent parts of the Iraqi population - so that it is a different way to look at it.

One last comment. I talked about how I am continually impressed by the strategic importance of Turkey. It is vastly more important after September 11 and not so much for geographic reasons as for philosophical reasons, I think. The president has said that winning the war on terrorism is more than just defeating terrorists. It is a war for building a better world beyond the war on terror. And I think a key part in building a better world has got to be promoting democracy in the Muslim world and Turkey is one of the few examples that we have as a model. And it is extremely important, therefore, in my view, in our view, that we do everything we can to ensure the success of that model.

The fact that we came at a difficult time, I have to emphasize, people have been extremely gracious, including the Prime Minister. He met with us for about half an hour I believe. You wouldn't have known he had anything else on his mind, but obviously he had other things on his mind. We met politicians, businessmen, military officers, Prime Ministry officials. Everybody was very frank, which I've come to expect from Turks.

Q: You said repeatedly since you arrived that you came here to listen. About Iraq and the aftermath, now two things about that. First of all, what would be the impact on any decision the administration would take of the information, the impressions, that you got in Ankara? Those sorts of reservations on the part of the Turkish government about intervening. Will that have any impact on the president when it comes to taking a decision? Is it just consultations for consultations' sake. Could that have any influence in any decision-making process? Now this is one point. Now the other point is, you said again, you came to listen, but I gather you did a lot of talking, too. So it goes both ways. Now what was it really that you tried to get from the Turkish side? I mean, was there any particular thing, anything sought by you, asking Turkey to do this or that?

Wolfowitz: No, because frankly we really aren't at the point of knowing ourselves what we want to do to be able to ask others. We are talking about very weighty decisions which, in our system, only the president can make. And until he's made those no one is in a position other than asking for information at this stage. And I think I had a good appreciation before I came but it's a bit stronger now of what Turkish concerns are. I hope I conveyed a good appreciation of why, in our view, this is simply not something we can continue to live with forever.

But I think there are also very important perspectives about what that picture in Iraq will look like after Saddam Hussein, and, if and when we get to the point of actually making decisions, it is going to be very much up to Turkey to decide for itself what its stands will be. But while I do think we have some differences on how to get there, there's pretty broad agreement about the enormous benefits that could come to the whole region. For Turkey, with a different kind of government in Iraq. How you get there, the cost, the risk in getting there, the costs are something very much on Turkey's mind. And we were reminded of some of the economic issues left over from ten years ago, but, obviously, that is a subject that was discussed. We are trying to do something about it, not only asking the Congress for 28 million dollars to cover the cost of your International Security Assistance Force, which is grant money, by the way, which I'd like to emphasize, but also for another $200 million of grant money to help offset some of the burdens. So, I repeat we haven't made a kind of decision that leads us to ask for things at this stage.

Q: Mr. Wolfowitz, can you tell me what kind of an Iraq the United States wants to see after Mr. Saddam, and has the United States found a replacement for Mr. Saddam?

Wolfowitz: Well, we want to see a democratic Iraq, which means that it's not our job to find a replacement. It's up to the Iraqi people. We want an Iraq that preserves the territorial integrity of that country, because we think in Iraq that fragments will be dangerous for the whole region. Particularly, we do not want to see in Iraq a change that leads to a Kurdish state in northern Iraq. We are opposed to that as clearly as Turkey. We want to see an Iraq that protects minorities, understandably. Especially the Turkish interest in the Turcoman minority, but the truth is I don't think it is only a Turkish interest. An Iraq that protects its minorities, particularly that important minority in Iraq, will do a lot of other things that are important, including getting back all of the enormous talent that has left the country over the last thirty years.

A colleague in Jakarta who was the Moroccan Ambassador said to me that the smartest people in the Arab world are from Iraq but none of them live there - which is a slight exaggeration. It's easier, honestly, to describe what kind of Iraq we want to see than it is to say, ok, what are the mechanisms that will ensure that it happens. That's where the perspective of Turks, who know this region, who know the history of the region, have, in some cases, relatives who live inside of Iraq, comes in. I think we have a lot to learn from other people and we're very aware of that.

Q: Does it mean that the United States has changed its policy regarding Iraq? Because 10 years ago, during the Gulf War, it was reported that the United States wanted an autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

Wolfowitz: There is a lot that is reported that isn't true and was never true. It was never true. I would say over the last twelve months, as we thought more seriously about a change of regime in Iraq, we thought much more deeply about the kinds of things that shouldn't happen, the kinds of things that we never wanted to see happen. We always understood the dangers for Turkey.

Q: I would like to ask a question about Iraq. Before I came here I wrote down some questions I would like to ask you. First question, as you know, the fight against terrorism has taken all year for the United States, for the rest of the world, after the horrible events of September 11. You have been insistent in measures taken against terrorism. However, in this part of this world, especially Iran leading the path, it is not communism. Should the Islamic world accept crystallized language from Washington on these matters?

Wolfowitz: I don't think we have any need to make any apologies. I mean, let me go back before September 11 and point it out, which I think people in this country can appreciate, that on five occasions since the end of the Cold War, we put American troops in harm's way to protect populations that were predominantly Muslim, starting with Kuwaitis but including the Kurds in northern Iraq, including the Somalis, including the Bosnians, including the Kosovars. In most of the occasions, actually, Turkey was with us helping. In fact, helping in all of them. I remember there was a Turkish general in the peacekeeping forces in Somalia, Cevik Bir, right. So, frankly, Turkey has stepped up to its responsibility in this regard, but the United States has done a lot more than some of the countries you mentioned to protect Muslim populations.

I guess the two countries of Muslim majority that I know best are Turkey and Indonesia. I was the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia for three years, which has the largest Muslim population in the world. I believe -- I've read Bernard Lewis -- the only two countries of Muslim majority where Islam is not the state religion. So I had the pleasure of experience in very tolerant Muslim majority societies. And that's, I believe, the real future for Muslims and some of the versions that you mentioned are not noticeably different from al Qaeda or the Taliban. And it seems to be the objective to oppose the kind of so-called medieval tyranny - but it was pointed out to me that were better; it's almost the twentieth century kind of totalitarian view of how people should be ruled by an ideology, in this case with a certain Muslim overtone. But it's not what the religion stands for. So, this is not only not a war against Muslims, but I believe it is fair to say that if we succeed at what the President is talking about, which is a better world beyond the war on terror, among the principal beneficiaries will be hundreds of millions of Muslims. And we saw in the war in Afghanistan that this was a war for the Afghani people.

Q: How about Iran? They say U.S. policy is to push you. They try to get some Muslim people against the United States and of course, we believe the United States is hiding terrorism, but Iran, in this case, is giving more attention from some Muslim countries.

Wolfowitz: Iran is a complicated country. It had a surprisingly, I wouldn't say free, but surprisingly free election a few years ago, and elected President Khatemi but the real power continues to be held by a bunch of unelected officials who, it seems to me, represent a failure of much of what the Iranian people hoped to achieve. It was just a week ago or so that Ayatollah Isfahani, who was appointed by Khomeini, resigned with a letter openly attacking the regime for betraying the ideals of the people. I think an increasing number of Iranian people feel that way, so, again, I believe the seeds of change are there in Iran and certainly it is a great country with great people, and we would hope that at some point they would give up on, that their people would make them give up on, using terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

Q: You and several members of the administration claim that Iraq is a threat. A threat to the United States, a threat to the world, a threat to the region, a threat to Turkey. And yet this is debated in many countries, starting from Western European countries to certain Middle East countries and to some extent Turkey. I mean, it's a question, really, just what the threat is. To some extent weapons of mass destruction, to some extent terrorism. The difference is there between the United States and so many others. Now, first, really are you obsessed by Saddam Hussein, as some claim? Why is it, really, that you want to topple this government, whereas there are some other nasty governments around the world? But you're focusing all the time on Iraq? Why? And will that continue at the expense of relations with allies? When the time comes for taking action, some strong action, beyond sanctions, then will those differences be detrimental to the U.S. President?

Wolfowitz: I've got to go back and repeat. Which is, that the president has defined a problem. Part of getting to a solution includes understanding the views and attitudes of other countries and taking account of those views. I do think that maybe we have a more acute appreciation of what terrorists can do since September 11. Three thousand people were killed in our country, not in some other country, but I think people make a mistake in other countries if they think that ultimately they are not targets. I think it was Winston Churchill in the pre-World War II period who referred to people who feed a crocodile as those who will be eaten last. We feel that the crocodile is closest to us. We take this problem very seriously, but I think as the president said it isn't only Iraq but that combination of states that have access to these most terrible weapons. And states who support terrorism raise the possibility that there will be another September 11 but this time with chemical or biological weapons and that is just something too horrible to contemplate. So we need to do something beforehand to prevent it. We are not obsessed about it but we are generally frightened.

Q: You spoke of a "model country". Could you briefly explain this term? I heard in your speech Turkey is a model country for more moderate Islam.

Wolfowitz: It doesn't mean that I think everyone should copy the Turkish model. The essence of Turkey as a model is that Turkey is a democracy. Turkey is proof that democracy can work for Muslims, that the benefits of democracy and free enterprise are not just the exclusive prerogative of other civilizations and that there isn't anything inevitable about this so-called clash of civilizations. Civilizations can embrace. I would have said 20 years ago when I first started working closely with East Asian countries that Japan was a model for other Asian countries. Not in the sense that anyone should copy Japan but Japan was proof -- at the time it was the only proof -- that Asian countries could be successful in democracies and free markets. Now when one looks at East Asia one sees an almost inevitable, I think, wave of progress. So, the essence of what we believe in, we in the United States, is that people should be free to determine their own future. In too many parts of the Muslim world that is not the case. They are under the grip of one form of tyranny or another.

Q: You have clearly stated that U.S. does not want an independent state in northern Iraq? Some in Iran and in Turkey do not find the U.S. position convincing. What can Washington do to influence?

Wolfowitz: There is not a lot I can elaborate on now, because it is something we need to think through. I do think it is clear that Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq is not contributing to that country. The longer he is in power the more these divisions will grow. The real challenge and one of the things that we are very interested in is Turkish views on how to make sure after Saddam Hussein that there remains a unified country and it doesn't break up into separate small pieces. And all we have at the moment are notions and we are listening. It is very premature to try to say we know how to do it.