Newsmaker Richard Armitage
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MARGARET WARNER: Now to our interview with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. He’s just back from a trip to Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, China, and Japan. It was his second mission to dampen down tensions and the threat of war between India and Pakistan over the contested area of Kashmir. Also on the agenda for this trip was the prospect of U.S. military action against Iraq. I talked with him this afternoon from the State Department. Secretary Armitage, welcome.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Good evening, Ms. Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Your visit to India and Pakistan coincided with more violent incidents in Kashmir and a war of words over who is at fault. Is the situation between those two countries deteriorating?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: I think it is better now than it was in late May, early June. But it’s clear that the incidents of violence are on the upswing.
MARGARET WARNER: As you know, India is saying that the Pakistani President Musharraf essentially broke his word, the word he gave to you in June, that he would bring a permanent end to these cross border incursions. Is India right?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, President Musharraf, again, reiterated to me that his comments about stopping activities across the line of control was still valid. There’d been nothing changed on that. I think both India and Pakistan recognize that there are certain infiltrations across the line of control that no Pakistani President could control.
MARGARET WARNER: Is India right that the incursions abated somewhat after your visit in June, but that now they are on the upsurge? I mean can you independently confirm that?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Yes, that’s correct, and I’ve said so publicly. The cross line of control incursions are up from the end of June, but they’re still below the sort of seasonal annual highs.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think General Musharraf is doing everything at least that is in within his power; that is, at least none of the incursions that are happening are supported by either Pakistani military or intelligence?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, we do believe that President Musharraf is a man of his word and we’re going to treat him as such and treat his word with all the care which it deserves. Only President Musharraf and his colleagues know for sure, but we think that he is exerting some efforts.
MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying the U.S. can’t really be sure if there is still official Pakistani support or at least military intelligence support for some of these raids?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I don’t know that I want to get into what we know and what we don’t know. I’d say that we believe that President Musharraf is exerting efforts to cease Pakistan support for cross border Jihadists. I am saying, however, that there are Jihadists that are outside the control of all Pakistani authority. There are also Jihadists that were already existent in Kashmir. They didn’t need to cross the line of control to cause trouble.
MARGARET WARNER: Just one other question about General Musharraf. He gave an interview to Agence France Press I think just before you were there in which he said essentially look, if India won’t take any steps toward Pakistan in opening a dialogue, which is of course what both Pakistan and the U.S. have been urging, I can’t do anymore. I think he said something like I can’t take ten steps when India takes none. Did he say something like that to you?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: No, he didn’t take that, but he made it very clear that he thought that Pakistan had lived up to their end of the bargain and he was very hopeful that India would begin dialogue. We see right now that India, for her part, is focused almost entirely on the upcoming Kashmir elections, focused like a laser on it. And perhaps if those elections can proceed relatively free of violence, then there can be some sort of dialogue.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, now what did Indian officials say to you about the possibility of dialogue and the possibility of some steps toward Pakistan? I mean, were they setting this timetable about the elections which I think are what, late September or early October?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: The elections are four-phase elections from the middle of September till middle October. They’ve said that if the elections could proceed free of violence from Pakistan, then they would entertain a dialogue. President Musharraf, for his part, told me that his government’s position was to condemn violence during any electoral season.
MARGARET WARNER: You said, while you were in the region, that you have fears that there will be violence around the election. Explain why that might happen.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, there are plenty of people who don’t want elections to take place. There have been elections in the past that have been full of violence. And I’m fearful that history would repeat itself. I was happy to receive President Musharraf’s assurances that his government condemned violence. And I hope that these elections will be carried out relatively free of violence.
MARGARET WARNER: And these are elections for, essentially, the local parliament and the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: That’s correct.
MARGARET WARNER: Which the militants want everyone to boycott.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: They’re trying to — militants are trying to bully people into not voting. And there are simultaneously in October elections in Pakistan for their parliament.
MARGARET WARNER: The Indian – Indian officials talking to reporters, and I’m sure you’ve read a lot of these accounts, have been saying that they feel let down, essentially, by the U.S. Columnist Jim Hoagland put it that U.S. diplomacy had been devalued in India’s eyes because the assurances that you gave to India in June, Musharraf has given us his word, this is going to end or close to end, haven’t happened. Did you get that sense when you were in India?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Both Indian officials and President Musharraf and his colleagues told me they valued U.S. efforts in this regard and hoped they would continue. Mr. Hoagland is welcome to his own opinion but that’s what Indian officials told me.
MARGARET WARNER: And Indian officials are also saying they think the U.S. is coddling Musharraf, not pushing him hard enough because the United States wants to maintain his support for the effort in Afghanistan. Did they say anything like that to you? And what is your response to that?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I’ve heard comments along those lines in the past and it is true that President Musharraf has been extraordinarily helpful in the war on terrorism. By the same token, however, we have obtained a pledge from President Musharraf about cross border activities and we are looking to him to live up to that pledge.
MARGARET WARNER: Did you speak to President Musharraf as well about the steps he took, I think just three or four days before your arrival in which he basically ran it himself, sweeping new powers to dissolve parliament and so on, it has been widely interpreted by critics both here and in Pakistan and India as a power grab. Did you talk to him about that?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I spoke to the president about the transition back to civilian democracy. It is true that the people of Pakistan have been ill-served by both civilian democratic governments and military governments and pointed out that the U.S. view was very important that President Musharraf be able to show a return to civilian controlled democracy and a path to that democracy. And we had a good discussion on this.
MARGARET WARNER: What did he say?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, he indicated that when he comes to Washington, excuse me, when he comes to New York for the U.N. General Assembly in September, that he will be giving a series of interviews. And I fully expect him to talk about his plans and his hopes for democracy in Pakistan.
MARGARET WARNER: Another topic on your trip from news accounts is that you are also talking in these various countries about the possibility of military action against Iraq. What kind of a response did you get in your private meetings?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, you’ve prejudiced the question. I was talking about the situation of Iraq and I made it very clear that President Bush has all options open to him and that he has not decided which course to take, and when he did decide, then the president would consult with friends and allies. We just had exchanges of views on Iraq and on the Middle East in general.
MARGARET WARNER: But I think right after you left, both China and India warned against any action against Iraq. You said in Japan, I believe, at a press conference, that you thought when the President made his decision– I don’t have the exact words– but that you believed– we expect to have a fair amount of international support. I’m just wondering what is the scenario, do you think, for all of these leaders from France, to Germany to Saudi Arabia, to Japan, to China, to walk back from all the warnings they’ve issued about don’t do this, don’t do this. How do you think this might happen?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I would suspect that once the president has made a decision, then his administration would fan out and publicly begin making the case for regime change, and I suspect as we go forward, that nations would obviously decide or make the decision based on their own national interest. But I think once we make a public case on the question of the regime in Iraq, then we can expect a fair amount of support.
MARGARET WARNER: Is the administration ready to do anything to make it more palatable to other countries? I’m thinking, for example, the British foreign office said yesterday, it might press for setting, at the U.N., a new deadline for Iraq to comply with weapon inspectors. Former Secretary of State Baker, as you know, has written that he thinks that would be a good idea, the U.S. should support that as a precursor to any military action. Do you think the administration should take that route?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: I think the administration should take into consideration the views of all well-meaning friends and allies and former experts like Mr. Baker. And I know the president is looking and listening to all these voices. But he’s the one nationally elected leader and he will make his own mind up after taking all these views into consideration.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask it another way. What would be the downside or the harm in first going to the U.N. and trying to put– and that is what happened before the Gulf War, essentially put some sort of a deadline or obligation on Iraq – and then if Iraq doesn’t comply, you know, maybe you get more international support — I’m just wondering what is the downside to doing that?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: There is an obvious downside spelled out by Vice President Cheney the other day, that Saddam Hussein is a master of bait and switch, and that he can obfuscate and delay and use any such discussions to just buy more time. But let me remind you, the president will make the decision whether to go to the U.N. or just what to do and we’ll just have to await his decision.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let me ask you about one other decision that I know he will also be making. It concerns what kind of approval, authorization or level of consultation with Congress. Yesterday Dick Lugar, pretty much the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in Moscow that he thought the president should come for a formal Senate vote to authorize this. What do you think about that?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I think the president takes very seriously his relations with Congress and Congress’s duties under the Constitution. And I know he has said he will consult with Congress. And I’m sure Senator Lugar’s views, as a very respected foreign policy expert, will be taken into consideration. It’s not for me to say what the president ultimately will do.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Secretary Armitage, thanks for being with us.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Thank you, Ms. Warner.