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Newsmaker: Richard Armitage

March 25, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Good evening, Mr. Lehrer.

JIM LEHRER: From your perspective, Mr. Secretary, how’s the war going?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, 50 miles from Baghdad after five days seems to me a pretty significant achievement. The sandstorms are certainly a problem, they won’t last forever and we’ll get back to business. And I think we’re in good shape.

JIM LEHRER: I assume that you were in on the overall plan here. Are things going pretty well the way they had — everybody had expected?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, as I understand it from CENTCOM and from Gen. Franks that he believes things are right on plan. There are always a few audibles that are called based on situations which the military encounters, but I’ve been astonished at the flexible response that they’ve rendered.

JIM LEHRER: The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia said today that his country was trying to get the U.S. coalition and Iraq to agree to a cease-fire, so some kind of peace deal could be negotiated. Is that a serious proposal from the U.S. point of view?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, it’s not so serious, I think, because I saw it only a news ticker and haven’t seen any diplomatic exchange on it at all.

JIM LEHRER: So there’s nothing going on, from your point of view?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Not that I’m aware of, Mr. Lehrer.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Are the people of Iraq, as well as the military, putting up a stronger resistance than pre-war diplomacy and intelligence had indicated they might?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I don’t know that the people of Iraq are putting up resistance. The Fedayeen Saddam — these paramilitaries are fighting in some cases and in other cases they’re making sure that civilians are between coalition forces and themselves, and they use that wall of humans, as it were, to take pot shots at. So they’ve been a little pesky, but from General Franks’ own lips, it’s nothing that he didn’t expect.

JIM LEHRER: Have you been surprised that no weapons of mass destruction have been found thus far?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I think finding the weapons of mass destruction is going to be quite time consuming. I know we’ve uncovered some documents, we’ll have to exploit them, and we’re going to have to blanket a country the size of California and search, I think, quite rigorously, but we’ll come up with them.

JIM LEHRER: Nobody should be upset or worried or concerned that they haven’t been found yet?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Not at all. I think people should be very gratified that they haven’t been employed yet.

JIM LEHRER: Do you expect them — as you know, there’s a lot of word today that the closer the U.S. forces get to Baghdad, and once we engage around Baghdad, that’s when chemical weapons might be employed. Is that your reading of the situation as well?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I’ve seen some reports to that effect, and Sec. Powell mentioned this also yesterday. However, it would seem to me to really be a last ditch effort by the regime to employ these weapons. After all, they’ve denied having them at all, and they, I think, would sweep away the last bit of support that they have internationally if they employed them.

JIM LEHRER: Is the United States meeting its commitment on the humanitarian side as far as the Iraqi civilian population is concerned?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, it seems to me some of the pictures I saw in Baghdad had civilians that were driving around and others out shopping and going to restaurants, so I think that end of the prosecution of the war has been very humanitarian, that is, limiting ourselves any extensive collateral damage, and this appears to be well known in the local population. On the other side of the scale is the delivery of food and water. As we’ve just finally cleared Umm Qasr and our fields and our seals and EOD people are clearing the waterways of mines there’s no question that in a day or two we’ll be delivering food and water.

JIM LEHRER: What is your understanding of what the situation is in places like Basra in terms of humanitarian needs? Is a crisis there already? Is it about to happen? I mean, what kind of priority is the U.S. giving to helping the people, particularly in Basra?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: It’s a difficult situation. It is not yet a crisis. The people of Basra stored at least, as we’ve given to understand, a month’s worth of food and water, but water was cut off Basra, because some of the electricity has stopped. But my understanding just before I came on your show this evening was that 40 percent of the water is now flowing back to Basra and engineers are working on the remainder.

JIM LEHRER: But if anybody is concerned about whether or not the U.S. is going to meet its commitment, you’re saying, relax, it’s going to happen, is that right?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: No one is more concerned than the coalition, and leading that coalition is the United States. It’s going to happen.

JIM LEHRER: On a more diplomatic issue, what kind of diplomatic sores remain with Turkey over its refusal to allow U.S. combats to use its territory?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I think a truthful reading of it would have to indicate that there’s some neuralgia that remains, but I think if one respects democracy, you have to respect the outcome of a democratic process, and Turkey engaged in a democratic process and they came up with the answers they came up with. We’re pleased right now to have over flight. I think we’re back working well with our Turkish colleagues, and we’ll look forward to the future.

JIM LEHRER: Do you look back on that, you and Sec. Powell, and say, my goodness, if we’d only played this a little differently this way or that way, we might have been able to have gotten Turkey to do what we would have wanted them to do?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, my hindsight is 20/20, just as yours is.


RICHARD ARMITAGE: But no, I think that dealing with a brand new elected government, we’re not used to these interactions with the United States, and having strong — strong recruits probably would always come up with at least initially with the answer they came up with, but I think we look to the future, we’re smarter, they’re smarter, and Turkey’s been a big ally of ours for a long time, and will continue to be so.

JIM LEHRER: I noticed in President Bush’s budget that went to Congress today that included — the supplemental budget for the war included about roughly eight — over eight billion dollars for Turkey. That’s considerably less than the $30 billion they might have gotten had they let us use their ground, correct?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, not quite, sir. It’s got $1 billion, which Turkey can use to leverage up to $8.5 billion in loans, but U.S. expenditures would be $1 billion if the U.S. Congress goes along with it.

JIM LEHRER: So this cost Turkey some money not going along with us?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Right, clearly.

JIM LEHRER: They would have gotten it, had they let us use the land?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, they would have had the president submit it in the budget; ultimately this does reside with Congress.

JIM LEHRER: But you know Turkey wanted the money because they were afraid of the cost of the war — a war in Iraq would — the cost it would be to them, and if Turkey really does have a terrific problem as a result of the war, are we going to say, sorry, you weren’t there when we needed you, we’’re not going to be there when you need us?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Look, we’ve been with Turkey regularly in discussions with the World Bank and the IMF, and there’s no need to think we wouldn’t be in the future. The more quickly we can resolve the problem of Iraq and bring Iraq into a more reasonable situation with her neighbors, the more quickly Turkey will come out of these doldrums, and Turkey’s economic problems are not solely a function of Iraq by any means. There are a lot of structural problems that have to be resolved and hence the World Bank and IMF effort.

JIM LEHRER: Where do matters stand on Turkey having troops in northern Iraq? Are they going to send them in there, or are we going to be able to keep them out?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, they haven’t — of course, they’ve had some level of armed forces in there for some time but we believe that there is no need for further encouragement absent agreement of the coalition — we’re having discussions right now. The root cause for Turkey’s entry into northern Iraq would be a refugee problem, and there is no refugee problem as yet; hence, we think there’s no need.

JIM LEHRER: Are serious negotiations and discussions going on now with Turkey about this issue?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, negotiations and discussions are two different things. There sure are serious discussions going on with the president’s envoy, Dr. Khalizad, right now.

JIM LEHRER: Is this an important matter to the United States?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Yes, it’s very important. We need to keep our Turkish friends and our Kurdish friends from getting at each other’s throats. We need to make sure that the situation in Northern Iraq doesn’t flare up, and we’re spending a lot of time and diplomatic political muscle trying to get it done.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of serious matters, how serious is the State Department charge that the Russians are selling military equipment to the Iraqis?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, we were quite sure of our information, and we’ve gone to the Russian government numerous times over the past several months and yesterday Sec. Powell spoke with his counterpart, President Bush spoke with President Putin, we provided some more information to the Russian government today, and I’m heartened by their comments that they’re going to look in it, and they seem to be now taking it quite seriously.

JIM LEHRER: Yesterday they denied it, they said they weren’t doing anything that was a violation of sanctions against Iraq.

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, we were able to provide them more information today, see that they investigate this matter, if that’s still what they say.

JIM LEHRER: What is it — here again — what’s the concern of the United States that Russia is doing?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I don’t want to get into the exact equipment but the fact of the matter is Russia is a P5 — permanent member of the Security Council — P5 member, had signed up to certain goods review lists of sanctioned items, that is to prevent those items from going to Iraq, and we had reason to believe that certain items did go, hence, our interaction with the Russian government to try to bring this to a stop, particularly now as we’re engaged, coalition forces, with Iraqi military and regulars, this kind of thing, if it continued, could really harm a relationship, but I must say, as I’ve said, I’m heartened that the Russian government seems to be taking it quite seriously.

JIM LEHRER: President Putin continues — seldom a day goes by that he doesn’t reiterate his opposition to the war. Is there real bad blood developing between the United States and Russia?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: I don’t think so. I think you’ll see in the not-too-distant future that Foreign Minister Ivanov, Sec. Powell will get right back where they left off in terms of the development of our bilateral relationship — no reason to believe that the same won’t be true of Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush.

JIM LEHRER: British Prime Minister Blair’s coming to Washington later in the week to speak to President Bush and others, and he had said before he left — or he said yesterday, it’s very important to re-establish good relations with France and Germany and others who are not part of this coalition, particularly in the Security Council, as in the run-up to war. Do you agree with that?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Absolutely. Look, we’’re already working in New York with the U.N. Security Council to try to fashion a resolution regarding oil proceeds, which belong to the Iraqi people. The president and Prime Minister Blair, the prime minister of Spain and Portugal met in the Azores about ten days ago, and made it very clear they were going to be approaching the United Nations and in order to approach the United Nations to be involved in the Iraq of the future we’re going to have to have the cooperation of France and others and Germany, and so we expect we’ll get it.

JIM LEHRER: Are there any other specific agenda items on this meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, other than say, let’s see where we are in the war?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, the two largest allies in the war, clearly that will dominate the discussion, but I think the road after — the road forward after this war will be something that we’ll both want to talk about, and I’m given to understand that our British friends are very keen to discuss the road map, that is the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Secretary, as a diplomat, the number two man in the U.S. State Department, as you watch this war unfold, the death and destruction, et cetera, do you say to yourself, hey, if we had just been a little luckier or gotten a few more breaks on the diplomatic side, we might have been able to prevent this, or is your feeling now that this thing was inevitable from the beginning?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: I must say I’ve rarely been described as diplomat, Mr. Lehrer. I think when I close my eyes what I think is 4,500 days or so, 4,250 I guess days, was long enough to give Iraq to come in to compliance with the international order. And I think to myself how many Iraqi citizens died under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein during those 4,200 odd days, and I think to myself how many more citizens of how many nations, the United States, Israel, or any other neighbor would die if Saddam Hussein went unchecked though I am just grieved by the sacrifice of our brave men and women, but I think ultimately the greater good is served.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

RICHARD ARMITAGE: Thank you, Mr. Lehrer.