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Resigning Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick Discusses Darfur and Career

June 19, 2006 at 6:15 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Now, our conversation with Robert Zoellick, who resigned today as deputy secretary of state.

Zoellick has been, among other things, the U.S. government’s point man on the Darfur crisis. Last month, he played a key role in a peace accord between the Sudan government and the main rebel group in Sudan’s Western Darfur region.

More than 180,000 people have been killed there in over three years of fighting, creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Mr. Secretary, welcome.

ROBERT ZOELLICK, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: Has the deal you helped negotiate resulted in a reduction in the violence in Darfur thus far?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: The reports over the past couple of weeks, Jim, is that it has, and that’s a good sign, but, as we said from the start, it remains very, very fragile, so there’s a lot of follow-up work to do.

JIM LEHRER: There’s still people dying and still people being displaced and abused, is that correct?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Oh, yes, there’s a terrible human tragedy. I mean, there’s over two million people in camps. And that’s why this peace accord, Jim, really is just an opening.

Over the past couple of weeks, you’ve had a group of ambassadors from the U.N. Security Council visit to try to pave the way for a U.N. peacekeeping force.

You’ve got the U.N. peacekeeping mission there right now, the assessment group. They’re supposed to be back later this month, and then I hope they will move quickly to work with us in the U.N. Security Council to get the U.N. force there.

We’re very fortunate the Congress just passed some money that we needed to pay the African Union forces, and we’re going to try to expand that. The African Union has sent a letter to NATO talking about their interest in NATO support.

So, on the security side, the accord has created the opportunity for things to move, but there’s a tremendous amount of follow-up. And then we’ve also needed to get the food levels back up. The president launched that right after the peace accord.

And then the biggest thing is we’ve got to explain this accord in all these camps, so there’s a lot of implementation work ahead of us.

JIM LEHRER: Do you leave your job frustrated that more has not been done quicker to help this situation?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, you know, if you go to Darfur as many times as I have, your main concern is, when you see the people, your heart goes out to them. And so I’m very pleased, frankly, to be the representative of the United States, which has done more than any other country, in terms of feeding people and trying to put a focus on this issue.

And I’m very pleased that, through some tough work with the Europeans, African Union and others we were able to get this accord.

But when you look at a problem like genocide, there’s no doubt that it’s going to take a long time. And part of it will have to help — I hope, as the peace accord gets implemented — with the reconstruction and development. So this is one of those problems that’s going to take time.

A slow process to peace

Robert Zoellick
Former Deputy Secretary of State
[A]t the same time, you're trying to feed people. You've got rebels that have fought one another. You've got the government that created this Janjaweed, which is a terrible group. It's a form of counterinsurgency.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, a lot of people have trouble understanding why, here, the United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world, with the United Nations and many, many other like-powerful nations in the world, faced with a very public genocide cannot stop it after years now.

It's been reported everywhere. Everybody in the world knows about Darfur; everybody is shown pictures, and yet it continues as we speak.

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, as we just said, Jim, the violence after this peace accord is way down, and so now the key step is to try to strengthen the troops to try to keep security.

There's about 7,000 African Union troops there. They've done good work, but this is an area the size of Texas. There's not enough. That's why we're trying to push a U.N. force in.

And the basic issue goes to the fact that any time that you are going to another country and deciding that you're going to want to put a big army there -- and this is a multinational army -- it's obviously going to be a sensitive issue. I mean, just think about your report with Iraq.

And so, at the same time, you're trying to feed people. You've got rebels that have fought one another. You've got the government that created this Janjaweed, which is a terrible group. It's a form of counterinsurgency.

So you've got a lot of groups going after each other. And that's why the basic part is to try to bring the parties together for peace and then create the conditions to make it work.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. What are the obstacles preventing this U.N. force, a larger U.N. force, from going in there?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, we still have to get the government of Sudan to agree. There have been some members of the government who've said that they would. President Bashir, when he met this U.N. mission that I just talked about, hasn't given his final answer, so that's the first key step.

Second, you know, this is a pretty rough place. And you're trying to expand to 15,000-20,000 troops, so you have to create the facilities for them. That's what the United States has helped prepare.

You've got to get the troops from countries around the world. And that's one of the things that President Bush started to do months ago. So there are different elements that you have to bring together and, frankly, as quickly as we can.

In need of international consensus

Robert Zoellick
Former Deputy Secretary of State
[T]he Chinese have told me that, if the African Union supports this force, that they will support it, and that's a good step. And, frankly, I think if China supports it, I don't think Russia will stand in the way.

JIM LEHRER: But the reports all say that China and Russia are two countries that are opposed to a U.N. force. What's their problem?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, in the case of China, I've spent -- that's another issue I've spent a lot of time with over the past three years. And the Chinese have told me that, if the African Union supports this force, that they will support it, and that's a good step.

And, frankly, I think if China supports it, I don't think Russia will stand in the way. So they're certainly not leading the effort, as we and the Europeans and the African Union are. I don't think, though, they'll stop it.

And, you know, there's been a long conflict between North and South Sudan that went on 21 years. And there's some Chinese that are actually part of that peacekeeping force. So we need to encourage the Chinese to play a more responsible role with this.

JIM LEHRER: Where are the pressure points on the -- if the Sudanese government remains adamant against allowing a U.N. force, then nothing happens, is that right? Is that what I understand you're saying?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, that certainly wouldn't be our position, but I think it's best if you can bring a country along. And so, when you asked what are the pressure points, the first pressure point is their own self-interest.

These are their people, after all. There's two million of them in camps. They certainly can't be supportive of the killing. And if they want to dig themselves out of the very deep hole, they need to take the peace accord, to which they agreed, and help bring it to fruition.

And recall that peace accord also means disarming and neutralizing the Janjaweed, creating a different political process to finally give the people of Darfur a fair chance to participate in Sudanese politics. So these are elements that the Sudanese government has agreed to itself, just as it agreed to in the North-South crisis.

And so the start in most of foreign policy is if you can get people to recognize this is in everybody's interest.

JIM LEHRER: And has that happened?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: I think it's moving in that direction, but you have to keep the pressure up, and that's one reason why it was good for the U.N. mission to be there. It's good for the African Union to be pushing. And you can be certain the United States and the European Union are sending a strong message, too.

Leaving the job satisfied

Robert Zoellick
Former Deputy Secretary of State
This problem would not even be where it is today without the U.S. leadership, from particularly President Bush, and, I have to say, backed by a lot of American people all over the country.

JIM LEHRER: Do you leave office satisfied that the United States has done all it can or is doing all it can to resolve this tragedy?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: I really do, Jim. And that isn't to say that, you know, I'm not heartbroken by seeing the same things that happen, too.

But, you know, you find these problems. Look at what's going on in Somalia today or what people incurred -- the problems we had in Somalia in '91-'92.

And so, frankly, you know, for all the talk about the U.S. around the world and how we're seen in some of these recent polls, I'll tell you this: This problem would not even be where it is today without the U.S. leadership, from particularly President Bush, and, I have to say, backed by a lot of American people all over the country.

JIM LEHRER: Why not? Why wouldn't it have been the issue that it is? Why did it take the United States to get involved in a country that far away and not immediately in the U.S. interest to get something done?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, I think, first, you know, the American people have a very strong feeling for those that are suffering around the world. I'm sorry to say, but some others just take a rather cold-blooded view of that.

I think the American public was particularly energized of this because they'd focused on Sudan because of the North-South struggle, which left some two million dead, so a lot of people in the church community, Jewish-American community, African-American community, they were already focused on this issue. That helped give it attention.

Frankly, President Bush was morally outraged by this, and so he's pushed it forward.

And then, you know, Jim, part of this is certain countries really do expect, at the end of the day, that they just don't have the heft to do it, so they look to others. But it is done as a group.

When I was part of these negotiations over four or five days and nights, President Obasanjo of Nigeria did a fantastic job. And so that's where the U.S. can be most effective, really, when we help pull all the players together.

The European Union was a really good partner in this process. And as I said, you know, we're trying to bring along the Chinese and others through sort of common interest and point out to them why they should be supportive.

The U.S. as a global power is probably the only one that can pull all those elements together, but we're most effective if we can do it in concert with others.

JIM LEHRER: What is your message to China and to any other country that may be reluctant to come along? What do you tell them is in their interest to help resolve Darfur?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, it depends on the country, and you obviously have to customize the message.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

ROBERT ZOELLICK: It's different for Egypt than it is for China or when I'm working with Libya.

But if you take China as a case, I emphasized that I know China wants to have an energy relationship with Sudan. Fine. That may be different than our policy. But I say they certainly don't want to be associated around the world with genocide, so why can't they use their influence to be supportive of this effort to try to achieve a peace?

Their response would basically be, "Well, we won't do it the same way the U.S. does, but if you can bring along the other African countries, we won't be left out." So we work to bring the African Union countries along.

That's a good example. And different countries have different ways, and, you know, appealing to their interests with some combination of pressure is usually the combination you need.

Hopes for the future

Robert Zoellick
Deputy Secretary of State
We've got to keep the humanitarian side going. We've got to try to help make the political process of this agreement work. And all the pieces have to try to be synchronized together.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any reason at all to be especially optimistic right now about this situation?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: You know, Jim, this is such a terrible problem. I just really -- I keep my fingers crossed. And, as I said, I think the Darfur accord creates an opportunity, but you still have some rebels that have not signed on.

We've had some good news over recent weeks. Some of the negotiators for the rebels that haven't signed on did agree, so we're trying to make this broader and more inclusive.

We're trying to get word out in these camps. We're trying to work with the Europeans and the African Union to be part of that.

And a key element is -- and some have written about this -- you know, we know that the rebels don't represent all the people of Darfur. There are tribes that have been sitting on the sidelines.

That's why the peace agreement included something called a Darfur-Darfur dialogue to try to bring everybody into the political process, and that's something we've been working with the African Union to get launched.

So, when I look at this problem, like many others, Jim, it's got different pieces. It's got the security. We've got to keep the humanitarian side going. We've got to try to help make the political process of this agreement work. And all the pieces have to try to be synchronized together.

JIM LEHRER: Did the Darfur situation have anything to do with your resignation today?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Oh, no, no. You know, I've been in government for six years. I served for four years as U.S. trade representative, a job I very much enjoyed. And I appreciate the president giving me a chance to do so.

Secretary Rice has been a friend of mine for a long time. And when she asked me to come over as deputy, my understanding was I wanted to try to help build a team here and get us off and running.

And she certainly is doing a great job around the world, so it's time for me, I think, given the things I've done with China and Latin America and others, to turn to a new opportunity. And I'm fortunate; I face a great challenge in the private sector.

JIM LEHRER: Are you going to maintain your interest in Darfur?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Oh, certainly, and many other public issues.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Secretary, thank you, and good luck.

ROBERT ZOELLICK: You bet. Thanks.