12 February 2004
State's Armitage Says Iran Continues to Pursue Nuclear Weapons
Says security situation in Iraq improving
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the U.S. government is sure that Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons programs.
"[T]here's no doubt in our mind that Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapons program. They have not been fully forthcoming with their arrangement with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and we need to continue our effort, along with our European friends, to gain compliance," Armitage said in a radio interview in Washington February 12.
Armitage said that Iranian authorities have some alleged al-Qaida agents under house arrest or surveillance, and that the United States would like Iran to return the alleged agents to their countries of origin or turn them over to U.S. authorities. He added, however, that he does not think that Iran will act according to U.S. wishes.
The deputy secretary said that he does not expect relations between Iran and the United States to improve until Iran resolves internal conflicts, such as the struggle of unelected Iranian clerics to control who can compete in elections for seats in the Iranian parliament.
With regard to Iraq, Armitage said that eventually everything will be known about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. He added that he has no special information that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were taken secretly to Syria.
As for the security in Iraq, Armitage said that the situation is improving.
Commenting on the lack of progress in settling the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Armitage said that the majority of the blame is with the Palestinians because they have not fully stopped terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Following is the transcript of Armitage's interview:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage
February 12, 2004
(11:30 a.m. EST)
MR. CLUGSTON: I'd like to begin by asking you about Iran. Reuters News Agency is reporting today that the IAEA has uncovered designs for machines in Iran that can be used to make bomb-grade material. What do you know about this reported discovery?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we have been following the question of Iran pretty closely and there's no doubt in our mind that Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapons program. They have not been fully forthcoming with their arrangement with the IAEA and we need to continue our effort, along with our European friends, to gain compliance.
MR. CLUGSTON: And of course, Tehran maintains its atomic program is purely peaceful, but as you just said, the U.S. thinks otherwise. Is this the kind of scenario President Bush warned about yesterday in his speech, countries with nuclear power programs that serve as a cover?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, certainly that is one of the things that we've feared about the Iranian program, particularly their reactor at Bushehr. And this is something that we've spoken about historically.
MR. CLUGSTON: While we're on the subject of Iran, what do we currently know about Iran's involvement with al-Qaida and how is that possibly going to play out in the war on terror this coming year?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: They have a certain number of al-Qaida agents under either surveillance or house arrest, as defined by the Iranians. We would like them to turn over those al-Qaida agents to their countries of origin, or we'd like them to turn them over to us, but I think that's quite unlikely because we want to pick their brains and find out what they know and what they're planning to do to us.
MR. CLUGSTON: The State Department has, over the last few months, given some indications that relations could be improved with Iran. What is it going to take? They have, of course, signed that treaty, but then as you've just mentioned, you have these deep suspicions.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Look, I think that they've got -- first of all, they suffered a terrible tragedy with the earthquake at Bam and the United States, along with other members of the international community, responded to that humanitarian problem.
But it's quite clear that Iran has some real internal contradictions. They're having great difficulty approaching their parliamentary elections. There's a real struggle of the unelected clerics to try to control who can actually run for office. And I think they're going to have to resolve those internal conflicts before they can make any meaningful gestures to the outside, such as even indicating they want an improvement of relations with the United States.
MR. CLUGSTON: A follow-up to the President's speech yesterday at the National Defense University, have you been able to gauge any response from allies or other countries yet? And about the proposals the President mentioned, that he outlined, what chance do they have of being achieved in the near term?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I've seen cables in from our embassy, two this morning, one from India and one from Japan, which both had very positive reactions. I believe that's the same case with the British as well, though I haven't seen that cable myself yet.
What he talked about in his speech at the National Defense University, expansion of a G-8 global partnership and swift passage of the United Nations Security Council resolution on proliferation, I think these are very achievable and achievable in the relatively near future.
We have a G-8 meeting coming up in June. So he's not looking for something that's got a long time frame.
MR. CLUGSTON: To Iraq, the search for weapons of mass destruction continues, of course. One theory that's been kicked around for some time is that the weapons were shipped to Syria. And I'd like to ask you, how realistic is that idea?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It's a possibility. I don't know how realistic it is. It seems to me that eventually all will be known as the Iraqi Survey Group continues their investigations. And of course, we're going to have a lot of investigations of U.S. intelligence capability and fact-finding, etcetera, and I think it will all be known, but I have no special information about these weapons going to Syria.
MR. CLUGSTON: Have those serious questions about pre-war intelligence, which, as you mentioned, will be looked at by this panel, are those questions likely to have repercussions down the road, though, in terms of hampering U.S. efforts to go after other rogue nations and other serious threats?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think each of these cases is sui generis. For instance, our intelligence on Libya was quite good and was, along with our British friends, very determinant in helping right that situation. I think the same thing is true of Pakistan and of the AQ. Khan network which we've heard and read so much about recently.
So sometimes our intelligence is good and sometimes it's not, but I saw a speech reported on in our newspapers today by one of the Deputy Directors of Intelligence, Miss Jami Miscik, where she talked about the need to make sure that the analysts also have some recourse to knowing who the sources are so they can make even better judgments about the material that they're analyzing. If they can't make judgments about the sources, then a bad source can really skew your judgment.
MR. CLUGSTON: You've been to Iraq, and I think it was maybe back in November, during a visit there, you had said the U.S. has a solid plan to deal with the insurgents who are killing American soldiers and Iraqis.
Just this week, of course, major attacks resulting in more high fatalities. Are we making a dent in these attacks?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think we are. Look who the insurgents are attacking in the main. They're attacking policemen. This is where we're putting our main effort, because if we can get policemen out, perhaps one policeman for every 300 citizens or something like that, then we find security enormously enhanced. This is why the insurgents are going after that particular element of our strategy.
Meanwhile, we are standing up border guards and facilities protective services, etcetera, so I think things get better. There are going to be good days and bad days and spikes of activity, but I think most Congressional visitors and others who go to Iraq come back impressed with how much has been done in the positive vein and not just concentrate on the horrible events that are occasionally occurring.
MR. CLUGSTON: Is the mid-summer deadline for transfer of authority to the Iraqis, is that in jeopardy at all because of these attacks?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, it's not. We are dead set on it. We have said we want to transfer authority, sovereignty to an Iraqi entity on 1 July and that's our intention.
Now that's a different thing from removing our forces, let me make that clear. But sovereignty will go to the Iraqis on 1 July.
MR. CLUGSTON: With forces remaining, presumably what levels would they stay at or change?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we already are in the process of changing out units for slightly lower numbers, but units who are going into Iraq have more mobility and slightly higher capabilities.
I can't speak for the security situation. I don't know what the future's going to bring, but we certainly can count on the continued participation of the international community to assist us and help us. And I would note that I was recently in Mongolia and Japan and saw off the contingents of both those nations to stand side by side with us in Iraq.
MR. CLUGSTON: Well, before our time expires, let me ask you about the Middle East peace process, if I may.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes.
MR. CLUGSTON: Both the Israelis and Palestinians have endorsed the U.S. roadmap, but there seems to be little progress. Are both parties to blame at this point?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think the majority of the blame has to be on the Palestinians who have not completely and totally eschewed terrorism as an instrument of policy.
The Israeli Government has recently pronounced themselves ready to evacuate Gaza --that is, the settlements in Gaza. This is a step in the right direction. I hope it would be followed by the Palestinians in turn clamping down once and for all on the instruments of terror like Hamas and Islamic Jihad organization.
MR. CLUGSTON: And despite the U.S. concerns, understandably so, about the security and terrorism on the Palestinian side, is the Israeli security fence going to be one of those issues that is really going to be a problem for the Palestinians to overcome?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah it -- well, it depends on the final disposition of the fence, where it goes. We've described it as problematic, certainly, when it prejudges the outcome of a negotiation, that is where it uses Palestinian territory for the erection of the fence.
But there is an argument the Israelis can make that actually they have been able to stop terror, or since the fence is not completed, at least channel the terrorists into an area where they are more easily caught and the Israeli Government informs us that they've had quite a few catches of people who are intent on doing harm to the state of Israel.
MR. CLUGSTON: Mr. Deputy Secretary, thank you for your time this morning.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you, sir.
MR. CLUGSTON: Okay.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Good luck to you.
MR. CLUGSTON: Thanks.
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