September 24, 2020
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'I Can't Respond To Every Piece Of Nonsense ...'

'... that is written by thousands of academics ... we have academics saying one thing, we have the Iraqi people saying something else. I think the Iraqi people are the authorities,' says the US Deputy Secretary of Defense.

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'I Can't Respond To Every Piece Of Nonsense ...'
'I Can't Respond To Every Piece Of Nonsense ...'
(Foreign Press Center briefing with Arab/Muslim media, April 11. Also participating were Ambassador Christopher Ross, special coordinator for public diplomacy, U.S. Department of State; Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Paul Denig, director, Washington Foreign Press Center.)

Paul Denig: Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. We are glad to have you here this morning for a very special briefing. And I am pleased to be able to introduce to you the moderator of this morning's briefing, Ambassador Christopher Ross, a Middle East expert, and also the Special Coordinator for Public Diplomacy and the Deputy to the Department of State's Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. He will moderate this session, and I will hand this over to him.

Chritopher Ross: Thank you, Paul. (In Arabic.) Good morning to all of you. It's no secret that events in Iraq and our determination to help free the Iraqi people from the oppression and repression of the regime of Saddam Hussein, a subject that has been of great interest to public opinion in the Arab and Muslim worlds. And this being the case, we thought it would be useful to organize some special briefings for the Arab and Muslim press corps. And we're delighted to and honored to be able to inaugurate this small initiative with a gentleman whose 30 year career in government and academia has run across the spectrum of the Foreign Affairs Agencies, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the Department of State, the Department of Defense. This career mirrors the military and diplomatic complexities of the situation as we know it today. I first met this gentleman some many years ago, but my most vivid memory of him is during a visit that he made in the mid-1990's to Damascus where I was Ambassador. And I remember sitting with him and his delegation around my dining room table and having to field some very incisive and probing questions. I won't go on any longer. This man is very well known to you. But for those who read Al Kamen this morning, I present "that" Paul D. Wolfowitz.

Paul Wolfowitz: Thank you. And I have with me our second highest ranking Military Officer, General Peter Pace, United States Marine Corps, and one of the million-and-a-half magnificent men and women who are serving our country -- and I believe the world -- so well. (In Arabic.) And if I may begin the way I learned to begin speeches when I was the American Ambassador in Indonesia -- (in Arabic) -- the rest will be in English.

I'd like to make a few brief comments at the beginning, and then General Pace and I will take questions. I'd like to begin by emphasizing that the United States is sensitive to the fact that people in the Middle East may view the war in Iraq with suspicion. Given the history of that region, it is understandable. But as a nation that had to fight for its own independence more than 200 years ago, Americans have the greatest sympathy for all people who yearn for freedom and independence and a chance to live in peace.

At the end of the American Revolution, the father of our country, George Washington, remarked, "My anxious recollection, my sympathetic feeling, and my best wishes are irresistibly excited whensoever in any country I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom." That is how Americans feel today, and it was on our minds as we undertook this war to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime. And I guess it might be worth noting that our own independence was aided by foreign countries and foreign forces, notably from France and Poland. And it's, perhaps, also worth remembering that it took us a little while after our independence to organize the government.

I think a little historical perspective is useful in this era of 24 hour news coverage when we expect everything to happen instantaneously. In fact, the conflict in Iraq now is only three weeks old. Coalition forces are on track and on plan. Tyranny has lost its grip and the Iraqi people are liberated -- or being liberated. While the outcome is not in doubt, however, the war is still going on. Operations are continuing and pockets of resistance are being eradicated, both in Baghdad and a number of other towns and cities, particularly in the north.

From the start, we have made humanitarian assistance a crucial part of our mission. The war did not launch a humanitarian crisis, but it is ending one. In fact, I know that on one of the news channels this morning, an Arab woman, I think in Mosul, or, perhaps, Kirkuk, standing with her children outside one of Saddam's palaces and saying in moderately good English -- although she kept trying to go back to Arabic -- "It's all marble, marble – ‘mar-mar,’ I think -- and yet this man didn't give food to his people. He abused his people." And this was an Arab woman.

We understand that the immediate need is to address basic needs like medical care, water, electrical service, and making sure Iraqi civil servants who administer these functions get paid. Water is being -- I'd make another aside -- people are coming back to Umm Qasr. Iraqi civil servants are coming back to work; the port is functioning. In fact, the population of Umm Qasr has grown from 15,000 before the war to some 40,000 because people see progress. Water is being provided where needed, particularly in Basra where there was a severe shortage imposed by the regime. Water supplies are now, we think, at pre-war levels, but they need to go up further.

Food and other supplies are flowing in. To date, $375 million worth of food -- that's 590,000 metric tons -- have been provided by the United States. Of that amount, $200 million was donated to the United Nations World Food Program. Other countries have been making large contributions as well, including Australia and Kuwait. USAID, in addition, has contributed $246 million of humanitarian relief that includes blankets, hygiene kits, plastic sheeting, and water containers, tanks, and treatment plants. In the last few days, to pick another example, the Spanish ship, Galicia, arrived at Umm Qasr with a 50-bed field hospital that will be moved up into Iraq to help treat Iraqi patients.

There has been a lot of talk about something we have called -- we do call the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Let me be clear, that office is not a provisional government for Iraq. Its main function is to make sure that basic services are restored and running. And once that happens, the plan is to turn over those functions as rapidly as possible to an Iraqi interim authority, which will assume increasingly greater responsibility for the administration of basic functions in the country.

But beyond that interim authority, the goal is to have a government that truly represents the people of Iraq, that protects their basic rights, and allows them live in democracy and freedom. The people of Iraq now have it within their power to establish a constitution and a political system that will reflect their real wishes and interests. The United States and its coalition partners will support them in this. But make no mistake, the task is an Iraqi task: the task is theirs, just as the country is theirs. We come as liberators, not as occupiers.

Americans have absolutely no desire to occupy Iraq. We will stay as long as necessary, but not a single day longer. As President Bush said just a few days ago, the Iraqis are plenty capable of running Iraq. And that's precisely what is going to happen. That has been a major goal in our willingness to take this fight to Saddam Hussein, along with the urgent need to eliminate his weapons of mass terror, and remove Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists. It is tragic that those worthy goals could not be achieved without the use of deadly force, but this evil regime left no other option. And they tried to make the war as painful as possible, particularly for civilians, by concealing military targets in civilian areas, by using human shields, and by violating the Geneva Convention.

We have been through some hundred schools in Southern Iraq so far. Every single one of them was a regime command and control center with weapons stored in them. As a result of that behavior, innocent people have suffered despite extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties. Those people are victims of this regime just as much as are the heroic men and women in the coalition forces who have sacrificed their lives in the call to Iraq's liberation, or the thousands of Iraqis over the last decades who have lost their lives fighting this regime.

The sacrifices that people have made can only be understood in terms of the dramatic events that the world witnessed two days ago. Those events tell a powerful story, the story of free Iraqis celebrating their new-found freedom for the first time, welcoming coalition troops, and tearing down those hideous statues of Saddam Hussein in Central Baghdad and around the country. It was like watching the Berlin Wall come down all over again. Lovers of freedom everywhere can understand the joy of the Iraqi people and their hopes for the future, but the best spokesman for Iraqis are Iraqis themselves.

Yesterday, the French news agency, Agence France Presse, reported on a Baghdad street scene that I think kind of sums it up. The reporter narrated what had happened when a group of disillusioned Syrian fighters were looking for a ride back to Damascus. They could not comprehend the celebrations that welcomed American troops. An Iraqi taxi driver heard them and asked, "Who told you to come here?" He added, "You were only fighting for Saddam Hussein, who brought the country to ruins and let you down in the end."

Iraq is full of such stories. And now that people can at last speak freely and candidly, we are hearing them. I would encourage all of you, and all of the people throughout the Arab world, to listen with open minds and help the Iraqis tell their stories to the world.

General Pace.

General Pace: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I think I will join with you now, sir, on answering questions.

Christopher Ross: Good. I'll be moderating the questions. When I call upon you, please identify yourself, your organization, and keep the questions short. And bear in mind please, we have just learned that General Pace must leave by 11, although Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz may choose to stay longer.

Paul Wolfowitz: So you can point your questions to him.

Hanan El-badry, Egyptian Television. I have two questions: one for Mr. Wolfowitz, and one for General Pace. My first question, Iraqi federal demilitarized new government will be a great chance for the Middle East (inaudible) the collapsing of Ottoman Empire or (inaudible). If you believe in that, can you tell us more details how the Middle East will be after we have in touch a Democratic new country or new government?

My question for Mr. -- for General Pace, it will be: Are you going to allow bad forces to enter Iraq soon -- or sooner or later?

General Pace: The important word you used is democratic. What the shape of Iraq is, and what kind of security forces they have are issues for Iraqis to decide when they have a government that represents them. It is important to the United States, and I think to every country in the region, that Iraq remain a unified country. And that's going to be another challenge, but I think the Iraqi people can rise to it.

The simplest way I would have of saying it is, I remember years ago when people throughout East Asia and the world said that democracy wasn't possible in East Asia except maybe in Japan; that Koreans had no experience, or that the Filipinos hadn't done very well with it -- the Chinese, and it's a long list.

By now, the Taiwanese have demonstrated that they can do democracy. The Koreans have demonstrated that they can do democracy. I think the example of Iraqis demonstrating that Arabs are just as capable of managing those institutions as anyone else will have a broad and positive and powerful example, but there is a lot of work to be done to get to that stage.

For the Middle East, please?

General Pace: I think for the Middle East, in particular.

Paul Wolfowitz: With regard to the Badr Corps, as you know, there have been members of Badr Corps who have been living in Northern Iraq, in northeast section of Iraq for some time now, as there had been members of other military groups. The coalition military forces have their own mission to overthrow a regime, to find and eliminate the weapons of mass destruction, to provide a stable environment inside of which the new Iraqi Government can stand itself up and take over the operations of the government, and then we can leave.

We are going to ensure, as best that we can, that all areas of Iraq remain stable, that we do not favor one group or another group, so that the Iraqi people can meet in the open, have open debate, and select their own form of government so that we can leave.

Christopher Ross:  In the back, in the back row. No, you've got it. Yes.

Egyptian Television, Nile News Channel. Mr. Wolfowitz, we talked about change in Syria. Now what kind of change you are looking for? And if your demands are not responded to positively, would it include regime change in Syria?

Paul Wolfowitz: You're way, way ahead of everything. You're not unique in that. What we are looking for is a change in the current bad behavior of the Syrian Government in shipping tariff fighters into Iraq, in sheltering fugitives from Iraq, possibly sheltering bad materials out of Iraq. Syria should not meddle in Iraq. It should not be assisting the people who supported that evil regime, and that behavior just has to stop.

Mahtab Farid from Radio Farda: Mr. Wolfowitz, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell, and Mr. Bolton repeatedly asked Syria and Iran to stay away, and Jack Straw is going to send some envoy to speak to the governments. Have you guys had a chance to discuss what Mr. Straw is going to discuss with those two governments?

Paul Wolfowitz:I know that Secretary Powell and Foreign Minister Straw have discussed these issues. I think, hopefully, the Syrians are starting to get the message.

Egyptian Television: Dr. Wolfowitz, the question is -- yeah, the question is for Dr. Wolfowitz. Are you very surprised at all that Saddam Hussein and his regime did not use weapons of mass destruction against you?

Paul Wolfowitz: Clearly, that was perhaps our single greatest fear. But I think it's also clear that this plan of General Franks, which we heard so much second-guessing about two or three days into the war, was actually rather remarkably effective in getting in there with a very capable force before, I think, the regime knew what was happening.

I think if we can get to the bottom of what did and didn't happen, we will find that that had a lot to do with what didn't happen and had a lot to do with the fact that there wasn't an environmental disaster in the south when the oil wells would have been exploded; that the explosives that were put on the oil platforms in the Shahab hadn't been rigged yet; that we haven't had what would have been a true disaster if oil wells in the north are exploded, because they are particularly noxious in what they put out; that we didn't have missiles launched at Israel, which was one of our fears. Many things didn't happen. We don't yet know the reason why.

We do know one thing, though. At least one Iraqi soldier who surrendered in the south told us that while he was very much afraid of what the regime would do to him if he didn't carry out orders to destroy oil wells, he'd read all those leaflets we dropped about what we would do if he did. He was torn between fear of the regime and recognition that we were coming. I'm sure that knowing that we were already there made a big difference.

General Pace: If I could add also that there is still fighting going on. It is still possible that there are those in control of some of those weapons. So we still have Iraqi leaders who have freedom of action and freedom of decision, and they need to do what they have been doing, which is to understand that it is their free will; that they can choose to either become part of Iraq's future or to be part of Iraq's past; and that their actions will be judged when this is completed. But it is still possible that there are those out there who have weapons of mass destruction, who -- so I don't want to leave the impression that this fighting is done, by any means.

Umit Erginsey of Turkey's NTV Television: Mr. Secretary and General Pace, regarding the tensions in Northern Iraq, in the event the Turkish army storms into Northern Iraq, despite all warnings by the United States, would you ever consider using military force against Turkish troops? And from this point on, what could be done to re-warm up the relations? Thank you.

Paul Wolfowitz: Look, the premise is that we're -- let me say. A great deal, I think, is going in a positive way between the United States and Turkey, between the coalition forces and the Kurdish groups in Northern Iraq. Those two cities fell. They fell surprisingly quickly when the regular army saw those statues toppling in Baghdad. We have now U.S. forces, a significant presence in Kirkuk. There will soon be a significant presence in Mosul. Turkey is sending liaison officers with those coalition troops so Turkey will have a clear view of what's going on. I think people understand the dangers of pushing things, misbehaving in those crucial cities. You're going to have some problems going forward sorting out competing property claims, as I think you know. That process has to be done carefully in a legal manner, not by force.

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