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Aired November 8, 2003 - 08:43   ET


RICHARD L. ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: ... by President Bush of the Iraq supplementary, the Iraq and Afghanistan supplementary. And I came here at the request of the president and secretary of state to very graphically demonstrate that we've got momentum in this process in Iraq and I wanted to come and talk to Ambassador Bremer about it.
Of course, I did discuss the security situation. I discussed economic reconstruction and I've just come from a meeting with the Governing Council, as well as a separate meeting with the foreign minister to discuss foreign policy, as seen from here in Baghdad.

I'll be glad to try to answer any questions you might have and we can proceed in any way that makes sense to you all.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

My name is Tanaka (ph), Japanese NHK-TV correspondent.

How do you evaluate, how do you analyze the security situation in Baghdad and Falluja and Tikrit these days?

ARMITAGE: Well, it's not a secret to anyone that in the Baghdad, Tikrit, al-Ramadi, Falluja area, we've got a security problem. And we're sobered by the problem, but after discussions today with the commander of Joint Task Force Seven, Lieutenant General Sanchez, I'm absolutely convinced that we have a very solid plan to go out and get these people who are killing us and killing Iraqis.

And I would remind you that there have been some, I think, successes in just the last couple of days. We've all seen the 82nd Airborne captured a couple of former top generals in Saddam's army and one of Saddam's bodyguards was captured today north of Baghdad. We've recently broken up a terrorist cell and captured SA-7 missiles, RPGs and small arms.

So I'm pretty convinced, after this short visit thus far, that we're going to take this fight to the enemy.


QUESTION: Maureen Fan with Knight Ridder newspapers.

As the recent attacks send a lot of soldiers back into combat mode rather than civil operations, can you address concerns that the security problems are further isolating both the coalition officials, the coalition forces and increasing the cost of doing business in Iraq, as well as the cost of rebuilding?

ARMITAGE: Well, I will never refer to the death of any American serviceman as a cost -- or woman -- as a cost of doing business. Any death of our brothers and sisters diminishes us because we're all part of humankind and I have every prayer for the families of those.

On the question of whether this is interfering with our own interactions with the Iraqi people, it seems to me quite the opposite is true if what I heard from the Governing Council is the case. They realize that to resolve the direction in which Iraq should go in the future, that this, the remnants of these security problems have to be resolved. And at least as I was informed by the eight members of the Governing Council with whom I discussed this matter this afternoon, their feeling seemed to be that the Iraqi people shared the view that this security situation needed to be righted and that we had to do it.

As far as the U.S. servicemen and women being in the combat mode, that's what they do and I certainly hope they are and after discussing it with General Sanchez today, I know they are.

Yes, ma'am?


ARMITAGE: Well, I find it very unlikely that a senior U.S. official would be traveling to Tehran given the state of our affairs these days. I recently spoke about these matters in a hearing in front of the U.S. Congress.

Regarding Syria, I had no business in Damascus this time. I noticed that the government of Syria was only able to issue an invitation to the foreign minister of Iraq at a very late moment. It seemed to me that they've got to do a little work in improving their relationships with Iraq.

I'm going to Saudi Arabia and Egypt because it has been long promised that I would come for -- to visit both with President Mubarak and hopefully tomorrow with Crown Prince Abdullah. Both of those nations we have very longstanding and very strong relationships, one might say they're strategic relationships. And we want to make sure we tend that garden.

Yes, sir, the yellow shirt?

QUESTION: John Leneschesky (ph) from the "Los Angeles Times."

Could you comment on the calls for greater Iraqization of this conflict? And in particular, we were told today of a plan to create an Iraqi counterinsurgency force that would be called the Civil Defense by the G.C. Is this something that the administration approves of now?

ARMITAGE: Yes, we think the better part of wisdom is the, to get Iraqis to bear arms in their own defense and to take up the battle for their own people. Obviously, this is not something that happens overnight. We're very much inclined to support what you referred to as Iraqization. It's already happening in the police forces. And the civil defense corps to which you referred, I think the best way to think about it is something between police and full up armies, something like a gendarmerie. And it seems to be something that is very necessary here and that we do very much support.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Anul Kharib (ph) from Al-Arabiyah channel.

Sir, in the light of the increasing number of attacks on the coalition forces, are you going to declare Iraq as a war zone?

Thank you.

ARMITAGE: Are we going to declare it as a war zone?

Well, I think it is a war zone. The president declared that the end of major combat occurred one May. But he didn't say it was the end of combat. And it has continued. And as Lieutenant General Sanchez has said, probably from this very podium, we are involved in an insurgency and that's pretty close to war.

Yes, sir?


ARMITAGE: Thank you for the question.

As the president has said on numerous occasions, and most recently in a speech to the National Endowment on Democracy, we don't think there's any reason at all that the entire Middle East is immune to democracy. And we already see it spreading. The changes that occur in Bahrain, the changes that Crown Prince Abdullah has talked about when he talks about municipal elections and things of these nature.

So there's a lot of change, we believe, going on in the area. And, of course, I'll discuss this in Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt. I'll discuss the state of our overall relationships. I'll discuss the state of human rights. I'll discuss our views of Iraq and the Middle East in general. And, by and large, I think you'll find that it's a very far ranging discussion.

Yes, ma'am?


ARMITAGE: And thank you.

If I understood the question correctly, it referred to the slow reduction of American forces some time next year and does this mean that Iraqi forces would be more willing or more able, excuse me, to take part in their own security? Well, obviously, it does. We do intend, over time, as the situation permits, to lower our troop strength a bit, as has been announced from Washington. But this presupposes that Iraqi gendarmerie, police forces and army have come up to a certain level of participation.

Do you want to follow-up?


ARMITAGE: Yes, I don't think we're in, as far as I know, we're not in the business of increasing American soldiers here. Our commanders have indicated they have sufficient force on the ground to do the job and over time I think you'll see the reverse being true, that our forces will draw down as the situation permits.

You, sir.



ARMITAGE: You're talking about my visit here? Yes, the purpose of my visit is to maintain what we believe is momentum in Iraq here on all three elements, that is, security, on the political or economic reconstruction and on the political process. There's a great deal of flux here in Baghdad and in other great cities in this country. We want to keep the momentum in that.

I don't, I'm not sure I understood the other part of the question, so I'll just hold that.

Anyone else? Yes?

QUESTION: Greg LaMotte with Voice of America.

Sir, given the tactics that are being used and employed by anti- coalition forces, wouldn't you have to agree that at least at this stage of the game, in essence, U.S. troops are battling a ghost?

ARMITAGE: You know, I got out of uniform 35 years ago and I don't think it's my place to say what I think about the tactics of the U.S. military. I am convinced, after discussions here, that they're very robust and it doesn't seem to me that those are ghosts who were captured, those two generals. It doesn't seem to me it was a ghost who was Saddam Hussein's bodyguard who was arrested. It wasn't a ghost when we broke up those terrorist cells here recently. And they're not ghosts that are lying dead on the battlefield when our soldiers, Iraqi ghosts, when our soldiers depart.

Just because we don't stand up from this podium and talk about terrorists and former regime loyalists' deaths doesn't mean they're not happening. And those are not ghosts.

One more, please.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Secretary Armitage, there have been a number of reports that in the months before the regime fell the Iraqi regime made a number of overtures to Washington to see if they can prevent the war.

Could you tell us what the State Department, you particularly, and Secretary Powell knew about it? What did you know, when did you know it?

Thank you.

ARMITAGE: That sounds eerily like the Watergate questions years ago. I read the day I was leaving in the "Washington Post" about an alleged approach to the U.S. government. Secretary Powell and I knew nothing of that.

More generally, in the months preceding the war, there were some overtures from various people at various levels coming forward. The my knowledge, none of them panned out. Several of them were looked at. But the one that was in the "Washington Post," I had no knowledge and I asked Secretary Powell and he also had no knowledge.

One more in the yellow.

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

ARMITAGE: Because I like your hair cut.

QUESTION: Yes. Howard LaFranchi with the "Christian Science Monitor."

I like yours, too.

First, on -- two questions, if I could. One on the question...

ARMITAGE: You get one question, but you're welcome to it.

QUESTION: One, on the question of troop strength. It's my understanding that the U.S. commander here was saying that there are sufficient American forces, but that was with the understanding that foreign forces would be coming in and now with Turkey saying no, is there enough troop level to cover the security needs until Iraqi troops can, forces, the three you described, can be brought on?

ARMITAGE: Yes, we are in discussions with other countries about providing forces here under the elements discussed in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1511. Those discussions are ongoing and our military commanders are fully cognizant of the status of these.

At any rate, if those forces do come forward, it would not be until next year anyway. So I think there is no -- you seem to be pointing to the contradiction, I don't think there is one there. If we do get full agreement from the Governing Council and other countries to bring other foreign forces here, you'll be the second to know.

Thank you all very much.

Bye-bye. THOMAS ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening and watching to Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, taking to the podium in Baghdad to talk about the purpose of his visit there to meet with the Iraqi Governing Council. It's maintaining momentum, talking about politics, the economy, also about economic development in Iraq.

We're going to talk to him one-on-one coming up in the 9:00 a.m. Eastern hour of CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

Hope you stick around for that.

We'll be back with much more in a moment.


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