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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 21:23 GMT
Transcript: Donald Rumsfeld interview
The BBC's David Dimbleby has interviewed US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Washington. Here is a transcript of the interview:

David Dimbleby: Mr Rumsfeld, does the stepping up of attacks on Iraqi positions in the no-fly zone mean, in your view, that war is now pretty much inevitable?

Donald Rumsfeld: No, I don't see the connection really. In fact, I'm not even positive that there has been a particular step-up in the number of attacks. What - we do, the United Kingdom and the United States, have what we call response options. And when there's some sort of an indication of aggressiveness in the northern or southern no fly zone, then we tend to respond and deal with some aspect, generally, of the air defence system.

DD: Has Saddam done anything in these last few weeks to make you think war is less likely?

DR: Not really. I think the key is whether or not one comes to develop a conviction that he's co-operating. In other words, it isn't 'Do the inspectors find things', because they're not discoverers or finders. It's really, is this - during this period of inspections, is he demonstrating that he has, in fact, thrown in the towel and is going to cooperate?

DD: Doesn't the destruction of al-Samoud missiles daily suggest that he has done that?

DR: Well, I suppose to some it might. On the other hand, every single thing that he does that anyone could cite as co-operative was after some long period of denying, a refusal to do it, and ultimately a willingness to do part of it. And it is such a reluctant process that it would take so many years to ever really believe you've done the task of disarming.

DD: But even so, if you've got the inspectors there, if you've got Hans Blix talking about this as a very significant bit of disarmament, haven't you got him by the tail, so that as long as the inspectors are there, as long as Blix is there, he can't really do much damage to anyone?

DR: Well, I think that the way to think about that is that there were inspectors there before, and he continued with his weapons of mass destruction programmes. And the way he did it is he's learned how to live in a, so to speak, in an inspections environment.

DD: But you're not saying with all your troops there, with the overflying you have, with the satellite information, that he could seriously go on creating weapons of mass destruction, though?

DR: Oh, sure. He does things underground. He's very skilful at denial and deception. There's no doubt in my mind but that he has weapons, chemical and biological weapons, and has been working on nuclear weapons.

DD: The Deputy Weapons Inspector, Perricos, says that "the presence of inspectors in the country" - I quote him - "is preventing any prohibited activities from being regenerated." You think he's wrong?

DR: I would think that it's a very hard statement for him to make because he doesn't have access to the underground systems and the tunnelling and the skill that they have in deceiving. I mean, if you think of the number of Iraqi minders, people, tenders, they go along with the inspectors.

If you think of the fact that we've not been able to get people outside the country with their families so that they could talk honestly. If you think about the declaration that was submitted, which everyone agreed was fraudulent. It is - it would be difficult for me to make that statement.

DD: You're sceptical about the inspectors and their role altogether?

DR: Well, I wouldn't say altogether. I think inspections can work. They can work with a co-operative country, like they did with South Africa or Kazakhstan, or any other country that decided that it was in their interest to disarm. And what they really were looking for was not someone to come in and discover things, but they were looking for someone to come in and prove to the world that they had, in fact, disarmed. That's a very different thing. So there's a good role for inspectors, and I think during this period people have to make a judgment about that.

DD: But, frankly, can you see, from your point of view, any disarmament in Iraq that would satisfy you if it had happened without Saddam going, or, in effect, does Saddam have to go, from your point of view?

DR: Well, my point of view is not very important.

DD: Why not?

DR: Because it's the president of the United States that's going to make those judgments, and certainly not me. My task is quite different. [US Secretary of State] Colin Powell is the one working with the inspectors, and the Central Intelligence Agency is co-operating with it, as are other intelligence agencies in the world. And at some point, they will then make a judgment as to whether or not he's co-operating.

DD: So what do you make of the countries I mean, let's take France, for example, who are very strong on this point, that the inspectors should be given more time because they're yielding results. There are a lot of people around the world who believe that's the truth. You take the opposite view. You say it's not really yielding anything. They say it's yielding, give it more time. What's your reaction?

DR: I think these are tough issues, and people can differ on them. And what we in the United States have decided is that we should give them more time. And that's what's been going on.

DD: How much more time?

DR: It's been months. It's been months since the United States took this issue to the United Nations. If you think back, the United Nations has had this for 11 years, 12 years. And everyone seemed very comfortable with the fact that these kinds of dual-use technologies and capabilities were flowing back and forth across his border with no one bothering to stop them, and until the president of the United States said, wait a minute, this isn't right; this is dangerous.

And then there was a unanimous Security Council resolution. I think it was back in October, if I'm not mistaken. And he said let's give 'em time. But the idea that he was in a box, as they used to say, that he was contained, just wasn't a fact. He was proceeding apace.

And if you think of the idea of containment with respect to the old Soviet Union, time was on our side because they had a system that was coming apart in the centre. In this case, the time is really not on the international community's side, because these weapons programs have been proceeding.

DD: But, of course, people would say that you are one of those people who always thought Saddam had to go anyway and said as much five years ago and that really events have played into your hands with 11 September. You never had any intention, if you got into the position you're in now, of seeing Saddam remain in power in Iraq.

DR: I think that over a period of 12 years, or if you want to go back a few years, eight years, an awful lot of people in the world did come to the conclusion that he, as a regime leader, was an unlikely candidate to decide that it was in his country's interest and his interest to voluntarily disarm. And that's the reason that in 1998 the Congress of the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike, passed legislation calling for a regime change.

DD: So what do you say to what the French are putting forward? You need more time, things are working. I mean, the French Foreign Minister yesterday, for instance, and I know your view of France is that it's old Europe and you don't really count it or rank it very high. But he said, you can't -

DR: I don't know that you ought to be putting words in my mouth.

DD: Well, you called them old Europe; I didn't.

DR: What I did was, I was asked a question about Europe being opposed to the US position. And my response was that there were a couple of countries that were opposed and that a large number of countries were supportive. The eight countries had already signed, and 10 countries later signed, and I said the centre of gravity is shifting in Europe. I was thinking of Nato when I said old Europe. I was thinking old Nato, because the next sentence, old Nato is at 15, the new Nato is at 26 countries, and the centre of gravity has shifted. It was not disparaging of any of those countries. Those countries are allies with us in Nato.

DD: So were you surprised they got so upset by it? I mean -

DR: Well, I was.

DD: [French President] Mr Chirac was extremely upset by this.

DR: Yeah, I was surprised, to be very honest. It was - I mean, I served as ambassador to Nato. I've got a great many friends in both of those countries, and I think that it is more an indication of a sensitivity that surprised me.

DD: Well, they're sensitive because you don't take their argument seriously.

DR: Well, of course we do. If the people said there should be more time, the president has given them more time.

DD: Well, let's just go back to the French Foreign Minister and what he said yesterday. You can't say "I want Saddam to disarm", and at the same time when he is disarming saying they're not doing what they should. I mean, a lot of people in Europe, and I suspect a lot of people in this country from what one hears, think that is the case and think that you are piling on the pressure because whatever happens you want - you don't want war, but you want to get rid of Saddam, and that's really what's behind it.

DR: Well, I suppose anyone can decide what they think is behind it and what motives are. The president of the United States is very clear on what his intent is. What his words say is what he means. And he said it very clearly, and he's provided leadership on this. And he has said to the international community and to our Congress that he really believes it's important that Iraq be disarmed. It is not the job of the Secretary of Defence to be involved in those issues. I'm not. You keep saying, you, but I suppose you mean you, the United States.

DD: No, I see you as part of the senior part of the administration as well as Secretary of Defence, indeed.

DR: I am, sure. But the job of a Secretary of Defence is quite different than making those judgments. Those judgments are judgments the president makes, and I work for the president. And I happen to agree with his statements, and I support him.

DD: Are people who want to defer war appeasers?

DR: No, I've never used that word. I think these are very tough issues. I think that the 21st Century is a different century. We're in a different security environment. And people have got to think through what it means, what this new security environment means. And I think probably one of the differences is that the United States was the country that was attacked on September 11.

And so there is a great deal of support for the president's position. It wasn't some of the European countries that was attacked on September 11, and their publics and their leadership look at this somewhat differently. It seems to me that that's to be expected when you take very difficult issues about the fact that we could have a September 11 where not 3,000 people were killed, but maybe 30,000 could be killed, or 300,000 could be killed. And then the question is, well, what do you do about that, and those are big ideas. They're big concerns. And people need time to discuss them. So using words like you used, and I did not -

DD: The Prime Minister of Britain used the words, not me, about appeasers. I mean he used it in the context of the way that people treated Hitler, and he said the appeasers may have been well-intentioned, but they were wrong.

DR: Well, there's no question but that people in that period who were looking for a peaceful way with Adolf Hitler were proven wrong.

DD: Can we come to -

DR: At great expense.

DD: Can we come to where things stand at the moment? The administration is now seeking backing for a second resolution. It's also saying that if it doesn't get the second resolution, it's going to ignore the UN Is this a credible position to hold?

DR: You're asking me is the president's position credible, and I would say yes, not surprisingly. It seems to me that what he said when he went in to the United Nations was that he thought it was important that the world engaged this issue because it's a big issue, an important issue, and it's an issue that we're going to be faced with in this century.

He also said that, needless to say, member states reserve the right of self-defence, and, therefore, he wanted to bring it into the United Nations and have them address this, but that by doing so he did not want anyone to believe that he would, as a country, make a conscious decision that he would forego the right of any member state to self-defence.

DD: In what way is Iraq a threat to the United States that would allow it to act in self-defence of American interests?

DR: The issue that's before the world, it seems to me, is the pervasiveness of weapons of mass destruction and the spread of these, the proliferation of these technologies, chemical and biological weapons, increasingly nuclear weapons. We could in 10 years have double the number of nuclear powers in the world.

The situation with Iraq is that we're at the end of the string. We've tried diplomacy for 12 years. We've tried economic sanctions, and they have not worked. The effort on the part of the international community to prevent him from having those things that enable him to develop those capabilities failed. And he was not contained, and he was not in a box. And even limited military action in the north and the south has really not done it.

The critical issue is the relationship between weapons of terrorist states, which Iraq is, by everyone's agreement -

DD: America took it off the list of terror states 20 years ago.

DR: I don't know that. I accept -

DD: When you - when you - sorry. When you visited Iraq and negotiated with Saddam Hussein, when America wanted Saddam Hussein for its own purposes, America took Iraq off the list of terrorist states and, indeed, supplied it with the wherewithal to make the chemical weapons they're now trying to remove.

DR: I've read that type of thing, but I don't know where you get your information, and I don't believe it's correct. They may have been taken off. I was a private businessman. I was asked for a few months to assist after the 241 Marines were killed in Beirut, Lebanon. And I did meet with Saddam Hussein. I did not give him or sell him or bring him any chemical weapons or any biological weapons, as some of the European press likes to print. It's just factually not true.

Now, whether or not the United States at some point, when I was not part of the government, decided to take him off a terrorist list, you may be right. In fact, I -

DD: Are you saying you don't know, you didn't know when you went there whether he was on the list of terror states or not? You were trying to reopen -

DR: I believe he was.

DD: - a relationship between the United States and Iraq.

DR: That's right. And I believe he was on the list of terrorist states when I went there.

DD: We're being diverted a bit here, but let's just go into this, because it's another of the causes of a lack of credibility, or a credibility gap that you particularly have to fill, that you were there and met the man.

DR: I was there with the President and Secretary Shultz to meet with him and to see it was one of the few Middle Eastern countries that had not re-established relationships with the United States after the earlier Middle East war.

DD: But you aren't saying that you weren't aware that he was using chemical weapons, because the Secretary of State at the time had said they were using them.

DR: I was certainly aware of that. I didn't say I wasn't aware of that. I said I was not aware that the United States gave him, as you suggested, or I gave him, and that I had some burden to bear. That's just utter nonsense.

DD: I'm not suggesting you had a burden to bear. I was saying that there was one of the reasons you lacked -

DR: You said you particularly.

DD: No, you went and talked to the man.

DR: I did.

DD: But what I'm suggesting is that the United States in the world outside, over and over again people say, well, now they're trying to get rid of the weapons, as Jesse Jackson put it when he was at Hyde Park Corner a week ago, for which the United States has the receipts. I mean, that's the problem, that you created this monster, evil, as you know -

DR: You who?

DD: You, the United States, not you personally.

DR: Well, first of all, you're wrong. If you look at the record of the European countries, and the other technologically advanced countries of the world and the relationships with Iraq, I think you'll find that the United States ranks relatively low in terms of trading with Iraq and assisting Iraq with respect to weapons. I think that's correct. I don't have the data, but I think you'll find that's the case. And I think, furthermore, that if at some point a ground truth is achieved, it will be embarrassing to countries that have been providing Saddam Hussein's regime with a great deal of those technologies.

DD: Can I come back to UN and the second resolution? Is one of the reasons for that, or indeed perhaps the sole reason for that to keep Tony Blair on side, the British Prime Minister, in the difficulties that he has politically at home?

DR: Well, again, you're out of my lane in terms of the subject matter. But I don't doubt for a minute but that the fine job and leadership that Prime Minster Blair has been providing on this subject in the world is something that's very much on President Bush's mind. And when you're working with other countries, as he is, he obviously wants to work in a way that's helpful to the leaders of other countries who are trying to work together on it. I keep reading that the United States is unilateralist and that we're 'Going it alone'. There will be more countries, with or without a second UN resolution, involved in a coalition of the willing, if force has to be used, than there were in the 1991 Gulf War, in my judgement.

DD: Assuming war does come, will it be short, as the British Defence Secretary suggested at the weekend?

DR: I don't know. I don't know. I think there're so many unknowns in war, and so many dangers, and so many things that can go wrong, one - you know, one would hope so. And certainly there's no question but that Saddam Hussein is a repressive regime, and one has to believe that people would rather not be repressed, and that therefore there will be people who, as was the case in 1991, who surrendered and who came over to the other side, and who were relieved and felt liberated rather than having some reason to want to fight for the Saddam Hussein regime. I think that's the hope.

DD: Is Saddam Hussein's death or capture a war aim?

DR: A war aim? My aim would be that there would not be a war, that, in fact, there would be some way that it could be avoided, and that's still my hope. Now, how might that happen? One would be that he would decide to co-operate, which he hasn't thus far. A second would be that he would decide to leave the country. A third would be that there could be a coup against him.

Now, any one of those would be preferable if the alternative to him was somebody who wanted to co-operate and see that the country was disarmed, who didn't want to have weapons of mass destruction, who didn't want to threaten its neighbours, who didn't want to use chemicals on its own people, or its neighbours, didn't want to fire ballistic missiles into four of his neighbouring countries, and who did want to liberate the people of Iraq and allow some sort of representation and the end of repression.

DD: Is there a danger, do you think, that Saddam Hussein will use these very weapons of mass destruction that you think he still has in the event of war?

DR: Certainly there's a danger. He could use them on coalition forces. He could use them on neighbouring countries. He could use them on his own people and try to blame it on the coalition.

DD: How damaging to the war plans is Turkey's refusal to let their bases be used?

DR: There are workarounds. We'll be fine. Turkey is a democracy, it's a moderate Muslim country, it's a friend, it's an ally in Nato, and they're going through a democratic process, and we accept that. My guess is that when all is said and done we'll have some degree of co-operation from them, as we do from many of the states in that region.

DD: Can I come to the question which seems to me to be at the heart of all this, of the credibility of the United States' position, which clearly exercises the British Prime Minister, the American President and the administration, and one hears a lot of doubt cast on America's motives for this. Do you think you'd win more backing in the outside world if you'd spent a fraction of the time on the Israeli-Palestinian problem as you've spent on Iraq?

DR: Well, probably. I think that the president and Secretary Powell have worked on the Palestinian, Arab-Israeli problem a good deal in the past two years. They have the president's made several speeches on the subject, Secretary Powell has been involved, there've been special envoys involved. That is a problem that's a tough one, and it's been a tough one my entire adult lifetime, and that it has not been solved in the last 20 months ought not to be a surprise to anybody. The president cares about it; he is concerned about it; he has addressed it. And I think that had there been success there, there would have been, possibly, greater support.

On the other hand, the implication of your question is that there is not great support, and there is great support. There are a very large number of nations that will be participating in a coalition of the willing in the event Saddam Hussein refuses to co-operate and force has to be used.

DD: And yet America is seen as applying double standards in this, isn't it? I mean, using the UN against Iraq, for instance, and then you yourself saying - repeating two or three times, in the context of Israel and the UN resolutions there, that the occupied territories on the West Bank are so-called occupied territories. That's the kind of thing that makes people think, well, actually America is not serious about this, they're so pro-Israel that they're not.

DR: Interesting -

DD: Well, you said that.

DR: Well, first of all, I did not repeat it two or three times. You're just factually wrong.

DD: You said it twice in the same series of remarks. You used the expression "so-called".

DR: Fair enough. I was in a meeting, and I was asked a question, and the phrase came out.

DD: But is it what you think that they're so-called occupied, or do you think they're occupied and should be given up?

DR: I think that that's what a negotiation is going to solve. I mean, that is what the negotiation is about. Obviously Israel has offered to give back a major portion of the occupied territories. We know that. The agreement was there. It could have been solved if Arafat had accepted it. He didn't.

DD: But your use of the word "so-called".

DR: If it bothered you, then don't use it.

DD: It's not me it bothers. It's the other Arab states it bothers.

DR: Well, don't you agree that the purpose of a negotiation is to decide those things? It seems to me that's fairly reasonable. Israel has offered to give up a major percentage of the occupied territories.

DD: Let me ask you about America's position in all this. The president has talked about the axis of evil. If there is a war against Iraq, if it's prosecuted successfully, do you, as Defence Secretary, then have plans for further military action, for instance against Iran, perhaps?

DR: No, my hope is that Iran will - first of all, the Pentagon has to have plans that the president asks it to have. But that is not what's happening. My hope there is that, in the case of Iran, that the people of Iran - I don't think that they're terribly enamoured of the small group clerics that are running that country. And there are stirrings in the women and the young people. And I would suspect that at some point those stirrings will end up changing that system in some way.

DD: A regime change will happen there. But I want to ask you this. Are you saying you have -

DR: Don't put those words in my mouth.

DD: Alright. Are you suggesting a regime change?

DR: No, I'm suggesting exactly what I said, that the women and young people in that country that are uncomfortable with the rule of the small handful of clerics are stirring, and that at some point my guess is they will accomplish some sort of a change in how that system works.

DD: Do you have any plans for any further military activity apart from in Iraq in the Middle East?

DR: First of all, we don't discuss military plans. And, second, plans are plans. Our obligation in any ministry of defence in the world is to look at potential threats and capabilities that can threaten your country and develop appropriate contingencies. That's what we do. That's our job.

You're asking a question that should be asked the president - does he has anything specific that he intends to do in the event force has to be used in Iraq? And that's a question for the president to answer. But I can say this, he does intend to, very definitely, continue to pursue the global war on terrorism, which, in fact, he has been doing. We've got 90 nations in a coalition - it's probably the largest coalition in the history of mankind - that are participating in a variety of different ways to try to track down terrorist networks and stop them from killing innocent men, women and children. And that's a good thing to be doing. And there are a number of places in the Middle East where those terrorists are finding havens. Iran is one of the countries.

DD: You say -

DR: And Iraq is one of the countries.

DD: So Iran should be in your sights on those grounds?

DR: I wouldn't use words like the hot button words like that, "in your sights". I think that that's not the case. I like the way I answered your question just fine.

DD: You say that's a good thing. Aren't people, though, right to be suspicious who aren't Americans of one country, in effect, shaping the world to suit itself, to suit its own values?

DR: No. No. Well, first of all, now you're back to one country, as though the United States is acting unilaterally. In the global war on terrorism there are 90 nations. Never in the history of mankind have there been that many countries working together on exactly the same -

DD: I'm only thinking about what the president said. "The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others" - i.e. it's true you have a number now, America will nevertheless go it alone if necessary. He said it.

DR: Yeah. If any leader of any country were to say anything other than that they recognise their responsibility as the leader of those countries to defend those countries, they probably wouldn't be in office. There's no question but that the obligation of the president under our Constitution is to defend our country.

DD: "Some of the history of the world and civilization was written by others, the rest will be written by us." There is a sort of American empire seeming to burgeon here in the language that's being used.

DR: Interesting. I don't find it that way. Let me give you an example of why I don't find it that way. If you think of how powerful and lethal biological weapons are, nuclear weapons are, they can kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people. I mean, smallpox put in three locations in a country can kill a million people in a matter of months. Now, that's a serious problem for the world. There's nothing the United States can do about that alone. We have to work with other countries. It takes the co-operation of other countries. Other publics have got to engage this issue, other governments have to engage this issue. Look at the problem with North Korea. The United States can't solve that alone. It takes the co-operation of a lot of countries if we're going to stop the proliferation of those weapons.

DD: One last question. America is obviously having some difficulty in Europe getting support, and -

DR: Some difficulty? Wait a minute now -

DD: Oh, no. Oh, no -

DR: The overwhelming majority of the countries in Europe are supportive.

DD: One of your key allies, the Spanish Prime Minister, Aznar, says we need a lot of Powell -

DR: I saw that.

DD: - and very little Rumsfeld.

DR: Yeah.

DD: Are you saying things the rest of the administration won't speak out about? Are you part of the problem of the United States getting the kind of backing it needs?

DR: Well, I doubt it. Certainly the president doesn't think so. My words are very similar to what he says and what Colin Powell says.

DD: Mr Rumsfeld, thank you very much.

DR: Thank you.

Iraq Crisis: An Interview with Donald Rumsfeld was broadcast on BBC Two at 2100 GMT on 4 March 2003.

Donald Rumsfeld talks to the BBC's David Dimbleby
Watch the interview in full

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