(Transcript of an interview between CBS News Anchor Dan Rather and Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. The interview was conducted Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 20, 2002, via satellite with Rather in New York and Aziz in Baghdad.)
Rather: Donald Rumsfeld has just said in a briefing at American Pentagon that there are definitely al Qaeda elements operating in side Iraq. Do you know where they are, what they are doing and if so why are they allowed to operate in Iraq?
Aziz: They are operating in Iraq here but in a location governed by an ally of Mr. Rumsfeld. Which is under the control of Jallal Yallabani who attended the meeting in Washington and met with Mr. Rumsfeld. If he was interested in that why didn't he ask Tallabani about the presence of those people in the area where he is supposed to be the government.
Rather: I want to make sure what they are saying. Yes, there are al Qaeda elements in Iraq but they are in an area controlled by Kurdish leaders who were meeting in Washington.
Aziz: Yes that area is in Iraq, the government of Sullemini the territory of Iraq but it is the control of Jallal Tallabani, it is not under the control of the government.
Rather: To your knowledge are there any al Qaeda elements in the part of Iraq controlled by the part of the country controlled by President Hussein?
Aziz: No, no not at all, and Jallal Tallabani misled the Americans, he didn't tell that when he was threatened by those people he asked for our support and we provided him with ammunition, to fight him, to fight al Qaeda. Because he's yes, when they attacked his people, his followers, he asked the government to give him ammunition in order to face them and we did. Jallal Tallabani did not say that because he joined the group in Washington to conspire against Iraqi leadership.
Rather: When did that happen that he and his followers fought al Qaeda and the government of Saddam Hussein supplied him with ammunition and other supplies?
Aziz: Some few months ago.
Rather: Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, also today an Iraqi opposition group has taken over the Iraq embassy in Berlin demanding an end to Saddam Hussein's rule. What is your reaction to that?
Aziz: Well our reaction to that is the responsibility of the German authorities to deal with this matter because this is against the responsibilities of the diplomatic representation and we hope that the German authorities will take the necessary steps to evacuate the Iraqi embassy from those people.
Rather: Mr. Aziz, the U.S. government and the much of the world believe that Iraq has weapons of massive destruction, chemical, biological, if not indeed including nuclear and that you have been acquiring the increasingly the ways to deliver those weapons. Now why shouldn't the United States invade Iraq and put an end to this threat?
Aziz: Because those allegations are false, the U.S. government has not provided any solid information evidence about that. We invited the American congress to come on a fact finding mission, search the country, inspect all the sights that the American government says that they are being used for reproduction of weapons of mass destruction. They declined. If there is a genuine concern about this matter and the American government and the American congress and opinion, this matter could be resolved very quickly and we are ready to provide the information and facilities to reach the truth. Why did not they accept our invitation if they are sure that there are such places sights that contain weapons of mass destruction? This tells you, tells any intelligent person that their accusations are untrue.
Rather: If that's true, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, why not say to the United States and to United Nations, come take a look, you can go any place, anytime. You can have unfettered inspections. Why not do that?
Aziz: The United Nations is different because they're like the former UNSCOM stayed in Iraq for seven and a half year and did not report honestly. It dragged its feet inside Iraq and kept the sanctions in place. So we didn't reach a conclusion, nobody reached a conclusion. In order to use that conclusion to lift the sanctions imposed on Iraq according to the script, letter, and spirit of resolution 687, so we do not trust those people when they come and given the opportunity to inspect and search they will report the truth, but when there is a fact finding mission by the American congress, this mission would be limited in period, it won't be limited in the ways it conducts, but there will be a conclusion when they return to Washington they will tell you and the American public opinion we did not find anything. We do not trust that Mr. Blix and his people are going to tell the truth if we allow them to return to Iraq as you see. We are in our experience with UNSCOM.
Rather: Mr. Aziz, now back to the basic question though, if as you say your government is not hiding any weapons of mass destruction. Again why not say bring your inspectors that can go any place anytime, completely unfettered inspection and lay this matter to rest for good?
Aziz: I made that clear in my previous answer, we did not trust their impartiality and honesty. They will stay in Iraq, go to the places whatever place they go, they won't tell the truth, they keep the doubt about the situation in Iraq, and the sanctions will remain in place. We would like to get rid of this matter, we would like to reach a conclusion, why doesn't Congress send a fact-finding mission equipped with American experts on those areas, equipped with all the instruments to help them to find the truth. Why don't they do it you see? Because they don't do it because this way we are suggestion can reach a conclusion. Can bring about a conclusion. The inspectors you mentioned are not going to bring about a conclusion. They will keep the situation vague and leave the sanctions in place. And don't forget that when the inspectors were in Iraq, America and Britain attacked Iraq. So how could you deal with the inspections on the one hand and the continuous threat to attack the country by American troops on the other.
Rather: Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, do you or your President expect the United States to invade Iraq?
Aziz: Well we are hearing the threats and according to the responsibility towards our nation we are taking those threats very seriously.
Rather: Now Saddam Hussein has said that he is not given up on averting war. But this what has been described dance, promising cooperation and then offering limited what you see is virtually meaningless inspection has been going on a full decade. By any reasonable analysis you and your country now face a choice. Either allow unfettered full inspection or face total annihilation. Which it going to be?
Aziz: Well this in itself contains irony. When there are threats to invade Iraq to attack Iraq, you send people to collect information about the Iraqi preparations for the Iraqis defending their own country there is a contradiction here, and a trick also here. The inspectors were in Iraq in 1998, they withdrew in the morning, and the American and British missiles attacked Iraq late in the evening. So they were collecting information providing information to the aggressors to make their targets more precise. This, there is a contradiction here. You either follow or respect the United Nations' rules that you don't commit aggression against a country and then things will be quite different. And I tell you, are these people honest and impartial enough to reach the truth, to reach a conclusion of whether there are weapons of mass destruction of not? We suspect their honesty and their impartiality.
When we ask the congress, because the congress is not going to stay in Iraq and get money from the United Nations for its work. The congress will come and find the government's allegations are true or not and they will return for a certain period and report to the American government and to the American public opinion what they have seen and what they have not seen We would like to have a real, interested, impartial, group of people to verify the facts, not a group of people who live on the continuation of their work, as UNSCOM experts did for seven and a half years. It was in their personal interest not to tell the truth. Because they will continue working, they will continue getting thousands of dollars as salaries and allowances of their presence in Iraq. This is different Mr. Rather, this is different. Let the American government, American congress, create a fact finding mission, with all experts and all fields, and come to Iraq in arrangement with the Iraqi government. We will give them unfettered access to each and every place they claim that there are weapons of mass destruction in it. But when the media is with them, the American media, the international media is with them, when they go to a site and don't find anything, then the truth will be known. That's what we want. We want the truth to be known. We cannot leave it to Mr. Blix and his people to tell the truth as they want to tell it you see. They won't report. I give you, I remind you of an example in 1998 when Bill Clinton and Mr. Blair made allegations about the presidential site. They said that those sites are full of great quantities of weapons of mass destruction. On those sites there were factories and equipment producing such weapons. Then we reached an agreement with the Secretary General of the United Nations. The inspectors entered all these sites, they inspected each and every corner of it and they did not report to the Security Council and to the world that they did not find anything. We are not going to put ourselves in such a foolish situation.
When people come pretending that they are seeking the truth, and in the end they do not report the facts as they seem them. We would like to see a credible group of people who really represent their own constituencies to come and we will provide them with all the facilities to reach the truth. And there are equipment in this world, technical equipment that could trace any, any activity in the biological or the chemical and nuclear areas. If there is a scientist listening to me now, he will see yes what Aziz, is saying is correct. You can trace, you can trace by certain sensors, any activity, even if it took place ten years before in any place, whether there was an activity or not. But the inspectors who belong to UNSCOM, and those who are in the new organization are not going to tell the truth. And we have our experience of 1998, what they did in 1998 is not telling the truth. They made precise locations, they made by GPS instruments, they made certain locations, precise, and reported that to the Americans and when they bombed Iraq in late 1998, they bombed the places where they thought the locations of the leadership of Iraq were staying. This is not the way to reach, yes?
Rather: Let me come directly to point. Does Iraq possess nuclear weapons?
Aziz: No. No we do not possess any nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. We are not interested in them. My president has made it clear. We don't have, and we are ready to challenge anybody who makes allegations contrary to what I am saying. But it should be done in a perfect manner, not done by the means of UNSCOM and by the means Mr. Blix is suggesting because they will not report the truth. They will not reach a conclusion about realities. Let us think if the American government is genuinely concerned about that let them come and propose any credible manner to come and inspect and search and then reach the conclusion about the reality. We are ready to discuss with them, with the American government, all reliable efficient means to reach the conclusion.
Rather: Mr. Deputy Minister, you are a skilled diplomat, an elegant speaker, and a forceful advocate for your government, but no amount of rhetoric changes the dilemma you face. You have the most power military force in history, discussing invasion of your country. Are the Iraqi people aware of the peril they face?
Aziz: Is the reason behind this invasion the matter of weapons of mass destruction or the reason behind it is taking over Iraq, running Iraq for the interest of the United States, the Israeli government, and the Zionist lobby in the United States. The Iraqi people know that the American pretext are untrue and they know that America wants to invade their country in order to occupy it and take over the Iraqi wealth for its own imperialistic purposes. And for the sake of the Israelis, for Israel, and now look at the matter, you are also an experienced media man. Who is supporting the United States in this invasion? If the kind of pretexts are genuine, America says that Iraq is a threat to the region. It's threat to the U.S. and the world. Who is saying that except Mr. Bush and his assistants? Who is saying that except Mr. Sharon and his gang, who are killing the Palestinians, destroying Palestinian lands, and killing the Palestinian people? Only two persons, two governments in this globe are creating those false pretexts. None of America's allies who participated in the war against Iraq in 1991 are supporting the American pretext. The countries in the region have made it clear. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iran, all these governments all these countries around Iraq have said that we are against the American plan to attack Iraq, therefore whose purpose President Bush is planning to attack Iraq. The only one encouraging Mr. Bush to attack Iraq is Sharon and his gang which are killing the Palestinians, the women, the children, and destroying the houses, destroying trees, etc. So everybody, in Iraq and in the region, knows that this plan is a criminal plan, it's a criminal plan against a sovereign nation, a nation which is proud of its independence, a nation which cares about its own national interest, and everybody knows that this is an imperialist game, an imperialist plan and that's why people are criticizing it.
(interruption in interview)
Rather: A member of Saddam Hussein's cabinet has been quoted in the last 24 to 48 hours as describing President Bush and his policy toward Iraq as quote "stupid" unquote, is that correct?
Aziz: Well I don't know, I think many people have read that in the American media.
Rather: Well if it is printed in the American press and mention by the American media, people might think it is correct adjective.
Rather: Is that your opinion?
Aziz: I don't know I don't know, the man I do not judge a person whom I don't know. But my belief, my belief is that his policy towards Iraq is stupid and it has no justification, it does not serve the national interest of the United States of America in the long run, it just serves the imperialist, the Zionist plan of Sharon and his gang and those who support Sharon and the United States of America
Rather: Does Saddam Hussein (Aziz interrupts) Does Saddam Hussein remain committed to the destruction of Israel? He has been in the past been committed to the destruction of Israel. Is he still committed to that?
Aziz: We are, we are, we are committed to supporting the Palestinian legal just struggle for the liberation of the occupied territory we support the struggle of the Palestinians to create their own independent state. That's what we're committed to, that's what my president is committed to.
Rather: I understand that, the question is whether your president is committed to the destruction of Israel. That's something different than creating a Palestinian state.
Aziz: No there's no difference, what I said is that is that we are committed. My president and the Iraqi leadership is committed to support the Palestinians I did not say at anytime, 'We are, we are, we are seeking the destruction of Israel.' We didn't say that. When did my president say that? He never said that, but we also, we always said that we are supporting the Palestinians and the legitimate struggle for their legitimate objectives.
Rather: It's been widely reported that international terrorist Abu Nidal was shot to death in a Baghdad apartment. Is this true, can you confirm that and what else can you tell me about it?
Aziz:: Abu Nidal, Abu Nidal committed suicide.
Rather: Any idea why he committed suicide?
Aziz: Well tomorrow, well tomorrow I hope an Iraqi official who knows all the details about this matter will appear in front of the press and tell the press what he knows about this matter.
Rather: True or untrue that he was at least suspected of plotting some kind of assassination attempt against Saddam Hussein?
Aziz: No, no, I uh, to my knowledge there was no such attempt but Abu Nidal was violating the Iraqi national interests.
Rather: How was he doing that?
Aziz: By doing things that the official who is going to be appearing in the press tomorrow will explain that to the public opinion here and outside Iraq.
Rather: But that will be tomorrow, as you know I am in the news business and I'm looking to make news and was hoping you could give me a preview of what he might say.
Aziz: Well if I knew all the details, Mr. Rather, I would have said that. You see, you know I am frank person and I do not cover my information but I don't know all of the details. The man, the official who is in charge of this file will appear in front of the press and tell all of the facts about what he was doing. I know as a member of the leadership that he was violating the Iraqi national security. I know that for sure. But when you ask me about the details, I cannot tell you any details. The man whose, who knows those details is going to tell the public opinion and the press about that.
Rather: The U.S. government [claims] that Abu Nidal was responsible for the killing of some 900 people over a 20 year period. How could the Iraqi government justify giving sanctuary to such a man in the first place.
Aziz: We did not give him sanctuary, he entered Iraq illegally, and, uh, an official is going to explain that, as I said. He entered Iraq secretly without the permission of the Iraq authorities. We extradited Abu Nidal in 1983. I informed him I was then the foreign minister of Iraq and I invited him to my office and told him that you are doing things contrary to the policy of the government of Iraq and we have decided to expel you outside Iraq and he left Iraq in 1983. Then entered Iraq secretly from a neighboring country which is to my knowledge Iran.
Rather: You've been very patient with us, in uh, especially with your time, and I appreciate it. Is there anyone in Iraq able to lead your country when Saddam Hussein is removed from power and what in your judgment would happen in Iraq should your president be removed from power?
Aziz: Saddam Hussein is the leader of Iraq by the choice of the Iraqi people and now we are planning another round of elections next October because his presidency will expire. And in October and the Iraqi people are ready to reelect him as their leader so he will stay as long as Allah decides, Allah wants and as long as the Iraqi people want him to be their leader
Rather: Mr. Deputy Minister I can recall in 1990, 1991 you and I had some conversations, this was before the United States defeated Iraq. It was very clear then that you had underestimated both the United States military might and the will of the United States to do what it felt it had to do. What are the chances that you are again underestimating these two things?
Aziz: We are not, we are not underestimating the American military power, but uh, we know we are staying in our county and are fighting inside our territory, we are defending our independence, we are defending our integrity we are defending our national interest and any aggressor cannot win a war against us.
Rather: Well, what you call the aggressor, at the time the United States, won the war in the 1990-91 period.
Aziz: That was Kuwait. It was not Iraq. And there is a difference between Kuwait and Iraq.
Rather:: Mr. Deputy Minister, is your family in Baghdad and have you made any provisions for war?
Aziz: Well my family was in Baghdad in 1991 and they will stay in Baghdad when the aggression occurs. We are deep rooted in our territory and in our in our home land and we will fight courageously and intelligently against any aggression -- every Iraqi, child and old man, and the young man. Woman and man we will defend Iraq perfectly, and the American government will be surprised how efficient how courageous our reaction to their aggression will be.
Rather: Mr. Aziz, you are very well educated and consider yourself a civilized man. How can you justify your government encouraging young people to blow themselves up killing innocent civilians? The Iraqi government pays money to suicide bombers. I'd be interested to know how you can justify that.
Aziz: These are heroes who are struggling to liberate the occupied territory, we respect them. We respect them because they are sacrificing their lives for a noble cause, they are not terrorist, they are heroes and heroines. And this is what we believe in -- it's not only myself. Every educated honest person in the Arab world, in the Muslim world, believes that these people are heroes and that they are freedom fighters. So we respect them and if we have any possibility to support their families we will do it. And we are doing it happily with the great conviction that we are what we are doing is correct and according the noble human values. The terrorists are the Israeli government, the killers the murderers are the Israeli government. The persons who are killing people in Israel are soldiers. Under the instructions of their leadership, their government, their generals, there the criminals who should be blamed, not those people who are sacrificing their lives for a noble cause.
Rather: Mr. Deputy Minister, you are privy to the thinking of your president, is it or is it not the opinion of Saddam Hussein that this President Bush has in mind invading Iraq to finish, what he believes his father didn't finish, in the 1990-91 war, is that your president's judgment?
Aziz: Well I will, I will speak on my opinion in that. I believe, that Bush the father is wiser, is more wise than his son. what Bush the father did in 1991 was in the interest of America. What his son is doing now or planning to do now, is in the interest of Israel snd the Zionists, it's not in the interests of Americans. If he listens, if he reads the well, if he studies well what his father did in 1991, he will reach the conclusion that it was serving the interests of the United States.
Rather: You say that being fully aware many Americans, I venture to say a majority of Americans believe it was a mistake by President Bush One not to go Baghdad, and at least force Saddam Hussein out of power.
Aziz: Could he do that? Could he do that? At that time? His son is now planning to do it. Let him try and he will find in the end that he will lose this plan, that he will lose this endeavor.
Rather: Mr. Deputy Minister you have been very patient with us, I am going to give you an opportunity here in the end to tell me what is the most important thing you have to say today about the possibility of war on Iraqi soil?
Aziz: Well I would like to say that this war which the Bush government is a planning does not serve the basic interest in the long run of the American nation. It serves the imperialistic interest of Israel and the Zionist groups who have now a great say in the American policy.
Rather: Mr. Deputy Minister, thank you.