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28 June 2004

Early Transfer of Iraqi Sovereignty Intended to Foil Militants

Armitage Says Iraq's interim government expressed readiness for power

By handing over control of Iraq two days before the June 30 deadline, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) officials sought to foil any plans of militants to disrupt the transition of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government, said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

In a June 28 radio interview with National Public Radio's Renee Montagne, Armitage said, "The Iraqis, particularly the prime minister, indicated that they were ready for it. It had a subsidiary benefit, we thought, of perhaps somehow confusing the plans, or what we believe are plans, to disrupt the proceedings by the anti-coalition militants."

Armitage said that the transfer of sovereignty changes the dynamic of the militant activity in Iraq.

"I think it's quite clear now that those who are fighting against -- formally fighting against the coalition in Iraq are now fighting against an Iraq[i] government and Iraqis themselves," the deputy secretary said.

He added that the coalition members believe more Iraqis will be prepared to resist the militants in defense of a sovereign Iraqi state.

Armitage said the arrival of the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, would likely be delayed for a brief period "to make the point that John Negroponte is not Jerry Bremer II, that the CPA, the former sovereign, has gone away."

Following is the transcript of Armitage's interview:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
June 28, 2004

INTERVIEW

Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage
On NPR with Renee Montagne

June 28, 2004
Washington, D.C.

MS. MONTAGNE: The United States has transferred sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government today, two days ahead of schedule. The handover occurred during a small ceremony, and Paul Bremer, the now former American administrator there, has already left the country.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage joins me now from his office at the State Department. Good morning.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Good morning, Ms. Montagne.

MS. MONTAGNE: Why, precisely, was the decision made to transfer sovereignty early?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The Iraqis, particularly the prime minister, indicated that they were ready for it. It had a subsidiary benefit, we thought, of perhaps somehow confusing the plans, or what we believe are plans, to disrupt the proceedings by the anti-coalition militants.

MS. MONTAGNE: Did the U.S. have specific information about attacks?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, my colleagues and I have been testifying on Capitol Hill for the past week saying we firmly expected it. And there was a spike yesterday, we believe, a spike that would continue over the next several days.

MS. MONTAGNE: Right, of course, that was a big date much played on the media, so a good target, I would suppose, too.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, that was our feeling.

MS. MONTAGNE: The Administration has said repeatedly that the insurgency will continue even after this transfer of power. What effect will this new Iraqi government have on the violence, do you think?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think it's quite clear now that those who are fighting against -- formally fighting against the coalition in Iraq are now fighting against an Iraq government and Iraqis themselves. And we're making a bet, the coalition members are making a bet that Iraqis will fight for Iraq, or they may be somewhat less inclined to fight for coalition forces.

MS. MONTAGNE: And what role will U.S. troops play in this upcoming dispensation?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We'll play the role of partner to the new Iraqi government and their security forces and work hand-in-glove with them to bring about a betterment of that scary situation.

MS. MONTAGNE: And they will be under American control, of course.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, all of our forces will absolutely be under American control. Iraqi forces can opt to, for specific purposes, be under the multinational force commander or separately.

MS. MONTAGNE: The Pentagon had been in charge of Iraq policy. Now the State Department and the new U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte is taking the lead for the U.S. Government. Does that mean that Secretary Powell will have more influence on issues over there?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, the nature of question indicates that he doesn't have influence and I would suggest that's not quite the case. But clearly, the Department of State is taking the lead now. We will be the dominant voice.

MS. MONTAGNE: And when does Ambassador John Negroponte arrive? I mean, begin take up his, you know, his duties today?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Probably not today. We want a little space between Mr. Bremer's departure and John's arrival, because we want to make the point that John Negroponte is not Jerry Bremer II, that the CPA, the former sovereign has gone away, and John Negroponte will be the first ambassador from the United States to the new Iraq.

MS. MONTAGNE: I'm just curious, what other countries knew of the handover, that it would be early, that is, a couple of days?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Secretary Powell and his colleagues who were in Istanbul were making calls last night to all of the coalition members, the foreign ministers and the defense ministers, to let them know we had had extensive discussions for the last two days with our British allies on this whole matter, and, of course, with the Iraqis.

MS. MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you, Ms. Montagne.

MS. MONTAGNE: Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

(end transcript)