April 4th, 2007 05:23 EST
Interview With Melissa Block of NPR's All Things Considered
QUESTION: Earlier today I spoke about Iraq and Iran with the Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. He moved over to State after serving as the first Director of National Intelligence. He's a longtime diplomat and was the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq from 2004 to 2005. I asked Ambassador Negroponte whether he could point to any recent signs of hope for a political solution in Iraq.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: I've always thought of the political process in Iraq as unfolding in a period of months and years, not in a period of days and weeks. And if you look at where we started in 2003 and where we are now, I think there's been quite a bit of positive political evolution from an interim government to a transitional government, now to a permanent government. So that would be one point.
The other point that I would make is that there has been progress, for example, on hydrocarbons legislation and work is being done on de-Baathification legislation. So I think what we could say is that politicians in Iraq are making a serious effort to come to grips with the difficult issues that confront them.
QUESTION: Let me follow up on both of those issues. The law that would distribute oil revenues among Iraqis, the hydrocarbons legislation you're talking about, that still hasn't been put before parliament.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: That is correct, but it has gotten through the government itself. And as you know, the Government of Iraq is representative of and contains elements from all the diverse elements of their political spectrum. So it was a very important step to reach agreement and consensus within the cabinet. Now it remains to be submitted to their legislature for action and we hope that that will take place sometime fairly soon.
QUESTION: And with the sectarian divisions so entrenched in the legislature, do you really think that bill will get some movement?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, I think one can hope that the same considerations and the same dynamic that resulted in these politicians reaching agreement at the level of the cabinet, one could hope that that same kind of dynamic could reflect itself in the legislature.
QUESTION: You also mentioned the plan to reintegrate former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who were purged from government service, but you know have the powerful Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani rejecting that plan outright.
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, I don't know if that's the last word on that subject. I'm not sure that he's made any pronouncement directly on it, unless there's some development that I haven't heard of most recently. But that is a much debated issue in Iraq, but I think there is agreement that it was a mistake to collectively ban all former Baath Party members from positions in public life since membership in the Baath Party under the regime of Saddam Hussein had been virtually obligatory. So it's a question of degree, level of involvement, how high-ranking these individuals were.
The other is the question of the collective versus individual responsibility, and I believe there's a growing feeling that it's those who were really personally responsible for carrying out objectionable acts who should be punished and not the class of people belonging to the Baath Party at large.
QUESTION: There are many people who say that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a big part of the sectarian problem in Iraq. He's a Shiite. He has close ties to Shiite militias and a lot of people say he has no interest in reconciling with the Sunnis. What do you think?
AMBASSADOR NEGROPONTE: Well, first of all, his own political party, to my knowledge, the party from which he came, does not have any militia of its own. But it is true that he is a Shia. He's a Shia politician. And but I believe that that fact is reflective of the fact that Iraq as a whole has a majority Shia population, so I don't think it's unusual that a Shia politician should become the Prime Minister of the country. And it is true that he has strong ties to leaders of the Islamist -- Islamic faith, but I do believe that he is trying his very best to be a national and not a sectarian leader.
QUESTION: I'd like to move on to Iran and 15 British service members who are being held captive there. Do you see any indications that this crisis is moving toward a diplomatic resolution?
AMBASSADOR NEGROPONTE: Well, I would certainly hope so. And I think that it is urgent that it be resolved as quickly as possible and I would urge the Iranian authorities to do whatever they can to see their way to releasing these soldiers and sailors as soon as possible.
QUESTION: What do you think the capture of these British servicemen tells you about Iran's Government and the possibilities of dealing with them on the nuclear issue?
AMBASSADOR NEGROPONTE: I think it would be premature to try to draw some hard and fast conclusion about that. I would also say that we don't see these issues related in any way and we certainly wouldn't want to treat them as being related with each other. The nuclear question is on a diplomatic track before the Security Council. We expect and hope that the Government of Iran will see its way to suspending its enrichment activities. It hasn't done so, so far, and there'd been two UN Security resolutions -- Security Council resolutions calling upon it to do so. But I think we see that as a completely separate issue.
QUESTION: Completely separate. It's hard to see how those could not be intertwined in some way, how the nuclear issue could move forward when these captives are being held.
AMBASSADOR NEGROPONTE: Well, someone could try to entangle them, if they wish. What I am saying, though, is that we do not -- our approach is to not treat them as related and that we still pursue -- seek a diplomatic resolution of the nuclear question on a completely separate track.
QUESTION: John Negroponte, thanks for being with us.
AMBASSADOR NEGROPONTE: Thank you.
John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State