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Economic and political progress is necessary if democracy is to take root in the Middle East


Ambassador Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State during the first term of President George W. Bush, said that at the time of the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the United States was expecting Iraq to become a prime mover in the spread of democracy. But, because things are now so “inchoate,” it looks like an impossible dream. Speaking about Iraq and a range of international issues with Carol Castiel, host of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Ambassador Armitage predicted that the United States would be “dealing with Iraq for some time,” trying to preserve it as an integral unit. Despite the current difficulties in Iraq, he added, the Middle East is “not immune at all” from democracy, but economic and political progress is necessary if democracy is to take root.

Ambassador Armitage said the U.S.-led coalition had more than enough troops to secure a military victory in Iraq, but far too few to secure the peace. He suggested that Washington should take a closer look at what it takes to build a democracy because “it’s not just giving people the vote.”

Regarding the criticism that Washington had selectively used intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Ambassador Armitage noted that other countries were also convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And there was an understandable tendency to think the worst of his regime because of its prior behavior. Nevertheless, the intelligence community needs people with the strength of their convictions to stand up and “speak truth to power,” which he called the “single biggest attribute in government.”

The former Deputy Secretary of State suggested that Iran is in a different category than Iraq because the Iranians themselves have acknowledged that they were cheating, which the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also confirms. And while Ambassador Armitage said Iran has the right to pursue peaceful nuclear energy, it should be willing to put that right “on hold” because it has not lived up to its past obligations to the IAEA. But he suggested that U.S. diplomats should be “freed up” to have discrete discussions with Iran on issues such as Iraq, energy, and nuclear power. He called President Ahmedinjad’s statements about Israel and the Holocaust “unforgivable.”

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.