US Deputy Secretary of State and former ambassador to Iraq John D. Negroponte sat down with Asharq al-Aswat for a lengthy conversation on the Middle East Peace process, Iraqi political progress, and other regional issues.
Below is a selection of key quotes from the interview.
On the prospect of a continuing US presence:
After our invasion of Iraq, its institutions had been devastated. There was no army and the government basically evaporated as well, therefore, it takes time to help a country rebuild those institutions, so (in February/March 2005) I thought at that point that five years from 2005 was a reasonable period of time. That would be another three years from now. I think that sounds reasonable. I am not saying (that it will take) another three years at the current level of US involvement. I would hope sooner rather than later that we would have more of a support role rather than a lead role; and that we could be in a position to reduce our military presence but I think a significant level of effort will continue to be required from ourselves and other friends of Iraq.
On the September report to Congress:
I think that “deadline” may be too strong a word. September was indicated as date when General Patraeus would offer his assessment. I think we have to wait to see what happens and what the report says. We can then assess what the next step might be.
On the Iranian influence over Iraqi political leaders:
I think the Iraqi government is a nationalist government, and that notwithstanding the fact that a number of these political leaders were in exile in neighbouring countries including Iran, this does not mean that they are somehow politically beholden to any of the neighbours, and I think certainly the past has demonstrated that the Iraqis are a very proud people who want to conduct the affairs of their own country and they do not wish to serve the interest of any other state.
On Iranian meddling:
We have concerns that they are supporting some of the extremist Shiite groups, we think that is a mistaken policy on their part and we would like to ask them and engage them in being helpful to the duly constituted government of that country.