September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs, Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr. Interview with Suliman Nimer, Senior Correspondent of Al-Hayat Newspaper U.S. Embassy Riyadh; January 16, 2002

Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs, Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr. Interview with Suliman Nimer, Senior Correspondent of Al-Hayat Newspaper U.S. Embassy Riyadh, January 16, 2002

Question: We notice that many U.S. officials and especially congressional delegations are visiting the Gulf area and the Arab world these days. What is the purpose of such visits? What are their specific goals in visiting Saudi Arabia?

A/S Bloomfield: There are a number of U.S. visitors, policy officials, military officers as well as congressional visitors to the region. We have had a long delay after what happened on September 11, and then Ramadan, and then the holidays in the United States. A lot of events have happened and there is a great deal of interest in the United States in coming out here and visiting our allies and friends, and listening to their impressions of the situation today and thinking through how we should be managing our relationships, so that we can ensure security for the long term.

Question: Any specifics about your visit here in Saudi Arabia?

A/S Bloomfield: This is in some ways an introductory visit in my role as Assistant Secretary for Political/Military Affairs. I have a number of duties concerning the policy relating to security relations. Under the law, the Secretary of State makes decisions on arms transfers. We have responsibility for the licensing of commercial defense sales and trade. We have an important role in making recommendations for funding security assistance programs, and we also provide the diplomatic coordination for military movements, such as those related to the operations in Afghanistan. And so we work with countries all over the world, whose forces are moving toward Afghanistan; we provide the diplomatic coordination with the Pentagon. So I have many reasons to come and introduce myself to officials throughout the Arab world and to tell them my perspective and to listen carefully to their views as well.

Question: Have you talked with the Saudis about their assistance for your campaign in Afghanistan?

A/S Bloomfield: I expressed my government's appreciation to the Saudi government for their very good cooperation in the security sphere, which was going on for many many years before the campaign in Afghanistan, and which continued in recent months.

Question: Is Saudi Arabia responding positively to U.S. demands regarding cooperation on fighting terrorism?

A/S Bloomfield: Well, I did not come to Saudi Arabia with any demands. I came here as an ally and a friend to sit and talk. I expressed the appreciation of the United States for the relationship of cooperation that we enjoy with Saudi Arabia, and we reviewed many of the events in Afghanistan and in the region, because our cooperation is very important, not only regarding the Al Qaeda terrorism network but for the long term, as part of the security for the whole region.

Question: This is in general, but do you have any specific things about cooperating?

A/S Bloomfield: In fact, the honest answer is I did not come with any lists of demands, questions or requests. In each of these discussions with our principal allies, notably Saudi Arabia, it is very important for me to establish a relationship, and the first step in establishing a relationship is simply to come and express my appreciation for the good relations that we have, and to talk candidly about politics and security and the past history and the kind of future we are trying to build together.

Question: You and the government are talking about appreciation of Saudi Arabia, but there is a big anti-Saudi campaign in the U.S. media. What is your interpretation of this?

A/S Bloomfield: The United States media is wide open, you can ask any former President or President Bush. There are people who say they support U.S. policy and they are also allowed to say they don't support policies; this is allowed in the United States, and we don't object to a free, open debate. I hope it is understood that there are many people who appreciate U.S. relationships throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, and I hear those voices in the U.S. media very much. President Bush has been a leader in showing the American people what an important and fundamental connection we have to people of Arab heritage and to the Islamic world. Thus, I think there are critics but there are also very strong supporters, and both of them are in the U.S. media.

Question: You say that, but here in Saudi Arabia and in the Arab world they are claiming that some American officials are giving the American media some information against Saudi Arabia and Islam and the Arab world.

A/S Bloomfield: I can only speak for the policy that I know, working for Secretary of State Powell and working for President Bush, we value and we treasure our connection with the Arab and Islamic world, and we believe that it is fundamental to America's future. I don't know the specific officials that you are referring to, but I can tell you that the policy that I am representing for the United States is one that recognizes that terrorists and extremists are going to divide peoples who have the same interests, here in this region and back in the United States. We have a future together, and my message is that we have to fight for that future. We have to stay together and not let people try to pull us apart, particularly after the attacks on September 11th.

Question: But the people here are angry; they are upset about the treatment of the Saudi citizens who were in the United States after the 11th of September.

A/S Bloomfield: This is a very difficult and sensitive situation. The American people are not accustomed to the kind of shock that occurred on September 11th, when the airplanes were taken over and crashed and buildings were hit in Washington and New York. And so, there is a great deal of fear and legitimate concern about the safety of airlines, and the security has become much more strict and it has become strict for everyone. It has become strict for Americans who travel overseas; any airplane must be safe, and we are very sensitive to the feelings of our friends here in the Middle East, and in no way will we accept anything that discriminates against people of any one heritage, (such as) Arab heritage, or Islamic backgrounds. This is not the purpose, and I have talked to many people in this region, who are concerned about their sons and daughters going to study in the United States, or people who are coming to conduct business or to visit family and friends, and we are very concerned that what the terrorists have done is to create fear, which is threatening the good feelings between the two peoples. So, the first job of the U.S. government is to make sure there is no more terrorism. That is why we are so committed to finishing the job in Afghanistan and to making sure that the Al Qaeda network will not be successful in any further attacks that try to divide us as people.

Question: But did you read or do you know what the Saudi papers wrote last week about interviews with the Saudi people who came from the United States, many of whom were jailed for 2 or 3 months, and who were talking angrily about this?

A/S Bloomfield: I don't know the specifics of the story you have mentioned. There has been a great deal of intensive law enforcement activity in the United States, and I think every American understands the purpose of it. No one in the law enforcement community wants to give any difficulty to someone who is innocent, and any time someone who has had no connection to the terrorism network is detained or inconvenienced, we regret it very much. So, it's a big challenge trying to achieve security after the terrible attacks in the United States, and at the same time to make sure that innocent friends and people who are traveling in and out of our country will not be inconvenienced or discouraged from coming to see us. We have an open country in the United States, and this is what the terrorists took advantage of; they penetrated our open country and came through the open door that we have. Most Americans are very keen and eager to get back to the kind of country that we had on September 10th before the attack and this is what we want. But the first step is to stop any chance of terrorism, and as I said, we are very sympathetic to our friends who have been inconvenienced and we hope very much that this will not be the case in the future.

Question: People, especially the Saudis who went to the United States, believe that you are the leaders of Human Rights in the world, but they are shocked at the way (they are treated in the U.S.)

A/S Bloomfield: I think what you have on one side in the United States is a very intensive focus on security which anyone one can understand after September 11th and on the other side, in the case of the Saudi citizens that you mentioned, they are very upset because of the security procedures. All I can say is that if we want to blame someone we have to blame the terrorists; they are the reason for this. It is not the American people; it is not the American government. We don't want in any way to give any trouble to our friends, we want to embrace our friends in the Middle East and make sure that they understand that we want them back in our country, and we want to have our future together.

Question: Is the U.S. really contemplating terminating the presence of its troops at Al Kharj airbase, as was announced by the Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, Senator Carl Levin?

A/S Bloomfield: I have seen the press reports of Senator Levin's statement, and of course, I have been away from Washington for a number of days. Senator Levin is a very important legislator in the United States, and I'm sure we have to hear more. He is Chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, and his views carry a great deal of weight, and so we need to learn more about his concerns. I understand that the ranking minority member, Senator John Warner, also made a statement in which he expressed the view that we should continue our long term positive cooperation in the security relationship with Saudi Arabia. We need to make sure that we speak with Senator Levin and I hope that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld will listen to his concerns and that we can put our relationship back on a very positive track, in his eyes.

Question: Have you discussed this presence with the Saudis today?

A/S Bloomfield: I have not discussed the story about the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee with the Saudi officials, because I learned about it after my meetings, but as I say he is very important senator and we take his views seriously. I believe it's fair to say that in my case, the Department of State very strongly values our security relationship. My purpose in consulting with Saudi Arabia is to plan for a very long future of cooperation, and that is certainly the view that I take, and I believe that this is consistent with the security interests of the American people as well as the Saudi people.

Question: But did you discuss the difficulties of its presence here?

A/S Bloomfield: My message really is to say that we want to plan a stable, comfortable relationship, comfortable for both sides. In the role that I have working for Secretary Powell, I can help smooth the details of the relationship, working with our colleagues in the Defense Department and in CENTCOM. We work very closely together, and my goal is to make sure that whatever details are planned in both sides, that I can help make sure that what we are doing achieves the security and political goals of both sides; so that's my purpose.

Question: How successful have your military operations in Afghanistan been? Is dismantling the Taliban and the Al Qaeda network and establishing the pro-US government the required success, although the majority of Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders are still at large?

A/S Bloomfield: The goal that President Bush outlined was to make sure that we go against this network of terrorists who conducted the attack on September 11th, and who also attacked two of our embassies in Africa, and who blew up a U.S. warship in Yemen and maybe some other attacks. So we have been successful in our military operation so far in Afghanistan. President Bush offered the Taliban two opportunities to bring Al Qaeda forward, and the Taliban did not do so, and we conducted our operation with many other countries and with the support of about 150 governments, (that) supported the military operation in Afghanistan. It is not finished; there is still some danger of Al Qaeda fighters inside Afghanistan and we do not know how long it will take to complete this job, but we are very encouraged by the interim authority, and with President Karzai, and we are also pleased to see the International Security Assistance Force with the British and 11 other governments. They do not include the U.S., but we are very supportive of their mission in Kabul, and we are also will be very keen to cooperate with other countries in Tokyo at the donors' conference that Secretary Powell is going to attend soon, to pledge more humanitarian help for the Afghan people.

Question: Did you ask for specific numbers for this team to rebuild Afghanistan?

A/S Bloomfield: I assume that there are some specific numbers that Secretary Powell has, unfortunately I do not personally know what they are, since I have been traveling. I have a special role regarding land mines in the U.S. government as the President's and Secretary of State's Special Representative for Mine Action, and we are planning to spend more than 7 million dollars for demining and mine awareness programs in Afghanistan this year, and there are many other countries who are making very important contributions in this area.

Question: There are fears that you will continue the campaign of anti-terrorism and attack some Arab country like Iraq.

A/S Bloomfield: Well, let us start with Afghanistan. As you can see our military campaign was against the terrorism network. It was not against the people of Afghanistan. In fact, if Taliban had stayed where they were, we believe that maybe as many as a few million Afghan people might have starved this winter from lack of food and from the cold, and so we conducted a very intensive military humanitarian operation to provide 2.5 million meals delivered from the air -- air drops -- and a total of six million meals for the Afghans.

Question: But they are also suffering from the American bombing.

A/S Bloomfield: They're at war of course, and any kind of combat is not perfect. The United States tried very hard, and I believe it was probably more accurate than any bombing campaign in history, because we had soldiers on the ground who were physically locating the legitimate targets. Unfortunately, the Al Qaeda and the Taleban were hiding in some places and giving off signals -- military equipment and signals -- in places where they knew there might be civilians. So this was a very negative tactic on their part. We sent many airplanes over Afghanistan with bombs, and whenever the pilot was not totally sure of the target, they returned back, out of Afghanistan, without dropping any bombs. And if you look back in history, very few times has a military force used such restraint. We are very concerned about any unintended civilian casualties, and we regret them very much. We are working very hard to make sure that any bombs that did not explode, cluster bombs for example, that we can find them, and that we can help the Afghan authorities locate them and make sure that they will not be any danger to the Afghan people. So we are sensitive to this point, and working very hard, but the overall mission had to be accomplished, so that this terrorism network could not continue to conduct acts of killing innocent people around the world.

Question: Don't you think that the American pressures or demands on Arabs, like the direct investigation of Islamic charities in Kuwait, asking Lebanon to disband Hizballah and surrender three of the Hizballah members, and applying pressure on the Palestinian Authority alone, and sparing Israel, and supporting Israeli military operations against the Palestinians, all this may instigate Arabs against the U.S.?

A/S Bloomfield: Well, with all due respect, some of your question I don't think is an accurate representation of the U.S. activities or the U.S. position. In the first place, we do have a lot of concern about the specific individuals that we have named in many countries who have a direct connection to acts of terrorism, maybe against the United States, or against others. And we are very firm in the position that people who conduct acts that kill innocent people must be called to account, and they cannot be allowed to continue to operate.

Question: But you act for this directly, not through their government, like in Kuwait. American investigators are here and there now and they investigate for themselves.

A/S Bloomfield: In each case we are trying to be the most practical about who has control of the territory and people involved. The Hizballah seems to not be answering, or always under the control of, the Lebanese government. They're influenced by outsiders, so we have a great concern about Hizballah creating some instability and threats that are not legitimate at all. The issue of Islamic charities is a very sensitive issue, and we know this. As an American, I can tell you that we are particularly sensitive to the duty under Islam for people to give to charity, and we understand how important this is. I am personally very struck by the fact that Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden would actually abuse something as sacred as an Islamic duty, to take this money, that is meant for poor people and the needy, and use it to blow up innocent people. I think that he has a lot to answer for. But I believe that the governments of the region understand that this money has been taken for one purpose and used for another purpose. I think probably to protect the reputation of Islamic charities, they are working very hard to make sure that the money goes to the appropriate purposes and not for terrorism.

Let me say a word about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Our position is very firm. We do not support any violence. We are trying very hard to find a way to get away from all of this violence that is causing so much death on both sides, and to get back to a political process, that will lead to a just settlement, based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338. President Bush has recently spoken of the U.S. support for a Palestinian State, alongside Israel, which will be secure within recognized borders. We have always believed that any solution must be acceptable to both the Palestinians and the Israelis. It's not possible for a third party to impose a solution; this will not last very long. So, we are listening very much to both sides.

Question: But you are pressuring only one side, only the Palestinians.

A/S Bloomfield: I beg to differ. The United States is a friend of Israel, and we also have great sympathy for the Palestinian people, both. I don't think that is often reflected, and I appreciate your newspaper's willingness to get a balanced view. When we think that things are excessive, we say so publicly, and when Israel does things which we think are unhelpful we say so in public, and we will certainly say so in private. We are friends with Israel; we support and recognize Israel. At the same time we are friends and support the Palestinian people, and we support the Madrid process. As I said, President Bush has recently reaffirmed our vision of a Palestinian state as well as Israel, within secure and recognized borders.

Question: But I will give you an example. When Israeli troops assassinated a Fatah leader, Al Qarmi (sp?), you up to now did not condemn this assassination. But when the Palestinians assassinate an Israeli, you quickly condemn it.

A/S Bloomfield: I think the United States is very clear. No killings are going to lead to peace. These are people whose children must live next to each other for the rest of time. And so violence is not the path to any kind of political solution. On the Israeli side, I must say that I do not know any government that would not be extremely upset if one of their cabinet members were murdered in a hotel room in the middle of the night. This would upset any government and is a very provocative act. On the other hand, it's clear that the Palestinian side is also extremely upset, very angry, and there are very high emotions all around. This is why Secretary Powell has sent General Zinni and Assistant Secretary Burns to try very hard to work with both sides, to find a way away from the violence, toward using the Tenet procedures and also according to the Mitchell plan, so that we can get back to a political process. This is the only way to save the people on both sides and to lead to a stable outcome which is just and which will be accepted. And I hope that peoples who are not living either in the Palestinian area or in Israel, the rest of us who live in a safe place outside of this arena, we have to have respect for the lives of all those people, and stand back, and not be trying to agitate or to score points. It's not fair to the children or the innocent people on either side, so I think there's only one path forward. There's no amount of violence and no amount of hatred on either side that can solve this problem.

Question: But in the Arab World they believe and fear that the United States is unfair in its policy toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

A/S Bloomfield: I understand that there are very high emotions, and that's another reason you have so many Americans visiting the region. So that we can listen, and we can talk, and it's true there are many concerns in the region. I personally do not believe that President Bush, Secretary Powell, and the U.S. Administration are taking an unfair position. We are trying to have a vision to move away from this crisis, toward something which will be sustainable, which will be acceptable, and which will be peaceful. The United States has been the one country which has stepped in whenever there has been conflict, going on since the 1940's. We have been there to try to broker diplomatic solutions and to urge restraint and to point a just and legal and legitimate path toward peace. Granted, it has been difficult, but over time, we hope we can draw some confidence from the fact that we did have a conference in Madrid, and we did have an Oslo accord, and we have had discussions at Wye and Camp David, and even though there is a great deal of frustration, and it seems very dangerous now, we have to remember how far we have come, and get back on the peace track, and stabilize the violence, and everyone should be encouraging us from both sides. That is what the United States is doing.

Question: Are you looking or searching for the root cause of the terrorism? Now in the area you have to do that; Saudi Arabia called for that; the Islamic Conference called for that; most of the Arab states called for that. Are you looking and searching for that?

A/S Bloomfield: What most people see the United States as doing is responding to the immediate threats which have attacked us. That is the obligation of the U.S. government, and there is broad international support for it, but of course we are looking for the root cause. I must tell you that I don't think that Al Qaeda has made any demands from the United States. They are just attacking; they have blown up two Embassies; they have blown up the USS Cole; they have now committed a huge crime in Washington and New York and the airlines, killing thousands of people.

Frankly, I must say I think that if we are honest, if we are talking about root causes, those probably exist within this region. It is not a question of U.S. policy. Ultimately, it has more to do with the different views of how to reach the future inside the Middle East. So, as a friend, the United States is listening carefully, of course. And this is why our security relationships have to be sensitive, they have to be visionary, they have to be acceptable to the majority of the people, and I believe we can do that. But we have to talk as friends, and we have to listen carefully to each other. We can not afford to allow extremists to win the day, and that is why many of us were pleased to hear President Musharif's speech the other day, when he spoke of these issues. We understand that the Sultan of Oman has also given an important speech at Eid Al Fitr, talking about the importance of moderation. The United States in some ways is a bystander. We are listening to the voices of leaders in the region, and we are appreciative that there are people who are speaking out with visionary ideas, in ways that can allow heritage and religion and politics to co-exist in a peaceful way.

Globalization is not U.S. foreign policy. Globalization is the 21st century; it is a reality for everyone. It is different in every country around the world and the United States has people in our population from every country in the world, so we celebrate diversity, we accept it, we don't challenge anyone's heritage or culture, but unfortunately, because of some of the tensions that have arisen, this causes people to be very angry and to increase tensions. I think it is very important for us all to talk about root causes and to work closely as friends to address them.

Question: How do you see the relationship of the Arab people and your Secretary of State Mr. Powell? He gave excuses to Israel to destroy the houses of the Palestinians.

A/S Bloomfield: I believe there has been a misimpression about Secretary Powell's statements. He of course has said that any country has the right to defend itself, when its innocent people are attacked. I think he would say the same about any people. Terrorism and violence are issues that cannot be accepted, but what Secretary Powell is advocating, and the U.S. position, is to end the violence and to get back to a political process. I think this has been misinterpreted in this region, and I hope that people will understand that Secretary Powell is a champion of non-violence and of the political process and of getting back to the peace process so that this will not happen anymore on either side.

Question: Because he said that, the people have been sh ocked, and they believe that he gave excuses to Israel, when they were destroying the houses of the Palestinians in Rafah. They were innocent Palestinians; (is it) because of the armaments ship (that) they have a reason to destroy them?

A/S Bloomfield: I think Secretary Powell understands that in both the Palestinian community and inside Israel, they are both human beings and what has happened in both sides is an escalation and there is a lot of fear, and there have been as I said, many funerals. And so, what is needed is some confidence from the outside, that there are people who are concerned about this and who are trying to encourage an end to the violence and to show a path forward. You know, in our country, the United States, we have had issues of perceived injustice, we have had issues concerning slavery where the African American part of our population was oppressed, and Dr. Martin Luther King did not turn into an extremist violent leader. Instead, he preached non-violence, and the justice of his cause was clear to everyone, and we had the Civil Rights Act, and we have created an equal society. I think the example of Nelson Mandela in South Africa follows the same tradition. There is no excuse of any kind for acts of violence which kill innocent people. In the United States we feel very deeply for what is happening with violence, how it affects the Palestinian people, we feel a great deal of sympathy. But we also see the Israeli society, and I think within the last day or two, there was an old man and a woman who had nothing to do with politics, and they were shot and killed.

Question: Why did they assassinate the Fateh leader?

A/S Bloomfield: I think that both sides have more than enough reasons to be angry, and more than enough reasons to justify for themselves some kind of response, and so this is why the rest of us, standing on the outside to have a political debate, are only contributing to the death of innocent people. What we should be doing is telling everyone to listen to General Zinni, to go forward with an end to the violence. When somebody sends a ship full of armaments from outside the region, they are pouring gasoline on someone else's fire. That is just not fair.

Question: But the Israelis already have the gasoline and they have bombed fires, when they attacked the Palestinian territories, and they are assassinating people.

A/S Bloomfield: I understand what you are saying, but you are conducting a debate, and in the meantime this does not point, this line of reasoning does not point, to an end to the violence.

Question: When the Sharon government does this, carries out this attacking, bombing, and assassination, he has to expect any Palestinian reaction.

A/S Bloomfield: All I am trying to say is that I understand very deeply the sensitivities on both sides, including the perceptions in this region. I am listening very carefully to all our friends in the region. What I am saying is that there are two sets of hearts which are beating in this problem, not one, but two. The United States can hear both of them, and we are trying very hard to move toward a process of peace. Those who would try to disrupt the peace and encourage more violence, or make it a one-sided affair that encourages more attacks, are condemning our friends on both sides of this issue to an endless cycle of violence. So, I encourage your newspaper and others to try to show the full dimension of this problem. This is the only way that we will have a vision to move toward peace. Thank you for that opportunity.

U.S. Government Website

September 11 Page

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.