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Wilkerson says what Dr. Rice has been saying is fairly consistent with what the administration‘s position has been and that is, that Iran must stop enrichment before talks can happen. I think that’s absurd. Setting such conditions is a route to no talks at all, which is why Cheney advocates such a policy. Iran made a serious approach in 2003 to talk, Cheney made the State department turn it down. The plan was for regime change throughout the Middle East.

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ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Retired Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson is a Washington insider. A close aide of former Secretary of State Colin Powell since 1989, he served as his chief of staff from 2002 to 2005. He was responsible for a review of the information used to prepare Powell’s justification for the Iraq invasion to the UN Security Council in 2003.


COL. LAWRENCE B. WILKERSON, FMR CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: I have trouble sometimes sleeping at night, thinking about my participation in it.


Wilkerson revealed in 2007 that Iran had made an offer to help stabilize Iraq after the US invasion. According to Wilkerson, the offer, though positively received by the State Department, was turned down by Vice President Dick Cheney. Real News senior news editor Paul Jay spoke to Wilkerson in Washington.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS: PAUL JAY: I’m joined now by Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff of then secretary of state Colin Powell. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

WILKERSON: Glad to be here.

JAY: President Bush a couple of weeks ago was in Israel and called negotiations with Iran the same as appeasement with Hitler. John McCain spoke to the AIPAC meeting a couple of days ago and said more or less the same thing—negotiations with Iran is appeasement, it’s capitulation. Do you think the United States president should be negotiating with the Iranian president?

WILKERSON: I don’t think the president of the United States should be negotiating with President Ahmadinejad. President Ahmadinejad occupies a position in the Iranian hierarchy of power which is largely ceremonial. He’s not a very powerful president. I do think that the United States of America should be negotiating with the power that exists in Tehran over whether or not we’re going to go to war, whether or not Iran’s going to have a nuclear weapon, whether or not Iraq is going to be a stable and prosperous country in the future, and other major issues that are relevant to the peace and stability of the Middle East. Yes, the answer is we should be talking to Iran.

JAY: Condoleezza Rice has said many times, President Bush has said many times Iran refuses to negotiate. They say the United States has reached out to Iran over the years and is rebuffed. But you’ve been interviewed about an Iranian offer for negotiations in 2003 that was rebuffed by the White House. Could you talk about that?

WILKERSON: Surely. What Dr. Rice has been saying is fairly consistent with what the administration’s position has been, and that is that Iran must stop enrichment and any paraphernalia relevant thereto before talks can happen. I think that’s absurd. I think setting conditions on whether or not talks can happen is a sure route—and this is why Dick Cheney advocates it in this administration—to no talks at all. The Iranians did come to us in 2003 with what to protecting power in Tehran [sic], the Swiss, and to me and others at the State Department—not all, but some—thought was a substantial offer to talk. They had essentially drafted a paper—a non-paper, if you will, which is a term we use in diplomacy to designate there are no signatures on it, no footprints on it, no fingerprints—that covered all the issues that they felt we would want to talk about and all the issues that they wanted to talk about.

JAY: For example?

WILKERSON: Well, Hamas, Hezbollah, support therefore, terrorism in general, their nuclear program, of course, their security in the Gulf region vis-à-vis us, a number of other issues that we knew they wanted to talk about, and they wanted to make sure we knew, and what they thought we wanted to talk about. And that was pretty close too. And I attribute that to the fact that we had done some work in policy planning at the State Department earlier, in 2001 and 2002, drafting our own version of what might be the set of talking points we’d use if we ever talked to them.

JAY: So it sounds like you’re saying they’re putting all the important issues on the table.

WILKERSON: They put all the important issues on the table, yes.

JAY: so, what more could one want?

WILKERSON: Well, the positions that came out of the NSC staff and out of some people in the State Department were that, first of all, the Swiss are protecting power, were embellishing the offer, that is to say, the Europeans wanted us to talk to Iran, so they were making it look more lucrative than it really was. A second argument against it was that this was just the Iranians playing for more time: negotiations, talks, if you will, would start; meanwhile, they’d still be working clandestinely on their nuclear program, and they’d stretch the talks out as long as they could, meanwhile covering up the fact that they were still making progress on their nuclear program. And these arguments won the day. They even won the day with my secretary of state, who essentially didn’t advocate taking advantage of the opportunity with the White House. And so the vice president and others found it very easy to kill that opportunity. I think one of the reasons my secretary didn’t move aggressively on it was because he already had his hands full. If you’ll check the records, he was also working on six-party talks with North Korea—he had the vice president vehemently opposed to him on that. He had just gotten the president to at least accept that forum and to accept the fact that we were going to deal with the North Koreans within that forum. And so the secretary probably didn’t want to open a second major front with the vice president and the secretary of defense at that time.

JAY: And the vice president essentially was committed to regime change. So the negotiations did not serve the agenda?

WILKERSON: It’s more visceral than that. The vice president is committed to not talking to Evil, period. All you do if you talk to Evil is corroborate that Evil; you give that Evil legitimacy.

JAY: The vice president was, I believe, one of the signatories of the Program for a New American Century—or Project for a New American Century, which lays out, essentially, the projection of US power and to reshape the world in a single superpower world. So regime change was very much a part of this. Regime change in Iraq, regime change in Iran is really stated as a programmatic objective.

WILKERSON: I think their purpose was regime change even more broadly than that. It was regime change throughout the Middle East, starting with Baghdad, Damascus, Tehran, and rolling on through the Middle East, ultimately even probably rolling on to Riyadh, one of our erstwhile allies for the last half-century, Saudi Arabia.

JAY: So negotiations does not fit into that kind of a program.

WILKERSON: It doesn’t. It doesn’t fit into the program philosophically, i.e., don’t talk to Evil, and it doesn’t fit into the program that they had designed, I think, that would use hard power, military power, principally, to initiate this and even continue it if they found it was necessary to do so. That keeps the military-industrial complex alive, it keeps Halliburton alive, it keeps Lockheed alive, it keeps the entire complex the United States had developed that I call the national security state alive and well, after the demise of the Soviet Union. So there was a strategic purpose to this as well as a regional purpose vis-à-vis the Middle East.

JAY: Thank you very much. And in part 2 we’ll discuss Iraq. Thank you for joining us, and join us for part 2 of our interview with Larry Wilkerson.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Lawrence Wilkerson

Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.