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JANA WENDT: Philip Reeker, welcome to Dateline.

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Do you believe that the US has a moral responsibility to the Kurds?

PHILIP REEKER, US STATE DEPARTMENT: I think we have been working with the Kurds now for more than a decade and the international community has demonstrated our support for the Kurds through the oil-for-food program and you`ve seen what a success it can be. That`s the largest humanitarian program in the history of the UN, and where it`s allowed to work, where the cynicism of Saddam Hussein`s regime is not allowed to reach, the program has been very successful and is improving the lives of those in northern Iraq. At the meantime, we, along with the British, continue to enforce the no-fly zones to prevent Saddam Hussein and his regime from threatening those in the north and also those in the south.

JANA WENDT: Do you acknowledge that you failed the Kurds at the conclusion of the Gulf War?

PHILIP REEKER: I think it`s a difficult judgment to make, in that we had a specific mandate in terms of the Gulf War, in terms of driving Saddam Hussein`s forces from Kuwait. We were doing that in the context of a coalition, in the context of UN Security Council resolutions and we succeeded with that mandate. We have now for a decade kept Saddam in his box, kept him contained and will continue to do that.

JANA WENDT: Mr Reeker, you did fail to protect them at the conclusion of Gulf War. There are figures like 1 to 2 million who fled for their lives and 100,000 who lost their lives because of your agreement with Saddam at the end of the war. Do you recognise a responsibility there?

PHILIP REEKER: There`s absolutely no doubt that Saddam Hussein and his war machine perpetrated great evil against his own citizens, against the Kurds, against the Shia, against others, including the use of chemical weapons, and what he`s done to them. Our responsibility with the international community we`ve seen is to try to help them through the oil-for-food program, while the regime of Saddam Hussein remains in power in Baghdad.

JANA WENDT: Mr Reeker, a US delegation visited the region in December last year. What was Secretary Powell`s assessment of the strength of opposition to Saddam in northern Iraq?

PHILIP REEKER: Well, I think there`s no doubt that there remains strong opposition to him among the Kurdish people in the north, and others in the south and certainly among the population that he oppresses in the area that Saddam and his regime still control. I think you know that American policy remains one that we`d like to see a regime change in Iraq, because we think that would be in the best interests of the Iraqi people, certainly of the neighbourhood, and in that sense of the entire world.

JANA WENDT: You say you`d like to see a regime change there, does that mean that you are prepared to wait for the opposition to bring that about?

PHILIP REEKER: Well, I think it`s something we`ll continue to look at. Our view on Iraq is that we have got to keep Saddam Hussein contained. We`ve got to enforce those controls against him so he cannot reconstitute his military or pursue his weapons of mass destruction. We`re patient. We`ll continue to watch this and we will deal with Iraq and Saddam Hussein at a time and a place of our choosing.

JANA WENDT: Mr Reeker, we`ve just seen pictures of tankers illegally carrying oil for a stretch of something like 8km through Iraqi Kurdistan. Would you agree that Saddam Hussein is simply thumbing his nose at the sanctions?

PHILIP REEKER: Well, I think we`ve generally estimated that about 20% of the revenues do reach Saddam`s regime through smuggling operations. It`s a very difficult thing to control, but that means that over 80% of the oil revenues are going into the UN escrow accounts under the oil-for-food program.

JANA WENDT: Mr Reeker, this doesn`t sound as though he`s too contained as far as these sanctions are concerned. Some estimates put his windfall from this illegal trade at $2 billion a year. What`s your estimate?

PHILIP REEKER: I think that`s about right. As I mentioned, general estimates have been around 20% of the $10 billion in oil revenues do leak through to him. That`s why we need to maintain the sanction.

JANA WENDT: How much do you know about the establishment of an offshoot of al-Qa`ida in northern Iraq?

PHILIP REEKER: I`m not in a position to discuss any specific details of what we know or don`t know about al-Qa`ida, but it`s certainly something we watch very closely. The President`s made very clear that our focus remains on al-Qa`ida in our war against terrorism, it remains in Afghanistan right now, where we`re going to see this through until we have really wiped out the al-Qa`ida presence there, and we`re continuing to use all the tools at our disposal – financial, diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence-sharing, etc, to cut off this group.

JANA WENDT: Our report specifically points to a group called Jund al-Islam. Now, the Kurds apparently believe that Jund al-Islam – which is an offshoot of al-Qa`ida – is being funded, supported by Saddam Hussein. What can you say about that?

PHILIP REEKER: We have no doubt that Saddam Hussein and the regime in Iraq have supported terrorism, have given haven to terrorists. They`ve been listed on our list of state sponsors of terrorism since that list was created, and they don`t appear ready to get off that list. So we keep a close eye on them. As I said, we will deal with Saddam and Iraq at a time and place of our choosing.

JANA WENDT: But Mr Reeker, if there is a direct connection between this particular al-Qa`ida group and Saddam Hussein, that would make him, would it not, a prime target for an attack under President Bush`s criteria?

PHILIP REEKER: The President has said that we`ve seen reports of links. We have not developed the direct tie to the Iraqi regime in terms of al-Qa`ida and the September 11th events, but we`ll certainly continue to watch that and we`re working with so many other countries in our coalition to make sure that we can wipe out al-Qa`ida.

JANA WENDT: Mr Reeker, in your national archives sit 5.5 million pages of evidence relating to Saddam`s use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish population. Do you believe that there is a will to prosecute him for genocide on the basis of that evidence?

PHILIP REEKER: I think there is such a will. It`s a project that is ongoing. We`ll continue to work with others, to document that. We have funded groups like the Indite Organisation based in London, which also gathers documentary evidence of these war crimes, and he should be brought to justice for those crimes.

JANA WENDT: When do you believe that will happen?

PHILIP REEKER: I don`t know if I can specific timetable on it, but as I said, it`s something we`ll continue to pursue.

JANA WENDT: You say that you have reasonably close links with the Kurdish population, yet the Kurdish PM describes it as painful that the world has chosen indifference about what happened in that chemical attack some years ago now?

PHILIP REEKER: I would have to disagree. I don`t think we`re indifferent to that. What happened there was a terrible, horrible thing and we`ve talked about it many times and the international community, I think, is determined to maintain the sanctions on him until such time as the Iraqi people can be liberated from his regime.

JANA WENDT: OK, Mr Reeker, we must leave it there. We appreciate your time.

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