Iraq's Chalabi Says He Did Not Mislead U.S.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
We're going to talk to two figures who played key roles before the war in Iraq. Ahmed Chalabi leads a group accused of passing bad information about weapons of mass destruction. Judith Miller was accused of writing that information in The New York Times.
MONTAGNE: Miller is the same reporter who went to jail in the CIA leak case, and this week, she retired from her newspaper. Chalabi is the former Iraqi exile who's repeatedly recovered from apparent political ruin. This week he's in Washington meeting Bush administration officials.
INSKEEP: We'll start our conversations with Chalabi, a deputy prime minister of Iraq now with influence over the oil industry. His relations with Washington seem to have improved since last year, when he was accused of passing classified information to Iran. Before he came to the US, Ahmed Chalabi visited Iran again and met the country's new hard-line president.
Mr. AHMED CHALABI (Deputy Prime Minister, Iraq): The United States has major issues with Iran. They have problems. We understand this, but we don't want Iraq to be a battleground between the United States and Iran.
INSKEEP: Because of the problems that the United States has with Iran, when you meet with Iranian officials and then come a few days later and speak as you did to the secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is Secretary of State Rice, comfortable with the relationship that you have with Iran?
Mr. CHALABI: The United States government has no problem with good relations between Iraq and Iran so long as they are transparent and built on mutual respect for the sovereignty of our countries and non-intervention in internal affairs of each other.
INSKEEP: About a year and a half ago, Secretary of State Rice was one of the officials who said there should be an investigation of allegations against you, that you had passed intelligence information to the Iranians. Did that subject come up when you met with her this week?
Mr. CHALABI: No. This subject did not come up.
INSKEEP: Your lawyer has said you haven't met with the FBI. Is that still the case?
Mr. CHALABI: No.
INSKEEP: What about people around you, friends, colleagues, any of those?
Mr. CHALABI: No, I don't know about all my friends, but I have no idea if anybody met with them on this subject.
INSKEEP: As you look at what's happened to you politically inside Iraq over the last year and a half, has it in a way helped you that you had a dispute with the United States?
Mr. CHALABI: This question has baffled a lot of people. I come from Iraq. I work for the interests of the Iraqi people. The fact that I came to the United States and worked to persuade the United States that the Iraqi people are in dire conditions, that it would be beneficial to the whole situation in the Middle East if Saddam was removed, I did from an Iraqi point of view. I am certainly not an American implant into Iraq.
INSKEEP: Well, that's what the question gets to. Did your public disagreement with the Bush administration make it easier for you to persuade people that you were independent?
Mr. CHALABI: It clarified my position, my relationship with the United States that my first loyalty is to Iraq.
INSKEEP: You arrived in the United States during the same week in which The New York Times announced the retirement of its reporter Judith Miller. She was criticized for a number of things, one of which was her reporting before the war in Iraq. The Times itself has said you provided a lot of the information that The Times now regrets having published in quite the way that it did. Do you have any regrets about the information that you helped the United States and you helped reporters gather before the war?
Mr. CHALABI: I did not provide any specific information to The New York Times on weapons programs in Iraq. What we did, INC did...
INSKEEP: The Iraqi National Congress.
Mr. CHALABI: ...which I had--The New York Times reporters, they contact us continuously, asking to meet people who know all these programs.
INSKEEP: You put them in touch with Iraqi exiles who had stories to tell.
Mr. CHALABI: Yeah. They asked us to do it. They met these people who gave them stories. Now it's not up to us to evaluate the stories of these people.
INSKEEP: Do you accept that the Iraqi National Congress did provide access to people who, in the end, gave information that turned out to be false?
Mr. CHALABI: It's very curious that people don't read the important investigations that were done, one in the Senate Intelligence Committee and one that's a Rob Silverman report.
INSKEEP: Well, that report said that the INC provided two people who turned out to be fabricated.
Mr. CHALABI: Yeah. All right, but that report said that the INC had minimal impact on the decisions of the United States to go to war.
INSKEEP: Did you ever have any reason to doubt the stories that were being told by the defectors that the INC passed on to reporters and to US intelligence officials?
Mr. CHALABI: I never met any of the defectors. I read their debriefings. I had no reason to doubt them, but I would not vouch for those statements.
INSKEEP: Ahmed Chalabi, deputy prime minister of Iraq, says he did not vet the information that his group provided.