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updated 3/24/2004 5:29:48 PM ET 2004-03-24T22:29:48

The following is Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's opening statement to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States during his appearance on March 24, 2004.

Well, not -- it's not much of a statement. I jotted some ideas down. I'm not sure I can read them, because I was in the car. But it's not more than a minute or two, Mr. Chairman, if I may.

I think, regarding Dr. Rice, I'm very pleased to hear you say how forthcoming and candid she was. She's of course prepared to meet with you all in camera at any time. This is, I think, not her personal wish; it's a matter of separation of powers and things of that nature.

Mr. Ben Veniste is the lawyer here; he can take it wherever he wants. I'm not.

I want to just take two minutes, sir, and tell you where I think we are, at least from what I've gleaned thus far. Each individual who witnesses these hearings and the important work you all are doing will make their own mind up. But here's what I'm kind of hearing.

I think there was a pretty smooth handoff from the administration of President Clinton to the administration of President Bush, particularly in the counterterrorism area. The reason I say that is because there was, for transitions, I think a stunning continuity. When the Bush administration came in there were a number of issues that had been on the table for a couple of years. And they weren't on the table because the Clinton administration wasn't working like crazy; they were on the table because -- we're meeting on these matters -- they were on the table because they were difficult, knotty issues.

We made the determination under the guidance of Dr. Rice and the president to vigorously pursue the policy which we inherited while developing our own approach to the problem of al Qaida specifically and terrorism more generally, and along the way we tried, at least though the deputies level, to make decisions and to approve things and push them up the food chain. The president said that he was tired of swatting flies, gave us a little more strategic direction. It was clear to us that rollback was no longer a sufficient strategy and that we had to go to the elimination of al Qaida. And to that end, at least through the deputies prior to the horror of Sept, 11, decisions were approved to arm the Predator, to increase the assistance to Uzbekistan, to work with the Northern Alliance in a bigger way, to try to reinvigorate what was going on with Pakistan. And certainly, in order to bring some stability to South Asia, we had to have a different relationship with India and one that's not hyphenated, Indo-Pak.

So I saw in both administrations a lot of people working terrifically hard, doing the best jobs they could. But a lot of people in successive administrations working just as hard as they can on the issue is not a source of any satisfaction for anyone. I don't think any of us or anyone who's worked on these issues can feel any sense of satisfaction with 3,000 of our fellow citizens horribly murdered.

So the inevitable evisceration of Osama bin Laden personally will be a very good thing, but in itself it's not going to bring any satisfaction or justice. True satisfaction and true justice, in my belief, will only come for Americans, and for that matter now for Spaniards and Turks and Saudis and Moroccans, when we put an end to terrorism. The terrible thing is I'm afraid that's going to be at some far out date in the future, and we just have to steel ourselves for it.

So thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Vice. I look forward to your hearing.

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