Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has given an interview to Al Jazeera, ending his feud with a channel he once described as “vicious”.
Questioned by Sir David Frost, Bush’s former right-hand man, who many see as the architect of the second Gulf War, struck a conciliatory tone in the interview.
“Its audience has grown and it can be an important means of communication in the world,” he said of the channel.
“I am delighted you are doing what you are doing.”
The interview is to be broadcast on Al Jazeera English on Friday night.
The Al Jazeera network started in 1996 as an Arabic news channel, and was the first rolling-news media operation to be based in the Middle East.
The channel came to western attention following the 9/11 attacks, when it routinely aired broadcasts of Osama bin Laden.
It quickly gained a reputation among many in the west as a mouthpiece for Al-Qaeda, promoting Islamic militancy and a strong anti-western message.
In 2001, a US bomb destroyed Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul; an incident the Bush Administration maintained was an “accident”.
Relations between the network and Washington were further strained when in 2003 a US plane fired upon the channel’s office in Baghdad, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub. Again, US authorities called the incident a “mistake”.
On April 15 2004, Rumsfeld denounced the TV station at a Pentagon briefing, calling its reporting of the Iraq War “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable”.
“They are simply lying,” Rumsfeld said following an Al Jazeera report that an American assault on Fallujah was terrorizing citizens.
The nadir of the relationship came a day later when President Bush reportedly told Prime Minister Tony Blair that he wanted to bomb the channel’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
Reports emerged of the conversation later that year based on transcripts, though it remains unknown exactly what was said or as to whether Bush was joking.
That November, the White House referred to the reports of the conversation as “outlandish”, however Wadah Khanfar, then the director-general of Al Jazeera, sent a letter to Downing Street demanding clarification from Blair as to what was said in the meeting.
The English version of the channel launched in 2006 with veteran presenter Frost as its marquee name. Its launch, along with the end of the Bush regime, led to a thawing of relations. In April this year, President Obama hosted Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar, the new boss of the channel, in Washington.
Suspicions remain as to the impartiality of the channel’s Dohar operation, but the Rumsfeld interview, along with a recent broadcast of Frost and David Cameron, provides some indication of Al Jazeera’s more accepted standing in the halls of Washington and London.
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