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Powell Interview - NBC – Middle East Peace Process

Office of the Spokesman For Immediate Release

June 4, 2001

Interview of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell On NBC's "Meet The Press"

June 3, 2001 Washington, D.C.

MR. TIM RUSSERT: With us now, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: What is your message this morning for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat?

SECRETARY POWELL: My message for him is pretty direct and clear, and it is the message that I gave to him yesterday and have given to him previously: This is the time to bring the violence under control.

He gave a very important statement yesterday when he called for the unconditional cessation of violence by all on his side of the issue. He put it out over Arabic news media, which was important. He has now given instructions, and we can see the results of those instructions, to a number of his top security people to bring things under control.

The Israelis, of course, don't just want statements; they want to see something happen on the ground. And I think, as your correspondent just noted, they are watching carefully to make sure that this is not just a statement, not just a declaration, but things are actually happening on the ground.

The response so far has been of a non-military nature, as was just noted. They reserve the option to retaliate, but I think they are trying not to see this situation get any worse, and we just don't get into a retaliation and then a counter-retaliation, and we're off and running again.

The situation has been rather quiet for the last 12 to 18 hours, and let's try to build on this. Let's try to build on the Mitchell report, which gives us a way out of this. And it begins with the unconditional cessation of violence on both sides, and then we can move quickly into a cooling-off period, move quickly into confidence-building measures with a timeline that will take us through those confidence-building measures, and then back to negotiations to try to bring peace to this region.

These two peoples have to find peace at the end of the day. They are going to live there together forever, and they have to find a way to do that. The United States will be deeply involved. The President and I and all of the members of our national security team were deeply involved yesterday, and the whole international community is involved. I hope that this tragedy that took place on Friday, this awful bombing, some good can come out of that if we can get this process started again.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe Mr. Arafat can control all the various elements amongst the Palestinian people, including radical groups like Hamas?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think he has a great deal of control. I think he can control quite a bit. He can't control every last person. He can't control every last organization. But I think he has a great deal of control.

But beyond just control, he has the moral authority as the leader of the Palestinians. People look to him for leadership. If he uses that authority to tell people that this is not the way to go about finding a political solution to our problems that will carry great weight. I know that is also what the Israeli side is looking for, and the whole international community is looking for.

MR. RUSSERT: What is your message this morning to Israeli leader Ariel Sharon?

SECRETARY POWELL: I know how much pressure he is under. I spoke to him at great length yesterday, and Friday as well, after the incident. He is under enormous pressure, and I am glad that so far he is pacing the response. He is giving the other side, the Palestinian side, time to act on what they said they were going to do.

So I would encourage him to keep having this measured response so that we don't get into another cycle that takes us off into, frankly, a new -- worse than just a new direction of terror, but into an abyss that we might not be able to get out of.

MR. RUSSERT: If the Israelis do retaliate this time, would you hope they not use the American-provided F-16 fighter jets?

SECRETARY POWELL: That's always, I think, something to be hoped for, but let's just not get into the hypotheticals at this point. Let's just hope that it will not be necessary because we will see -- they will see -- enough from the other side.

At the end of the day, it has to be what the parties in the region do with respect to each other that will cause this situation to start moving in the right direction.

MR. RUSSERT: As has been reported and written about extensively, President Clinton was deeply involved personally in the Middle East peace process. When President Bush took office, he said we need a more regional approach to it. People interpreted that as being more standoffish, if you will.

Do you believe now the United States made a mistake by not being more actively engaged in the Middle East peace process from day one of the Bush Administration?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have been actively engaged from day one of the Bush Administration, not just quite in the way that President Clinton and his team were involved.

You have to remember that President Clinton put his heart and soul into this, as did Secretary Albright and Sandy Berger and Dennis Ross and all the others. And they brought forward an amazing deal that, if they had been able to consummate that deal, we wouldn't be having the kinds of problems we are having now. But the Palestinians couldn't accept it for reasons that one could speculate about and analyze for the rest of one's life, and it didn't work out for Ehud Barak.

So when we came into office, we found no peace process on the table. It had essentially been put aside. We found an Israeli election upon us, and Ehud Barak lost that election decisively. It was early March before we got a new prime minister, Prime Minister Sharon, who won the election on the basis of providing security for the people of Israel and returning to the peace process, but only after security had been restored.

So we have been working within those parameters, and we have been deeply engaged. This is not the time for 14-day, nonstop meetings. This is the time to get the security situation under control, get the violence down. I think the Administration has worked, and the President has worked, very aggressively with the Mitchell Committee report.

This gave us something new to work with. We had five distinguished gentlemen who made this assessment, at the request of the parties, and they brought forward this report last month, and we have been pushing that report ever since. It has international standing. It is supported by the entire international community, and the Bush Administration is fully behind it and has been working to implement it.

So we have been involved, deeply involved, from the very beginning, just in a slightly different way.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you be going to the Middle East yourself?

SECRETARY POWELL: I will of course be going to the Middle East at some point.


SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't have a date to go yet. There has to be a reason to go. I think you have to go for a particular reason, and not just to have shuttle meetings back and forth when you don't have a specific agenda to present, and the conditions are not yet ready.

We are more than well represented in the Middle East. Ambassador Burns is there as a personal representative of President Bush and of me. I've got Ambassador Indyk. I've got Consul General Schlicher. We are well represented in the Middle East, and I am in constant touch with all the parties in the dispute.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well remember, in 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and you very successfully prosecuted a war against Saddam and saved the nation of Kuwait.

Yesterday, this is what the Kuwaitis had to say. Kuwait Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah said on Saturday the Palestinian suicide bombing was legitimate, according to the Kuwait official news agency.

Sheikh Sabah, who is also acting prime minister of the Gulf States, said in response to a question on his views of the suicide bombing, "This is a struggle, and struggle is legitimate." Is that helpful?

SECRETARY POWELL: Not helpful, and I disagree. There is no rationale, no justification, for blowing up a bunch of wonderful teenagers who were trying to enjoy themselves on a Friday night. That's outrageous.

MR. RUSSERT: What do we say to Kuwait?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I hadn't seen the statement before, but if I have the opportunity I will make sure they understand that I don't find that to be a very useful statement.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me talk about your old friend, Saddam Hussein. This was reported in The Washington Post a month ago: "While Bush debates, Saddam threatens. While the Bush Administration struggles through a policy review on Iraq and the Persian Gulf, Saddam has concluded his own reassessment with characteristic speed and brutishness. He wants an American pilot's head, and he wants it now.

"Saddam's rocketeers have significantly escalated their firing at American and British aircraft flying routine patrols over northern Iraq. According to US military intelligence officials, in the first four months of 2001, the Iraqi have shot at American planes five times more than all of last year. US reports indicate the escalation results from direct orders from Saddam to his commanders to bag an American pilot. These orders reportedly combine threats of reprisal for failure and offers of huge cash bonuses for success.'"

Is that true?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have no idea. You will have to ask Mr. Hoagland. He wrote it. But so far they haven't been successful.

MR. RUSSERT: What's your message to Saddam Hussein if they are trying to take out an American pilot?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm sure they are trying to take out American pilots - - there's no doubt about that -- but they have not succeeded. And we are pretty good at knowing how to use those no-fly zones and use them safely, and that is why, on a regular basis, we go after any air defense system that threatens our pilots.

We intend to fly as necessary to perform the missions that we have to perform over there. And that kind of bluster is -- we understand it is part of the game. We are always reviewing how to operate in those no-fly zones to give our young pilots the margin of safety and the margin they need to do their missions and to complete those missions successfully.

MR. RUSSERT: If Saddam is, in fact, firing at us five times more than he did last year, if he takes out an American pilot, he'll pay a price?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm sure he will.

MR. RUSSERT: Such as?

SECRETARY POWELL: Oh, I'm not going to speculate on what our response might be.

MR. RUSSERT: You are before the United Nations right now talking about the sanctions against Iraq. Many people are suggesting, "Colin Powell, why are you getting soft on Iraq? Why are you not insisting -- insisting -- that the sanctions be held in place until Saddam Hussein allows inspectors back in to find out how well he's developed his biological and chemical capability?"

SECRETARY POWELL: We are. That's exactly the point of the resolution. People ought to read the resolution before they comment on a weakening. If it is a weakening of the sanctions, I wonder why the Iraqis are so mad this morning.

What the resolution actually does is says the UN coming together -- when we came into office, the whole sanctions regime was falling apart. We have now put the Perm Five back together behind a single policy, which says we are going to allow civilian goods to go in in greater quantity for the Iraqi people, but we are going to tighten the controls over those items that contribute to the development of weapons of mass destruction.

So we are taking away the argument that Saddam Hussein has been using against the UN -- and causing the sanctions to get much, much weaker and breaking up -- that they were hurting the Iraqi people. They won't be in the future when the effect of this resolution comes about in about a month's time.

What will remain in place will be sanctions, an arms control regime against weapons of mass destruction activity. And also, the only way he gets out of it is letting the inspectors back in. So there has been no weakening on the demand for inspectors to go in.

The only thing that is still at issue -- and the reason that the UN is continuing the old sanctions for 30 days before we move to the new regime -- is that we didn't have enough time to work out the list, the reduced list. It is a difficult process, and we hope to get it completed in the next 30 days. The resolution already says that the new system begins on the 4th of July of 2001 and continues for six months. That's why the Iraqis are hopping mad.

MR. RUSSERT: So Saddam -- the sanctions stay on Saddam until he lets inspectors back in?

SECRETARY POWELL: That's right. They no longer are addressed against the Iraqi people. And this helped bring all of us together again -- the French, the British, the Russians, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the other members of the Security Council -- a 15-0 vote, consensus.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you have any doubt that Saddam Hussein has improved, increased, his biological and chemical capability these last two years absent any inspections?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know what he has been able do over the last two years. It is troublesome that over the last three years now almost, I guess it is, close to three years, that he has not been looked at. So we don't have a good idea of what he might or might not have been able do. But I'm quite sure he is working as hard as he can to develop those kinds of capabilities, which is why we have to make sure the sanctions are actually doing their job, and that's going after weapons of mass destruction.

I just have to repeat that four months ago this whole system was on the verge of collapse. The French wanted to go one way, the British were troubled by it, the Russians were going another way, the Chinese another way. All the Perm Five members came together on this resolution, and by consensus the other 10 members of the current Security Council voted along with us in a consensus resolution.

MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqis say they're going stop shipping oil to some of their neighbors because of this.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, then there must be something they don't like about this action that's troubling them a great deal. I have reason to believe that any cut-off that might exist that would affect the overall market will be made up. We have received assurances --


SECRETARY POWELL: Well, parts of OPEC. Different nations have suggested they will not allow a serious interruption in the supply of oil.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to China. On April 1, the Chinese forced down an American plane. Our crewmen were released, but the plane stayed on the ground, is on the ground. The Chinese are now saying you cannot fly that out. You have to dissemble it, put it in a crate, and ship it out on a Russian cargo plane.

Can you imagine the reaction amongst Republicans if Bill Clinton allowed the Chinese to dictate to him to dissemble an American plane and fly it out on a Russian cargo plane?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the Russian cargo plane, Russian-made plane, was our preference because they are readily available, and it is not as if it is the Russian military flying them. These things are commercial charters these days, to show you how much things have changed since the end of the Cold War. It is the plane that is best able to handle this kind of mission.

What we are interested in is getting our plane back, and we are going to get our plane back.

MR. RUSSERT: But why not insist that it fly out on its own strength, if you will, and say to the Chinese, "Either we fly our plane out or the President's not going come visit your country in October"?

SECRETARY POWELL: Because we chose not to allow this incident to continue any longer, and we found a way to get our plane back without creating more of an incident than we already had with this accident of 1 April.

MR. RUSSERT: You just got back from Africa. Terrible plague called AIDS, absolutely decimating Africa -- 13 million people are dead, including 4 million children, and 25 million more Africans now have AIDS.

Jeffrey Sachs of Harvard University says that the Africans need $5 billion a year to turn this around. Life expectancy is going to be 30 years old. The United States is offering about $200 million.

Shouldn't the United States, with these record surpluses, give more money to help fight AIDS in Africa than a token of $200 million?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are giving a lot more than $200 million. $200 million was our most recent contribution to something that was brand new, a global health trust fund to fight AIDS and other infectious diseases that come about as a result of AIDS, or you are more susceptible to -- malaria and tuberculosis.

It is on top of something in the neighborhood of $500 million that is already in State Department accounts for this purpose, and it is on top of the billions of dollars that are available within the Department of Health and Human Services and other government agencies that is also involved in the fight against AIDS.

We do need more money, and that more money needs to come from all around the world -- other countries, the European Union, Asian nations that have the ability to give. It should come from wealthy individuals. It is a global trust fund, not a single appropriation to be sent in a single year.

I think the United States, and especially President Bush, should be given credit for designating Secretary Thompson and me to work on this issue, and then seeding this global health trust fund with $200 million to get it started.

I hope that in the future we will be able to find more resources and, in the next appropriation cycle, ask for more money to put into that trust fund. But I think it is a bit off to criticize the United States for finding, without a new budget request, finding within our accounts another $200 million to put against this catastrophe.

It is more than a plague. It is a destroyer of society. I have seen it with my own eyes now in the trip that I just took.

MR. RUSSERT: And it's a national security threat to the United States?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is a threat to the world. It is a threat to the world when you have 25 million people infected and when you see families, such as my wife and I saw. My wife visited a family where a grandmother had lost all of her children, her eight children, and she is now trying to take care of 20-odd grandchildren by herself. That destroyed her family. Her extended family is destroyed. A heck of a burden placed on a government that doesn't have the capacity to really deal with this kind of social problem.

So it is a health problem, a social problem, an economic problem, a destroyer of societies. And it does require the kind of investment that Dr. Sachs alluded to.

MR. RUSSERT: Missile Defense System. Tom Daschle, the new leader of the Senate, said it's not going to happen. Carl Levin, the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said it's not going to happen. You had a tour of Europe, and Europeans said to you they don't want it to happen.

Is the Missile Defense System, as proposed by George W. Bush, dead?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, let the debate begin. It is going to happen. The President is committed to it. The President believes very strongly that such defenses are needed as part of improving the overall strategic stability formula.

He wants to cut the number of offensive nuclear weapons. That's noble. But he also sees threats that are out there that we have to deal with -- not threats from the old Soviet Union, now Russia, and not threats from China, but threats from states that don't operate by the same sort of rational rules. He believes it would be irresponsible not to pursue those technologies that might defend us from such attacks.

We are entered into a period of consultation and discussion with our European allies, our Asian allies, and especially with the Russians. These will be tough discussions. I hope we will make them more understanding of the threat that we see, and we hope we will be able to convince them that we have technologies that can deal with this. I hope I can make that same case, and Secretary Rumsfeld can make that same case, to our new committee chairmen in the Senate.

MR. RUSSERT: How is your life going to change with Chairman Joseph Biden of Foreign Affairs, rather than Chairman Jesse Helms?

SECRETARY POWELL: I get along very, very well with Senator Biden. I got along very, very, very well -- I like verys -- with Senator Helms. So it will be more difficult.

MR. RUSSERT: No change?

SECRETARY POWELL: Of course there will be a change. My party has lost the chairmanship of those committees. But I think that we will just keep marching right forward, present the President's foreign policy and his objectives, and defend our positions. Hopefully we will be able to prevail.

MR. RUSSERT: A lot of discussion about differences in the Bush foreign policy team on Iraq, on Korea, on China.

Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post wrote this this morning: "A confused pattern for Powell. Confusion -- not conspiracy -- is at work here. Powell has yet to demonstrate that he can bridge the gap between the State Department's accommodationist outlook and the White House's harsher and blunter world view. His tactic so far has been to voice the former, even when he knew the White House did not agree, and submit to the latter. No one can be happy with that pattern for very long."

SECRETARY POWELL: The only one I'm worried about satisfying, and the only gap that I want to make sure never exists, is between me and the President of the United States. There is no gap. I am carrying out his foreign policy, not Colin Powell's, not the "accommodationist" policy of State Department diplomats, not the hardline policy of someone else.

The President and I talk regularly. I meet with him regularly. I know what he wants, and I'm going to do everything I can with the great people in the Department of State to get the President what he wants in the name of the American people.

MR. RUSSERT: Are you in sync with the Secretary of Defense?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, Secretary Rumsfeld and I get along well. Do we have differences of perspective and view from time to time? Sure. Do we talk about them? Yes. Do we occasionally have a disagreement? Surprise, surprise, surprise -- yes, we do, Tim.

And guess what? We know how to work them out. We have known each other for 25 years. These are rather somewhat hyperventilated comments about the gap between me and my colleagues within the Administration.

MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be watching. And it's nice to see you're still wearing your America's Promise red wagon.

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm even more convinced now as I go around the world and see how much kids are in need around the world, every kid, anywhere in the world, needs a little red wagon. And adults are the ones to provide that care and love and support for our youngsters.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you for joining us, and we'll be watching. (###)

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