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Powell Interview on CNN's Late Edition

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Office of the Spokesman


For Immediate Release

June 4, 2001

Interview Of Secretary Of State Colin L. Powell On CNN's Late Edition

June 3, 2001 Washington, D.C.

MR. WOLF BLITZER: Here in Washington, the White House is closely watching the hour-by-hour, very tense situation in the Middle East. Secretary of State Colin Powell canceled a weekend visit to Costa Rica to personally monitor the crisis. I spoke with Secretary Powell earlier today. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Late Edition, and thanks for joining us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.

MR. BLITZER: Do you believe that the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat, is now committed to a cease-fire?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is not so much what I believe, it is what we will all see. He spoke yesterday in very, very strong terms. He said things I had not heard him say previously. He spoke about the unconditional cessation of violence, which is called for by the Mitchell Committee report. He spoke to his people, as well as speaking to the international audience. And now we have seen him take actions with respect to his security forces that are encouraging, and there has been no serious violence in the last 12 to 18 hours.

So it's not so much what we believe -- and the Israelis will say this to you very, very quickly -- it's not what we believe or read, it's what we see. So what Mr. Arafat has to do now, what I encouraged him very strongly to do yesterday, was to show action on the ground that everybody can see so that we can start to get into a cease-fire and cooling-off period again, and then move into the confidence-building measures called for by the Mitchell Committee report, and at the end of a long period of time, hopefully not too long, get back into final status negotiations. So what is important now is action on the ground.

MR. BLITZER: Well, and specifically on that action, do you want him to re-arrest some of those Palestinian prisoners who were let go, allowed to leave prison over these past eight months of this so called Intifada?

SECRETARY POWELL: If there are individuals who had been arrested for crimes that they had committed and they have not been brought to the bar of justice, then I think they ought to be rearrested. But I don't know who they are or what the names are or what charges were against these individuals.

I do know that the Israeli Government is anxious to see those who are responsible for such atrocities and terrorist actions arrested. And they had been arrested at one point, so Mr. Arafat's authorities must have thought they had done something wrong. Unless those charges were resolved one way or another, then it is not clear why they should have been released.

MR. BLITZER: Do you believe that President Arafat is in control and can determine what is going to happen in the West Bank and Gaza?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think one can say he is in control of every single Palestinian who may wish to perform act of violence, but I think he does have a considerable degree of control over the organizations within the Palestinian Authority and organizations not in Palestinian Authority that are under his direct supervision. Even more than just control, what he has is the most powerful voice in the Palestinian world, and so he can speak out as an authority to his people.

With respect to his people, he is a moral authority, as they see him. And if he speaks to them about ending the violence, about getting on to a new track toward a cease-fire and toward peace and toward finding a way for these two peoples to live in this one land, then I think he will be meeting the kinds of obligations that I think he has under the Mitchell Committee report.

MR. BLITZER: As you know, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has, at least for the last ten days, imposed a unilateral Israeli cease-fire. Are you urging the Israeli government right now to avoid retaliation for the Friday night suicide blast in Tel Aviv?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have not given that direct comment to the Israeli Government. The Israeli government and Mr. Sharon, they are well aware of the very, very delicate, volatile nature of the situation right now after Friday night's terrible tragedy -- those young people who lost their lives just trying to entertain themselves and find a little bit of fun on a Friday night.

He understands how volatile this situation is. As we have seen over the last 24 hours, the Israeli Government is very serious about getting the violence down, and they are responding so far in a manner befitting the delicacy of the situation. They have not suddenly launched military attacks, but I am sure they are reserving that right to themselves, and they are taking non-military actions at this time.

I spoke to Mr. Sharon in measured and responsible terms yesterday, and I am sure I will speak to him again today and get his assessment of the situation. This is the time for caution, because if this just turns into another cycle of violence back and forth, we are on the edge of a very, very deep hole, and we don't want to fall into it.

MR. BLITZER: Well, then why not ask the Israelis specifically, ''don't retaliate, keep it calm''?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it is better for me to make the points I want to make in a manner befitting the delicacy of this situation.

MR. BLITZER: Last time the Israelis did retaliate, they used US-made F- 16 fighters. Is that a problem in the US-Israeli relationship when the Israelis use equipment they purchased from the United States for these kinds of retaliatory strikes?

SECRETARY POWELL: It does create something of a difficult situation because questions are immediately asked whether or not these US weapons are being used in accordance with the conditions of sale and for defensive purposes. And then you get into very interesting discussions as to whether that is the case or not. So it always causes something of a problem when those kinds of weapons are used.

MR. BLITZER: So you haven't -- but you haven't specifically asked the Israelis don't use US-made equipment?

SECRETARY POWELL: We always examine -- most of -- a good deal of their equipment is US-made and there is always that possibility. I do take note of the fact that we have not seen the use of F-16s in some time since they were used a couple of weeks ago, and I think it is better if that remains the case in the future.

MR. BLITZER: Your call for an immediate cessation of violence, a cease- fire is to be followed by what you called a "cooling-off period." How long should that cooling-off period be before there's a resumption of real negotiations?

SECRETARY POWELL: That has to be decided between the two parties, but it would seem to me some matter of weeks. You need that cooling-off period so that both sides can see the seriousness of the other side and that you can start to put in place security arrangements.

I have people on the ground. The United States has people on the ground now. Ambassador Indyk, Ambassador Burns, Consul General Schlicher, they are all on the ground. We have other people on the ground from different agencies that are prepared to convene security officials to get together and start to structure this cooling-off period, structure the cease-fire, as soon as the parties are ready to do so, and then start us on a road toward the confidence-building measures.

We have people on the ground now with ideas with respect to the kind of timeline one should adopt and steps along that timeline to bring into effect these confidence-building measures. And all confidence-building measures outlined in the Mitchell Committee report are on the table to be determined and to be discussed and to be decided how they will be implemented.

Then at the end of the confidence-building measure, we are prepared to help the two sides and others interested -- who have been party to negotiations in the past -- get back together to get serious negotiations going toward final status issues.

MR. BLITZER: On the joint Israeli-Palestinian security talks that had been successful over several years, many people think it was, in large measure, successful because the United States played a very direct role, the CIA in particular, including the CIA Director George Tenet.

Do you want George Tenet now to resume that active CIA participation in these Israeli-Palestinian security talks?

SECRETARY POWELL: That is an option, and we do have it under consideration. George knows a great deal about this, and so we will consider that. But it is not so much who does it, as to whether the sides are serious. We have had security meetings for weeks now. We set in place two levels of security dialogue between the two sides. Regrettably, until now, the two sides have just come into the room and accused each other, and we didn't get any action going.

So it is not so much who is in the room, but are the people coming into the room serious about actually putting in place new security arrangements that will help us separate the two forces. To the extent that George could help with that process more so than other people, we will take that into consideration.

MR. BLITZER: Are there are plans right now to send George Tenet back to the region?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are always looking at what plans we might have, but I'm not prepared right now to say George Tenet is on a plane heading back to the region this afternoon.

MR. BLITZER: But he might be pretty soon.

SECRETARY POWELL: One never knows.

MR. BLITZER: I'll take that as possibly a yes.

Dennis Ross, the immediate past special envoy for the Middle East, who worked the eight years of the Clinton Administration. Before that he worked in the Bush Administration as --

SECRETARY POWELL: Dennis worked for me.

MR. BLITZER: That's right. He thinks that it's time for the US, given the fragile situation right now, the potential for major escalation, for the United States to rethink -- the Bush Administration right now, to rethink its attitude towards these negotiations.

Listen to what Dennis Ross told us only over the past day or so. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMBASSADOR ROSS: We had security representatives there on our side. I think it would be wise for us to raise the level of those representatives on our side, and I think those representatives should go to those meetings with a kind of responsibility to help set the agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MR. BLITZER: Good advice?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have representatives at a senior level. I have an Ambassador and I have a Consul General, and we have other people --

MR. BLITZER: But Ambassador Burns and Ambassador Indyk --

SECRETARY POWELL: Please, let me finish my conversation. Dennis has a different view, I guess, that he thinks that these security discussions require a higher-level person to be in the room.

During the last eight months or the months before we came into power on the 20th of January, the highest-level people you could imagine in the United States were working in the room at the highest levels imaginable, and we ended up with a failed peace process and an Israeli Government that essentially lost an election.

The issue right now is security. The problem we have had -- and it isn't a function of who is in the room for security chats. It is whether the two sides were at a point in their relationship where they were prepared to make those hard calls on security.

And America coming in and tabling various ideas and positions, we are more than able to do that, but it wasn't going to be terribly useful if the two sides were not ready to come into agreement. That is what caused the last administration to have the difficulty at end of the day. They created huge expectations as to what might be possible, and then the two sides were not able to come into the room and agree to what had been put on the table in the form of the Taba Agreement, as it is called, and the whole process collapsed. We want to make sure that we will intervene at a time and at a level when it is appropriate to do so and we can see some progress.

I think the Bush Administration has handled this well. You have to remember that for the first six weeks of the Bush Administration, we were watching the transition in the Israeli Government -- an election, the end of one administration, and Mr. Sharon taking over on the 7th or 8th of March. He took over on the basis of we are not going to start negotiations until there is security, and I'm not going just accept assurances of security; I have to see other side end the violence.

The security arrangements don't end the violence. The security arrangement is what happens after political decisions have been made to end the violence, and now you are trying to knit together the structure that will make sure that remains the case.

So I don't think we have done anything improperly here. I don't disagree with Dennis. It's just that we are not doing it quite the same way as he suggests we should do it. But that's why there has been a change of administration.

MR. BLITZER: You just came back from trip to Africa and Europe. You were pretty close to the Middle East. You could have stopped off and met with the Israelis and the Palestinians. Would that have been a useful purpose?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, there was nothing to meet about. I talk to them all the time. You can't simply drop in every time you are in the region. You know there is a limit to how much you can just drop in if the two sides are not ready to have a serious engagement. In fact, it is over- involvement on occasion. Over-involvement on the part of the most senior people in government tends to keep people from making the kinds of decisions they have to make because they are always looking for a little better deal, and the Americans are coming, they will make it happen or the Americans will put pressure here, the Americans will do that.

Sometimes it is wise to handle things at not the highest level, everybody dropping in at the drop of a hat. I will go to the Middle East. I will talk to the parties concerned in person when there is something that I can bring to the table that is useful in helping to solve the problem, and not just chat for the sake of chatting. I am able to talk to them any time I wish, and I do on a regular basis.

MR. BLITZER: I just want to tie up one loose end from the Mitchell report, former Senator George Mitchell's recommendations, most of which you accepted. Although one nuance there seems to be -- there seems to be a problem, the freeze on Israeli settlements, including the natural growth freeze.

What is the position of the Bush Administration? Must the Israelis right now completely freeze settlement activity, including the so-called natural growth activity?

SECRETARY POWELL: Our position has been -- and it reflects the Israeli position -- that there will be no new settlements. The natural growth issue is a very, very sensitive one. The Israelis say, you know, families have children, and they live in that settlement. How can there be no natural growth? The Mitchell Committee said that should stop. The Palestinians want that to be stopped. In the deal that Mr. Arafat was unable to accept in January, the Taba deal, the settlement issue was to a large part solved as a result of that negotiation, but he couldn't accept it.

The American position is that we believe that two sides have to discuss this expanding of existing settlements issue. But for everybody to categorically say to Israelis at this point that this is simply not anything that can be discussed might have caused a different sort of response to Mitchell Committee report. So we tried to at least leave this as an issue to be resolved between the two sides as part of the confidence-building measures discussion.

For 20 years, American administrations have always said to the Israelis, these kinds of activities are provocative, and they don't help get to us a settlement. And so we really have to find out a way to break through the settlement issue in a way that is acceptable to both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

MR. BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left, but I want to ask a quick question on China. The EP-3 is about to be returned in pieces to the United States from Hainan Island. Will that set the stage for a visit by Colin Powell to China in the next several weeks, to set the stage for the President's visit later this year to Beijing?

SECRETARY POWELL: My judgment as to whether or not it is appropriate for me to visit China will be driven by a number of issues, and not just when the plane comes out or if the plane comes out. I am confident the plane will come out. We now have an arrangement with the Chinese that will allow the plane to be brought out and in a manner that we can hopefully put it back together without too much difficulty. And we have our plane back, which is what our objective was.

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY POWELL: I will make a lot of judgments as to whether or not it is appropriate for me to visit China in the very near future. I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been there in 16 years, and I'm looking forward to visiting at some point in the future when it is appropriate to visit.

MR. BLITZER: And as far as the President's visit, that's still set for later this year?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is still on his calendar, and we haven't had any discussions recently about changing his calendar.

MR. BLITZER: You have a full calendar, a full agenda.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes.

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, General Powell -- it is hard for me to still call you Mr. Secretary. I'll call you Mr. Secretary though -- thanks for joining us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, thank you very much, Wolf.

# # #


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