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Powell Interview on CBS's 60 Minutes II

Interview on CBS's 60 Minutes II with Scott Pelley

Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release

April 4, 2002


Secretary Of State Colin L. Powell On CBS'S 60 Minutes II with Scott Pelley

April 3, 2002

(Aired 8:00 p.m. EST)

MR. PELLEY: As the Mideast descent into chaos deepens, President Bush and his national security team are searching for ways to stop the violence. So far, nothing is working. In the midst of this today, we sat down with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told us about his talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat. We also asked him for the latest on Osama bin Laden.

First, we wanted to know about the rising criticism of the United States and its handling of the Mideast crisis.

It seems that there are very few countries in this world that are siding with us in favor of the Israeli incursion. The UN is siding with the Palestinians. The European Union is siding with the Palestinians. The Pope today sided with the Palestinians. Are we alone on this?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, we side with the Palestinians, too. We side with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. We are working for the interests of both of those peoples. I think all of the nations and groups you just touched on also recognize a legitimate right of self- defense. Now, you can argue about whether that meets everyone's standards as to what Israel is doing. But we understand the terrible situation that the Prime Minister finds himself in...a bomb goes off every other day, some days two bombs a day. And so I don't know of any of these leaders who are critical, what they would do if they were in the same position.

MR. PELLEY: Is your message to Sharon that he's gone far enough?

SECRETARY POWELL: My message to Prime Minister Sharon is what I will convey to him when next I speak to him. And what I have said to him is that a cost is being paid in the international community, in Israeli standing in the international community. And a cost is being paid, frankly, in terms of US interests, as a result of what's happening now, and that he has to take that into consideration. And I know he is taking that into consideration.

And just as candidly, he expresses back to me, "I know that, but I go to funerals every day, and I have to do something about the security of the Israeli people."

MR. PELLEY: Those are the stark messages Secretary Powell now carries with him as he shuttles between the State Department and the White House. We caught up this morning, as he headed into a meeting of the Bush war cabinet in the White House situation room. With a quick knock, Powell slips in the back door for a review of America's war on terror. These days, that meeting is followed by a daily session on the Mideast crisis with the President and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

THE PRESIDENT: I know that you're working hour by hour on the Middle East. It's why your hair is white.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there's another reason for that. It's called getting old.

MR. PRESIDENT; That's right. You're doing a great job, and I think the people appreciate the steady hand, America's steady hand, in the process. There's a difference between showboating an issue and actually bringing a sense of purpose and resolve, and that's what you've done, and you're doing a great job.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Mr. President.

MR. PELLEY: The President and Powell are sharply aware of the criticism that the administration isn't doing enough to break the violence. Mr. Bush hasn't called either Israeli Prime Minister Sharon or Palestinian leader Arafat in recent months, leaving those direct talks to Powell instead.

Sir, the violence is getting worse, not better. Is the administration going to intervene in the Middle East aggressively, and if so, how?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, let me say that the violence is getting worse, and we are deeply troubled by it. And the administration has been deeply involved from the very beginning. The very first day of this administration we picked up the Middle East process, and we have been trying to get the violence under control.

MR. PELLEY: In fact, it was in November that Mr. Bush became the first President to call for creation of a Palestinian state, and since then the White House has been prodding both sides toward a cease-fire. In June, Powell met with the leaders to seal the deal.

SECRETARY POWELL: I went over, got Mr. Sharon to say, "I'm willing to get going but I have to have seven days of quiet." We went to Chairman Arafat. I looked at him across this table and said, "Mr. Chairman, do your very best to give seven days of quiet so we can get going." Chairman Arafat looked at me right across the table and said, "You're a general, I'm a general. I salute you, I will obey." We still didn't get seven days of quiet. And then --

MR. PELLEY: Did he lie to you?

SECRETARY POWELL: We didn't get seven days of quiet. I don't know whether it was in his capacity or not, but he didn't do everything he could have done to get that seven days of quiet. Time passed. We remain engaged.

MR. PELLEY: Powell says he believed a breakthrough was near, until hell broke loose on a holy day. (News report follows.) Powell told us that the Bush peace plan can still work under the right conditions...

SECRETARY POWELL: You'll not solve this just with more visits; you'll only solve it when we can get a handle on the violence.

MR. PELLEY: Don't you get a handle on the violence when the President of the United States picks up the phone and talks to the antagonist? Don't you get a handle on the violence when the Secretary of State flies into the region and shows the flag?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have flown in the region, I have shown the flag. The Vice President of the United States flew into the region two weeks ago, showed the flag... So we have been engaged.

I am now reviewing what other actions I should take, and it's not out of the question that I might go to the region. It depends. I'm willing to go to the region, but I have to go to the region if I have a purpose that I can serve and there is something concrete to be done. I spend an enormous amount of time on the phone -- not the same as in person, but I can assure you the conversations I have on a daily basis with the leaders in the region are intense and fulsome, just as if we were in the room together.

MR. PELLEY: The European Union said today that perhaps the United States should step down as the chief peace negotiator, perhaps leave it to the UN or the European countries. Is it simply time, Mr. Secretary, for the United States to step back and let someone else take the lead?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, absolutely not. One individual representing the European Union made that statement. I don't think the European Union was saying the United States should step down. They know that the United States can't step down, and moreover we will not step down. We are the leader in this endeavor. As difficult as it is, we are the leader, and we will not shirk our leadership responsibility.

It is a difficult account, the most difficult account we deal with. My predecessor, Secretary Albright, and President Clinton, they had the same difficult account, and they engaged in it to the depth of their soul. President Clinton gave this his all, as did Madeleine Albright. President Clinton called me at 4 o'clock on the 19th of January, 2001, just as he was getting ready to leave office, the evening of Inauguration Eve, and shared with me what he had been doing and his frustration with this account.

And that's not to say we have to do it entirely in a different way; it just shows how difficult the account is. And an opportunity was lost, as the Clinton administration left, that we're trying now to recreate. But we can't recreate it in any way like the same manner until the violence goes down.

MR. PELLEY: Powell said he talked to Arafat, who is now under Israeli siege, but not since Monday. The administration is clearly losing patience with Arafat, and outside the Oval Office this morning Powell gave us what seemed to be a less than forceful commitment to Arafat's welfare.

SECRETARY POWELL: As you know, we are working very hard to try to bring the situation under control. We think it would be best if no harm comes to Chairman Arafat. I am pleased that Prime Minister Sharon recognizes that as well.

MR. PELLEY: Mr. Secretary, the President said famously, after September 11th, "You are either with us or you're with the terrorists." Arafat doesn't seem to be siding with us. Why doesn't the United States move against Arafat and the terrorists in the Palestinian territories in the way that we moved against Mullah Omar and the Taliban?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have moved against various organizations in the Palestinian territories. As recently as a few days ago, I designated another one of them as a terrorist organization. And that is well known. So --

MR. PELLEY: But the point is Arafat, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: He has not performed in the way that we would like to see him perform. But he still has authority. Whether we like it or not...

MR. PELLEY: Let's be frank, Mr. Secretary. You don't trust Arafat, the President doesn't trust him. Do you think the Palestinians would be better served without him?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that is a question that I will let the Palestinians deal with. The fact of the matter, he is there. And this is not a matter of trust; I come from the old Ronald Reagan school, you will remember from the old days. It's "verify." And what we're looking for is verifiable action -- not promises, not statements, but verifiable action on the ground.

MR. PELLEY: The Israeli crackdown is an obstacle to the White House for yet another reason: it complicates the President's dream of getting rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

How do you do that when every Arab nation is aligned against us with regard to Israel and Palestine?

SECRETARY POWELL: What we have said to our Arab friends is you may not see Saddam Hussein the same way we do, but you ought to, because those weapons of mass destruction that he is developing -- chemical, biological, nuclear -- they're more likely than not directed at one of you than us...So there may be a little bit of patience with him on the part of the Arab nations right now, but I'm quite sure that not one of them would really wring their hands or cry too long if the regime was overthrown.

MR. PELLEY: But doesn't our support for Israel, in the present circumstances, make it virtually impossible to move against Iraq, with no Arab support on our side?

SECRETARY POWELL: Nothing is impossible. We have enormous capabilities available to us. But obviously I would not be forthcoming, I would not be straight with you, if I said the situation in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians does not affect our situation throughout the region. We understand that.

But at the same time, we cannot let Saddam Hussein, or the authorities in Tehran, in Iran -- or the authorities in Syria -- conduct terrorist activities and support terrorist organizations, using the Middle East conflict as an excuse for those terrorist organizations. To some extent, their support for that kind of terrorist activity is fueling the crisis in the Middle East.

MR. PELLEY: As for the number one terrorist organization on the White House hit list, Powell says we are closing in one some al-Qaida lieutenants, but not its leader.

Do you believe that Usama bin Laden is alive today?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have no idea. I don't know if he's alive or dead. We haven't seen or heard much of him for some time now. And he used to be, you know, a frequent appearer on television with videotape, and he simply hasn't been seen or heard from recently.

MR. PELLEY: There's no intelligence suggesting that he's still alive?

SECRETARY POWELL: There's no intelligence suggesting he is alive or dead.

MR. PELLEY: In the Mideast tonight, the Israeli invasion of Palestinian territory is deepening. Powell says the Israelis have told him the operation will go on for weeks. He is not expecting an opening for peace while the Palestinians are under siege.

SECRETARY POWELL: Sharon came in because the Israeli people said, "We tried for peace. We're not getting there. Now we have to have security in our homes and places."

The Palestinian people need security. They need to be free from humiliation at checkpoints. They need to be free to go to their jobs. They need to be free to educate their children. They need to be free to build their economy. They need to be free to pursue their own destiny. And we are as committed to that, I am as committed to that, as I am to the security of Israel. We have to do this for both people. And that will be my goal, and that will be my objective.

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