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Powell interview on on CBS's 60 Minutes II

Interview by Scott Pelley on CBS's 60 Minutes II (as recorded)
Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
April 3, 2002

(As recorded at 12:07 p.m. EST)

MR. PELLEY: 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.

In this current situation, we have been supporting the efforts of the United Nations, the EU and others, to try to get the violence down. We have been appealing to Chairman Arafat and other Palestinian leaders to do everything they can to end the suicide bombings that are a cause of violence. And we have been also saying to Prime Minister Sharon that, while we recognize he has an inherent right for self-defense, it has to be done within limits, and there should be some time dimension to how long he continues this operation.

Because with this exchange of fire going back and forth, the suicide bombers and Israeli self-defense actions, the one thing I'm absolutely sure of is that sooner or later there will have to be a political process. Neither side is going to be able to decisively defeat the other. It's going to take a negotiation, a political process, to get out of this violence.

And so I am encouraging both sides to understand that, and I am keeping in play General Zinni and the other senior officials in the United States Government, and our friends in the region and our friends around the world, to be ready to engage politically as soon as it's possible to do so.

MR. PELLEY: But, Mr. Secretary, you know what the criticism of this administration is: that it hasn't been engaged in the way other administrations have been; the President hasn't called Sharon personally, hasn't called Mr. Arafat personally; and you've been on the phone, instead of on a plane.

SECRETARY POWELL: I've been on a plane a couple of times to the region, and I've been on the phone a lot. But to say we are not engaged is simply not reading the history of the last 14 months very well. As soon as we came into office, I asked Senator George Mitchell to continue the mission he had performing to come up with a plan to move forward. He was about ready to leave that mission behind, but I persuaded new Prime Minister Sharon, who came in on a platform of security for the Israeli people, so that they weren't subjected to this kind of violence, I persuaded him to stay with the Mitchell process.

Mr. Mitchell, Senator Mitchell, came forward with a plan, an excellent plan that described how both sides could go forward: one, stop killing each other, end the violence; two, rebuild confidence between the two sides; and, three, immediately get into a negotiation, a political process. And all of that was connected. It all is one tapestry. And the only thing that will really end it is the negotiations leading to a process.

We presented that. Both sides signed up for it. We didn't get it going right away. So we sent Director Tenet over of the CIA. He came up with what is known as the Tenet work plan, a series of concrete steps each side could take to get into a cease-fire situation to start Mitchell. We weren't able to see success in that endeavor.

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.

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 remained engaged. The President of the United States, to show that we were committed to the aspirations of the Palestinian people, kept engaged. And he went to the United Nations, and at the United Nations General Assembly he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state called Palestine, the first American President to do that. I followed up with a comprehensive speech in Louisville which laid it all down. I had a satisfactory response from both sides.

I sent General Zinni over, with the agreement of both sides, for high- level discussions to get security going, and then security immediately into the Mitchell political process. General Zinni's efforts were greeted by suicide bombs. He came back for consultations, sent him back in. The effort was greeted again by violence.

It is very hard to ask the Israeli people to enter into this kind of serious negotiation if they see their innocent citizens being lost. The worst part about this, Scott, it's not just innocent Israeli civilians that are being killed; it's the aspirations of the Palestinian people. These are young Palestinians that are giving their life to something they believe deeply in, but at the same time this kind of action does not achieve that vision, does not achieve that dream. Rather than martyrs, they're sacrificing themselves for no purpose, and in fact they're seen as almost as murderers. So this has to stop. We were committed to it.

And then we sent General Zinni back in once more, ready to work, and then a lot of things started to come together. And last week I was deeply encouraged at the progress we were making. General Zinni was in the region. He was having good meetings. The Israeli side had signed up to this plan to get the Tenet work plan started. There was a successful Arab summit. We had a new UN resolution, 1397, that called for a Palestinian state.

Everybody was ready to put these pieces together. What we had -- we had the Passover massacre, a bomb that killed 22 men. Now the number has risen to 25 people. And at that point Prime Minister Sharon said, "I've got to provide security for my people," and launched the military incursion. It's understandable, and I see what he's doing, but I've had serious conversations with him and say, "What will happen when this is over? We'll have to get back to some process that gets us into political discussions."

But one more point. Because we have to realize that while Israel has the right to self-defense, the Palestinians have a right to the homeland that they have been searching for all these years. And the United States is committed to the security of Israel, but also committed to the need that the Palestinian people have to live in peace and security in their own state, side by side with Israel.

So it is not that we are just favoring Israel; I want both sides to live side by side in peace, and I am working with both sides to that end.

MR. PELLEY: They have a right to a Palestinian state?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think they have a right to a Palestinian state. But even more important than that, we have said, all of us -- we have said it, Israel has said it, the UN has said it, the President of the United States has said it -- that we have an obligation to move in a direction that provides the Palestinian people a state that is not at the expense of Israel: two states living side by side in peace. And that is a vision that is achievable if we can get the violence down.

And to say that, well, we need a new political dimension to it, or we need more Secretaries of State and others in the region, is an interesting point, but you'll not solve this just with more visits; you'll only solve it when we can get a handle on the violence. That is what Prime Minister Sharon was elected for by the Israeli people.

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, talked to one side and showed a willingness to talk to the other side and come back to talk to the other side if the most basic steps toward ending the violence had been taken. 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 and 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.

So there is an obligation on the part of all to try to get the violence down on the part of Chairman Arafat, of all other Palestinian leaders; an obligation on the part of all Arab nations to apply pressure to Palestinian leaders, to let them know that they're destroying their own vision; an obligation on the UN, the European Union; an obligation on the United States of America, an obligation we take seriously. We will remain engaged.

MR. PELLEY: You talked to Chairman Arafat on Monday night, on the telephone.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. Yes.

MR. PELLEY: What did he say?

SECRETARY POWELL: He said he was obviously distraught about the circumstances in which he is being held. He was concerned about the casualties that had been incurred in his headquarters.

We talked about the need for him, even in those circumstances, to do everything he could to control passions, to talk to his people about the fact that this kind of violence will not serve their purpose. He really needs to do something about reducing the incitement level that exists in the region.

He is the leader of the Palestinian people. Whether we like it or not, they see him that way. And I think a proper leadership role for him would be to speak out against that kind of incitement. We talked about that.

We also talked about the Zinni bridging plan, General Zinni's bridging plan in order to get into the Tenet work plan. And I encouraged him to adopt that right away so that we have something to work with when we have stabilized this kind of crisis situation.

I also reaffirmed to him that I had spoken once again to Prime Minister Sharon, and that he would not be harmed, and his needs, immediate needs of food and utilities would be taken care of.

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. The President asked him to curb terrorism; he hasn't done that. The Palestinian Authority was caught shipping arms from Iran. Arafat has refused to meet the requirements for a meeting with Vice President Cheney. 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: I'm -- well, you started with organizations, so let me start there and go backwards.

With respect to Chairman Arafat, 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, and whether we think he's using it wisely or not, he is seen by the Palestinian people as their leader, and he is the leader of the Palestinian Authority. And we have taken him to task on every one of these issues that you have described, and we're continuing to do so -- as is the European Union, as are some of our Arab friends. And we want to get more pressure put on him from others of our Arab friends.

But as long as he is occupying that role, not only in the Palestinian community but throughout the Arab world, it seems to us that it is useful for us to continue to have a dialogue with him, and to keep pressing him and encouraging him to do the right thing, and incentivizing him to do the right thing by showing that if he does the wrong things, he will not be successful, if he truly wants to have a state for the Palestinian people.

And so it seems to us that we are still in a period where it is useful to keep our contacts with him while deploring all of the things that should be deplored, but at the same time keep an opening to him.

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. 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.

Now, we had some things moving last week. We really did. We were on the edge of a breakthrough with the Arab summit, with the UN resolutions, with General Zinni's progress. And we lost that last Passover evening, seder evening. And what I want to do is stabilize the situation, bring it down to another level of calm, and see if we can go forward.

Because after Israel does its military actions -- and we don't know yet how much Prime Minister Sharon feels he has to do. But when that is finished, there will always continue to be the possibility of other suicide bombers. And it will be important to take that inflection point, as I used to say in the military. When this particular operation has reached some culminating point -- and we hope it's quickly, it's soon. And I talked to Prime Minister Sharon about this last night, and we hope this goes fast and gets it over with. And we are supporting the UN resolution that calls for the withdrawal and a cease-fire. We have to, when that point comes -- and I'm quite sure it will come -- you will find us ready to engage, and engage rapidly and forcefully, to take advantage of that change in order to get something moving that will get us back to where we were last week.

Because all of these problems we are having now will only be solved with a negotiation that leads to security for the two peoples, hope for the Palestinian people to have their own state, opening of the area so they can get to their jobs, to their workplaces; ending the humiliation. And both sides will have to make tough choices.

On the Israeli side, tough choices with respect to occupation of land. Tough choices with respect to settlement activity. And on the Palestinian side, a clear recognition -- and on the Arab side, a clear recognition -- that the state of Israel is here forever, and must live side by side in peace. And we have to dismiss those voices on the Arab side that come out of Tehran or Baghdad that say we're going to destroy Israel. It won't happen. And so the sooner that realization sinks in, the better off we are and the more rapidly we can move forward.

MR. PELLEY: Before we move to Sharon, let me ask you one more question about Arafat. Would the United States be willing to help negotiate his departure? Would the United States be willing to help find a safe haven for Arafat?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, those issues are not on the table right now. We have neither -- we are not going to ask neither Prime Minister Sharon or Chairman Arafat to enter into such discussions with anybody. So it's a hypothetical, and I would just as soon not give you a hypothetical answer to it.

MR. PELLEY: Do you envision a time when the Israelis are going to let Arafat go? They're going to let him out of his compound, let him range freely again?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we'll see what happens. I don't want to predict the future; we don't have enough information yet to make a prediction about this issue.

MR. PELLEY: You spoke to Prime Minister Sharon last night. What did he tell you about how far this goes and how long it goes?

SECRETARY POWELL: We had a long conversation, over 30 minutes, close to 40 minutes. Typically, we have good, long, thorough conversations. We've gotten to know each other quite well over the past year-plus. And he feels that he has to go into these places to pick up terrorists, to pick up arms and weapons and find suicide bombers, and detain those who might have been responsible for previous acts of violence or on the verge of conducting new ones.

He reaffirmed that it is temporary, that he does not intend to occupy any of these on a permanent basis, any of these places on a permanent basis. And he also reaffirmed to me that he is committed to the Tenet work plan and to the Mitchell peace process.

So Prime Minister Sharon, while he is doing what he is now doing, recognizes that sooner or later, we are going to have to get back to a track that will lead to negotiations between these two peoples.

MR. PELLEY: Mr. Sharon doesn't seem to have an exit strategy. I mean, Mr. Secretary, you talked about picking up terrorists and picking up arms; it sounds like a police action. But this is a major military incursion into this area. Have you told him he's gone too far?

SECRETARY POWELL: I will let Mr. Sharon decide whether it should be classified as a police or a military operation. But in some of the places they have gone into, they received the kind of resistance that might make it better to have military rather than police. What I've encouraged him to do, though, was to show some understanding of the consequences of the actions of the Israeli Defense Force as he is conducting this operation.

I won't speak for him as to what he thinks his exit strategy is. But based on the conversations that I've had with him, I think the exit strategy is what I said a moment ago: sooner or later, when these operations are over -- as he has said -- we are committed to a process that will get us to negotiations.

And the new element that I am going to be pressing hard in the days and weeks ahead is that the political component of this process has to be brought forward much more quickly than we might have thought otherwise.

The Palestinian people have to see that there is a political process -- and not just a cease-fire and security process; a political process that we will get involved in early on through negotiations, which will lead quickly to a Palestinian state. I don't know if it's the final state, or an interim state, or various other variations have been spoken about. But we're going to be moving aggressively to try to get into that process and get to political discussions.

MR. PELLEY: Let me make sure I understand. You are now saying that a cease-fire is not a necessary first step before you can move on to the political negotiations?

SECRETARY POWELL: They have always been linked. And I don't want to make too much of the sequencing, because it's not really that relevant.

The basic point is that in order to have negotiations between two parties, there may well be some level of violence. But if the level of violence is such that you don't think your partner is doing anything about putting in place a cease-fire, has not committed himself to a cease-fire and not taken the actions one would expect in a cease-fire, it makes it hard to go forward and have negotiations about the future of these two states.

And so that's why the Tenet work plan was created, to give the two sides an opportunity to step by step -- very, very detailed steps; you do this, we'll do that in the first 48 hours, the first several days, the first week -- so that we can get a cease-fire that takes hold. It won't be the total absence of violence, but both sides seriously talking to one another, exchanging information with one another -- their security officials talking to one another -- and develop some confidence between the two sides again, that we could then go into negotiations on some more reasonable, rational basis.

So I think it's all linked. It is one process.

MR. PELLEY: Mr. Secretary, one of the principal foreign policy goals of this nation is to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq. How do you do that when every Arab nation is aligned against us with regard to Israel and Palestine?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we continue to examine what options are available to the international community and to the United States. In the first instance, we're working multilaterally within the UN to make sure the sanctions remain on the Iraqi regime, and we had some success in recent days working with other members of the Security Council.

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. He'll have a harder time getting it to us. And he has demonstrated in the past he will use it. He has gassed Iranians. He has gassed his own people. He invaded Kuwait.

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: Well, 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. So rather than saying we've got to solve that in order to deal with them, they are the ones who are contributing to this problem.

And what the President said in his remarks after September 11th is it's time to stop that. If you really want to get serious and you want to join a world that is moving forward, it's time to stop that kind of support for terrorist activity. And the President will continue to point out the nature of these regimes, and why we view them in such a light.

MR. PELLEY: Just a few quick questions on al-Qaida. Do you believe that Osama 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. But I have no knowledge of whether he is alive or dead.

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: Do you have any supposition on where he might be? If we're looking for Osama bin Laden, where are we looking?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we don't know where he might be. There are all kinds of candidate locations if he is alive. Parts of rural Afghanistan, or he might have slipped over the border into a neighboring country; we just don't know, and the intelligence does not tell us.

But we have been quite successful in recent weeks, as a result of our efforts in Afghanistan and as a result of the fine efforts of our Pakistani colleagues, in rounding up a number of al-Qaida organizational leaders, organizational leaders, and a lot of information, a lot of intelligence information that we will be using, and detained a number of individuals we will be interrogating. And hopefully over time the case will be built as to whether he's alive or dead, and where he might be.

As the President has said, we will not get tired. We will continue to pursue this to the end.

MR. PELLEY: The President must be impatient, though. It's been a long time.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it's been about six and a half, seven months. All of us, we're Americans. We tend to be impatient.

But the President knew that that impatience factor would creep in. So from the very first week, he said this will take time. It may take a few weeks, a few months, or a few years. Whatever it takes, we're in it for the long haul.

And he made a personal commitment I will not get weary; I will not let this slide away as other agenda items and priorities come along. I will stay with it. And he has given us that instruction, and I can assure you all of his security advisors understand what we are about.

MR. PELLEY: Last week, the FBI and Pakistani forces captured Abu Zabaydah, the highest-ranking al-Qaida operative to fall into US hands -- essentially bin Laden's chief of staff. He was shot three times during that raid. Do you expect he'll live?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I hear we -- there are reports that he has been captured. And he may well have been; I don't want to confirm it at 100 percent, because that's the function of other organizations of our government. But my understanding of the individual who might be that gentleman is that he will survive his injuries, and if positive identification is made at the 100 percent level, then there should be a lot of information forthcoming.

MR. PELLEY: Where's he now?

SECRETARY POWELL: Oh, I don't talk about such matters.

MR. PELLEY: Is he talking?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't talk about such matters.

MR. PELLEY: If he does talk, what kinds of things could he tell us?

SECRETARY POWELL: We'll wait and see what he tells us.

MR. PELLEY: Mr. Secretary, you've been talking to foreign ministers all around the world. 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. And one is a nation, one is an authority that hopes to become a nation.

We have supported the UN resolution that asks for withdrawal of Israeli forces, and I am in constant contact with Mr. Sharon making the point that this is an operation that has to have an end in the not-too- distant future. So I don't think there's anything inconsistent in that.

I think all of the nations and groups you just touched on also recognize the 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 when he commits to Tenet and Mitchell, when he is open to discussions with General Zinni, and 25 people are killed at the Passover Massacre, and a bomb goes off every other day, some days two bombs a day. So I don't know of any of these leaders who are critical, what they would do if they were in the same position.

Having said that, we also know that this ultimately -- and not ultimately in the long term, but I hope in the short term -- has to come to an end, will come to an end. He has committed to return his troops back to their posts. And we will find ourselves getting this process started again, getting into a cease-fire, and into a negotiation.

I hope both sides will come out of this with a clear understanding that the actions we have seen in recent weeks, and the kinds of strategies that have been adopted, all take us off, but bring us right back to the need for a cease-fire, all of us working together for a cease-fire, and then into negotiations quickly for a political solution.

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 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.

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. That was the platform on which he ran when he was elected to be the Prime Minister. And Mr. Barak, the previous Prime Minister, and the process that he was trying to conclude with President Clinton and the Clinton administration came to an end. 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.

MR. PELLEY: Thank you, sir.

[end]


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