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Powell IV On CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Colin L. Powell
St. Petersburg, Russia
May 26, 2002

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us from beautiful St. Petersburg in Russia. I want to get to the whole US-Russian agenda in a moment, but let's talk about what just occurred only within the past few hours. The Pakistanis have launched a second missile test. That seems to be a provocative step, given the tensions with India right now. What is your read of that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I would rather they hadn't done that, and we have expressed our disappointment that they are undertaking missile tests at this very, very tense time. But they notified appropriately all nations around Pakistan that they would be doing it, to include the Indians. The Indians seem to be taking it in stride, but we were disappointed that the Pakistanis decided to conduct these tests during a time of high anxiety and tension.

MR. BLITZER: Do you believe they are trying to intimidate the Indians?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know if that's their purpose or not. They seem not to have intimidated the Indians with this test, however. The Indians, as I say, have taken it in stride. And it doesn't seem to have caused the crisis to get any worse, but we just didn't need this kind of activity at this time, in my judgment.

MR. BLITZER: Are more missile tests in the works, as far as you can tell?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know how many they're planning to do. They said they would be doing several, so I don't know if there will be more in the next couple of days or not.

MR. BLITZER: I interviewed the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, earlier this week. He was very, very gloomy and talking about the potential -- God forbid -- of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan. I also want you to listen to what Chris Patten, the European Union External Affairs Minister, had to say earlier in the week. Listen to this: "The political situation is as hot as the temperature. I think frankly we are on a knife edge, and there has to be some movement, I think above all on the question of terrorism, in order for as to see people pulling back from the brink. And that has to come soon."

What, if anything, Mr. Secretary, can or should the United States be doing to get these two countries back from the brink?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the United States is doing a great deal. First and foremost, we are working with the European Union and we have been in touch with Chris Patten. We are also in touch with our friends in the United Kingdom. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will be going in in a few days time.

And as you heard President Putin mention yesterday in his appearance at St. Petersburg University with President Bush, he hopes that at the upcoming meeting in Alma-Ati in Kazakhstan, where both President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee have been invited to attend, perhaps an opportunity may arise for President Putin and other leaders to talk to these two leaders directly about the level of tension that exists, and see if we can get back from the brink.

I have been in constant contact with both nations. I have spoken to President Musharraf four times in the last several days, and with Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh of India. And so we are doing a lot. We also have Deputy Secretary Armitage heading out to the region. So the whole international community is seized with this problem.

As Don Rumsfeld mentioned and as Chris Patten alluded to, it's a very dangerous situation. We've got to get back from the edge because they are nuclear-armed nations, and they also have huge conventional forces, so a great deal of damage could be done if a war broke out. And it begins with stopping the infiltration across the line of control. President Musharraf again yesterday reaffirmed that he was taking action to match the words that he has been putting forth for the last several months that that kind of action will stop. And now we have to watch and see whether or not that action is truly stopped in a manner that all of us can see and detect, and especially the Indians can see and detect.

And the Indians have given us reason to believe that if that line of control infiltration action stops, then it will be possible to take other steps of a de-escalatory nature, and we can start to get our hands around this crisis and not let it get any worse. We really do have to find a political solution. The stakes are much too high to see a conflict break out in this part of the world, especially with nuclear-armed nations.

And I am encouraged that both sides are looking for a political solution. At the same time however, the rhetoric is rather high and the mobilization is at a high level, so anything could happen, and this is the time for all of us to be engaged and we are engaged.

MR. BLITZER: And when you say anything could happen, obviously another terrorist incident in Kashmir or someplace else could spark a confrontation. Do you believe President Musharraf is doing everything he possibly can to prevent terrorist actions against India right now in Kashmir?

SECRETARY POWELL: He says he is, and we are looking for evidence that the infiltration across the line of control has stopped. And I am not yet satisfied that we have seen that yet, but we are looking very closely. He has given me direct assurances and he has given the world direct assurances again in recent days. And as I have said to him in our recent conversations, I appreciate these assurances, but the only thing that is really going to count is that the action across the line of control does stop. And I hope he is doing everything in his power to make sure that that is the case.

MR. BLITZER: How concerned are you that the Pakistani military may be moving troops away from the Afghan border towards Kashmir, a move that could undermine the US effort, together with Pakistan, to look for Taliban al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan?

SECRETARY POWELL: That is a concern we have. Obviously if a nation is mobilizing again -- they had gone to a lower level of readiness, but if they are mobilizing again and going to a higher level of readiness and start to move troops or attention away from that western border with Afghanistan, that would be of concern to us, and especially to our military commanders in Afghanistan. We are encouraging President Musharraf to do all he can to work on those tribal areas and to continue to cooperate with the US and coalition forces. But the kind of tension we see now and the increased readiness for conflict and combat obviously starts to divert attention away from that border.

It raises another issue too, Wolf. We have US forces, US troops in Pakistan, in addition to American citizens and our diplomatic presence, and I hope both sides are taking this into account as they make their different calculations about what might happen in the future. All the more reason that the entire international community must work with India and Pakistan to find a political solution to this crisis. The stakes are much too high.

MR. BLITZER: When you speak about US troops in the region, spell that out. I think I understand the point you're trying to make, but what is exactly the point you're making?

SECRETARY POWELL: The point I'm making is that they could be in danger, and I don't want either side to believe they're going to get pulled into this one way or the other: either that they can be put at risk by one side; or because they could be put at risk by one side, the other side things that gives them greater freedom of movement. That is the point I was trying to make: Don't think that the US troops can be used on either side in any contingency that's coming up.

MR. BLITZER: As you know better than anyone, US and Russia signed this historic arms reduction agreement reducing the number of nuclear warheads, but there seems to be some concern that the Russians in particular are going to be storing those warheads in areas that may not necessarily be all that secure; possibly terrorists could get their hands on them. How concerned are you about this warehousing, the storing of these warheads, as opposed to the destruction of those warheads?

SECRETARY POWELL: We would like to see all the warheads that are not needed destroyed. We are doing it and the Russians are destroying warheads. We are helping the Russians destroy warheads. We are contributing almost a billion dollars a year to programs in Russia for the destruction of nuclear warheads and the destruction of chemical weapons, and also trying to take down the biological infrastructure that had been built up in the days of the Soviet Union.

And so that in no way, though, should take away from the importance and value of this treaty. The beginning of the destruction of warheads is to get them off their launchers, and that is what this treaty does. It takes us down from 6,000 deployed warheads roughly on either side -- 6,000 for us, 5,000 for them -- down to 1,700 to 2,200. But as those warheads come off and go into storage, they have to be secured as each side determines how many you would need to keep for spares and how many you are going to destroy and how many you keep for modernizing systems as the systems become older. And so obviously we are concerned to make sure that both sides -- we know we secure ours well, and we want to make sure the Russians do the same thing.

Senator Lugar is in Russia today, and he and members of his party will be exploring these issues with the Russians. And as you know, we have supported Senator Lugar and Senator Nunn's initiative to provide money for the Russians for this purpose. We don't want to see any of these weapons get out.

And so far, in the ten years since the Soviet Union ended, roughly, there is no evidence that they have been irresponsible with respect to keeping these weapons under control, but there is a problem with the weapons and fissile material that we still have to be concerned about. And that is why we are making such an investment in protection of these systems, helping the Russians, and we are looking at new ways to help the Russians. There is a program that we will be discussing with our NATO and European Union colleagues about how we can provide more resources to the Russians to take care of this issue.

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, the Russians have rejected your request to stop exporting nuclear technology to Iran, a founding member of the President's "axis of evil." What else can we do about this?

SECRETARY POWELL: We will continue to discuss this issue with the Russians. There was agreement between the two presidents that we don't want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon or weapons of mass destruction. That is destabilizing for the region, and it is more of a danger to the Russians, who are in the region, than it is for the United States. So we have a common objective.

We have a disagreement about what it is the Russians are providing them that would help them achieve that goal. The Russians say that they are not providing that kind of technology or equipment to the Iranians, and we have some evidence that they are. So we talk about these issues candidly, and I look forward to continuing this discussion with Foreign Minister Ivanov, and I know that Secretary Rumsfeld will have similar discussions with Defense Minister Ivanov.

So it's an area of disagreement with respect to what they are doing, but there is no disagreement with respect to our overall goal not to see this kind of capability in the hands of the Iranians.

MR. BLITZER: And no immediate solution on the horizon, right?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there are a number of ideas we are exploring with the Russians that might lead to a solution, and that is why we created this committee consisting of the four ministers -- the defense ministers and foreign ministers of the Russian Federation and the United States -- and we'll be working together to find a way forward.

MR. BLITZER: On the Iraq situation, I listened very carefully to what President Bush said the other day in Germany with the German Chancellor Schroeder. I want you to listen precisely to what the President said, and then I'll have a question. Listen to this: "I told the Chancellor that I had no war plans on my desk, which is the truth, and that we have got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam Hussein."

Does that mean you -- the US Government is ratcheting back from the potential of another Desert Storm-like invasion involving hundreds of thousands of troops?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know that we had ratcheted up. What the President said is what he has been saying repeatedly and what I have been saying regularly, as has Don Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condi Rice: The President has no war plans on his desk; his advisors have not provided him a recommendation for military action against Iraq.

And what the President specifically referred to is we're looking at all options available to us. We have been working within the United Nations to get the inspectors back in. We have gotten the goods review list finished now within the Security Council of the United Nations to control the technology and the equipment and the consumer goods that go into Iraq in a more effective way. And obviously we are also exploring political options as well as military options. But the President does not have a recommendation before him for the simple reason that his advisors -- and I am one of those advisors -- have not provided him one.

MR. BLITZER: The goal is still, though, what you call regime change in Baghdad, getting rid of Saddam Hussein one way or another; is that right?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, that remains the United States' goal. And there is an international goal of getting the inspectors in to make sure that he complies with the obligations he entered into ten years ago to not have any weapons of mass destruction. And that is what the inspectors are all about, and that is what the Oil-for-Food program is all about and the goods review list that we just completed with the Security Council.

But we believe, as a United States position, that the region and the people of Iraq would be better off with another leader, another regime.

MR. BLITZER: Much more of my exclusive interview with Secretary Powell right after this.

(Commercial Break.)

MR. BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We return now to my exclusive interview with the US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

There is a headline in The New York Times this morning: "Debate on Arafat Stalls US Policy, Aides to Bush Say." The article suggests that the Bush Administration can't decide what to do with Yasser Arafat, whether he should be the leader of the Palestinian Authority or someone else should be brought in to take his place. What is the position of the Bush Administration as far as Yasser Arafat's leadership is concerned?

SECRETARY POWELL: I am not sure which anonymous aides were being quoted, but this particular aide, the Secretary of State, has received his instructions from the President. Chairman Arafat is the head of the Palestinian Authority and he is the leader of the Palestinian people.

Now, we believe he could be a better leader and could lead the Palestinian Authority in a more effective way. So we are going to be working with our Arab friends, we are going to be working with the Palestinians, we are going to be working with others, to see if we can transform the Palestinian Authority into a more effective organization, working with Chairman Arafat, but working with other Palestinian leaders as well.

Palestinian leaders are suggesting that there is a need for reform within the Authority in order for them to do a better job. We will continue to press Chairman Arafat and other Palestinian leaders to end the violence, get it under control. And we think they can do more, although they probably can't end it all; it's not all totally within their authority.

And then we are also going to pursue ways to help them with their security consultations with Israel and help them build a more effective security force. And we are also interested in pursuing a political track, as well as helping them with their economy and with humanitarian needs that the Palestinian people have.

And so Assistant Secretary of State Burns will be heading back to the region in the very near future, sometime this week, and Director of the CIA George Tenet will also be heading in. We had hoped George would be able to go earlier, but he's got a pretty broad portfolio and he's had some other things he's had to deal with, but I expect him to be heading in before the week is out.

MR. BLITZER: So both Burns and Tenet will be in the region by the end of this week?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that is my hope and expectation. There are lots of things that are going on in the world. We have talked about some of them here this morning. And so George is a very busy Director of the CIA, but I know that he has put together a plan of action to follow, and I hope that he will be able to clear his schedule and be in the region in the not-too-distant future, and my hope is by the end of the week.

MR. BLITZER: We only have a little time left, Mr. Secretary, but is it your hope also that there will be this international conference, this regional conference on the Middle East, sometime this summer involving the Israelis, the Palestinians, the US and the others?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. As you know, the Madrid Quartet, as we call it -- the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation -- announced that they would want to put together a meeting sometime in the summer, and we are still looking toward such a meeting.

I think such a meeting is needed in order to pull the various threads together that are out there -- the Arab League initiative, the various UN resolutions, not only 242 and 338 from the old days, but some recent UN resolutions that have been put forward. And I hope that as Assistant Secretary Burns and Mr. Tenet travel through the region and as we have more intense dialogue with the Arab leaders and with Israel and with our European Union and United Nations colleagues, the pieces will start to come together so that we can have this meeting during the course of the summer.

The meeting won't be some grand summit; it will be done at a ministerial level, meaning at my level, where we will start to see what are the opportunities to go forward with respect to a political process, with respect to humanitarian and economic aid, with respect to transformation of the Palestinian Authority, with respect to security. Sooner or later you have to bring these pieces together in some forum, and we still see that as a potential forum if the parties are willing to come and participate in a positive way. And so I still have that as an objective for the summer.

It is really a continuation of what the President launched with his very significant speech from the 4th of April outlining a vision for the region -- two states living side by side in peace and security -- Palestine, and of course the state of Israel, a Jewish state. And as we see the continuing problems in the region, the continuing suicide bombings and Israeli self-defense actions in response to terrorist activity, it just makes it more clear to me that the only way forward is with a political dialogue. And if such a meeting can help foster that dialogue and also deal with security and humanitarian and economic issues, then it would be a useful meeting to hold.

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, I'm going to let you go, but one quick follow-up. When you say a Jewish state, Israel, when I interviewed the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat some 15 minutes, he finally did say he would supporting living alongside a Jewish state called Israel. Do you believe that the Palestinian leadership is committed to that concept that you just enunciated?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know if all of them are committed to it, but as you noted -- and I saw your interview with Chairman Arafat -- he spoke for the Palestinian people in that moment. And I think he realizes that the only way we will find a political solution is for everyone to come to the realization, as the Arab League did in their declaration in Beirut a few weeks ago, all 22 Arab nations joining together to say that we have to find a political solution that will allow the 22 Arab nations and the Palestinians to live in peace alongside Israel. And Israel is and will remain and must remain a Jewish state. So I hope that this new recognition on the part of all of the Arab and Palestinian leaders gives us something to work with and a basis to move forward.

MR. BLITZER: All right. Let's hope you're right, Mr. Secretary. Thanks so much. Good luck to you on the rest of your mission. I know you've still got a few more stops to go. We'll see you back here in Washington.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.


[End]

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