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Powell - ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos

Interview on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos

Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC October 20, 2002

(11:35 a.m. EDT)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, George.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Another shooting in the Washington area last night. Have you seen any evidence that these killings are tied to al-Qaida or international terrorism?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I haven't, George, but I can't say that they are not. But I have not seen any evidence and I'm not sure what the local police officials have determined or what our FBI has determined, but I have not seen any evidence.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So what do you make of the series of killings?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. I don't know if it's a madman or whether it is a terrorist, but I think it shows us once again the dangerous world that we are living in. And I hope that our very, very competent law enforcement officials, both at the federal and local levels, will solve this case as soon as possible.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: More signs of that dangerous world in North Korea this week.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The New York Times reports this morning that the administration has decided to scrap the 1994 agreement which gave North Korea Western aid in return for freezing their nuclear program. Is the deal dead?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the North Koreans are ones who have said it was nullified. And as you recall, the Agreed Framework of 1994 was a political agreement, not a legal agreement but a political agreement, between the United States and North Korea. And when we told North Korea a couple of weeks ago that we knew that they were participating in the enrichment of uranium, which was in violation of a number of agreements, to include this one, they first denied it, then admitted it and said therefore the agreement is nullified. When we have an agreement between two parties and one says it's nullified, then it looks like it's nullified.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's dead?

SECRETARY POWELL: Now, nullified is a -- let's just stick with that work for the moment because what we have to do now is, in the presence of this information, we need to discuss this with a lot of other countries that have an interest in this. Because you remember the light water reactors that are being made rest on this Agreed Framework and other things that are happening that rested on that Agreed Framework, so how do you unscrew it all.

And so we're in close consultations with the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Russians, the Chinese and others to see how we should move forward. This really is a subject for multilateral consideration so we will be discussing with our friends and allies -- President Bush will be seeing most of them in Mexico at a conference this week, and we'll move forward as a group of nations that are concerned about this issue.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you working with them to create an economic embargo of North Korea?

SECRETARY POWELL: North Korea has pretty much embargoed itself economically. I mean, it has not been a place that people want to invest money in. We provide food aid to North Koreans because we don't like to see any people starve. But we are not yet talking about economic embargoes of a new nature, something that isn't a result of the nature of the regime in the first place.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The US also provides about half a million gallons of fuel oil each year to North Korea. Will that be suspended?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are looking at all of the things that rest on the Agreed Framework to see what is in our interest to keep doing, what is in our interest not to keep doing. We also have to remember that there is a great deal of stored plutonium in a facility on Yongbyon that is monitored by the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Administration or Agency, as well as Department of Energy employees, and we don't want to see that suddenly become unwatched. So we have to be very careful and move with a certain deliberateness here and in consultation with our friends and allies.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That stored fuel could be turned into plutonium to make about four or five nuclear bombs; is that correct?

SECRETARY POWELL: It has that potential, and that's why we have to move with great care here.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What will happen to North Korea if they remove that plutonium or that fuel from international supervision?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think this would create an extremely grave situation and I think everybody understands this -- the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Russians and the Chinese. I don't think the neighbors, even more so than the United States, more so than the United States, would want to see this material suddenly unwatched. And it would, I think, create a grave new situation.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: "Extremely grave." Is that code for military action?

SECRETARY POWELL: I just said "a grave new situation." I'm not suggesting military action at this point. And we're not undertaking any serious contingency planning at this point. We think that this is a new situation that has come before us, it's a very serious one, and South Koreans have a delegation in Pyongyang now talking to the North Koreans about the seriousness of what they've done. And I'm sure the Chinese and the Russians and others and the Japanese will also be speaking to them, and we'll move forward in a very deliberate manner because of the seriousness of the situation.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We just learned again this morning from the former Secretary of Defense William Perry that in 1994 the United States did contemplate military action against North Korea if they started up their weapons program again, if they started up their nuclear reprocessing. If they do that now, is it possible that they will face a military strike from the United States?

SECRETARY POWELL: I really don't want to go down a speculative road. I think I'll leave that unanswered because, you know, it's up to the Pentagon to decide what might be appropriate in the way of any contingency plans. But right now we are trying to find a peaceful resolution of this new crisis, frankly, and I don't think it would be useful to speculate about military action.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe North Korea has nuclear weapons now?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have to assume that they might have one or two. We know that they reprocessed enough material in earlier years to have made one or two weapons. Now, as my colleague Don Rumsfeld said the other day, we can't tell you where they are, we can't go touch them. But we have to assume they may have one or two, and that's what our intelligence community has been saying to us for some time.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But can the United States, over time, tolerate a nuclear armed-North Korea?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there have been nuclear armed nations over the last 50 years that we've been able to contain and tolerate. This regime is especially troubling because it is such an erratic regime. It's left over from another age, almost. It's the last of the old Stalanist world. And that should give us some concern.

But it is also resting on a very weak foundation. This is a nation whose society is starving. It's a nation whose economy doesn't function. And there are opportunities in that, as well as dangers. If they are collapsing, might they use this kind of technology? Or if they are trying not to collapse, might they try to trade it for economic assistance?

But the one thing they need to be aware of is that we are not going to pay for this. We are not going to pay for them to suddenly start doing things they are supposed to have done.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But the United States can tolerate the nuclear program, the nuclear weapons that North Korea may have now, but they're ruling out new ones?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's not a matter of tolerating anything. It's a mater of trying to manage the problem. We would like to see them get rid of any weapon that they may have, and we're just assuming they have a weapon. We can't see it or prove it and we don't know where it is if we knew that they had it.

It's a matter of working this problem, managing this problem in a way that deals with our concerns about a nuclear armed North Korea and avoids a conflict over the issue. Frankly, we have levers that we can apply to North Korea that don't exist with respect to other nations such as Iraq -- economic levers, the concerns of the neighbors in the region. I mean, it's hard for North Korea to deliver a nuclear weapon against the United States; it's not that hard to deliver it against its neighbors. So its neighbors, I think, will be bringing a lot of pressure to bear, and the neighbors have a lot to offer North Korea that won't be forthcoming if North Korea continues to move in this direction and does not come clean and stop this effort.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The New York Times reported this week that Pakistan was a major supplier of technology and equipment to the North Korean nuclear program. Have you talked to President Musharraf about that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I've talked to President Musharraf, not about that report, but I've talked to President Musharraf as recently as last Thursday, I believe it was. It might have been Thursday or Friday. And the conversation is one I've had with him on a number of occasions previously: our concerns about North Korean proliferation and North Korean development of these kinds of weapons and how it is important that no nation, and Pakistan in particular, no nation be involved in any relationship or any trading with North Korea of the means to deliver such weapons or the means to develop such weapons. And President Musharraf gave me his assurance in that conversation, as he has previously, that Pakistan is not doing anything of that nature.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is not, but what about did in the past?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't want to get into the past and sources and methods because there obviously were nations who were helping North Korea as they acquired the technology.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you take President Musharraf at his word when he says those charges were baseless?

SECRETARY POWELL: I didn't talk to him about the charges that you just -- what I said was we talked about the need not to assist North Korea in any way and have any kind of relationship with North Korea now that would give them the wherewithal to develop those kinds of weapons or the means to deliver them. And he assured me that Pakistan was not doing that now.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Why didn't you talk to him about the past?

SECRETARY POWELL: Because there are reasons that I would prefer not to talk to him about the past. The past is the past and there isn't a whole lot I can do about it. I'm more concerned about what is going on now. We have a new relationship with Pakistan so that I can talk to President Musharraf in these very direct, open terms and get assurances from him. And I don't want to go back into the means by which we learn of certain things.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There was also some concern on Capitol Hill this week about what they weren't told. A lot of Members of Congress were concerned that the United States kept the information about North Korea secret because they didn't want to complicate the Iraq vote. And I want to show a quote from Represent Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania. He said, "The beauty of the White House misleading people is that it's difficult to change our policy now that he has the vote in hand." How do you respond to that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm sorry, it's nonsense. We saw the intelligence in early July. We challenged the intelligence community to get us as much as they had so we made sure we had a solid case. We looked at the information through July and August. I began consultations at a very high level with some of our friends, and in early September we began to brief Members of Congress about what we knew about North Korean enriched uranium activity that was inconsistent with the Agreed Framework. We briefed both sides, Democrats and Republicans. We briefed both houses.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But a very small number, not the Senate Majority Leader.

SECRETARY POWELL: We briefed enough people so that there was no secret about it. And I can provide to anyone who would care to see it in the Congress the list of the briefings that were offered and that were conducted. Some Members were unable to take the briefings and we briefed their staffers.

And then after Assistant Secretary Kelly went to North Korea and came back with the information that they admitted it, we began another round of briefings, not only from the State Department, from the CIA, to pass on this new information. Now, because this is a relatively recent development, we didn't get around to every constituency within the Congress, but it is simply not correct to say that the United States was not making Congress aware of the fact that North Korea had begun to enrich uranium.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But aren't the situations of North Korea and Iraq similar enough that ever Member of Congress deserved to have this information before they voted on Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think it was relevant to the vote on Iraq. It never entered our calculation that the manner in which we were briefing Congress had anything to do with the vote on Iraq. I think, in fact, it might even have reinforced the vote on Iraq. I mean, I can't understand the logic that says we held this back because it would have made it harder to get the votes we needed on Iraq. I think it might have told everybody that this is dangerous and we need to make sure we're firm with Iraq as a signal to North Korea.

But the suggestion that this is some kind of plot on the part of the administration is just false. And there were so many Members of Congress briefed that I cannot believe a Member can go around saying that the administration was not forthcoming. And last night when this issue came up, I challenged my staff to get me everything you had, and I've got two and a half pages of briefings.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: On Iraq, do you expect to get a UN Security Council resolution this week?

SECRETARY POWELL: I expect early this week to put down a full resolution after we've had some very useful conversations with a number of our permanent Security Council member colleagues. And I hope that now the conversation will be joined not only with the permanent members but with the elected members, all 15 members.

Whether they can get to a final solution this week or not, I don't know. There are still some difficult issues. It isn't just going to be here it is and that's it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Has the United States dropped its requirement that there be an explicit authorization of force in the first UN resolution?

SECRETARY POWELL: The President has all the authorization he needs if he believes it is necessary to use force to defend the American people.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That sounds like a yes.

SECRETARY POWELL: Any resolution that comes out of the United Nations, I am sure will contain an indictment against Iraq, which we asked for, will contain a new tough inspection regime and it will make clear that Iraq will face consequences if they frustrate and violate this new inspection regime.

Then the question becomes, and the debate we've been having, is at that point if Iraq fails once again to comply, what are the consequences. The United States believes that it and like-minded nations might have all the authority, will have all the authority it needs at that point, if it chooses to take action. If other members wish to meet again to discuss it, that's up to other members, but the President believes he now has the authority. And with a new resolution with continued violation on the part of the Iraqis, the President has authority, as do other like-minded nations, just as we did in Kosovo.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So do you believe that UN inspectors will be in Iraq before the end of the year?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't predict that. It depends upon, one, getting a strong resolution, but it depends even more on whether Iraq is willing to cooperate this time. If Iraq is willing to cooperate, then the inspectors can get their job done. If Iraq chooses to keep frustrating, denying, deceiving, distracting, fooling around with the inspectors, then the inspectors are not going to be able to get their job and they're going to come home. They're not going to be jerked around the way they were in 1997 and 1998. And that's clear. We've made that clear to our Security Council colleagues. We cannot go down that road again. Either Iraq cooperates and we get this disarmament done through peaceful means or they do not cooperate and we will use other means to get the job done.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There are some new pictures out of Iraq this morning. It looks like Saddam Hussein is trying to bolster his popularity. He is opening up -- and we're showing them right now -- opening up the prisons, allowing all prisoners, he says, out of Iraqi jails. What do you make of that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I make of it that they better watch out where the next door is; it puts them right back in jail. I mean, this is typical of this man's use of human beings for these political purposes of his. Now, do you really think if these people are dangerous to the regime that they're going to be allowed out and stay out? Or are they going to be back in jail in about three days' time? This is the kind of manipulation he uses to try to paint himself as something other than what he is, a brutal dictator.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, the issue of al-Qaida. CIA Director George Tenet was up on Capitol Hill this week and he had some really chilling testimony saying that al-Qaida is back, and I want to show it:

"They have reconstituted. They're coming after us. They want to execute attacks. You see it in Bali. You see it in Kuwait. They plan in multiple theaters of operation. They intend to strike this homeland again."

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: When you were last here in June, you said you thought al-Qaida was getting weaker. What happened in the intervening three months?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know what happened. What we did in Afghanistan was we were able to break their hold on Afghanistan and force them to disperse and force them to find other ways to do their business. But there has never been any doubt in our mind that al-Qaida was still a functioning organization.

I don't know if they are as strong as they were at the time last year before we invaded Afghanistan, but it is not the case that they have lost all effectiveness. George is right. They're still out there. They're still trying. And that's why the President says this has to be a long-term campaign until they are destroyed.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, George.

[End]


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