Powell Interview on CNN's Late Edition
Interview on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer
Secretary Colin L. Powell
November 10, 2002
MR. BLITZER: Secretary Powell, welcome back to Late Edition. Thanks for coming in. Congratulations on the big win at the UN Security Council. But the key question is this: Will Saddam Hussein comply?
SECRETARY POWELL: We don't know. He has not complied in the past, and that is why we put in this resolution that this is a last chance. If he does not comply this time, that lack of compliance goes right to the Security Council for it to convene immediately and consider what should be done, and serious consequences are held out within this current resolution.
I can assure you that if he doesn't comply this time we are going to ask the UN to give authorization for all necessary means. If the UN is not willing to do that, the United States with likeminded nations will go and disarm him forcefully. The President has made this clear.
MR. BLITZER: So you will go to war against Iraq, Saddam Hussein's regime, if he doesn't comply?
SECRETARY POWELL: The President has made it clear that he believes it is the obligation of the international community, in the face of new noncompliance, to take whatever action is necessary to remove those weapons of mass destruction. If the UN does not act, then the President is prepared to act. He has made it clear for months.
MR. BLITZER: You wouldn't be surprised if Saddam Hussein were skeptical, because these threats have been made before. Even the President, the other day, in his news conference acknowledged it. Listen to what the President said:
"This would be the 17th time that we expect Saddam to disarm. This time we mean it. See, that's the difference, I guess. This time it's for real."
Seventeen times these threats have been made. Why should he believe you this time?
SECRETARY POWELL: Because the 17th resolution is a lot different from all the previous ones. This time a mechanism has been put into this resolution so that if he does not cooperate with the inspectors -- they can't get their job done -- they are told to report back to the Security Council, not play rope-a-dope in the desert with them. They are to report back to the Security Council and tell the Council ‘we are not getting the job done,’ ‘they're not cooperating with us,’ or ‘we've found these violations and it is a problem for us.’ The resolution says the Security Council will convene immediately at that moment to consider what should be done about this.
So there can be no mistake about it this time and I don't think he is making any mistakes about it. He is facing a 15-0 vote in the Security Council. He did not have that the last couple of times around.
The Arab League is meeting today with Iraq in Cairo and I hope that they will see the wisdom of encouraging the Iraqis not to misjudge the intent and determination of the international community and especially of the United States.
MR. BLITZER: Let's be precise on what the resolution says, and I'll put it up on the screen:
"Failure by Iraq at any time to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations and will be reported to the Council for assessment."
But there is ambiguity between the US stance, the French, the Russians, the Chinese, what happens next.
SECRETARY POWELL: No, there is no ambiguity. It says clearly that if there is this violation, that very fact of a violation is a material breach. It is not a judgment to be made by somebody else -- either by Dr. Blix or the head of UNMOVIC or by the Security Council. It is a material breach.
And at that point, it is referred to the Security Council under Paragraph 12 for the Security Council to make a judgment as to what should be done. While the Security Council is doing that, the United States will also be reviewing the nature of this breach and making a judgment as to whether it should prepare, or begin to prepare, to take military action either as part of the UN effort, if the UN decides to do that, or separately with likeminded nations if that turns out to be the direction in which we are heading.
MR. BLITZER: When I interviewed the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Sergey Lavrov, on Friday, he said if they come back, the UN weapons inspectors Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei, and they say there have been some problems, they will look closely to see how serious the noncompliance is before they decide what to do.
Will the US say there are serious problems and there are some not-so-serious problems?
SECRETARY POWELL: We will have to wait and see. We believe we ought to approach this with a zero tolerance attitude because we have been down this road with Saddam Hussein before. And so we will have to wait and see what Dr. Blix or Dr. El Baradei would say and then the assessment is made within the Security Council.
We are part of the Security Council. We will be part of that assessment. You can be sure we will be pressing the Security Council at that point to show very little tolerance or understanding for any of the kinds of excuses that Saddam Hussein might put forward.
MR. BLITZER: But just to be precise, the US position is a second resolution, a formal resolution, authorizing the use of force is not necessary?
SECRETARY POWELL: We understand that a second resolution would bring the whole Council to all necessary means. But if the Council is unable to agree on a second resolution, the United States believes, because of past material breaches, current material breaches and new material breaches, there is more than enough authority for it to act with likeminded nations, if not with the entire Council supporting an all necessary means new resolution.
MR. BLITZER: I want to put up on the screen the timetable that this resolution spells out. Iraq must agree to comply by November 15th. You anticipate that will happen?
SECRETARY POWELL: We will see.
MR. BLITZER: You have some doubt that that might not happen?
SECRETARY POWELL: I do not have any doubts and I do not have any forecasts, and I do not know whether they will or they will not. We will see what they do next Friday. I do not want to start handicapping the Iraqi regime.
MR. BLITZER: By December 8th, they must declare all their programs of weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, nuclear. Full inspections have to begin no later than December 23rd, although Dr. Blix seems to think they could begin even earlier than that. But by February 21st of next year, the inspectors have to report back to the Security Council, at the latest.
Now, you're a General. That timetable seems to coincide with the weather factors as far as a military invasion is concerned -- February, March, April, it starts getting very hot in that part of the world. Is there a link there between the weather and this timetable?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, we did not create this timetable. It is a timetable that was provided by Dr. Blix. But you know battles have been fought in the heat of the day before, and it gets cool at night when the American army is particularly effective. So I would not believe that there are some red lines out there that give us a timeline beyond which Iraq will not be suffering any consequences.
But the more important point here is not when the inspectors report back, but what level of cooperation are they receiving from Iraq. We are not going to wait until February to see whether Iraq is cooperating or not. If Iraq is not cooperating, Dr. Blix and Mr. El Baradei will discover that rather quickly. The United States and the United Nations will be able to make a judgment as to cooperation very quickly, not sometime in February.
MR. BLITZER: And the Iraqis should be under no illusions the US military, the Pentagon, a place you once worked at, they're moving forward with war plans?
SECRETARY POWELL: It would be imprudent of the Pentagon not to be developing contingency plans. They are always developing contingency plans. I am sure they will put a plan together that will accomplish any military objective that the President has assigned to them.
MR. BLITZER: Now, you know that for months now there have been all sorts of reports in the news media, splits within the Bush Administration, about the usefulness of going back to the UN, the usefulness of resuming inspections. I want you to listen to what the Vice President, Dick Cheney, your boss, your former boss and your current boss, said on August 26th regarding a return of inspectors:
"A person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq and then our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of cheat-and-retreat and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions."
Does that reflect what you believe?
SECRETARY POWELL: He is absolutely right. I agree with him. The return of the inspectors, in and of themselves, will not lead to disarmament in the face of an uncooperative attitude on the part of the Iraqis.
What makes it different this time is that if they display that uncooperative attitude, if they are cheating and deceiving and doing all those things to prevent the inspectors from doing their job, and then they are going to face the most serious consequences. The President has made clear what those consequences are.
What Vice President Cheney was saying was you just cannot think: ‘inspectors are there, the problem is over, everything is dealt with’ -- not at all. We have to see cooperation from the Iraqi regime. There has to be an inspection regime that can get the job done. They can only get their job done if there is openness and a cooperative attitude on the part of the Iraqi regime that we have not seen before. If we do not see it this time, then we go right back to the UN for consideration of the application of serious consequences.
MR. BLITZER: And so you're saying flatly this is Saddam Hussein's last change -- no ifs, ands or buts?
SECRETARY POWELL: Read the resolution. It says that.
MR. BLITZER: I want to give you a chance to respond to those who have suggested that you may be the odd man in the administration, that you have some critics within the administration. The New York Times wrote in an editorial at the end of July, "The sharks circling around Mr. Powell include Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and the White House Political Director Karl Rove. Mr. Rove is especially eager to bend policy to placate the Republican right."
Go ahead and respond to that.
SECRETARY POWELL: I do not have to respond to that. This goes on all the time. I have seen it in every administration I have ever been a part of.
We have our discussions; we debate issues -- all for the purpose of serving the President. The only one in the pool that I worry about is the President and I know that I am doing what he wanted done.
MR. BLITZER: Were there any concessions, quid pro quos, offered to Russia, France, China, Syria, in exchange for their affirmative vote?
SECRETARY POWELL: No. What we did was go in with a very hard position initially, a tough negotiating position, with a negotiating position that, if we had asked everyone to vote for we would not have gotten any votes for it other than our own. Then we listened to other nations. There are 15 nations on the Security Council. They are all sovereign, they all have principles, and they all have their own red lines. We listened to them and we tried to accommodate them in every way that we could in order to get consensus. But we did it in a way that did not violate any of our principles or any of our red lines, and we succeeded.
We got a resolution that got exactly what the President said he wanted on the 12th of September when he spoke before the UN -- an indictment of Saddam Hussein, a tough inspection regime, and consequences if he violated this inspection regime. We got that in this resolution but we did it in a way that brought our friends back on board -- brought the Syrians on board. We gave nothing away with respect to principles or under-the-table deals. It was good, tough negotiating among nations that have respect for one another.
The other thing it did, it pulled the United Nations back together. The Security Council has been in disarray, the UN has been in disarray, over this issue for years. Now the Security Council and the UN are back together with a single, strong, powerful message to Iraq: You cannot violate the will of the international community by keeping these kinds of weapons in your inventory. They must be removed; you must be disarmed.
MR. BLITZER: So you can flatly say that as far as the Russians, for example, are concerned, no promises as far as a US stance on the issue of Chechnya, for example?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, we made no such deals. We talk about all of these other issues -- Chechnya or anything else -- on their own merits and there were no deals cut for this resolution.
MR. BLITZER: And no deals with the French as far as future oil sales involving Iraq are concerned?
SECRETARY POWELL: No. Wolf, I was the chief negotiator on this along with my colleagues in New York, Ambassadors Negroponte and Cunningham, both of whom and their teams, did an outstanding job. The whole team within Washington: Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, Dr. Rice especially -- our whole team worked together and no deals like that were cut.
MR. BLITZER: The President was very precise in his language used in the Rose Garden on Friday. You were standing right next to him. At one point, he referred to Iraq as an ‘outlaw regime.’ Outlaw regime. There is nothing in this UN Security Council resolution that speaks about regime change, as you know.
What exactly is the Bush Administration policy as far as the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein's regime?
SECRETARY POWELL: We think that the people of Iraq would be better off, the region would be better off and the world would be better off, if Saddam Hussein was no longer in power. That has never been the position of the United Nations through all of these previous resolutions. So working within the United Nations we did not expect to come up with a policy of regime change.
Regime change is a United States policy that was put in place back in the Clinton Administration in 1998 because Iraq was violating all of these resolutions with respect to disarmament -- and other resolutions. It was thought the only way you could get disarmament was through regime change.
We inherited that policy. We thought it was a good policy and it remains our policy to this day. We will see whether, in the area of disarmament with this resolution we find a regime that is changing itself, that has decided to cooperate with the international community.
But beyond that do we still think the world would be better off and the Iraqi people would be better off -- would live a better life -- if they had a different leadership? Yes we still do and will continue to feel so.
MR. BLITZER: So what incentive does Saddam Hussein personally have to cooperate if the United States says, you know what, we're going to get rid of you if you cooperate or if you don't cooperate?
SECRETARY POWELL: Right now he knows that if he does not cooperate with respect to this UN resolution which deals fundamentally with disarmament -- although it does in its perambulatory paragraphs talk about his other violations of resolutions – he knows if he violates this resolution military force is coming in to take him and his regime out.
MR. BLITZER: Has Saddam Hussein committed war crimes?
SECRETARY POWELL: I think he has, yes. I mean, when you gas your own people, when you use these kinds of weapons of mass destruction, I think a case can be made. We are always assembling information that might be suitable and useful for such a case.
MR. BLITZER: So if you do capture him alive, do you think he would go before a war crimes tribunal?
SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know the answer to that right now. We are assembling information but I think he certainly has demonstrated criminal activities. He has invaded neighbors that were doing nothing to him -- his invasion of Kuwait. He has done a lot of things that I think he should be held accountable to, and for.
MR. BLITZER: And the President spoke a little bit about this as far as his generals are concerned the other day, issuing a warning to them specifically not to use weapons of mass destruction if Saddam Hussein were to order them to do so. Listen to what the President said:
"The generals in Iraq must understand clearly there will be consequences for their behavior. Should they choose, if force is necessary, to behave in a way that endangers the lives of their own citizens, as well as citizens in the neighborhood, there will be a consequence. They will be held to account."
As you know --
SECRETARY POWELL: He did not say weapons of mass destruction.
MR. BLITZER: Well, what exactly -- because, as you know, this program is seen around the world, including in Iraq, so go ahead and explain precisely what the President said.
SECRETARY POWELL: What he was saying directly to the generals in Saddam Hussein's army is that should it come to conflict, and we hope it can be solved peacefully -- he also says that all the time, but if it comes to conflict you can be sure that one: you will lose, and two: you will be held to account for your actions.
MR. BLITZER: All right. So go ahead. What does that mean?
SECRETARY POWELL: It means you will be held to account for your actions. You can either have the option of deciding that you are serving somebody who is not going to be in power in a few days and perhaps lay down your arms quickly -- and we saw some of this during the course of the Gulf War 12 years ago. To resist what I am convinced will be inevitable would be foolish on their parts.
MR. BLITZER: We have to take a short break. When we return, more of my conversation with the Secretary of State Colin Powell. I'll ask him about the war on terror and whether the United States should continue to targets terrorists for assassination. Stay with us.
MR. BLITZER: What is the difference between Iraq and its suspected nuclear program, and North Korea and its suspect nuclear program? Because the US clearly has a different strategy in dealing with Iraq, on the one hand, North Korea on the other.
SECRETARY POWELL: Both programs are dangerous. Both programs should be stopped. We have a variety of tools to deal with issues like this, problems like this. We are applying one set of tools to Iraq-- a nation that has been given multiple opportunities to stop this and has demonstrated they will use this kind of technology against their neighbors and against their own people.
In North Korea, this situation has just emerged over the last several months, when our intelligence pointed us in this direction. We are working with our friends and allies to continue a strategy that says let us put maximum pressure on the North Korean regime right now from all its neighbors as well as the United States. We have been very successful in bringing the Japanese, the Chinese; I would say the Russians, and the South Koreans together on this strategy.
So the North Koreans now know that as long as they are participating in this kind of activity-- enriching uranium -- they are not going to be able to solve their economic problems or problems of poverty.
MR. BLITZER: But you're not threatening military force against North Korea?
SECRETARY POWELL: We are not threatening military force because we do not need to threaten military force right now. The President has made this clear. When he was in Korea earlier this year he made it clear that the United States does not intend to invade North Korea. That has not changed. We wish North Korea would withdraw some of its forces, most of its forces frankly, from the DMZ. There is no danger to North Korea from the South. The United States is not going to invade. South Korea is not going to invade. South Korea is a prosperous place. North Korea is a destitute place. This is the time for North Korea to start to make better choices with respect to its future.
MR. BLITZER: If you could explain this, I would be happy. What exactly does the US want Israel to do in the event that scuds once again were launched against Israeli targets?
SECRETARY POWELL: Israel has to be concerned about its own self-defense and no American President would say to an Israeli Prime Minister that you do not have the option of deciding how to defend yourself.
But in the instance of such an attack we would hope that the Israeli Prime Minister would consider all the consequences of such an action. There are different kinds of attacks that might come -- might be directed toward Israel in such a set of circumstances. I am sure there would be consultations between us and the Prime Minister of Israel at that time.
MR. BLITZER: The fact that there's a new Israeli government now -- the Labor Party out, Shimon Peres out, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, the Defense Minister, out; Benjamin Netanyahu back in as the Foreign Minister -- what does that mean as far as US strategy towards Iraq, towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned?
SECRETARY POWELL: I do not think it changes things fundamentally. There will be elections coming up in the very near future. We will probably see a Likud primary election before this month is out, I would speculate, and then a general election. So I do not think it fundamentally changes things.
We will continue to move forward with our Iraq strategy and we are doing everything we can to obtain some progress on the Middle East peace work that we are doing. We are working on a road map that both sides hopefully will agree to in due course as to how we can move forward.
But in the presence of continuing terrorism and violence and the lack of full transformation on the part of the Palestinian Authority, it has been difficult to get some traction. I'm afraid that the current election situation in Israel will probably slow things down as well.
MR. BLITZER: You heard Netanyahu say this week that the roadmap is not on the agenda at the moment.
SECRETARY POWELL: Well that is not the view that I have received from the Prime Minister.
MR. BLITZER: So you're saying you get a different view from the Foreign Minister, a different view from the Prime Minister?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well one has to wait until the head of a government speaks and the head of the state of Israel is working with us on the roadmap.
MR. BLITZER: The US took an action this past week in firing Predator missiles at these Al-Qaida operatives in Yemen, including a US citizen. What's the difference between that targeted killing and the targeted killings the Israelis engage in -- which the State Department has criticized?
SECRETARY POWELL: We believe that there are significant differences. This was a case of clearly somebody engaged in a direct conflict with the United States. We believe that there are other ways to deal with the problems of the Middle East – other ways that are not enhanced. The likelihood of these other ways working is not enhanced by those kinds of targeted assassinations. So we believe there are differences and distinctions between the two situations.
MR. BLITZER: Is the US going to continue this policy as part of the war on terror to go after these targets outside of Afghanistan?
SECRETARY POWELL: I would not comment on what targets we might or might not go after anywhere in the world.
MR. BLITZER: But what you're saying is the Israelis should stop doing what they did, but the US, theoretically, can continue to do --
SECRETARY POWELL: Our policy with respect to the Middle East and targeted assassinations has not changed and we will do what we have to do to defend ourselves with respect to terrorist activities.
MR. BLITZER: On the war on terror, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying at a closed-door meeting at the Brookings Institution the other night, he said, "I think, in a sense, we've lost a little momentum there. To be frank, they've made lots of adaptations to our tactics and we've got to continue to think and try to outthink them, and to be faster at it," suggesting that the US may not necessarily be doing all that well in the war against Al-Qaida.
SECRETARY POWELL: No. I do not think that is what General Myers intended to say at all. I do not think that is what he did say. What he said was that the nature of the environment on that field of battle -- if you can still call it that -- has changed. You do not have large Taliban or Al-Qaida formations to go after. So US and coalition forces in Afghanistan are now shifting their activities -- starting to do more civic action, more reconstruction kinds of efforts to help the people, help create a broader security environment.
But I can assure you if Al-Qaida surfaces -- or if they get a hit or they locate an Al-Qaida cell or individuals -- they will go after them with all of the power at their disposal. It is also a measure of success in that these people have been driven into caves. They have been driven over the border into remove provinces of Pakistan. So it reflects some success so that you do not have the same kind of target environment we had several months ago.
MR. BLITZER: And finally, before I let you go, Ron Noble, the American who heads Interpol, says he believes Usama bin Laden is alive.
SECRETARY POWELL: I have no idea whether he is alive or dead and I do not like to speculate on whether he is or he is not because I do not know.
MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us. Congratulations on the wedding of your daughter, your youngest daughter.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much.
MR. BLITZER: You were making phone calls, as you were ready to walk down the aisle.
SECRETARY POWELL: It was a close-run thing, but I was there proudly to walk my daughter down the aisle -- without the cell phone going off in my pocket.
MR. BLITZER: Your family -- your wife and daughters -- must have enormous patience.
SECRETARY POWELL: And my son.
MR. BLITZER: Thanks.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.