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Powell IV on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Powell IV on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC December 29, 2002

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks once again for joining us. The issue at hand right now, there seems to be a crisis between the United States, on the one hand, and its allies, and North Korea. But you're apparently refusing to say this is a crisis.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't like the word "crisis." It suggests we're about to move forces or there's a war about to break out, and that's not the case at all. We have a very serious situation which are treating as a serious situation. North Korea, notwithstanding its obligations under the 1994 Agreed Framework, started a second production system for the development of nuclear weapons, enriching uranium.

We think that's very serious. We took it to the international community. We took it to the North Koreans. They admitted it. Having admitted that they were in violation of their agreement, said, well, so what? And then, now they have decided to come and get in violation of their obligations under the Agreed Framework by kicking the inspectors out of the Yongbyon plutonium facility and also removing all the seals and starting that reactor up.

So these are two acts of misbehavior on the part of the North Korean regime. And what we are doing is working with our friends and allies, who have an even greater equity in this matter than we do, and talking with the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Russians, the Chinese, the European Union, the United Nations -- all of us coming together to make the case to North Korea that this will not accomplish anything that will be of benefit to your nation and we will not be scared into making concessions to you or appeasing you in some way.

MR. BLITZER: But this seems so frightening. This is one of the members of the "axis of evil". It's a Stalinist regime, unpredictable. And you are now acknowledging they probably already have two nuclear bombs and they might be able to build a lot more.

SECRETARY POWELL: Don't be quite so breathless. They've had two nuclear weapons, we believe, for some time. It is not something that we have suddenly discovered. We have always attributed this capability to them. Our intelligence community believes they probably had enough material to fabricate two weapons and they may well have these two weapons.

If they start this reactor back up and if they go beyond what they say they're starting it for -- they say they need the electricity because we cut off their heavy fuel in response to their violation of the Agreed Framework -- but if they go beyond that and start to reprocess the spent fuel that is at the facility, they could have another several nuclear weapons in a matter of, let's say, six months. So that would take them from two to six. We don't like that. We don't believe this is their best interest. It's certainly not in the best interest of the region or the world.

But it is not yet a crisis that requires mobilization or for us to be threatening North Korea. Quite the contrary, we have been saying to North Korea that we have no plans to invade you, we have no hostile intent towards you. You have people who are starving. We are the biggest food provider to the people of North Korea as part of the World Food Program. So we have no ill intent toward North Korea, but we are deeply concerned about some of the actions they have taken over the years to proliferate weapons of mass destruction throughout the world, to sell this kind of technology throughout the world.

And I think it was quite right for the President to say that clearly when he gave his State of the Union speech. Remember, the State of the Union speech where he called them part of the "axis of evil" was 11 months ago. They started this new program four year ago. And so we finally found out about the program and called them on it. We were in the process of negotiations with them. I went and met with the foreign minister of North Korea in Brunei at the end of July. We sent in Assistant Secretary Kelly to let them know that there were things we could do for their country, but they had to stop this kind of activity.

And their response has not been an encouraging one. And for that reason the President is keeping all of his options on the table, but we're leading with the diplomatic option because it's important for everybody to realize this is a problem not just for the United States but for the region and for the world.

MR. BLITZER: When I hear you say that the President is leaving all of his options on the table, that normally is codeword for the military option as well.

SECRETARY POWELL: He has a military option. We're not bringing it up to the front, because it's not necessary to do so. Everybody knows what our military capacity is. Secretary Rumsfeld made it clear earlier this week that we have the capacity to deal with any emergency or situation that might arise. But keep in mind that, you know, we try to solve things peacefully, notwithstanding the reputation we sometimes enjoy as always reaching for a gun. It is rather interesting that over the last several days everybody is wondering why isn't the United States reaching for a gun.

And the answer is we believe that there are still options available to us that focus on political and diplomatic tools that the international community can bring to bear on this problem. North Korea is already paying a price for this misbehavior. Japan was on the way to normalization. It was on the way to providing a huge economic package for North Korea if they went down that normalization route. The new president-elect of South Korea wants to reach out to North Korea. President-elect Roh -- that was part of his platform. But now he has had to speak out strongly about North Korea behavior as a result of what the North Koreans have done.

And so there are ways to mobilize the international community. And as President Jiang Zemin came to Crawford and spent a lot of time with President Bush discussing this situation -- this took more time than any other agenda item at Crawford -- and the Chinese came out and said clearly we will not support any nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We don't want to see it. We don't want it. And so the North Koreans are now running in the face of that opposition from the Chinese as well. So they are buying themselves problems and we're going to try to find a way to get out of this situation without letting it escalate to a crisis level.

MR. BLITZER: Is it time for the UN Security Council to be brought into the situation?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have been in close touch with all of my permanent colleagues in the Security Council and I had a conversation with Kofi Annan the day before yesterday about it. I don't know if it's time for the Security Council to do anything. The International Atomic Energy Agency will be meeting on the 6th of January, or thereabouts, to consider what North Korea has done, and the Board of Governors of the IAEA at that time will make a judgment as to whether or not they will report these actions to the United Nations. But we are not waiting for the beginning of the year to table a resolution before the Security Council.

MR. BLITZER: This "tailored containment" that the administration has discussed, one element --

SECRETARY POWELL: I've only read about this term in the paper this morning.

MR. BLITZER: So is there no such thing?

SECRETARY POWELL: There is no plan that has a title "tailored containment" on it. It's an interesting phrase. I don't object to the phrase. But to suggest that it is some grand strategy that we have, no. We have a strategy that we have been executing on. We have kept our friends and allies closely informed about developments. We have shared the intelligence. We have made it clear to the North Koreans that there are ways to communicate. But we will not enter a negotiation where they sit there and say, "What will you pay us for our misbehavior? How will you appease our misbehavior this time?"

We've made it clear to everyone that the Agreed Framework dealt with the facility at Yongbyon, but it was a marvelous act of misdirection. While we were watching Yongbyon, they were creating an enriched uranium capability elsewhere in the country. And so they have to be held to account for this. So there are ways for them to talk to us. We know how to get in touch with them. And we are hoping that sooner or later a way will be found, either with us or with other members of the international community, to find a solution to this situation.

MR. BLITZER: It looks -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- you were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs a dozen years ago during the first Gulf War. With the deployment of all these troops and now the Hospital Ship Comfort, it looks like the train is leaving the station.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the train is being loaded. The President has not made a decision to go to war. But what Secretary Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are doing are prudent measures to get ready for whatever might be required. And it's to make it absolutely clear to the world, and to Saddam Hussein especially, that if he does not come into compliance with this UN resolution, if he is not fully cooperative, and if he is found to be not fully cooperative and cheating, and military action is necessary and if the President finds it appropriate to make that decision, we'll be ready to execute.

MR. BLITZER: But they already are, as you just said a few weeks ago, they are in material breach?

SECRETARY POWELL: They are, once again, in material breach. It's another material breach on top of many previous material breaches. And the patience of the international community is running thin here, it seems to me. And January will be an important month as Dr. Blix of UNMOVIC and Dr. El Baradei of IAEA report to the Council on their findings and how cooperative Iraq is being.

MR. BLITZER: Will Saudi Arabia be with the United States if it comes down to another war?

SECRETARY POWELL: My view is that Saudi Arabia has been cooperative with us in the global war against terrorism. They are open to the proposals that we have made to them about what might be needed. But I don't want to speak for the Government of Saudi Arabia as to what they have said yes to and no to or where they might be at some point in the future. They have been good friends of ours in the past and I would expect them to be good friends in the future as well.

MR. BLITZER: And you saw the story in The New York Times today that they've already --

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't want to comment on these military eaches. I'll leave that to my Pentagon colleagues to say what they wish to about it.

MR. BLITZER: As far as the Israeli-Palestinian situation is concerned, there was an editorial in The New York Times this past week. Among other things, it said this: "By waiting to unveil the roadmap until after the new Israeli government is formed, which could be several months, Washington seems to be hoping to wrap this problem into a broader recasting of the region after regime change in Iraq. That is a dangerous gamble."

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that's their opinion of what we're trying to do. What we're trying to do is put down a roadmap and put it down in a way that it will be received with some favor on both sides. And it was our judgment when the Quartet met earlier this month that we were close to finishing the roadmap and it was a pretty good way forward, but to introduce it at this stage with the Israeli election underway, that might not be the best environment in which to introduce this roadmap. A delay of a few weeks I don't think will be significant, will make a significant difference.

And, in fact, the best roadmap in the world will not produce anything if the terror doesn't stop. And so our focus still has to be on ending terror and achieving some level of security so that both sides can operate in some sense of security and some understanding that by moving forward in the roadmap they will not simply be opening themselves up to more acts of terror and violence.

MR. BLITZER: And just very briefly because I know we're running out of time, Arafat, Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president, does he have a role in any of this?

SECRETARY POWELL: He has been a failed leader and we continue to believe he's a failed leader. That's why we hope that new leaders will emerge. We would like to see a prime minister emerge who has authority to act and we would like to see elections of the kind that will give the Palestinian people a chance to determine whether or not new leadership might end this horrible situation that they find themselves in.

MR. BLITZER: Finally, a new leader in Kenya elected today, ending a quarter of a century or so of Daniel arap Moi's rule. Is this good for the United States?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think it's good for Kenya, frankly, to see that they can have a successful election, and it was an open election and one that was relatively free of violence. So it was good. The democratic process worked and I'm pleased that President Moi stepped down in accordance with that democratic process.

The president-elect has made a commitment to ending corruption, to economic development, and to social advancement within the country, and if he moves forward on that agenda it will be good for Kenya, good for the Kenyan people, and of course good for relations with the United States. We have good relations with Kenya now and I expect that they'll be improved in the future.

MR. BLITZER: And good luck to you. I know you've had an incredibly busy day today. Good luck with all these so-called crises. I'm going to catch my breath, by the way.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it's interesting to remember, you know, last year the crisis was India and Pakistan. Everybody was afraid that a nuclear war was about to break out there. And the international community then came together, worked with the two parties. We still have a difficult situation in Kashmir, but at least the threat of war has receded considerably. They're both deescalating. And I hope that in this new year we'll find a way for the two sides to begin a dialogue on all of the issues that are outstanding between India and Pakistan, to include Kashmir.

MR. BLITZER: The whole world is looking towards you to do it.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Wolf. Happy New Year.

MR. BLITZER: Happy New Year. Thank you.

[End]

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