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Powell Interview on NBC's Meet the Press

Interview on NBC's Meet the Press With Tim Russert

Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC February 9, 2003

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary, welcome.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: How close are we to war with Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: I do not know. I hope that we can avoid war. There is still the opportunity to avoid war. The President prefers a peaceful solution, but it is in the hands of Saddam Hussein. What he has to do is comply, as required by the UN Resolution 1441, and turn over all the documents, make available all the scientists and engineers for interview, show us everything that he has been doing for these many years with respect to weapons of mass destruction.

[Resolution] 1441 was not a confusing document. It was very clear. Saddam is in material breach, he has been in material breach. We give him a chance to come clean. He takes that chance or not. If he does not take the chance, then serious consequences follow.

So far, he has ignored the will of the United Nations, the will of the Security Council, as expressed in 1441. So we are running out of time and he has only got a short period of time left to demonstrate compliance or force will have to be used to bring him into compliance.

MR. RUSSERT: Hans Blix, the Chief UN weapons inspector, is in Iraq today. He is reporting to the UN Security Council on Friday-- Valentine's Day, ironically. If he says that Saddam is still not cooperating, how many days does Saddam have left?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think if he says that, then the Security Council will have to sit in session immediately and determine what should happen next. But I do not want to put a timeline on it, nor do I want to prejudge what Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei may say.

But Friday is going to be an important day for the Security Council and if we still find the kind of noncompliance that we have seen for the past several months, then I think it is time for the Security Council to start considering a resolution that says Iraq is in material breach and it is time for serious consequences to follow. That was the intent behind 1441. Everyone who voted for 1441 last November 8 understood that.

MR. RUSSERT: The Germans and the French have a proposal, which they talked about again today, which would put United Nations troops in Iraq, triple the number of inspectors, and give inspections a longer time. Could you accept that proposal?

SECRETARY POWELL: First of all, I do not know what the proposal is. There have only been press reports on the proposal. But I suspect it is a variation of what the French Foreign Minister said at the Security Council on Wednesday, and it is the wrong issue. The issue is not more inspectors; the issue is compliance on the part of Saddam Hussein. If he complies, if he does what he is supposed to do and tells us where the anthrax went, where did the botulinum toxin go, where did all the missiles go, where is the mustard gas, where are all of the documents you have been hiding--if he complies, then that can be done with a handful of inspectors. But if he is not complying, tripling the numbers of inspectors does not deal with the issue.

This idea of more inspectors or a no-fly zone or whatever else may be in this proposal that is being developed is a diversion, not a solution.

MR. RUSSERT: If, in fact, Mr. Blix says Saddam is still not complying, but the French and the Russians and the Chinese and the Germans say let's give them more time, will the United States go forward without the United Nations?

SECRETARY POWELL: If he is not complying, then what is more time for? For what purpose, if he is not going to comply? He can do that today, he can do that tomorrow -- more time is not the issue. Compliance is the issue. And how much longer are we to wait? The resolution was passed on the 8th of November. We are now into February. It is three months -- November, December, January -- February. And so it is time for him to comply. And so far, he has not complied and he has had these months to comply.

MR. RUSSERT: We would go forward without the UN, if need be?

SECRETARY POWELL: If the UN does not face up to its responsibilities as clearly laid out in Resolution 1441, then it would be necessary for the United States to act with a willing coalition. And there are many nations that have stepped forward. You saw the statement from a group of 8 European nations and another statement a few days later from another group of 10 European nations. And so there will be many members in this coalition who see the danger as clearly as we do, as clearly as the United Nations did when it passed UN Resolution 1441. This is not the time for the United Nations to step back from the clear statement it made in UN Resolution 1441.

MR. RUSSERT: When you went before the United Nations on Wednesday, you produced this slide from November 10 talking about Iraqi ballistic missiles and said that it showed activity there. The Iraqis then brought out news people to that site and said Powell's all wrong, nothing illegal was going on there. Do you stand by your accusations?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. And when we were preparing that material, we knew that Iraq would be instantly preparing its dog-and-pony shows for reporters to be taken to sites. And I could have told you as that slide was going up that the very next day there would be activity at that site for reporters to go see.

It is not just what we saw on that particular day; it is a pattern of activity we look at over an extended period of time. And on the particular day that that shot was taken, there was a pattern of activity that was out of the normal, it was not what we usually see at that site. So it is not just what you see at one day; it is a pattern of activity that builds up over time, and it is other sources building on what we see in the photographs. And everything that I laid out that day is multi-sourced and I am quite sure will stand the test of time.

MR. RUSSERT: As you remember in 1991, the Persian Gulf war, the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the U.S.'s daughter came forward with a fake story. There were suggestions of satellite photos showing 250,000 Iraqi troops on the Saudi border which the St. Petersburg Times demonstrated was not correct, and now this headline about Britain's intelligence dossier. Britain admits that much of its report on Iraq came from magazines, in fact, a "cut-and-paste" job of magazines--something you called a fine report.

Are you concerned that there's a sloppiness with evidence and a rush to war?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I do not think so. I think Britain stands behind its document. They have acknowledged that they use other sources that they did not acknowledge or attribute, but I think the document stands up well because it describes a pattern of deceit on the part of the Iraqis that is not just a pattern of deceit that exists today, but has existed for many years and has been documented in many, many ways. I do not think it was presented as an intelligence document. It was presented as a document, a 19-page document, if my memory serves me correctly, that demonstrates how the Iraqis, over time, have deceived inspectors, have tried to send them down the wrong path. And it is a pattern that continues to this day.

MR. RUSSERT: You stand by every word?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is not my document. I will let the British --

MR. RUSSERT: Of your presentation?

SECRETARY POWELL: Oh, yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you another slide you put up, and this is the tape and how you described it:

"Here you see 15 munitions bunkers in yellow and red outlines. The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers."

MR. RUSSERT: If we know those are active chemical bunkers, why not just send the inspectors there?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the inspectors eventually did go there, and by the time they got there, they were no longer active chemical bunkers. And if you note, I think--I do not have the pictures right in front of me, but we took the pictures before the inspectors arrived, and the second picture I showed or the third picture I showed had the inspectors arriving with more than enough notice that this was a likely place to be inspected, so that we believe, and I think the evidence shows clearly, that the Iraqis had sanitized the sites.

MR. RUSSERT: You also mentioned a terrorist camp in Northern Iraq which has been there for at least 8 months. Why don't we just take it out?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there are lots of places that one could say why don't we just take out, but we examine all of these things. We are constantly reviewing what our military options are and we are constantly reflecting how a particular action might play in diplomatic terms as well. But we have taken none of our options off the table and we have been able to monitor these sites and these activities and form a pattern of behavior that is troubling. But we have considered various options over time, but I would not like to get into a discussion of any particular option or why we did or did not execute it.

MR. RUSSERT: But that camp is in Kurdish-controlled Iraq. Why don't you tell the Kurds to have it broken down, rather than blame Saddam?

SECRETARY POWELL: The Kurds are aware of the site. There is tension up in that area. There is not complete control over the Kurds of the site and we do know that there are connections between Iraqi intelligence officers and the people who are responsible for that site. And we can see these connections and we can see material that comes out of that site and then gets into transit lanes that deliver such material into parts of Western Europe, and we have been rolling up the network.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you a CIA analysis that was from October 7, 2002:

"Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical-biological weapons against the U.S. Should Saddam conclude a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamic terrorists in conducting any weapons of mass destruction attack against the U.S. would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him."

MR. RUSSERT: Do you agree with that?

SECRETARY POWELL: He might and he might not. It is not a statement of fact. It is a statement of opinion on the part of the analyst saying this is what he might do. He might also have done that during the Gulf war, but we made it clear to Iraq and to all of Iraq's generals and other leaders that anybody participating in such an act or delivering such weapons would be held very much to account after a conflict.

And it is a risk that I think we have to take because we cannot be terrified into inaction because they might use these kinds of weapons. But we are making it clear in all of our declarations and what we are communicating to Iraq that it would not be wise for any military leader or political leader currently in this Iraqi regime to take such action in the event of a conflict or in anticipation of a conflict because they would be held very much personally to account.

MR. RUSSERT: Would we pledge not to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Our declaratory policy with respect to all of the weapons available to the President of the United States is we do not rule any in or any out. It does not mean we are going to use nuclear weapons. You know, we have quite a capability in the Armed Forces of the United States. But as a matter of declaratory policy, we do not say what we might or might not do with any particular weapon that is in the inventory of the Armed Forces of the United States.

MR. RUSSERT: But if he uses chemical, we could respond with nuclear?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have answered the question, and it is always wiser to just leave that declaratory policy as I have stated it, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me take you back to your biography of 1995, My American Journey:

" we should not commit military force until we had a clear political objective. My advice would always be that the tough political goals had to be set first."

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: And let's apply those to Iraq. And I refer you to Bob Woodward's book, Bush at War, where he talks about conversations you had with President Bush talking about Iraq and the complication. And here's one:

"Powell told Bush that as he was getting his head around the Iraq question he needed to think about the broader issues, all the consequences of war. Powell said the President had to consider what a military operation against Iraq would do in the Arab world. The entire region could be destabilized. Friendly regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, could be put in jeopardy or overthrown. Anger, frustration in America abounded. War could change everything in the Middle East."

MR. RUSSERT: Could the entire Middle East become destabilized if we go into Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Or more stabilized. It is not known at this point. We do not know how it will unfold. But I think that if conflict comes we would hope to do it quickly, we will hope to do it with a minimum of destruction and a minimum loss of civilian life, and we would remove a despotic regime. And that might well set up circumstances for a more stable Middle East and Persian Gulf region.

But as President Bush was considering all of this, he thought of everything. We put all the considerations on the table before the President: the difficulty we would have in the region with disturbances and some transient problems we would have, and some of the risks of destabilization. And I think that is what makes this a good national security team. Everything was taken into consideration as we worked out way through this problem last summer and fall.

MR. RUSSERT: And what about the expense? How much would it cost? How long will we be there?

SECRETARY POWELL: I do not know how much it would cost and I just cannot tell you in terms of dollar amounts how much this would cost. But it would not be an inexpensive operation. But it is a cost that I think we have to bear.

How long the United States Armed Forces might be there also is a question we cannot answer at this time. A lot would depend on the nature of the conflict and how quickly we are able to put in place a representative form of government that would be better for the region and better for the people of Iraq. But we should not be under any illusions as to the simple reality that it will take a significant investment of the United States and the United States Armed Forces, but I think we will be joined in this effort by many other nations, even those who are at the moment objecting to any military action whatsoever.

MR. RUSSERT: While we're trying to deal with Iraq and potential war with Iraq, we have also send 24 aircraft to be in position against North Korea. Will we allow North Korea to develop any more nuclear bombs?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have not dispatched 24 bombers, if that is the reference. Secretary Rumsfeld put some planes in a heightened position of readiness and alert here in the United States, but nothing has been dispatched. We do not view this as a crisis situation. We view this as a very serious problem. We do not want to see the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula--nor does China, nor does Japan, Russia or any of the other neighbors.

That is why we believe it is important for us to deal with this Korean problem in a multilateral setting. I mean, everybody is pushing on us right now: "go talk to the Korea right away and see if you can get an agreement like the agreement that was broken up last fall." But there was a reason that agreement broke up last fall, and that is because North Korea violated it. North Korea had an agreement with South Korea not to develop nuclear weapons. They entered into that agreement in the early '90s, and then during the course of the '90s, while we thought Yongbyon--the place that's at issue now--was all sealed up, President Clinton and his administration gave assurances to the North Koreans that we were not planning to invade or attack them, written assurances.

Yet, despite those assurances, North Korea went and started to develop another form of nuclear technology. They started to enrich uranium--get the capacity to enrich uranium. And so we are not going to run back into a situation just like that where we give them another agreement of some kind and they give us promises. This time, it has to be something that is ironclad, something that removes the problem once and for all, and something that involves the other nations in the region. China has said it does not want a nuclearized Korean Peninsula. Well, China, then, I think should use its influence to bring that about.

We are criticized when we are unilateral, and then when we try to be multilateral we are criticized. So I think there is still an opportunity to solve this problem diplomatically even while we are worried about this nuclear effort. You may have seen an announcement today where North and South Korea are exchanging visitors, and last week a lane was created through the De-Militarized Zone for traffic between North and South Korea.

MR. RUSSERT: But, bottom line, no more nuclear bombs for North Korea?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we do not want to see a nuclearized Korean Peninsula. We think they may have one or two weapons there is every reason to believe that--and we do not want to see that to occur any more. That is also the position of all of North Korea's neighbors, and right now North Korea has said its only interest right now is to generate electricity, not develop nuclear weapons.

MR. RUSSERT: If we go into Iraq, will we be treated as liberators? And what will happen to the Shiites and these Kurds? Will they come together or break up?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are committed, if we go in, to keep this as a single country and to put in place a system of government that would allow these three major groups--Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites--to find a way to live together. It will be a major challenge. It is not something that has been accomplished previously in Iraq. It will be a major challenge, but I think it can be done.

I hope we would be seen as liberators. I think that might well be the case. The Iraqi people must be getting tired of living under a dictatorial regime that has used its wealth, the wealth of its people, to develop weapons of mass destruction, to invade neighbors, to threaten the world, and to bring this crisis down on the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people are hurting. And if only that $20 billion a year of oil revenue that is available to it would be used for good and not evil, would be used to build the country rather than build weapons, then perhaps if the Iraqi people saw that that situation was going to change, they might welcome that change rather than resist it.

MR. RUSSERT: Final question. Gallup poll, U.S. policy toward Iraq. Who do you trust more: President Bush, 25; Secretary Colin Powell, 63. Why is that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I do not analyze polls, Tim. I have learned it is wise not to.

MR. RUSSERT: Is it because you've been more reluctant to go to war?

SECRETARY POWELL: Tim, I will let you ask the people who did the poll. I just go about my business and do not worry about polls.

MR. RUSSERT: And we will be watching and we will hope you come back in the future as we get closer to an important date with Iraq. Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Tim. [End]

Released on February 9, 2003

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