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Powell Interview on CNBC's Capital Report

Interview by Alan Murray and Gloria Borger on CNBC s Capital Report

Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC March 4, 2003

(As aired at 9 p.m. EST)

MS. BORGER: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us on Capital Report.

SECRETARY POWELL: You are quite welcome, Gloria.

MS. BORGER: Let me start with the obvious question, which is, of course, how close are we to war?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I can't answer that question. Time is running out on Saddam Hussein. We have been waiting for 12 years for him to disarm. We've been waiting almost four months since Resolution 1441 passed and we still are not seeing a level of cooperation and we're not seeing the compliance that the international community had hoped for. So time is running out.

MS. BORGER: Is there anything you realistically believe can happen to avoid war?

SECRETARY POWELL: Sure, if he really demonstrated that he was going to totally comply and not just wait until the pressure was on him, and he destroys a few missiles, he gives a few more documents. This is all a game he's playing, trying to satisfy the pressure that's being placed on him.

But the level of cooperation we've seen recently is not because he has made a strategic decision to comply, but because there are five American aircraft carriers in the region and thousands upon thousands of troops are assembling to disarm him if he doesn't disarm. So he's trying to divert that pressure through these techniques and tactics.

But if he were serious, what we wanted to see after 1441 was here are the documents, here's the evidence, here's what I did, I'm going to destroy this, I'm going to show you everything, you can interview anybody you want to interview, you can interview them in the country, out of the country; I have a made a strategic choice to disarm. That is what we have not seen and we must not let these tactical moves deceive us into believing he has made a choice.

MS. BORGER: Do you think he'll step aside? There's any shot that he would do it?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't answer that. It was interesting that a number of the Arab countries, recognizing the gravity of the situation, called upon him to step down.

If he were to step down, I think that would be good for the people of Iraq, it would be good for the region, and it would avoid a potential conflict. But so far in the course of his many years of leadership and dictatorship in Iraq, he has not evidenced that kind of concern over anybody but himself.

MR. MURRAY: Are you going to get the votes you need in the United Nations for a resolution, and is Russia, in particular, going to be one of those votes?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I won't know whether I get all the votes till -- the votes I need, till the day the vote is cast -- the votes are cast. But I'm, frankly, encouraged by the conversations that I've been having with members of the elected ten, those ten members of the Security Council who are elected, and I have a pretty good understanding of where all the permanent members are and what their thinking is.

And as you know, you need nine positive votes and no vetoes from any of the permanent representatives, and I think that is not an insurmountable task, even though others might.

MR. MURRAY: You know, the last time Mr. Blix appeared before the UN Security Council, he made a direct attack on your comments, saying one piece of what you said there was no evidence for that. What was your reaction to that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Nothing whatsoever. I didn't react, particularly. I didn't really consider it an attack. He looked at one of the photos and he said, based on his information, he didn't reach the same judgment. That doesn't mean I was wrong. He didn't reach the same judgment.

MR. MURRAY: Does that undercut your confidence in him?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, it doesn't undercut my confidence in him. I believe that Dr. Blix is a very dedicated, distinguished man who will give you his straight opinion. But I not only had the picture that I showed that day, I had quite a bit of additional evidence that I wasn't able to present that day that certainly confirmed to me what we said about that facility. But based on what he saw and what he did, he came to a different judgment. And that's been portrayed as a huge attack against me, but I didn't see it that way at that moment.

MS. BORGER: Do you really believe there is any great value in further inspections?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think the inspections can only serve a useful purpose if the person on the other side, Saddam Hussein, has made a strategic decision to cooperate. And so the question of how much longer the inspections should continue, do you need more inspectors, do they need more technical assistance, you can double or triple the number. And by the way, the inspectors have not asked for more inspectors. They think they have enough inspectors. What they're looking for and what we've all hoped for was a level of cooperation and an intention on the part of Saddam Hussein to comply, and that we have not seen. So longer inspections, more inspectors, will not solve this problem.

MS. BORGER: So if he's not going to change, what's the value?

SECRETARY POWELL: The value is that the inspectors are there to verify what he says and what he has turned over. There are some in the Council who believe that inspections in and of themselves are the solution to the problem, but we know better. We have seen how he can divert inspectors, how he can deceive them, how he can send them down the wrong trail. We saw that for years.

And then, when the inspectors finally started to get wise and were getting close to the truth in 1998, he created conditions that the inspectors had to leave and stop doing their work. And I think, you know, these are inspectors that are there, really, to verify that he is complying with the resolution and not to be detectives running all over the countryside looking for prohibited materials.

MS. BORGER: Let's switch now to North Korea. There was news over the weekend that the North Koreans are going to start reprocessing plutonium. Is that true?

SECRETARY POWELL: I saw no such news. I saw a press report. I saw an article in the newspaper.

MS. BORGER: Is it true?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't know. Only the North Koreans know what's true. But so far, they have not started to reprocess uranium. They will have that capability if they choose to use it. They did start the reactor up and it would not shock me if I came to work one day and discovered that they had started the reprocessing facility.

We have been communicating to them through all of our many channels and through their neighbors that this would not be a very wise thing to do as we are all searching for a diplomatic solution. The starting up of the reprocessing facility, which would give them the material to produce nuclear weapons, would change the entire political context, and we don't think that would be a helpful thing to do as we look for a political solution.

But I can't tell you about the truth of an article which was speculative.

MR. MURRAY: Under what circumstances would you be willing to consider a face-to-face meeting with the North Koreans?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have said to the North Koreans and we've said to all of our friends in the region that this is not just a problem between the United States and North Korea. The North Koreans would like to make it simply a bilateral problem, but it affects China, it affects South Korea, Japan, Russia. It affects the international community. That's why the International Atomic Energy Agency has referred the problem to the Security Council.

And we believe the best way to approach this is with every neighbor that has an interest getting together and others in the international community getting together and beginning a conversation with the North Koreans. The United States would be at such a meeting and I am sure in the course of that meeting there would be more than ample opportunity for the United States and North Korea to exchange views with each other --

MR. MURRAY: As part of a larger way forward?

SECRETARY POWELL: -- to find a way forward. At least start as a larger way forward. Remember, we had bilateral discussions between the North Koreans and the United States. It produced the Agreed Framework which capped Yongbyon, the facility we're talking about, for eight years, but it allowed the North Koreans to say, gee, this is so valuable, let me go get another nuclear facility and let me start enriching uranium. So it didn't work last time. This time, we need the entire international community involved.

MR. MURRAY: When you take a step back, you've got North Korea, you've got Iraq, you've got the war against al-Qaida, you've got the problems in the Middle East. Nobody can even throw in Venezuela. How did we get ourselves to a point where you had so many problems on your plate at the same time?

SECRETARY POWELL: There are always problems in the world. I have been in this business for a lot of years. I've been a National Security Advisor, the Chairman of --

MR. MURRAY: You ve had this many at once?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I haven't actually done an audit of it. This is certainly in the class of most. I will not argue with that point, but nevertheless, these things happen and they are not all the fault of the U.S. Things happen. And the United States is the leader of this world that wants to be free and whenever one of these problems emerge people will look to us to do something about it. And then they want to know, well, was it your fault? It very seldom is our fault, but almost always somebody wants us to do something about it.

And the greatness of this nation, and I think the greatness of this President, is that he is willing to play a leadership role in trying to solve these problems from a position of strength, but from a position of principle, as well. And we'll continue to do that. Many things are going well -- our relationship with China, our relationship with Russia, a number of other areas, free trade agreements that we have been able to put in place with a number of countries, we've been pushing globalization. So there are many things that are going well in the world, as well.

MS. BORGER: Mr. Secretary, how could it be, though, that we're having so much trouble getting support around the world for war in Iraq, a potential war in Iraq, when you believe, and clearly this Administration believes, that there is such a powerful case to be made?

SECRETARY POWELL: There is a feeling among many people in the world, and a number of our allied friends feel this way, that this problem does not rise to the level of significance that should require the U.S. to use armed forces. We believe differently, as do many of our friends. I mean, most of the European nations, if you want to go through an audit, essentially are supporting the U.S. determination to deal with this problem, even when their populations are not supportive of it. I mean, you take Mr. Aznar in Spain, Mr. Blair in England. They are leaders who are determined to move forward. Mr. Berlusconi. I could name quite a few of them.

Even in the presence of public opinion that is in the other direction, they understand the danger presented by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction; they understand the nature of this despotic, dictatorial regime that has abused its own people, committed torture, and would commit that torture on a greater scale with weapons of mass destruction; and they understand the nexus between that kind of capability and terrorism -- all brought into focus after 9/11.

These leaders are standing firm, and we are standing firm with them and we are going to deal with Saddam Hussein. We'll deal with him peacefully through the United Nations, and if conflict does become necessary, I hope the United Nations will understand that and pass a resolution that will express that understanding.

MR. MURRAY: Mr. Secretary, we had your son on our show just a couple of weeks ago. It was the day that he was handed his first defeat by the FCC. I want to read you what he said on that show and then get your response. It was really -- it was touching.

I was asking him about this -- you were both having a tough week, so I was asking him about the difficulties. He said, "I love my father deeply. I think he's a brilliant individual and made of mettle that I've never seen produced on this earth. He's fighting difficult issues. He had his French delegation and I had mine this week."

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I feel the same way about my son. I am enormously proud of him, as you can imagine.

MS. BORGER: Mr. Secretary, just one last question as we end this interview -- what keeps you up at night as you think about a nation that may be going to war?

SECRETARY POWELL: Whether it can be avoided. I always strive for peace. I don't look for conflict or war. I've been characterized as a dove, a reluctant warrior -- be my guest. I always try to find a peaceful solution and I'm always looking for that peaceful path.

But I also know as a soldier, having been in war, having led men into war and sent men to war, that sometimes you can't find a peaceful solution and then the force of arms must be used. And I'm always thinking, how can we do that with minimum loss of life, get it over with quickly, and then help the country that we had to go into, put them back on a more stable footing? And if that comes to pass in Iraq, if that's what we have to do in Iraq, Iraq will be a better place afterwards.

MS. BORGER AND MR. MURRAY: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. [End]

Released on March 4, 2003

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