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Powell on CNN's Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer

Interview on CNN's Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer

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

(Aired 12:00 p.m. EST)

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks once again for joining us. Critical moments right now, obviously, in the potential war with Iraq. What's the rush?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think there has been a rush. There has been 12 years of disobedience on the part of Saddam Hussein and Iraq of the obligations that they have under the various UN resolutions. It has been almost six months since the President gave his speech, four months since Resolution 1441 was put down. How much more time should we wait for the kind of total compliance expected by Resolution 1441?

MR. BLITZER: Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, says give them a few more months, you've got the country surrounded, they're doing intrusive inspections, they're destroying missiles. Why not let them have a few more months?

SECRETARY POWELL: Because Iraq continues to deceive, Iraq continues to find ways to divert the inspections. They are providing them some level of passive cooperation and there are obviously some things that are going on. But what is causing these things to be going on on the part of the Iraqis? Is it the inspection process or is it just the presence of military force? And Iraq is trying to do as little as it can to remove that political pressure and that military pressure so they can go right back to the old ways.

Look what Saddam Hussein said yesterday. He started placing demands on the United Nations. He wants the sanctions gone right away. He wants to be free again to continue with his original intent, and that was to develop weapons of mass destruction. I haven't seen that strategic change of direction on the part of Iraq and on the part of Saddam Hussein.

Dr. Blix, while he did give a report that describes some of the cooperation that he has experience, and Dr. ElBaradei the same thing, he also handed out a document close to 200 pages long that lists page after page of unanswered questions about the most deadly things one could imagine -- anthrax, botulinum toxin, mustard gas bombs, RPVs that are being developed that have just now turned up.

MR. BLITZER: So are you saying that if you gave him a few more months, three, four five months, even while you surrounded Iraq, even while the inspectors are there, during that period there would be an imminent potential threat to U.S. interests?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think that there is a threat to U.S. interests, there's a threat to stability in that part of the world, and with the post-9/11 nexus between countries such as Iraq that develop weapons of mass destruction and terrorists who are trying to acquire them, I think the world just cannot sit back.

And what he's really trying to do is to stretch this out until the troops can't stay there any longer and they go home, and he has not fully complied at that point and he is quite sure that the will of the international community will be broken at that point.

And so the international community came together on the 8th of November with 1441 and said he's guilty, he's got to now fix this, he's got to come into full, immediate, unconditional -- not conditional, not later -- and also active cooperation, not passive cooperation. We still haven't seen that and we must not be deceived by these limited steps that he's taking.

MR. BLITZER: Well, Dr. Blix suggested that he has seen some active cooperation. I want you to listen to what he told the UN Security Council on Friday. Listen to this:

"The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament, indeed, the first since the middle of the 1990s. We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed."

Almost 50 al-Samoud II missiles, potentially with chemical-biological warheads. They could kill a lot of U.S. troops.

SECRETARY POWELL: They could kill a lot of people, and I'm glad that they're being destroyed. I just don't know how many there are and we don't know where the infrastructure may be to produce more of them.

And so I don't view this as a definitive statement of Iraq's change of position with respect to giving up its weapons of mass destruction. And how did it come about that these weapons are being destroyed? Only grudgingly, only when the UN placed a demand, and only when Saddam Hussein realized that he had better start destroying these because the Security Council was liable to be no longer deceived by his efforts and there was the possibility of a war.

So this is grudging response. This isn't the kind of full, active, unconditional response that 1441 was looking for.

MR. BLITZER: But France and Germany, Russia, some of your closest allies, suggest even grudging response is better than war.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that is a point of view that they are entitled to. We believe that we have given him more than enough time, that it's time for the Council to make a decision, this week, that he has blown his last chance. We simply have not seen that strategic change of direction or intent that 1441 and all the previous resolutions called for.

If he was serious, he wouldn't be placing demands on the UN, as he did yesterday; he would be saying, here are all the people you want to interview, here are all the facilities that I have, here are all the weapons that I have, here are all the documents that I have. They are master documenters, as Dr. Blix noted on Friday. They have records. Where are these records? Why aren't they coming forward? Why are they only now suddenly discovering more R-400 bomb fragments and pieces to show to the inspectors? They're doing it grudgingly and they're doing it only to try to keep us from getting to the truth.

MR. BLITZER: Is there something that the U.S. Government knows that the governments of France and Germany, for example, don't know about what's going on inside Iraq right now?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't answer that question because I don't know how much more we may or may not know, or less than they do. But I do know that their intelligence services, France and Germany, I am quite sure that their intelligence services are fully aware of the simple fact that Iraq continues to have and develop weapons of mass destruction. What those intelligence services have shared with the policymakers, I can't answer.

MR. BLITZER: Speaking of intelligence, on the nuclear front, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief nuclear inspector, says that some of the information you and the British Government were providing is simply wrong; for example, forged documents suggesting that Niger was providing some sort of uranium to Iraq. Who forged those documents?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have no idea, and if that issue is resolved, that issue is resolved. But we don't believe that all issues with respect to development of a nuclear weapon have been resolved. The issue of the centrifuges -- and I know that Dr. ElBaradei has said he doesn't see any evidence that the centrifuges, the aluminum tubes, were being used for centrifuges -- but we still have an open question with respect to that and we see more information from a European country this week that suggests that that is exactly what those tubes were intended to be used for. Our CIA believes strongly, and I think it's an open question.

They have deceived the IAEA previously with respect to their nuclear weapons program and we have seen this week Iran has got a more aggressive nuclear development program than the IAEA thought it had, and surprised the IAEA when this information finally came to the attention of the IAEA and they were able to verify it in Iran. So you have to be very careful before you close the book on the potential development of nuclear weapons.

MR. BLITZER: They deceived the IAEA in the '80s when Dr. Blix was in charge. Are you raising some concerns about how good of an inspector he might be?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I'm raising concerns about how good the Iraqis are at deception, at diverting attention, as being very clever at breaking the will of the international community, and on using that desire that all people have for peace. Everybody wants peace.

But sometimes, you know, you simply have to do what is right and, hopefully, when you have done what is right, if it includes the use of military force, in the aftermath you can demonstrate to the world that you had done the right thing and that you have provided a better life for the people of Iraq, and you have created a new nation that will live in peace with its neighbors, and we won't have to be worrying about issues like this because it will be a new leadership in Iraq that is not committed to the development of weapons of mass destruction, and you will not have another 12-year sordid story of deception on the part of an Iraqi regime.

MR. BLITZER: The March 17th proposal, the deadline the British have put forward, you support that. The French Government says that's not a good idea. Listen to what Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, says: "We said very clearly, we said it in Paris, with our Russian friend, that as permanent members we won't accept this new resolution."

Is there any flexibility in that March 17th date?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is a date that is before the Council now, and we have sponsored it with the British and the Spanish have also signed onto it, and there it is in a resolution and we have no plans to change that date.

MR. BLITZER: Do you have the votes to get it passed?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we don't know yet. We are working very hard over this weekend, as you might imagine, and we will be working very hard over the next several days to talk to our friends in the Security Council. And I think we're making some progress with the elected ten members, but as you know, the French have taken a strong position to oppose any resolution. Although they haven't used the word "veto," they're certainly indicating that.

MR. BLITZER: When will the vote take place?

SECRETARY POWELL: Sometime this week. I can't predict which day. It won't be tomorrow, but sometime this week I think we'll push it to a vote. I think everybody needs a little more time to reflect on what they heard Friday. The modified resolution was introduced on Friday, so we have to give people time to reflect on that over the weekend and into the early part of the week.

MR. BLITZER: As you're doing this final diplomacy, though, are you open to revising somewhat the language in that amended resolution, if necessary, to pick up the nine affirmative votes and not necessarily get a veto?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we think the language is quite good. But, obviously, most nations only saw it for the first time on Friday afternoon, so we're open to hear responses from them, and if they have ideas that make sense, it's certainly possible to modify the language. We think the resolution is pretty good as it stands.

MR. BLITZER: And possible to modify the date, as well?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm not inclined toward a modification of the date, and nobody has so far suggested that to us. But I can't tell you now what people might suggest over the next 48 hours.

MR. BLITZER: The whole notion of if you don't get the resolution passed, what happens then? Will the President still be determined, if necessary, to go to war?

SECRETARY POWELL: The President has shown a determination to disarm Iraq and to disarm Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. And if we get the vote, fine, then the international community is unified behind that effort. If we don't get the vote, the President then will have to make a judgment as to whether or not we're prepared now to lead a coalition of the willing to disarm Saddam Hussein, to change the regime, because that seems to be the only way to get him to disarm.

And I would not prejudge what the President might do, but I think the President has spoken rather clearly on this point for many, many months.

MR. BLITZER: Some have suggested he has put himself in a box. Given U.S. credibility around the world, he can't back down now.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the President can -- has all the options available to him until he picks one of those options, and then we'll move forward. And I've been in situations like this a number of times before in my career, where public opinion was against you, where there were demonstrations against you, but if you did what was right and it turned out to be the correct thing to do because you have made the region and the world a safer, better place, then you can be vindicated in the aftermath. And I think that's the situation we are facing here now.

MR. BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left. How close is Iran to building a bomb?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, this is a good issue. I mean, here we suddenly discover that Iran is much further along, with a far more robust nuclear weapons development program than anyone said it had, and now the IAEA has found that out. We have provided them information. They have discovered it. And it shows you how a determined nation that has the intent to develop a nuclear weapon can keep that development process secret from inspectors and outsiders, if they really are determined to do it. And we know that Saddam Hussein has not lost his intent.

MR. BLITZER: Finally, Mr. Secretary, North Korea. They North Koreans say simply talk to North Korea and you can resolve this nuclear tension. Why not establish a direct dialogue?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think eventually we will be talking to North Korea. But we are not going to simply fall into what I believe is a bad practice of saying the only way you can talk to us is directly, when it affects other nations in the region. And this time, we need a solution that all nations are brought into.

We talked directly to North Korea when we signed the Agreed Framework in 1994, and it turned out that that just became something that was parked as they went on to develop nuclear weapons through another technology. This time, we want a better solution. We want a solution that involves all the countries in the region. And I hope North Korea understands that it is also in their interest to have all the nations in the region a part of this dialogue. And within that broader dialogue, we'll be talking to the North Koreans.

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck to you. [End]

Released on March 9, 2003

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