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Secretary Powell on On Sky News

Secretary Powell on On Sky News

Secretary Colin L. Powell Interview with Keith Graves Washington, DC March 24, 2003

MR. GRAVES: Mr. Secretary, you've got a unique view of this conflict because you were the man leading the diplomatic attempts to solve it. That failed. Now, you look at it, it's gone to war. You were America's senior military man during the last Gulf conflict, successful one. Give me your take as Colin Powell with that unique view on how it's going.

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it's going very well, when you consider that in just five days we have penetrated hundreds of miles inside Baghdad. Yes, there have been some losses and there have been some very, very tough, pitched battles, but we're not facing any organized resistance across a whole front in conventional terms and the mobility of our forces and the air power we have available to us have permitted us to move so quickly. So when you think of how far we have come in five days, it is rather remarkable.

There is always that initial letdown in this kind of an operation when everybody sees what looks like a video war, and then suddenly you realize it's a real war with real people being captured and being killed and being wounded, then there is a little bit of anxiety that creeps in. The same thing happened during the Gulf War. For the first week, everybody thought things were going well, but then at the beginning of the second week there was this letdown and we had to come out and remind them that we're in a war, it takes time, keep patient and have confidence in the men and women who were fighting it. And they are very, very skilled commanders, both the United States side, the United Kingdom side, the Australian side and a number of other nations that are part of this coalition on the battlefield.

MR. GRAVES: Do you wish, when you look back now -- you've just fought an unsuccessful diplomatic battle. Do you wish, when you look back, that you, as a military commander at the time, and it was said that you didn't want to pursue the war once you got the Iraqis out of Kuwait, do you wish you had gone and finished Saddam off then?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, because people like to make that point, but the point is that the decision not to go to Baghdad, the decision not to remove the regime at the time of the Gulf War, was not made at the end of the war. It was made before the war. It was a political decision made by President Bush, the United Nations and all the other coalition partners that the mission would be to eject the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, not go to Baghdad. So there has always been a debate as to whether in that last day or two of the war we might have continued the war for a day or two longer in order to inflict more damage on the Iraqi army, and one can debate that, but there was never a discussion at the end of the war about continuing on to Baghdad. That was never part of the mission and that's the way that was.

Now, you also said diplomatic failure, but, in fact, what we achieved was UN Resolution 1441, which I believe was a great diplomatic success and is, frankly, the authority under which we are conducting this operation, Iraqi Freedom, with the undergirding Resolutions 678 and 687. We failed to get the second resolution, which the United States never thought we needed, but some of our coalition partners thought that it would be helpful to have a second resolution. We had all the authority we thought we needed in 1441, as soon as Saddam Hussein failed to comply, put out false declarations and did not take that last opportunity he had, that last chance he had, to make a strategic choice to disarm. At that point, we believe we had all the authority we need. So I consider it -- and this is a little self-serving, I guess -- I consider it a diplomatic success to have gotten 1441 and a disappointment that we didn't get the second resolution.

Remember, the second resolution would also have taken us to war. It wasn't leading to a peaceful solution.

MR. GRAVES: You said you went for that second resolution because some of your partners wanted it. I guess you're thinking particularly of Tony Blair there. Do you wish you hadn't -- I mean, it is said in Britain that you delayed everything to try and help him out. You wouldn't have gone for it without him. Is that true?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, let me put it in context. The military buildup was taking place and the timing of the second resolution was not in any way affecting what we might be doing with the military buildup or our ability to get ready.

A second resolution was obviously helpful to the United Kingdom, but it also would have been helpful to a number of the other nations of Europe that were supporting us, Italy, Spain. Frankly, it would have been helpful in the United States as well. But that second resolution was not something that would have avoided conflict. It would have given more authority to the conflict, more than even 1441, in the sense that it might have drawn more people into the coalition. But the second resolution was a resolution that said Saddam Hussein has lost his last chance, so we were heading to conflict one way or the other. And that conflict was brought about by Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with 1441, which was passed by a 15-0 vote in the Security Council.

MR. GRAVES: Can we deal with some of the sort of issues of today? It's being said that you have, the Americans, have got evidence or reason to believe that Saddam Hussein may have plans or may have planned to use chemical weapons against his own people, the Shias in the south of the country, and then blame the coalition forces. Is there any truth to that?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have reports that there is such thinking within the Iraqi regime and so we are on guard against that and we will continue to gather evidence. And we wouldn't put it past them. They have done this in the past. They have attacked the Iranians with chemical weapons and they've attacked their own people in the past. And if I thought -- and there can be no question in anyone's mind, certainly not in my mind -- that if they thought that there was a way to fundamentally shift international opinion with respect to this conflict by blaming us for that, I'm sure they would do it.

MR. GRAVES: But are you just speculating, or do you think --

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm speculating --

MR. GRAVES: You haven't got evidence?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have reports and there is some evidence for those reports, but that's about as far, I think, as the intelligence will take it right now.

Keep in mind, however, I don't think it would work. Everybody knows coalition forces would never be using any such weapons, so if such weapons were used, it would be an admission on the part of Saddam Hussein that he had been lying all along, an admission we don't need because we know he's been lying all along.

MR. GRAVES: I know you're concerned at reports because you've made a formal protest to Moscow that the Russians, not necessarily the government, have actually been supplying and may still be supplying military equipment to the Iraqis even as this war is progressing that is being used against coalition forces. Do you think the Russian Government is involved in that themselves?

SECRETARY POWELL: These are private companies and we have given a considerable amount of information to the Russians, and I hope to convey some fresh information to the Russians that they might find useful in making our case to them and their case to this company, and go after a particular company, but there are other companies as well.

And so we have conveyed to the Russians today, and I just got off the phone with my colleague Foreign Minister Ivanov recently, in the last hour or so. We have conveyed to them how serious we view this because it isn't just a matter of export controls, it's a matter of putting our youngsters' lives at risk by enhancing Iraqi military capability.

MR. GRAVES: But you know that is happening? You know that equipment is there?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes.

MR. GRAVES: With Russian technicians?

SECRETARY POWELL: I know the equipment is there.

MR. GRAVES: But you don't know whether the Russians are, or you're not saying?

SECRETARY POWELL: I know the equipment is there.

MR. GRAVES: Right. Can we talk about prisoners of war. Everybody who saw that video -- you've seen the video yourself?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes.

MR. GRAVES: It was pretty appalling, but you've issued all sorts of warnings to the Russians [sic]. It's almost inevitable that there are going to be more prisoners of war, I guess, if this continues for long, and the President is indicating it's not going to be quick. But there's no much you can do to help those people, is there?

SECRETARY POWELL: Of course not, because those youngsters are prisoners of war. But the civilized world dealt with this issue over the years by saying that you accord prisoners of war certain treatment that respects their dignity, that does not parade them out. You don't show dead bodies in a way that they can be identified by their parents. You don't interrogate them on camera for the purpose of broadcasting it around the world. There are certain rules that the Iraqis are violating and they are in violation of the Geneva Convention by doing so.

MR. GRAVES: And I'd just ask you finally, when you saw that video, as a soldier who was in Vietnam -- I mean, you're used to seeing the brutality of war -- what was your feeling, personally?

SECRETARY POWELL: I was deeply troubled and disturbed, first that we had lost the lives of these youngsters, but more importantly, that they would be used in this way. They fought for their nation. We are against a vicious enemy, an enemy that would violate all international conventions. But why should we be surprised? Iraq has been violating many international conventions for many, many years. It is Iraq's flagrant disregard for international law and order that has brought this war upon us.

And when this war is finished, and it will be successfully finished in the not too distant future, in my judgment, then this regime will be gone, Iraq will be a free nation, and its people can build a better nation for themselves with a responsible government, a government that will ensure Iraq takes advantage of its oil for the benefit of its people and lives in peace with its neighbors, and we'll have a far better situation in the Gulf region.

MR. GRAVES: Mr. Secretary, thank you, in the midst of what must be a very busy schedule at the moment, for taking time out to talk to Sky News. Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: My pleasure. Thank you. [End]

Released on March 24, 2003

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