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Powell Interview by the New York Times Transcript

Interview by the New York Times

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
March 29, 2003

QUESTION: I thought I would begin by asking about the view of America around the world at this moment and the attitudes towards the war. Obviously, it's a difficult time. But let's look forward and let me ask you, first, your assessment about how much of a challenge that poses to you and the administration, and what are you going to do about it?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it does pose a challenge, to us. Even though we have 49 nations in a willing coalition, big and small nations, and a number of others who are supportive but would prefer that their support remain quiet, most of these nations are doing it in the direct face -- in the face of direct opposition among their populations of people.

But nevertheless, the leaders of these nations see the merit of the cause. And I think once we have been successful and we have prevailed and people realize that we have come to provide a better life for the people of Iraq, and that's certainly what we're intending to do -- to put in place a better government for the people of Iraq, I think you can turn this rather quickly.

And I think, as the President has said, we do plan to get deeply involved in the Middle East peace process now that a new Palestinian Prime Minister is on the verge of being confirmed. That fundamentally changes the dynamic there. We have somebody we can work with in a different way than we were -- might have been able to work with Chairman Arafat. And it's something that we have been calling for ever since the President's speech last June 24th.

If those two dynamics change: one, success in Iraq and people realize that war is over, a despotic dictator is gone, and there is a brighter future for the people of Iraq even though it will take quite a while to rebuild what he has destroyed and to put in place a form of government that will be seen as representative, even though it will take time. People see we're doing that, and people see we're moving out aggressively on the Middle East peace process with a new prime minister and a new Israeli Government, I think those two changed dynamics will assist us greatly in starting to reverse some of the public attitudes that are out there.

What we will do beyond that is to fully engage again on the President's agenda, which has many pieces to it besides Iraq. Iraq tends to be all the time right now that's -- we're going to move beyond that and go back to his emphasis on free trade agreements, his emphasis on creating communities and democracies around the world, continuing to build the relationship that we have with Russia and China, the two big accounts that I would like to talk about that are in good shape now, but continue expanding.

HIV/AIDS, famine, climate, obviously, we're not going to join Kyoto, but we have some ideas that we think we can present to the world that they would find attractive, expanding AGOA, working with African nations not only on HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases, but economic development, the Millennium Challenge Account. We will continue to deal with those nations in the world that still are pursuing rogue policies: North Korea -- try to find a diplomatic solution there and I think we're chipping away at this one despite some of the criticism that is leveled at us that we won't simply, why won't you simply just get in the room with the North Koreans? But there are other ways to handle it and we're chipping away at that one.

And so there's a broad agenda out there that will be focusing on democracy; that will boost democracy building and institution building around the world for democracies through the Millennium Challenge Account and through free trade agreements. And so there's a lot for us to do and I think as we come out of this crisis and get fully engaged again on the President's agenda, which has been out there for the last two plus years, but has sort of been overtaken by the war against terrorism and by Iraq.

We'll have great opportunity to change the perception and the message. Also, I think you will see that we will be spending a lot more time reaching out and reaching back to our friends with whom we may have been having some difficulties recently.

It's been a difficult time and as I said at a hearing the other day, particularly with respect to France -- it's one of my great lines of the decade -- we've been in marriage counseling for 225 years, and the marriage is still there. And it will be there, I hope, 225 years from now.

QUESTION: It was a great line.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. But we have to reach out. We have to spend more time. You know, everybody's been, "Well, how have you been spending your time?" Mostly in New York dealing with our friends and allies. This now frees us up with this issue to, about -- you know, going to be resolved, it frees us up to engage in ways that we haven't been able to in say, the last six to eight months.

QUESTION: Is, aside from going back to marriage counseling, what about -- what can you tell us in defining the role of the UN and Iraq, which seems to be a point of some contention now. Can you be a little bit more specific than you have been about the role -- I gather the decisions haven't been fully made -- but what can you -- push that one forward a little bit for us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. Let me touch on two others and I will come to that as -- in terms of the broader agenda we'll go back to. Work to cement the expansion of NATO; even though we're not in the EU, do everything we can to assist the EU and its expansion; and get back to more than I'm doing now on, been speaking to the parties in the region all week long: India, Pakistan and the whole Sub-Continent problem and make sure we don't find ourselves in the same situation we were in a year ago.


SECRETARY POWELL: When everybody was predicting nuclear war, but we managed to solve that. People forget. If we had had a nuclear war, they wouldn't have forgotten it, but we didn't have one so they forgot it. A hell of a lot of work went into that.

But in any event, to your question, the best description of what we're thinking about is in the Azores declaration that the President signed onto during that brief summit that they had Sunday before last.

There must be a role for the United Nations. It will be an important role. We are in contact with Secretary General Annan. I've talked to him four times, at least, this week, and Condi went up and visited with him on Tuesday. And we want to structure that role. The United Nations has made it clear through the Secretary General. They do not want to become the new governing authority.


SECRETARY POWELL: Of Iraq. But they have a role to play in many different ways providing humanitarian assistance and providing a level of endorsement for the manner in which we move forward by providing international legitimacy for the interim authority and the government that will rise up out of the interim authority, and providing a vessel into which nations can provide support to the rebuilding efforts.

The way I describe it to my colleagues in the Department, "We hope the United Nations will provide, you’re going to love this one, Steve, both a chapeau and a vessel." Jill, come on. This is poetic. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What's a chapeau? I'm joking. The answer I gave is brief (inaudible) asked me.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, well not really. It's more than a hat, but in diplomatic terms, help me here, Boucher, you're the FSO, I'm the infantryman, but a chapeau is a cover. It's a, but I don't want to say cover in the sense we're covering something. It essentially provides an endorsement, an international recognition for what's being done, an umbrella. An international umbrella for what's being done -- chapeau.

It's a vessel into which you can put resources from which you can then draw; vessel, like glass. And the reason I call it a vessel is if I go to one of the governments, I may not pick a particular government, but if I go to a particular government and say, "What can you do?" And they say, "We'll go to our Diet, we'll go to our Diet and we'll try to get so much money." That Diet is not going to appropriate that money to give to Colin Powell or to Tommy Franks, but it will give it to a vessel that has the underpinning of the United Nations.

When you think about the oil, we're going to protect the oil for the Iraqi people, we're going to find a way to start the oil system functioning again but without some kind of international chapeau, then is the oil free and clear to be entered into the international market, or is just the United States pumping oil?

So these kinds of issues, the financial system, if we want to bring -- and this is a real practical problem. If we want to introduce a new currency, and you have had the currency printed somewhere, what is the legal basis upon which the currency gets put into the international financial system?

All of these kinds of issues can be solved if you have the presence of the United Nations giving endorsement and giving legitimization -- oh, God, that's awful -- to what we are all about. And so, there is an important role for the United Nations to play. But as I also said in the hearing the other day, we are the ones who are doing the fighting and the liberating with our friends in the coalition. And so, we believe we have an important role to play, and to some extent drive this process until such time as there is an Iraqi Government that is up, functioning and running.

So what we can't do is just say, "Fine, the war is over. Baghdad is liberated. Here, turn it over to somebody."


SECRETARY POWELL: We don’t work that way. Now the debate always comes up, "Well, do you want a military government?" And the answer to that question is very simple. There will be a military commander in charge initially. There is one in charge now, as Bagh -- as Iraq is being opened up in the south, Iraqi authorities broken in the south, there are pockets of resistance and fighting taking place.


SECRETARY POWELL: But General Franks is now responsible for the south. So there is no other way for this to occur, but for there to be military control initially, and as I was suggesting to someone from an old infantry expression is, "First general order." I don’t know if you were in the Army or not, Steve -- but the first general order was, "Take charge of this post and all government property in view."

There is an obligation on the part of the military commander going in there to stabilize the situation, put down the fighting, deal with pockets of resistance, secure the people, protect the assets of the nation, put in place elements of administrative control and civil administration to start to get the place up and running. You can't do that by committee. And so, you have a military force in there with assets, with capability, and the military commander does that. But, very quickly, we want to shift a lot of that to --

QUESTION: How quickly?

SECRETARY POWELL: As quickly as one can. I mean there is no way to answer it. I can't get trapped with an answer because it is so -- it is so event and situationally dependent.


SECRETARY POWELL: If resistance, you know, is not a continuing problem and you can stabilize --


SECRETARY POWELL: -- you can do what I said quickly and get rid of the weapons of mass destruction, item number one. So if you can do that quickly, then you can get out of there quickly. If it takes more time, then it takes more time.


SECRETARY POWELL: That shouldn't be the test. The test is, is it clear that we have no intention of keeping a military government in place? But our intention is to shift from a military government to a -- to more and more civilians coming into it, so that you show a civilian face to our presence; and then stand up as quickly as you can.

QUESTION: You mean American civilians?

SECRETARY POWELL: American and others, coalition.


SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, and that's what Jay Garner's group is all about.


SECRETARY POWELL: And Jay Garner is assembling the groups of people now, who will come in and help to rebuild the ministries, make sure the ministries are purged of people who do not mean the country well, and start to rebuild the civil administration. And then, at the same -- hopefully, this is -- this will be sequenced very closely together. You put in place an interim authority. Now we are discussing what that interim authority should look like, Iraqis from outside, Iraqis from inside. How do you do that? This is a source of considerable discussion.


SECRETARY POWELL: But what we want to see is some Iraqi interim authority up and functioning, even if it's in the most limited sense, as quickly as possible so that the Iraqi people can see that what we are all about is working ourselves out of this business, and ultimately turning over all of the responsibilities of government to the Iraqi authority, which, hopefully, grows into -- it will be an embryonic Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, before the war started would you have anticipated that that could have been begun more quickly than it has been, getting the interim authority up and running? And if the war timetable is longer does that complicate the plan?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know that we could have -- we have been thinking about this and working on this for a long time, ever since we came in office. But the one thing that you have to complete the picture yet for an interim authority is what individuals and people within the country now should be made a part of that, so that it just isn't seen as an external, you know, placement. And I am not sure we could have done it any faster, Jill.

I do know that we are committed to getting it done as quickly as we can. And I can't quite give you a timetable. And it also does reflect how long the war will take to when you can actually start doing it. But Garner, as you know, is over there now. And so, we have put --


SECRETARY POWELL: -- people there. And so, we are ready to do it, but we are not yet ready to stand up something, even though some people are standing themselves up.

QUESTION: Could we ask a question about something you said recently which is that the so-called "doctrine" that you embrace and some give your name to is "decisive force." But even some commanders feel that there are not yet decisive forces there to do everything that needs to be done. Do you agree with that, and is that -- is there any way that you can -- you were surprised by that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I am sure that these generals and admirals, all of whom I know and I'm ashamed to acknowledge my advancing age by saying we were all captains just -- Vince Brooks, I remember when he was commissioned, and now he's standing there as a Brigadier General. It's scary. His father and I are contemporaries -- Major General Brooks, Leo Brooks.

I think that they will bring decisive force to bear. There is no doubt in my mind. These guys were trained the same place I was. But what I don't want to do is start commenting on the ups and downs, the ins and outs of the daily battles. And so, I will leave that to my colleagues in the field who bear the responsibility, and my colleagues in the Pentagon who bear the responsibility.

QUESTION: Still can you shed some light on what all -- by all accounts was, if not a debate, at least a normal decision making process about -- about the tactics and the size of the initial force, about your own participation?

And I would also be curious to know what you could tell us about how these options were presented to President Bush, as the decisions were made leading up to the war?

SECRETARY POWELL: As a member of the National Security Council, and as a member of the Principals Group of the National Security Council, I was present, if not during all of the discussions, among the principals and with the President and was able to make my input as Secretary of State, on the diplomatic aspects of the military plan that was being developed. And since I am an infantry officer and a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that has been there before in Desert Storm, I was also able to contribute from that perspective, as well.

But, in terms of the various options, and when they decided what level to put the force at, or not put the force at, I don't feel that I am able to comment because I was not part of that internal process within the Pentagon. And that's the story you have to write from your Pentagon sources.

QUESTION: What though, can you -- how much can you tell us about these various options being presented to the President? We are sort of interested --

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't discuss options that were presented to the President; which were accepted, which were discarded.


SECRETARY POWELL: I defend the President's position and decisions.

QUESTION: Do you think as a political analysis question in a pre-war op planning period that parts of the administration may have adopted too optimistic or rosy view about the fragility of the Iraqi regime, about the expectation that there might be more defectors, that the government might crack more easily than it has in this first week?

I know you have talked about sort of the fear of the people, fear of Saddam being an explanation for that. But do you think there was a miscalculation there in looking out?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think so. I think we looked at the range of possibilities that you could have immediate shattering, or it could be a more prolonged thing. In my opinion, and my contribution to it throughout, was that you had to be prepared for the whole thing. And that's why, as the plan was developed -- and that's the only thing I'll say about it -- they queued up lots of forces in anticipation that you may not know in the first week or so what the total requirement would be. And that's why there are forces that are still now flowing into the theater.

But we all would have liked to have seen in the media a crystal glass break and it's over. But I don't think anybody is stunned, shocked, or surprised to find that this is a resilient dictatorship that's had 30 years to keep itself in place. I bombed it for 39 days and invaded for four, and they never lost control. And Desert Fox in the Clinton administration was another four years of bombing. So we all knew that. We all saw that.

We saw eight years of an Iran-Iraq war. I don't think anybody was unmindful of the capacity of this regime and the control they have exercised over this country in a very dictatorial, hateful way for all of these years. So, you know, you may have to go take a census of everybody, but I had no illusions. We all hoped for the best, but you plan for not the best.

QUESTION: You did not expect a cakewalk?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I saw something in the paper that we were trying to figure out who did say cakewalk, and poor Kenny Adelman took the dive.

QUESTION: Cakewalk Ken.


SECRETARY POWELL: You can search my speakings and writings for years and you will find I never use expressions or terms, or words like that. War is not -- it is not a game; it is not a slogan. These are young men and women who are being sent to their fate.

QUESTION: But a prolonged war creates diplomatic and political problems, in terms of the world's support for the war. As small as it may be now, it could get worse. What can you say?

SECRETARY POWELL: We all would like to see it completed as rapidly as possible. But as the President said when pressed on the question yesterday, the answer is, "We will prevail, and it will take as long as it takes."

Obviously, with time passing there are different diplomatic issues that I have to deal with and there are different dimensions to the resistance that exists in the Arab world and elsewhere, and that just has to be dealt with and managed. But the war will move at its own pace, as dictated by the actions of the enemy and the actions of our forces. But I mean to listen to the Chief of Staff of the British General Staff this morning, and he was quite good at this one.

You know, strategically we have taken the initiative. We are moving freely about most of the country. There are still difficult areas in Basra and Nasiriyah and other places. There are difficulties with the line of communication, but General Franks is responding to that by bringing in more troops to protect those lines. And slowly it's shredding away the enemy. And I am not -- I am not taken aback by any of this. This is a battle, and one always has to understand.

And one of the generals put it very well this morning. It's not a quote I have used previously, but I will now, and it's a good one. "The enemy gets a vote." The way I have always said it is, "No plan survives first contact with an enemy." Plans are great, but I always have gone into battle with the clear understanding in my mind that there is a thinking, breathing human being on the other side who is trying to beat me. And you have to attribute capability to them. And you have to contribute a smart mind to your enemy.

QUESTION: He is going to have to go in a minute.

SECRETARY POWELL: I want to talk about resolutions. I wanted to talk about 1441. (Laughter)

QUESTION: We are talking about the future. We never look back.

SECRETARY POWELL: We don't get a chance to do reruns here? You'll give me a chance at the end, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there something you want to get off your chest?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, there's one. I do. But are you finished? You got your time in. You did it anyway.

QUESTION: We wanted to ask about North Korea and Iran.


QUESTION: And you told my colleague, the one who is in the career counseling business, not to expect that this model would work for North Korea or Iran. And you just talked about diplomacy in the context of North Korea. What can you tell us about the diplomatic approaches on both of those problems and assure people that that's the approach people who think, "Well, this is one notch on the belt, and next we're going --"

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, I think, as I said to Bill, "Give me -- give me the evidence for this point of view. Give me the evidence that says President Bush --"

I mean what he has said clearly with respect to North Korea is that we are doing everything we can to find a diplomatic solution. And I am very hard at work on that, and let me leave it there. We are very hard at work on that. And we have a position, they have a position, and we are trying to find a way forward.

I think the overall situation has improved. Stabilized is another way to put it in that the tension has been lowered, the rhetoric has been lowered. And we're trying to find a way forward, and I'm hard at work on that. And the President has repeatedly said, almost to the distraction of people, "What do you mean you don't want to go to war? This is what you're supposed to do." But he is saying I want to find a peaceful diplomatic solution.

In the case of North Korea, we have friends in the region who also are committed to a denuclearized Korean peninsula and who have an interest and an equity in finding a peaceful diplomatic solution. And we are working with them intensively. And we have been at this now since October when the thing, you know, broke open. What's that, four months, five months? You know, the Agreed Framework took over a year.

And so, we are hard at work, and we are not neglecting this. The reason I have to leave you is that the Korean Foreign Minister is arriving. We are not neglecting this account. With respect to Iran, there is a process underway in Iran. There is a yearning among the young people, which constitutes such a large percentage of their overall population. There is a conflict taking place between the political leadership and the religious leadership.

And we are going to continue encouraging young people to speak out for their desires, for their desire to become, I believe, part of a larger world beyond the world that has been provided to them by their religious and political leaders. And we are also going to speak out about Iranian terrorist support, and Iranian nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons and other kind of proliferation activities. But that doesn't mean we are going on a war footing as soon as Iraq is dealt with.


SECRETARY POWELL: And the same thing -- I would put Syria and Libya into that same category. It doesn't mean we have taken any of our options off the table. It's just to remind everybody that when you read the National Security Strategy again -- and I'm sure you will this weekend, Steve -- it has a lot more in it than just preemption. Preemption, you know that, it's two lines I think. It's a broader strategy in there, and the President has available to him lots of tools. And the tool you use is not always a hammer.

QUESTION: But when you're writing about something, you always need to leave.


QUESTION: Jill has one quick --


QUESTION: -- involving you have been doing some work and have had pieces about Richard Perle and some of the controversy involving his private client work vis-à-vis heading the Defense Policy Board. And one matter he worked on did land here. You did some work for Loral - the Loral case. Some of our sources have said that from on high -- maybe from you directly, that people were told to be careful and not discuss the Loral case with Mr. Perle. I wondered if that rings any kind of bell with you or if you were --

SECRETARY POWELL: It did last night when the reporter called. No, your reporter sent an e-mail query last night. And that's the first I'd heard of it at all ever. And what -- I think we responded. I think we sent an e-mail response.

QUESTION: They were going to I think.


QUESTION: Labaton.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, you guys've got Steves all over the place over there. But I think we e-mailed back to Steve's and Bill's.

QUESTION: He covers the SEC, too, so you'd better watch out.

SECRETARY POWELL: Oh, God. I'm undone. I think the e-mail we sent back essentially confirmed the facts. And that is that we have an office, our Political-Military office, run by Assistant Secretary Linc Bloomfield, who did receive queries from Richard Perle. And it's quite appropriate since Richard was, I guess, authorized for Loral to ask.

And in conducting our regular business, I know that Linc, and maybe members of Linc's staff did have conversations with Mr. Perle. We will do that with anybody who is authorized to call in and ask about such matters in an administrative -- we have the administrative responsibility to deal with these kinds of cases. But I did not -- I did not know anything about any of this until last night when suddenly a New York Times e-mail came in.

QUESTION: Well, thank you, sir. Since it's your time, we're going to --

SECRETARY POWELL: No, fortunately -- yeah. I want to say -- I just want to tell you -- let me say a couple of things about 1441. The story has already been written. But I just --


SECRETARY POWELL: -- just want to make a couple of points. 1441 was a remarkable diplomatic achievement on the part of the 15 members of the Security Council who could come together and agree that this regime was in continuing material breach of its obligations, had to give us a declaration in 30 days. And you know the rest of it, Steve. I won't bore you. And if they failed once again to meet their obligations, they did not take this last chance, then serious consequences would flow.

We believe that that was straightforward and there was a way to take it to the -- to conclusion once they demonstrated that they hadn't taken the last chance; passed 15-0 on the 8th of November, and we started the inspections on the 27th of November. Through the late winter and into the early part of this year, we listened to report after report from Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei.

And I presented my presentation on the 5th of February. And we essentially came to a point of major disagreement within the Council as to whether there was compliance or lack of compliance. That's what the whole fight was about all through January and February and into early March. We made a determination with other of our friends that it wasn't in compliance, and therefore serious consequences should flow.

Some of our friends, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Spain said the second resolution would be very helpful for us politically, and we ought to try to get that. And that brought all of the issues back on the table, and we fought hard for that resolution. We were doing rather well. But, notwithstanding reports to the contrary, we were doing rather well in lining up support.

I didn't have to go to Africa because I knew what every African vote was. I didn't tell what they were. I just said I knew what they were. And so, we didn't get the resolution because we couldn't get what was needed. Plus we couldn't rid of the French veto and, perhaps, Russian veto. Here is the bottom line of the story. That resolution went down, and it was seen as a defeat, and it was a defeat.

But it wasn't something we needed in the first place. We are resting everything we are doing now on 1441 and 687 and 678. What was interesting, and nobody has really touched this yet, is that even without the second resolution, Tony Blair went to his parliament and -- tough fight -- but he got the vote. And now public opinion is strongly behind him.

QUESTION: It was worth doing, in other words, even though you --

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, it was worth -- it was worth the effort. Tony Blair made the effort.


SECRETARY POWELL: And that having made the effort --


SECRETARY POWELL: -- he was strengthened. With his party really in disarray about this, he was strengthened enough to go to his parliament, make the case, and public opinion is behind him. And he went from, you know, here, he's back up.

QUESTION: This is history --

SECRETARY POWELL: All of the others -- all of the others as well, Aznar, Berlusconi, Howard, they all wanted it, but we didn't get it. We could have used it for our own public opinion.


SECRETARY POWELL: I mean I would have loved to have had a second resolution. But even in the absence of that resolution, Italy, Spain, were with us. Prime Minister Howard took a deep breath, he is with us, took it to his people in parliament. The only country that might have given some support that they weren't able to give is -- off the top of my head, big one -- Canada. They would have done something with the resolution. Without the resolution is was not (inaudible). That’s the only point I wanted to make.

QUESTION: It sounded to me like a six-corner pool shot that what you're saying is that you have the nine votes.


QUESTION: Well, let me ask you this.


QUESTION: But if -- but with the French saying that they were going to veto it anyway, that crumbled because some of them then said, "Well, why should we vote for something that's going to be vetoed?"


QUESTION: Whereas, if you have them, then maybe you could have convinced them not to veto.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that's the (inaudible) -- well, for all of these countries except for the -- well, for all of us, it was a tough vote to take. And there were only four of us that declared initially.


SECRETARY POWELL: And so, we needed five more, minimum, to declare publicly, ought to be able to show their hands, you know, "We were for you." We were really climbing the ladder. But when the French kept saying, "We will veto anything," and they did.


SECRETARY POWELL: Dominique said it, Chirac said it repeatedly, "There is nothing you can put before us we won't veto." And when we looked at that and realized the position that this was putting some of our friends in, the difficult position this would put them in, to take to a vote and have them show their hand and still lose, at that point it was sensible not to do it. That's diplomacy sometimes.



Released on March 29, 2003

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