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Powell Interview by The Associated Press


Interview by The Associated Press

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
April 16, 2003

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, to start with an easy one, Saddam Hussein. It's been awhile since we've heard whether the U.S. knows if he's dead or alive or -- is there any new information on that?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, not that I have. We don't know if he's dead or alive and we're not making any claims or statements until we actually do know.

The fact of the matter is, though, he is gone. Whether he is dead or alive, he is gone. He is no longer in the lives of the people of Iraq. The dictator has been removed and his entire regime has been removed, and you can see the joy on the faces of the people of Iraq when faced with the absence of Saddam Hussein and his regime.

QUESTION: Now, the notion that your suspicions that Syria has given haven to some Baath Party people, some Iraqi Government people, is there any more evidence of that? Because I don't think they've ever been directly accused of it, but the U.S. was concerned they might be doing it.

SECRETARY POWELL: We have provided some information to the Syrians that there are individuals that we believe are in Syria who should be returned to Iraq so that they can be held for the justice of the Iraqi people. And we have been candid with the Syrians and we have also made clear to the Syrians that we don't think it would be in their interest to be a draw for people who are trying to either get out of Iraq or get out of other places in the world and find a safe haven. Syria does not want to be a safe haven in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

QUESTION: Apart from this touchy issue, is there a discourse already going on? The Syrians were saying today in Damascus that they're having quiet diplomacy with the U.S. I don't know if it's an intent or an actual beginning of something, because you have said you would hope there is a place for them ultimately in an overall settlement. Are we doing anything with them directly at this point?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we're doing quite a bit. If you recall earlier in the year, every time I went to New York for a UN meeting I had occasion to meet or say hello, or at least have words, with my Syrian counterpart, Foreign Minister Shara, and we have spoken on the phone a month or two ago with respect to UN resolutions and other matters. We have a very vigorous diplomatic exchange with them through our Ambassador in Damascus, Ambassador Kattouf, and lots of messages have been passed back and forth in that channel.

In addition, I've used visits of some of my fellow foreign ministers. Foreign Minister Straw, Foreign Minister Palacio, Foreign Minister de Villepin, have all been to Syria in the recent past; and coming up, Foreign Minister Palacio will be there this weekend, and I spoke to her today about messages she might deliver.

I have been to Syria twice and I would expect to travel to Syria again to have very candid and straightforward discussions with my foreign minister colleague and with President Bashar Assad.

QUESTION: On these talks that have begun of the Iraqi groups, opponents all of Saddam Hussein, are you satisfied that we've launched a good process? There have been some grumblings that not all Iraqi groups are represented, and I wondered if this -- long question, but is this a lead-on, a lead-up to some sort of a U.S. military occupation, or do we get out of the way as quickly as we can?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, there will have to be a governing authority in Iraq for this initial period after hostilities are declared over, and that will have to be a military authority. We have obligations under Hague and Geneva Conventions to act as that kind of authority.

But, as quickly as we can, we want to transition this more and more to civilian authorities, as represented by General Garner and the civilians who are working for him from a variety of government agencies, and as quickly as we can after that, move it to the Iraqi people themselves, initially with an interim authority that we hope will be able to take on government-like elements to it and government-like activities, while waiting to become the government.

And so we hope that the process that was started this week, with people coming together representing different factions within Iraq, was a good start. They all came together. They talked about democracy. They thanked the coalition. They're glad Saddam Hussein is gone. They want to build the right kind of country and the right kind of government.

I think it was a very promising start. Now, the fact that there were some who were happy with it or demonstrated, that, in and of itself, is a remarkable thing when you consider when we're in beautiful, downtown Iraq, that people can actually do that and demonstrate and protest without fear of any repression. This is a change, and a healthy change.

QUESTION: A quick one on the Middle East and I'll give way to my colleague here. You've spoken many times of the U.S. announcing the roadmap once things were in place on the Palestinian side. I just wonder if you're going to do the announcing on the trip to the Middle East, if you care to tell us whether we should pack our bags.

But you spoke just a moment ago about Syria. Will you get into this thing personally on the ground there pretty soon?

SECRETARY POWELL: The term of art we use with respect to the roadmap is that we will release it to the parties. And the President has made it clear that as soon as there is a Prime Minister in the Palestinian Authority who has been confirmed by a vote of confidence by the Palestinian Legislative Council, we will release the roadmap to the parties. That is almost an administrative action; it doesn't require me to do it.

But I think as soon as that has happened and both sides have accepted the roadmap and the rest of the world has seen the roadmap, we will see a more -- a much more active American engagement, for the simple reason we now have a Prime Minister on the Palestinian side that we can work with. And so you will see us become much more active, both with my own involvement and travels, as well as in other ways. The President will be much more deeply involved and much more active.

With the confirmation of a Prime Minister on the Palestinian side and with Prime Minister Sharon, through his elections and the formation of a new government, we do have a new situation. And the most dramatic part of that new situation, the most dramatic element, is the Palestinian Prime Minister, because the President said in his speech on June 24th last year that we needed new transforming leadership to arise out of the Palestinian Authority; Yasser Arafat was, frankly, a failed leader. And with a new Prime Minister, we have that transformed leadership, and with other ministers that we know about already, such as the Finance Minister Mr. Fayyad, who is doing such a good job.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, North Korea. Could you talk about your hopes and aspirations for the Beijing meeting, the three-way meeting?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, as was reported today, we have been in intense consultation with our friends in the region and we have now put in place arrangements for a multilateral meeting, initially consisting of the United States, North Korea and China. And we hope this meeting will take place in the near future, we hope it might be next week, but we'll have to see the reaction we get from the news of this arrangement.

The Chinese are playing a very active role and they will be there as a participating party, not just as a convener of the meeting. And we will keep the South Koreans and the Japanese and the Russians and other interested nations in the region, the Australians, completely informed on what we are doing.

So I think this is good news. This is good news for the region. It is good news for North Korea, frankly, because it gives them the opportunity to present their positions, to come into this trilateral meeting and speak candidly in front of the United States and the Chinese with respect to their concerns; and it gives us the opportunity to do the same; and it gives the Chinese, who have a commitment to a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, to express their point of view as well.

We hope that this initial meeting will be just that, an initial meeting where positions are discussed and explained, and where there will be a basis created for follow-on meetings. We're not looking for a solution in one meeting of a couple days' duration. We believe this is a beginning of a long, intense process of discussion.

We will lay out clearly the concerns we have with respect to their nuclear weapons development programs and other weapons of mass destruction, their proliferation activities, missile programs, and all the other issues that I think they are familiar with already.

QUESTION: Are the North Koreans doing anything else besides agreeing to attend the meeting that you find interesting? Have they lowered their rhetoric? Are they rethinking their nuclear program in any way that you're aware of?

SECRETARY POWELL: We've made it clear that we were placing no conditions on the meeting. We are not afraid of talking. We're not reluctant to talk to those who wish to talk to us, and this was a case of just coming up with the necessary arrangements. We are hopeful, however, that nothing will happen that would make the political environment difficult for such meetings, and right now I think the political environment is relatively calm and satisfactory and lends itself to such a meeting. We hope it stays that way.

I will not speculate on what they might or might not be thinking about with respect to the future of their nuclear weapons programs. The programs are important to them, but the programs are also a hindrance to them in their desire to create better lives for their people.

QUESTION: When you're saying the political environment is calm, it seemed like daily, for months on end, they were issuing provocative statements. Has that stopped, more or less?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, they always have a way of delivering provocative statements on a daily basis, but they seem to be not particularly more provocative than usual. And so by the standards of normal discourse between us and the DPRK, it is a relatively calm period right now and I hope it stays that way.

It's important to note that the President is looking for a diplomatic solution. The President has said repeatedly that we will stand on principle, we will express our concerns candidly and clearly, but there are many tools available to the United States to deal with these kinds of proliferation problems and issues. And in this case, he is anxious to find a political solution, a diplomatic solution.

QUESTION: Your friend Jorge Castaneda, the former foreign minister of Mexico, has written in Foreign Affairs Magazine some interesting things about U.S. relations with Mexico and with Latin America. A brief quote. He says, "The United States has replaced its previous, more visionary approach to relations in the Western Hemisphere with a total focus on security matters. This disengagement is dangerous because it undermines the progress made in recent years in economic reform and democratization. Rarely in the history of U.S.-Latin American relations have both the challenges and the opportunities for the United States been so great. It is certainly not a time for indifference."

What do you say to that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I have great respect for former Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda. We became close friends and associates while we worked together. But I disagree with his analysis.

The United States, of course, has security concerns. Every nation in the world, and especially in this hemisphere, after 9/11 should have security concerns about defending yourselves against terrorists who might come across your border; but at the same time, we're working hard to make sure the United States remains an open society. We want to see an open hemisphere from Canada all the way down to Chile, and that's why we have committed ourselves to a Community of Democracies that was identified at the Quebec Summit at the beginning of President Bush's administration; that's why we're committed to a Free Trade Area of the Americas; that's why we're working on bilateral trade agreements with nations throughout the hemisphere; it's why the President had the Central American Presidents, the five Central American Presidents, up here just a few days ago to talk about progress toward creating a Central American Free Trade Area.

That's why the President created the Millennium Challenge Account. And a lot of the monies in the Millennium Challenge Account, which is new aid money that will go to those nations committed to democracy but who are in need, I suspect will benefit some of our Caribbean American friends.

So we have a rich agenda that includes security as an item, but also economic development, social development, counterterrorism activity, counter-drug activity.

I spent a good part of my time up before Congress this hearings' season talking about our counter-drug initiatives and talking about what we want to do with the countries of the Andean region to help them with alternative forms of economic development and alternatives to drugs, and all sorts of things. So I think our agenda is a rich one and it's a full one. And it certainly goes far beyond security.

QUESTION: On Venezuela, do you think that President Hugo Chavez is a reliable democrat who can be counted on to preserve democratic institutions built up over 40 years in Venezuela?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have had some concerns about President Chavez and his commitment to the kinds of democratic institutions that we believe are vital within a democracy, as we know democracy to exist in this hemisphere. And he is going to be given a test in the very near future, and a test is before him now.

Representatives of his government and representatives of the opposition have come up with a constitutional solution to the current crisis, putting in place a referendum -- a recall referendum -- to be held later this year. And it is now before President Chavez. And I think if he accepts this referendum and comes into agreement with the opposition and allows the Carter Center and the OAS and others to put this all in play, and to allow the Friends of Venezuela, of which America is one, a group called Friends of Venezuela, to help bring this referendum about later in the year, then he will be showing a commitment to democracy of the kind that we believe is the correct form of democracy for our hemisphere.

But it's up to the people of Venezuela to make that judgment, and this referendum will allow the people of Venezuela to make that judgment as to what kind of democracy they want to see in their country.

QUESTION: Thank you. If I can stay in the region for a minute. The UN Human Rights Commission put off the vote on Cuba today and the debate is, the curtain is collapsing. And I'm wondering -- your tone has been consistently harsh. You've called it horrible, this situation. What else can the U.S. do to get a meaningful censure, one that isn't too watered-down nor too stiff that it can't get passed?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, as you know, the vote's been put off until tomorrow, the 17th, and I have been calling foreign ministers in various parts of the world this afternoon to encourage them to vote for a resolution that would point out Cuba's terrible human rights record.

The Costa Ricans have come forward with an amendment that toughens the original Latin American Resolution -- and that toughening takes account of some of Cuba's recent actions against dissidents, against people who are just speaking out and trying to exercise their democratic rights -- human rights -- of free speech, and they are being thrown in jail for 10, 15, 20 years.

So I think the Costa Rican amendment is appropriate, and I hope that those voting will recognize that it is in the interest of human rights for the Cuban people for them to vote for that resolution with that Costa Rican amendment.

The Cubans, predictably, tried to undercut it all with two killer-amendments, and if you voted for the Cuban amendments, you would essentially be destroying the resolution. So, once again, the Cubans are doing everything they can imagine to try to keep the Geneva Human Rights Commission from speaking the truth with respect to the situation in Cuba. And I hope that by tomorrow the nations in Geneva will come together and vote in a way that shows that this august body in Geneva finds the Cuban human rights situation to be deplorable and worthy of censure.

QUESTION: Okay. If we look at -- more than a year has passed after taking control in Afghanistan. The U.S. is still engaged in a process of helping with an effective government, but they've been plagued by problems. So if you look at Afghanistan and you look at Iraq and meeting our -- what lessons do you think we've learned from that process in Afghanistan that maybe can be applied to Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, you say we've been plagued by problems. I would also submit that we have been blessed with success.

Afghanistan is now being led by a President who represents all of the people. We are seeing a government grow and become more effective with each passing day. A national army is being created and growing and is committed to the nation. We are seeing some economic activity really start in the country. However, there's still some instability within the country and there are some dangerous areas throughout the country.

I would submit that it is an incredible record of success. We are now using our military forces to provide a presence in the outlying provinces that will give more confidence to the people and we're going to chase down al-Qaida and Taliban outfits. The campaign isn't over in Afghanistan, but I think that we have seen a great deal of success.

In Iraq, you have an entirely different country and it's obviously in a different situation. But I think the experience that General Franks and his commanders obtained in Afghanistan with respect to the use of special forces, with respect to the providing of security in cities, with respect to integrating their work with that of the United Nations and other agencies, all of the lessons that were learned there will be applied to Iraq.

QUESTION: But Iraq is different.

SECRETARY POWELL: Iraq is not a broken country. Iraq has a great deal of potential. This war did not destroy Iraq to the point where reconstruction is necessary. Saddam Hussein destroyed Iraq to the point that reconstruction of the kind we're talking about is necessary, and that reconstruction will be financed, for the most part by the Iraqis because they have oil. They have the wealth of oil that will allow them to rebuild their country and not build weapons of mass destruction.

And so we have different situations and I think we will use the lessons of Afghanistan, but not misuse the lessons of Afghanistan. I have enormous confidence in General Franks and his commanders, in General Garner and his people, and all of the State Department people that I've sent over to work with General Garner.

Thank you very much.

[End]

Released on April 16, 2003


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