Powell Sees "New Dynamic" at Work in Mideast
Powell Sees "New Dynamic" at Work in Mideast
(Secretary briefs on Air Force One en route to Poland)
There is a "new dynamic" in the Middle East resulting from the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, new governments in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and President Bush's ability in recent weeks to get Israelis and Palestinians to begin steps on the road map to peace, says Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Powell briefed May 30 on Air Force One as he accompanied President Bush at the start of a week-long trip to Europe and the Middle East.
Asked about his hopes for the planned meeting June 4 in Aqaba, Jordan, of Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Powell said what's important is that for the first time the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the U.S. president will be sitting in a room together, "with all three parties sharing a common vision of moving to a situation where a Palestinian state is created to live side by side in peace with Israel."
On the June 3 meeting of Bush and Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Powell said "the goal will be to make sure that we have all of our Arab friends solidly in line with their vision of last year and the president's vision, so that they will provide assistance to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] to strengthen his position as prime minister."
He said "we hope that they will understand that it may require more practical support in the way of assisting the Palestinian Authority and recreating and restructuring their security establishment, as well as economic assistance for the Palestinian people as the process starts to move."
Powell said Bush has been "deeply interested" in the Middle East situation from the beginning of his administration, but the various efforts at advancing the peace process "all failed because of terror and violence. We couldn't find a way to go forward."
He said "we realized that we couldn't go forward unless we had leadership in the Palestinian side that would give 100 percent effort and 100 percent intent, and speak to the Palestinian people about the need to end terror and violence. And we didn't get that with Mr. Arafat. We tried, I tried."
Now, he said the Palestinians have a new leader who is "a serious interlocutor for peace."
Asked about recent charges that the intelligence process prior to the Iraq war was politicized so that it would generate material to justify military action, Powell said that everything he presented to the U.N. Security Council on the February 5 was based on "good sourcing" and "was not politicized, it was solid information that was being presented to us for our consideration for that briefing, not by political appointees, but by the analysts who were responsible for it."
He said he worked with the analysts themselves until midnight three straight nights, "challenging them, because I knew that it was the credibility of the United States that was going to be on the line on the 5th of February. ... And what we put up on the 5th of February was the best analytic product that we could have put up. And it was mutli-sourced, and multi-sourced by the people who knew."
Following is a transcript of the Powell briefing:
THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary May 30, 2003
PRESS GAGGLE BY SECRETARY COLIN POWELL Aboard Air Force One En Route Krakow, Poland 9:45 A.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: All right, we have a special guest star for you this morning. So I'll turn it over to Secretary Powell, on the record, for the gaggle.
SECRETARY POWELL: Okay, I'll take your questions. I think Condi, in her briefing the other day, gave you a pretty good sense of what the trip is all about, the schedule, as well as our goals for each of the stops. So I'll just go right to your questions.
Q: Is the President going to bring specific demands to the summit in Jordan, for both sides to do certain things?
SECRETARY POWELL: I think in Sharm el Sheikh the goal will be to make sure that we have all of our Arab friends solidly in line with their vision of last year and the President's vision, so that they will provide assistance to Abu Mazen to strengthen his position as Prime Minister, their political support, their support for the road map, their support for the President's vision, and we hope that they will understand that it may require more practical support in the way of assisting the Palestinian Authority and recreating and restructuring their security establishment, as well as economic assistance for the Palestinian people as the process starts to move.
So it will be a way for the President to share points of view with the leaders who will be with him at Sharm el Sheikh and to show a consistent position as he then gets ready to go over to Aqaba for the summit that we hope will all come together. Right now it looks very good.
Just to shift a moment, the meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon seems to have been productive. Both sides came away feeling that it was a useful meeting. Prime Minister Sharon again indicated that there were steps he wanted to take to assist the Palestinian Authority, and Prime Minister Abbas once again reaffirmed his intention to give the full weight of his office to ending terror and violence.
So I think that was a good meeting. Make sure the Arabs at Sharm el Sheikh reinforce that, and it sets us up nicely to go into Aqaba to meet with Prime Minister Sharon, King Abdullah and Prime Minister Abbas.
Q: Do you think Arafat has backed off a little bit since a couple days ago?
SECRETARY POWELL: I think -- I've noticed a little backing off. A couple of days ago Mr. Arafat seemed to be trying to make it more difficult for Prime Minister Abbas to meet with Prime Minister Sharon. But the meeting did take place, which suggests to me that Prime Minister Abbas does have authority to act, he is not beholden to Mr. Arafat's instructions. And I think this is encouraging.
Q: What's your best case scenario coming out of the Jordan summit, that each side makes a declaration that the other side has a right to exist? What exactly?
SECRETARY POWELL: I can't go that far yet, even though I've seen some speculation about whether they would both say such a thing. What's important is that for the first time you're going to have the Israeli Prime Minister sitting in a room with the Palestinian Authority's new Prime Minister and the President of the United States, with all three parties sharing a common vision of moving to a situation where a Palestinian state is created to live side by side in peace with Israel.
All three sides committed to a process called the road map to get there. The road map isn't as important as what happens within the concept of the road map: both sides taking steps, cracking down on terror, ending violence, making life easier for the Palestinian people by starting to pull back from some of the closures that are there, removing some of the forces from around the cities.
And if we can come away from Aqaba with both sides once again demonstrating -- all three parties, really, demonstrating their commitment to the road map and the Israelis and the Palestinians committing themselves with the President of the United States and in the presence of the President of the United States to taking the steps that they have been talking about, I think that will be a successful outcome.
I used as little metaphor the other day. Let's not look for the 56-yard pass right away, or a 54-yard field goal. We've got to get this started. We've now got it started. We've got responsible leaders who want to move forward. And it will be a step at a time and it will take a long time. The issues are difficult, the tensions are great. The lack of trust is there, and we have got to rebuild trust and get the two parties started.
The United States is committed to playing an important role in this process. And the President has said repeatedly that he is determined to play an important role, personally, in this process. And this is really his first opportunity to do so in the presence of the two leaders.
Q: In his meetings with the other Arab leaders, will he be looking for expressions of support and solidarity with Abbas, support for his rule and that same kind of pressure being brought to bare going forward? Is that part of his message to them, that they have to really --
SECRETARY POWELL: I'm sure statements will come out of the meting, and we're discussing that with the Arab leaders and their ministers now. But what I hope will come out of that meeting and I expect will come out of that meeting will be a strong endorsement for Prime Minister Abbas and his new role as the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority and a strong statement of support for him and his efforts, and why, if we want to achieve this vision that we have, it is necessary to give him that kind of support.
We have a new dynamic in the region with the end of the Saddam Hussein regime, with a new government in Israel, with a new government in the Palestinian Authority and a Prime Minister who is a serious interlocutor for peace, and with the President's ability -- his ability in the last several weeks to get both sides to agree to begin steps into the road map. We have a new dynamic and we want to make sure that the Arabs fully support that. We know they will, but this will be a way to demonstrate that support in a very public way with the President.
Q: How much of a problem is Arafat? How much of a problem will he be going forward?
SECRETARY POWELL: Europe?
SECRETARY POWELL: Arafat. Mr. Arafat is still an elected official. He still has standing among the Palestinian people, that's not deniable. But we think he's been a failed leader for the Palestinian people, and his many years of leadership have not brought -- many years of leadership have not brought the Palestinian people one step or one day closer to a Palestinian state.
And so we're not denying who he is or what he is, but since last June 24th we have not seen him as a responsible partner for peace. Now with a new Prime Minister who we see as a responsible partner for peace and who the Israelis are now speaking to -- two meetings already, Sharon and Abbas -- Arafat is there, but I hope people will recognize that the future lies with the new leadership, not with the old leadership.
Q: What changed Ariel Sharon's mind? What happens in that --
SECRETARY POWELL: Can we go off the record for a minute? It was obviously my visit. (Laughter.)
Q: No, it was just -- it was extraordinary.
SECRETARY POWELL: Ariel Sharon has said all along that he wanted to move forward. In every meeting he had with the President and every meeting I've had with him, he has always made the point that he wanted to move forward. He wanted peace. But he would not put the security of Israel at risk. And he could not work with Arafat. He did not see Arafat as a partner for peace.
The President made it clear to Prime Minister Sharon that he was committed to finding a way to move forward toward peace, but that the President came to the conclusion, which he put out in his 24 June speech, that we couldn't work any longer with Arafat. You remember last April I went to the -- Ramallah, the Muqatta'a, and told Arafat, you've got to change or else we can't work with you any longer; made it clear to him. He didn't change, we moved on.
And then toward the end of last year we had Israeli elections. Prime Minister Sharon now had a new government in place. We put pressure on the Palestinian people and Authority and encouraged them to come up with new leadership, and they did. And so I think Prime Minister Sharon, seeing all of this, realized that there was a new situation. And with the end of the Hussein regime, one of the real threats to the security of Israel was eliminated. And the President now made his commitment, that it's time to get involved, it's time to accept the road map, it's time to go on.
I also think Prime Minister Sharon realizes that the plight of the Palestinian people and their economy should be a concern to all of us. And the Israeli economy was also hurting. The Israeli people want peace, but they'll also say to you that they want security. And so to get both security and peace, you have to have two elements -- crack down in violence, but there also has to be a political process both sides can see that will lead to peace.
And I think Prime Minister Sharon came to the conclusion that the elements are in place that allow him, as he says, to begin those steps that are consistent with the road map --
Q: But as recently as May 20th he wasn't coming to the White House, you know, and there was talk he didn't really want --
SECRETARY POWELL: The reason he didn't come --
Q: Well, but also -- maybe he wasn't ready to deal.
SECRETARY POWELL: No, no.
Q: And then in Israel over that weekend --
SECRETARY POWELL: No, no, no. I visited the weekend before. And we had very intense discussions, Prime Minister Sharon and myself and my assistants and his assistants. And that same day I spent hours with Prime Minister Abbas. I came back to Washington with a solid understanding of both points of view, discussed them the President and we were all ready to have a discussion with Prime Minister Sharon on May 20th. He was coming. And I'm confident the only reason he did not come was because he had about three bombings in about two days time, and he didn't feel comfortable that he could leave the country.
And so the alternative was to readjust our thinking and planning. And he sent a delegation over later the week he was supposed to be here. And we had conversations with them. I think it was the Thursday the 22nd, or there abouts. And by then we had already begun to think about doing something in the region, incident to the G8.
So the fact that he didn't come on May 20th did not reflect, you know, I don't want to be a part of this. I think it reflected the reality of violence and terror on the ground.
Q: Talking to some of the folks who were involved -- talking to some of the folks who were involved in these talks in the previous administration, they said part of the reason why they feel like it didn't work is because they didn't seize the moment after these high profile summits, and really be in place -- establish an address in the region, be there 24/7 to make sure that what was talked about actually happened. Is that what you're planning to do?
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. We are going to create a coordination group. It's being structured now -- all Americans -- that we will put in place in the region in the very near future. We'll see how the talks go next week. And this group will go in for the purpose of giving 24/7 presence to help the two sides talk to one another, coordinate with one another, to assist in recreating and rebuilding the security structures of the Palestinian Authority and to lend our good offices to the process so that they are not just dealing with each other, but they now have somebody who will serve as a monitor, as a mediator, to help them move forward into the first phase of the road map. We're looking for somebody to head that up.
Don't think of it in terms of a major envoy, with constant negotiations. We're not into negotiations yet. We are in the early stages, where we've got to get them to talk to one another at different levels. And so it will be a -- there will be somebody in charge of it, but don't think of a George Mitchell or a special envoy who is going to be sitting around, Camp David style. That is quite a ways off.
Q: You said it was going to be all Americans? I'm sorry.
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, initially all Americans.
Q: Talk a little bit about just the importance of this first meeting involving the President. Presumably, if things go well, there will be more, but you only get one first meeting.
SECRETARY POWELL: The President, from the very beginning of his administration, has been deeply interested in the Middle East and desirous of finding a way forward. We've found ourselves frustrated every time an initiative was put forward, whether it was the Mitchell Plan or the Tenet Plan or the Zinni idea. All of those ideas, they all failed because of terror and violence. We couldn't find a way to go forward.
We realized that we couldn't go forward unless we had leadership in the Palestinian side that would give 100 percent effort and 100 percent intent, and speak to the Palestinian people about the need to end terror and violence. And we didn't get that with Mr. Arafat. We tried, I tried.
Finally we put forward a vision. The President took his thoughts, put forward a vision the 24th of June last year. It also reflected what we've been hearing from the Arab nations in their Beirut summit, of their vision of living in peace with Israel and a Palestinian state together, side by side, and their willingness to eventually restore a sense of normalcy between Israel -- not restore, but create a sense of normalcy between Israel and the Arab states. So those pieces came together. But what was missing was a serious interlocutor on the Palestinian side. We went through he summer, went through the fall. Iraq came along, we had to deal with Iraq. Meanwhile, the Israelis had their election. And then the Palestinians realized, we were serious, the Israelis are serious, they had to come up with new leadership.
They initially came up with a new finance minister, Fayyad, who we gained confidence in. He's done a good job. And then finally the Palestinian legislature decided they needed to act. They amended the basic law, amended their procedures in the constitution to provide for a prime minister. Mr. Arafat was pressured to appoint somebody. He appointed Abu Mazen.
There was a big fight, democratic fight, between the legislature and Arafat and others. And Abu Mazen was selected by the representatives of the Palestinian people, who were voting for new leadership, and therefore, a new way forward.
And so that all came into place over the last couple of months. And the President did what he said he would do when he met with Arab leaders all last year, with new leadership and with this road map, I'm ready to engage fully, especially now that Iraq was behind us. So that's what he has been doing for the last couple weeks. And in Aqaba he has the chance to demonstrate his commitment by sitting down with Sharon, with Abbas, hearing them present their points of view, engaging with them, and then hopefully coming out with a common understanding of how we're going to move forward.
And then he is going to invest the resources of the administration, the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor -- Condi and I both are going to be deeply and personally involved in this -- and by putting a coordination group on the ground. And so this first meeting is important in that regard, to show to the world the President is making good on what he said last June and what he's been saying for the last couple of months.
Q: I just wanted to ask, going into the G8 if you are at all disappointed by the seeming luke-warm support of some of these countries to help out in the reconstruction of Iraq? And has the sort of slow progress, perhaps, of finding weapons of mass destruction sort of impeded that effort to get them on board?
SECRETARY POWELL: Let me go to the first part of your question, on luke warm. I don't know that I would call it luke warm. I mean, we're having an initial donors conference on the 24th of June in New York, preliminary donors conference, and then a major donors conference a month or so later where we expect significant contributions to be made.
The Pentagon is going through all of the offers that have come forward to put military forces and police forces and other kind of forces in to help with security and stability. A number of countries that I visited recently -- France, Germany, Russia -- are all interested in doing more with respect to reconstruction. And they're anxious, of course, to see if contracts are out there for them. You know, nothing wrong with that, because there is going to be money available now that is oil is flowing, so that Iraq can start rebuilding itself.
So I wouldn't characterize it luke warm, I think we're getting quite a solid response from the international community. I think it's telling that when we passed resolution 1483, the lifting sanctions resolution, it only took us a -- less than 10 days to do that, and we got a unanimous vote, if I can count Syria, that kind of came in after the vote and said, yes, we vote yes, too. I think that was a pretty good expression of support to lift the sanctions and get on with the rebuilding.
On the second part of your question on weapons of mass destruction, more teams are going over. We will exploit all of the information we have. More interviews will be conducted with people who are now available. Documents are being looked at in greater detail. The biological weapons facilities, the mobile ones that the DIA and CIA put a paper out on the other day, I think make it clear that there is such a capability that's existed over the years.
And the international community always felt that Saddam Hussein was guilty of having these weapons, which was the basis upon which they passed 1441 in the first place. And I'm quite confident that the evidence will be forthcoming, so there can be no doubt in anyone's mind.
Q: You said that President Putin is changing -- he was sort of rude to Tony Blair. When you went over, he was a little more conciliatory. Do you think he's coming closer to the United States on some of these differences with -- you know, post-war reconstruction and so forth?
SECRETARY POWELL: We had a major disagreement with France, with Germany, with Russia, with other countries over the Iraq war. I think where they all are now, where we are, is let's talk about the future; let's talk about that which pulls us together, and not that which pulled us apart for a while.
And I think President Putin recognizes that. I had very good discussions with him. He and the President, since I was there, have exchanged letters. And I know that the President is looking forward to seeing President Putin and staring to talk about the future, and not just, you know, grind our teeth over the disappointments of the past. I know that's the way the President feels, and based on my meetings with President Putin and with Chancellor Schroeder and with my meetings of other officials in France, Foreign Minister de Villepin and others, I think our friends and allies see it the same way.
It's not to say that we didn't have a bad run with some of our closest friends and allies and partners. But you move on. Politics and diplomacy is about moving on. And there are many things we want to move on to: reconstruction of Iraq, global war on terrorism, the world economy and strengthening the bilateral relations that we have with Russia, with Germany and with France.
As the President said in a couple interviews he gave yesterday, looking forward to seeing Jacques Chirac. France is not an enemy, it's ally. It's been a friend for 200 plus years, 225 years. Does it mean we agree with them on every issue and we don't fight from time to time? Sure we do. But we get over it. We move on, because that which pulls us together, much stronger than anything that might have stretched the rubber band in recent past.
Q: Getting back to weapons of mass destruction for a minute. You were obviously on the ground in the region as a military commander. You know as much about Hussein and his capabilities as anybody in the government, probably. Are you surprised that 72 days into this operation there have not yet been any of the large catches of weapons found that were predicted before hand?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we found the vans. And we found a lot of documents. And the initial read from the documents suggests that these programs were there. Now, reflect again on what the charges were in 1441 and what the international community has been saying for years. There were gaps in knowledge. And the Iraqis would not step forward and bridge those gaps.
We had clear evidence that so many liters of a particular item had been produced, botulinen, or anthrax, so many rounds of chemical artillery had been produced. And they refused to explain the gaps between what we know is produced and what inspectors could identify. And so that, in itself, was the violation, or one of the violations that formed the basis of resolution 1441. We knew they were doing things -- not just gaps in knowledge, we knew they were doing things.
The presentation I made on the 5th of February, where I put up the cartoons of those biological vans, we didn't just make up them up one night. Those were eyewitness accounts of people who had worked in the program and knew it was going on, multiple accounts. And when I put them up, showed the four cartoons, people kind of, well, who knows. Guess what? You should have seen the smile on my face when one day the intelligence community came in and gave me a photo, and said, look. And it was almost identical to the cartoon that I had put up in New York on the 5th of February.
We have examined those vans repeatedly for the last several weeks, and we are confident that's what they are. Now, there will be other theories that come from time to time -- oh, it was a hydrogen making thing for balloons. No. You now have a white paper from the intelligence community reflecting the views of the Director of Central Intelligence and the Director of DIA that that's what it's for, with appropriate balancing caveats in there, to say, we haven't found any contamination within it because they either haven't been used or they've been cleaned. But there's no question in the mind of the intelligence community as to what it was designed for.
And so that is a clear case of solid evidence. And then gaps in intelligence which we're trying to fill as a result of the exploitations taking place.
Q: You have no concerns that have risen the last couple weeks that any of this intelligence was politicized, as some people are charging, and that you are totally confident in the intelligence?
SECRETARY POWELL: I have been through many crises in my career in government. And there are always people who come after the fact, to say, this wasn't what was presented to you, or this was politicized or this wasn't. Let people look into it, let people examine it.
I know that Director Tenet is looking at everything that he has been doing in the recent past. You've been reading reports about that. I'm sure Congress will be looking into this. I'm sure the President's oversight and others, PFIAB and others, will be examining all of this in due course, as part of their routine work. And you can make your own judgment.
My judgment was based on when the President asked me to present the case to the world. And I went out to the CIA, and I spent four days and four nights going over everything that they had as holdings, and not just me and George Tenet, a room full of analysts, the raw documents, the papers.
And everything I presented on the 5th of February, I can tell you, there was good sourcing for, was not politicized, it was solid information that was being presented to us for our consideration for that briefing, not by political appointees, but by the analysts who were responsible for it.
And I was there until midnight three straight nights, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, with the analysts themselves, challenging them, because I knew that it was the credibility of the United States that was going to be on the line on the 5th of February. The credibility of the President of the United States and my credibility, but George's.
And what we put up on the 5th of February was the best analytic product that we could have put up. And it was mutli-sourced, and multi-sourced by the people who knew.
Q: Could you set up the speech tomorrow? What's the President going to say in the speech tomorrow in Poland?
SECRETARY POWELL: What the President's going to say in his speech tomorrow in Poland? I don't think I want to give away the President's speech before he gives it.
Q: Why is it such a secret?
Q: Dan told us earlier, but we weren't really paying attention.
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I've got it.
Q: We get a better story from you, so we're waiting.
SECRETARY POWELL: You know, I think it would be much more exciting --
Q: A bait.
Q: A highlight. You can't do much damage with us.
SECRETARY POWELL: My minders are here, I'm in trouble.
Q: But Ari's leaving, right?
SECRETARY POWELL: I can do a little bit, can't I?
MR. FLEISCHER: I want the question answered.
SECRETARY POWELL: The President is going to be very happy to be back in Poland. His last major -- first major speech in Europe was in Poland. He's going to talk, once again, about a Europe whole, free and at peace. He's going to talk about partnerships within alliances and partnerships with countries. He's going to talk about terrorism, the threat it poses to all of us.
He will talk about other things, however; the great challenges that the international community faces, with respect to growth, with respect to trans-national problems. I think there's an HIV/AIDS reference in it, if I'm not mistaken. And he'll be talking about some of the things that don't get the kind of attention that should get attention, and that is what we are doing for the undeveloped world, or the developing world is a better term these days.
And so he'll try to lay down a more expanded agenda than just global war on terrorism, however important that is. But he'll talk about the other issues that are important to the world and the nation and why the United States intends to play a leadership role in dealing with these challenges, just as we're play a leadership role on the global war on terror and dealing with regimes such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Q: Will he reach out to the "Old Europe"?
SECRETARY POWELL: What?
Q: Will he reach out to the "Old Europe"?
SECRETARY POWELL: He will speak of Europe.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will talk about how much Europe and the United States can accomplish by working well together on behalf of all the world. He will also talk about the importance of confronting evil, and he'll cite his just completed trip to the concentration camps.
SECRETARY POWELL: Okay? No Iran?
Q: I was going to ask you. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you for asking. (Laughter.) There's no change in our policy on Iran. Anything else you want to know change in policy on?
Q: How about the U.S. Dollar? How do you feel about the U.S. Dollar?
SECRETARY POWELL: (Zipping lips motion.) (Laughter.)
Q: North Korea.
SECRETARY POWELL: There's no change in our policy on North Korea. Multilateral discussions. The President is very pleased that he has been able to pull together all of our partners in the region who are concerned about nuclear activities in North Korea so that we are all on the same policy sheet of music. We have to have a de-nuclearized North Korea. And we will work together toward that end. And we hope North Korea will understand it is in their interest to move in this direction through multilateral discussions.
Q: On Iran, just quickly on that.
SECRETARY POWELL: On Iraq?
Q: On Iran. The much talked about meeting that was supposed to happen this week, the NSC meeting --
SECRETARY POWELL: No meeting happened this week.
Q: Why? It did not happen because it got out, it did not happen because you felt that Iran was making moves that --
SECRETARY POWELL: We didn't need one. We didn't need one. There was no change in our policy. Nor were we contemplating a change in our policy. Therefore we didn't have a meeting.
Q: Was there ever a meeting planned?
SECRETARY POWELL: There are always meetings