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Powell IV on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Powell IV on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC June 8, 2003

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, welcome back from this historic trip to Europe and the Middle East. The roadmap towards peace in the Middle East -- has it come to a dead end, given what's happened only today with the killing of these four Israeli soldiers?

SECRETARY POWELL: Not at all. I think both sides now realize that this roadmap is an essential way to move forward, they must have something like this to achieve the President's vision, and both sides know that there would be terrorists out there who would try to stop progress. And even with these tragic events of the morning, we have to keep going. And I hope that both sides will keep going and I hope the entire world will come down on these organizations -- Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, all these other organizations which leap up and take credit, and not only take credit but are responsible for these kinds of terrorist activities. We cannot allow terrorism to stop us from achieving the President's vision, the world's vision, of two states living side by side in peace.

MR. BLITZER: But can Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Prime Minister, get tough with these groups -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade? All of them have taken responsibility for this latest incident.

SECRETARY POWELL: He is planning to get tough. I think he has spoken out rather clearly that this kind of terrorism is not just directed against Israel; it's directed against the aspirations of the Palestinian people. They will never achieve their goal of having a state of their own as long as these kinds of Palestinian leaders -- Hamas, al-Aqsa Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, all of those -- continue to resort to terror. That's why he called for an end to the armed Intifada.

Now he has to build up his capacity and his capability to deal with these kinds of organizations. But based on the conversations we had with him over the past week, and the past several weeks, for that matter, I know that he is committed to doing that, taking these organizations down.

MR. BLITZER: Well, when you say taking them down, specifically, do you want him to engage in military action and to bring them down?

SECRETARY POWELL: If that's what it requires. But we have to make sure he has the capacity to do that. In the first instance, what we have to do is make sure the entire world, the entire international community, is coming down firmly on the side of peace and against terror, so that there is no support for these organizations any longer.

One of the important things that came out of the President's meeting last week is that the Arab nations said they would no longer allow any kind of financial support to go to these organizations for their armed activities. That's a start. It's going to take time. We did not arrive at peace forever last week at Sharm el-Sheikh and at Aqaba, but it's a start and we cannot let terrorism derail us. We must punch through this terrorism and bring it under control, both sides working against terrorism, but not lose sight of the promise of the roadmap.

MR. BLITZER: Is the Palestinian Authority President, Yasser Arafat, part of the problem, part of the solution, or irrelevant?

SECRETARY POWELL: I d like to think that he's irrelevant, at least from the United States point of view. I recognize that he is the elected president of a Palestinian Authority and he has standing among Palestinians, but he has now got to use whatever standing he has to make sure that terrorism doesn't derail us again by speaking out against it. We don't find that he has been a helpful interlocutor for peace over the years, and that's why we won't work with him, even though others in the world will.

And so we ought to watch Mr. Arafat very closely during this difficult period of getting the roadmap started and see whether he is going to be a help or a hindrance. And if he is a hindrance, if he continues to be a hindrance, then I think all the other nations who still work with Mr. Arafat have to make a judgment as to whether or not they want to work with somebody who is not assisting Prime Minister Abbas in moving forward.

MR. BLITZER: As you know, some Israelis believe he is still calling the shots -- Yasser Arafat -- and giving the green light to Hamas and these other groups to continue these kinds of acts.

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't answer that particular charge. What I can say is we are investing in Prime Minister Abbas. We believe that he is a leader committed to peace and is not giving those kinds of signals to Hamas and the others. In fact, he has elected to take them on. Now, he has to take them on carefully and in a way that best suits his current situation and the capability that he has -- his police strength, his military strength, his political strength. But what we have to do is to isolate Mr. Arafat and make sure he understands that if he does anything which undercuts Prime Minister Abbas or does not allow us to achieve the promise of the roadmap, he has to be held to account for that.

MR. BLITZER: Held to account? Take him out? Arrest him? What do you mean?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, no, no. Held to account means the international community has to look at his failed leadership over all these decades and make a conscious decision that they will no longer in any way deal with Mr. Arafat, the way the United States has come to a conclusion that we can't deal with Mr. Arafat.

We tried to deal with Mr. Arafat. I tried for over a year in the first part of this Administration to get him going, to see if he would not take the kinds of actions necessary to put us on a path to peace. And he failed, and we made a judgment we couldn't deal with him.

MR. BLITZER: As you know, the Israelis were supposed to -- this week, the government of Prime Minister Sharon began to dismantle 12 or 15 what they call illegal outpost settlements in the West Bank. Do you expect them to go forward with that in the aftermath of what happened today?

SECRETARY POWELL: That was the commitment they made, and I think Mr. Sharon will meet that commitment. I haven't spoken to them in the last few hours since this tragic incident overnight, but I hope we do not allow acts of terror to stop us from what both sides know they have to do to move forward.

MR. BLITZER: The Washington Post has a story this morning on the front page, which I'm sure you saw, suggesting that Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, is now going to delay getting some sort of interim Iraqi regime in place, and he's losing confidence in the former exiled opposition leaders like Ahmed Chalabi and others.

What does that mean for U.S. policy, the length that the United States is going to have to stay and rule, effectively, Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Ambassador Bremer is working with Mr. Chalabi and other members of the external opposition, but he's also working with leaders who were inside Iraq over these many years. And what Ambassador Bremer has decided and briefed the President on last week when we met with Ambassador Bremer, is that he has to move more deliberately, he has to reach out to more leadership circles within Iraq and put together a more broad-based council of advisors and ministers to help him begin to get the institutions of the government running. And that will ultimately lead to a political process that will permit us to put in place an administration, and then finally turn the country back over to a fully elected government.

So Ambassador Bremer, I think, is absolutely correct in moving a little more slowly and a little more patiently to make sure that all the various groups in Iraq are represented and that we focus on institution building and put responsible leaders into institutions. The fact of the matter is that we are the governing authority in Iraq right now and we have to do that well. We have to restore security, we have to make sure the people are being taken care of, and then slowly, slowly build up -- not so slowly that it's going to take us forever, but patiently and correctly build up institutions and leaders for those institutions in this council that Ambassador Bremer is proposing.

MR. BLITZER: How long is this going to take, this process?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't tell you how long there will be a coalition provisional authority before we are able to turn it over to a freely elected Iraqi government. I think it is not unwise to throw out a time frame because then people clock you on that the very next day.

But I think Ambassador Bremer is on the right track of making sure that he is talking to all the leadership groups within Iraq, to include the external opposition, and not just grabbing six guys and saying, "Here, you're now the interim administration and we're giving you this authority," until he is sure that that group represents all Iraqis and that it has the capacity to help begin administering the country, under the supervision and under the authority of the coalition provisional authority.

We and our allies picked up quite a bit of responsibility when we put in place the coalition provisional authority and when we got the UN resolution, and we have to use that authority wisely to make sure that we don't move so fast that we're putting in place something that is not viable. I think Ambassador Bremer is going about it the right way.

MR. BLITZER: Was the Bush Administration ill-prepared for the postwar situation in Iraq? I say that because since May 1st when the President spoke on the Abraham Lincoln, the aircraft carrier, and declared major combat operations over, on the average, about one U.S. soldier or Marine has died a day and many others have been injured, wounded, in attacks by various groups within Iraq. Did you not brace -- were you not -- were you ill-prepared for what was expected?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, the President was correct when he said on the Abraham Lincoln that major combat actions were over. You're not seeing battalion or brigade level operations right now. You're not seeing pitched battles between large forces. What we are seeing are some Baathist elements, some Fedayeen who are left over, some criminal elements who are attacking our soldiers, and we are taking some casualties. But these are not -- this is not major combat operations. We are not shocked by this. We regret any loss of life or any of our young men and women being injured, but we expected that there would be a period of instability where this would be a problem.

Now, we will adjust our force posture and presence and we will adjust our activities as the situation evolves. Some of the things that we were worried about didn't happen. There wasn't massive starvation. There wasn't massive displacement of people. We were prepared to deal with that. When that didn't happen, well, then the capacity we put in place to deal with that we took out and put in new capacity, new organizations to deal with the situations that we're facing now.

MR. BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi says Saddam Hussein is alive and regrouping and organizing what he calls resistance against the U.S. Is that true?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know if Saddam Hussein is alive or dead, and if he's alive I don't know where he is, and if he's dead I don't know where he is. I admit perhaps Mr. Chalabi has some information that the rest of us are not aware of, but I do not know whether Saddam Hussein is alive or dead, nor does our intelligence community.

MR. BLITZER: Speaking about intelligence, there's a big uproar over whether the intelligence was good, bad, exaggerated. Let me play for you what President Bush said on September 26th in the Rose Garden. Listen to this:

"The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons. The Iraqi regime is building the facilities necessary to make more biological and chemical weapons."

And this followed a DIA, a Defense Intelligence Agency report, among other things, one sentence in there said this:

"There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons or where Iraq has or will establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities."

That nuanced, as all intelligence assessments usually are. But the President was categorical. Did he go too far, and did you subsequently go too far when you testified or spoke before the UN Security Council?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. The DIA sentence you made reference to is taken out of context in all of the reporting. The very next sentence after the sentence that says we're not sure what they're doing says we have information that they have transferred chemical weapons within the last few weeks. Let's put this in context and then I'll get to my presentation on the 5th of February.

Iraq had chemical weapons. They used chemical weapons. They had biological weapons. The admitted it. We have no doubt whatsoever that over the last several years they have retained such weapons, they have retained the capability to start up production of such weapons. And the presentation I gave on the 5th of February before the United Nations Security Council, I spent four whole days and nights at the CIA going over all the intelligence in order to make sure that what I presented was going to be solid, credible, representing the views of the United States of America. And I stand behind that presentation.

One element that I presented at that time, these biological vans, all I could show was a cartoon drawing of these vans, and everybody said, "Are the vans really there?" And, voila, the vans showed up a few months later. We found them. So slowly but surely, we are finding that capability.

Now people are debating whether or not these vans truly are biological vans. Sure they are. What other purpose are there? And let me give you the killer argument as to why these vans are exactly what I said they were and what the intelligence community said they were: I can assure you that if those biological vans were not biological vans when I said they were on the 5th of February, on the 6th of February Iraq would have hauled those vans out, put them in front of a press conference, gave them to the UNMOVIC inspectors to try to drive a stake in the heart of my presentation. They did not. The reason they did not is they knew what they were.

And the intelligence community has reviewed all of the comments that have come in about those vans and reaffirmed yesterday to me again, through Director Tenet, that they are confident of their judgment, they are confident that these vans are exactly what we said they were.

So there's no question that Iraq has this capability and has tried to hide it from the world. This is not only the judgment of the President and the Secretary of State; it's the judgment of the United Nations that they had this capability, it's the judgment of every nation that voted for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, it was the judgment of the previous administration. President Clinton made statements quite similar to what President Bush said in the statement that you just quoted.

MR. BLITZER: One final question before I let you go. Iran. Is it time for regime change, one way or another, in Iran?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is up to the Iranian people to decide what is going to happen in that country. There is quite a bit of churning taking place inside Iran. Many young people -- it's a very young population. They are not satisfied with their political leadership. I don t think they continue to be satisfied with their religious leadership. They want Iran to join the rest of the world, in my judgment.

And what we have to do is keeping showing to the Iranian people that there is a better world out there waiting for you, and you can become a more responsible member of the international community, if you stop supporting terrorist activity and if you stop trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons.

Iran and Syria are similar in that both of them need to stop taking actions which make it harder to get the peace process going between the Palestinians and Israelis. They've got to stop sponsoring terrorist organizations. They've got to stop providing weapons to Hezbollah. They've got to stop providing support to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and similar organizations.

So that is the clear message we are giving to Iran. But regime change is not in our -- on our list right now. It is up to the Iranian people to decide this. And we will continue to talk to the Iranian people as to why it is in their benefit to demand a better political system from their religious and political leaders.

MR. BLITZER: I know you have a big trip coming up. Good luck on your next journey to South America. Thanks for joining us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much, Wolf.

[End]

Released on June 8, 2003

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