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Powell Interview on NPR's All Things Considered

Interview on NPR's All Things Considered

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
June 27, 2003

(Aired 4:07 p.m. EDT)

MS. BLOCK: Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the program.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much.

MS. BLOCK: This week, Lieutenant General John Abizaid, the next head, nominated head of Central Command, told Congress that the foreseeable future will require a large number of troops for Iraq, and even more in the foreseeable future.

SECRETARY POWELL: I think for months we are going to need a large presence of troops, as General Abizaid said, in order to make sure that we stabilize the country and gain the necessary level of security to get rid of these Baathist Party elements and the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime.

I can't be more precise than that because we don't know. And I think that's why General Abizaid couldn't be more precise, because we can't. But what the President said is that we will do what is necessary. And that means keeping a significant presence there, not only of U.S. troops getting in, non-U.S. troops to assist us. I'm pleased that a number of countries have expressed a willingness to contribute troops, and we are now finalizing those arrangements for other nations' troops to arrive.

MS. BLOCK: You say months. Others have said this could be five years, possibly even a decade.

SECRETARY POWELL: No. Everybody is speculating on years and months, but that's not helpful. We don't know. We want to get the situation stabilized and secured as quickly as possible. We want to put in place an Iraqi government, a government of Iraqi leaders selected by the Iraqi people as quickly as we can.

Ambassador Bremer, head of the provisional authority in Iraq, hopes to, by the middle of July, put in place a political committee of 25 to 30 Iraqi leaders that would begin to take over responsibility for the ministries, and at the same time create a constitutional committee that would draw up a constitution for the country so that that can lead to elections.

So we're moving as quickly as we can, but security is the first priority. But political development is a priority, and perhaps even more important than either one of those is economic development, so people can start to see that the economy is reviving and that there is hope for them to get jobs, to get an income, to take advantage of the wealth of the country in an organized way. And security has to be the underlying bedrock element here, however. Without security, you can't get the economy going. And that's what General Abizaid will be focusing on. That's what Ambassador Bremer is focusing on.

MS. BLOCK: You mentioned security. We've seen in recent days, at the very least, a spike in attacks against U.S. Forces, possibly what some consider an escalating campaign. You've said before that you consider yourself a soldier. And I wonder, as a soldier, how do you explain these attacks on U.S. forces, the loss of life on both the American side and on the side of Iraqi soldiers? Do you have any (inaudible)?

SECRETARY POWELL: It -- I would say to the American people that we always recognized this would be a dangerous operation, and even though major combat action is over -- we're not fighting Iraqi army units -- we always expected there would be this residual problem of Fedayeen, of the Baath Party members, of old Saddam cronies and others who are coming in to make mischief, and they would have to be dealt with. And I hope the American people will demonstrate the patience and the understanding of the situation.

My experience with the American people is when they know it's going to be tough and it's going to take a while, they will give us that patience and give us that understanding as we work our way through this. We hate losing any young American's life, but sometimes that is what is necessary for the cause of freedom.

MS. BLOCK: As the casualty numbers mount, does that increase the pressure on U.S. Forces to get out more quickly?

SECRETARY POWELL: I hope it does not. I hope it increases the pressure on us to get the security situation under control more quickly. What we have to do is get the security situation under control more quickly, and not even contemplate being pushed out. We're not going to be pushed out. We have the ability. And I met with Ambassador Bremer for a considerable period of time this past weekend. And we have the ability, also, to get on top of the security situation. You know, I would say going in as a new CENTCOM Command replacement for Franks is a very skilled soldier I've known for almost all of his career. He speaks Arabic. He knows the area very, very well. And I think he will be able to use the assets that he has under him to get on top of the security situation.

MS. BLOCK: I'd like to turn to the mobile trailers that have been found in Iraq. You, back in your speech in February before the UN, called the possibility of these mobile labs one of the most worrisome things that you saw in the Saddam Hussein regime. And the CIA and the Defense analysts have concluded that these were mobile weapons labs. But your own State Department intelligence analysts disagreed. They're not convinced.

So who's right? Is it your own analysts or is it the CIA?

SECRETARY POWELL: My analysts do not disagree. They do not say that they are not mobile vans. What my analysts said to me about, oh, almost a month ago now, was that they were not at the same confidence level as the CIA and the DIA. And when they said to me, "Boss, you know, we are not entirely sure yet, and therefore we would like to see more analysis done," we passed that on to the CIA to let them know that there was this opinion. A month has now passed since that memo. My guys would still like to see more data.

The CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, the DIA, are the ones who were on the scene exploiting the van and looking at all of it. And they are confident of their judgment. And their judgment, as validated by the Director of Central Intelligence, is that's what they are. They are mobile biological warfare facilities. And there will always be, you know, different judgments and opinions in this business, and you essentially have to have somebody who makes the decision. And the person is the Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet. And that is his opinion right now.

Will we continue to look for more information to reinforce our opinion? Sure, we will. But I am confident with the judgment made by the CIA, and the reason I'm confident of that judgment is, we got this information through defectors and others. And when I presented it to the UN on the 5th of February, all I could show was a cartoon picture of what we thought it looked like based on what people said to us. And guess what? We found something that looked just like that. And nobody has been able to come up with an alternative use for this. But we're still looking at it, but I'm fairly confident of the Director of Central Intelligence's judgment.

MS. BLOCK: There were no toxins found in those trailers.

SECRETARY POWELL: Which could mean one of several things: one, they hadn't been used yet to develop toxins; or, secondly, they had been sterilized so thoroughly that there is no residual left. It may well be that they hadn't been used yet.

Our concern was that Iraq was keeping in place this capability, waiting for the day when they were free of sanctions and could go about putting all of their programs back in place. This particularly applies to the nuclear program. What I said in February when I spoke to the UN, was that they had the brainpower, they had the plans, and they were working on acquiring the capability, and whenever they were free of UN constraints or other constraints -- nobody was breathing down their neck -- there was no doubt in my mind Saddam Hussein still had the intention of developing such a capability.

And as we have seen from material that's come forward in the last couple of days, and we've seen on television and in papers, we now have seen the plans, we have seen the scientists who said this is what he was supposed to be working on, and he was told to hide this material until times were better to get the program up and running again. That was the concern we had with Saddam Hussein. Not only did he have weapons -- and we'll uncover not only his weapons but all of his weapons programs -- he never lost the intent to have these kinds of weapons.

MS. BLOCK: Was he an imminent threat?

SECRETARY POWELL: The imminent threat is we don't know. The imminent threat is that suddenly, this biological warfare lab, for example, could have been put into use. And the possibility that anything that came out of that lab or any of the chemical capability he had could have been given to terrorist organizations. And the point well, should we wait until we see a chemical device exploded or turned loose or some toxin released in London or Paris or Frankfurt or New York or Los Angeles and then decide we have an imminent threat? Or should we act when we know that there is a regime that has said, "We are not going to tell you what we have been doing for 12 years. We are not going to turn over our programs. We are simply going to ignore 12 years' worth of UN resolutions, and we are going to do what we want to do, and we don't care what the international community thinks; we're going to develop these evil weapons."

In this case, the international community spoke. Now, there was a great deal of debate toward the end as to what one should do about this. And we decided that military action was appropriate. Others in the Security Council thought military action was premature or wasn't appropriate at all. But nevertheless, nobody in the Security Council thought that Saddam Hussein was not developing these weapons or did not have these weapons. That's why the Security Council unanimously passed the first resolution, called 1441. There was no disagreement with France or Britain or Spain or Russia or China that Iraq had this kind of capability, and they did. And it's now coming forward, and I think it will be even more people as we exploit documents that we have in our possession, and more are coming forward. The case will be obvious to all once again.

MS. BLOCK: In your speech to the UN in February, you also talked about a sinister nexus between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaida. The UN group that's tracking al-Qaida has seen no evidence of such a link. How do you explain that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I made a presentation that talked about a specific link between the man by the name of Al-Zakari, who was in Baghdad, and I think that link is solid. It was solid at the time that I presented it, and it is still of concern to us. In my presentation, I did not stretch the intelligence to suggest that we knew about all linkages between al-Qaida and Iran*. I think there's still a lot we don't know, but I did take note at the UN, of the UN presentation this week that they have not found a concrete link. But I think the information I provided them in terms of in February was relevant, was accurate, and did suggest there should be concerns about such links and identifying most of them.

MS. BLOCK: How troublesome is it for U.S. Forces in Iraq that there is no information on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein?

SECRETARY POWELL: We'd like to know where he is. We don't know whether he is alive or dead, and as long as that is unknown, there is a degree of uncertainty in the country. Is he organizing elements that are resisting us? Is he going to come back, some people think. Well, he's not coming back. He may be alive, but he is not going to be marching down Main Street in Baghdad trying to get back to his palace.

And so he has been removed from any future role in Iraq, either through his death or the fact that he can't show his face. But sooner or later, his fate will be known one way or the other. But because it is, at the moment, unknown, it does introduce a bit of uncertainty into the situation, more on the part of the Iraqi people, "Where is he and what's happened?" More on the part of the Iraqi people than on the part of the U.S. soldiers. They're going about their jobs in the magnificent way they do. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, always go about their jobs focusing on the mission at hand, which is security and to help the Iraqi people build a better life for themselves.

MS. BLOCK: Mr. Secretary, thanks for talking with us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much.

-------------------- * Correction - Iraq. [End]

Released on June 27, 2003

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