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Powell Press Briefing - Pretoria, South Africa


Press Briefing

Secretary Colin L. Powell Holiday Inn Pretoria, South Africa July 10, 2003

Released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary

SECRETARY POWELL: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I'll just say a few words, and then I'll be prepared to take your questions. The President had a very moving day in Botswana and he enjoyed the conversations with President Mogae, and had a chance to discuss regional issues with the President and compliment the President and his government on their commitment to democracy and all the successful economic development that has taken place in Botswana.

I think now, several days into the trip and with three countries under our belt, the President has been able to demonstrate to Africa and the rest of the world that he considers Africa to be a priority of his administration. It's not any surprise or news to me because from the very first days of the administration, the President made it clear that he wanted Africa to be a priority.

And if you look at what we have done over the last two-and-a-half years, whether it's with respect to the expansion of AGOA, whether it's with respect to all of the African leaders who have been to the White House and seen the President, whether it's what we've done with the Millennium Challenge Account and the focus that that account will have on developing nations in Africa, and what you've seen the President do at the encouragement of the Southern African Customs Union and the United States Free Trade Agreement, and especially what he has done with respect to HIV/AIDS, the programs that we have on a bilateral basis now, some $350 million over the current year to African HIV/AIDS programs, and how we are trying to ratchet that up with the emergency fund and what we did a year or so ago with the global fund -- all of this, I think, is evidence of the President's priority and the President's commitment.

And he was able to discuss a number of regional issues, as you know, with the Presidents that he has visited so far in Senegal, South Africa and Botswana, and he looks forward to continuing those discussions in Uganda and in Nigeria. And I'm sure when we get to Nigeria, there will be an opportunity to discuss Liberia in greater detail with President Obasanjo, who has indicated a willingness to help resolve the crisis that is unfolding in Monrovia.

So we're very pleased with the trip to this point, focused on trade, focused on regional issues, focused on HIV/AIDS, all key elements of the President's agenda for Africa.

With that, I'd be delighted to take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, even here in Botswana, in this country, which has one of the most aggressive AIDS programs in Africa -- the President had praised it, even promised them free drugs -- they haven't been able to reduce their infection rate since 2001. Is there a chance that the kind of programs that we're looking at are not effective for cultural reasons and de we need to refocus? And a second related question -- the House Appropriations Committee today cut back the first year's funding from $3 billion to about $2 billion, and we know that the administration said they can live with this, but Democrats and AIDS activists say it's not enough. Do you think that this cutback may damage the program?

SECRETARY POWELL: I would, of course, have preferred full funding of the President's request. We will make the best use of the money that Congress has provided to us. And I'll wait and see the completed action and see how this ultimately emerges from the Congress.

With respect to the programs in South Africa, Ambassador Hume and I have spent a great deal of time over the last two days discussing the South African programs and how we want to work with them to make sure that as the money begins to flow from the emergency fund, that we have solid programs that focus on all parts of the problem: education of young people; providing anti-retroviral drugs; making sure that systems are in place for the delivery of those drugs.

I can't comment on any specific program that the South African government is implementing right now. But we certainly are going to have a very aggressive effort as these monies become available to work with the countries in Africa, the 12 countries we've identified, and the two in the Caribbean, to make sure that the money is used for worthwhile programs that deal with education; deal with teaching young people to abstain, be faithful; the use of contraceptives; the ABC program that you will hear more about in Uganda tomorrow; and the provision of anti-retroviral treatment for those who are in need -- all aspects of the program. We're only going to be investing in those programs that will have a demonstrated payoff and we can see results.

QUESTION: When I said this country, I'm sorry, I meant Botswana.

SECRETARY POWELL: Oh, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: -- in terms of Botswana's program as being one of the most aggressive ones.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I'm sorry, excuse me, I misunderstood. We've been in two countries today. It is an aggressive program. They have an enormous problem. In fact, in my discussions today with the Foreign Minister, I said, how did the infection rate get so high in such a short period of time that you are now faced with this problem of the 38.6 percent, roughly, infection rate?

And to some extent, it was caused by people who came to Botswana to help with some of the construction activities and other infrastructure development activities of the last 15 years, or so. And so they are now getting on top of it, and they are starting to at least cap out the rate. President Mogae said to President Bush that he is not satisfied with what they have done so far, but they believe they have started to bring the rate into -- let me put it this way -- tolerance, so that it is not growing, and it can start, now, to decline.

But it is a major tragedy facing Botswana. And I think the President of Botswana's commitment is total, and we're going to help them in every way that we can.

QUESTION: Would the United States be prepared to send peacekeepers to Liberia to ensure Taylor's departure? Is this something the President will be discussing with Obasanjo? And then I have a second question.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, the President is examining all of his options with respect to how we can assist in the transfer of power in Monrovia as President Taylor leaves. President Taylor has reaffirmed that he is prepared to leave the country upon the arrival of peacekeepers.

I just got off the phone with Kofi Annan to review the current state of play. Our assessment team in Monrovia has about finished its work, and I expect that we'll be getting a full report from them on the humanitarian situation in Monrovia. And this weekend, in Accra, Ghana, a U.S. team will be meeting with the ECOWAS military leaders to assess what will be required to move the ECOWAS troops into Monrovia and to support them, and as part of that assessment, what role the United States might play or ECOWAS thinks we should play. The President hasn't made any specific decisions on the level of support or actual participation -- boots on the ground combat units, is the essence of your question.

And I expect that over the next several days as we finish the assessment in Monrovia and get that report and the military assessment team working with ECOWAS over the weekend, the President will be in a position to make a decision.

QUESTION: And on Iraq, does the United States think NATO should increase its military or economic contribution to the Iraqi --

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, NATO really doesn't make an economic contribution, but we think the European Union should and will. And we've been in touch with our European friends.

With respect to NATO as a military alliance in Iraq, let me back up for a minute and point out that Poland, a NATO member, has one of the division zones in Iraq. Other NATO members, such as Spain and other nations, will be working with the Poles. And so many of the constituent members of NATO are making their contribution now: the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Spain, Italy, others are making their contribution now.

Whether there is a specific role for the Alliance at some point in the future, we're examining, as an alliance. Right now, NATO as an alliance is concentrating on helping the Poles deploy into Iraq. And then in the course of this summer, we'll be discussing with NATO whether there is a broader role that the Alliance can play. But most members of the Alliance are doing something now.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there's been some comparisons made between this presidential visit and that visit of Mr. Bush's predecessor, President Clinton. For all the attention that Mr. Clinton got, in your estimation, was that a matter of maybe more style than substance that you're trying to achieve during this visit?

SECRETARY POWELL: We're not here for style, we're here for substance. And I think the substance of this trip will compare to any previous trip by any former President. We have put before the people of Africa a solid agenda that talks about aid and trade, talks about investment, talks about the greatest threat to Africa right now and, frankly, to many parts of the world -- that's HIV/AIDS -- talking about expanded opportunities for investment. And so I think as the people of Africa examine the results of this trip, but more importantly, as they see the programs that we are putting in place and start to benefit from those programs, if there is any suggestion of not enough style, it will come.

And I think people have seen in President Bush's stops so far -- Goree Island, in his visits in Senegal, in Botswana today, and in South Africa -- a leader who is committed and we're not just here for show. Somebody asked me earlier, is this a PR exercise? Not in the slightest. This is a trip that the President has been wanting to take for a long time, would have taken earlier this year if it had not been for the situation in Iraq, and he is here for substance. And I think that is demonstrable.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that some may think this is a PR exercise. You talked about what you have seen and what you believe to be a real commitment to Africa. But there is a political question. What effect do you hope this trip and this commitment has for African American voters back home that the President will likely face, will face in a reelection bid?

SECRETARY POWELL: I hope that all Americans back home, to include African Americans, will see the trip for what it's all about, what the purpose of the trip was. The purpose of the trip was not a political exercise and was not designed to influence the election of next year. It was designed to deal with real problems facing people in need in Africa. It was designed to reinforce our relationship with those countries that are moving in the right direction through dealing with the crisis of HIV/AIDS and to improve their economic situation. It was intended for the President to speak to leaders who are trying to resolve regional conflicts here in the continent.

And I hope that all Americans will see a President who is not just focusing on one part of the world, but realizes that America has leadership responsibilities around the world, and nowhere is that more important than here in Africa. Just like last month, nowhere was it more important than it was in the Middle East, when he went to Aqaba and when he went to Sharm el-Sheikh and we got the road map started.

So this is a President with a broad agenda and he is executing that broad foreign policy agenda. And I hope that next year the American people will recognize that, admire it, appreciate it, and respond accordingly.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, regarding that erroneous report last January that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium in Niger, does the administration owe Americans and, in fact, the world an apology for making that statement? And should the administration beat Congress to the punch by making a detailed investigation and a detailed explanation of how something so important and so wrong got into a presidential address?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think this is very overwrought and overblown and overdrawn. Intelligence reports flow in from all over. Sometimes they are results of your own intelligence agencies at work. Sometimes you get information from very capable foreign intelligence services. And you get the information, you analyze it. Sometimes it holds up, sometimes it does not hold up. It's a moving train. And you keep trying to establish what is right and what is wrong. Very often it never comes out quite that clean, but you have to make judgments.

And at the time of the President's State of the Union address, a judgment was made that that was an appropriate statement for the President to make. There was no effort or attempt on the part of the President, or anyone else in the administration, to mislead or to deceive the American people. The President was presenting what seemed to be a reasonable statement at that time -- and it didn't talk to Niger, it talked specifically about efforts to acquire uranium from nations that had it in Africa.

Subsequently, when we looked at it more thoroughly and when I think it's, oh, a week or two later, when I made my presentation to the United Nations and we really went through every single thing we knew about all of the various issues with respect to weapons of mass destruction, we did not believe that it was appropriate to use that example anymore. It was not standing the test of time. And so I didn't use it, and we haven't used it since.

But to think that somehow we went out of our way to insert this single sentence into the State of the Union address for the purpose of deceiving and misleading the American people is an overdrawn, overblown, overwrought conclusion.

QUESTION: So can I follow that up -- some British officials apparently think that what will happen in the end is weapons of mass destruction will not be found. There may be evidence that Saddam Hussein, before the war, either hid or destroyed weapons of mass destruction. Is that now what this administration thinks?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. And I cannot speculate on what an unnamed British official may or may not have said, or does or does not believe. Let's start at the beginning. I don't want to take you through the whole history, but it's instructive.

This is a regime that developed weapons of mass destruction, had them, used them, and in 1991, when we went to war, and I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, we were concerned that they would use those weapons against them -- against us, and everybody knew they had them.

When the first Gulf War was over, Desert Storm, we found them, and we destroyed some. And we looked for more. And the U.N. took it over, and for years the U.N. kept searching for more. And they never were able to get a full accounting and could not find them all. Resolution after resolution was passed, agreed to by the entire international community.

In 1998, Saddam Hussein created conditions that caused the inspectors to have to leave. They were getting close, and they had to leave. President Clinton was so concerned at time that he bombed. What did he bomb? He bombed for four days, in Operation Desert Fox, facilities that were believed to possess or developing or producing weapons of mass destruction.

The entire international community has felt, over this entire period, that Saddam Hussein had these weapons, and there was sufficient intelligence available to all the major intelligence agencies of the world that they existed. And they do exist. And when we went to the United Nations last year, when the President spoke to the United Nations General Assembly last September, he put the charge to the General Assembly: you have been saying; put the charge to the Security Council as well, you have been saying for all these years that this is a nation that has not come clean, here is one last chance.

And in resolution 1441, 15 nations unanimously approved that resolution that begins with a statement that Iraq is in material breach. So everybody had reason to believe, good reason to believe -- not figments of the imagination [End]

Released on July 10, 2003

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