Colin L. Powell Interview with Reuters July 30
Interview with Reuters
Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC July 30, 2003
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the Palestinians are rather disappointed by the outcome of the meeting at the White House yesterday, and the ceasefire seems to be under some threat. Last week, you said that the aim of these consultations was to strengthen the position of Abu Mazen. How do you propose now to repair whatever damage has been done and strengthen his position, in fact?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't know what damage has been done. I mean I think we are seeing steady progress and his visit last week and Prime Minister Sharon's visit [this] week, even though every issue was not resolved and every problem not solved, we were able to mark good progress.
Gaza has been handed over to the Palestinian Authority. Bethlehem has been handed over to the Palestinian Authority. Both sides are now working to turn over two additional cities. Roadblocks are coming down and Prime Minister Sharon promised yesterday that additional roadblocks that really don't relate as much to security as they do to just sort of hindering traffic will be coming down. Over the weekend, some important ones came down, especially the one at Surda. So I hope the people of the occupied territories are seeing an improvement in their daily life in Gaza and in other areas.
We talked about prisoner releases with Prime Minister Sharon and we are expecting the Israelis to take some steps, additional steps, with respect to prisoner releases. It doesn't reach the number that the Palestinians would like to see right now, but it certainly shows progress along the road laid out in the roadmap.
I also can say that the President was quite clear that he is expecting settlement activity to end, and you have heard the Prime Minister refer to that, and that is one of the essential elements of the roadmap.
Then on the issue of the fence, which has gotten a great deal of attention in the press this morning, the Israelis intend to finish the fence. The President has concerns about the fence. He has a problem with the fence, as he said to the Prime Minister, if the fence is constructed in a way or continues to be constructed in a way that takes additional Palestinian land and sort of prejudges what might be left for a Palestinian state, or if it complicates our discussions going forward. That was a very candid discussion between the President and the Prime Minister.
So I think we are making steady progress on the roadmap and we have to be patient. The good news is that the violence is down, terror incidents are down, and we should recognize that.
Mr. Abbas has also made it clear that he will eliminate all organizations that participate or support in any way with terrorist activities. You can only have one organization, one authority, one government that has control of weapons and control of police forces and militias and military forces within a state. He understands that, but he will do it in a way that is consistent with his approach to it, where it is consistent with doing it in a way that keeps the Palestinian Authority unified behind his efforts.
So I think he is gaining in stature, he is gaining in importance. He is the Palestinian leader who is sitting in the Oval Office with the President of the United States and who has the firm support of the President of the United States.
QUESTION: Specifically on the fence, you say it's a problem and you have concerns, but it is also clear that it does cut Palestinians off from some of their land. How hard are you willing to press on this issue?
SECRETARY POWELL: We are going to press on this issue. There are other phases of construction coming along and the President has made it clear that if the fence is constructed in a way which continues to intrude on Palestinian land -- even if it is compensated for -- in a way that makes it harder to go forward with the additional elements of the roadmap, especially the creation of a Palestinian state with transitional features to it on the way to a final solution, a permanent solution, then that is a problem.
The Prime Minister understands that clearly, and as we discussed with the Prime Minister yesterday, this is an area that will have to be discussed as we move forward. The President made that point and I made it again later in the evening in my conversation with the Prime Minister.
QUESTION: What do you think of the chances of another round of multilateral talks with North Korea, China and the United States, and maybe others, this year?
SECRETARY POWELL: I think that is a distinct possibility. We presented a proposal to the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister when he was here two weeks ago, and that has been communicated to the North Koreans, and we are waiting to hear back -- a proposal we put forward with what we believe would deal with all of the issues that are of concern to the parties.
We still firmly believe that this problem is not just a problem between the North Koreans and the United States, but between the North Koreans, the United States, and especially with North Korea's neighbors. It is for that reason that we have been trying to encourage all to stand together behind the idea of a multilateral forum.
We started that with three, the trilateral meeting that was held in April, and now we believe it is time to step up from that trilateral to a larger grouping that that might include five or six, if you added Russia to Japan, South Korea and China, as well as the United States and North Korea.
QUESTION: Did your proposal just cover format of talks, or did it include substantive issues like the possibility of non-aggression guarantees of some sort or another?
SECRETARY POWELL: We are not just interested in style and format, but substance, and I made it clear to the Chinese that when there is an opportunity for further discussions, the United States is prepared to respond to the proposal put forward by the North Koreans, and also to put forward ideas of our own that would deal with the issues that are of concern to us and the issues that are of concern to the North Koreans.
QUESTION: Like what?
SECRETARY POWELL: The North Koreans, of course, are concerned about their security, and we are concerned about their nuclear weapons programs and other programs they have that we believe are destabilizing -- their proliferation of missiles and other forms of weapons. There is a broad agenda that we can engage in with the North Koreans, but we believe because of the equities of their neighbors, who are most threatened by these kinds of programs, they have to be full partners in that discussion.
QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Armitage earlier this year talked about the possibility of an exchange of letters or official statements under which you could offer some kind of security guarantees. Is that still an active idea, even if a treaty is probably ruled out because of Senate ratification?
SECRETARY POWELL: We haven't gone that far, but I m not that concerned. There are ways of capturing these ideas and we are exploring a variety of ways in which one can communicate these ideas to the other party. But I don't want to get specific as to what it might look like right now. I don't think a treaty is likely -- in fact, I'm quite sure it isn't likely -- and we tend not to do those sorts of legal instruments that would require ratification by our Senate in this kind of a situation. But there are ways, I think, of dealing with this problem and we are examining a number of those ways.
QUESTION: Just a quick one. Do you now believe that they have reprocessed the 8,000 spent plutonium rods?
SECRETARY POWELL: They say they have reprocessed it. I don't have independent information that would suggest that, so I can't confirm it.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there was the meeting yesterday with the Saudi Foreign Minister. The Saudis clearly have a problem here because they are very much under attack in the United States, essentially on the basis of secret evidence. Is there anything you can do to help them? What do you propose to --
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I had conversations with the Saudi Foreign Minister when he was here yesterday, and I was in the meeting with the President, and we expressed our appreciation for all that Saudi Arabia has been doing in the global war against terrorism, especially over the last month or two, where they really have been rounding up cells, they have been finding individuals within the Kingdom who meant to injure the Kingdom and meant to see what they could do to attack us as well. So we complimented the Saudis on what they had been doing recently.
With respect to the report that is in the paper, the Saudis pressed hard to release the redacted or the blacked-out portions of the report because they believe they have done nothing to warrant the insinuations and suggestions that are in the media about the whole blacked-out section relating to bad behavior on the part of the Saudis. The Saudis would like to see it in the open because they think it will show that the Saudis have been cooperating with us.
We had to make the point back to them, however, that because of sources and methods and investigations that are underway, that part of the report has to remain redacted or blacked out.
QUESTION: So is that debate closed and there's no --
SECRETARY POWELL: It's closed.
QUESTION: Okay, can we move on to Iraq?
QUESTION: How close are U.S. forces to getting Saddam Hussein?
SECRETARY POWELL: I will have to leave that to my military colleagues in Iraq and in the Pentagon to speculate upon. I know that the noose is tightening. Bodyguards are being picked up. Close confidantes are being picked up. The military, U.S. military and coalition military, are conducting raids all over the place now, in Tikrit, in Baghdad, and the environs. So I think the noose is tightening, but I can't speculate on how close one might be to actually capturing Saddam Hussein.
The important point is that he is not in charge of anything. The people of Iraq are moving on. Rather than focusing on how close we are to Saddam Hussein today, I would rather focus on the fact that Iraqi refugees returned to their homeland today from Saudi Arabia out of refugee camps for the first time home in 12 years, and the joy is clear in their faces that they are able to go home.
The Governing Council has elected a presidency for itself. So there are a lot of good things that are happening. Children are going back to schools. All the hospitals are open. No one is starving. Slowly but surely, the infrastructure is being put back in place. Slowly but surely, Ambassador Bremer and his team are successfully starting up economic activity and a political process is underway, and the international community is coming in all ways to support this effort. That is the good news. And Saddam Hussein is no longer bad news; he is a piece of trash waiting to be collected.
QUESTION: You've been in consultation with your colleagues, Mr. Secretary, on what kind of resolution or UN mandate, new mandate, might enable them to contribute more to stabilization and reconstruction in Iraq. Could you fill us in the state of those consultations? Are you moving closer toward some kind of agreement which will enable them to take part?
SECRETARY POWELL: Some of the nations who are potential contributors say that they don't need a UN mandate, they have enough of a mandate under 1483, they don't need a new one, but they would like to receive invitations from the Governing Council or from, say, the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Others feel a little more strongly that they need a broader UN mandate.
So we are still weighing this and discussing it with them. When you consider whether or not another UN mandate is required, you have to consider what other issues might be put on the table at that point, and so we are balancing whether we need to deal with these other issues and what value is there in a new UN resolution. So I haven't made a decision yet and I haven't made a recommendation to the President and haven't finished my analysis of the situation.
QUESTION: Would the United States be willing to cede any of the control granted to it and to Britain as occupying powers under 1483 in order to get another UN resolution?
SECRETARY POWELL: At the moment, I don't see a need to cede any of the authorities granted to us under 1483 or other international conventions that guide our actions in Iraq that we want to move to someone else, the UN or some other body.
I think there is clear understanding now that 1483 turned out to be a very good resolution. It gave the UN a vital role. It gave clear understanding to the mandate of the Coalition Provisional Authority. It has already been used to put in place a Governing Council, and in the near future ministers will be appointed and a constitutional group will be formed to write a constitution for the Iraqi people. It is serving its intended purpose well.
But there are some nations that, before they would contribute forces to work with the coalition, feel they need some broader authority, some broader mandate. Whether it comes from the UN, from the Governing Council or from other international bodies is one of the things we are looking at to see what is needed. But, right now, we are rather satisfied with the endorsement that we received by 1483 and the manner in which we are executing 1483.
QUESTION: How much discussion has there been on NATO -- a NATO role in stabilization and possible French or German troops?
SECRETARY POWELL: I have discussed it with the German Foreign Minister, the French Foreign Minister, my other colleagues in Europe, the United Kingdom's Foreign Minister -- the Foreign Secretary -- and others.
To some extent, NATO is participating now. When you look at the United Kingdom being there, Spain, so many of the other NATO nations are contributing now, either financially, politically or with forces on the ground. I mean it is a Polish-led division, Poland a NATO member, with many other NATO members participating in the Polish division.
Now, the question of NATO as an alliance making a formal commitment and contributing what? -- a headquarters or contributing something as a formal alliance, that is under discussion and consideration. The issue was opened last December when Paul Wolfowitz visited NATO, and I raised it with my NATO colleagues earlier this year.
I don't think, though, that we will have any more detailed discussion on this until perhaps early in the fall, early September. Right now, NATO is quite busy getting ready to take over the mission in Afghanistan and NATO members are busy filling out the Polish division and making other contributions bilaterally to the work of the coalition. So I don't really have a specific need for NATO headquarters right now.
Now, with respect to France and Germany, I have had conversations with both. I think the Germans are still in a position where it is unlikely they would contribute forces and France has expressed an interest not to make a large contribution -- I'm not sure they'd make any contribution at all -- but clearly they would want a broader mandate. And if I read my French colleagues correctly, they would be looking for a broader mandate for the UN before they would consider making any kind of a contribution.
So all these issues are being worked out.
QUESTION: Do you yet have an assessment of whether the latest reported audiotape from Saddam Hussein is authentic?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't. I don't have an assessment. It usually takes several days before our intelligence agencies will confirm it as being authentic. If it is authentic, we have Saddam Hussein then verifying that his two sons are no longer with us, are dead. It is just a matter of time before he is brought to justice one way or the other.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on Liberia, in your interview with the Washington Times you gave some reasons for intervening in Liberia, and yet there seems to be a certain level of hesitation in the Administration to do so. How would you respond to Africans who, especially after the visit of the President, see this hesitation as a sign of U.S. indifference to them?
SECRETARY POWELL: If the United States was indifferent, we wouldn't be supporting ECOWAS. I would not have American representatives in Africa today working with ECOWAS both on the political dimension of the Liberian problem as well as the military dimension. An advance team from ECOWAS is heading into Monrovia this afternoon. It is on its way now. We have American participation in that. We have American coordination ongoing. A Marine Expeditionary Unit is on the way to the region.
But we have always said from the beginning that it can't just be U.S. support, the U.S. has to support ECOWAS. ECOWAS is in the lead. It is ECOWAS itself that said it should be in the lead, and it asked for U.S. support. Whether there will also be a need for U.S. boots on the ground, so to speak, that remains to be seen and it is a decision that will be made in due course by the President.
Right now, we are working very, very hard to get the Nigerian battalions into Liberia as quickly as we can. One, as you know, is now preparing itself to leave from Freetown in Sierra Leone, and I hope that in the very near future it will begin to arrive in Liberia.
It is also predicated on the departure of Charles Taylor. Charles Taylor's departure is an essential part of the strategy that we have worked out with the United Nations and with ECOWAS to resolve this situation.
The humanitarian situation is getting worse, and so we are anxious to move quickly. Assistant Secretary Kansteiner, my Assistant Secretary for Africa, is in the region working on the political and military aspects of this, and military planners from the European Command are there as well as contractors, American contractors, who are gearing up to provide support to the African troops who are going in.
QUESTION: Can you just explain the timing on that again? What exactly -- what can not happen before Charles Taylor departs?
SECRETARY POWELL: Until Charles Taylor departs, the strategy that we have worked out is, upon departure of Charles Taylor, we would expect ECOWAS forces to be present. Whether it is the same day, a day before, a day after, that is a synchronization issue that is, frankly, a detail, but an important detail.
But we are looking for a permissive environment that will be created by the departure of Mr. Taylor. He has said he will depart upon the arrival of peacekeeping forces, and we expect him to meet that commitment.
While waiting for the forces to arrive, we are also pressing hard for a ceasefire. This has been a difficult issue. The different sides say from day to day and hour to hour that they are agreeing to a ceasefire, but it doesn't quite hold. And so we are pressing hard today for all sides to agree to a ceasefire once again.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, one quick question on Algeria. Earlier this month, the two jailed peace leaders, Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj, were released by the Algerian authorities, but they have been barred from any kind of political activity. Do you think the Algerian authorities should let them take part in political activities?
SECRETARY POWELL: I really don't have a view on that.
QUESTION: Just to go back quickly to Liberia, is a deployment possible without a ceasefire holding?
SECRETARY POWELL: I can't say. It's -- you know I'm not in command of the Nigerian forces or the ECOWAS forces. I think the hope is and the expectation is and the planning assumption is that the environment will be permissive; in other words, it won't be an opposed arrival. Once they are on the ground, and with the departure of Charles Taylor, it will be in everyone's interest at that point to stop the fighting, if there is any remaining fighting taking place, and get on with bringing back NGOs and humanitarian efforts and United Nations organizations to help these desperate people in need with clean water, fixing the water plant, doing something about the delivery of food. There is food in the area, but it is impossible to deliver it under the current circumstances. That ought to be our first priority, and that will come about with the departure of Mr. Taylor and with the arrival of the peacekeeping forces.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for your time.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. [End]
Released on July 30, 2003