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Powell Briefing En Route to Marrakesh

Press Briefing En Route to Marrakesh

Secretary Colin L. Powell
En Route to Marrakesh, Morocco
December 2, 2003

SECRETARY POWELL: It s a long day so we ll go right to questions. And, I ll Charlie, you ve got the first one? Where are you? There you are!

QUESTION: The meeting that you had in Tunis went a lot longer than was anticipated. Why?

SECRETARY POWELL: President Ben Ali and I got into a very fascinating and lengthy conversation and the meeting did go twice as long as scheduled -- an hour and forty-five minutes, I guess. We talked about the Middle East; we talked about Iraq; we spent quite a bit of time talking about the changes that have taken place in Tunisia under his leadership, the reform efforts that have been underway, opening so many new avenues of opportunity to women. He spoke about what he s done with respect to education and a high literacy rate in Tunisia, and we talked about political transformation, and we had a very excellent discussion about the issue of open political process and the issue of media access.

It was a good exchange of views, and as he said to me and I said to him, When friends are together, they can speak honestly and candidly to each other. And that s what we had: a good candid conversation, and we look forward to seeing him in Washington in February. Tunisia has been a good friend of the United States for a long time, especially in recent months as we have gone through Iraq. They are helping us with respect to reconstruction efforts. Their foreign minister came to the Madrid Conference. They signed an Article 98 agreement with us. And, so, it was a just a good spirited discussion.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask a little bit more about Iraq. This morning you were a little bit flip, when you said it was exciting. the fact that people there could not agree on a transition process, and that this Muslim cleric who represents 60 percent of Iraq s population says that our plan is no good, and he wants elections. Could you be a little bit more -- a little less flip, and talk about the serious issues that we re facing in Iraq now and how we re going to get through this period without empowering the Shiites prematurely?

SECRETARY POWELL: I wasn t being flip at all. I was being deadly serious -- that for the first time in decades you can have an open debate about the future of the country, and Shi as represent 60 percent of the population. They are also the majority of the population in the Baghdad area as well. And so we have a Governing Council consisting of 25 individuals representing the different groups throughout Iraq who are participating in open debate, and who are discussing the way forward with Ambassador Bremer. And you have various parties around the country, especially Shi a clerics such as Ayatollah Sistani expressing their view. I think that this is a challenging period, but also a very interesting period, and we should be encouraged that you re having this kind of open discussion.

Now, the Governing Council has said that they are committed to the current plan, and the Ayatollah has expressed some concerns that he has about that plan, so let the discussions take place. And so, rather than that being a flip observation, it s an accurate observation. Where it will end up, I can t say right now, but the plan that the Governing Council announced on the fifteenth of December -- of November, excuse me -- and which they then presented, in writing and signed, to the United Nations in response to Resolution 1511 is their plan. And now they have to sell that plan throughout the countryside. And that s what we see taking place. They remain committed to the plan. And we hope through this process of dialogue, and using Ambassador Bremer s good offices, we can reconcile whatever differences there are so that we can move forward.

We all have a common goal, and that is ultimately to get to a constitution that has been ratified by a vote of the people and to come up with a government that has been elected by the people. But there is an interim step along the way, and that s what we re looking at: the creation of an administrative law, as it is called, and then an interim assembly and an interim government that we can transfer sovereignty to, and then under Iraqi sovereignty they can go through the process of writing a complete constitution that will be taken to the people for their approval, and from that constitution, have a basis for elections where the Iraqi people can make the final determination (inaudible) the nature of their government and who their leaders will be. That will take us out to some time in 2005, but we re anxious to move forward more quickly to put in place an interim assembly and interim government so that sovereignty can be transferred and we can stay as friends of that Arab government and help the Iraqi people through the entire process.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up here quickly. Are you ruling out then direct elections for that transitional government?

SECRETARY POWELL: I am ruling in what the Governing Council said they are committed to right now, which is the plan that they submitted. So it would not be appropriate for me to rule in or out anything while the Governing Council, 25 individuals, working with other leaders in Iraq, are making a judgment as to how they wish to go forward. And they re doing it in a closed consultation with Ambassador Bremer and with us and with other coalition leaders who have an interest in this as well. And I hope, increasingly, with the U.N. playing a role.

As you know, for the first time Kofi Anan brought a group together in New York yesterday of interested members of the United Nations to talk about this: neighbors of Iraq, members of the E-10, the elected ten of the Security Council, Spain, as the convener of the Madrid Conference, and the permanent members of the Security Council. And so I hope that through this kind of effort the international community will begin to get more engaged in what s happening in Iraq and especially the United Nations. And I look forward to having additional conversations with Secretary General Annan as he goes through the process of selecting a new interim special representative and how he can do the job that s envisioned for the U.N. to do under Resolution 1511.

QUESTION: On the Middle East, what merit do you see in the Geneva Proposal? And did you agree to meet with its architects primarily as a goad to get both sides talking again?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are committed to the Roadmap. The Roadmap was endorsed by the Palestinians and it was endorsed by the Israelis. It was presented by the Quartet to the Palestinians and the Israelis and it was unveiled to the world at Aqaba. We remain committed to that Roadmap. We think it is the way forward, and we hope that circumstances and conditions will permit progress along that Roadmap in the near future.

But, why should we not listen to others who have ideas, such as the ideas that were presented in Geneva yesterday, and other ideas that have been presented? What people were saying, is that the current situation has to change. We have to find a way to peace. We think the Road Map is the idea, but I think I would be denying myself, and I think that I would be denying our Administration, the opportunity to hear different points of view if I refused to listen to different points of view. So, I will be meeting those who have different points of view to include those who presented the plan in Geneva.

QUESTION: If I can go back to Maastricht, Mr. Secretary, I understand that because the OSCE works -- operates -- on consensus

SECRETARY POWELL: What?

QUESTION: the OSCE makes decisions only on consensus, the Russian objection to a statement about the pullout was not possible. What do you do from here then, if this the case, and is this a down period for U.S.-Russian relations?

SECRETARY POWELL: We couldn t get an agreed statement. Since I ve been traveling for most of the day, I haven t had a chance to see what the President s statement -- the Chairman s statement was. But I think there was a solid agreement within the group, if not unanimity, that would produce a OSCE statement. We do everything we can to help the new leadership in Georgia move forward to have elections in early January. The OSCE is ready to play a role and I expect them to play a role, and I have heard the Russians encourage OSCE to play a role. I believe President Putin has even indicated to us that he would expect OSCE to play a role.

So, even in the absence of a formal statement coming out of this meeting, I expect OSCE and other members of the international community to help the President Elect as she moves forward to conduct these elections on in early January. The decision she will have to make -- and in my conversation with her, she will be weighing that decision in the days ahead, and will be taking into counsel the opinion of the OSCE, and that is whether or not she can go for both parliamentary and presidential elections at the same time, or they ought to be separated in time first presidential, then parliamentary. That s a decision for her to make. But I sense a coming together of the international community, to stand now with the Georgian people, to support territorial integrity, to make sure that there is no encouragement given to various elements within Georgia, any of the separate entities within Georgia, as they like to call themselves, which would in any way interfere with the process that is now underway.

QUESTION: Is this a down period in the U.S. / Russian relations?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, Foreign Minister Ivanov and I consulted very closely weekend before last I guess it was, now when the situation reached a crisis stage of people marching on the Parliament and President Shevardnadze finding it necessary to leave the Parliament and go back to his office, and then to another location. I immediately started placing calls, reached President Shevardnadze, spoke to him, and then I knew that Foreign Minister Ivanov was heading into Tbilisi, and I placed a call to him. And as soon as he landed, the Foreign Minister called me and we had a chance to consult. And in that consultation we said we are anxious to make sure that this does not result in violence, that we get both sides to talk to one another to find a way forward, and that we engage the international community. I had conversations, as I believe that Foreign Minister Ivanov did, with other members of the community. I talked to Solana, I talked to others, and over the course of the next, I guess, 18 hours or so, Foreign Minister Ivanov had consultations with Mr. Shevardnadze, with opposition leaders and essentially, they all came to the conclusion that the situation was very serious.

And then Mr. Shevardnadze came to the conclusion that the interests of the Georgian people would best be served if he stepped down. Then after he stepped down, an hour or so later, I called him and as you all know, he s an old not just a colleague of mine, a friend of mine from 17 years ago when he was the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union. And I told him that he had taken a courageous step for the Georgian people. He ll always be remembered for what he had done, and we had a good conversation, and then I called the new Acting President and extended to her our support in any way that we could support her, and called on all parties to have a sense of calm about this. And so, Foreign Minister Ivanov and I never had a bad word over this. I asked him about the fact that the three leaders of the Separatist areas would be traveling to Moscow. He said that that would be routine consultation. I told him I would be interested in the outcome of that. And they had those meetings, they are now back in their areas and so we ve been coordinating closely with the Russians. But, it s been I should put it this way these have been very serious consultations.

QUESTION: Along those lines, Mr. Secretary. There doesn t seem to be any, there doesn t seem to be any mistake as to who your words to the OSCE Foreign Ministers applied to. You say -- here you say -- No one should be given no support should be given to breakaway elements seeking to weaken Georgia s territorial integrity. Do you have concerns about the nature of the consultations that have been taking place between Moscow and the leaders of those three entities?

SECRETARY POWELL: Based on what I know, and based on my consultations with Foreign Minister Ivanov and what I ve heard from the Acting President today, and the new Foreign Minister, I see no reason for concern at the moment, But we of course will keep a watchful eye, as will, I think, all OSCE members, and certainly the Chairman in office.

(crosstalk)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned the other day in your interview with the European journalists this idea of broadening the U.N. role. You mentioned that Mr. Vieira de Mello wanted his role broadened, but you didn t get into any specifics about that. Could you tell us specifically, I mean how much authority could the U.N. be given there?

SECRETARY POWELL: Sergio de Mello went in under 1483, if my memory serves me correctly, and he was doing a terrific job, working with Ambassador Bremer, getting a sense of what the U.N. could do. But it was also becoming clear that he pretty much had done what he could do under the mandate of 1483 and I expected that he would eventually come back to New York and say, I have a more extensive plan. And in fact, he did submit a plan, to Secretary General Annan, which Secretary General Annan then published as his summary and his plan to move forward.

I think the U.N. can play a role in helping the Iraqi Governing Council and whatever committee has been formed to work on the administrative law, the fundamental law, as it s called. I think the U.N. can play a role in terms of helping get ready for elections, whether they are helping with the interim arrangements, or start to do the work required for national elections, to bless the constitution when it is written, and for the elections that ll ultimately be necessary to elect a permanent assembly, as well as a new leadership. The U.N. and all of its subsidiary agencies can be doing a lot more once the security situation allows them to do more.

Secretary General Annan and I had a good meeting Saturday before last at my home, where we talked about how to move forward. He hopes to be able to do more in Iraq, as well as do more from neighboring countries, where he can put U.N. presence safely and essentially work into Iraq. But he s anxious to do more, and we are anxious to have him do more. The exact nature of what he can do, besides the things I ve touched on, remains to be determined, and I would not want to prejudge what he decides is the appropriate role of the U.N. But the issue we have to work our way through is how can we do it with the right level of security? It was a very difficult time for the U.N. when Sergio and his colleagues were killed and wounded, and we re still coming back from that, we have to make sure that the Secretary General is satisfied, that he s putting his people in, in a relatively secure environment. It ll never be perfectly secure, but he has to satisfy himself. So I don t want to prejudge what else he might want to do, but the things I ve touched on are the kinds of things that he has spoken about, and I think he s interested in doing.

(crosstalk)

QUESTION: Alright, the question about NATO and Iraq. You mentioned today during your briefing in Maastricht this idea of having NATO more involved, or involved in Iraq. Why do you seem so reluctant to lure NATO to have a role to play in this country?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have been talking about this possibility for a long time, I even raised it at NATO in the Spring, as did my colleague Secretary Wolfowitz before me. But it hasn t reached a point yet where we can see a defined role for them to play. I mean, of the 26 countries in NATO, some 18 are involved now. My numbers might be off by one or two but I m close. Of the 26 countries that, you know, represent NATO, or NATO-aligned countries, 18 have troops in there now. So, it s not as if there s a huge reservoir of NATO troops out there waiting for instructions to come in. And so we will be exploring, as Don Rumsfeld did with his colleagues and defense ministers earlier this week, we will be exploring how NATO perceives the situation and what possibilities exist. And one of the ideas that has been surfaced, perhaps in due course when the Polish division finishes its year, then maybe at that time it should become a NATO mission, kind of the way ISAF has become a NATO mission.

But these are just ideas being explored. There s no reluctance on my part, I m anxious to see the international community more heavily involved, in any way that they choose to get involved. But it s not mine to dictate to them, or to try to tell them how to do it. So, I think we ll be continuing these discussions later this week and Don I m waiting to talk to him now he s had discussions, and he and I will have a chance to talk about it in a few minutes.

QUESTION: Did you say before that you expect to meet with the two architects of the Geneva Accords? And if you are, when will that be?

SECRETARY POWELL: I expect that they ll be coming to Washington, I think it s later this week. They ll be meeting with various officials in Washington, not just within the Administration, but I think elsewhere in town, and I would expect in the course of those conversations, I will have a chance to see them. It might be Friday, but I ve got my staff s working all that out.

QUESTION: A different question. Most of my colleagues did not get a chance to see you today at the cemetery, when you laid a wreath. First of all, have you visited all the cemeteries where there are American dead are buried abroad, and secondly, can you talk a little about your feelings there?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have not visited all of them, there are many, but I visited a number of them. And the hardest, the hardest thing to do, for me anyway and going through a cemetery like that is to walk up to where there s almost always trees on both sides, and they all have a gravel walk. You can hear the noise, and you know that at the end of the walk, there will be a monument of some kind, and there ll be names on walls and there will be descriptions of the battles that cost the lives of these wonderful young people. But the hardest part for me is always to look out across the crosses. And I could never do that without having that same emotion: that these were young men and women who were cut down in the fullness of life serving the cause of freedom, and they did it for their country.

This was a one of those campaigns that really wasn t written about that much, but it was really the warm-up for Normandy, the invasion of North Africa. And we learned a lot of lessons. That s where Eisenhower learned to fight major battles, and where Patton got his baptism of modern warfare. And these young men gave their lives for freedom. And then on the wall, which you saw on the left side, the names of the unknown. You know, now we bring back everybody and we know who s missing. Those were 20 I forget the exact number, like 1,000 or 2,000, never found.

And a piece of history that I wasn t that familiar with was a thousand of them drowned on a single ship, a ship that was on its way to take American troops to help construct the Burma Road, and it was hit by a German guided missile of some kind, I don t know the story. And a thousand men went to their death in that one ship, and only 30 bodies were ever found. But they are also on that wall, they don t have crosses, but they are there very much.

The American Battle Monuments Commission is a marvelous organization, little heard of, that maintains these battlefields around the world, does a terrific job. The lady you saw me hug, she is a member of the Battle Monuments Commission. General P.X. Kelly, a dear friend of mine, a member, and my collaborator on my book: Joe Persico, he s a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission, he s a great historian. He also had a little help getting on the commission, but we won t talk about that!

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what do you say to somebody like President Ben Ali, who s been in office for 16 years, just presided over a constitutional amendment that would let him stay in office for another fourteen years, when he says that he wants to move on democracy at the same pace, that the pace that his people want? It seems as if democracy deferred becomes democracy denied.

SECRETARY POWELL: We talked about democracy and a progress of democracy in Tunisia, and there s a bit of personal history in this, and the 7th of November, 1987, the Foreign Minister, who you saw this evening, Habib Ben Yahia was the Ambassador to the United States and I was Deputy National Security Advisor. And it was a Saturday morning and he called me, and said it was an emergency, he had to see me. And he came to my office in the White House, a little tiny office, and told me that it would be necessary for them to remove President Bourguiba from power and he was pained when he told me this story and what he had to do, what they had to do. But he assured me that they were determined to move forward with reform. It would be difficult: they were essentially a one-party-state that had not undertaken the kinds of reforms that were needed, but some things were starting to happen. President Bourguiba had made a commitment to womens rights, he had made a commitment to education, but it was time for him to step aside, and they found it necessary to do that.

We told him that we would support them, as long as they kept moving on a path of reform, and as President Ben Ali and I we reviewed that history again tonight. It took part of the time. And over the last fifteen years, he believes that he s been faithful to that, and they have done many things that I think have been very positive for the Tunisian people. The economy has improved, they have very high literacy rates, they have done a lot with respect to social programs, women are very widely distributed throughout all levels of the society. They still have economic difficulties, and as we talked in very open and candid terms, even though it s only been 15 years, the world is looking for more political pluralism and openness and a standard of openness that deals with journalists being able to do their work. I did not get into the issue of his tenure or elected service because that essentially was a matter between him and the Tunisian people, as reflected in the judgment they made with respect to the constitution.

We talked about his protection of minority participation in the legislature. I also said to him that the world was expecting to see even more reform than we have seen in the last 16 years. It was very candid, very straightforward, between friends. And I made it clear that we have a mutual interest in seeing these kinds of developments.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you talked about openness in Iraq and how that s wonderful Mr. Sistani has come forward, but how open are you to an Islamic government under Islamic law? And do you think that s compatible with democracy?

SECRETARY POWELL: Iraq is going to be a state that will respect the religion of Islam. That is not to say there cannot also be a democracy, I don t see it as any inconsistency there. And so, it will be up to the Iraqi people to determine how to put respect for their religion into their governing documents in a way, that in no way does disrespect to anyone else s religion, or causes the country to go in a direction which would be anti-democratic and would not be supportive of the interests of all Iraqi people. And how they decide that will be up to them as they work through their administrative law and as they work toward the development of a constitution. We ll help them, we ll guide them. We think others will help them, we hope the U.N. will help them.

I hope they ll look at the experience in Turkey and other places, and gain from that experience. But it is not as the nights follows day, as the President is fond of saying, that there s something that is inherently inconsistent between being a nation that is guided by a faith and a nation that also believes in democracy.

Going back to the question a moment ago, we ve in my conversation with President Ben Ali we also talked a great deal about the (inaudible) of democracy for the Middle East and other nations in the world. And we had a chance to talk about the fact that the Middle East Partnership Initiative regional bureau will be created in Tunis next year, as part of the President s vision. And I see no inconsistency between having that vision and people having a faith in Islam, and people deciding their own way forward, as opposed to thinking America s come to impose it: no, we haven t. We are laying out for you what we think is a good model for people to look at and adapt as they see fit to adapt it.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you very much. [End]

Released on December 3, 2003


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