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Powell IV on The Today Show with Matt Lauer

Interview on The Today Show with Matt Lauer

Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC March 1, 2004

(7:09 a.m. EST)

MR. LAUER: Mr. Secretary, good morning to you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Matt.

MR. LAUER: President Aristide left the country of Haiti yesterday. The U.S. Ambassador said it was a patriotic gesture meant to heal the country and end the violence. But, as you know, there has been continued violence.

In your opinion, what are we going to see in the immediate short term in Haiti?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, as we have already seen, the Haitian National Police are starting to function again, and with the arrival of U.S. troops, French troops, and I expect other contingents to be arriving in the next few days, I hope we will see an end to the violence and a sense of stability brought to the country so that the new interim leaders can get about the task of selecting a new Prime Minister and preparing the country for elections.

And I hope this time we can put in place not only a democratically elected government, but a government that also governs in a way that is seen as democratic, which is what President Aristide, I think, did not do. And then, if we have that kind of government, the international community, I am sure, will rally to the support of the Haitian people.

MR. LAUER: You talked about U.S. troops. I know 50 Marines went there a week or so ago to secure the Embassy. More Marines landed overnight. What kind of force are you looking at? Could there be a large U.S. presence offshore in case of an emergency?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think it will be a very large presence. Nothing like the 20,000 troops that went in ten years ago. I don't have a specific number that I'd like to give out this morning, but it's in the hundreds, maybe a little more than a thousand or so. But it is not a large force, joined by forces from a number of nations that have already indicated they want to make a contribution.

MR. LAUER: You mentioned those 20,000 from ten years ago. Some of those troops stayed up to two years. How long might it require a U.S. presence in terms of the military?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I can't answer that right now, but I think that the nature of the presence will shift from combat troops increasingly to police monitors, gendarmerie, those sorts of international forces present to help the Haitian people, and not combat forces of the kind that would be engaging in direct combat. I think this is mostly a stability operation, as opposed to a combat operation.

MR. LAUER: There have been some critics, as you know, Secretary Powell, saying the Bush Administration didn't act quickly enough. Charles Rangel, the Congressman from New York, has questioned our allegiance with the rebels, saying why would a great nation like the United States be getting in bed with an element like that.

What's your reaction?

SECRETARY POWELL: We're not getting in bed with any such element, and Mr. Rangel knows better. We worked very hard, as did the previous administration, to try to put in place a political arrangement which would allow all parts of the Haitian society to get involved in the political process in a democratic manner. And that was frustrated over the years. We worked very hard in recent weeks to see if we can get a political accommodation between the parties, and that was not possible.

QUESTION: But did we do anything to stop the rebels?

SECRETARY POWELL: Unfortunately -- unfortunately -- the rebels moved on the capital in a way that could not be controlled by President Aristide. President Aristide was unable to put in place a political system that would satisfy the needs of the Haitian people. And it became clear to all of us and to the Canadians and the French and others that he had pretty much used up whatever political authority and credibility he had, and he did the appropriate thing, and I think it was a wise and patriotic thing for him to step aside.

MR. LAUER: All right, let me move to Iraq quickly. An interim constitution has been approved, and really in the last several hours. The draft reportedly recognized Islam as Iraq's official religion, said it would be a source of legislation but not the primary source.

Are you concerned that years down road, based on these facts, that we could see a Taliban-type government or administration inside Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think so, no. That is exactly what all the debate has been about for recent days, to make sure that we did not start down the road that would lead to that kind of outcome.

We'll see what the final constitution actually says, but this is a good solution. Islam is the state religion and it is a source, one of them, not the only one. And I think that the Iraqi people and all the parties represented in Iraqi society understand that they have to find a way forward, that understands that Islam is the state religion but it cannot be the only basis of law.

MR. LAUER: Another subject in the news over the weekend, Secretary Powell, and really in the last week or so. Usama bin Laden back in the news. The President approved a plan to intensify the hunt for Usama bin Laden, to capture or kill him. Some are speculating -- and I'd like your comment on this -- some are speculating he may have already been captured. Can you confirm or deny that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Deny it. He has not been captured. This rumor started somewhere about the middle of last week, got picked up. It's been denied by the Pentagon and by anyone else who knows anything about it.

MR. LAUER: There have also been reports that perhaps we are tightening the circle around Usama bin Laden. Can you confirm that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I would hope that is the case, but I can't confirm it. One never knows who's inside a particular circle in a region as rugged as the region between Pakistan and Afghanistan along the border there.

MR. LAUER: But is your gut that we're getting close?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't speculate on matters such as that because I really don't know. I don't know where he is or what he might be doing at this point. I will leave that up to those in the field who may have a better -- a better picture than I do.

MR. LAUER: This is the first time I've had a chance to speak to you since prostate cancer surgery. How are you feeling?

SECRETARY POWELL: Feeling great. Thanks very much, Matt.

MR. LAUER: All right. And I thank you for your time, Secretary Powell.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you.

2004/216 [End]

Released on March 1, 2004

ENDS


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