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Powell on NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert

Interview on NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert


Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
September 12, 2004

(10:30 a.m. EDT)

MR. RUSSERT: But, first, the Secretary of State Colin Powell is with us, welcome back.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Tim, good morning.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the results of a poll by a group called GlobeScan and the University of Maryland. It said the following, "World opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of John Kerry to win the U.S. presidential election, according to a poll covering 35 countries. In 30 countries, many of them staunch allies of the U.S., the public favored Mr. Kerry over President Bush by a 2:1 margin. An average of 53 percent of respondents said that foreign policy under Mr. Bush had made them feel worse about the U.S. In Germany, 74 percent said they backed Mr. Kerry, only 10 percent for Mr. Bush. In France, 5 percent supported the President. In UK, Great Britain, the margin was 47 for Kerry, 16 for Bush." Why is that?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have had difficulty with some of the European publics over our policy in Iraq. Many of their governments supported us, in fact, a large number of European governments supported us, but the work is difficult and people are waiting to see whether or not we're going to be successful. We are going to be successful. A terrible regime has been removed. We are dealing with this insurgency. It's a difficult insurgency to deal with, but in due course, just as we are getting ready to see in Afghanistan, there will be elections in Iraq. Iraq will be responsible for its own destiny and I think when that happens, when we do get further into the reconstruction of Iraq, those attitudes will start to change.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Doug Bereuter, a Republican from Nebraska, is retiring. He wrote his constituents the following, Mr. Secretary, "I've reached the conclusion retrospectively now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch the military action. As a result of the war in Iraq, our country's reputation around the world has never been lower and our alliances weakened." That's a Republican. Are you troubled by that, as the nation's chief diplomat?

SECRETARY POWELL: Of course. I'm troubled that we have to do a better job of conveying to the world what we have achieved in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Two terrible regimes gone, 55 million people given the promise of freedom. The people who should be getting criticized right now are the insurgents and the terrorists and the old remnants of the Taliban and the old remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, who are trying to keep the Iraqi and Afghan people from getting to a better, brighter future. Those are the ones that should be getting the criticism, but we're getting the criticism right now.

But we're confident of what we're doing. We're confident of our strategy. We're confident that we've done the right thing in both Afghanistan and in Iraq, and this is not the time to get weak in the knees or faint about it, but to drive on and finish the work that we've started.

MR. RUSSERT: Some organizations that try to look at these things objectively, one, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, wrote this, "Iraq will be lucky if it manages to avoid a breakup and civil war and the country risks becoming the spark for a vortex of regional upheaval," concludes the report by the Royal Institute, in a bleak assessment of where Iraq stands nearly 18 months after the U.S.-led invasion to depose Saddam Hussein, the report focused on the internal forces dividing the country and the external pressures that could exasperate the situation. Could there be a civil war in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's always a possibility, but I don't think it's going to happen. We have leaders in the Interim Government who represent every element of Iraqi society. We have Kurds, Shia, Sunnis, they're all working together. What are they working together for? To end the insurgency, to build up Iraqi security forces so they can take care of their own security, and to get ready for an election with the help of the coalition and the help of the UN.

These are dedicated men and women who get up every day in order to keep their country together, to work for a political outcome that reflects the will of the Iraqi people when they're being attacked by insurgents. And so, it is a difficult time. There is an insurgency that has to be put down, and when that insurgency is put down, what the people of the world will see are Iraqis in charge of their own destiny moving forward toward an election that will provide for a representative form of government, the creation of a constitution, the ratification of a constitution, and it's going to be something that we will be able to be proud of.

And so, this is a difficult time, as this insurgency still rages and as we work to bring it under control, but it will be brought under control. It's not an impossible task. And when it has been brought under control, you will find that the forces that keep Iraq together are stronger than the forces that would pull it apart.

MR. RUSSERT: But the Vice President said on this program we'd be greeted as liberators, and here we are 18 months later and you're saying an insurgency rages.

SECRETARY POWELL: There is an insurgency raging. We see it every day. There is no question about it and it's an insurgency that has to be defeated. Because what does it represent? It represents the failed past. It represents individuals who have lost the dictatorial, tyrannical authority they used to have over the people of Iraq. It's being fueled by terrorists who have come in to take advantage of that, and so it is a challenge.

But we've faced challenges before. We've faced difficult times before. And this is the time to persevere and to stick with the strategy that we have and not to start taking such counsel of our fears or the fears of others.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you and our viewers a map of Iraq and here are cities, Ramadi, Fallujah, Samarra, Bukhara, all those areas are controlled by the insurgents, which led to this article, an interview with ranking officials in the U.S. Government. There is increasing concern in the Administration over plans for the election in Iraq with some officials saying if significant parts of the Sunni areas cannot be secured by January, it may be impossible to hold a nationwide balloting that would be seen as legitimate.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it's not time for the election yet and your map, of course, didn't include the cities where the government is firmly in control and where people are working toward the election. But the cities you cited there are difficult areas in the Sunni triangle. Samarra, there has been some progress recently. The new Interim Government is working with authorities and other leaders in Samarra to bring it back under control. The rest will be dealt with.

Our military commanders working with Iraqi military leaders and the Iraqi Interim Government have plans for each one of those areas to bring them back under government control in time for the election.

MR. RUSSERT: But how could you have a legitimate national election if you could not cast ballots in four major cities?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we want to be able to cast ballots in four major cities, and that's why work is underway and there is a plan to deal with each one of these cities. Each city isn't simply a military task to be dealt with. It requires political effort, diplomatic effort, economic effort, and, yes, military effort, just like you saw in Najaf over the last couple of weeks, where a combination of military force squeezing the Mahdi militia, and then using the Iraqi Interim Government leadership to talk to the people down there, and the Ayatollah Sistani coming back in and doing some things which help bring the situation under control; and now the government is in control in Najaf and in Kufa and will start to extend that kind of control to other cities and those cities inside the Sunni triangle as well.

MR. RUSSERT: If, in January, the insurgency is still raging, might the elections be postponed?

SECRETARY POWELL: Nobody is planning to postpone the elections. Prime Minister Allawi has been quite clear about this. Of course, we have to bring that insurgency under control. But keep in mind, most of the country would be in a satisfactory position for elections if they were being held next month. So we have time to deal with the challenges that we face.

MR. RUSSERT: Yesterday, very painful memories of September 11th, parents and grandparents, remembering their loved ones. Henry Hyde, the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said this on Thursday, "There is a direct connection between the war in Iraq and the bombing of September 11th. Our response to that bombing of September 11th was Iraq and based on the best information available." Is that true?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have no indication that there was a direct connection between the terrorist who perpetrated these crimes against us on the 11th of September, 2001, and the Iraqi regime. We know that there had been connections and there had been exchanges between al-Qaida and the Saddam Hussein regime and those have been pursued and looked at, but I have seen nothing that makes a direct connection between Saddam Hussein, that awful regime, and what happened on 9/11.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, the primary rationale given for the war was weapons of mass destruction. The Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said this, that, "We settled on that issue because everyone could agree on it. There actually had been three fundamental concerns: one was WMD; two was support for terrorism; the third was the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people.

The third one by itself, the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people, is a reason to help the Iraqis, but not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did. In light of the fact there is no direct connection between Iraq and September 11th, no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, is it worth a thousand American lives and 7,000 wounded and injured simply because Saddam was a bad guy?

SECRETARY POWELL: Let me say, first of all, that we mourn the loss of every GI who has fallen in this conflict, not only in Iraq, but those who also fell in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the fight against terror. The President decided that action was appropriate in Iraq and he put together a coalition of many nations that joined in that judgment and joined in that fight because, one, Saddam Hussein has used weapons of mass destruction in the past. He had an intention and he a capability and all of the intelligence available to us and to the international community led us to the conclusion that he had stockpiles and it was a reasonable conclusion at that time.

We have not found those stockpiles. We certainly have found the history of the use of such weapons and the intention and capability. There is no doubt in my mind that if he had ever been freed of international constraints, of the pressure of the international community, if we all said, never mind and walked away, he would have gone back to developing those weapons. But there were the other factors as well and the President's talked to them just as Secretary Wolfowitz did, human rights violations, other things that he was doing, and we also know that he was a state sponsor of terrorism, not a new designation, a designation that he has had for some time.

And so, all of these things taken together, but leading with the concern about weapons of mass destruction and the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorists that were now clear to us as a threat, as a result of 9/11, the President put all of that together and, with the advice of his advisors, decided: had to take it to the United Nations and we had to do something about it this time. And we did that. We got a unanimous resolution out of the United Nations, but some months later, when it was time to take action, in our judgment, in our judgment and the judgment of many of our friends, we took action, even if some of our Security Council colleagues and some of the nations of Europe did not wish to join us in that action.

MR. RUSSERT: If you knew today that Saddam did not have these weapons of mass destruction, would you still advocate an invasion?

SECRETARY POWELL: I would have to look at the total picture and we'd have to sit down and talk about his intention to have such weapons, the capability that was inherent. The only thing we have not found are actual stockpiles. We have found dual-use facilities. We know that he was keeping the intellectual base intact. We know that he had the intention. All of that is there. What we didn't get right so far, and we'll wait to see what Mr. Duelfer finally does report, actual existing stockpiles.

That doesn't mean stockpiles could not have been produced out of the capability he had in a short period of time if nobody was watching and there were no constraints. The President chose not to take that risk and we all supported him in that judgment. Would it have been a different analysis that we went through in the conclusion that we came to if we knew at that time that intention and capability with no active stockpiles? I don't know. We're going to have to -- I can't replay that scene.

MR. RUSSERT: David Kay, the chief weapons inspector, testified before Congress a few weeks ago, and he asked a question which I want to share with you and our audience and ask you to respond to it.

DR. KAY: Why was the Secretary of State sent out to the CIA to personally vet the data that he was to take to the Security Council in New York and ultimately left to hang in the wind for data that was at least misleading, and in some cases, absolutely false and known by parts of the intelligence community to be false?

MR. RUSSERT: What's the answer?

SECRETARY POWELL: The answer is that I did go to the CIA and spent several days and nights there. I am not the intelligence officer of the United States but I had to present the case. And so I went to see what the best information they had was and see if it was vetted and substantiated and the information I got with respect to intention, with respect to capability, with respect to quite a bit about their programs was pretty solid and it stood the test of time. Where it did not stand the test of time was the actual existence of stockpiles and some of the judgments that were made about the nuclear weapons program.

And in retrospect, we have discovered that some of the sourcing was weak. I don't think this was malicious on the part of anyone in the intelligence community. Some of the sources were weak. Some of the sources didn't hold up. They failed. And some parts of the intelligence community knew that some of these sources probably shouldn't have been listened to and their judgment was not brought into the equation at that time.

I'm disappointed. I'm not pleased with it. None of us are pleased with that, and that's one of the reasons we are going through such an examination of our intelligence community now, to make sure that that doesn't happen in the future. But we have dedicated people in our intelligence community. They are trying to get the right answer. They're trying to get the best answer. They have to penetrate veils of secrecy in people who are doing everything to keep the truth from you.

MR. RUSSERT: The President has said that he would, "not tolerate North Korea becoming a nuclear weapons power." In fact, it probably has. North Korea, Iran, very serious threats and challenges to the United States, perhaps even an imminent threat. Why are we not focusing on those countries militarily, rather than going after Iraq, which we learned did not have weapons of mass destruction?

SECRETARY POWELL: There are many ways to focus on a country, and in both of those countries, Iran and North Korea, we are focusing very intensely with diplomatic efforts. We're accused if we pick a military solution and then we're challenged if we pick a political diplomatic solution. In both of those situations, we have energized the international community.

In the case of Iran, when this Administration came in and found the problem in Iran, we brought it to the attention of the world. We brought it to the attention of the Russians because they were getting ready to build a reactor at a place called Bushehr. We brought it to the attention of the European Union, the IAEA, and for, you know, almost two years, people were saying, well, maybe you're overreacting, and then suddenly they discovered there were a lot of things going on in Iran that were not known to the IAEA and now the world is exercised about it.

The IAEA will be meeting this coming week to examine it, and as you may have seen from some of the reporting, there is concern and there is a growing consensus that this has to be dealt with by the international community. So Iran is under pressure. It is under observation. It is making some bad choices, in my judgment, at this point, and the international community is responding.

With respect to North Korea, well, we came into the office and the view was that nothing to worry about, North Korea has been contained by the Agreed Framework of 1994. But we discovered about two years after coming into office that the North Koreans were working under a different kind of technology, high enriched uranium, or enriched uranium, to develop a nuclear weapon. So the Agreed Framework might have constrained them in one area, but did not constrain them overall, with respect to their programs.

So the United States called it the way it was and took the intelligence where it led us. And what did we do? We got all of North Korea's neighbors involved in a six-party framework with the North Koreans to denuclearize the Peninsula. The North Koreans say they want to denuclearize the Peninsula. And so, right now, Korea's neighbors are working with us, North Korea's neighbors, working with us, are involved in tedious negotiations, as these negotiations tend to be, in order to denuclearize the Peninsula, and we still have confidence that this is the best way to go about it. A lot of reports about what North Korea is doing or is not doing and there is nothing that's conclusive with respect to the reports we see in our papers today.

MR. RUSSERT: Nuclear tests?

SECRETARY POWELL: They haven't conducted a test, to the best of our knowledge and belief, and the activity reported today is not conclusive that they're getting ready to do one or not. If they were to do one, I think their neighbors would be perhaps more upset than the United States would be, but what we have to do is denuclearize the Korean Peninsula for sure, in a verifiable way that leaves no question that the Peninsula has been denuclearized. And that's our goal.

MR. RUSSERT: North and south?

SECRETARY POWELL: North and south. And that is the stated objective of all of the six-parties, to include the South Koreans and the North Koreans. That's their stated objective.

MR. RUSSERT: Vice President Cheney last week said something about the election, potential election of John Kerry. I want to roll his comments and come back and talk about it.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Because we made a wrong choice and the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that'll be devastating from the standpoint of the United States and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset, if you will, that, in fact, these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts and that we're not really at war. I think that would be a terrible mistake for us.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe if John Kerry was elected and we were attacked by terrorists, he would simply treat it as a criminal act, or would he deal with it in a robust way, an act of war?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know, can't tell you how he might respond to it. As commander-in-chief, I think he'd respond to it in a robust way. The Vice President clarified those remarks later in the week. He wasn't casting any aspersions on Mr. Kerry by those remarks. What he was essentially saying is, you know how this President has responded, how President Bush has responded to this kind of terrorist attack, and so you know where we're coming from and how we will deal with this kind of threat.

MR. RUSSERT: But you don't have any doubt that Senator Kerry, post-September 11th, would deal with terrorism-- as you said, as a commander-in-chief -- as an act of war.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there is no commander-in-chief, no President of the United States, who would not respond to terrorism. Now, how he would respond, which strategies that individual would use, I can't predict the future.

MR. RUSSERT: You said that in Sudan we are witnessing genocide. In Bosnia, when we witnessed genocide, we sent in American troops. Is there a possibility we would send American troops as part of an international force into Sudan to stop this bloodshed?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't see that as a possibility at this time, and frankly, there is not a need to. I don't think it's the right solution and no European troops are prepared to go in. The African Union has sent in a small number of troops but they've indicated a willingness to send in a much larger number of troops, in the thousands. And so, the strategy we're following now is to press the Sudanese very hard and the Security Council. And as you may have noticed, we're the only ones who have declared it is genocide. None of the other major nations of the world have done so. None of the international organizations have done so. We called it the way we believe it is, based on the work that we did.

And so we'll be pressing in the Security Council for a strong resolution. And in that resolution there will be support for an expanded African Union presence in the form of monitors and protection forces for those monitors so they could have a better understanding of what's happening throughout the Darfur region and contain and constrain the activities of these Jingaweit militias by just being in the area and watching what's going on.

We hope the Sudanese Government will respond. It is our desire to work with the Sudanese Government to complete the important work we have done in the north-south agreement and to bring Darfur under control so that we can help the Sudanese people to a better life, to peace after so many years of war, north-south and east-west. And so, our effort is not to destroy the Sudanese Government or to cause them difficulty but to help them to bring this situation under control so they get on a path of peace and off this path of conflict.

MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of State Colin Powell, as always, we thank you for your views.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Tim

###

[End]


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