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Powell on ABC's This Week with Stephanopoulos

Interview on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos

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

(9:00 a.m. EDT)

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Secretary Powell, good morning.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, George.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: I know you say the whole country is not in an uproar, but I want to put some statistics up on the screen and get you to respond to them. First one, 646, that's the average number of attacks every week in August, three times what it was earlier in the year; 156 deaths since the turnover in late June, and that's more than were killed in the entire invasion; and finally, 1755 Americans wounded since the turnover in June, three times the rate of the initial invasion.

Senator Kerry says in an interview in Time magazine this morning that we have gone backward in Iraq. Are these statistics a sign that he's right?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, we said at the time of the turnover that we could expect the insurgency to get more intense because those who are fighting against a democratic Iraq would come after this new government, and that's what they're doing. And we said this is what would happen. We said this is probably going to be the case as we get closer and closer to the election, and so this is not unanticipated.

I regret every loss of life. I am so proud of these wonderful young men who have given their lives, and the young women who have given their lives and we mourn with their families. And also, I'm sorry about those who have been injured, but they're doing it for a good cause and we have to stick with this cause. And we have faced challenges like this before in the past, as I have said many times. We have to stick with this one because the success when it comes will be so important for that part of the world.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: And elections are a key part of that success --


MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: -- as you said. They're scheduled to be in January, but right now, insurgents control the city of Fallujah, they control much of the Sunni triangle. Can elections be held under conditions we see today?

SECRETARY POWELL: The rest of the country, I think, is in a position to have elections in the very near future. There are those cities that you've mentioned and the Sunni triangle is where the focus of our military efforts --

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: But let me stop you there then.

SECRETARY POWELL: ­-- and the efforts of the Iraqi Interim Government are going to be for the next several months.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Can you imagine a situation where you would have elections in one part of the country but not another?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I am not saying that, George. You're saying that. What I'm saying is that --


SECRETARY POWELL: ­Well, I'm answering. Our strategy for the next several months is to go after these tough cities, Samarra, Ramadi, Fallujah, and we've had intense conversations with the Iraqi Interim Government. There has been some progress in Samarra over the last several days, as the government reaches out to political and religious and ethnic leaders in Samarra and tries to persuade them, it's time to separate yourself from this kind of insurgent activity.

It's going to be, I think, sort of the way it was down in Najaf, where you use military force to squeeze the insurgents and then you try to find a political/ diplomatic solution so you don't have to use force to go into these places. And so, our strategy is to bring all these places under government control and to do it in time for the elections.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Let me switch to North Korea. The New York Times is reporting this morning that some U.S. intelligence officials believe that North Korea is preparing to test a nuclear device, and there are wire reports this morning that three days ago, in a remote part of North Korea, there was some kind of huge explosion which created a mushroom cloud two and a half miles in diameter. Has North Korea tested a nuclear device?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, the second thing you mentioned, some sort of explosion, we have no indication that that was a nuclear event of any kind. Exactly what it was, we're not sure. With respect to the first point that you made, there have been some activities taking place at some sites that we are watching carefully. But it is not conclusive that they're moving toward a test or they're just doing some maintenance at that site. It's not conclusive.

We are concerned about all of North Korea's nuclear development activities. That's why we have engaged all of North Korea's neighbors in these six-party framework talks. At one point, everybody said, let's just do it directly with the North Koreans. Well, you know, North Korea's neighbors have an equity in this -- Japan, South Korea, China, Russia -- and we've got them all engaged in these talks. So as North Korea makes these provocative statements, and if they take any provocative action, it's not going to be something that's just going to be of interest to the United States. It's going to be of interest to China, to Russia and Japan.


SECRETARY POWELL: North Korea is constrained by that.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: The President has said that the United States would not tolerate a nuclear North Korea. Does that mean that if North Korea tests a nuclear device, becomes the eighth nation in the world to do so, that we will respond militarily?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I wouldn't suggest what the President might or might not do under any particular set of circumstances. Right now, we have no evidence that they have tested a nuclear device. We know that they are part of this six-party framework that we have, and they say they are part of a process to denuclearize the Peninsula, which we're asking.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: But what does not tolerate' mean?

SECRETARY POWELL: Not tolerate' means we don't think there should be nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, neither does South Korea, Japan, China or Russia or North Korea, for that matter, but North Korea is looking for assurances that we're not going to invade it. We have no hostile intent. They are looking for benefits for giving up their nuclear capability and their nuclear infrastructure and what we are debating is what will it take to give them the assurances they need and what benefits would they expect over the long haul. But what we're not going to do is reward them for doing something they shouldn't have been doing in the first place.

So we're into a very intense period of negotiations. These things take time and we'll see where it will lead. But, you know, it's no longer just North Korea versus the United States. It's North Korea versus all of its neighbors, which have no interest in seeing North Korea with a nuclear weapon.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: You say you're not going to reward North Korea. What about Iran? Iran also continuing with its nuclear program. Senator Kerry has proposed some sort of grand bargain with Iran, saying that they can -- he would propose that they can keep their peaceful nuclear facilities if they agree to give up the spent fuel and any ability to reprocess this fuel. Does that kind of a bargain make sense?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't know why I would characterize that as a grand bargain because that's what we are doing now. We are in intense discussions with the IAEA. We're bringing pressure to bear on the Iranian regime. The European foreign ministers have been in discussions with the Iranians for the better part of a year trying to get them just to that point. The Russians have been actively involved.

Keep in mind, when this Administration came in, we found that this program was underway and we started calling attention to it. People said, oh, the new Bush Administration is being shrill about all of this and we discovered over time that our shrillness was well deserved because they were doing things that were not known to the IAEA. They were hiding aspects of their program and that was now undeniable. That's now undeniable. And so the IAEA will be meeting this coming week to examine what Iran has been doing and make a judgment as to whether it should take further action within the international community.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: There are reports this morning that Iran has rejected this European overture and I'm wondering if you believe -- whether Iran has us over a barrel right now; that because of the whole situation in Iraq, military preemption isn't an option, and because they're on Iraq's border and have the ability to meddle in Iraq and they're already doing so, according to the Secretary of Defense, they can hurt us more in Iraq, more than we can hurt them in the diplomatic community.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we'll see. Right now, Iran, I think, is under enormous pressure from the Russians, as a result of the Bushehr reactor, and the Russians ability to determine whether or not they get fuel for that reactor or not. The IAEA is concerned and the European ministers who were working on this, the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, are working with us now, and with the Russians, to see what action the IAEA should take this coming week, and at what point do we say to the Iranians, you know, this is now a matter for the entire United Nations Security Council to deal with.

So the Iranians are under enormous pressure and every day or so they say, well, you know, it's only peaceful and we're willing to give assurances. So the so-called grand bargain is exactly what we have been working on. We're the ones who discovered this problem -- well, not discovered it, but called attention to it and said the international community has to do something about it.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: No nation is more concerned with Iran's nuclear program, perhaps, than Israel. Two questions on that. Do you believe Israel has the capability, military capability, to take out an Iranian nuclear program? And would the United States welcome it?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't think we want to get into this kind of hypothetical. I don't know what the Israelis view as their -- the Iranian nuclear program. There are lots of parts to it. Some might be easy to attack. Other parts of it might not be easy to attack. But I don't think that's the kind of solution we should be talking about right now. I think there is another way to deal with this and we're dealing with it through the efforts of the IAEA, through the efforts of the European Union, through the efforts of the Security Council, our discussions with the Russians. There is a mechanism to deal with such things and that's how we're trying to deal with this.

Nobody is looking for a war. Nobody is looking for any kind of action that would make the situation in that part of the world worse. And we're going to continue to pursue the strategy we are on of calling attention to those parts of Iran's nuclear development program that clearly indicate to us it is moving in the direction of a weapon.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Let me turn to the presidential campaign. The war on terror hit the campaign this week, especially some comments made by Vice President Cheney. I want to show them and get you to respond.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then 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 are not really at war. I think that would be a terrible mistake for us.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: If we make the wrong choice, the danger is America will get hit again. Do you believe it's more likely that America will get attacked if John Kerry is elected?

SECRETARY POWELL: George, in fairness, you really should have put up also the clarification that Vice President Cheney made later in the week that he was not --

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: So he shouldn't have said that?

SECRETARY POWELL: George, what you should have put up was the clarification of those remarks that the Vice President made later in the week, where he said that was not what he was attempting to convey. What he was attempting to convey is that you know how President Bush responds to these matters. You know the strategy that we are following in the war against terror. And I'm sure that Senator Kerry, in the course of the campaign, will explain how he will deal with these matters.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: But this has been part of the campaign, Senator -- Vice President Cheney did make that statement. He put out a clarification several days later. I'm trying to get a -- to the bottom line point. Do you all believe that America, one, will be safer, if President Bush is elected, and number two, that it's more likely to get hit if Senator Kerry is elected?

SECRETARY POWELL: George, you're -- I'm not going to get into that political debate. As the Secretary of State, I don't get into that kind of political debate, by tradition and by direction of the President. The Vice President made a statement. There was confusion about the statement, so he clarified it, he stepped forward and clarified it. Both candidates, I'm sure, will do everything they can to defend the United States of America, whichever one becomes President.

But what the Vice President was saying is you know the strategies that we are following. You know the aggressiveness with which we have gone after this war against terror. And the American people will make their judgment in due course.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: I know you don't want to get involved in the campaign, but your name was invoked on the campaign trail this week by a man named Bobby Muller, a Vietnam veteran, who gave a press conference about President Bush and his service in the National Guard. I want to show you what he said and get you to respond.

MR. MULLER: The fact that you jumped ahead of hundreds of people to get into the National Guard in Texas, on its face argues for privilege. Read Colin Powell's autobiography, where he says the most offensive thing about the Vietnam experience for him was how the sons of the rich and the privileged managed to wrangle their position, their way into slots in the National Guard and the Reserves.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: You did write in your book, "An American Journey," that you were angry by the preferential treatment. Was President Bush's experience in the National Guard the kind of preferential treatment you were angry about?

SECRETARY POWELL: What I was concerned about is that the rules that were in place at that time gave many opportunities for service. The President volunteered for service. Mr. Kerry volunteered for service. They both served honorably. They both were discharged honorably. I don't think much is to be gained by going back and fighting these 35-year-old battles. I think the American people are smart enough to make a judgment about what they want to see in their President today.

With respect to those comments, yes, they were -- that system was disturbing to me. That's why I was such a supporter of the voluntary army when it came. And I was also a supporter of cleaning up the draft system so that you couldn't duck the draft. We went, first, to a lottery system. We don't have conscription now. We have a volunteer force. But if we should, for some reason, in the future that I can't anticipate, ever have to go to a conscription-type force again, it should be one that is universal and all are subject to that kind of service for the nation.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: We just can't seem to shake Vietnam in this campaign. Now, Senator Kerry's anti-war activities are being discussed as well, both former President Bush and Senator Dole saying that those anti-war activities are fair game in this campaign. Do you agree with that, and do you think it's wise?

SECRETARY POWELL: George, I will let the campaigns decide, and I will let the politicians who are campaigning against each other, and with each other, for each other. I will let that stand and not get into this discussion or debate because it is not my role and my tradition. Secretaries of State should not get into that kind of debate.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Fair enough. One final question on Sudan. You said this week that Sudan -- what's going on in Sudan is a genocide happening right now. But what will the United States do if Sudan does not now comply and crack down on these militias?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's a case of what -- not just what the United States will do, but what will the international community do. We can't operate alone in this one. This is where we do need the international community and we have taken the case to the Security Council. We have asked for support for the expansion of the African Union monitoring force that is now starting to build up in Sudan. We've asked for the Security Council to begin considering whether or not sanctions are appropriate to put more pressure and to cause Sudan to behave properly.

And I think we've done a lot by our designation of genocide to focus attention on the actions of the Sudanese Government. We are not against the Sudanese Government. In fact, we've worked with the Sudanese Government for the last couple of years to produce a north-south agreement between the government in Khartoum and Dr. John Garang's movement down in the south, and so there is an opportunity for peace there.

If we solve this problem in Darfur, then the Sudanese people are on a path to a better future, but we need more action, dedicated action on the part of the government to constrain these Jingaweit, to bring them under the control of the government and not let them perform these kinds of acts, and we also need responsible behavior on the part of the rebel forces which kicked this conflict off, the beginning of 2003. So both parties need to act more responsibly.

And we also need to continue the political discussions that are taking place in Abuja, Nigeria, between the rebels and the Government of Sudan. Right now, we have tens upon tens of thousands of people who are at risk. We are putting in the aid, but what we really need is a stable, secure, quiet countryside so these people can go back home and that we can get to all of them and deal with them in the camps, provide them what they need in the camps until they have an opportunity to get back home.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Secretary Powell, thank you very much.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, George.




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