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Powell: Interview on Your World With Neil Cavuto

Interview on Your World With Neil Cavuto

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
October 14, 2004

(1:50 p.m. EDT)

MR. CAVUTO: Secretary, it's always good to have you. Thank you very much for joining us here at Fox.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much, Neil. Good to be with you.

MR. CAVUTO: Sir, we are dealing with record high oil prices again today, and some have expressed surprise at that, given the fact that we were told when we went into Iraq and freed up the oil from Iraq that oil prices would come down. They are decidedly higher. What is the deal?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I wouldn't attribute it solely to Iraq. There are so many other factors that go into the price of oil: worldwide demand; increasing demand coming from China, which has become a so much more industrialized nation and is putting a great demand on the system; refining problems; lack of conservation in a number of countries, and, I might add, in the United States we could do more with respect to reducing the demand for oil.

So there has been an increased demand worldwide, especially in some of the developing world. China comes to mind. And there is refinery capacity limitations, and also, there is a limitation in how quickly the oil-producing countries can bring more oil on line. Certainly, interruptions in Iraq play a role in this, but I think that's a minor part of the problem.

MR. CAVUTO: I know you're not an oil watcher, sir, so forgive my question in this regard, but I will pass along something an oil watcher had passed along to me, that he believes there is a $10 premium in the price of oil because of concern about Iraq. Do you buy that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't know. I've learned over the years, in a variety of jobs, not to try to make judgments about what causes oil prices to go up and down and how speculators view the oil market. So if there's one thing I don't do, is handicap the premium associated with oil and any uncertainty factor that is built into pricing. And I'd better stay out of that. Secretary Abraham gets nervous when I start talking about oil pricing.

MR. CAVUTO: All right, well, it's a good thing, too, because I was going to ask you about Alan Greenspan and interest rates, so I'll move on. (Laughter.)

You know, Mr. Secretary, the German Defense Minister, Peter Struck, scored some news when he talked to the Financial Times the other day and said that Germany could send some troops to Iraq. It was quickly repudiated by Gerhard Schroeder, the Chancellor. I know you made a call to your counterpart in Germany. What is the real story there?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, when I read the piece in the Financial Times, I looked at the headline and that grabbed my attention. But then when I saw what the Minister actually said, he began his statement by saying we are not sending any troops to Iraq, and then he went on to speculate about something that might possibly happen in the future, and that's what grabbed the headline.

So, by then, Chancellor Schroeder had already put out a statement, and I decided, just to make sure I understand this, I called my colleague, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and he reaffirmed that there was absolutely no change in the position of the German Government, nor was Minister Struck trying to indicate any such change.

MR. CAVUTO: Still, they left open the possibility that they would be open to, if this were to come to pass, President Kerry holding an Iraq summit that would involve nations like Germany and their openness to send troops, perhaps, under him, when they didn't have it under President Bush. What do you make of it?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I did not hear Chancellor Schroeder or Foreign Minister Fischer leave that open. I think you're once again referring to Minister Struck's comment when he expressed interest in an international conference, which is an idea that has been around for over a year, and even we have been considering an international conference at some point.

It was a French-Russian idea, and it has some merit, but we believe it is more important to have a regional conference of the type we're having next month, where all of Iraq's neighbors come together to talk about the need for stability in that part of the world, and the need for them to help Iraq achieve that stability.

And we will have members of the G-8 attending that regional conference and some other nations and organizations may also be represented. Not a full-scale, worldwide international conference, but certainly, an important international conference to help the Iraqi Government through this time of challenge.

MR. CAVUTO: I know you don't like to comment necessarily, Mr. Secretary, on things political, but Senator Kerry had said again in his debate with the President last night this issue of the war being the wrong war at the wrong time. What signal do you think that is sending the Iraqis?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think the Iraqis know that we are in a political season. But what the Iraqis also see, 140,000 American troops are there working alongside them, and that $18 billion is being spent for reconstruction in Iraq, and part of that money is being used to build up their security forces to take responsibility for the security of the Iraqi people and get it out of the hands of the coalition forces, something we support.

They see my Deputy, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, going to Tokyo over the past couple of days, being in Tokyo over the past couple of days, to pull all of the nations of the world together to rationalize the additional funding that is coming from the international community, over $13 billion of additional funding on top of our $18 billion to help the Iraqi people.

The Iraqi people are free, so they don't think it was the wrong time. They know that they are better off without Saddam Hussein. And what we're going to do is keep our eye on the ball, and that is to make sure that the Iraqi people get this insurgency under control and that we have elections in January of 2005. And hopefully, they will be elections of the kind that we saw in Afghanistan this past weekend, where also, people were telling us, it isn't going to work, you've gotten yourself into a mess. Well, I was sure happy to see on Sunday that tens upon tens of thousands of Afghans came to the polling places to make their wishes known, and to put in place a government that is of their choice. And we want to see that same thing happen in Iraq, and it can happen, as long as we stay the course.

MR. CAVUTO: Still, Senator Kerry seems to be saying, sir, that foreigners would be more amenable to dealing with him than with President Bush, and that there is more of an openness to really reopen a dialogue with a different administration. What do you make of that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I spend an enormous amount of time with our foreign friends. I attend conferences on a regular basis. I'm on the phone constantly with all the foreign ministers of these nations, and they are doing everything they can to help us.

Let's take Germany, for example. Germany said they are not going to be able to send any troops. We understand that. We'd be surprised if they had said anything else. But they are training Iraqis outside of Iraq, helping them to train police forces, providing equipment and support that will help the Iraqi people.

So there are many ways in which nations can help, and I don't want to get into the political debate, as you noted, and Senator Kerry can make these statements, but I'm not sure that he can really back them up, or that suddenly, support that is not there now will magically appear with a change in the presidency.

MR. CAVUTO: Donald Rumsfeld had indicated, Mr. Secretary, that maybe after the Iraq election, we can start scaling back our troop commitment. I guess we're at about 135,000 soldiers now. How realistic is that? What kind of numbers have you thought about?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it is all a function of what's going on in the country with respect to the insurgency. The important thing is to get this insurgency under control by the use of our troops, but more importantly, to build up the Iraqi troops, their police forces, their military units, their national guard, their border patrol, and let them take on the larger burden. And if we can get through this insurgency, high-intensity period, from now to the election, get a free election of the kind we saw in Afghanistan, then certainly, we could take a look at what our troop needs are at that point.

I don't think Don was suggesting that the numbers could go down or up. He's hoping, as we all are, that they will be able to go down. But I know Don feels as strongly as I do and the President does that we will put the troop force in there that is needed to get the job done, and hopefully, as the Iraqi forces build up, fewer of our troops will be needed, especially in the post-election period. That's our hope. But what we will really do, beyond our hope, is to put on the ground whatever our commanders say they need to do the job.

MR. CAVUTO: Still, they insist -- that is, the Democratic ticket, and many others, as you know, sir -- that we are stretched too thin, that we've essentially got a back-door draft right now. Do you agree with that? And if you do, would you be willing, and has it seriously been considered, that we revisit the draft?

SECRETARY POWELL: Nobody is revisiting the draft. Nobody is thinking about revisiting the draft anywhere in the Administration. We have a great volunteer force. It is being stretched; it's doing many things. But I'm so pleased that Americans are still signing up to serve in that force and reenlistments are high. Reenlistments are high because these young men and women realize that they're doing important work, serving the cause of freedom around the world for people who want to be free.

MR. CAVUTO: Do you think we'll ever find weapons of mass destruction?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have no reason to believe any longer, after the reports we've seen, and most recently the Duelfer report, that there are any stockpiles of weapons.

MR. CAVUTO: But where did they all go? Where did they all go?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it's not a matter of where did they go. We thought there were stockpiles. All the intelligence that came to us and the intelligence I used from the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community when I made my presentation last February, led us all to the conclusion that there was not only an intention on the part of Saddam Hussein to do this -- and Duelfer has borne that out -- and not only did he have the capability to do it -- and Duelfer has borne that out -- and not only did he have the history of doing it, but he actually had stockpiles.

We believed that and that's what we presented to the world, the basis with which we went to the world and the United Nations. Those stockpiles have not been found, which suggests that maybe we were wrong, the intelligence community was wrong and there were no stockpiles. They had been destroyed earlier or maybe they're hidden somewhere. But if they are, I can't figure out where they are, nor has anyone else.

MR. CAVUTO: Well, knowing what you do now then -- knowing what you do now then, sir, would you have advocated going into Iraq as we did?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't answer that because it's not what I know now, it's what I knew then, what I knew then and what I believed then, based on all of the intelligence that came to me, the intelligence that came to the President, the intelligence that was coming from other nations, United Kingdom and elsewhere, and the same intelligence that went to the Congress, all the senators in the Congress, and the same intelligence that President Clinton used to undertake military action in 1998. The President made the right decision.

And I wish I could, but I can't go back and tell you what factors would have influenced any recommendation I would have made to the President at that time or what the President would have decided. He decided it on the basis of the information he had, and in the aftermath of the conflict knowing what we know now about Saddam Hussein and all of his efforts, knowing even more than we knew then, with respect to the mass graves which we see being opened now.

Yesterday, you saw pictures, Neil, of children, pregnant women murdered, put in mass graves. I have been to the place in northern Iraq, Halabja, where he gassed -- in one morning, Saddam Hussein gassed 5,000 people, killed 5,000 people, not on a battlefield but in a village. Knowing what we know about that regime, knowing what we see still with respect to his intentions, his capabilities, his strong desire to get rid of those UN sanctions, that's why he was hiding all -- he was playing a game with the international community to get rid of the UN sanctions.

The only part that we did not get right -- and the intelligence community is doing all sorts of analyses to find out how they got it wrong -- was he did not have sitting, standing stockpiles of the kind that we thought were there.

MR. CAVUTO: Having said all of that, sir, and since I know you regularly read the Financial Times, as you said at the outset there, Brent Scowcroft, the former National Security Advisor, under the President's father's administration, has said that this Administration's unilateralist stance has contributed, he says, to the decline of the transatlantic relationship, that we've isolated ourselves. Do you think there is a bit of truth to that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I hear this frequently and I have the greatest respect for Brent Scowcroft, but we have worked with our European friends to expand the NATO alliance to 26, we have worked with our European friends as they have expanded the European Union to 25. I was one of the signatories on the Adriatic Charter, a year or so ago, to help Croatia, Albania and Macedonia get ready for their entry into the EU and into NATO, as part of the expansion of the transatlantic unit -- union.

I have a steady stream of visitors from the transatlantic world coming to see me to talk about what we can do together. Don Rumsfeld was in Romania these past couple of days working with NATO on getting NATO to help with the training of Iraqi military forces, talking to NATO about how NATO can take over, perhaps next year, the mission in Afghanistan. This isn't an Administration that is not working with our partners. We're spending a lot of time with our partners.

MR. CAVUTO: So why is the perception that it's not, Mr. Secretary? Why do you see polls like in countries like France, 80 percent of the people prefer Senator Kerry to the President; in Germany, a like number; even in Italy, close to 60 percent? Why do these numbers still bear out?

SECRETARY POWELL: Because there is still a hangover from Iraq. We had a major dispute with some of our traditional allies over Iraq last year. We had a major dispute with the French and the Germans and with one of our new partners, the Russians. They were opposed to it. Their publics were opposed to it. But we also had strong relations with powerful friends in Europe: Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, all of the Central and Eastern European nations that had been once oppressed, each and every one of them, and knew the importance of standing alongside of us as we brought freedom to another nation; they stood with us.

But it was not a popular action on our part throughout Europe, within the European public opinion. And I believe that as we prosecute this effort to its conclusion, and as we put this insurgency down, and as we allow the Iraqi people to decide how they will be governed, these attitudes can be changed.

There also is concern, and it's reflected in Mr. Scowcroft's quotations in the Financial Times article, that we need to do more with the Middle East peace process. The President certainly understands that and agrees with it. And he's put forward a strong position: We need a Palestinian state, a Palestinian state under reformed, responsible leadership that can be responsible interlocutors with the state of Israel and with the international community.

MR. CAVUTO: Yeah, but I believe Mr. Scowcroft's problem was that he felt this Administration was sort of joined at the hip with Ariel Sharon. He had said that it appeared to him that Ariel Sharon has the President wrapped around his little finger.

SECRETARY POWELL: It was this President that got Ariel Sharon to join with then-Prime Minister Abu Mazen at Aqaba last year, standing together to say that we are committed to the roadmap, we are committed to the creation of a Palestinian state. And whatever reluctance Mr. Sharon had, he was there. And ever since, he has reaffirmed his commitment, notwithstanding statements by others. And we have worked with Mr. Sharon so that his disengagement plan of pulling out of all the settlements in Gaza will be joined to the elimination of four settlements as a start in the West Bank as part of the roadmap; and all final status issues will be decided between the Palestinians and the Israelis, so the roadmap is alive and well, and the President is working with both parties.

But it's been very, very difficult. Mr. Sharon has a responsibility to defend the people of Israel, and we need reformed leadership in the Palestinian community. Chairman Arafat has not been a successful leader. However much he is regarded by his people, he disappointed the previous Administration, President Clinton's Administration. And I spent a great deal of time trying to get traction with the Palestinian Authority. And what we need is a Palestinian prime minister who is empowered, empowered to make the necessary tough political choices and tough security choices in order to give us a responsible Palestinian government that we can work with and expect them to meet their obligations, and, at the same time, we can press Israel more on meeting their obligations: The elimination of outposts, the ending of settlement activity, all of that is part of the President's agenda, leaving final status issues for the two parties to negotiate. And the President's overall goal is the creation of a Palestinian state that will live side by side in peace with the state of Israel.

MR. CAVUTO: Sir, if you'll indulge two final questions. Again, if you'll indulge me again on more of a political nature, one is: There are many conservatives within the Republican Party who do not want to deal with the UN at all, and in light of the Oil-for-Food scandal there, they use that as a reason not to deal with the UN. What do you say?

SECRETARY POWELL: I deal with the UN. I deal with the UN constantly -- every hour, every day. It's, you know, commentators who say we don't want to deal with the UN. This President deals with the UN. He goes to the UN every year and spends time there, appears before the General Assembly, lays initiatives before the UN. Last year it was a Proliferation Security Initiative, which resulted in a UN resolution; trafficking in persons, he wants to see more UN action.

We worked with the UN and our friends in the Security Council to get aresolution recently on Sudan. In the last month, we worked with our friends in the UN to get a resolution on the Syrian activities in Lebanon. And so, so much of our time is spent with the UN; that's why he sent a very distinguished American citizen to the UN recently, replacing Ambassador Negroponte, who went to Iraq, and that's Ambassador Jack Danforth, a former senator.

MR. CAVUTO: Right.

SECRETARY POWELL: So we work with the UN. I spend an enormous amount of time in conversation with Kofi Annan, with other members of the UN leadership and with my colleagues in the Security Council. This President asked that the United States be permitted to rejoin UNESCO, and we did -- an agency that we had left years ago.

MR. CAVUTO: Right.

SECRETARY POWELL: It is this President who wrote the checks that paid up our arrears to the UN, the past dues. The previous Administration worked with Jesse Helms to bring that to a point of conclusion, but it was this President and it was this State Department that concluded that work with the Congress and paid our arrears.

And when the President found that we had a situation in Iraq that had to be dealt with, where did he go? He went to the United Nations and said to the United Nations, "For 12 years, this regime has been ignoring your resolutions. Isn't it time for you to put down a clear statement?" And the United Nations Security Council did so by Resolution 1441, a unanimous vote that said Iraq is in material breach of its obligations, remains in material breach, and it's got to do something. And in our judgment, they did not do something; and the President and a likeminded coalition took the necessary action to rid the world of this despotic regime.

MR. CAVUTO: All right. Finally, sir, you've been very patient, but the last question concerns poll numbers. I read them from leaders across the globe, and you might be surprised to know you have the highest approval ratings of any leader or close-to world leader on earth. In fact, in this country, you are the most respected public figure, just judging by polls. Do you ever look at that, Mr. Secretary, and say, "President Powell sounds good?"


MR. CAVUTO: At all?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. I made my decision in 1995. I considered how I should spend the next phase of my life after leaving the military and spending a little time in the private sector. And I decided that I could devote my time to working with young people, as I did for a number of years. And when President Bush gave me this opportunity to serve the nation again, I serve it again as Secretary of State.

But I know who I am. I know what I can do and what I'm good at and what I don't think I'd be so good at. And elective politics was not the right thing for me to do.

MR. CAVUTO: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Neil.



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