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Powelll IV With The Far Eastern Economic Review

Interview by Murray Hiebert and Susan Lawrence of The Far Eastern Economic Review

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
October 19, 2004

(10:00 a.m. EDT)

MR. HIEBERT: So, you're on your way to Asia?


MR. HIEBERT: This is our patch. Susan and I both love it. We've spent a lot of time.

SECRETARY POWELL: As do I. I've lived there; I've fought there.

MR. HIEBERT: That's right. I heard you before the first; your press conference before you took your first trip to Vietnam. It was a very moving time.


MR. HIEBERT: Well, so, you're going there ten days before the elections. Is there something -- has there been a new development or a new policy initiative that's prompting you to go now?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. There's no connection between my trip and the election. I haven't been to China in a year and this will be the fifth trip to China in four years. And I think it's important for me to get to that part of the world on a regular basis. And we have so many issues to discuss in China and Japan and in Tokyo.

And in Tokyo I have a new colleague. A new foreign minister took over a couple of weeks ago. I've already met him. He's been here. He wanted to come. He came immediately the week of his appointment, and I kind of want to reciprocate to show the Japanese people the depth and strength of our relationship. And also to reinforce to the Chinese leadership and the Chinese people the importance of the relationship.

And in both Japan and South Korea it will give me a chance to express appreciation for their contribution of troops to Iraq, as well as the significant contributions both of those nations have made to Afghan reconstruction efforts and Iraqi reconstruction efforts.

And in Korea there are also the issues with respect to our redeployment plans coming up, and, of course, the six-party talks. There are meetings that are under way or have taken place within this time period between senior Chinese leaders and North Korean leaders. And so as we get toward November, this is a good time to kind of review the bidding on where we are on six-party, sort of, talks and what the plan might be to get to the next round of six-party talks in due course.

We have economic issues, of course, with all of these three countries as well. And we'll raise all of those. We are cooperating very closely on Proliferation Security Initiative activities, so I always have a pretty full agenda in the Asian theater, and this was a good time for me to go out and talk to people on the ground, as opposed to just phone calls or receiving them here.

I met all of these ministers in the UN in September, and I promised them all I would be over to see them, and now I've got to go. And I look forward to going. I enjoy visiting all three of these countries. It's remarkable to see the changes that have taken place in all of them in one way or another, but especially in Korea` and in China.

In the 25 or 30-odd years that I have been involved in Asia in one way or another, to see South Korea grow into a mature democracy and something of a -- more than something -- a real economic dynamo, and to contrast it to North Korea, and to see what's happened in China since my first visit 32 years ago.

I went in for the first time right after Nixon as a young Army Lieutenant Colonel, as a White House fellow. And to see what's happened to China over the last 32 years has been just remarkable. I went in right after the Cultural, a few years after the Cultural Revolution was over. But the vestiges of it were still there. And we could talk to people who had been put in, put away or put out in the countryside, or the other things they did during that period. And to see how the Chinese have adjusted to the reality of the late-20th and 21st century world and how they're continuing to act in a way that creates a better relationship with the United States and the rest of the world, and I'm particularly proud of our relationship with China because it is based on respect for each other's position. No cliché to capture the relationship, it's too complex. I've said this many times.

We agree in so many areas. We cooperate in so many areas. When we have disagreements, we talk through those disagreements. And when we think they have taken actions that are not in our best interest, we respond to them, whether it's sanctioning Chinese companies or remaining steadfast concerning the EU arms embargo with China, which we think should remain in place.

This is a reflection of a mature relationship, one that does not sort of go like this, but is a mature relationship that has gone upwards since 2 April of 2001,* if I've got the date right -- I'm sure you'll correct it if I don't -- when the planes collided and everybody thought, "That's it. We're into a deep freeze, a right wing deep freeze." Quite the contrary, we came out of that in two weeks' time and we've been on the upswing ever since and, of course, with Japan, one of our strongest friends and partners and allies in Asia. But I'll stop there. You get the drift. There's a lot to talk about, a lot to do.

MR. HIEBERT: We thought with might start with North Korea, which is --


MR. HIEBERT: One of the -- an observation one can easily make is that the situation has deteriorated in the last three years with the Intelligence Estimates going from one to two nukes to six or eight nukes.

And if you listen to think-tankers around town who work on Korea, one of the things they observe is that it's difficult, one of the reasons it's -- there's several reasons why it's difficult to deal with, but on the U.S. side it's difficult to deal with because of splits in views on how to deal with the, between -- to say it very simply, I mean, between those who want to put a lot of pressure on it and those who want to do maybe pressure, plus engage.

And I'm wondering how that looks to you. Has that, do you think that's been a stumbling block to dealing with this?

SECRETARY POWELL: Let's test the proposition to see if it's accurate.

There are think tanks all over the place, and there are experts all over the place, and there are those who spent a great deal of their recent career putting in place the Agreed Framework and have a certain commitment to the Agreed Framework. But the fact of the matter is that things had deteriorated before this Administration came in, but they didn't know it.

The assumption was that the Agreed Framework had capped the North Koreans at one or two -- it didn't grow. And we never were sure, and we're not -- no one's ever seen these weapons. But the best Intelligence Estimate is that they probably have one or two. And they thought it was capped at that point. And it was capped. Yongbyon was capped and the plutonium weapons were capped. But what was unknown to the previous Administration, and what was unknown to us for the first year or so until the intelligence became absolutely clear was that the North Koreans were cheating and that they had started to develop enriched uranium techniques and technology and acquiring the wherewithal to move in that direction.

So the Agreed Framework was not achieving, ultimately, its intended purpose. And when we saw that, we didn't shrink from that reality. We faced the North Koreans with it, and they acknowledged it. Now, they have said many things since then: "We didn't acknowledge it; we don't have it; yes, we do." We're quite confident that they were moving in the direction of enriched uranium. And it's not an ambiguous intelligence picture.

And so what we decided to do was not to get ourselves trapped into a -- another direct negotiation with the North Koreans, where we're essentially trying to buy back something they're not supposed to have in the first place and find ourselves in that same position. And we reached out to North Korea's neighbors and said; "This is as much a problem for you as it is for us. In fact, perhaps, it's an even bigger problem. And therefore, we should work as partners in resolving this issue." And that's what we've been doing with the six party framework; we started at three and then went to six, as you know.

People are saying, "Yeah, but it hasn't been solved yet." Well, the Agreed Framework didn't get solved in a year, either. It takes time. But what we have achieved is all six parties, to include the North Koreans, saying that our goal is a denuclearized peninsula, to include the North Koreans.

The North Koreans, of course, have said that they have certain requirements and conditions with respect to their security, with respect to what they keep calling our hostile policy and with respect to what benefits they will receive from denuclearizing the peninsula and ending their program.

What we have said is we can talk about all of that and we can provide answers for all of these issues and questions, but there has to be a complete denuclearization in a verifiable way that makes this problem go away, once and for all.

And so far, notwithstanding the views of experts, we are keeping all six parties in this framework. And I think it was yesterday the North Koreans even indicated that they were willing to continue the discussions. And so we'll have to be patient. We will not change our policy. We will not get into a direct, bargain basement negotiation with the North Koreans because the other nations have as great a responsibility and equity as we do. And we'll see where this leads.

Now, you started out by saying it is a situation that's deteriorated. The situation has changed, certainly. We are not sure what they have done with all of the rods at Yongbyon. The intelligence community cannot tell you whether or not there are more weapons or not. They are making assumptions and they are doing the best that they can, you know, with a country that does not exactly post this stuff on their website. So they're doing the best they can. But they really do not know, and cannot come to a definitive answer, and there's no reason they should be able to come to a definitive answer as to what exactly the North Koreans have done. And I don't know either. So we continue to say they have, probably, one to two. And they may have more as a result of breaking the seals open in Yongbyon. But I don't know, and I don't know how many more.

The point I make to people I discuss this with and I've made to the North Koreans when I have spoken to their foreign minister is, "Fine. What does this do for you? We're not threatened. It's a threat to the region and it could be a threat to us ultimately, but what will you do with this?"

Now, we're concerned that they might try to proliferate it and we're trying to persuade them that they have not gained either security or a better road into the future with this kind of program. And that's the message we will continue to give them and they either will or will not come to a similar conclusion, but that's up to them.

Now, the other part of your question said was, "Well, you've got all these different points of view within the Administration: Those who want to put more pressure, those who want to put less pressure, those who want to negotiate, those who don't want to negotiate within the six party framework. It's all terribly interesting.

All I know is what the President has decided. And he's the only one I'd listen to. And he's, he's decided this. He's decided it repeatedly over the last year that we would try to solve this diplomatically. No option is off the table. We do want pressure put on North Korea to solve the problem, and we're using diplomatic pressure and diplomatic encouragement.

And so there are voices out in think-tank-land that make many statements about this, that and the other, and it's great fun to play the parlor game in Washington as to who's where. All I know is what the President has decided and whatever I am executing in the name of the President.

MR. HIEBERT: Could I just, one brief --

SECRETARY POWELL: And I don't still find any of my senior colleagues in the Administration saying anything differently.

MR. HIEBERT: Just to follow up briefly --

SECRETARY POWELL: It doesn't mean we don't have discussions about these matters.

MR. HIEBERT: Aha. To follow up, one of the things that also people will note is that part of the reason that, a second part of why North Korea hasn't come around is because the pressure from -- Beijing and South Korea really don't want to put too much pressure on them, and the enticements from the U.S. offering that South Korea and China can do stuff, the carrot stuff, haven't been sweet enough.

Do you think, I mean, they didn't come to the last round of talks. Do you think that -- when that was hoped for in October -- do you think that it's time for a new initiative to --

SECRETARY POWELL: We have a, we put a new initiative in.

MR. HIEBERT: The one in June?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. I put down a new initiative. It was by Assistant Secretary Kelly who was well received by our partners. And it was seen as a responsible step toward the resolution of this issue.

What we can't do is lean back and wait for the North Koreans to say, "Well, we don't like that one. Give us another one," or, "Put something else on the table." They have a long and well-understood history of negotiating. And as long as they think there is always something more coming, they will see if they can hold out for something more.

Maybe they think there's going to be a change in Administration. I told the foreign minister in June I thought that he was probably -- he probably needs to come to the realization that: one, the President has told me to work all the way through the election; and then, we have another four years to work on this problem -- same President. He didn't smile, but all of his colleagues did.

The fact of the matter is that, they know what's there. The Chinese and -- oh, excuse me, the South Koreans and the Japanese are prepared to provide some immediate, upfront assistance and support to the North Koreans. And we have made it clear for two years now that we are looking at a significant move with respect to North Korea, with respect to how we might be able to help them. But it's only going to be in the context of a complete removal, in a verifiable manner, of this capability, and only after steps have been taken in that direction that make it clear that they are serious and that there will be no way to get -- to go backwards.

Then, they will find, that as the President has said that the United States stands ready to assist. The President very often talks about his concern about the welfare of the Korean people, the North Korean people. And when you see some of the things happening: the price of rice going up, other things that have been happening in North Korea, their industrial base not being used, there's a lack of power -- they can't do much until they solve their power problem.

These problems are more pressing to them than any concerns they have about, should be more pressing to them -- I mean, not to put words in their mouth -- should be more pressing to them than concerns about the United States attacking and invading.

The President has said, "We're not going to attack. We're not going to invade. We have no hostile intent towards you. We take no option off the table." But we're trying to solve this diplomatically, and I still think we can.

MS. LAWRENCE: I'm going to as a couple of China-related questions. Okay, the -- yeah. Taiwan, the United States in the last four years has done a lot of refereeing of disputes between the mainland and Taiwan.

SECRETARY POWELL: The last four years.

MS. LAWRENCE: Well, you have personally been involved in a lot of refereeing of disputes between the two. Latest thing: We've got, you know, Chen Shuibian's October 10th speech calling for dialogue with Beijing. At the same time, the Taiwanese Foreign Minister is saying that they can only -- the two sides can only sit down if China acknowledges Taiwan as a country. China, predictably, says Taiwan is not sincere.

SECRETARY POWELL: What was that last one?

MS. LAWRENCE: That Mark Chen, the Foreign Minister, the same time that President Chen came out with his speech saying "Let's have dialogue," Mark Chen, I think, on the same day, sat down with The Washington Post and said, "We can only sit down together if the PRC acknowledges us as a country, just as the PRC is a country." So the Chinese predictably say Taiwan is not very sincere about this stuff.

I'm just wondering how does U.S. policy handle the cross-Strait challenge for the long term and, I guess, and also just on this trip to China now. Are you carrying any assurances to China this time on Taiwan beyond the one-China policy?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. The one, our one-China policy has served all of our interests very, very well for a very long period of time. Our one-China policy has allowed us to build a good relationship with China. It has also allowed us to have a good relationship with Taiwan. It has provided stability in that part of the world because everybody understood what this meant.

It has permitted Taiwan to grow very significantly as an economic matter, and also provided the ability to them to become a functioning democracy within that system. And our one-China policy is intact based on the Three Communiqués, well known to you, and also with full understanding of the responsibilities that we have under our law, under the Taiwan Relations Act, to make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself. Now, throughout the long history of the one-China policy, our one-China policy, there has been to-ing and fro-ing. And from time to time, people try to penetrate the very useful ambiguity that is built into this policy. But the ambiguity has served us all, and very, very well; and the policy is intact.

And the only additional point I would put on the policy is something that the President said last December that in response to certain churnings about independence, we made it very, very clear that we do not support independence. And I can raise my voice higher or lower on the word support, but I think you get the message. We do not support independence. It would not serve the interests of the region and it would -- any movement in that direction of a serious nature will, has the potential for creating a real crisis in the region, and nobody benefits from that.

Many Taiwanese are in China doing business, as you well know, a huge number. There's enormous economic activity that is taking place across the Straits, as you are well aware. And so there are forces in Taiwan that would want to move toward independence. We do not support that effort; we do not support those forces. We believe our one-China policy has served us well and remains intact.

We follow very carefully the speeches that Chen Shuibian gives. And when we believe that there may be a misunderstanding of our policy, we communicate that back to them so there is no misunderstanding of our policy. And that's what I will reinforce.

There is no conversation that takes place and no phone call that takes place that does not include a restatement of our policy, and a restatement of their --

MS. LAWRENCE: And you think it's enough to keep a lid on this situation for the foreseeable future?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. I mean, there are so many benefits that are flowing from this policy over the years and yea verily unto this day, that the last thing anyone should want to see would be any action on either side that disrupts the situation, this equilibrium. And so we have tried to speak evenly to both sides not to take actions, which would put this policy at risk or create a crisis in the region, either by excessive buildups on the mainland or by excessive rhetoric or reaction on Taiwan.

MS. LAWRENCE: Okay. I was curious. You were talking about your experiences in China over the last 32 years, of visits and so on. There's been a lot of talk that Chinese diplomacy has had a sort of qualitative change in the last few years, it's become more sophisticated perhaps, maybe witness China's courting of the EU over the lifting of the arms embargo, that they've been quite successful in lining up friends on that score. You may wish to interpret -- (laughter) -- but I want to get your --

SECRETARY POWELL: It's still there.

MS. LAWRENCE: -- your personal experience of diplomacy with China over the last four years, your relationship with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. I just wonder if you could reflect a little bit on what might have changed.

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it's become -- yeah, I think they are becoming more sophisticated in the practice of diplomacy, but I'm not surprised or shocked; they've got a 5,000-year history of diplomacy, far longer than ours. And they are very good at reading situations and adjusting to those situations, and they know that it is in their interest to have good economic relations and good political relations with those nations that are important, either from a trading standpoint or a security standpoint.

And so I can give you -- and I can tell you about this anecdotally. When we had the plane collision in early April of 2001, we had a couple of days, the first couple of days were very confused when we couldn't get direct answers out of the Chinese Government as to where our plane was, how our crew was, and we weren't sure who we could be talking to or should be talking to about it.

But then, about four days into the crisis, as it was called, the incident, they gave us a signal as to how it could possibly be solved. It was sort of an obscure message that said you ought to look at a certain agreement we have. I forget what it was called now. Richard could pull it out if you really need it. But there was some agreement that was years old about how to deal with problems that came up in our -- I think it was in our military-to-military relationship. And they said you ought to read that. (Laughter.)

So we did. I went and I said, "What is it? Get it. Got it." We got it and we pored through it, and sitting in my office we said, "Look, there's a little thing in there about how you deal with problems like this, or problems. Not problems like this. Nobody ever expected a problem like this one. How you have a group that works on issues like this that come along.

And so we grabbed that, and then for the next nine days or so we went back and forth on how to use that, and we went back and forth on the language that would be needed to resolve this. And what was fascinating is that it was as much a public relations problem in China as it was in the United States. And, in fact, they were having to respond to it much more aggressively than I had to here, because they lost a pilot. They had a dead pilot and they had a grieving widow who was on television all the time, which you know how that is these days.

But to think, this is the People's Republic of China that had a public opinion that had to be taken into account by the political leadership. It doesn't sound that remarkable now, but it's remarkable over the 32 years of my experience. And we had to help them deal with that as they were helping us deal with our public relations and political demands and constraints, and we had to do it in a way that we both were able to, you know, work our way through this and nobody loses.

And it took us about 13 days, maybe 14, I don't quite remember, but we found just the right language, how to say you're sorry without apologizing. Does that sound familiar? Has sort of a contemporary ring to it. How to say you're sorry and how many verys did you put in front of sorry. It got down to that. And then finally it was resolved.

Now, after it was resolved and our crew came home, everything calmed down. In my subsequent phone calls with the Chinese Foreign Minister and in my next visit over there -- I can't remember if I went with the President or a separate visit, it fails me -- but my Foreign Minister colleague at that time, Mr. Tang, we had our usual formal meetings and then we went off one afternoon off to a corner of a conference room, and we talked about what had happened.

And we essentially said here's how we going to keep something like that from happening again, and that is, "No matter how difficult it is for you, when I call you, you've got to take the call." And he said, "We will." And I said, "And anytime you call me, no matter where it is, when it is, I'll take the call, because you and I have to figure out how to solve these kinds of problems and our two bureaucracies have to figure out how to solve these problems. And if we can't talk to each other and if we don't have a level of confidence and trust built up, we can't solve the problem."

We worked on it very hard and in crisis after crisis -- I didn't mean to put it that way. In issue after issue over the last four years, I've never had a problem communicating with them or getting an answer from them, and it was always a straight answer: We don't agree with what you're doing on a particular issue, let's say Iraq, but we won't veto. We don't think you're right, but we won't stand in your way, is the way they would put it. So they were very direct.

When we had the India-Pakistan challenge of two years ago, you know, in a previous generation China would have been all into that, worrying about their equity because they have a border problem, too. Never. They only wanted to know how they could play a helpful role as we got India and Pakistan to stand down from the mobilization that had taken place.

And in issue after issue, time after time, we have been able to work through these matters with the Chinese. We were able to work through the six-party talks. Initially, they just wanted to convene and sit there. We said no, no, no, you've got to be a partner. And they have been. And now they are completely bought into it. You know, they have as much equity, political equity, in this as we do to make sure something happens.

And the North Koreans have found that their situation becomes more complicated because it's not just a matter of doing something that might be offensive to the United States by their actions, they do things that are offensive to China and Japan.

So forgive me for the long answer, but the answer is yes, they have become more sophisticated, more understanding of the way our system works, and we have tried to demonstrate and I have tried to demonstrate a greater understanding of how their system works. We watched their transition to President Hu and we watched carefully as President Hu went about his business and then President Jiang Zemin has changed his role in the political society.

When we are unhappy about something, we tell them. We sanction Chinese companies. And they know we don't like the lifting of the EU arms embargo possibility. And we talk about it openly, and when I have Minister Li on the phone or when we're together, as we are very frequently, we talk about it quite openly. And notwithstanding the premise of your opening statement, it hasn't gone yet.

MR. HIEBERT: Okay, fair enough.

SECRETARY POWELL: Gee, I've been running my mouth a little bit, so if you want to take a few more minutes.

MR. HIEBERT: Yeah. Why don't we just ask a quick Japan question also? The troop redeployment -- how is that going to affect Japan? Because troops are drawing down in Asia, does that mean more might stay in Japan because of those guys leaving South Korea? And where are we at now in terms of the negotiations? How do you expect this to be hammered out?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are in the closest negotiation. I can't tell you specifically where we are. It's handled by not only my guys but by the military, my friends over in the Pentagon, Don's teams.

But we do need a readjustment of the footprint and the Japanese have a political imperative to reduce the footprint in Okinawa, and the footprint is being changed in South Korea. And so I can't tell you how it will play out, whether there will be more, less or the same in Japan. And it would be -- I would be off the mark in predicting how it's going to turn out.

Some of the ideas that Don and his guys have really have to be discussed with the Japanese and thought through. You know some of the ideas about Northeast Asia commands and things of that nature. And no decisions have been put in stone until we've had full discussions with both the Japanese and the Koreans, and also analyzed it in terms of how it would be seen by others in the region, China especially, the Philippines, Australia and others.

MS. LAWRENCE: Just very quickly, actually. Back on the China issue, the Chinese nationals in Guantanamo Bay. The Chinese diplomats here seem very worked up about this. How do you explain to China why their nationals who might be ready for release aren't returned to China when everybody else's nationals do get returned to them?

SECRETARY POWELL: Not everybody yet. There's a particular problem with this group and they're still being reviewed by the Pentagon, and we have to be sure that they are not put in a situation that would be inconsistent, we believe, with our obligations to comply with international law and consistent with Geneva Convention, and we haven't been able to work out a solution yet that we're comfortable with.

Now, I'm fiddling with this a bit because it really is over at the Pentagon for resolution.

MS. LAWRENCE: I see. It's not a State decision when they go.

SECRETARY POWELL: We can help the Pentagon with that, but we haven't been able to yet. And we're trying to help the Pentagon with it, but the actual status of the Uighurs I really don't want to comment on because I don't know enough about it because of all the review procedures that are underway at the Pentagon now and down at Guantanamo under Secretary of the Navy England.

MR. HIEBERT: On Japan, one of the things the Bush Administration talks a lot about is how good relations have become. The Japanese have given an awful lot in terms of the stuff they didn't use to do -- the ships in the Indian Ocean and the troops now in Iraq. The thing that I've -- what did Japan get out of this, other than, you know, less giatsu?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think it was a matter of you have given to the United States and therefore we owe you something. What we have with each other is an absolutely superb alliance and relationship.

I think what Japan is doing is playing an appropriate role on the world stage. It is one of the industrialized nations. It has a significant military capability. It is a regional leader and a regional power. And I'm very pleased that Prime Minister Koizumi and the Japanese people and the Japanese Diet are willing not just to talk about things but are willing to get involved -- with the Proliferation Security Initiative, with sending troops to Iraq, and with respect to the financial contribution, as well as hosting donors conferences. I mean, another donors conference just passed a week -- last week -- suggests that Japan is playing a role that is commensurate with Japan's position in the world. They're not doing it just because the Americans ask them to do it, but because they think it's the right thing to do as an important player and one of the G-8 industrialized nations and a nation that will be playing a more important role internationally in the years ahead.

Okay? Enough for an article?

MR. HIEBERT: Great. Thank you very much.

MR. HIEBERT: One question, can we just ask you as you get up --

SECRETARY POWELL: This is always the one that nails me. (Laughter.) Yeah, there it is. I knew it.

MR. HIEBERT: -- (inaudible) if you're going to stay (inaudible) --

SECRETARY POWELL: And what do your Asian leaders say?

MS. LAWRENCE: What do they say?


MS. LAWRENCE: They'd like you to stay.

MS. LAWRENCE: They would like you to stay.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. (Laughter.)

* 31 March 2001



Released on October 21, 2004

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