Powell IV By NPR's Morning Edition's Alex Chadwick
Interview on NPR's Morning Edition with Alex Chadwick
Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC September 19, 2002
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, has there been progress toward a UN Security Council resolution on Iraq? Is the Security Council still divided on this question?
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I think there has been a great deal of progress, and it is all measured from the President's powerful speech last Thursday, where he put the challenge squarely before the United Nations and Security Council. A number of people have written in recent days that the Security Council is split or divided, but you know we really haven't put it together yet for it to be split and divided. We are going through this diplomatic process where we take a look at everybody's positions and try to get consensus on a position to move forward.
I think we will succeed. I am in contact with all of the Permanent Members and Non-Permanent Members of the Security Council, a total of 15 of us, and I am getting good reaction -- support for the President's speech, support for the proposition that Iraq really has been in material breach and violation of all these resolutions, support that we ought to have a toughened regime going back in if we go to inspectors. I think there is an understanding that there need to be consequences for misbehavior in the future.
Now, there will be a lot of posturing and positioning, and right now some nations are saying we don't need a new resolution. But I think we have a powerful case that says we cannot let Iraq get by again with another one of these games, another ploy that they play. The only reason they offered to let inspectors in on Monday was because the international pressure had built so much over the previous three days as a result of the President's speech. This is not the time to let off that pressure, and the United States will not let off that pressure.
QUESTION: You say you're building a consensus, Mr. Secretary. Is it essential, in your view, that that consensus be that there be one resolution and that that resolution authorize the use of force if Baghdad does not comply by some deadline?
SECRETARY POWELL: We think one resolution is a better way to go, but we are not so wedded to it that we won't listen to arguments to two resolutions or only one resolution without a triggering action of the kind you just described. The process we go through in developing these resolutions is to listen to other sovereign nations who have points of view. So it is a matter of us presenting our case and being able to convince nine nations of the 15 nations to agree with us, and in a way that none of the Permanent Members vetoes that agreement.
QUESTION: Is the US going to go on preparing for a possible military action against Iraq while this debate plays out?
SECRETARY POWELL: The President has not decided on military action against Iraq, but you can be sure that my colleagues in the Pentagon are examining their options and are positioning themselves in case the President should make such a decision. In all of this, we have to remember that the President has given up none of his options to do what he believes is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.
It is important that we keep diplomatic pressure, as well as this kind of contingency pressure, against the Iraqi regime because they have used every previous opportunity to wiggle out to wiggle out. This is not the first time they have said they had let inspectors in without conditions. They have said it many times before. And this time, the Security Council must decide what conditions inspectors, if they go back in, go back in under. I believe it is important that there have to be consequences this time for misbehavior, otherwise we will be at another Security Council and General Assembly session next year wondering what happened.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you say it's for the Security Council to decide that, but you also say it's for the United States to decide that.
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes.
QUESTION: Which is it?
SECRETARY POWELL: It's both. The Security Council, of which we are a member, the United Nations of which we are a member, is a multilateral institution whose resolutions have been violated. But the United States, as a separate matter, believes that its interests are threatened. We are trying to solve this problem through the United Nations and in a multilateral way.
But, at the same time, if the United Nations is not able to act because the members choose not to act, I think that would be a terrible indictment against the United Nations, and the United States will then have to make its own decision as to whether the danger posed by Iraq is such that we will have to act on our own ability to act because we are defending our nation and our interests. So there's no conflict.
The President took the case to the United Nations because it is the body that should deal with such matters. It was created to deal with such matters. And he is hoping that the United Nations will act, but it has to act in a way that brings a solution to the problem, not in a way that lets Iraq wiggle off.
The problem is not caused by the United Nations or caused by the United States; the problem is caused by Iraq, which has gassed its own people, gassed its neighbors, and invaded two countries in the last 20 years, its neighbors.
QUESTION: But if the UN Security Council doesn't act in a way that the United States feels is appropriate, then we'll not be bound by its decision?
SECRETARY POWELL: The United Nations can choose to act in any way that it sees fit though its Security Council, but the United States reserves the right to defend itself. Membership in no other organization trumps the authority of the President to defend the nation. And this is not unprecedented. Just a few years ago, or during the Kosovo crisis, there was a situation where the United Nations was not able to act because the Russians would veto any UN resolution, but willing nations, recognizing the danger in the Kosovo situation, agreed amongst themselves that it was necessary to conduct military action, even though it was not military action that had been authorized by a vote of the Security Council.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about the letter from Iraq on Monday. Did that catch us by surprise, because there did seem to be a consensus and a kind of a momentum toward the US position?
SECRETARY POWELL: There was a momentum toward the realization that something had to be done this time that Iraq could not wiggle out of. I was aware on Sunday, we all were aware on Sunday here in the Administration, that a letter would be forthcoming the next day. In fact, we had even seen drafts of it. We didn't know if that would be the final letter or not. So we were not surprised by the letter and we were not surprised by the fact that there would be a letter. We were pretty sure that at some point along the way Iraq would try to get out of the problem it had created for itself with this kind of a gambit.
The only thing that was perhaps a little surprising was that it did it so early in the process. And the reason it did it so early in the process was because of the enormous pressure that had been generated on Iraq as a result of President Bush's speech. Let's make one thing clear. Iraq did not submit this letter because it decided that, "woops, we have been wrong all these years, we now see the error of our ways, let us get right." That is not the reason they submitted this letter. They are not anxious to see inspectors come back in. They submitted this letter for one single reason: They were under enormous pressure and they were afraid of the consequences of their continued misbehavior. We should not let that pressure up at this time.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is it the position of the US Government that, realistically, the issue of inspectors doesn't matter, that there's no way these things are going to be done on the up and up, and it's nothing more than a delaying tactic and we simply have to go ahead?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't think that is the correct analysis at all. We supported inspectors for some seven years. The inspectors did a good job from '91 through '98 and they uncovered a lot. They had to be helped with outside intelligence and defectors who made information known to us helped a great deal. But the inspectors did a good job.
One of the items we will be looking at in the Security Council is: Is there a way to put together an inspection regime that is far tougher than the one that is currently on the books that Iraq will not have the ability to frustrate in its efforts and that Iraq has nothing to do with respect to negotiating the terms and conditions under which the inspection will be held.
Now, let's put the proposition very clearly. If Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, if the United States and the United Kingdom and others are making all this up, if we are doing such an injustice to Iraq, there is an easy way to find it out. There is an easy way for them to turn the tables on us. And that is to say, "You send in any inspection regime you want to go anywhere you want under any set of circumstances, talk to anybody you want, because we're clean." Well, they're not clean, and that is why they have been trying to frustrate our effort all these years. And the challenge is now before the United Nations to do something about it.
QUESTION: The letter from Iraq, Mr. Secretary, says "inspectors without conditions." But do you take that to mean the inspectors can operate however they like, or could one read that letter to mean the inspectors are welcome so long as they don't insist on any conditions, such as unfettered access?
SECRETARY POWELL: You can guess at the answer to that question as well as I can. But we have seen almost identical language a number of times before, and when the inspectors got there or tried to inspect a particular facility, all sorts of conditions were raised -- you can't do it now, we won't let you into that one, wait a few minutes while we saw things going out the back door -- and so we have seen this ploy before and we should not fall for it again. The United States isn't going to fall for it, and I think we can make a persuasive case to the other members of the Security Council that they shouldn't fall for it either.
If the Security Council starts to move in the direction of a new resolution with a new inspection regime, and it seems to be a step in the right direction, it has to be a tough one that the Iraqis must not try to frustrate. We will see whether they are serious or not. If they do not frustrate such a future inspection regime, if we decide upon one, then maybe they are serious for the first time. But experience suggests that we have to make sure it is as tough as possible if we go down this road, and not let the Iraqis play these games.
QUESTION: But you're not ruling out the idea of going down that road?
SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know anyone who has ruled it out. I mean we are skeptical. We have our reservations about it. The President has spoken to inspection regimes before. In his speech on Thursday last, he called for the UN to take action and to examine what action that would be. And the UN takes action in the form of resolutions, and so he was calling for the UN to examine this question and decide what action the UN thought might be appropriate. And the United States will be a part of that debate, part of that dialogue.
QUESTION: A last question, sir. Is there a deadline in the minds of the Administration by which the question of inspectors must be settled, by which you must either have access to all the sites you want to look at in Iraq or the United States will take action?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, you have not only asked me about a deadline, you asked for all the circumstances and what would flow from such a deadline. Let me just answer the question this way: If the Security Council comes up with a new resolution and places a new demand on Iraq, it must have a deadline, in our judgment, because otherwise there would be no end to this. So there would have to be a deadline with respect to acceptance of what the UN has directed Iraq to do or said to Iraq must be done.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POWELL: You're quite welcome. Thank you.
Released on September 19, 2002