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Powell - NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert

Interview on NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert

Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC October 20, 2002

(10:35 a.m. EDT)

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary, welcome to Meet the Press.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Tim. Good to be here.

MR. RUSSERT: Five weeks ago on this program you said that you were working with the United Nations to get a resolution about Iraq, that it would be weeks, not months, otherwise we would be dribbling this through, and you weren't going to do that. Are we going to have a resolution on Iraq this week?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm quite confident that we'll make progress this week. We've had some progress over the last several days in conversations that I've had with a number of the Security Council representatives, and early this week we will be putting down a full resolution for consideration by all members of the Council.

Now, once you put that resolution down there will be a lot of debate, but I think we are making progress and we'll be able to engage the entire Council on this issue early this week.

MR. RUSSERT: You also said five weeks ago that any resolution or resolutions will say that Saddam Hussein is in breach of his commitments not to develop weapons of mass destruction; that inspectors must return with complete unfettered access; and third -- let me show you your exact words -- "I believe a third element of any resolution, resolutions, combination of resolutions, has to be what the UN will do, what the international community will do, if he does not act in the way that has been demanded by the United Nations."

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Will, in fact, that be included in the resolution?

SECRETARY POWELL: We will see what ultimately comes out of the United Nations, but I stand by that statement. I believe, first of all, any resolution must document the fact that he's in violation of these many UN resolutions over the years. Secondly, the resolution must contain a strong new inspection regime so he can't defeat it the way he did the previous one. And I think such a resolution must also talk about the fact that consequences lay ahead.

Now, where the debate has been is how those consequences get determined, and I am confident that any resolution we come up with will in no way affect the President's authority with other like-minded nations to act in the presence of continued Iraqi violation. The debate is how do you get all of the members of the Security Council to act in unison. And that's where we're having the discussion. There are 15 sovereign nations in the Security Council and each has a right to express its opinion.

But I believe we'll be successful in the indictment, a tough inspection regime, and a linkage to consequences.

MR. RUSSERT: If Saddam does not allow the inspectors complete unfettered access, the United States will take military action alone if necessary without UN approval?

SECRETARY POWELL: If Saddam once again frustrates the inspection regime and makes it clear that he is not going to cooperate, I think that is a matter of the utmost gravity. And the President has said clearly that if in that instance the United Nations will not act, then the United States, with other like-minded nations, will act. And the resolution that's under consideration would in no way affect the President's ability to do that in a negative way, if that's what he chooses to do at the time.

MR. RUSSERT: Some who support the Iraqi position of allow us more time, give us inspections, are saying, "Mr. United States, you're saying to us in Iraq, `Give us complete unfettered access. And guess what? Even if you do, there's going to be a regime change.'"

I asked you when you were on a month ago, could you have disarmament without regime change? You told the USA Today that is it perhaps possible that if Saddam Hussein disarmed completely he could stay in power. True?

SECRETARY POWELL: What I said was that if Saddam disarmed entirely and satisfied the international community, that, in effect, would be a change in attitude and a change in the way the regime is looking at its situation in the world, and it was consistent with what the President has said previously and subsequently.

MR. RUSSERT: So he can save himself, in effect, and remain in power --

SECRETARY POWELL: All we are interested in is getting rid of those weapons of mass destruction. We think the Iraqi people would be a lot better off with a different leader, a different regime, but the principal offense here are weapons of mass destruction, and that's what this resolution is working on. There are many other resolutions that he has violated, with respect to human rights, with respect to threatening his neighbors, with respect to return of prisoners. All of those, I think, have to be dealt with in due course. But the major issue before us is disarmament. And remember where regime change came from. It came out of the previous administration; it came out of the Congress in 1998 when it was thought the only way to get rid of weapons of mass destruction was to change the regime. And we will see whether they are going to cooperate or not.

The issue right now is not even how tough an inspection regime it is or isn't. The question is will Saddam and the Iraqi regime cooperate, really, really cooperate and let the inspectors do their job. If the inspectors do their job and we can satisfy the world community that they are disarmed, that's one path. If we can't satisfy the world community that they are disarmed, that takes us down another path.

MR. RUSSERT: Do Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld share your view that you can have disarmament without regime change?

SECRETARY POWELL: The President has made it clear what the United States position is.

MR. RUSSERT: North Korea. Nine years go on this very program, President Clinton announced a doctrine of the United States. Let's watch:

"MR. RUSSERT: Will you allow North Korea to build a nuclear bomb?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb. We have to be very firm about it."

MR. RUSSERT: "North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb." Is that also the position of the Bush Administration?

SECRETARY POWELL: We believe it would be very destabilizing for North Korea to continue any program toward the development of a nuclear weapon. For all we know, North Korea may have -- may have -- one or two weapons now. We can't see the weapons but they certainly have enough material from their earlier nuclear efforts to have a couple of bombs, but we can't confirm it.

And the Agreed Framework that the Clinton Administration entered into capped the program at that point by putting their plutonium into a configuration where it could be watched by the IAEA and US inspectors, creating this Agreed Framework. We've made it clear we did not expect North Korea to take any further efforts in this direction. But as we have seen in recent weeks, they have violated that. They have continued to try to develop a nuclear weapon.

And I think it is now important for the entire international community, and especially North Korea's neighbors, to put maximum pressure on North Korea to make the point to them that this is totally inconsistent with trying to improve the lives of your people, this will get you nowhere. North Korea is a starving country with a broken economy, a broken society. It seemed to be reaching out in recent weeks with efforts to have soccer teams go to South Korea, welcoming South Korean delegations, opening the train lines across the DMZ, and then we have this matter that has come before us and we have to deal with it.

MR. RUSSERT: Will we allow North Korea to possess a bomb or two they already may have?

SECRETARY POWELL: We don't know if they have them. We suspect that they do and they certainly have the capacity to have one or two bombs. But as my colleague Don Rumsfeld said the other day, we can't touch it but we assume that they have that capability. We don't know where they might be and so it's hard to say what we might do if we knew where they were.

MR. RUSSERT: Unless they give it up?

SECRETARY POWELL: Right now, we don't know what it is they have. We have our suspicions about what they have. But we have made it clear to them that the program has to be capped and it can go no further. And that's been our policy ever since the Agreed Framework was entered into in 1994. And what happened in recent weeks is intelligence information came to us that suggested that they were trying to enrich uranium, which opened a new way to get a nuclear weapon. And that's what we called them on when Assistant Secretary Kelly went to Pyongyang and said we know this is happening. And they first denied it, and then the next day they admitted it.

MR. RUSSERT: The New York Times reports today that the United States is going to withdraw from an arms accord with North Korea where we provided them materials to develop, in effect, a nuclear reactor to heat and fuel and provide energy. Is that an accurate report?

SECRETARY POWELL: What the agreement is is not an arms accord; it's essentially a framework agreement, a political agreement between the United States and North Korea. When we told North Korea that we knew what they were doing, they came back the next day, admitted it, blamed us for their actions, and then said they considered that agreement nullified. When we have an agreement between two parties and one says it's nullified, then it's hard to see what you do with such an agreement.

Now, what we are doing is discussing this situation with our friends in the region. This is not just a US-North Korean issue; it's a US-Japanese issue, a US-South Korean issue, US-Chinese, US-Russian, and many other nations. And we are very deliberately discussing this with all of our friends in the region, encouraging them to engage with the North Koreans. The South Koreans have a delegation in Pyongyang now pointing out to the North Koreans that this is -- you don't want to go down this road, and to see whether or not there is a way of stopping this program. But the North Koreans are the ones who said that this bilateral agreement is nullified.

MR. RUSSERT: So, as far as we're concerned, it's nullified?

SECRETARY POWELL: An agreement between two parties where one party says it's nullified, there isn't much you can do with an agreement in that circumstance.

MR. RUSSERT: Will we also cut off all economic assistance?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are now looking at what should be the consequences of their action and we will act step by step after we have had a chance to fully consult with our friends and allies. And we have an opportunity to do that this coming week at the APEC meetings in Mexico where President Bush will meet with President Putin of Russia, President Jiang Zemin of China; the South Korean President will be there, other leaders will be there. So we'll have a chance to discuss this.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned friends and allies, and yet there is information that Pakistan, Russia, China, all provided North Korea materials to help them develop a nuclear bomb.

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't want to get into who provided what. There are a lot of sources and methods associated with this. But I think now in 2002, in October, all of the nations that you mentioned realize the seriousness of any kind of proliferation activity that would involve North Korea. I had a very specific conversation with President Musharraf of Pakistan on Friday where he assured us -- 400 percent, he said -- that Pakistan was not participating in any kind of activity that --

MR. RUSSERT: Is he telling the truth?

SECRETARY POWELL: I am just reporting what he said, and I have a relationship with President Musharraf that I believe he understands the consequences of such behavior, and I take his word for it.

MR. RUSSERT: But isn't there evidence otherwise?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm talking about now and I'm talking about what might be happening in the future. I don't want to go back into the past because it would involve some sources and methods that I'd just as soon not discuss.

MR. RUSSERT: Will we treat North Korea like Iraq: demand inspectors go in, and if they're not allowed to go in, have a military invasion of North Korea to eliminate their weapons of mass destruction?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have no military plans on the table right now for such an invasion of North Korea. They are not identical situations; they are quite different. Saddam Hussein has used weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors. Despite inspections, despite all the containment efforts we have made, he has not moved away from that policy.

North Korea is a slightly different situation. It's a broken economy without access to resources, the way Saddam Hussein has access to resources. We have different levers we can use with North Korea, quite different than the levers available to us with respect to Iraq.

I don't think China is happy knowing that North Korea has been developing a nuclear weapon along a new route that was unknown to China or to Russia. And so I think we have different levers we can use with North Korea.

MR. RUSSERT: But North Korea is also a lot stronger militarily than Iraq.

SECRETARY POWELL: It is a lot stronger militarily, but it is sitting on a very rotten base with respect to its economy.

MR. RUSSERT: Many Democrats are now expressing grave concern they were not told about the situation with North Korea before they voted on a resolution for Iraq. Should the administration not have told Congress, members of both parties, so they had this information about North Korea and had a chance to weigh it as they cast their vote on Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's an absolutely false charge. We began briefing Congress on the existence of this program in early September, once we had our facts straight, once we were sure of the information. Beginning about the 10th of September, we began to brief different Members of Congress. A number of them took the briefing, others were not available, and we have reached their staffers, and there's a whole series of briefings still waiting to go to Members of Congress.

After Assistant Secretary Kelly got back from North Korea with the news that the North Koreans had admitted this, we also then began briefing people around the 10th of October. So we have kept Congress briefed on this -- not all Members of Congress, but it is not right to charge the administration with not having told Congress that we were concerned about what North Korea was doing and we had evidence that they were participating in activities to enrich uranium. Congress has known this, Member of Congress in both parties, both houses, have known this since beginning about the 10th of September.

MR. RUSSERT: The Democratic leadership of Congress?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can get for anyone who wishes to see it the entire list of briefings. It goes to about two and a half pages long.

MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of State Colin Powell, thanks for joining us.



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