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Powell Interview on Black Entertainment Lead Story

Interview on Black Entertainment Television's Lead Story with Beverly Kirk

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
November 10, 2002

MS. KIRK: With us this morning to discuss Iraq and what lies ahead is Secretary of State Colin Powell. And, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being here today.

The first question: Has Iraq, in any official way, responded to the resolution as yet?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. They have made a few statements that we dismiss as the usual bravado that comes back out of Baghdad. There is one statement this morning that said that they would calmly review the resolution. So I suspect that they will take their time this week and look at it, and we will see what they say next Friday.

There is an Arab League meeting taking place this weekend, and we'll see what the Arab League also says with respect to the resolution.

MS. KIRK: Although authorities from Egypt attending this meeting of the Arab League are indicating that Iraq has said it will indeed accept the resolution.

What happens if Saddam Hussein ultimately rejects it?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the resolution speaks to that. If he rejects this resolution, does not submit the declaration that's required in 30 days, and demonstrates clearly that he is not going to cooperate, this is a matter that will cause the Security Council to go back into session and to determine what should happen after that. And the final section of the resolution talks about serious consequences.

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At that time, the United States will also begin to make its judgment about what it will do, either as part of a United Nations action or what we will do separately with other likeminded nations, if the UN chooses not to act.

MS. KIRK: We've been down this road before. Many have said there has been resolution after resolution after resolution. Iraq has yet to fully comply in a way that the community of nations expects it to respond. And I spoke with former chief weapons inspector David Kay yesterday, who says he expects more of the same, that Iraq will initially accept this and then throw in a whole bunch of caveats.

What will the United States do if this is, indeed, what happens?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's not just what the United States will do. It's what the United Nations will do. There is no doubt in my mind that the United Nations is, frankly, pretty fed up with the way Iraq has handled this over the years.

And what makes this resolution different is the United Nations has said if Iraq tries to do in the future what it has done in the past with respect to inspectors, the inspectors are to report that the Security Council, and the Security Council will convene immediately to evaluate the situation and determine what should be done.

So there is force behind this resolution, and Iraq should be under no illusions that if they fail to disarm, they will be disarmed by military force if necessary, by the United Nations applying military force, or the United States with other nations so inclined to join us applying the military force.

MS. KIRK: Now, the US had to make some concessions in order to bring the French and the Russians on board to back this resolution. A two-part question. First of all, the vote was unanimous. What kind of message do you think that sends?

And the second question, the unexpected factor in that vote was that Syria went along. What did you have to do in order to bring the Syrians along to agree to this?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we're very pleased it was a unanimous vote. And in any negotiation like this where you have 15 sovereign nations, each nation brings its own principles, its own ideas, to the table. And a great nation, a powerful nation like the United States, should listen to others. And that's what we did. We listened. We accommodated. We adjusted. But we never lost sight of our principles. We never went away from our red lines. There had to be a strong indictment against Iraq. We had to have a strong inspection regime. And there had to be consequences if Iraq violated this resolution. We never stepped away from those principles, but we were able to accommodate the views and needs of other nations.

And at the final hour, frankly, we waited to hear what the Syrians would do. And I think the Syrians, when they realized that all other nations were going to join, they realized that they did not want to be left out. They wanted to send a powerful signal to Iraq that this was the time to comply or face the consequences.

MS. KIRK: Were there any kind of back room deals brokered with the Syrians -- what they get in exchange for this vote?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, there were back room deals. We were in contact with the Syrians. I sent a message to the Syrian Foreign Minister the evening before the vote. A number of my colleagues, other foreign ministers from other nations, were calling the Syrians to persuade them that they should join the consensus. Secretary General Kofi Annan called them.

They realized it was in their interest, and, frankly, in the interest of peace. If you are looking for peace in that region and if you are trying to avoid a conflict, this is the time for all of us to join together and say to Saddam Hussein this is your last chance.

MS. KIRK: But the question that I have, this resolution lays out such a strict timetable and the wording of the resolution does seem to say that while the US did get the strict unconditional access that it wants, the language in the resolution, there's not that automatic trigger of war that the US had initially hoped to bring to the table. That was done to appease the French and the Russians.

Will there be time, if Iraq doesn't comply within this really tight time frame, in order for the US to go to the UN and say he's not complying, we're moving ahead with action, without the rest of the world coming back and saying, no, there really hasn't been enough of an effort to let him comply?

SECRETARY POWELL: The resolution is worded very carefully in this regard. It says that if there is a lack of cooperation, a violation, if he's not cooperating and it's reported to the Security Council either by the inspectors, or any member-nation can say to the Security Council, look, they're not complying, the obligation on the Security Council is to convene immediately and to consider this immediately.

And I think in that process of immediate consideration, the United States will participate in that debate and that dialogue to see whether the UN wants to put down another resolution that says use all available means. But, at the same time, we will start to make our own judgment as to whether or not it's become time for the United States to act in a way with other nations that is separate from UN action.

We hope it doesn't come to that. But if it comes to that, hopefully the UN will come together and act, if military force is required. But if the UN is unwilling or unable to act, then the United States is prepared to act. And the President has made this clear.

The other thing that has come out of this week's work, with the eight weeks worth of work, I should say, almost eight weeks worth of work, is it showed the vitality of the United Nations. If the United States hadn't acted in this way, if the Security Council hadn't done what it did on Friday, I think it would have put the whole UN and Security Council process at risk. This really was a major achievement, not for the United States but for the United Nations.

MS. KIRK: All right, hold that thought. We're going to come back with a little bit more discussion with Secretary of State Colin Powell on the UN resolution and the possibility of war with Iraq coming up.

(Commercial break.)

MS. KIRK: Welcome back. We're continuing our discussion now in Iraq with Secretary of State Colin Powell. And, Mr. Secretary, could Saddam stay in power?

SECRETARY POWELL: It remains to be seen. I don't know. Frankly, we think the world would be better off, the Iraqi people would be better off, if he were not in power. Not only is he developing weapons of mass destruction, he supports terrorist activity, he represses his own people, and so the world would be better off if he were not in power.

But, right now, the focus of this resolution and our immediate efforts are on disarmament, and that's what we're working on. We'll see whether or not we're going to have a changed regime, or regime change becomes necessary.

MS. KIRK: There was a lot of talk about regime change initially when this debate started. You're quoted as telling Al-Jazeera if the Iraqi regime gets rid of its weapons of mass destruction and cooperates, there is that chance Saddam would stay in power.

Isn't this a change in what President Bush stated earlier?

SECRETARY POWELL: If you go back to the origin of regime change, it comes from President Clinton's Administration. And regime change was settled on as a national policy because he wasn't getting rid of his weapons of mass destruction in 1998. He had thrown the inspectors out, or caused them to be removed, and so it seemed the only way to get at the weapons of mass destruction and deal with other problems was to change the regime. That was the Clinton position. It was the position of the Congress. A law was passed to that effect.

And then we came in, looked at it, and believed that was an appropriate policy. Now, if there's another way to disarm him, it doesn't mean we suddenly like him. We still wish he would leave the scene. But it is a different set of circumstances, and it would be a changed nature of the regime.

MS. KIRK: I want to move in to the military -- the possibility. Obviously, people are hoping that there isn't a war. But there is a US plan to send up to 250,000 troops to Iraq. Would we be going into this with an end game in mind?

SECRETARY POWELL: You can be sure. I'm no longer --

MS. KIRK: That's the "Powell Doctrine."

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm no longer allowed to play with war plans like I used to in an earlier life. But I am quite confident that my successors at the Pentagon will put together a plan that will achieve the goal that the President has set out for them. But I don't go into details of military plans, notwithstanding what one sees in the press every day of different variations of ideas and plans.

MS. KIRK: But now I have to ask: Can the US be ready? This is a tight timetable that the resolution set out, as we've established. Can the US be ready militarily? I mean, you know this.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. No, I mean, it's a tight timetable that's been set out, but it's not that tight. I mean, there's a 30-day period for a declaration to come in and then the inspectors will take some time to go look to see whether or not Iraq is cooperating. The real challenge --

MS. KIRK: But then February is the latest date, though?

SECRETARY POWELL: There is no latest date. Really, the Pentagon is adjusting its planning according to how the inspection regime might work, and we'll see. We will know early on whether or not Saddam Hussein intends to cooperate. It isn't whether we find a presidential palace that is locked and we can't get into. The real issue is going to be is there a new attitude of cooperation on the part of the Iraqi regime. If there is a new attitude, then the inspectors will be able to do their work. If there is not a new attitude, all the inspections in the world won't help if they're frustrating and denying and deceiving, just as they have done in the past.

And at that point, I am quite confident that Dr. Blix will come back to the United Nations and say I can't get the job done.

MS. KIRK: And you're talking about UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.


MS. KIRK: But how will you know if there's a change in attitude?

SECRETARY POWELL: By the manner in which they work with the inspectors, the access that the inspectors get without harassment, whether there is harassment, whether efforts to deceive and deny and keep information away from the inspectors. It will be pretty obvious whether they are cooperating or not. And for the past eleven years, they have not cooperated. Everything had to be pried out of them. Well, we're not going down that road again.

MS. KIRK: Now, you have been -- I have to ask this question, and we're running short on time. But you have been criticized by some for your role in the Bush Administration and for your role in playing out how the resolution was come into being up at the UN. Some have said that perhaps you didn't fight or weren't fighting as much as you should have or did.

Do you think that the passage of the resolution vindicates what you were really doing behind the scenes that the public didn't know about?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I was working hard to get what the President wanted, and everything I did was with the full knowledge and approval of the President. He and I stayed very closely in touch on this, and I briefed all of my colleagues within the administration -- the Vice President and Don Rumsfeld, Condi and George Tenet of the CIA. It was a very tight-knit group that worked this for seven weeks.

Were there disagreements and debates? I don't know of any healthy process that does not have some discussion and debate. Sure, we had that. But you can be sure that what we accomplished was what the President wanted accomplished and met our principles and met all of the standards we had set for ourselves in this resolution.

As far as criticism, it comes, it goes. It's a part of this job.

MS. KIRK: And on that note, how much of a role does race play in your position? You obviously are the highest ranking African American ever to serve in the US Government.

SECRETARY POWELL: Race plays, I guess, some role. But I'm fond of telling people I am the American Secretary of State who is black, and not the black Secretary of State. There is not a white Secretary of State somewhere. So I am the Secretary of State. I'm black. I'm proud of it. I have tried to use the positions I've enjoyed in public life to motivate young people.

But very few people hold back from criticizing me any longer because I am black, and very few people give me a break any longer because I am black, and that's the way it ought to be. They're picking on my son now. He's also in government. That's the way it ought to be.


MS. KIRK: And he's stealing a lot of your attention right now with several issues for the Federal Communications Commission. All right, Secretary Powell, thank you so much. A pleasure to meet you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Beverly. Good to see you.


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