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Colin Powell Interview on NPR with Juan Williams

Interview on NPR with Juan Williams

Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC March 25, 2003

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Secretary, thank you for giving us this time.

SECRETARY POWELL: It's a great pleasure to be with you, Juan.

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Secretary, is the United States isolated with regard to this war against Iraq? Where are the other major industrial powers?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't think we are isolated at all. The data we have right now that there are some 47 willing nations in our coalition means that they have taken a political decision to support our efforts and believe that we have the legitimacy to do this through UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Each of them is contributing in one way or another.

With respect to the United Kingdom and with Australia, it's with forces actually in the field. And a number of other nations have put forces in the field. With some smaller nations, it was just a political decision. That's all they had the capacity to do. But for them it was a tough choice because in some cases their public wasn't supportive of it and their parliament wasn't supportive of it, but these leaders felt they had to be a part of this coalition to overturn this regime that will not comply with its international obligations and we are very pleased to have them in this coalition.

So we're not isolated. We've got the United Kingdom, we've got Italy, we've got Spain, we've got Romania, we've got Bulgaria and all of the others I made reference to.

MR. WILLIAMS: Specifically in terms of troops and money, who's contributing?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are the major contributor. We have the greatest capacity and capability. We feel the strongest about this. The United Kingdom has made a major contribution of over 40,000 British troops and the Australians are there. I don't have specific numbers on all of the other countries, but those are much smaller contributions from other countries. We are the principal military force there and we are paying the greatest percentage of the cost of this operation.

MR. WILLIAMS: When it comes to the Russians or the Germans, the French, the Chinese, why were your diplomatic efforts unable to reach the point of persuading them to join us in what you would argue from the heart, it seems to me, is a genuinely noble cause of liberation?

SECRETARY POWELL: We did succeed in getting all of those nations and all of the nations of the Security Council to join us in supporting UN Resolution 1441. That was a major diplomatic triumph when you consider that just four years earlier, when the UN was considering an inspection regime, a much more modest inspection regime, Russia, China and France abstained from that vote. This time they voted for 1441.

What happened after 1441, however, is when the inspectors went to work and we started to see what was going on in Iraq and the level of cooperation that Saddam Hussein was providing and whether or not he was complying; and in our judgment, he simply wasn't complying. He was merely playing with the inspectors. He was hiding things. He was moving things around. He was not complying with clear intent to 1441.

We, the British, the Spanish, the Bulgarians and other nations felt that this lack of compliance was enough to trigger 1441 and to cause serious consequences to be imposed upon Hussein, which means a war, if necessary, to disarm him.

The Russians and the Chinese and the French and others did not feel that way and so that's where we came apart and we couldn't get a second resolution. What's fascinating about this -- the story that hasn't been told -- is the reason we went for a second resolution is not because the United States needed one. Our friends said they needed one for their political requirements at home and for the domestic public opinion.

MR. WILLIAMS: You mean by friends the British?

SECRETARY POWELL: The British. Let's say the British and the Australians, the Spanish and the Italians. They all said, "We really, really could use a second resolution." The United States could have used one for our own home opinion. And we didn't succeed in getting that. The French said they would veto anything, so it wasn't possible to get a resolution in the presence of that French veto.

What's fascinating is that we didn't get the second resolution and everybody said, "Oh, that's a diplomatic failure." But guess what? The British still went to their parliament and got approval. The Spanish stayed with us. The Italians stayed with us. Everybody else stayed with us. The Australians stayed with us because they saw the importance of what we were doing and they realized it was important for them to be a part of this coalition. So the diplomatic triumph was 1441, 15-0, all the members of the Council.

We failed to get the second resolution, but guess what? All of those alliance members stayed with us. The other thing that people have to remember, that even if we had gotten a second resolution, it wasn't going to lead to peace. It was a last chance second resolution that said Saddam Hussein has missed that last chance and now must face serious consequences. So you ended up in the same place and not on a new track for peace.

The second resolution was a last chance for Saddam Hussein and he has missed that last chance.

MR. WILLIAMS: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said on National Public Radio last month that, "When Saddam's regime is removed we will find one of the most talented populations in the Arab world." And in fact he said, "People will complain that the French, you know, have blocked this and why did it take us so long to get there?" But yet, it seems that the Iraqis have mounted fierce armed resistance to U.S. and British troops.

SECRETARY POWELL: This war has only been on for six days. For the first two days everybody was euphoric. Goodness, it's going to be over on day three. But then on day four, people saw that the Iraqis were going to put up some resistance and they said, oh, it was going to go on for much longer. But this war is only in its early stages and I think our troops, the coalition troops are doing a magnificent job. In just the first five days of this conflict, they've advanced 300 miles inside of Iraq. They are on the outskirts, 50 miles or so outside of Baghdad. That's remarkable.

Now, there are pockets of resistance. There are some places that have been bypassed that we now have to go clean out. But the remarkable thing is how successful we have been. And the other thing I would point out is that Iraqis are not putting up a coherent, coordinated defense. I mean we're not facing trench warfare across the width of Iraq. We're seeing pockets of resistance -- sometimes regular army, sometimes Republican Guard, sometimes these Fedeyeen suicide people. But none of it is going to stop our advance. It may take a little bit longer, don't know how long. The point is we have had a good battle plan, and it's a battle plan that will succeed.

MR. WILLIAMS: There have been reports today of the possible uprising in Basra against Saddam's forces. What do you know?

SECRETARY POWELL: Only what I've seen on television. I've learned over the years that it's wise to receive these first reports but not comment or act on them or respond to them until you really see what the truth is. And if there is such an uprising, first, I hope there is such an uprising. And it will make it easier for us to get into Basra. The people of Basra want to get rid of these thugs of the Saddam Hussein regime and let us come in to help them rebuild their city and to provide a better life for their families and their children.

MR. WILLIAMS: News reports throughout the Arab world show the Arab population's watching Al-Jazeera and other Arab networks and cheering support for Saddam Hussein as now a stand-in for, you know, powerless Arab people. Does this come as a surprise to you that somehow the Arab world would cheer for Saddam Hussein?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm sorry that that is the case, but it is the case. Al-Jazeera has an editorial line and a way presenting news that appeals to the Arab public. They watch it and they magnify the minor successes of the regime. And they tend to portray our efforts in a negative light. We will see what Al-Jazeera is reporting after we have defeated this regime and the United States and its coalition partners, working with others, working with the UN start to bring in humanitarian supplies, medical supplies, a reconstruction effort and put in place a better life for the people of Iraq. I hope Al-Jazeera is going to be around to watch that and report that to the Arab public. And I think at that point, the Arab public will realize that we came in peace. We came as liberators, not conquerors.

MR. WILLIAMS: And do you expect that there will be a warm welcome for U.S. troops in Baghdad?

SECRETARY POWELL: It remains to be seen. I suspect it'll be mixed until people realize that they are there to help them, not to fight them, not to go block by block, not to destroy their city. It was fascinating to listen to some of the media commentary in the early days of the war last week when you heard the explosions going off and you could see the bombs dropping and they were saying, "They are destroying Baghdad." And the next morning, Baghdad was not destroyed -- surgical targeting designed not to hurt people but to go after the military infrastructure and command and control of this terrible regime, and not to destroy property unnecessarily. And I think that's coming out now in the media that we are prosecuting this campaign in a very, very careful way to minimize loss of life, minimize destruction of property because we come not to destroy, but to help rebuild; and not rebuild what we tore down, what we knocked down, but to rebuild after 20 years of Saddam Hussein's regime, more than 20 years of a despotic regime that has wasted the treasure of the people of Iraq.

MR. WILLIAMS: Given your experiences in Vietnam, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now as Secretary of State, when you saw the pictures over the weekend of American soldiers being held as prisoners of war, some of them executed, did you feel as if this effort at liberation had gone astray?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. You never start a war without the knowledge that young men and women will sacrifice their lives. Some young men and women may be captured. Others may be missing -- hopefully found later, but perhaps never found. That's the cost of war and that's why in my career I've always tried to avoid war. When war comes, that's the price that has to be paid. And it's paid not by intellectuals but by wonderful young Americans who are willing to serve their country and believe in the cause for which they are serving. And we should honor their memory. We should work hard to get back our POWs as we have done in previous wars, but we must not lose sight of our objective, and hopefully accomplish our objective with minimum loss of life on our side.

MR. WILLIAMS: Now, the military action is taking place despite the misgivings of many countries in the UN as we discussed earlier. What role do you expect the United Nations to play in Iraq after the war?

SECRETARY POWELL: The UN will have a role to play, and we are in touch with Secretary General Kofi Annan. We have discussions ongoing with members of the Security Council, in the first instance to reauthorize the Oil-for-Food program so that we can make purchases of humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people. When that resolution is passed -- reestablishing the Oil-for-Food program or reauthorizing it so that the Secretary General can operate it, then we will look at what other UN role is appropriate -- what authorities the coalition might need, what will be the relationship between the coalition leaders who are initially in there, the military, and an interim Iraqi authority that we want to stand up quickly so the Iraqis start to take responsibility for their country again; and how the UN best fits into that equation. So we still believe in the UN and we believe the UN has an important role to play as we move forward.

MR. WILLIAMS: The French have said that they will not authorize any U.S. control of a post-Saddam Iraq. Doesn't that place an unmovable obstacle in your way?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. What the French president said a few days ago was that he would not support any resolution that gave legitimacy to what we did. But we don't need any resolution that gave legitimacy to what we did. We had all the legitimacy we needed in Resolution 1441. And as we move forward, clearly, coalition leaders will be in charge of Iraq initially.

When you take down a regime, you have an immediate responsibility to become the government of that regime for a period of time until you can transfer it to civilian administrators and give it back to its own people. And during that period we think there is a role for the United Nations, for the European Union, all the many organizations around the world that can bring reconstruction expertise and money and governing expertise to Iraq. So I think as we get deeper into this conversation, the French Government will understand that our goal in Iraq is not to administer Iraq forever, but to administer Iraq just long enough to put in place a functioning, responsible, Iraqi Government that is committed to get rid of all the weapons of mass destruction with our help and is committed to living in peace with its neighbors and using the oil wealth of Iraq for the benefit of its people and not to threaten its neighbors and develop weapons of mass destruction.

MR. WILLIAMS: What about the Turkish Government and is the United States in any way, now, in consultation with the Turkish Government about their handling of the Kurds?

SECRETARY POWELL: We're in constant consultation with the Turkish Government. I've had multiple phone calls over the last week with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, as well as my colleague Foreign Minister Gul. And we are giving them every assurance we can that there's no need for the Turkish army to cross into Northern Iraq. This would be a very unfortunate event right now because we don't want to stir things up in that part of Iraq.

We are putting U.S. troops into Northern Iraq and are doing it in a way that should reassure the Turks that we can manage the Kurds and we can manage any humanitarian problems that might emerge. What the Turks are worried about is a sudden onslaught of refugees heading their way who need assistance. So far there has been no major displacement of population heading toward the Turkish border, therefore, we don't think there's a need for a Turkish incursion to protect their border on the Iraqi side of that border.

MR. WILLIAMS: There have been reports of Russian military technology being given to the Iraqis, being used by the Iraqis and even now President Bush has been in consultation with President Putin. But it doesn't appear as if much has changed. Have you been involved in those conversations?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I have raised this issue repeatedly with my colleague, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, over a number of months. And yesterday after the President spoke to President Putin, Foreign Minister Ivanov and I spoke and I provided him over the last 24 hours, additional information that I think he will find useful in getting to the bottom of this problem.

MR. WILLIAMS: Would you believe they are sincere here that they don't know what's going on?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have provided them information in the past. I won't talk about sincerity. Let me just say that they have not been able to, so far, find out what we have reported to them and what we know to be the case. But I think I've given Mr. Ivanov some additional information through our embassy that might help them learn what we already know.

MR. WILLIAMS: Yesterday you spoke about the possibility of the Iraqis using chemical weapons and then blaming it on the U.S. Have you seen any evidence of that kind of activity?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, and I didn't speak about that possibility. A reporter asked me about that possibility. And my response was, we have seen these kinds of reports. One doesn't know quite what to make of a report like that, but prudence says that you prepare yourself for such an eventuality. We know they have chemical weapons and we know that they have been working in biological weapons, so we prepare ourselves for those kinds of contingencies. But I have no firm information that would verify this as being an Iraqi plan. But we have some reports that suggest that somewhere in their regime they have considered such actions. That's the extent of our information.

MR. WILLIAMS: Bill Keller with The New York Times wrote over the weekend that you should resign if you really are not in keeping with this Administration's way of thinking with regard to this war. How do you feel personally?

SECRETARY POWELL: Personally, I'm very much in sync with the President and he values my services. And I appreciate Mr. Keller's advice. I also have to take note of the fact if you would consult any recent Gallup poll, the American people seem to be quite satisfied with the job I'm doing as Secretary of State.

MR. WILLIAMS: So you're staying?

SECRETARY POWELL: Oh, absolutely.

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary, we appreciate it.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. [End]

Released on March 26, 2003

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