Powell Interview With Greg Kelly of Fox News
Interview With Greg Kelly of Fox News
Crown Plaza Airport Hotel
December 8, 2004
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us. Here in Brussels today you gave a speech and right off the bat, you acknowledged that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a very controversial one, particularly here in Europe. And also you've mentioned in the past about reaching out to some of these countries. Last week, you mentioned that the onus is also on these countries. You said we have to meet one another here, and not just say, come on United States, it's all your fault. You heal these breaches. I think Europe has to reach out as well. You've been here a couple days, have they reached out to you?
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes I think there is a desire on the part of Europe to mend the problems we had last year. So the president has made it clear that he is going to reach out to Europe, he said so in his first press conference. He is going to make his first overseas trip to Europe to see the NATO Secretary General. But I wanted to make the point that both sides have to reach out with a handshake. And I think that Europe is reaching out. Just the fact that Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO Secretary General, came to Washington to meet with the president is evidence of that.
QUESTION: Sir, last week in Iraq, thirty-five U.S. soldiers and marines were killed. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy, called the situation a mess. Some Iraqis are afraid to go out at night, afraid to go out during the day even. The situation is precarious. Is it possible at some point over the next few weeks it will be determined that elections on January 30th are just not feasible, that the situation is just too unbalanced to have those elections?
SECRETARY POWELL: Right now, the one who determines whether or not elections will be held is the Central Election Commission. This is a judgment and a decision to be made by the Iraqis, through this commission. And they are determined to go forward with the election on the 30th of January. Yes, there is insurgence and insurgency that is a difficult one and that is raging. That is why we are increasing the number of troops we are going to have during this election period. And we are going to do everything we can to create conditions throughout the country so people can vote. A significant part of the country now is controlled enough and quiet enough that people will be able to vote. And we have problems in the Sunni triangle, and that is where we will be concentrating our efforts. But this is the time to push forward toward that date of 30 January and a vote and not to start considering alternatives.
QUESTION: Yesterday you mentioned the interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar. He reaffirmed recently the January 30th date. I want to read you something that he said over the weekend, if you would, sir. He was asked about the possibility of a civil war, and his response was, "Never ever Iraq has been, if you look deep into our history, 7,000 years of history, we never, ever had a single incident of unrest built on ethnicity or sect or religion. We never had that." He seems to be overlooking recent events, Saddam Hussein, certainly his move on the Shiites in the early nineties, the Kurds. What is your sense of Mr. Ghazi al-Yawar? Does he have a firm grasp on reality?
SECRETARY POWELL: Of course he does. He is an Iraqi and this is his country. There have been problems in the country over time, but what he is saying is that this is a people that can come together and they can be a unified group, and the suggestions that somehow we are on the verge of a civil war, I think are incorrect assessments and incorrect statements with respect to the situation.
The interim government represents all of the sectors of Iraqi society. The transitional administrative law -which is the law they are operating on until the Iraqi constitution next year -recognizes that the Shia are the majority segment of the country, but it was written to protect the rights of the Kurds and the Sunnis and all of the other groups within Iraq. In the clear recognition that this is a country that has to stay together, that wants to stay together and whatever differences that might exist between the groups, they should be worked out in a democratic manner and through the use of constitutional procedures.
QUESTION: General Petraeus is by all accounts a gifted officer. He is one of the key people involved in training the new Iraqi forces. The reviews on the Iraqi forces have been mixed. Some clearly have performed heroically on the battlefield. A lot, according to people we have been talking to, are marginal at best, some outright hostile. There is lot riding on these troops, on these new Iraqi troops, since by a lot of reports they are not performing very well and so much is key to them performing well. Do you have serious concerns in this regard?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well General Petraeus is a gifted officer. I've known him for many years. He worked for me when he was a young captain, and am I sure that he will do a terrific job in this new assignment.
But remember something you said the key word: new Iraqi forces. You don't create competent, sophisticated, well-trained, enormously skilled units overnight. It takes time. And it is going to take time for all of these units to reach the level of proficiency that we would like to see. And so, some of them are doing very very well, others not as well. That means we have to train them more. We have to make sure we give them the right equipment. We have to make sure they have the right kinds of leadership. And General Petraeus understands all of these challenges and so do the Iraqi leaders. They know what they have to do. That is why it is going to be necessary for a considerable period of time- I can't say how long- for coalition forces, especially U.S. forces to be present working and fighting alongside Iraqi forces as they gain the skill and confidence they need to reach the point where they can do it themselves. They are just starting. They have only be at this for a few months.
QUESTION: Sir, not very long ago you were on active duty in the military, ten or eleven years ago, four-star general, Vietnam veteran, your expertise in this field is unparalleled. A lot of the decisions being made about Iraq are being made by the defense secretary who served in the military in the ninety fifties, I believe, did not see combat. His deputy was never in the military. A lot of the top commanders in Iraq are seeing combat for the first time. Some of those officials were, from time to time, it has been reported, that they would move into areas the State Department normally handles. Were you ever tempted to use some of your expertise and kind of move in on some of their decisions?
Secretary Powell: My expertise was always available to the president and to my colleagues in the Pentagon, and it was offered at the many meetings we had as we planned for this operation and aftermath of it.
But I have confidence in the generals and the admirals who are in charge now. I have to remind you that when I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I also worked for the secretary of defense who had not served in the military, Dick Cheney. But I can tell he knew everything he needed to know about how to be a secretary of defense, and he knew what my role was what his role was. It's the same it was; it's the same now. And so you have military officers who served in the first Gulf War. There are still military officers at senior level in active duty who served in the Vietnam War. And so there is no lack of experience and competence. There are officers on active duty and in the force that were in the Panama invasion, which does not get a lot of attention these days, but it was a very effective combined joint operation that went so well. So there is a lot of experience. Our officers know what they are doing.
QUESTION: In four months about it will be two years to the day that Baghdad fell and the president spoke about what a new democracy in the middle of the Middle East would mean, would be a transforming event. So far, let us take a look at Iran and things that have happened there since the fall of Baghdad. It looks like the hardliners are gaining momentum. The fanatics are kind of thriving inside Iran. Some say that they are emboldened by what has happened over the past two years or so, and they see the U.S. military has being spread thin. Could it be argued that the invasion into Iraq had the opposite effect of what the president wanted, at least in terms of Iran?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, anybody can argue anything, but I think what is happening in Iran is a function of internal dynamics within Iran. What happened was suddenly the students and the people who wanted to press back against the hardliners and the hardliners responded and suppressed some of that dissent and are in more powerful position now. But, I would not say it is because of what happened in Iraq.
Iraq is a difficult challenge, but there is no reason that it isn't something we can accomplish with steadfastness and without loosing our courage at this time. We have to put down this insurgency, that's first and foremost, because it is stopping reconstruction, it is stopping the buildup and competence that we need in the Iraqi cabinet ministries. And when this insurgency is put down, then we can go about the process of building a democratic system- or the Iraqis to build the democratic system- and it begins with the election next month.
QUESTION: Some people could be watching us in Iraq, satellite televisions are everywhere now. If someone was exited, say a family man was exited about these elections coming up, but had serious concerns about the safety of their family when they go out on election day. Say they live in Sadr City and they wanted to pose a question to you "is it the right thing of me to go out and vote? Would my daughters be at risk?" As a father what would you say to that parent?
SECRETARY POWELL: I would say that it important for you to vote. Everything will be done to provide for your security. The same kinds of questions were raised about Afghanistan a few months ago; everybody was saying, "It is too dangerous" and with the Taliban and others saying "we will attack you if you go to your polling places". Well people went people realized how important it was to vote. And they took that risk. And when bridges were blown up to the polling station, people took they shoes off an waded across icy rivers. So people want to vote, people want to have a say in their future. And I expect the people of Iraq are going to get that opportunity and seize that opportunity. Will that be risky? Yes. There is this risk every day in Iraq now. But one way to help put that risk down is by defeating the insurgency, but also by demonstrating to the insurgents that they cannot win. That what we want is a government that we have selected, not that you have blown in the office with your car bombs, we are not going back to that. So I believe, if given the opportunity, the people of Iraq will vote and they will vote in considerable number in order to have their voices heard and to make their choice as how they wish to be governed.
QUESTION: Yesterday, there was some sparring with the Russians that we haven't seen in a while. I would like to ask you about President Vladimir Putin. Some people in government say that there is a good President Putin and there is a bad President Putin. The good one is for democratic reform, he is an advance thinker. The other one has anti-democratic streak. There have been a lot of interesting comments coming from Mr. Putin lately. Which one is winning? The bad of the good Mr. Putin lately?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I can't accept that characterization. There is a President Putin. He has been elected by the people of the Russian Federation to be their president. And any suggestion that somehow Russian under President Putin's leadership is going to go back to days of the Cold War and the Soviet Union I think are absolutely wrong. I think he wants to keep his country going forward.
We have had some questions about some of the actions that he has taken that suggest to us that we won't get the democratic institutions put in place as quickly or as firmly as we would like to see. And when we see these kinds of things that cause us concern -because we do have a good relationship with the Russian Federation- with President Putin and with all his cabinet ministers, we aren't reluctant to speak to them and talk to them about these issues. The issues I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov about yesterday are issues that he and I have been talking about for months and months And I have personally discussed with President Putin in January. And I think it's important for the United States and the other nation, when they see things that are happening in the Russian Federation that causes concern, to express that concern.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you've been in office four years. It's coming to a close. What's the best day? What's the greatest memory you've had in the last years?
SECRETARY POWELL: I never answer a greatest and worst question because experience is an accumulation of things and disappointment is an accumulation of things. And so all I can say is in the four years I've had terrific days when I have been very proud of what my country has done. There have been days when they've been more difficult, when things were tough. But on balance, I have had a great four years. I've enjoyed it and pleased to have the opportunity to serve my country again and to serve this president.
QUESTION: The aftermath of the United Nations testimony before the Security Council February 2003, how did that affect you personally?
SECRETARY POWELL: It was a great disappointment. I didn't like having bad information. And the information I presented that day on behalf the United States was the best information the intelligence community had. They believed in it. It was the information they had presented to Congress. It was the information they had presented to President Clinton previously, that caused him to take action against Iraq. And so, we presented the best case that the intelligence community gave to us. With respect to Saddam Hussein's intentions, with respect to his capabilities, with respect to the unanswered questions concerning his weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be rather accurate. What wasn't accurate is the actual existence of stockpiles and the intelligence community still has not determined whether there were any stockpiles or what happened to them or whether the information was totally wrong from the beginning. Intelligence isn't a perfect science and in that case, we did not get that right, the existence of stockpiles. But the case we presented about the nature of this regime, the fact that they'd been used it against innocent civilians in the past, Iranians, as well as their own citizens in the past, unanswered questions that Saddam Hussein refused to answer, lack of access to what had been going on in Iraq certainly I think presented a powerful case that this was a danger to the world. There weren't stockpiles, don't know why there weren't stockpiles, it was a disappointment to me, but it was the best information we had at the time.
QUESTION: Sir, when secretaries leave office, when government officials often leave office they leave a note for their successor. I think there seems to be a special relationship between you and Condoleezza Rice. What would be in that note if you could give us a little bit of preview? Are you proud of her?
SECRETARY POWELL: Very much so. I've know her for many years. We've worked in different capacities over the years. She'll do a great job as secretary of state. She and I had many conversations about her taking on this assignment already. And I don't know whether it will be an e-mail, a note on the desk or just a whisper in the ear. Whatever it is, it's going to be private.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. 2004/1320 [End]
Released on December 8, 2004