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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2001 > May

Interview on CNN

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Interview by Andrea Koppel of CNN
Washington, DC
May 14, 2001

MS. KOPPEL: I am here in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department on the eighth floor, the very top floor of the State Department. This is where official banquets are usually held. And I have the pleasure of speaking with the man who runs the building, Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thanks so much for joining us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Andrea. How are you?

MS. KOPPEL: Very well, thank you. I would like to begin with what is happening right now in the Middle East. There were reports this morning of five Palestinian policemen who were shot dead by Israeli soldiers.

SECRETARY POWELL: I've seen those reports, and it's very disturbing that the cycle of violence continues to go upward. And it just reinforces my view, and the view of every leader in the world right now, that we have got to do everything we can to get the cycle moving in the other direction. We keep appealing to both sides to be restrained, to not use violence as a way of solving the problems that exist in the region, and we continue to give that message in a very, very strong and positive voice.

MS. KOPPEL: A couple weeks back you used the words "excessive" and "disproportionate" in referring to Israeli incursions into the West Bank. Are you prepared to use those types of words today?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have regularly characterized things that we saw as excessive and disproportionate as excessive and disproportionate. I don't have the detail on today's actions, and there is some confusion as to what happened in this particular incident, but we will speak out to both sides, encouraging both of them to do everything they can to reduce the level of violence.

MS. KOPPEL: Yasser Arafat said that the Israelis will pay a heavy price.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that kind of language I don't think is particularly helpful, especially during this time when we're celebrating -- Israel is celebrating its anniversary. I think this would be a time for leaders on both sides to encourage restraint and to act as leaders and not encourage any forms of violence.

MS. KOPPEL: Is he acting like a partner for peace?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think both parties should take this opportunity to speak in moderate terms and not to do anything which raises the level of tension in the region.

MS. KOPPEL: How do you think the last seven-plus months of violence, the Al-Aqsa Intifada, will affect your ability to get your new Iraq policy off the ground?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it has made it much more difficult. There is a great deal of concern in the region about what is happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But at the same time, we have continued to press to review our Iraq policy on the part that I am most concerned about, and that is arms control, arms control resolutions that the United Nations put into effect at the end of the Gulf War to keep the Iraqi regime from developing weapons of mass destruction. We are reviewing those arms control systems to make sure that they really are directed at the weapons, and not at civilian goods or things that the people of Iraq should have in order to protect their health, to give them some opportunity for a better life.

And I am having a bit of success, I think, with members of the United Nations and with nations in the region in restructuring those arms control systems in order to go directly at weapons of mass destruction so that the Iraqi regime can not blame the United States for hurting Iraqi civilians. The danger in the region is the Iraqi regime continues to experiment with such weapons and try to develop such weapons to threaten the people of the region, to threaten the children of the region. And the United Nations cannot be ignored in this regard. We must have compliance with our resolutions, and hopefully we can bring that coalition back together to insist that that is the case with the Iraqi regime.

MS. KOPPEL: Well, in order to bring that coalition back together, you are going to need the support of Iraq's neighbors, many of whom have publicly said that they don't want to talk about Iraq and about sanctions while the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians continues.

SECRETARY POWELL: There is no doubt that they do see a connection between the two, and that is why we are trying to solve the whole region's problems in a comprehensive way. You can't separate them out. But they do talk about Iraq. They are concerned about the kinds of weapons that Iraq is trying to develop. And the recent Arab Summit showed that they are concerned, where Iraq did not prevail in its desire to get released from all of their obligations under UN resolutions.

MS. KOPPEL: I would like to talk with you about the other part of your Iraq policy, and that is regime change. Some of your colleagues over at the Pentagon have publicly stated that they think that the Iraqi opposition should not only be armed, but should also be provided with US air cover. Is that the direction in which the policy of this Administration is headed?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we all believe -- I don't think any sensible person would not believe -- that the Iraqi people would be better off with a different regime. And as part of our policy review, we are not only looking at the arms control regime, we are looking at our no-fly zone activities, and we are looking at regime change. How can we help the Iraqi people acquire a better system of government and leaders more committed to peace and the betterment of their people, rather than developing weapons of mass destruction? And so all aspects of those policies are under review, and we haven't completed those reviews yet.

MS. KOPPEL: So do you think that the Iraqi National Congress should be included as potential recipients of this type of --

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, as you know, the Iraqi National Congress has support from the United States Government, and they are undertaking some useful activities. But no judgment has been made as to how much more activity they might take. That's part of the review.

MS. KOPPEL: I would like to move on to a meeting that you have at the end of the week with Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister. I am sure among the subjects you will discuss is the upcoming summit between the two presidents. Do you think that perhaps you might push Mr. Ivanov to move up the summit date from later in the summer to when President Bush is in Europe in June?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, Foreign Minister Ivanov and I have been in almost constant conversation for the last week, almost every day, although I missed him on the weekend -- he is traveling -- trying to find a convenient time for our two presidents to get together. Both presidents, President Putin and President Bush, are anxious to get together. And Igor and I have it as our task to find a place and a convenient time for them to meet as soon as possible. It will certainly be no later than at the G-7/G-8 meetings, and hopefully before then.

MS. KOPPEL: You had a team of some of your folks and some of the Pentagon folks off in Moscow recently to talk about missile defense. Now, at least publicly, the Russian response has been somewhat cool to your desire to move forward with missile defense, warning against unilaterally withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.

Do you see that as theatrics, or do you --

SECRETARY POWELL: It was not a surprising response. We went to consult with them, not just about missile defense but about the strategic framework that has guided the relationship between the two countries over these many, many years; to talk about strategic offensive weapons that we have and how to go to lower numbers, to talk about proliferation activities, counter-proliferation, non-proliferation activities; and, yes, to also talk about how missile defense can add stability to this strategic equation, all within the context of the ABM Treaty.

And they heard our team, ably led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz and Deputy National Security Advisor Hadley. They heard our comments. Their reaction is not surprising, and Foreign Minister Ivanov and I will continue those discussions later this week. It's the beginning of a process of consultation, just as the President intended when he made his speech on the 1st of May.

MS. KOPPEL: Does Moscow have right to be concerned that, if it doesn't agree to amend the ABM Treaty or just to scrap it, that the US would unilaterally withdraw?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we have a treaty with Moscow, and they have all the rights embedded in such a treaty to stay with it or abrogate it, and we have the same rights. And so what we want to do is speak to the Russians about how we can move to a strategic framework, which might be a framework, might be another treaty. We're not sure what it is yet. We are not foreclosing any option.

But we clearly are of the belief -- and we want to push this belief -- that in the year 2001 we should look at new ways of examining the strategic situation between our two nations and the rest of the world, and not just say because this treaty was signed in 1972 it can't possibly be changed or modified in any way.

So this is the beginning of a professional, responsible discussion between two nations who have a mutual interest in making sure that we bring down the level of offensive arms in the world and we take action to protect our populations against weapons of mass destruction that might come from nations that do not mean either of us well.

MS. KOPPEL: So have you begun to discuss with the Russians language, perhaps, for a new treaty?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, Minister Ivanov and I have had previous conversations. This will be the third time we're meeting, which shows that we are reaching out to the Russians. And I'm sure that this Friday when he comes -- and we'll have much more time than we've had in the past -- we may well get into language.

I don't know yet, but I think we'll be talking more in this meeting philosophically. He's bringing his experts. I'll have my experts, other experts from the United States Government. And I suspect we'll start out talking in general framework philosophical terms and then start getting into the nitty-gritty of arms control treaties and where we might go from here.

MS. KOPPEL: Mr. Secretary, I am sure you can appreciate the fact that other countries watching a great country like the United States talk about the possibility of breaking a treaty could lead them to say, well, what's good for the goose is good for the gander; we'll break a treaty.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, you haven't heard us say we're going to break a treaty. What you heard us say is that the world has changed since this particular treaty was signed some years ago; and our partner in that treaty is now Russia, and we should discuss with Russia whether or not the treaty is still as relevant as it was 30 years ago. And there are different points of view on that.

But there is nothing peremptory about this. There is nothing unilateralist about this. There is nothing arrogant about it. I think a nation such as the United States, which has a leadership position in the world, should lead into the future and not be trapped by the past. Russia is also a great nation, which is a leader on the world stage, and I hope they'll be willing to engage with us to see what makes sense for the 21st century.

MS. KOPPEL: You mentioned arrogance. As you also know, there are a number of countries around the world, not only countries like Russia and China but also some of our closest allies in Europe, who feel that the US has been acting with arrogance, most recently exhibited with the vote at the UN Human Rights Commission, which you yourself said you were very angry about and shocked and what not.

Now, the US Congress, the House of Representatives last week, voted to withhold next year's dues to the United Nations. Why not get tough with the UN?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I was very disturbed by the vote. I don't like losing a vote like that, especially in a human rights commission when we are the leading proponent for human rights around the world. I think it was a bad vote, a short-sighed vote, and, yes, I was mad. But I learned over the years you get mad, and then you get over it and figure out what makes sense for the future. If we choose to, we can get back on that Commission the next time there is a vote. We now know the kinds of things that are done.

We don't trade votes, as other nations do. And frankly, we had a number of people who said they were going to vote for us which, at the end of the day, it turned out they did not vote for us.

MS. KOPPEL: Do you know who they were?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have some speculation. But what's the point of going out and approaching it this way? And what's the point of saying to the United Nations, "We are so mad over this that unless you vote exactly the way we want you to vote next year, we're going to withhold money we owe you"?

That seems to me not to be the best way to move forward. That seems to me to be a sign of the kind of arrogance that perhaps we should be avoiding. I mean, we lost a vote. It's not the first vote we've ever lost in the United Nations. We win more than we lose. But it seems to me the proper reaction is to learn from that loss, figure out what we have to do differently next year, continue to advocate the human rights, continue to be tough on it whether people like it or not. One of the problems we had is we were so tough in Geneva on human rights that I think we might have turned a few people off. Well, guess what? We're going to continue to be tough on human rights, and we'll be back.

The way to take a loss of this nature, it seems to me, is to fight and come back, and not to say we will not pay our dues unless you guarantee us that we will be voted back on next year. That doesn't seem to me to be the way a great nation such as ours should respond to this loss.

MS. KOPPEL: The UN vote was only the most recent example of sort of a series of things that have happened in your less-than-four-month tenure, from the collision, the mid-air collision with China, the national missile defense dispute with the Russians. Do you see this as just a rough patch or is this a reflection, do you think, of the Bush Administration's foreign policy?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't think it should be seen in those terms. We've had a pretty good three-plus months. I mean, we've had a superb series of events here in our own hemisphere with respect to President Bush's visit to Mexico with President Fox. The Summit of the Americas was a smashing success. We're moving forward on an aggressive trade agenda, promoting free trade, particularly the Summit of Americas with its commitment to democracy. This is all good.

We've had some problems. We've had some problems as a result of the incident with China over the airplane. We understand the nature of that difficulty. We'll get past this one.

MS. KOPPEL: Are we going to get the plane back?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm quite confident we will resolve this issue and get our airplane back, and we're in serious conversations with the Chinese. And we have major equities with the Chinese and they have major equities with us. We also have differences with them and they have differences with us. But great nations can work together on things that they have in common, and they can continue to discuss those things they do not have in common.

So I think we've had a pretty good three-and-a-half months with respect to the promotion of free trade, with respect to democracy, with respect to events here in our hemisphere and the vision that President Bush has given to this hemisphere. And now we've got some conferences coming up in Europe with our European friends.

Everybody knew that the President was going to be committed to seeking a new strategic framework, and he has shown leadership. But when you show leadership, you sometimes get hit back. People will criticize you for not doing something and then criticize you when you do something. But he has a pretty good idea of where he is going. He is going to lead, and we are going to help him lead. And we are going to give him strong views, and he is a leader, and we are going to execute a foreign policy the American people are going to be proud of.

MS. KOPPEL: One area where you yourself, sir, were, if not criticized, you certainly had to take a step back, was on the announcement that you made a couple of months ago on North Korea policy. You said that the Bush Administration was going to re-engage with the North and that you were going to pick up from where the Clinton Administration had left off, then the next day you walked it back.

What happened?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the President said at his meeting with President Kim Dae Jung that we were going to re-engage with North Korea, and he was supporting the efforts of President Kim Dae Jung and his Sunshine Policy. Where we are not is ready to engage yet, because we are conducting our policy review. And the only thing that happened that day was that, as I have kidded others in saying, I got a little too far forward on my skis.

And so we are not completed with our policy review, and as Deputy Secretary of State Armitage said to our friends in Asia last week in a reassuring way, when our policy review is finished and we have a good understanding of what monitoring and verification regime would be necessary to make sure we know what the North Koreans might or might not be doing, then we will re-engage. But it will be at the time and place of our choosing and after our policy review is completed. But we understand the importance of engaging in due course at the appropriate time with North Korea.

MS. KOPPEL: We have just a couple of minutes left, so I would like to tick through my remaining questions here very quickly. The EU today announced that it was going to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea. Your reaction?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that is a choice for the EU to make. I don't have anything critical to say about it. I have been getting steady reports from my EU colleagues as they have engaged with the North Koreans. It's their choice.

MS. KOPPEL: On China, with the spy plane. The Chinese have said that the US is not going to be allowed to fly it out, but Chinese officials have told CNN, in fact, that if you were to disassemble it and ship it out, you could do that.

SECRETARY POWELL: We are in negotiations with the Chinese now. Our Embassy has done a brilliant job in frankly carrying the negotiation with the Chinese since the beginning of this incident, and I am quite sure that in the next few days we will find a way to resolve this that will be satisfactory to both sides.

MS. KOPPEL: Taiwan's President, Chen Shui-bian -- they are already issuing invitations to many here in the United States for his imminent arrival in New York next week. Have you made a decision yet whether or not he is going to be able to transit?

SECRETARY POWELL: He will be, and no reason he shouldn't. We understand the nature of our relationship with China, and we will try to reassure the authorities in Beijing that there is nothing in the president's transit that they should find disturbing or in any way modifying or changing or casting any doubt on the policy that exists between us and the People's Republic of China.

MS. KOPPEL: I would like to ask you about your relationship with others within the President's Cabinet. You have read the same reports that we have about tensions between you and some of your senior colleagues over at the Pentagon. Do you have boxing gloves on in these Cabinet meetings? Do you have a referee?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, no. Don Rumsfeld and I have known each other for 25 years. I have known Condi Rice for many years. I know Vice President Cheney, of course, very, very well. I worked for him for four years in the Pentagon. We have the utmost respect for each other. We get along just fine. Do we have differences of opinion? Well, what fun would it be if you didn't have differences of opinion? How would it serve the President if all of us thought the same thing about every issue all the time?

The important point is that we know how to air our differences, we know how to come to solid recommendations for the President, and we also know who is responsible for foreign policy and defense policy and national security policy: it is the President of the United States, in the name of the American people. And our job is to serve him, and I think frankly we are doing a pretty good job serving him with the way we do our business. And we get along just fine.

MS. KOPPEL: I would be remiss if I didn't ask you very quickly about your trip to Africa next week. You have said, as the first African American Secretary of State, that you want to put renewed energy into Africa.

SECRETARY POWELL: I want to make sure everybody understands that Africa is important. There are major economic and health issues that affect especially sub-Saharan Africa, and therefore affects the world. There is no part of the world that is not a priority for the United States of America. There is no part of the world where we don't believe we have an obligation to try to help people who are in need. And Africa certainly is a place in need.

And so I am looking forward to this trip. And we have been meeting. I have been meeting quite regularly with the African leaders who have come here. President Bush last week met with the President of Nigeria who was here, President Obasanjo; had a very, very good meeting. And we want African leaders to know that we are concerned and America is interested in all issues affecting the African continent.

MS. KOPPEL: And I believe you have the Foreign Minister of Namibia waiting for you at this hour.

SECRETARY POWELL: He is waiting for me, yes.

MS. KOPPEL: Thank you so much, Secretary Powell. Very much appreciate it.


Released on May 14, 2001

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