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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 > December

Interview on Fox News Sunday with Tony Snow

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
December 16, 2001

9:03 a.m. EST

QUESTION: Now joining us to talk about America at war and the quest for peace is Secretary of State Colin Powell. Secretary Powell, we have heard reports first of al-Qaida being vanquished. To your knowledge, is that true? Is that simply a preliminary report?

SECRETARY POWELL: It seems to be the case. I can't confirm it yet. We will wait to hear from US intelligence sources and our people on the ground as to whether that is the case. I am sure there are still some remaining caves that have to be looked at and there will be some light resistance left. But for the most part, it appears that we are well on our way to success on this part of the campaign.

QUESTION: Now, you said in the past you think we are going to get bin Laden. Do you still believe that?

SECRETARY POWELL: We will get bin Laden. Whether it's today, tomorrow, a year from now, two years from now, the President has made it clear that we will not rest until he is brought to justice or justice brought to him.

The President has also made it clear from the beginning that we shouldn't just see this in the form of get him right away and that takes care of it. Our mission was to go after him, but really after al-Qaida. Al-Qaida is being destroyed in Afghanistan, now we have to destroy it wherever it exists around the world.

QUESTION: I want to get to that. But a couple more questions first about bin Laden. Do we believe he is still in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY POWELL: We really don't know. There is some information that suggests he might still be there and he might have gotten across the border. We don't know. But you can be sure he is under hot pursuit.

QUESTION: The former head of the Pakistani intelligence service actually was saying the other day that he thought the bin Laden video might have been a fraud. Now, this is a man who, in the past, has been supportive of the Taliban.

Do you still worry that there are remnants of the old intelligence service in Pakistan that could be lending aid and shelter to bin Laden?

SECRETARY POWELL: I wouldn't go that far. I am sure there are elements of the intelligence service from the old days who might still have a warm spot in their heart and head for Usama bin Laden. But I know that President Musharraf doesn't and the leadership of Pakistan does not. They have been solidly aligned with us in this campaign against bin Laden. And, as Geraldo noted, they have been very forceful in reinforcing their border with their military to keep him and al-Qaida leaders from escaping into Pakistan.

QUESTION: We saw a tape the other day of bin Laden boasting about his triumphs and even predicting widespread carnage during Ramadan. It didn't happen. Do you think he's a coward?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, he's a coward. Anybody who hides behind faith to commit murder is a coward. And he goes after the innocent. He goes after those who are defenseless. And he is evil, he is a murderer, he's a coward, and now he is on the run.

QUESTION: Throughout the Arab world, there has been a lot of discussion about the bin Laden video. Do you think the video enlarged him as a figure or diminished him?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think over time it diminishes him. Because anybody who watched that video, even if they might say, oh, it looks like, you know, I still think there's something to it or it might have been a fraud, when they get home late at night and they reflect on it in the days that follow, they will have to come to the conclusion that they really saw a murderer, they really saw somebody who was misusing this wonderful faith called Islam.

QUESTION: A number of people have said that they would like to see bin Laden tried before an international tribunal or even an American criminal court. Do you think either of those is an appropriate forum?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think first things first. Let's get him in custody of somebody and then we can decide how best to bring him to justice. And I think at that time, we will determine what the best forum is to put him before. But he has to be brought to justice, brought to justice in a way that the whole world can see the evidence arrayed against him and watch as the international community decides what to do with him.

QUESTION: The international community, a war tribunal?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't want to rule out anything or rule in anything. There are lots of ways that you can deal with a bin Laden. There have been international criminal tribunals. We have our military tribunal that the President recently created. Though I would not prejudge at this point what we might do with Mr. bin Laden if he were brought in our custody.

QUESTION: Are you disappointed that they didn't get him today?

SECRETARY POWELL: Sure. But I would have like to have seen him gotten a week ago or a month ago. The fact of the matter is we understand the nature of the battle we're in. And he is elusive. He will try to stay hidden. He will try to avoid us. But let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that the President is determined, that however long it takes, as he says to us almost every day, one day, one week, one month, two years, we will get him. Let's be patient and just not give up.

QUESTION: Let's talk about the broader battle. Al-Qaida spread over 55, 60 nations. There have been reports, for instance, the US forces are preparing to do some joint work with the Government of the Philippines, with the aid and support of that government, correct?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we are working with many governments to point out to them where they could do a better job of going after al-Qaida or calling to their attention information and intelligence facts we have with respect to what's happening in their country. And we have been very pleased at the level of cooperation and response we have received from countries, now that they see what al-Qaida is all about. And that is also the case with the Philippines. We have good cooperation with the Philippines.

QUESTION: How many nations right now, like the Philippines, have vested interest in getting rid of al-Qaida on their shores, because they see it as a direct threat to their survival?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think every nation that has an al-Qaida cell should see it as a direct threat to their sovereignty, to their security and to their ability to participate in an international community that is going to move forward and leave this kind of terrorist activity behind. So it is in the interest of every single country that might be touched by al-Qaida to rip it out, get rid of it, because nothing good will come from harboring or providing a haven to al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations.

QUESTION: Do you think al-Qaida can get rooted out by any other means than simply going after them militarily, as we have done in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY POWELL: There are many means. Sometimes it is military, sometimes it is financial. What you have to do is make it an inhospitable place for terrorists to operate, because your police are watching them and taking action against them, because your intelligence and law enforcement and financial communities are going after them. They need a warm, wet place, if I could use a biological term, a dark, warm, wet place in order to survive. And if you put the light on them and if you dry up their sources and if you make it less hospitable, then they will have to find somewhere else to go. And we want to make sure there are fewer somewhere elses for them to go over time.

QUESTION: There were a lot of predictions at the outset of this combat that the Arab street would rise up in rage.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there have been some demonstrations and there were some difficulties in the early days. But once people saw that we were, one, serious about it, two, it was not anti-Islam or anti-Arab, it was anti-terrorism, anti-murderer, and I think as more and more people learned about the nature of the crimes that Usama bin Laden committed, that rage, that potential rage was dissipated. So people now understand what we were all about and when they also see us committed to bringing in place a new government that will represent all the people of Afghanistan and providing support to that government, and making a commitment for humanitarian relief and the rebuilding of Afghanistan, people are starting to come to the realization that this was a noble cause.

QUESTION: Let me backtrack, just one more thing I want to get to with bin Laden. Let's suppose he's gotten into Pakistan. Do we have permission to go in and chase him?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, Pakistan is a sovereign country, of course, and we are in constant touch with the Pakistani authorities. They have very competent troops. And I am sure that if information is passed to them about where he is, they’d go after him. The last thing they want to do is provide him with a safe haven. And if it is a situation of hot pursuit, I am sure that we have in place mechanisms where we would not have any difficulty cooperating with the Pakistanis in his apprehension.

QUESTION: Well, as a matter of fact, we have forces based there at this point?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have forces that are using facilities in Pakistan.

QUESTION: Alright now, as we think about fighting the war on terror, a lot of people think of the next step. Obviously, it is to go after al-Qaida. But al-Qaida is not the only terrorist organization on the planet, there are others. There are widespread reports that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. There is some controversy about that, though.

Do we have absolute proof that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction?

SECRETARY POWELL: There is no question that he is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. Based on our success at the time of the Gulf War, his conventional capability is less than half of what it used to be, and he can't project that conventional power. But he has continued to look for unconventional power.

We believe his nuclear capability has been capped, but he is still trying to regenerate it, but it's years away. Chemical weapons, there is no question that he has some remaining stock and he may be trying to generate that again. And biological weapons are the greatest concern to us, because he has always expressed an interest in that kind of weapon. And it is easier to hide that kind of capability.

That is why it's important that we continue to press with the UN inspectors getting back in on their terms to do the kind of inspection they can do for as long as it takes to see whether or not he is complying or not. Now, he won't let those inspectors back in? The sanctions remain in place, the sanctions get tighter, and at the same time the United States continues to pursue a policy that will hopefully lead to regime change at some point.

QUESTION: So you don't think he represents a clear and present danger to us right now?

SECRETARY POWELL: He is a danger to the region. I don't see his armies marching anywhere. But anybody who has demonstrated previously his willingness to use chemical weapons against his neighbors and his own people has got to be seen as a potential danger to the region.

QUESTION: It is often said that in that region of the world, the way you get respect is you be tough and you pay off on the things you say. So for the United States now to keep the respect it has earned so far in Afghanistan, we have to continue to pay off things we've talked about. We've talked a lot about Saddam Hussein. Does it have to be a goal of our policy to have, as you just said, a regime change?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is a goal. It is our policy. It has been our policy for a number of years, at least three years, in a very explicit sense, and it remains our policy now. How to achieve that goal and how to pursue that policy is a matter of means. What means does one use and what will actually work? And we are constantly doing ideas, plans, concepts.

QUESTION: The Iraqi National Congress in the north, you've got Shi'a groups in the south. Could they both form the kind of allies that we have seen with the Northern Alliance and also the Eastern Alliance and Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are looking at that. It's quite a different situation. I mean, it is much, much different and I think one has to be careful before you take a cookie cutter from some other theater and apply it to another theater.

But everything you have just suggested and other ideas are constantly under review within the Administration.

QUESTION: And our allies sometimes say, well, we may not go along with you. Even if allies don't go along with us and we decide that's a proper course, we'll do it?

SECRETARY POWELL: The United States will do what it believes is necessary and appropriate to defend its national security interests and the interests of its friends and allies. It is better -- I always think it is better if you can bring other people to the table, if you can have a coalition cooperating as we did in Afghanistan and as we did in the Gulf War. But the United States does not rule out acting in its own interests unilaterally where that seems to be necessary.

QUESTION: Let's move to the Middle East. Anthony Zinni has been recalled, you want to consult with him. Did Yasser Arafat break his word in terms of trying to suppress violence in the West Bank and Gaza?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have been pressing Mr. Arafat repeatedly, and I have been doing it since this Administration came into office, to get the violence down so that we can get back to a path to peace. We have given him many opportunities. The Mitchell plan, when it was announced, had a roadmap to peace discussions. George Tenet, our CIA director, went out there and created a work plan to get to the ceasefire. I went out there and tried to do the same thing.

And then last month, we gave a comprehensive statement of US policy. The President at the United Nations General Assembly recognized the need to have a vision that would lead to a Palestinian state. And he called it "Palestine." A week later, in Louisville, Kentucky, I gave a comprehensive speech that laid out what both sides had to do and the aspirations of both sides. And both sides reacted positively to that speech. They both created security committees.

We are going to work together. I sent General Zinni out as our envoy to make this happen. We started to see some progress. What happened? Hamas, a terrorist organization, started killing innocent civilians with car bombs in Jerusalem and Haifa and elsewhere. And they attacked this process, they attacked innocent Israelis. But even more fundamentally and troubling, they attacked Yasser Arafat and his authority to lead the Palestinian people toward a ceasefire and a process of peace.

Arafat has to respond to this challenge, and so far he hasn't done enough to respond to this challenge. And we have been saying to him directly, you've got to do something about this or else we're not going to go anywhere.

QUESTION: He has got a whole lot more troops than Hamas has.

SECRETARY POWELL: He has a large security force. It is an armed security force. And this morning, he will be --

QUESTION: Should he use it?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. This morning, he will be making a statement on how he sees the way forward. And I hope he will give a statement that says, let's stop the Intifada, let's stop the violence, let's stop the incitement and let's find a way to get back to a path to a ceasefire so that we can get negotiations toward peace.

QUESTION: Dennis Ross, who used to be the envoy to the region, has a piece in The Washington Post today. He says the United States ought to push that along by delivering an ultimatum to Arafat, dealing with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, saying you've got to shut these down, we give you 96 hours. Is that a realistic timetable, four days?

SECRETARY POWELL: Four days? I am not going to comment on a particular timetable. We have given that message to Mr. Arafat. I have given it to him repeatedly, directly, me to him, over the last several weeks, that he is being attacked and his authority is being destroyed by Hamas and the PIJ, and he has got to respond to this and other kinds of elements within the Palestinian community that are destroying the vision of the Palestinian people to have their own state.

QUESTION: If Arafat does not respond, you have said he's relevant so far. If he doesn't, does he become irrelevant?

SECRETARY POWELL: If he doesn't, he is not leading. Just as the President said, I don't want to use the term "irrelevant" because it is not for us to decide who the leader of the Palestinian people will be. They have given to Yasser Arafat that leadership role and he is the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority. Now, as long as he has that governmental role and as long as he is seen that way by the Palestinian people, we will have to work with him and deal with him.

QUESTION: So you have said that if he doesn't act -- you used the phrase, "he needs to act or else." Is the "or else" --

SECRETARY POWELL: The "or else" is we continue in a state of violence with both sides losing innocent civilians every single day and it leads nowhere. It does not lead to a ceasefire, it does not lead to negotiations on the basis of UN Resolutions 242 and 338 in order to find a solution so that these two peoples can live together in this land.

QUESTION: Now, there have been many cases where American officials have talked to Yasser Arafat, many occasions where he has disappointed. What is the consequence this time if there is not an end to violence and provocation from Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think the consequence for him is that he will slowly lose authority within the region.

QUESTION: Well, what will we do?

SECRETARY POWELL: I am not going to tell you what we are going to do before we decide what we're going to do. (Laughter.) But we will be examining all of our options of how we deal with him.

But right now, I don't want to lose hope. The Zinni mission has not failed; the parties have failed. And Zinni went to help them and they were not -- they were not ready to be helped at this point.

So I brought General Zinni back for consultations. He remains our envoy. He was always going to come back in December for consultations and for -- he can't stay there forever without coming back occasionally. And he will be ready to go back after our consultations and when circumstances suggest that there is a real reason for him to go back.

QUESTION: Final question. There has been a lot of -- well, two questions. One, Otto Reich?

SECRETARY POWELL: Otto Reich is the President's nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, North and South America. And we stand by that nomination. The problem is we cannot get him a hearing before the committee that confirms him, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, because Senator Dodd and other members of the committee will not allow him to have a hearing. He is qualified, he knows the region, he is a strong leader and he is the President's nominee.

QUESTION: If the Senate goes into recess, would you suggest a recess appointment?

SECRETARY POWELL: This is always an option. But at the moment, we have not made a decision on that.

QUESTION: A lot of complaints about the ABM treaty. But we have pretty much wired this thing, haven't we? I mean, the Russians, they say, well, they're disappointed, it was a mistake, but they are not terribly upset. The Chinese have issued a few things.

Have we pretty much wired this so that the people that a lot of folks have said are going to be problems for us are not, in fact, going to be problems?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think we took the time necessary to establish a good relationship with the Russians. President Bush and President Putin met four times in the first 11 months of this administration. I have met 16 times with my foreign minister colleague, Igor Ivanov. Mr. Rumsfeld has done the same thing. Condi has done the same thing.

So we created a relationship here and we kept telling them that we would have to do this if we couldn't find a way around the constraints of the ABM treaty, and we finally did have to do it and we notified them. But we also did it in a way that we are cutting offensive weapons at the same time. So, guess what, there's not going to be an arms race. Sorry to disappoint those who have been predicting an arms race. The Russians agreed with us last week that we are not going to have an arms race.

And the other thing that people kept saying is when you do this, it's going to fracture our relationship with the Russians and just make things terrible. Guess what? Both we and the Russians see that we have mutual interests that will keep us working closely together. As President Putin said to me last Monday in Moscow when we were discussing this, strategic cooperation with the United States is important. We will come up with a new framework agreement. We disagree with your decision on the ABM treaty. We think you're wrong, but this is one less disagreement we will have in the future, because we have put it behind us and we will continue to work together. So, no arms race and no fracture of the relationship with Russia.

China, we have consulted with them closely. President Bush talked to President Jiang Zemin. I brought in the ambassador the day before we made the announcement. I spoke to my foreign minister colleague, Mr. Tang, that evening, and they are also in disagreement over our decision. They don't think we should have done it. They think it's wrong. But I don't think we are going to see a crisis in US-Chinese relations.

QUESTION: All right, Secretary of State Colin Powell, thanks for joining us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Tony.

9:17 a.m. EST

Released on December 16, 2001

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