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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 NBC's Meet The Press with Tim Russert

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

10:30 a.m. EST

QUESTION: Joining us now, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Tim.

QUESTION: Reports on the wires that al-Qaida has fallen, that the Eastern Alliance Afghan troops, along with US bombing, have destroyed them. They are either dead or taken captive. And yet, no sign of Usama bin Laden. What can you tell us?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can tell you that that part of the campaign is going very well. Al-Qaida is, if not totally destroyed, well on the way to being destroyed in Afghanistan. Let's remember that there are many al-Qaida cells still active around the world that we will have to go after. This is a long-term campaign.

With respect to Usama bin Laden, we have no reason to believe that he has either been killed or captured yet, of course. We don't know where he is at this moment. He might still be in that area that the Eastern Alliance forces are closing in on. He might be somewhere else. We don't know.

QUESTION: There were reports a few days ago there was a voice heard on some intercepted communications. They thought it was Usama bin Laden, but it could have been the old trick of playing a pre-recorded tape just to throw us off.

SECRETARY POWELL: It could have been that. It could have been him. It's not known. And we have never been able to confirm that it was his voice. So there was a report that is out there. It's about five or six days old now. So I don't think it's fresh information that is targetable.

QUESTION: Sixty-two percent of the American people tell Newsweek Magazine that unless we get Usama bin Laden, this will not have been a successful operation. Do you agree with that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it will be a successful operation because we've destroyed al-Qaida in Afghanistan and we have ended the role of Afghanistan as a haven for terrorist activity. That is a success.

We, of course, want Usama bin Laden and as President Bush said, we will get him. Whether we get him this week, next week, whether it takes us one year or two years, we will bring him to justice or justice will be brought to him. And the American people have been told by the President we need to understand that we have to be patient. But as far as his effectiveness in Afghanistan, as the head of this organization, that has been destroyed. Now we have to go after the rest of the organization.

That is why the President has made it clear from the very beginning; this is not a one-shot deal. It is a long-term campaign against terrorism, and the first phase of it is against al-Qaida and we are being very successful in this first phase.

QUESTION: US troops will stay in Afghanistan for the unforeseen future?

SECRETARY POWELL: US troops will stay there until they have accomplished their mission, which is to defeat the Taliban -- well under way -- destroy al-Qaida -- well under way -- and do everything they can to find Usama bin Laden. There will come a time when that mission will have been completed. The international security force is arriving under a UN mandate, and I expect that most US troops will leave at that time, although some troops may remain involved in enabling the international security force to get in and to help sustain them.

QUESTION: We will not be part of the UN security force?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't expect that you will see US combat troops there for any length of time as part of that international security force. But to get that kind of a force into a remote place like Afghanistan, the US has certain capabilities that I am sure will be called upon by the force and by the United Nations.

QUESTION: On Thursday, our government released a tape that had been found in Afghanistan of Usama bin Laden. I want to show you just a small portion of that right now, and for our viewers as well.

Colin Powell, why is that man laughing?

SECRETARY POWELL: He is laughing because he has been responsible for the death of thousands of innocent citizens and, in his warped, evil mind, he thinks this is some reflection of a faith, a faith that he has degraded, a faith that tolerates no such action. He is taking credit and he is sharing and laughing, gleefully enjoying the fact that he was responsible for the loss of thousands of lives. And as more and more people see this tape and more and more people later that evening or the next day reflect on the nature of this man, the nature of his cause, they will see how truly evil he is and this cause is. And I am sure that more and more people will understand the importance of us sticking with this campaign against his organization and similar organizations that kill innocent people in the name of false causes.

QUESTION: When you first saw him in that tape, what was your physical, emotional reaction?

SECRETARY POWELL: Mad. Absolutely outraged to listen to this man talk this way and to claim that he was representing some faith: Incarnate evil right there. No question about it.

QUESTION: I want to show you a photograph of Zacarias Moussaoui. He is the so-called twentieth hijacker. He never got onboard a plane but has been indicted now. And yet he will be part of our criminal justice system; he will not be a military tribunal person. Why?

SECRETARY POWELL: As the President has always said and the Attorney General has always said, there are many tools available to the United States Government to bring people to justice. And because the President created the option of using a military tribunal did not mean that all other ways of bringing someone to justice were null and void. And so in this instance, the Attorney General and the US attorneys responsible for this case made a judgment that it was appropriate to bring him before a court of law, civil court of law as opposed to a military tribunal. It seems perfectly reasonable to me. The President always said the tribunal was an option in those unique cases requiring the particularities, the particular aspects of a military tribunal. So I don't see anything terribly unusual about what the Attorney General did.

QUESTION: Democratic Joe Lieberman, Democratic Senator, had this to say, and I'll put it on the screen: If we will not try Zacarias Moussaoui before a military tribunal, a non-citizen alleged to be a co-conspirator in the attacks that killed 4,000 Americans, who will we try in a military tribunal?

SECRETARY POWELL: We will try who the President determines needs to be tried before a military tribunal. Because there are certain circumstances with respect to sources and methods and with respect to the nature of the charges against that individual as appropriate and based on the recommendations that the President will receive from the Attorney General and I'm sure the Secretary of Defense and others. So it is not a one-size-fits-all, because you are a non-alien, you suddenly go before your -- or, rather, you're an alien and you suddenly go before a military tribunal. That is what justice is all about. Look at the circumstances, look at the case, look at the evidence, look at what we're trying to accomplish and put it before the right forum.

QUESTION: I want to show you John Walker. This is a man who, at age 20, decided to fight against the United States of America, to fight for the Taliban. When you were 20 years old, you were actively considering -- well on your way to a military career. What is your sense of John Walker?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know enough about this young man to make a judgment. All I know is that in a misguided manner, he went and joined the Taliban. But once it became clear at the very beginning of this campaign that he was now going to be fighting against America, his own nation, that was a time for him to leave this. And so now he is going to have to pay the consequences of his action.

QUESTION: Is he a traitor?

SECRETARY POWELL: I will let a court decide that. But, certainly, it would -- based on what I have seen so far, his actions would move in that direction. But I would let a court make a judgment. I think he has shamed himself, he has shamed his family and now he has to pay the consequences for his action.

QUESTION: He is talking to US officials. Could he help himself by giving information?

SECRETARY POWELL: It depends on what information he might have that would be useful. But I would encourage him to cooperate in every possible way as he is being interrogated by US authorities.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. In that same tape that we've been talking about of Usama bin Laden -- and I am going to show a small piece right now -- here he is walking into the room. He is the taller person heading in there. And now he leans down and hugs this gentleman who is now reported to be legless. At first we were told the gentleman on the right of your screen was Sheikh Gilmati. The New York Times says he is now Khaled al-Harbi from Saudi Arabia.

How did someone with no legs get from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan in a position to meet and hug Usama bin Laden?

SECRETARY POWELL: Obviously, there is a connection between the two with sufficient formality to it that they were able to transport him there, get him access and move him into the country. And it's troublesome. And I know for a fact that our intelligence agencies are making sure we know who this individual was and are tracing him down and determining what those connections might be and where that trail might take us.

QUESTION: What have the Saudis told you about him?

SECRETARY POWELL: I have had no direct discussions with the Saudis about that particular individual, but I'm sure our intelligence agencies are talking to the Saudis about him. We are trying to get a firm identification of him, so there is no question about who we are dealing with.

QUESTION: Let me show some more of this tape, and you'll see it here. Because the conversation is so familiar, "thanks to Allah." What is the stand of the mosque there in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden asks. Then the Sheikh says, they're very positive. Bin Laden: The day of the event, the exact time -- precisely at the same time -- he's trolling for information -- another sheikh, Bahrani, gave a very impressive sermon. Thanks be to Allah, says bin Laden. He told the youth you were asking for martyrdom and wondered where you should go, suggesting they go join bin Laden, and Allah was inciting them to go, thanks be to Allah, bin Laden says. His position is very encouraging. When I paid him the first visit a year ago, he asked me, how is bin Laden. He sends you his special regards.

And then bin Laden goes on, what about Sheikh al-Rayan. And honestly, I didn't have a chance to meet with him, the other fellow says.

In that same interview, bin Laden asks about three or four other sheikhs from Saudi Arabia. It appears that bin Laden is very closely associated with Saudi Arabia, gets a lot of money from there. Isn't that of grave concern to us? And what do we tell the Saudi Government.

SECRETARY POWELL: We talked to the Saudi Government about this. Let's also remind ourselves that the Saudi Government stripped him of his citizenship many years ago and made him an exile in his own country, in his own society, and disavowed him. At the same time, there are connections that are troublesome, and we are in discussions with the Saudis about these various connections and how institutions in Saudi Arabia and charitable organizations in Saudi Arabia have been used over the years to provide financial support to these kinds of organizations. And this is what we are in contact with the Saudis about to pull all of this network up. And the Saudis have been very cooperative. And it is troubling and it is troubling to them as well.

QUESTION: Have the Saudis done everything they should have done to cut off funding for Islamic fundamentalists?

SECRETARY POWELL: At this point, every request we have put before the Saudis, they have responded to positively. They have taken action and they are going to do more as we give them more information to act upon. So they have been cooperative.

They realize this is not just something having to do with the United States; it is a threat to them as well. And if they want to be a responsible member of these coalition and to participate in this campaign against terrorism, they have to do everything that is required, and they have been forthcoming.

QUESTION: Israel. Prime Minister Sharon says that Yasser Arafat is now irrelevant. Do you agree with that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, he is not irrelevant, because he is the head of the Palestinian Authority and made head of the Palestinian Authority through a process that came out of the Oslo Accord of 1993, and it is somebody that we recognize as the head of the Palestinian Authority, and he is seen by the Palestinian people as the leader of the Palestinian people.

But as President Bush said the other day, and we have been saying repeatedly, as the leader, he has to lead. He has to act like a leader. And we have been putting pressure on Mr. Arafat to act like a leader and get this violence under control, to go after these organizations such as Hamas -- terrorist organizations that are destroying the dream of peace for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people.

We created circumstances as recently as just a month ago, when I gave my speech in Louisville, when President Bush spoke at the United Nations General Assembly announcing a vision for a Palestinian state as an American position. We then created a way for the two sides to talk to each other. We sent General Zinni over to try to get that dialogue going. And all of that was blown up by these terrorist organizations on the Palestinian side. They are attacking Mr. Arafat just as surely as they are attacking the people of Israel and the state of Israel. And Mr. Arafat has to act against them.

QUESTION: We have given Mr. Arafat a list of people he should arrest. Has he followed up and arrested those people?

SECRETARY POWELL: The Israelis have identified people who have been involved in this kind of terrorist activity. The names have been passed to the Palestinians and they have not arrested many names on that list. And very often those they do arrest are seen to be free in just a few days' time.

What we said to Mr. Arafat is this isn't going to get us anywhere. And you saw it well up this week when Mr. Sharon took the action that he did. And he has the responsibility to defend the people of Israel and we are going to stay in touch with both sides. As you know, we are bringing General Zinni back for consultations, and he will be home for a while. But we are not disengaging and his mission has not ended. We are just bringing him home for consultation until we can see how circumstances develop over the next several days or weeks and when he might be able to go back and serve a useful purpose.

QUESTION: When you sent General Zinni over as a Mid East envoy, you said he would stay as long as it takes. You have now recalled him.

SECRETARY POWELL: We weren't going to leave him there without ever bringing him home. So he has come home for consultations, but he is still our special envoy for that purpose. And he will do whatever it takes. But, you know, it is not up to General Zinni. The failure is not General Zinni's. It is not the United States Government's.

The failure at this point, on this Sunday morning, the failure is with the parties in the region. Especially, I have to say, on the part of the Palestinians for not getting the violence under control. If the violence gets under control, goes down to zero or as near zero as you can make it, and when you speak out against this kind of violence, when you stop incitement in the press and when you show this kind of positive movement to get the violence down, then I think you will get a response from the Israeli side and we can start to move forward.

Mr. Arafat will be speaking to his people today and let's hope he gives them that message.

QUESTION: Will Arafat survive this?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. Many people have written him off previously. But he is still here and he is still recognized as the leader of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: India and Pakistan. The Indian parliament was blown up. People were killed, parts of it. The Indian Government said Pakistanis did this, they found the bodies of the terrorists, they were Pakistani citizens, and that Pakistan must move against two terrorist organizations that live in and are harbored, they say, by the Pakistani government. The Indian Government is threatening retaliation.

Would we allow, accept, understand, if the Indian Government retaliated against Pakistan?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it is important to note that President Musharraf immediately -- the President of Pakistan, immediately condemned the attacks in New Delhi and said that he is taking action against the two organizations that have been tentatively identified as terrorist organizations that might have been responsible for this.

I think the Indian Government clearly has the legitimate right of self-defense. But I think we have to be very careful in this instance because if, in the exercise of that right of self-defense we have states going after each other, we could create a much more difficult situation, a situation that could spiral out of control. So we are encouraging both sides to share information with each other and to come together in this campaign against terrorism and not escalate it to a level where it could get out of control.

QUESTION: How dangerous is the situation now between India and Pakistan?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it is very tense. It has the potential of becoming very dangerous. I think that the Indian Government, Prime Minister Vajpayee, made it clear that he was allowing some time to pass in order to get a reaction from the Pakistani Government. And the Pakistani Government is taking some steps now. But what we don't want to do is to see the rhetoric get so ratcheted up that the rhetoric then is followed by action, which lets the whole situation go out of control.

QUESTION: Iraq. Why do we import a million barrels of oil a day from Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, under the Oil For Food program, Iraq is allowed to sell oil as a way of generating income to serve the needs of its people. And we are an energy-consuming nation and we have needs for oil and we get that oil in many places and Iraq is a large provider of oil not only to the United States but to other nations as well. And our imports are controlled under the Oil For Food program which allows civilian goods to go to the people of Iraq and there are rather stringent controls, which are in the process of being tightened even further.

QUESTION: Do you think that is a good policy?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it is a policy that had to be adopted some years ago in order to let Iraq use its oil to provide for the needs of its people but do it in a way that constrains their ability to develop weapons of mass destruction. A better policy would be not to have an Oil For Food program and to see the Iraqi regime let inspectors in and make sure that they are not developing weapons of mass destruction. And an even better outcome would be for the Iraqi regime to essentially leave power in due course.

QUESTION: Will we insist that Saddam Hussein let the inspectors in?

SECRETARY POWELL: That has been our position and remains our position. It is not just the United States' position; it is the position of the United Nations. And the resolution just reauthorizing the Oil For Food program for another six months makes that point.

QUESTION: But he keeps saying no. Are we endlessly patient?

SECRETARY POWELL: Then the sanctions will remain in place and we will control close to 80 percent of all revenue available to the regime. The other 20 percent is what he gets through various cross-border smuggling and other kinds of activities.

QUESTION: Let me show you what Secretary of Defense -- now Vice President Dick Cheney said back in 1990: It's far better to deal with Saddam now while the international coalition against Iraq is intact than it will be for us to deal with him in five or ten years from now -- which is now -- when the members of the coalition have gone their disparate ways and when Saddam has become even more -- even better armed and more threatening.

In hindsight, should we have not gotten rid of Saddam Hussein ten years ago at the Persian Gulf War?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it would have been desirable if he had not survived the Persian Gulf War. And less than a month after Secretary Cheney said those words, we went into Kuwait and threw the Iraqi army out. We did deal with him at that time. He is no longer the threat to the region that he was ten years ago. We all would have been better off if he had not survived.

But we have to remind everyone that the mission of the coalition and the mission of the operation at that time as authorized by the United Nations, decided by President Bush 41 and by the United States Congress was to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and to restore the legitimate government of Kuwait, and all of that has been accomplished.

It has been an untidy ten years since, but at the same time we have succeeded in keeping him constrained but not totally been able to keep him from trying to pursue these weapons of mass destruction. And thatís why it is important to try to get the inspectors back in and that's why we continue to believe that a regime change is a sensible US policy.

QUESTION: But we could have finished him off.

SECRETARY POWELL: We could have invaded Iraq and broken up the coalition and destroyed the mandate that was given to us by the UN. But that was never the original intent of the mission and it was not what we set out to do.

QUESTION: Senator John McCain, Senator Jesse Helms, Senator Trent Lott, Senator Richard Shelby, Henry Hyde the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, wrote a letter to the President. And let me show you on the board. It says: As long as Saddam Hussein is in power in Baghdad, he will seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We believe we must directly confront Saddam sooner rather than later. Let us maximize the likelihood of a rapid victory by beginning immediately to assist the Iraqi opposition on the ground inside Iraq, providing them money and assistance already authorized and appropriated.

Congress has authorized and appropriated $97 million to help fund insurgent groups in Iraq. Will the administration give that money out and help foment a revolution?

SECRETARY POWELL: Most of that money has been given out and used, and not directly for the purpose of putting in place an armed opposition inside of Iraq. And we are continuing to examine the feasibility of such options, how such plans might unfold, and staying in touch with not only the members of Congress who signed that letter, but Iraqi opposition leaders. And, in fact, recently an American delegation from the State Department was in northern Iraq discussing activities in that part of Iraq with Kurdish leaders.

So we watch this carefully. We look for opportunities and we understand the sentiment contained in that letter and what the Congress has told us to do with the $97 million that has been appropriated.

QUESTION: Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The President has said within six months the United States will withdraw from that treaty. Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said this: Unilaterally abandoning the ABM treaty is a serious mistake. There is no missile defense test the US must conduct in the near future that would require us to walk away from a treaty that has helped keep the peace for the last 30 years. Is that accurate?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't agree with the senator. The fact of the matter is, sooner or later a test will come along, whether it is in the next six months, eight months, nine months, ten months, a test will come along that will hit the limits of the ABM treaty. And for 11 months, we have worked with the Russians to see if we could find a way that would give us the flexibility we needed to do all the testing required to develop a missile defense system. And we were unable to find a way to move forward. So under the terms of the treaty, we have notified the Russians that we would be leaving the treaty in six months' time.

This is not a crisis in our relationship with the Russians. They regret our departure. But they understand that we have been saying for a long time -- even the previous administration said in due course we would have to get out of the constraints of this treaty. And so the Russians recognize that. We don't have a crisis. And instead of an arms race breaking out, the Russians at the same time they took note of our notification said, let's work together to reduce the number of strategic offensive weapons that we both have.

So there is not going to be an arms race with the Russians and it is not going to be a crisis in our relationship. In fact, if you go back to 1972, at the time the ABM treaty that people are so in love with, some people are so in love with, was signed at the same time that the SALT I reduction agreement was signed, we had about 2,000 weapons. In the next 20 years, in the existence of the ABM treaty and SALT I, we went up to 12,000 weapons. So it didn't end the arms race; the arms race continued during the entire period of the ABM treaty which was supposed to keep this from happening. And now we are bringing those weapons back down to much, much lower levels than existed even at the time the treaty was signed. And we will continue to lower those numbers in the absence of the treaty, which will disappear in six months.

QUESTION: Criticism continues of the Bush Administration that, when it comes to the ABM treaty or it comes to the Germ Warfare conference or the Global Warming conference, that we like to go it alone, that we walk out of conferences many times and say, no, I'm sorry, we're not going to participate. And that gets the label "unilateralism." Do you think that's fair?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't think it's fair. I mean, this is the same administration that saw the President go to Warsaw and make a powerful speech about the enlargement of NATO. We spend an enormous amount of our time, the President's time, my time, Secretary Rumsfeld's time dealing with our friends around the world, pulling coalitions together, working within NATO, assisting the EU in their efforts, working with our friends in Asia.

The President in the midst of this crisis went to Shanghai to participate in the APEC summit meeting. And so I think we can show a very good record of being a good multilateralist to the extent that that label has some cache these days. But where our national interests are not served by being multilateral or participating in something that we know is not in our national interests and we don't think serves the purpose that others think it serves, we have to speak out, we have to defend our interests.

And we have done that with respect to the ABM treaty, which had to be a unilateral decision; there are only two parties to it. And with respect to the Biological Warfare Convention protocol, we have said repeatedly over the last year that we had the most profound difficulties with this new protocol. And what we have done now is to work with our partners in Geneva to suspend this negotiation for a year. And I have committed to my colleagues in the conference that I will spend this next year and the United States will spend this next year trying to find a way to move forward with the Biological Warfare Convention protocol.

QUESTION: We have worked together in America's Promise, Alliance for Youth, the notion of service to our country. Tom Friedman last Sunday wrote a very interesting column and he talked about the need to now take advantage, if you will, of the atmosphere, the feelings that exist in our country post September 11th. And let me show you his column: "Ask Not What" is the headline.

It is clear there is a deep reservoir of energy out there that could be channeled to become a real force for American renewal and transformation and it's not being done. Imagine if the President announced the Manhattan project to make us energy independent in a decade on the basis of domestic oil, improved mile standards and renewable resources. Imagine if the President called on every young person to consider enlisting in some form of service, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Peace Corps, Teach for America, Americorps, FBI, CIA. People would enlist in droves.

Should the President ask for more sacrifice?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think the President has been doing a very effective job in talking to young people. I mean, getting youngsters of America not old enough to be in the Army, but young enough to have a quarter or a half a dollar to contribute that money, to give to the children of Afghanistan. I think he has done a great job in supporting youth serving organizations and getting people more in touch with their communities. So I think he has been a leader in this regard.

I think it is clear that we are so proud of our military that people are now stepping forward to join our military in greater numbers. They are also stepping forward to find out more about the CIA and how they could be part of this exciting organization.

So I think we have touched into the soul of America, got rid of some of the scandal attention, where we focused all summer long on various little scandals that, in retrospect, were irrelevant to what was really happening in this country. So I think the President is committed to grabbing hold of this idea, grabbing hold of this promise, and I think you will see more of that in the weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION: And also a chance to become energy independent so we don't have to worry about Saudi Arabia and Iraq and their oil?

SECRETARY POWELL: The President put out an energy plan long before September 11th. It was one of the first things this administration did. The President gave the task to the Vice President and we put out an energy plan for America, the first time one has been done in decades, and it was placed before the American people, it was placed before the American Congress.

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


10:50 a.m. EST

Released on December 16, 2001

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