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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 > 2002 > February

Interview on CBS's Face the Nation

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Interview by Bob Schieffer and Gloria Borger
Washington, DC
February 3, 2002

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Joining us now in the studio, the Secretary of State.  Mr. Secretary, thank you so much.  Let me ask you first, do you have any late information on Dan Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who is missing?

SECRETARY POWELL:  No, I don't.  All I have is what you have been reading in the papers.  We have no later information that would suggest anything about his fate.  We hope he is alive and we hope the kidnappers will come to the realization that this is a reporter just doing his job, might have been able to tell a story that would have benefited whatever cause they are supporting, and he should be released to the safety of his family.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  One of the demands that they seem to be making is that Pakistani prisoners at Guantanamo be released.  How many Pakistanis are there on Guantanamo?

SECRETARY POWELL:   I don't know the exact number, but all the detainees at Guantanamo, representing a number of countries, are there because they deserve to be there because of their actions in Afghanistan.  They are being treated well, they are being treated humanely, and in due course we'll make a disposition of all 158 who are there.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  How would you feel about sending an independent Islamic observer there to report on their conditions and then report back?  Do you think that would help the situation?

SECRETARY POWELL:    Well, we have set up a procedure by which anybody who believes there is a need for them to visit the prisoners, either because they are citizens of a particular country and that country wishes to visit, we have set up a procedure within the State Department and the Defense Department to evaluate that and let people in to see them.  We have nothing to hide.  They are being treated very well.  And as you saw in some of the reporting in the papers this weekend, they are coming to grips with the situation that they are in.  And a number of countries have been there, and the International Committee for the Red Cross has been there, spent all the time they needed interrogating the prisoners, talking to the prisoners, and making sure they are being properly cared for.

MS. BORGER:  So, if they suggested somebody and said we want this Islamic cleric, for example, to go --

SECRETARY POWELL:  We're not going to allow kidnappers to suggest anybody.  We don't deal with kidnappers that way.  But any responsible government that wants to send a representative in, we would certainly take that into consideration.  But we are not going to let kidnappers make these kinds of demands on this.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Okay, let's shift now to the President's speech on Tuesday.  The President talked about the "axis of evil" -- Iran, Iraq, North Korea.  I would ask you first, did you sign off on that speech? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    Yes, I saw the speech before it was delivered.  I commented on it a week before.  And I fully supported that line.  It's a good, powerful, strong line that makes the case that these three nations are representative of a group of nations that continue to act in ways that are just inconsistent with the expectations of the 21st century and are hindering our campaign against terrorism. 

MS. BORGER:  At the outset of this administration, though, Mr. Secretary, you were somebody who wanted to open up talks, for example, with North Korea.  Isn't that almost impossible now, given what the President has said? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    No, the President has made it very clear that we are dissatisfied with the actions of North Korea, that they continue to develop missiles, they continue to develop missiles that could carry weapons of mass destruction, and they sell them.  But the President has also said we are prepared to talk to the North Koreans, to negotiate with them, any time, any place, any where, without any preconditions.  He made that decision last summer.  I presented that decision to the North Koreans through my associates in the State Department.  We presented that to the South Koreans.  That remains our policy.  We are prepared to talk to the North Koreans.  They have a Get Out of Jail card. 

If they don't want to be condemned this way as members of this group of nations that the President so identified, they should change their policies.  It is a country that people are starving in.  We are providing most of the food that keeps these people alive.  We are not designating those people as evil; we are saying the regimes are evil.  And the North Koreans could turn that around very quickly if they would enter into positive discussions with the South Koreans and with the United States and with the other nations in the region if they would stop developing these kinds of weapons. 

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Well, let's talk about Iran.  Why was Iran listed as one of the three?  Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was a little surprised because he thought the Iranians had been actually helping us behind the scenes.

SECRETARY POWELL:    We have always identified Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.  They continue to sponsor terrorist activities.  It is quite true that there is a debate, a battle taking place, within Iran between those individuals who we could call more moderate in their approach and may want to be seeking ways to reach out to the rest of the world, and the fundamentals who are against those kinds of outreach efforts. 

And so, for example, in Afghanistan we saw the Iranians play a helpful role at the Bonn conference in setting up the Interim Authority for the new government of Afghanistan, and they played a helpful role in Japan a couple of weeks ago.  At the reconstruction conference they made a significant contribution.

But we also see them doing some unhelpful things with respect to Afghanistan and revolutionary guard elements trying to gain undue influence in western Afghanistan and taking other actions that we don't find that satisfactory.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Such as? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    Well, trying to exert influence in western Afghanistan and trying to exert influence in Kabul.  And so what we are saying to them is this is the time to be part of this campaign, this coalition moving forward.  This is the time to stop supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.  This is the time to stop developing weapons of mass destruction.  This is the time to stop trying to develop nuclear weapons.  And this is the time for nations in the neighborhood to stop assisting them in developing weapons of mass destruction.

So what we are saying to them is don't be a part of this category of nations; come on out, join this campaign, stop it. 

MS. BORGER:  There was a report in Time Magazine today that Iran actually helped Taliban and al-Qaida escape Afghanistan.  What can you tell us about that? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    I have seen that report, but I can't confirm it or deny it.  I don't know the details of it.  There are perhaps others in the administration who could give you a better answer than I can. 

MS. BORGER:  Do you have any indication that they were helping Usama bin Laden escape? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    No, I don't have such information.

MS. BORGER:  Well, because Secretary Rumsfeld today has said that they were helping al-Qaida --

SECRETARY POWELL:    Don, of course, is closer to those sorts of issues than I am.

MR. SHIEFFER:  Well, let's go back to this whole business of the "axis of evil."  Are we on the brink of war with these people, with these countries? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    I didn't hear the President announce any new policies in the State of the Union Address, and I didn't hear him declare war on anybody.  What he said, in a very straightforward direct manner, is that as we go forward in this campaign against terrorism and after we go after terrorists, we have to go after and identify those nations that are assisting terrorists or are developing weapons of mass destruction that can get into the hands of terrorists. 

And so he spoke in a very clear, direct way.  And all of the people who are sort of reacting to this should not be reacting to what the President said; they ought to be reacting to those nations who are not acting in a proper way, who are giving evidence that that they are pursuing evil ends. 

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Well, was he, in fact, warning that there could be preemptory action by the United States, that if we find out that somebody is helping a terrorist, if somebody is making one of these weapons, that we will reserve the right to go in and take out that weapon before they are able to use it or before they are able to --

SECRETARY POWELL:    We reserve the right to do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves and to protect our friends and allies.  And as the President also said in his speech, he will be consulting with our friends and allies as we move forward, just as he has been consulting with our friends and allies before he gave the speech the other evening.  The fact of the matter is that President Bush speaks directly.  He speaks from the heart and speaks with passion.  And he wanted to get everybody's attention that as we go forward in this campaign against terrorism, we cannot take our eye off these kinds of regimes that are part and parcel of this whole problem that we have.

MS. BORGER:  Well, Russia, for example, challenged this "axis of evil" attack, saying that there was not evidence that Iran, for example, had a connection to terrorist organizations.  So what message are you sending to a country like Russia? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    The message we are giving to Russia is we disagree with them on this.  We have designated Iran as a state that sponsors terrorism.  They sponsor Hezbollah and other organizations, and I don't think that is much in dispute by anybody.

MS. BORGER:  So where do you draw the line? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    We draw the line quite clearly.  If you want to be part of a 21st century that is founded on democracy and freedom and moving forward and non-aggressive behavior, then you should not be developing weapons of mass destruction that you plan to have as a way to threaten your neighbors or intimidate your neighbors, or, worse, attack your neighbors. 

You should not be developing the kinds of missiles that can deliver such weapons.  You should not be supporting terrorists.  You should be using the resources you have in your country, the kinds of resources that Iran has in the form of oil.  You should be dealing with the real problems you have, such as in North Korea where you're starving to death as a population, and not be investing what little treasure you have in that society to develop weapons of mass destruction and missiles, and then sell them to other regimes that are along the "axis of evil," if I may say so.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Is there anything, let's say in the last six months, has Iran increased its capability in any way?  Is there any additional evidence over the recent months that Iran is any further along to building weapons of mass destruction? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    Iran continues to try to import to obtain weapons, conventional weapons, and they are trying to improve their ability to fire and use and develop and make ballistic missiles.  And there is no question they are continuing efforts to see if they can develop a nuclear capability.  And there is no question that North Korea is continuing to sell missiles.  And the same day the President was giving the speech, I happened to come across more intelligence information suggesting that the North Koreans have not stopped in the slightest; in fact, they are trying to increase the capability of some of the systems that they make available for export.  This is dangerous.  The President spoke to it. 

MR. SCHIEFFER:  And what about Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL:    With respect to Iraq, the problem is quite simple.  We suspect they are developing weapons of mass destruction.  We more than suspect it.  We know it.  There is an easy way for them to demonstrate that they are not.  And that is, as the President has said, let the inspectors in.  What the President has been saying continuously is there are UN resolutions with respect to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; let the inspectors in.  They threw them out in 1998.  They ought to be allowed back in.  If Iraq is not a member of the "axis of evil" club, let the inspectors in to establish it and prove it. 

The burden should not be on the President; it should not be on us; and it should not be on the State of the Union Address which clearly pointed out these problems.  The burden and all of the counter-rhetoric we are hearing is misdirected.  It ought to be directed at these nations that are pursuing these kinds of capabilities.  And the President called it the way it is. 

MR. SCHIEFFER:  We'll take a break.  We'll talk some more about the "axis of evil" club when we come back.

(Commercial break.)

MR. SCHIEFFER:  We are back with the Secretary of State.  Mr. Secretary, one more question on the "axis of evil" club, as you have sort of termed it this morning.  And that is, what if these countries do continue to develop weapons of mass destruction?  What if we do find out that they are going against the advice that the President laid down Tuesday night?  What happens then? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    Well, the President has all the options available to him:  political means, diplomatic means, economic means and military means.  And I know the President will consult with our friends and allies in the world because it is not just a danger to the United States; it is a danger to the whole world, to the civilized world.  And then we'll see what might be necessary to persuade them, convince them or force them to act in ways that are more responsible.  We prefer diplomatic ways, political solutions.  We're not looking for a war.  We are trying to avoid war.  But we will not resist the challenge that these nations present to us.

MS. BORGER:  A couple of quick follow-ups.  Is this a signal that we would act unilaterally, though? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    We're not trying to give a signal that we are going to act unilaterally.  If it's necessary, we can, and we will if we have to.  But it is much better to operate within a framework of like-minded nations, and that is the President's policy.  He has spent an enormous amount of time just in the past week talking to foreign leaders.  King Abdullah was in the Oval Office on Friday.  Chancellor Schroeder was in for dinner on Thursday night. 

I won't even count for you how many heads of state and foreign ministers I've spoken to in the last five days.  This is not a matter of us going off alone all by ourselves.  We keep in touch with all of our friends and allies.  It's just an incorrect charge, a false charge, to say that we do not consult with our friends and allies.  That is what I spent most of my days doing.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Let's talk a little bit about Yasser Arafat.  He has a large op-ed piece in The New York Times this morning where he says he is not a terrorist and he condemns terrorism.  What is our position toward Yasser Arafat.

SECRETARY POWELL:    Well, I am pleased that he condemns terrorism, and he said it again today.  That's good.  But now what we need is action against terrorists.  We put down in the speech I gave in Louisville a few months ago a plan to move forward, a comprehensive vision of where we want to go.  The President at the UN just before that speech, saying that his vision is for a Palestinian state called Palestine.  No American President had ever quite said that in front of an international audience such as that.  There is the Mitchell Plan.  So there is a plan to move forward.  All it takes to get started is for the violence to down, preferably to end totally.  And General Zinni has been trying to help in this process, but Chairman Arafat has to act.  He has to do a lot more to get the violence under control, to persuade the Palestinian people and all of these Palestinian organizations that they are destroying the vision of a Palestinian state by violent acts.

And he has to tell us about this ship, the Karine A, that was carrying weapons into the region at the same time we were trying to move forward with General Zinni's mission.  And so we stay in touch with Chairman Arafat and other individuals within the Palestinian Authority.  I am pleased to see that Prime Minister Sharon met with a number of them the other day.  And I will be meeting with them as well in the days ahead, trying to get this process started. 

We can't walk away from the current crisis in the Middle East.  We have got to get back on a track that provides a cease-fire, and then go forward into the Mitchell Plan, and then go forward to the negotiations that the Palestinians want and the Israelis want and we want, to find a solution so that these two peoples can live side by side in peace and in security.

MS. BORGER:  Well, Mr. Sharon has also said that you should "ignore Arafat" or that you should boycott him.

SECRETARY POWELL:    Well, I have seen this report of what Mr. Sharon said, but just take note of the fact that Mr. Sharon is speaking to members of Chairman Arafat's immediate staff with Chairman Arafat's knowledge and permission, so I'm going to be conducting the same kinds of dialogue with the Palestinian Authority.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  How much control do you think Yasser Arafat has over the situation?  How much can he do to stop this violence? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    I think he can do quite a bit.  I'm not claiming that he has 100 percent control over every potential bomber or shooter in the region, but I think he can do a lot more, especially with those organizations that are under his director control -- Force 17, Tanzim. 

And he also has moral authority.  He wants to be a leader of the Palestinian people.  The Palestinian people say he is their leader.  But he has to act as a leader and tell them that violence is wrong, tell them that terrorism is wrong.  He has to tell it to them every day.  And he also has to take action as the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, the legal leader of the Palestinian people through his Chairmanship of the Palestinian Authority, and get these organizations under control.

The organizations that are conducting these terrorist activities, they're not just killing innocent Israeli citizens; they are destroying Mr. Arafat's authority and they are destroying a vision of peace for the region.  And he has to act more aggressively to bring them under control and to be the moral leader who says this is no longer the thing to do, this is no longer the way to go; we must get a cease-fire in order to achieve our vision of a Palestinian state.

MS. BORGER:  Mr. Secretary, let's turn to the war against terrorism at home.  There has been a lot of talk this past week about new terrorism threats.  We are already on a very high state of alert in this country.  Do you believe that the state of alert has been ratcheted up some with discovery of al-Qaida documents showing nuclear plants and other targets in the United States? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    Well, I think we have wisely raised the level of alert somewhat, not just for those documents but for a number of reasons based in intelligence reporting that we have, and just to be prudent.  But at the same time, we have to go on about life.  We have to have our Super Bowls.  We have to have our Olympics.  We just have to be careful, we have to be prudent, and we have to use all of our security forces to protect us.  But we've got to get on with life.  We've got to get to the malls.  We've got to go shopping.  We've got to enjoy all the things that make us a functioning society.  So be prudent, recognize that there is an element of danger out there; but, at the same time, let's go on with life.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Let's talk a little bit about the war in Afghanistan because we really haven't gotten to that yet.  How is the war going?  Where do you see it right now? 

SECRETARY POWELL:    I think the campaign is going very, very well, and I want to congratulate all my former colleagues in the armed forces of the United States for the wonderful job that they have done.  I was privileged to see a number of them when I went to Kabul a few weeks ago, and it just makes your heart pump with joy when you see these young men and women doing their job.

We have destroyed al-Qaida and the Taliban as functioning organizations.  Their leaders are running and hiding, and we're seeking them out.  We don't know where Mullah Omar is and we don't know where Usama bin Laden are, but we do know they are hiding and they are on the run.  When you're hiding and on the run, you're not doing a very good job of being in charge of anything. 

The goods news is that the International Security Assistance Force is now in Kabul and starting to grow and become more effective.  And the even better news is that the Interim Authority is in place.  In just a matter of a few weeks, we helped establish a new government for the people of Afghanistan, and we have committed through the international community $4.5 billion over the next several years to help them.  That is a great success, and we have done it in a way that has not destabilized Central Asia, but has given us the promise of a new alignment in Central Asia where the great game of nations competing with each other are over. 

What we need now is security within Afghanistan, and that is why it is so important for the International Security Assistance Force to do its work.  But even more important, for the Afghan authority to come up with a national army and a national police force.  That is going to be our priority.  They will provide security for their people.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Do you, in fact, believe that Usama bin Laden is still alive?

SECRETARY POWELL:    I have no idea.  I assume he is alive because I have no evidence to suggest he is dead.  And therefore, we should go on the assumption that he is alive and keep chasing him, keep looking for him.  But he is on the run and there is a new authority in Kabul that is going to provide hope for the people of Afghanistan, hope for a better life.  And we are going to make that a reality. 

MR. SCHIEFFER:  Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you so much for coming by this morning.

SECRETARY POWELL:    Thank you, Bob, Gloria.

MR. SCHIEFFER:  We know you have a pretty busy schedule these days.

Released on February 3, 2002

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