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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 NBC's "Meet the Press"

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Tokyo, Japan
February 17, 2002

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Secretary, welcome.  It has now been nearly six months since September 11th and the terrible attack on our country.  Are you troubled that we have not yet captured Usama bin Laden?

SECRETARY POWELL:  Well, I wish we had captured him by now, but it doesn't trouble me particularly.  What we have done is we have brought freedom to Afghanistan; we have set up an Interim Authority under Chairman Karzai; the Taliban is no longer in control of the country; and al-Qaida, rather than being in charge, is on the run.  As the President has said repeatedly, we will keep hunting them down one by one, and one of these days we will find out what happened to Usama bin Laden.

MR. RUSSERT:  Terrible situation in Afghanistan.  The secretary of aviation and tourism was killed.  It was suggested by the Prime Minister that he was killed by the head of intelligence.  Are things unraveling there, and what can you tell us about that murder?

SECRETARY POWELL:  I can't tell you anything about the murder.  I have heard both reports:  one, that the mob that was at the airport did it; and another report, a speculative report from Chairman Karzai, that it might have been part of a plot.  But I don't know what the truth is.

I don't think things are unraveling.  We need to build up an Afghan national army and police force.  As you know, the international security assistance force is in the process of building up.  But I don't thing things are unraveling; we are just seeing a little bit of turmoil as this new government starts to assert its authority over Kabul and the other areas in Afghanistan.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you believe that Mr. Karzai is safe and his government is secure?

SECRETARY POWELL:  At the moment, yes, I have every reason to believe that.  I think he is off to a very good start.  It is going to be a tough, slow road, but I think he is the leader for the moment.  And as you know, we will have a new government coming in, a more permanent government, after the Loya Jirga meets in a few months time.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Taliban were successful in stopping one thing, and that was the growth of poppy, which is used for heroin.  Seventy percent of the heroin used in Europe came from Afghanistan.  In a matter of weeks, Afghan farmers are going to begin planting a new poppy crop.  Will the United States allow that?  And, if not, how will they stop it?

SECRETARY POWELL:  What's more important is that Chairman Karzai has issued instructions that this would not be permitted in Afghanistan.  He had made the point very clearly that the Afghan farmer gets nothing out of growing poppies; all the money goes to middlemen.  So what he wants to do is to have Afghan farmers grow crops that they can eat and crops that they can use to help get an economy started.

So I am very satisfied with the very positive attitude and the direction that he has shown with respect to not letting this happen.  And of course, you can be sure that we are encouraging him and will provide whatever support we have to in order to make sure that we can divert farmers away from growing poppy into agricultural pursuits that do more for the country than the growing of drugs will.

MR. RUSSERT:  Saddam Hussein.  He said yesterday, Mr. Secretary, that "he is not interested in acquiring weapons of mass destruction."  Do you believe him?

SECRETARY POWELL:  No, I have heard this before.  We have heard it for ten years.  If it is a true statement, and he's right and I'm wrong, there is a simple way to test the proposition; that is, to let the inspectors in, as the President has called for repeatedly.  Let the inspectors in, the United Nations inspectors who are standing by under the direction of Dr. Hans Blix, ready to go in right away.  But they have to go in under circumstances which let them look everywhere, with no constraints, no funny business, no conditions, and let them determine whether or not he is telling the truth or we've been telling the truth.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will the United States go to the United Nations and insist the inspectors be allowed to return, and if they don't, suggest that we will undertake military action?

SECRETARY POWELL:  We have insisted all along that the inspectors should be allowed to return; otherwise, the sanctions have to remain in place.  And, in fact, those sanctions which people thought would be falling apart are very much in place, and I think they will become more effective in May of this year when we get into smart sanctions.

What we might do at some point in the future, don't know.  The President has made it clear that he reserves all of his options -- political, diplomatic, and, for that matter, military.  We are working with our friends and allies.  We are in constant consultation with our European friends and with our friends in the region.

MR. RUSSERT:  Vice President Cheney had told me on September 16th on this program, just five days after the 11th, that Iraq was not involved in the events of September 11th.  And he went on to say that, "Saddam Hussein is bottled up."

Is there a change in policy in view toward Saddam Hussein?

SECRETARY POWELL:  I don't think so.  So far, now that it is February, we still haven't seen any direct linkage to the events of 11 September and the Iraqi regime.  And to some extent, yes, he is bottled up.  The sanctions constrain him to some extent and he is certainly not welcome in any other country in the region.

At the same time, he is worrisome; he is to be concerned about, because we know that he continues to try to find the means to develop weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear programs, chemical programs, biological programs.  That's what concerns us, and that's what the Vice President was speaking of in his speech the other day.

And until that stops -- and, frankly, we believe, as a U.S. position, until that regime is changed -- then his neighbors have much to fear, and we should be fearful too because the weapons he is developing could well fall into the hands of terrorists who might be able to use them.

MR. RUSSERT:  If, in fact, you depose Saddam Hussein, what "who" do you get?

SECRETARY POWELL:  That's a fascinating question.  It is a question that we examine on a regular basis.  And there are, we believe, opposition elements and personalities and forces who would give us a better turn of the cards, so to speak, in Baghdad than the Hussein regime.  We would like to see a regime come in that represents all the people of Iraq, that would be democratically based.  It will be a tough thing to do because there is not that tradition in Iraq, but the people of Iraq are as deserving of that new opportunity as were the people of Afghanistan.

MR. RUSSERT:  A few weeks ago, I had Prince Turki al-Faisal, who headed Saudi intelligence for 24 years on this program.  He said that his government has been recommending covert operations to overthrow Saddam for the last ten years, and it's very doable.  Do you agree?

SECRETARY POWELL:  Well, I never like to discuss covert operations and whether they are doable or not doable.  They are not easy operations.  And you can be sure that we are examining all possible options -- those that might be rather obvious to observe and those that might not be so obvious to observe.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is it possible to do something against Iraq without the support of the Russians, the Europeans, and the Arab nations in the region?

SECRETARY POWELL:  Of course it is possible.  It is more difficult if one doesn't have access in the region, and we would rather do it with the support of the international community were we to do something.  But at the moment, the President is examining all of his options.  He is continuing to lead with political and diplomatic action in the UN and in bilateral conversations with our friends and allies in the coalition.  And just remember that this is a President who acts with deliberation, with prudence, and with patience.  And we will see where this all lead.  As we have been saying regularly, there is no attack plan or military option that has been brought forward by the President's advisors.

MR. RUSSERT:  A lot of reaction to the President's comments about "axis of evil" regarding Iraq, North Korea and Iran.  Let me show you the headline that greeted readers of USA Today:  "Axis of Evil Remarks Stalls Reform in Iran.  After September 11th, there were even some spontaneous pro-American demonstrators in Tehran.  On Monday, however, huge anti-US protests were staged throughout Iran as Iranians responded to what many regarded as a 'diss'ing' of their 2,500 year-old nation.  The protestors chanted, "Death to America, Death to Bush."  Bush's remarks also appeared to undercut Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had been lobbying for overtures toward Iran."

Did the "axis of evil" remarks stall reform in Iran, Mr. Secretary? 

SECRETARY POWELL:  I don't think so, and I can assure you I was part and parcel of the drafting of that speech, and I knew exactly what the President was going to say.  And he was speaking to the Iranian people and letting the Iranian people know that their unelected leadership was not serving them well by using their treasure to help develop nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.  What he was saying to the Iranian people is that there is a better future waiting for you.

The Iranians are quite able to put together immensely large demonstrations at the drop of a hat, and for the last 20-odd years they usually have the theme, "Death to America."  But what we have seen in Iran are moderate forces that are coming forward, not just President Khatami, but we can sense within Iran that there are people who are starting to take a hard look at what their leadership has done for them for the last 20 years. 

We have not isolated Iran totally.  We are in touch with them.  We have ways of talking to them.  They played a helpful role at the Bonn conference that set up the Interim Authority for Afghanistan.  They played a helpful and contributing role at the Tokyo conference and made a significant contribution to the rebuilding effort in Afghanistan.

But at the same time, they take other actions that tend to undercut the new administration and authority in Afghanistan, and they have been doing some other things that are troublesome.  So we don't overlook the things that are troublesome just because with are satisfied with other actions.  We call it straight, we call it right out, and our policy with respect to Iran is well known.

MR. RUSSERT:  North Korea, Kim Jong-il is 60 years old today.  What is your birthday message to Kim Jong-il of North Korea?

SECRETARY POWELL:  My birthday message to him is at age of 60, one should look forward in a positive way and think about one's legacy.  And you have been offered an incredible opportunity.  The people of South Korea are one with you.  All Koreans are of one body and soul, and the South Koreans want to reach out and help you in your time of trouble.  And America has said clearly that we want to speak to North Korea.  We are willing to meet with North Korean leaders at any time, any place, without any preconditions, to discuss the issues between our two countries.

And this is the time for you, Mr. President, to lead your people to a better future and away from the past that has brought you nothing but condemnation, brought your people starvation, brought you a destroyed economy, and brought you to a point in the world where everybody is asking:  Why is this nation, which has so many internal difficulties, developing weapons to sell to other nations that will only cause grief in other parts of the world?  There is an opportunity now, Mr. President, you should seize.

MR. RUSSERT:  On global warming, Mr. Secretary, environmentalists here are very concerned that the President has proposed a voluntary compliance policy, and yet, even in a perfect world, emissions would increase by some 12 percent over the next 10 years.  Why was the President so tepid, in their words, in regarding the environment?

SECRETARY POWELL:  I wouldn't call it tepid.  I think it was a comprehensive and bold statement on the part of the President that we are going to take responsible action to reduce the intensity of our emissions, the rate of our emissions, over the next period of time, 10 to 12 years; and if at that point we haven't reached our goals, he has suggested that we prepare to look at market-based solutions with more punch to them.

And by linking the intensity to economic growth, we do it in a sensible way, because with economic growth you are generating the resources you need to get into the technologies and the science-based devices we know are out there waiting to be developed that will help us do an even better job of reducing the rate of emissions.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Secretary, as you well know, you have created somewhat of a firestorm in some segments of the Christian community, the Republican Party community as well, with your comments on condoms on MTV.  Let me show you and our viewers what you said exactly:  "I believe condoms is part of the solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis, and I encourage their use by young people who are sexually active.  You've got to protect yourself.  If you don't protect yourself, who is going to protect you?"

You went on to say, "It's important that the whole international community come together, speak candidly about it, forget about taboos, forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you should tell young people about it.  It's the lives of young people that are put at risk by unsafe sex, and therefore, protect yourself."

Those comments have been described as "reckless and irresponsible."  What is your reaction?

SECRETARY POWELL:  Any other statement is reckless and irresponsible.  First of all, it's part of administration policy.  Our policy begins with abstinence.  I'm a great supporter of abstinence programs.  My wife and I, as you well know, Tim, have been deeply involved in abstinence programs, both personally and through our financial support, and in my work with America's Promise.  We also believe in being faithful to a partner.

But at the same time, there are people who are sexually active, and that is the population I was speaking to all around the world, when I was on MTV, and to say to them who are sexually active not to protect themselves, that is irresponsible.  That is why the United States Government has programs that provides condoms to people in other parts of the world who are sexually active.

Tim, my wife and I visited Africa last year, and we saw desperate, desperate communities where HIV/AIDS has ravaged through a community, not only killing people, but leaving orphans behind, destroying families, destroying societies, destroying democracies.  And for us to say that we shouldn't encourage people to use the protection that we know is there is irresponsible.  We have a pandemic on the face of the earth right now raging through sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, other parts of the world, and we have to use all the tools at our disposal, all the programs at our disposal.  Abstinence, faithfulness, and, yes, condoms.  And I don't take one step back from the remarks that I made.

MR. RUSSERT:  They point to your comment, "forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you should tell young people."

SECRETARY POWELL:  It was not a political statement; it was a social and cultural statement, a small "c."  When I went to Africa and I started looking at what was going on in the undeveloped countries, one of the problems we're having is cultural taboos where people don't talk about these kinds of things, people don't educate their young people.  People who are brought up in certain tribal traditions are not willing to talk about these issues.  Those are the sorts of conservative ideas that you have to break through in order to protect people, in order to save people. 

And so this is the time for us to speak out clearly and responsibly to help millions of people around the world, not just young teenagers, but the kinds of youngsters I was talking to, who are young adults.  The audience I was talking to, 17 to 25.  At this point, they are reaching some level of sexual maturity and many of them will be sexually active, and they should know that it would be wise for them to protect themselves if they are going to participate in acts that could be unsafe.  And for us to take any other position is irresponsible.

MR. RUSSERT:  Secretary of State Colin Powell, as always, we thank you for joining us, and travel safe.


Released on February 17, 2002

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