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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 > 2003 > January

Interview by The Financial Times

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
January 23, 2003

QUESTION: So, you have a really busy week ahead of you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, every week seems to be busy these days.

QUESTION: If I could begin, last September you made and won the argument that the UN route was the best for the United States in disarming Iraq, and you successfully got the resolution you wanted unanimously. Since then, the transatlantic alliance seems less stable than it was. Clearly, in the last few days, those differences are emerging.

What would be your advice now to the President on seeking a second resolution after the weapons inspectors present their report?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I usually give my advice to the President directly and first before I give to even as august of a -- (laughter). So I hope you won't feel offended if I don't say that.

But let me go back to how you started to roll out your question. The President decided to take it to the international community in September because he believed it was a problem for the international community.

We are often accused of being unilateralist. We are often accused of going off on our own. And this was a case where Iraq had been in complete violation of the will of the international community for all these years. And the President was deeply concerned about it and we think that all nations should be concerned about the behavior of Iraq, not only what it has but what it might have in the future, and, frankly, its arrogance with respect to UN mandates and UN resolutions.

So he took it to the UN and, in a powerful speech, he challenged the UN to meet its responsibilities. And some oh, seven weeks later, after much debate and much discussion, 15 nations of the Security Council -- all of them, to include principal European actors as well, within the perm five -- came together and passed UN Resolution 1441.

1441 put the burden on Iraq, not on the inspectors. 1441 said to Iraq you have one last chance. You have been in breach before, you continue to be in material breach, and the burden is now on you to demonstrate that you are disarmed, or will disarm. And it also made clear that after a period of time the Security Council would consider, in the absence of Iraqi disarmament, further actions that might be taken.

It was a tough resolution to get, as you all followed day by day, but that's what the Security Council said. And we have now seen, since the 8th of November when it was passed, several months of activity on the part of the inspectors. Let there be no doubt that if it wasn't for the President's speech and this resolution, there would be no inspectors in Iraq. Iraq would still be going its merry way, completely oblivious to the will of international community, completely oblivious to what its obligations are.

And so it is the pressure that came from the resolution and the willingness to use force at the end of the day on the part of not only the United States, but it is implied in the resolution itself. That is what caused Iraq to let the inspectors in and to undertake some passive activities with respect to their obligations to disarm.

But what we have also seen in the last several months is that Iraq continues to try to do it their way. They continue to deceive. They continue to practice deception. They are not answering the most fundamental questions that, in the last several days, we have been putting before the world in very stark terms. What happened to the anthrax? What happened to the chemical weapons? What happened to the artillery shells? What happened to the botchulinum toxin? Why aren't you letting the reconnaissance planes fly freely? Why aren't you coming clean? Why do you continue to act as if nothing has really changed? 1441 changed the terms of this debate and it is an obligation of Iraq to disarm and the inspectors are there to verify it and to assure the community that that is what has happened.

The President has made it clear, and it seems to me to be clear from the resolution, that if Iraq does not do this, then the Security Council must consider other means to make it happen.

The Security Council will meet on Monday in a permanent representative session to hear from Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei. There is no question that the United States is positioning forces and leaning forward in order to support diplomacy, as my colleague, Don Rumsfeld, said yesterday, but also to make it clear to Iraq that this is not a game that can continue forever, and that if it does not disarm itself in the manner expected by 1441, then force remains an option.

Notwithstanding all the reporting that is around, the President has not made a decision. Other nations, particularly in Europe, may have made a decision before seeing what the inspectors have to say and hearing what the inspectors have to say, but the United States has not made a decision.

And so we will all be listening carefully. We will be commenting on what we see. We will be very candid and direct in our interrogatories back to Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei -- and also to the Iraqis -- as to what they have to do to avoid conflict. There is still the possibility of a peaceful solution, but time is running out.

And what we are concerned about is that there are some who would say, "Well, let's just keep inspecting forever." But inspecting forever, or for some very long, extended period of time, in the presence of continued Iraqi limited passive cooperation, as opposed to saying, "Here's what we had. Here's how we got rid of it. Here's what we have now. We're turning it in. There are no more chemical rockets laying around for you to trip over or find. We are no longer asking the inspectors or expecting the inspectors to catch us by looking for a needle in the haystack. Here's the haystack. We're opening it up. There's the needle. Go verify it's the needle. Destroy it if you want. There's a blank spot where a needle used to be and here's what we did with the needle." And so that's what Iraq has to do -- assist in its disarmament -- if it wishes to find a peaceful solution.

And what we must not do, cannot do, for the safety of our people and for the safety of especially the region and for the credibility of the United Nations, is to essentially just let this dribble out and dribble down without a resolution. And so I believe we have some challenging days ahead. The United States remains firmly committed to the disarmament of Iraq, one way or the other, and we hope it can be achieved peacefully.

QUESTION: The French and the German leaders yesterday made sort of quite a big show of apparent unity. But if you -- but talking to people behind the scenes, it does appear as though the French at least seem -- and indeed, if you take their public remarks, seem a little bit more other than what you've described as people who want inspections just to go on and on.

That certainly seems to describe the German position, but it doesn't necessarily seem to describe the French position. And from what, you know, we've heard, it's possible, you know, that the French have left open the possibility that they would agree to something which would have a very firm, set, determinative deadline. Perhaps, you know, perhaps it can be as short as a month. They might prefer longer.

Is that something now -- I mean, is that what you -- is there room there for agreement between the United States and France, or a very firm, fixed deadline now after this next round of discussions?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well done, Gerry. (Laughter.) I will do many things today, but characterize the French position is not one of them.

But certainly, I've heard the same reports. I've had very direct conversations with Dominique earlier in the week, as you know, both privately as well as public exchanges. And France, I am sure, is examining all of this. They have made it clear that they believe more time is necessary, but they also say things like, "We can contain him." Containment is not the issue. The issue is disarmament. Contain him until what? Circumstances arrive in the future when he could pop out of containment? We did containment. And I didn't have any problem with containment. You know, that containment would eventually solve the problem. It hasn't. The problem is still there. So the issue is disarmament.

And I have yet to hear from any of my European colleagues as to when they would be satisfied with respect to inspections. And the trouble with this is the point I made earlier. The issue is not the inspectors. The issue is Iraq.

Iraq -- and let me remind you that we pressed to put that 30-day declaration in there. There was a big, big debate, as you'll recall. And it was a big debate within the administration as to whether or not we should try to sell this point. But we succeeded. And the real reason for that was to get an early indication of Iraqi behavior. And it was a disappointment and we saw it all in December when the declaration came in.

So that we wouldn't wait six months, eight months, nine months, to see if they were playing the same old game. We knew it when the declaration came in. We declared it a material breach. I did. The other nations did not declare it a material breach. And that's fine. That's their judgment to make. But not one of them, not one of the Security Council members or any other nation, with the exception of perhaps one or two that I might be able to think of, said that it was a full, accurate and complete declaration, as it was supposed to be.

And so that's the fundamental issue. If Iraq understood the seriousness of this and knew that the international community remained unified on this issue, then they would have responded to 1441 by saying, you know, there's no longer the expression, "Glad you asked." You know, "Glad you asked. Here it is." They could have come forward immediately with complete access. They could have come forward immediately with all the documentation. They would not have been hiding documents in scientists' homes and digging in back yards and moving things around, trying to play the same game on UNMOVIC that they played on UNSCOM.

And we have not seen that yet. And so the burden remains on Iraq. And the question is not how much time the inspectors should be given, but how much time should Iraq be given.

QUESTION: But if they said let's give them another 30 days --

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, yes, I can't hypothesize on that point. But I'll wait to see if that's what the French say. I haven't heard that from them.

The Germans, they made their decision before we even had a speech to the United Nations or 1441. And so, you know, they're consistent. And that's -- I can't comment on -- you know, I can't go off on the German angle that you presented me, Gerry, because they've made their decision long before the President even went to the UN.

The French, I will -- we'll see what they say after the Monday presentation, just as everybody will see what we say after the Monday presentation.

QUESTION: But if the -- the inspectors have already said they would like more time. And (inaudible) Bush at war, there's this comment from the President that he said at one point, maybe in two years time it'll just be us and the British in the coalition. If the inspectors do ask formally for more time, and clearly there are nations like France and Germany that support our position, would you be prepared to reduce the transatlantic alliance to just Britain in order to go ahead with military action?

SECRETARY POWELL: One, let's see what they actually do ask for. But it's not so much what they ask for. It's what they say to us Monday about the circumstances under which they're doing their work and how Iraq is behaving. That's what I'm interested in hearing.

The judgment as to whether they get more time or not is not for the inspectors to make, but for the Security Council to make. And that's the discussion and debate we'll be having.

I believe that the danger presented by this regime in the form of its weapons of mass destruction, the terrorism that it sponsors, the abuse of the human rights of its own people, its record of invading its neighbors and gassing its own people, the record of this regime is such, and the need for the international community's will to be followed in this instance, especially after 1441 at 15-0, require that we act if Iraq does not act.

And I'm confident that if there is agreement to act with a UN -- another resolution, if that comes to pass, I think it will be a strong coalition and it will be more than just the US and UK. And if the UN finds it impossible to act and it is a coalition of the willing, I'm fairly confident it will be more than the United States and the United Kingdom.

And we have been in touch with many countries around the world who see the problem in the same terms that we do, in the same terms that the resolution did, and I think they would be a significant coalition. I can't tell you everybody who might be in it.

But I don't view this in cataclysmic terms of breaking up the transatlantic relationship. There are a lot of things that keep this partnership, this relationship, together. This is a difficult issue. I am very familiar with the public opinion polls in all the countries of Europe, as well as here in the United States. It is better if this is solved by the international community. But the international community should recognize, everybody should recognize, that the person that is keeping it from being solved by the international community in a peaceful way is Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: What is -- the question in Europe is why the hurry. What is the outcome, as you see it, if we go the German-French route, if we give the inspectors several more months?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't tell what the outcome is. That's the point. They don't tell in their presentations what the outcome is. What will they -- what will we know in two or three months' time in the face of continued Iraqi non-cooperation, which you most likely will get, if they think they can just, you know, okay, it's two or three months' time. Isn't it time to suspend sanctions? Then another two or three months' time. And if you were merely chasing around the countryside looking for things, rather than assisting Iraq and verifying Iraqi disarmament. The United Nations and the resolution does not call for the inspectors to disarm Iraq. It calls for Iraq to disarm and for the inspectors to assist in that process. That's what I think is fundamentally different.

And so if there are those who suggest more time should be given, then let's hear what they're talking about. More time for what to happen? For the inspectors to do what? And what progress would you expect the inspectors to make in that period of time in the face of the kind of behavior and performance we've seen from Iraq so far?

MR. BOUCHER: We're going to have to wrap it up soon.


MR. BOUCHER: Do you guys want to ask the last one?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, if we go to war, it would be the biggest and most important war, I suppose, since -- certainly since 1991 with the US (inaudible) in terms of, you know, ground forces or however you measure it. You know, as President Chirac said the other day, war is, in a sense, a failure.

Do you think you have absolutely made the case, explained to the American people and to the people of the world, why war, which is always the last resort, why we have got to this point, to this result? Have you done that yet, explained to them why this war may be necessary?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think we have to do more. I think we have been making the case. Obviously, there is -- I can't deny that we have to do more, because I can see the reaction around the world. And the President will do more. We will all do more with the President. We've started to make that case, I think, more fully now, just not in anticipation of war but in doing a better job of educating, with the speech that Rich Armitage made on Tuesday, Paul Wolfowitz is speaking today, I'll say something in Davos on Sunday.

And so you will see us talking clearly and directly about this, not for the sake of getting ready for war, but for the sake of making sure everybody understands what the stakes are, what the risks are, and why this is an important issue for the safety of the region, for the betterment of the lives of the people of Iraq, and for the United Nations and the relevance of the United Nations.

This was not a trivial resolution and I will never forget those early days of debate right after the President's speech when I said to my colleagues in the Council, "Do not vote for a first resolution if you know that you will never vote for a second if it comes to you." Let's be straight as to what we are facing here. Let's make sure we have all signed up. It took seven weeks to go from that conversation I'm describing now to the end of a negotiations on the resolution. But let's be clear what we're signing up for. We're not signing up for inspections forever. We're not signing up for containment. We're not signing up for, you know, a permanent group of inspectors forever. We're signing up for the disarmament of Iraq.

And the whole thrust of the resolution is to give who one last chance? The inspectors? No. Give Iraq one last chance. And everybody knew what they were signing up for. And as I said at the UN earlier today, the road ahead may be very difficult, and will be very difficult militarily if it comes to this, and the President still hopes it does not come to this. It may difficult politically. It may be difficult with respect to, you know, how the publics react to it.

But things may change rather markedly once success comes, this threat is removed, and the Iraqi people face a better future. And so don't underestimate the effect that success might have. And if it is a military operation -- and I repeat, the President has not made that judgment. He is waiting until he hears on Monday and then he will be consulting broadly with his fellow heads of state and government.

As you know, Prime Minister Blair is here next Friday, and so there's a lot of consultation will take place and a lot of discussion. But should, at the end of the day, whenever that day approaches, comes, military action is required, it will be challenging. It will be controversial, no doubt. But we will be successful, and from that success new opportunities will arise.


QUESTION: Can I ask one question about North Korean proliferation?


QUESTION: How concerned are you by the evidence that continues to dribble out about Pakistan's role in this and the reports that we continue to get, or hear about, about Pakistan talking to people in Iran, in Indonesia, about further proliferation?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are concerned about all forms of proliferation, which is why we are taking the North Korean situation so seriously. We still think there's a diplomatic way to work our way through this. We don't need to abandon the diplomatic effort yet.

The connection between North Korea and Pakistan that you have been reading about in the papers and Pakistan and other countries is troubling. I've had many conversations with President Musharraf about this over the last year and a half or so and he fully understands that our position that these kinds of proliferating activities, if they do exist, it would be very troubling with respect to our relationship; and if they are in the past, make sure they remain in the past because it would be awfully difficult to justify or explain away any new evidence of that kind of activity. He fully understands our position on this.

QUESTION: You were saying, "If they are in the past."

SECRETARY POWELL: If they're in the past, they're in the past.

QUESTION: No, you said, "If they're in the past."


QUESTION: (Inaudible) if they are in the past?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm -- I think I was clear. I said, you know, if they are in the past, they're in the past. We have made it clear to them that this kind of activity in the present or in the future is what I said it was. But I can't -- I can't talk about -- I can't say anything about the past because it is the past, and I don't want to get into the issue of what may or may not have happened in the past for a variety of reasons.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks again.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good seeing you.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.


Released on January 23, 2003

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