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Interview on ABC's World News Tonight With Peter Jennings

Secretary Colin L. Powell
New York, New York
March 7, 2003

(Aired 6:40 p.m. EST)

MR. JENNINGS: So many people don't understand why you shouldn't let the inspections continue if they are accomplishing anything.

SECRETARY POWELL: When you see how Iraq has avoided answering these questions for year after year after year, you don't come away with a great deal of confidence that, in the absence of a strategic change on his part, that the inspectors will ever get to the bottom of it all.

MR. JENNINGS: Most people think they're doing a reasonably effective job at the moment.

SECRETARY POWELL: I think they are doing a reasonably effective job in light of what they are able to do, and they are only able to do what the Iraqis are really allowing them to do. And Iraq is clearly still bugging the rooms in which people are being interviewed. We're quite confident they're still moving things around the countryside. We are not --

MR. JENNINGS: The inspectors didn't agree with you on that this morning.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, they didn't agree, but I think I have better information than the inspectors. I think I have more assets available to me than the inspectors do.

MR. JENNINGS: But if you have better assets available to you than the inspectors, why don't you tell the inspectors what's going on so that they can catch the Iraqis in the process?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are giving them as much as we can that is actionable, that really can cue them to something.

MR. JENNINGS: Mr. Secretary, many people think that your dismissal again today of the inspection process is because your administration keeps moving the goal posts, that it is not just about disarming Saddam Hussein; it is, as the President said, about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. So the Security Council is left in the position of either agreeing with you completely, or else.

SECRETARY POWELL: If our sole goal was to get rid of Saddam and we didn't care about weapons of mass destruction and we didn't care about the views of the Security Council, the President could have done that any time in the past year. But the issue that he brought to the Security Council last September was the issue of weapons of mass destruction and how to get rid of them, and he challenged the Security Council to make Saddam Hussein live up to the commitments and the obligations he had as a result of all the previous resolutions.

MR. JENNINGS: Do you, in retrospect, think it was a mistake to support the inspections? I think it was Vice President Cheney who said in August that these renewed inspections were a trap.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't think it was a mistake. I think it was an essential part of determining whether or not Saddam Hussein was serious.

MR. JENNINGS: March the 17th. Is this the magic date, or are we actually talking about ten days, or possibly more, from the time this UN British resolution is tabled?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's ten days from today. It seemed like a reasonable period of time to put forward this proposition to the Security Council and to the world, and see whether or not there is a way to avoid a solution by force of arms and is there a way to find a peaceful solution. But we had to draw a line. This just can't continue this way.

MR. JENNINGS: Just to be clear, are we talking about absolute compliance here, or are we talking about cooperation?

SECRETARY POWELL: We did not say that we would expect them to turn in everything on the 17th. That would be a bit much. But I think the language is clear as to the kind of performance we are expecting to see.

MR. JENNINGS: Thank you. Secretary of State Colin Powell. There will be more of this conversation with him later this evening on 20/20.

Released on March 7, 2003

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