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Interview on ABC's 20/20 With Peter Jennings

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

(Aired 10:05 p.m. EST)

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

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, they are accomplishing some things, but they're fairly minor. 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, trying to restrict who is being interviewed, not producing as many people to be interviewed as they should.

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. And this isn't being critical of the inspectors. The inspectors are not an intelligence agency, they're not an intelligence system.

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. A lot of what we have is not actionable; you can't cue to a particular location. But it tells us what the Iraqis are trying to do, how they are trying to deceive, to distract, to pull them in different directions, and to keep them from getting away, keeping them away from the real weapons of mass destruction programs that they have.

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 says, 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.

It isn't brain surgery, Peter. If they really wanted to answer all of the outstanding questions that have been there for years, bring forward all the documentation. Don't bring forth false documents and then force the inspectors to realize they're false and go back and ask for more. Bring out all of the old bombs that you have hidden away. Account for all of these things. They are master bureaucrats. They are master recorders. They have been recording things for the last 5,000 years. They know where this material is. They have records.

MR. JENNINGS: But speaking respectfully, I hope, you don't speak to the other point, which is getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Your best ally in this, the British Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary have said they're not interested in changing the regime, they're interested in disarming. That's the difference between the British and the Bush Administration.

SECRETARY POWELL: The previous American administration, President Clinton and his colleagues in that administration, also had a similar policy of regime change, which was adopted in 1998 and, frankly, was also endorsed by the United States Congress at that time. And the reason that policy was adopted because it was thought that's the only way you're going to be able to get disarmament, because this regime will not do it on its own, it will never change its spots, so to speak. And so regime change became American policy.

We inherited it, looked at it, and said this is still sensible. But we have no illusions about the nature of this regime or the nature of its leader, Saddam Hussein. And do we believe that the Iraqi people would be better off with a different leader? Do we believe the region would be better off without a Saddam Hussein? Sure we do. But our principal objective, and the reason we brought it to the UN, was to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. We never brought regime change into the UN.

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: No, there's no magic about March 17th, but, clearly, time is running out. It's ten days from today. It seemed like a reasonable period of time to put forward this proposition to the Security Council, 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 ad nauseum and ad infinitum. Sooner or later, it had to be drawn to a close, and this is one way to bring the Council to this moment of determining whether or not they have had their last chance and it is time now to inflict the serious consequences called for by 1441.

MR. JENNINGS: So, in some respects, it is a magic day.

SECRETARY POWELL: It's the date when, if this resolution is subsequently passed by the Security Council, it's the date when one would say that on that date they have forfeited their last opportunity to find a peaceful solution unless they have done all of the very tough elements in the second part of that paragraph with respect to complying and cooperating with the inspectors.

MR. JENNINGS: Just to be clear, are we talking about absolute compliance here, or are we talking about cooperation? If, by the 17th of March, the inspectors say to you the Iraqis are cooperating with us in a full and open way, is that not enough?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's a judgment for the Council to make, not the inspectors. The inspectors have a role to play. It is a judgment for the Council to make. And 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: Can you put on your general's hat for a moment? There are a slew of U.S. officers, both active and unactive, who are very uneasy about this war. Why is that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I also know a large number of general officers who are active and who are planning this war, and they were mentees of mine along the way, and I think that the planning they have done, the work they have done, has been excellent. And a campaign plan has been put together that, if the President has to use military force, there will be a campaign plan that will minimize the loss of life, will achieve the military purpose and the political purpose, and will, I hope, create conditions for a better government to rise up in Iraq.

Initially, an American general will be in charge, but as soon as possible, we will want to transition to civilian authority of one kind or another, and we're working that out, and ultimately give this country to responsible Iraqi leaders who will stop wasting the oil treasure that Iraq has on weapons of mass destruction, will make a commitment to get rid of all their weapons of mass destruction, but, above all, will live in peace with their neighbors. And at that time, the United States presence will recede, as it always has in the past. We'll be going about our business.

MR. JENNINGS: Respectfully, not the whole answer. You, yourself, were said to be uneasy about war at the outset, and, in fact, if you look at the Powell Doctrine, where is the exit strategy?

SECRETARY POWELL: There is no exit strategy in the Powell Doctrine, although I am always trying to find out how you bring a war to a conclusion and what happens next.

My philosophy has always been there should be a clear political purpose for the use of military force. I am a reluctant warrior. I have been named that. I've been called a dove. I've been called lots of other things. Guilty. I don't like war. I hate war. I've been in war, lost friends in war, sent men and women to their death in war. So war should be avoided.

But when it cannot be avoided, when the force of arms has to be used, then use it well, use it wisely, use it in a decisive manner to achieve your objective. And I find nothing inconsistent in that continuum of my thought.

And I've worked with the President and my other colleagues in the administration for a long time, trying to see if we could find a peaceful solution to this. That's why we have 1441. And 1441 is still there, and now we are giving Saddam Hussein one last chance with this modification to the resolution that is before the Council, to see whether or not it was possible to find a peaceful solution. But time, definitely, is running out.

Released on March 7, 2003

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