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Interview on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
March 16, 2003

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks once again for joining us on this

SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Wolf.

MR. BLITZER: -- potentially historic day and I will ask you the question everybody wants to know. Is it all over?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. The leaders will be meeting in the Azores today and they are going to review where we are diplomatically. Remember that it was President Bush, President Aznar and Prime Minister Blair that co-sponsored the resolution that is before the Council. It was giving Saddam Hussein one last chance. It was giving the Council one last chance to apply its will. And they will review where we are and we'll wait to see what the leaders say when their meeting is concluded.

MR. BLITZER: What does Saddam Hussein -- what can he do even at this late moment, to avert a war?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's hard to imagine, Wolf, because he has had 12 years' worth of opportunities to avert the situation that he now finds himself in. He violated every one of the UN resolutions that was put before him. He constantly said he had told the world everything there was to know about his weapons of mass destruction, yet even as recently as yesterday he's coming forward with new documents, documents that should have come forward in 1991 and anytime over the last 12 years.

He is playing a game at this point, and what we see, what the leaders in the Azores see is a continuing pattern of noncompliance and non-cooperation. And I think the curtain's coming down. We can't continue to go like this. And it's unfortunate that there are members of the Council who say, just give it more time, give it more time; and, the inspections are working. But what's really working is force. Force is slowly causing him to do some things, but he's not doing them because he has changed his basic political strategy.

MR. BLITZER: The French President Jacques Chirac tells our Christianne Amanpour that perhaps another 30 days could resolve this matter.

SECRETARY POWELL: The French have said they will veto anything that leads to the use of force. But without the potential use of force, Saddam Hussein is playing a game with the international community, so I don't know what this new proposal is all about.

There is another proposal which I'm working on today with the Foreign Minister of Spain and the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom that came out of Germany, Russia and France yesterday calling for a meeting of ministers again this week --

MR. BLITZER: Tuesday.

SECRETARY POWELL: -- to discuss the situation. Well, it's not quite clear when it's going to be or when it's supposed to be. It's up to the Presidency of the Security Council to decide when the meeting will take place if one takes place. But there are all of these different initiatives around.

Unfortunately, with the French initiative, it's always accompanied by, "We'll veto anything that might lead to the use of force." But everybody understood when 1441 was passed that 1441 included serious consequences in the presence of continued noncompliance. And those serious consequences included the use of force. And there was no doubt about it at the time, 1441 passed by 15-0 and provides an international basis in law for the use of force, should that become necessary.

MR. BLITZER: Am I hearing you correctly? You're open to this French-German-Russian proposal for a foreign ministers' meeting in the coming days?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm reading it. I just received it. And that's one of the reasons I'm in close touch with my British and Spanish colleagues; and he's in London, Foreign Secretary Straw, and Foreign Minister Palacio, she's in Madrid, and we've been talking already this morning with each other. We'll look at it, but I don't see anything here that fundamentally changes the situation. And the situation is that, I think, diplomacy has got to be looked at very carefully to see whether or not it's run its course. That's what the leaders will be doing in the Azores this afternoon. And we'll see what the Council wishes to do with this latest proposal for just another meeting. Another meeting to do what? To look at the fact that Iraq has tossed out a few more nuggets because of the pressure that it's under, the military pressure it's under.

But I mean can anybody honestly believe that if it wasn't for the military force that has been assembled and the clear statement that President Bush and others have given, that military force will be used, can anybody believe that Iraq would be cooperating in the slightest? What we are seeing is process cooperation. What we are seeing is little nuggets thrown out --

MR. BLITZER: But destroy --

SECRETARY POWELL: -- to feed the international community.

MR. BLITZER: But destroying more than 60 al-Samoud 2 missiles and many of their warheads, those are not nuggets; those are weapons that could kill a lot of U.S. troops.

SECRETARY POWELL: Right. And there are a lot more and the capacity to build even more remains in place. And remember, they were the ones who were saying; we weren't going to destroy this. Do you think they would even think about destroying them if it wasn't for the fact that they were threatened with the use of force? Do you think they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart because the inspectors asked them to or because the French or others asked them to?

MR. BLITZER: Well, why not just keep the pressure on? Keep the troops there. Keep the threat going and continue to let the inspectors destroy weapons?

SECRETARY POWELL: Because we know you can't keep troops there forever and right now, without a strategic decision on the part of Saddam Hussein to comply, I'm as sure as of anything that I've ever been sure of, if the pressure comes off, he will go back to his old pattern of behavior if we don't see a fundamental change, and we haven't seen that fundamental change.

MR. BLITZER: You saw General Peter Pace's comment, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff quoted in The Washington Post this week that if you wait another 30 days it's not going to seriously increase the amount of U.S. military casualties if there's a war. That's what he told military officials at the Pentagon.

SECRETARY POWELL: There's been a lot of speculation -- ill-founded speculation -- about the effect of weather. This operation is not dependent on weather patterns or whether it gets too hot to operate. There are ways to operate in hot weather and we know how to do that. I think what General Pace was saying was not give it more time; he was just answering questions that constantly come up about whether or not there is a weather deadline that has to be met.

MR. BLITZER: So you could theoretically wait another 30 days militarily and not have an adverse effect.

SECRETARY POWELL: This military operation is not being judged on the temperature. It's being judged on whether or not the diplomatic course has ended, whether there is no point in allowing the diplomatic course to continue because we still see Saddam Hussein not complying. And let's remember where the burden belongs. It belongs on Saddam Hussein for 12 years of misbehavior, 12 years of failure to comply with the will of the international community.

Twelve years. We have waited a long time. Four months since 1441 was passed. Six plus months since the President gave his speech in the UN. We have seen what Iraq is all about and it is time to make a judgment as to whether there is anymore room for diplomatic efforts or not, and that's what our leaders are doing in the Azores today.

MR. BLITZER: But what I hear you saying is there's a little room, at least a tiny little room --

SECRETARY POWELL: That is what the leaders are discussing this afternoon: how much more time, if any, should be allowed for diplomatic efforts?

MR. BLITZER: I want you to listen precisely to what the President said at his news conference at the White House on March 7th.

PRESIDENT BUSH: "And yes, we'll call for a vote. No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council."

MR. BLITZER: Is that statement still operative?

SECRETARY POWELL: They are discussing this afternoon how to handle this diplomatic situation. A lot of them have stood up to be counted. We know what the French are going to do. They are going to veto anything. They said they would veto the resolution that was put forward. And we tried to find some flexibility last week, the British put forward another resolution, the French immediately said they would veto it just before Iraq said they dismissed it. And so the three leaders meeting today with the fourth leader the Portuguese Prime Minister, who is hosting the meeting also present, they will discuss all of these issues and we will see what judgment comes out of that meeting.

MR. BLITZER: But effectively, have you given up -- forget about the French veto -- have you effectively given up trying to get nine affirmative votes among the 15 members of the Security Council?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't want to rule out any option that might be available to us right now because this is what the leaders are discussing in the Azores this afternoon.

MR. BLITZER: So is it still possible there might yet be another UN Security Council vote?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is one of the options that is available. And all of the options are still available to the President and to the other leaders who are meeting with the President right now in the Azores.

MR. BLITZER: How angry are you at the French Government?

SECRETARY POWELL: Anger, I can't use anger as a useful emotion in my business. I'm very disappointed that France has played, frankly, a somewhat unhelpful role in keeping the pressure on Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein could always see that there was at least one nation, there were others, as well, who were signaling veto of anything that might put maximum force on him. And unfortunately, it's a continuing pattern from 1998 with the French when they also abstained on the resolution that set up the previous inspection regime, or the inspection regime now under resolution 1284. They worked on it for seven months and still abstained. So they have not played, in my judgment, a very helpful role.

MR. BLITZER: Is it still possible that Saddam Hussein and some of his top lieutenants, his two sons, for example, might yet willingly agree to leave, go into exile and avert a war?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think if Saddam Hussein and some of the other individuals around him were to leave that certainly would open up the possibility of a peaceful solution, as long as we made sure that the top leadership, those who might be committed to weapons of mass destruction and oppression of their people were moving out and a new leadership was coming in and outside leaders could come in -- outside Iraqi leaders -- and a new leadership arise from the people of Iraq that would stop wasting the treasure of Iraq on weapons of mass destruction and threatening its neighbors and start to build a responsible nation living in peace with its neighbors, yes, that would be good and the United States is more than willing to help in that effort as are many other nations.

MR. BLITZER: And would you forget about seeking them for war crimes tribunals?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that's a question that has to remain open because some of them are guilty of the most heinous crimes against their own people and so I can't just, well, wipe that away, but at the same time, if they were to leave, that would open up possibilities and I would not want to close down any of those possibilities if it was possible to use that kind of action to prevent a war.

MR. BLITZER: But you understand that if they leave and they are going to be searched, they don't get the amnesty, then there may be a disincentive?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, I think we can worry about if they would leave. I think the other incentive for them to leave is that they are going to be removed if they don't leave.

MR. BLITZER: Any purpose as the Iraqi Government is proposing for Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei to go back to Baghdad in the coming days for one last effort?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know what purpose that would serve. They have been there several times. They put questions before the Iraqis. Sometimes they get answers, sometimes they don't. Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei will be providing another report this week. Dr. Blix will be presenting a statement of key, unresolved disarmament tasks, as he calls them. What makes them unique is that they are not really new. They have been there for years. These are unresolved issues that the Iraqis could have resolved any time over the past five, ten, twelve years; and they have not. That's the problem. The basic problem is lack of compliance and cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. And the responsibility for this crisis rests on Saddam Hussein, and not the Security Council and not the United States, but on Saddam Hussein for his unwillingness to comply with his international obligations, essentially sticking his nose out, thumbing his nose at the world. He is the one responsible and we ought to not forget that on this anniversary of the Halabja Massacre where he used chemical weapons against his own people.

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, is it time for the UN inspectors, the international humanitarian aid workers and journalists to leave Baghdad?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it is a very dangerous time in Baghdad. I think it's been dangerous for some time, not only for action that might be forthcoming but I think there is a risk that Saddam Hussein might take action against them to retain them or to keep them as hostages, so I think it's a dangerous time in Baghdad, and each person in Baghdad, whether a newsperson, an inspector or in some other capacity has to take a look at whether or not it is not time to leave. It's a judgment each of them will have to make, not just from the threat of potential military action, but from the threat of Saddam Hussein taking them as hostages.

MR. BLITZER: And what is -- but what is your personal advice to these people?

SECRETARY POWELL: My personal advice is they ought to take a hard look at the situation they are in and it would be probably better for them to start leaving or making plans to leave.

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.

Released on March 16, 2003

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