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Interview by L.A. Times Washington Bureau Journalists

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
April 9, 2003

(2:00 p.m. EST)

SECRETARY POWELL: All right, your nickel.

QUESTION: Thank you for having us. I want to make it easy and start by asking what's the definition -- there are going to be a lot of pieces written here on out saying things like now comes the hard part in Iraq. What's your definition of success? A year from now, will we need a complete, recognizable democracy and all American troops out? Is that a success a year from now?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't -- I can't put a calendar date on success, but the President made it clear from the very beginning what we wanted, if we had to go down this route and use military force, and that was: one, a nation that is freed of weapons of mass destruction; a nation that has a representative form of government, that is living in peace with its neighbors; no longer using its own population; using the wealth of Iraq for the people of Iraq; a nation that is still one nation, hasn't splintered into different parts.

That's a difficult task, but this campaign was also a difficult task, even though it's only been three weeks and there is a lot of euphoria right now. But this campaign isn't over. Operation Iraqi Freedom is not over. There are still some difficult days ahead, as both the Vice President and Mr. Rumsfeld have said.

But the goals remain the same and success will be measured against those goals, and I think we are well on our way towards those goals. The military part will continue, but obviously today was a rather historic day, as Don said. And there are the people of Baghdad, which everybody has been, you know, saying, would that ever happen? There they are. And I'm sure someone will -- never mind. Nevertheless, there they are.

QUESTION: Go ahead, go ahead.

SECRETARY POWELL: Somebody will try to discount what you're seeing with your eyes. But there they are. And they are showing a sign of relief about the end of this regime and expressing it in many ways, including joy. It doesn't mean that there are not some who will continue to put up resistance and it doesn't mean that it will be this way a week, two weeks, a month from now. There's a lot of work to be done and so we don't want to get carried away by today. There's a lot of humanitarian work that has to be done. We know what has to be done.

We have got to reconstruct -- help them reconstruct their society, not because of this campaign but because of the destruction of this regime for the last several decades. And we understand what that's going to take. So we are going to be patient and prosecute this with the same care that we have prosecuted it so far.

QUESTION: A year from now, or a year from the end of organized resistance, do you expect American troops will still be in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't answer that question. We will not stay a day longer than we have to. There is no desire on our part for there to be a long-term American presence in Iraq. We want to turn Iraq over to the Iraqi people. But we want to give the people of Iraq a government that they can trust and a government that will do all the things that I said a moment ago, and I won't repeat. But I will repeat it because it's pretty good. Representative, live in peace, not have weapons of mass destruction.

And I'll add another element, and that will be an example to the region and to the rest of the world. One rogue state gone. One place that was a source of tension and instability no longer a place of tension and instability. And that's what our goal is and we'll stay as long as is necessary to accomplish that goal.

But I think it would be unwise to say how long troops will be there for because I don't know.

QUESTION: Can we look at the next phase, the next immediate step, and that's interim government? Who picks the delegates? How long a process is this? And what role is there for the rest of the international community in the political process -- not the humanitarian and reconstruction issues?

SECRETARY POWELL: With respect to -- it's the beginning of a process, and Ambassador Khalilzad will be heading off in the next few days to get to work on it, and he'll have others helping him, representatives from both departments. On my side it's Ambassador Ryan Crocker who will be going along with him, an Arabist who knows the region and who will be, I think, an enormous help.

Zal has considerable experience in this kind of work and we saved Zal to go to do this kind of work. He's remarkable at it. And what he will do is, working with the coalition commander, General Franks, who has responsibility for the country now that the regime is losing control, and we will work to find representatives of the different groups. And we'll start it on a regional basis, as I think you heard in the course of the morning, and we'll start it in the region that we have the greatest control over and the part of the country where people have now the greatest freedom to speak up and stand up.

Who the delegates will be, I can't answer that yet because we don't know yet. That's what Zal will be working on and parts of General Franks' team, and I'm sure that General Garner will also be playing a role in this.

QUESTION: What about the role for the rest of the world? And when you look at the interim authority, what kind of balance do you want between those inside the country and those amongst the exiled opposition members?

SECRETARY POWELL: Let me start -- finish the answer on the first question for a second. The international community will have a role to play. The President, in his statement in Northern Ireland yesterday made the point that the UN has a vital role to play, as did Prime Minister Blair, and even suggested humanitarian aid and the like, and also offering ideas and perhaps names of people who should be included.

But as you have heard us all say, we believe that the coalition, having invested this political capital and life and treasure into this enterprise, we are going to have a leading role for some time as we shape this process. And I think the people of Iraq will have confidence in us because of who we are and what we have done. And now that they're seeing our young soldiers actually in their country and working, they realize we've come to help them, not to hurt them.

And so we will have a leading role, but we're not unmindful of the contribution that can be made by the international community for reconstruction, for humanitarian aid, and because ultimately if we're going to have the kind of government that I described earlier, it has to have international endorsement. And as we start to work with the UN, the new personal advisor to Secretary General Annan, Mr. Ahmed, as we start to work with Rafee Ahmed, we will share ideas, listen to them. And we've already started work, as you know, on what UN resolutions will be required. Maybe more than one.

As you look at the complexity of this problem, you know, I have to take a deep breath when I think about going to New York and trying to get it all in one bite. So it may be a number of resolutions. And one of the earlier resolutions, it seems to me, would be to give an endorsement of some kind to an authority, an interim authority representing the Iraqi people. It's been a hallmark of our policy and it's been something the President has drilled into everybody who talks to him about this early on, is that while we are in the country as a liberation force, you know, military, we very early on want the people to see that there is an Iraqi political process that is going to be raised up.

Now, your question, Robin, as to what will the balance be between outsiders and insiders, and how many will there be and how many Kurds and how many Sunnis and how many Shias -- all these are superb questions, but we don't have the answers yet because, ultimately, this will be determined by the Iraqis.

QUESTION: Okay, let me go back to the international element. The French, the Germans and the Russians are meeting this weekend.


QUESTION: And all of them have said in very distinct ways that they foresee -- that they believe the United Nations should have the central role, not just a vital role.

SECRETARY POWELL: They can't -- I've been with them. We spent an enormous amount of time last Thursday -- in fact, it was quite a day -- and I spoke to each and every one of the countries mentioned and some 17 or 18 others, and the word "central" kept coming up. And they couldn't tell me exactly what it is they meant by a "central" role, particularly when it is the Secretary General who has said that the Secretary General does not see that the UN is going to be the one to essentially take over this whole process, and, right now, his mandate is for humanitarian aid and other matters like humanitarian aid -- the WFP and UNICEF and all those other agencies. And so some of my colleagues prefer to use the word "central" but I'm not quite sure what that means. They just say "central" and then they go on to their next meeting.

We believe that the UN has a vital role to play, and that was a very carefully chosen word, very carefully chosen. It means the UN is very important to the process. We need an endorsement of the authority, an endorsement of what we're doing, in order to begin selling oil in due course, in order to make sure that the humanitarian supplies continue to flow through the Oil-for-Food program, which is why we got the last resolution passed, 1472, on the Oil-for-Food program extension.

And so there is a vital role for the UN to play, but the suggestion that some of my colleagues would give that now that the coalition has done all of this and liberated Iraq, thank you very much, step aside and the Security Council is now going to become responsible for everything is incorrect. And they know it and they were told it.

QUESTION: And you don't foresee --

SECRETARY POWELL: And they're all in St. Petersburg because Chancellor Schroeder is receiving an honorary degree from the University of St. Petersburg, and I am delighted that they all wish to share the moment with him.

QUESTION: And you don't foresee another confrontation at the Security Council over that issue of a UN mandate for Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Of course there will be a debate at the Security Council. Different points of view will be brought in and we'll have discussions, we'll have debates. I think most of the debate this time, because it's a different situation, most of the discussion and debate will take place at a high level between ministers, and then ultimately we'll hammer it out at the Security Council.

Most of 1441 was not done so much at the Council as it was done between heads of state and foreign ministers.

QUESTION: -- President Chirac said he would never vote for a resolution that would legitimize military action --

SECRETARY POWELL: We don't need legitimacy.

QUESTION: Have the French told you that they are ready to support a resolution to endorse the IIA?

SECRETARY POWELL: I haven't asked them to support anything because there is not a resolution that we have put before the Council. And we have never asked President Chirac or anyone else to provide legitimacy for Operation Iraqi Freedom because they already did in 678, 687 and 1441. People can argue that fact, but I would enjoin you to read the best international legal advice there is, and you'll see we had more than adequate legal authority, even in the absence of a second resolution, which many of our European friends said they needed to have. We didn't. We thought 1441 was enough. We went for the second resolution for them, did not get it because we had to pull it down because of French threat of veto, which kept us from being able to move forward.

And even under that circumstance, all of them -- France, Italy, Australia and Prime Minister Blair -- went to their parliaments and got approval because we had made the attempt for the second resolution. So we didn't get it, but it was not a diplomatic failure. We essentially got what we needed.

QUESTION: What's the right structure or the right authority to provide peacekeeping troops and then policing troops in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, a number of countries have already offered to send troops there. In fact, I think today being offloaded is a Spanish hospital and Spanish-provided bulk water and food and other things. And other nations have actually started to come in and say we're going to provide peacekeeping forces, constabulary forces, stability forces. Different names.

I can't answer your specific question because it's so situational. What is it we're going to need? What will General Franks need and General Garner? And what will the Iraqi interim authority need as we go forward? And all of that is analysis that will have to be done.

I am pleased that countries are stepping forward and I'm also pleased that in my meetings at NATO last week we discussed this specific issue, and in considerable depth, at the EU lunch, first, and then again in the North Atlantic Council meeting. And in the North Atlantic Council meeting, of the 19 NATO members, when this was discussed and touched on by a number of individuals, there was no single member spoke out against a NATO role, in principle. It doesn't mean there will be a NATO role. A lot depends on what we decide is needed and what is NATO willing to do in that instance when they would know what the request might be. But I found it most interesting, "Voila!" that not one of the 19 members of the Council said, "No, we don't see a role for NATO."

QUESTION: But when you think of a NATO role, it sounds like you're thinking of a vital role rather than a central role.

SECRETARY POWELL: Oh, well -- important, vital, major -- not central.

QUESTION: I'm not sure it's going to be serious.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, serious, I --

QUESTION: You're not --

SECRETARY POWELL: No, we're not --

QUESTION: Are you thinking that it would be appropriate, in effect, for CENTCOM to report to NATO?


QUESTION: -- on policing and peacekeeping at some point?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I can't envision that. I see CENTCOM, and I think I've been through this with most of you fellows, certainly, and the ladies present. CENTCOM having a major role initially. There's no other way to do this. The military commander has to have full authority. Who can you turn it over to right now? You have to stabilize the situation, secure the country, disarm the army, search for the weapons of mass destruction and start to take care of the people. You need military authority for that, and that's what's going on.

But then, start to raise up an interim authority, start to involve international organizations, bring in General Garner's group to begin putting a civilian face on this to work with the ministries of the former Iraqi Government, cleaning out those who cannot be part of a future Iraq, and determining -- you know, and there are lots of people running around the streets cheering right now who want to be part of that future Iraq. So we'll find people who will take their country in the direction that we think that country ought to go.

And so this will be a phased, sequential thing. I can't tell you how long the phases are or when one sequence blends into the next sequence, but conceptually I think we've done a pretty good job of thinking it through.

QUESTION: But you have a vacuum that's developed in the south and increasingly in Baghdad, and there's an enormous amount of pressure not to allow the looting and a kind of political chaos to develop. How soon would you like to see an interim authority, a Baghdad conference, or your regional conference? I mean, in general terms.


QUESTION: But you've already waited a whole month.

SECRETARY POWELL: It's -- look, if you were to have a conference tomorrow and you stood up an interim authority, what authority would it have to exercise over institutions that have been broken? I mean, the Ba'ath Party's been shattered. And so, in this first instance, it's going to be the responsibility of General Franks, working with military organizations, civil affairs military organizations, with humanitarian organizations. I've got my AID DART teams all over the place now. We've got tons of food, thousands of metric tons of food flowing out of Turkey as a result of the visit that we had there last Wednesday, whenever it was.

And so there are lots of assets that are going to be available to General Garner in this immediate aftermath of the collapse of the civil administration to start to rebuild things. For example, you know, some of our colonels argue that this is the time you just turn your soldier loose. They are starting to identify who in a community, in a neighborhood of a community, are the leaders, and traditionally have been leaders for long, long periods of time. And whom do people look to? They look to tribal leaders, they look to religious leaders, and you start to build on that.

Tommy Franks briefed us this morning in the update to the President and he was discussing this, saying that you're seeing this civil disorder, but we'll get our hands on it. For example, in the early days of the operation last week when they first got to Basra, the truck pulls in, there's food in the back of the truck, there's water in the back of the truck and three start throwing off. This isn't distribution. This is chaos. We understand that.

So a huge truck convoy came into one of the cities yesterday and it was not distributed. They didn't stop in the middle of the Town Square and start throwing out MREs and water. Humanitarian aid and distribution of food is not GIs handing candy bars to kids. So they have brought all of that subsistence, all of that food and water, to a central location and in this town, you know, city, and it's all sitting there waiting to see who's in need, who says they are in need and what distribution system, either through mosques or community leaders or others who are important people in the community and are recognized, who are the natural leaders within the community, and how do we start distributing it in a sensible way through them.

QUESTION: But you suggested just now that the colonels are actually going to play a leading role in identifying the local leaders.

SECRETARY POWELL: The colonels are the ones who are in charge right now. But that's why -- I've said, you know, I didn't mean Tommy Franks was going to be there. Tommy Franks and Central Command, which goes down to these wonderful young leaders.

MR. BOUCHER: People on the ground.

SECRETARY POWELL: People on the ground. The people on the ground who are part of Central Command are going to have responsibilities initially. And all the stories you see coming out now are of some lieutenant colonel or colonel or captain, and the story that we are sort of fluttering on was the colonel shooting -- pointing their guns in the ground and showing respect for the mosque and for the leader, the sheikh at that mosque. And people say, "Ah-ha, these guys, these guys are not threatening us. They come to help us."

And so through that kind of interaction, you identify who the natural leaders are. And if they are old Ba'ath Party members looking to get back in, you start to build on that. And so yes, there will be chaos, there will be confusion, there will be celebrations, there will be disorder for a while. And we have to be on the lookout for reprisals or for any sort of internecine warfare to begin. That's something we would have to be involved in. Once you undertake an operation like this, we've known from the very beginning, you assume responsibility for the area that you are liberating.

QUESTION: So Zal has this conference, and Ryan, preside over this conference on Saturday at 12 o'clock.

SECRETARY POWELL: I didn't say a date. You did. I didn't.

QUESTION: Well, that's what I gathered. Anyway, and then do we --

SECRETARY POWELL: That gets, well --

MR. BOUCHER: I say today it wasn't set.

SECRETARY POWELL: It's not Saturday.

QUESTION: Well, I've been told that it was --

SECRETARY POWELL: Okay. Well, write what you believe, Robin. We're trying to help you.

QUESTION: Okay, okay, okay. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY POWELL: But you would be wrong. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You mean it's slipping already?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. I didn't say -- I never said it was Saturday. You guys are shameless. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So how --

SECRETARY POWELL: Is anybody else going to -- are you guys going to get a question or is it Robin's filibustering again? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Just let me --

SECRETARY POWELL: Go ahead, Robin.

QUESTION: I want to understand this process. How quickly we can hold a lot of regional meetings to pull this process together --

SECRETARY POWELL: You can be sure there is a sense of urgency to this.

QUESTION: I mean, you've got to have a goal, from the -- either from the moment --

SECRETARY POWELL: You know the goal. What you're looking for is for me to give you a time and how long it will take. And I can't do that and I won't do that because I don't know.

QUESTION: Weeks? Months? Years?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, it's not going to take years. But now that we've narrowed it, Robin, you want me to give in?


SECRETARY POWELL: No, we won't play that game. It's going to take time. I mean, the place -- the battle is -- the campaign is not over. We have liberated what; half a dozen cities you can actually say have been liberated? There are other cities that are fully under the control of this now dying, or soon to die, or dead regime. Characterize it any which way you want.

So it will take time for the campaign to proceed, and as both Don said the Vice President said in his speech today, this is not over. And as it ends and as security is created, as security is provided in a particular place -- not just security in a sense that the bad guys are gone and the good guy is there, but the people now believe that they are secure and are willing to step forward and come out and participate and work with us.

That's how this will pace itself, and not against an arbitrary timeline like, by the end of April this has to be done and by the end of May this has to be done.

But I would say that it's not going to be a matter of years. It's going to be -- we're going to approach this with determination, with a sense of urgency, but not with a sense of impatience.

QUESTION: Let's do a quick round for the rest of us and then we'll bring it back to you, Robin.

How would you describe your relationship with Secretary Rumsfeld now? And I know you two meet a lot in principals meetings. Do you meet one-on-one? Have you had a one-on-one meeting?

SECRETARY POWELL: I talk to Don constantly. We see each other all the time. We get along fine. Are there disagreements and debates from time to time? Of course there are. I mean, I've never been in an administration where there wasn't. But we resolve them as two people who are serving one people and one President. And I just don't want to -- you keep feeding these, these often quite silly stories.

QUESTION: North Korea.


QUESTION: Could you talk to us a little bit less diplomatically than usual about it? At the Security Council today, the Russians and Chinese coming in and saying you shouldn't even be at the Security Council. There's been a lot of talk that's (inaudible) with China. Are you getting anywhere, and can you tell us where you're getting?

SECRETARY POWELL: It had to be discussed at the Security Council, and that all -- that is all that has taken place today: discussion with some commentary. IAEA referred it to the Security Council and said the time had arrived when something should be said about it, and that's being said.

With respect to North Korea itself, we're watching it closely. We continue to pursue diplomatic efforts. And yes, I think we're getting somewhere.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what you're getting?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. Our position is clear. We want to enter into a multilateral dialogue with North Korea and with other interested nations.

QUESTION: We know our position that they still think --

SECRETARY POWELL: And we don't think -- and notwithstanding all of the commentary and criticism that has been leveled at the administration, I am more persuaded today than I when we started that our position is the correct one, it's the reasonable one.

This is a matter that affects more than just the United States. It is South Korea, Japan and China who are put at greatest risk by North Korean nuclear developments. It is South Korea that has an agreement with North Korea for no nuclear developments on the peninsula. It is China who has a solid, strong policy that they wish no nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Japan feels the same way. So do we. So does Russia.

So therefore, Mr. Multilateral wishes to deal with this in a multilateral setting, and the North Koreans understand this and we are making sure that there is no confusion on their part. And we are working closely with our friends and allies in the region who have a like mind on this matter.

And there are those who are saying, "Well, forget all of that -- we're so concerned about North Korea and this situation." We're concerned about North Korea. But we're so concerned about it that you should simply go into a discussion with them on a bilateral basis right away because we are so concerned about what they might be doing.

We're watching very carefully what they've been doing. We have been in fairly regular contact with them through a number of channels and through our direct channel -- you're both familiar -- you're all familiar with New York -- and they know our views and I -- we're going to stick with our policy.

QUESTION: A question from your past life.


QUESTION: Were you surprised at the poor performance of the Iraqi military in all of this? Didn't it look like their command and control was fundamentally broken from the beginning?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, from the very early couple of days, what struck me as I watched it unfold -- and, by the way, my God, I am so proud of those armed -- our armed forces and the way these young soldiers and officers, non-commissioned officers have performed, on both the U.S. and the British side. And the 5th Corps was my -- I commanded the 5th Corps, and I also commanded the 2nd Brigade of 101st. So to watch these banners go in again, yes, I'm very proud of them.

And these are young -- they're not young anymore. I'm the one who has gotten old. But to see these generals, who were essentially majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels working for me, many of them, at one time or another -- Vince Brooks, the spokesman, I remember when he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. His father and I are contemporaries, Leo Brooks. His father was about a year ahead of me in the Army. So it's kind of watching your life pass before your eyes.

But what struck me the most in the first several days, as they jumped off and started heading north, was, first, the rapidity of movement. But what was clear to me anyway -- in my background, I was Chairman and was an infantry officer -- there was no coherent defense. It was not contiguous. It was not coherent. It just seemed to be what they were having -- they were having a series of what we call meeting engagements, some strong-point defense activities, but there was no front that was opposing the movement of either the British or the Americans.

And so they were moving as fast as they chose to, frankly, stopping only when they had to protect their supply line, which was not an enormous surprise. Notwithstanding, some of the ugly scenes for a few days, it was not a sustained assault against the trains, the line of communication. There was some, you know, random stuff. And they had always made the decision that we will deal with the strong points, the cities -- Al Nasiriya and Najaf and those places -- in due course, never losing sight of the center of gravity, which was Baghdad. And so once I saw that within two days, it was in my judgment by the end of the first week to me it was ordained.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just one more, just one more, please.


QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Go ahead, Robin.

QUESTION: Okay. The third "axis of evil --

QUESTION: Is she like this with everybody? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. You're getting off light. (Laughter.)

The third "axis of evil," Iran -- has it been helpful to us in any way during this campaign? And, secondly, is that pocket of Ansar al-Islam and al-Qaida, is that then eliminated as a threat to us?

SECRETARY POWELL: On the second part, I haven't gotten reports in the last few days, mostly because I'm traveling, on Ansar al-Islam in the northeast corner. But from everything I have seen, it has been pretty much dealt with and the area is being exploited, in terms of what materials are there. And I don't have any more on that.

Iran has been Iran. It hasn't been -- I wouldn't say that its behavior or attitude has changed significantly one way or the other in the last three weeks.

QUESTION: That doesn't answer my question, though.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think it does, as best I can.

QUESTION: So, okay. Is Iran next, or is Syria next?


QUESTION: For pressure to change its behavior?

SECRETARY POWELL: We believe that all of these nations -- Syria, Iran, others -- should realize that pursuing weapons of mass destruction, supporting terrorist activities, is not in their interest. It doesn't mean that war is coming to them; it just means that the world is changing in the new century, where we have to deal with these kinds of threats, particularly in the post-9/11 environment.

And as the President has said, and I think my colleague, Paul Wolfowitz, said it very well on Sunday, that you have to realize that there are consequences to this kind of behavior. But it doesn't mean that the only consequence the American President can think of is to reach in the toolbox for the military. We have many ways of dealing with the challenges that we face.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

# # #

Released on April 10, 2003

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