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Interview by Tom Brokaw of NBC News

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
April 11, 2003

MR. BROKAW: Mr. Secretary, we're seeing a great deal of chaos in Iraq, in the cities especially -- looting, revenge killings. Are you confident that we can quickly restore order using some of the Iraqis and whatever is left of their institutions?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I can. And General Franks is very confident of his ability to work with local leaders. And we're starting to see that, especially in the south. The British are now starting to recreate police forces in some of the villages and towns in the south.

This is not something that surprised us. We knew there would be a period of chaos after you broke the hold of the Baath Party and the intelligence services. It's interesting to note that a great deal of the looting and destruction is directed toward regime figures and regime institutions, going into the police stations, going into the intelligence headquarters, trashing the homes of some of the regime leaders. And we hope that will pass quickly as we start to restore order -- with military forces, with our civil affairs units coming behind, but ultimately with the Iraqi people themselves post-war.

MR. BROKAW: How long will the United States military have to conduct, in effect, a police action of some kind?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I can't answer that question. We hope that it won't be an extended period of time. As the President has said on a number of occasions, we want to get out as fast as we can; we won't stay one day longer, but we won't leave one day early. We want to get the job done, and the job is to make sure that we help the Iraqi people put in place the right kind of government, a government that is responsive to its people and is reflective of all the people of Iraq and is a government that will not deal with weapons of mass destruction or terrorism and will use the wealth of Iraq, its oil, for the benefit of its people. And we will stay however long it takes to raise up that kind of government.

MR. BROKAW: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said it will take six months to organize a government in Iraq. Is that your timetable, as well?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think that's a bad estimate on Paul's part. He was just speculating. But it's going to take some time. We begin this process next week with meetings, regional meetings, of Iraqi leaders and representatives of Iraqi leaders. We're going to do it on a regional basis as security is established in different parts of the country.

And with these conversations allowing us to help the Iraqis identify leaders who would be part of a new government, I think that's a good start -- to do it regionally, build it up, put in place an interim authority, make sure the international community recognizes that interim authority and endorses it -- and then we're on our way to building new institutions. There are institutions in Iraq. What we have to do is purge them of Saddam Hussein's cronies and Baath Party leaders and make sure we get rid of all the cancer. But this is a country with bureaucracies, with institutions that I think we can build on. It's not just starting from scratch.

MR. BROKAW: If Ahmed Chalabi, who is the chairman of the Iraqi National Congress, the principal exile group, and a favorite of the Defense Department, is elected chair of the Iraqi interim authority, will that please you?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's up to the Iraqis to decide who will be their leaders. Mr. Chalabi is well known. He has struggled. He has put his heart and soul into this fight for many, many, many years.

MR. BROKAW: But you don't mean to suggest that the United States won't have real influence on how that is formed?

SECRETARY POWELL: Of course we will have some influence on how this is formed, and our influence will be for the sole purpose of making sure that the interim authority, but beyond the interim authority, the government of Iraq, the new government of Iraq, is one that represents all the people of Iraq, reflects the views of those who have struggled from the outside for so many years, but also reflects the views of those inside who also suffered and struggled and lived under the terrorist regime of Saddam Hussein.

So we need a government that will be seen by the people of Iraq as truly representing all of their views and all the constituent parts of Iraq, will make sure Iraq stays together as a single country and moves in the right direction to live in peace with its neighbors.

MR. BROKAW: And Chalabi could be a good chairman of that interim authority?

SECRETARY POWELL: Mr. Chalabi will have to be elected by the people of Iraq sooner or later. Who will be the head of the interim authority, or whether it will be a group of people in charge of the interim authority, is something that has not yet been determined.

MR. BROKAW: Will the United Nations play a role in determining how that interim authority is organized and conducts itself?

SECRETARY POWELL: As the President said in his remarks in Belfast, Northern Ireland, not too long ago when he met with Prime Minister Blair, the United Nations has a vital role to play, principally humanitarian activities, and I also believe reconstruction activities and many other things we will need UN authority for. And as the President said, he would expect that the UN, in playing that vital role, would have suggestions to make with respect to the interim authority.

We want to be in close touch with the UN, with the Secretary General, and that's why, at our invitation, the Secretary General has appointed a personal advisor to him on these matters.

MR. BROKAW: But does vital role also mean peacekeeping troops and, in some codified form, a voice in the political organization of Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: We think that peacekeeping or stability or constabulary troops will be needed. We don't want to keep our soldiers there too long, and there may still be a need for a presence. And a number of countries have already stepped forward and offered troops. We have sent out requests to countries around the world to see what they would be interested in contributing, and General Franks and his team are now looking at what the need might be. And the UN might well have a role to play in that. NATO may have a role to play in that. All to be determined when we see what the need is.

And also, the UN will be watching and will have an opportunity to comment on the interim authority as it is formed. But clearly, I believe that those nations that paid the political price and the price in blood and the price in treasure in order to create these circumstances where a new government, a new democratic government, can be created, I think we have an important leading role to play in the structure of this.

And nobody should worry about this leading role that we're playing because it is a leading role that will benefit the people of Iraq, and we will do it in a way that it will have the endorsement of the international community -- I am absolutely confident of that -- and the endorsement, in due course, of the United Nations.

MR. BROKAW: It sounds like you're saying, Mr. Secretary, to the United Nations, "Speak up, but we're not required to pay attention."

SECRETARY POWELL: What we're saying to the United Nations is, "Speak up, we want to hear from the United Nations as an institution." It's an institution of 191 nations. And we also know that ultimately we have to help a government come up, be raised in Iraq, that will enjoy international standing within the United Nations.

So it is not a situation where we're saying the United Nations has no role. What we are saying, however, is that in light of the investment that President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, Mr. Berlusconi, Mr. Aznar of Spain, Prime Minister Howard and so many other leaders -- 49 nations came together in this willing coalition -- in light of the leading role we have played, we're not prepared to say, fine, this conflict has now come to some conclusion and we're all leaving and turning this over to the United Nations. The United Nations does not want it turned over to it.

Some of my colleagues in the Security Council that say that the United Nations should play "the central role." Well, we're not quite sure what "central role" means, but if the suggestion is that, having made this investment, the coalition merely dials out and turns it all over to the United Nations -- one the United Nations really doesn't want and can't handle that role, and it is not something that we believe would be in the best interests of the Iraqi people at this point.

MR. BROKAW: What happens if the Iraqi people, as they very likely could, elect a new government that is overwhelmingly Shiite, with strong ties to Iran, which has been identified as part of the "axis of evil"?

SECRETARY POWELL: The Iraqi people, if they go about it in a proper democratic manner, and I believe they are fully capable to do this -- these are people who have a history of organization, political organization, they have a history of bureaucracies and recording things and dealing in an organized way. They don't have a history of democracy, but I think that doesn't mean that they can't get such a history rather quickly. And the Shias, the majority of the population, we'll have to see what it looks like.

But it will be a free nation, able to make a judgment as to who its friends will be and who it will have relations with. But I am also very sure that the United States of America, the United Kingdom and members of the coalition that brought this freedom to Iraq will certainly be one of their strongest friends and partners.

MR. BROKAW: James Woolsey, who used to be the head of the CIA, is now an informal advisor to the Defense Department, said the other day that we are in a world war, not just against Iraq but against what he called the fascists in Syria, the mullahs in Iran, and of course al-Qaida.

Is that a fair assessment of the state of war that exists around the world led by the United States?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think the war that the President focuses on and the war that's uppermost in his mind is the global campaign against terrorism. And terrorism is the threat that we have to keep our eye on now because it threatens all civilized nations. And to the extent that nations in the world participate in terrorist activity, or are state sponsors of terrorism, then they have to be on notice, and the President has put them on notice a long time ago that there are consequences to such behavior. And if nations are developing weapons of mass destruction which could somehow get married up with terrorist organizations, there are consequences to such behavior, as well. The President has been clear about this.

This does not mean that we are looking for another place to invade. The President has many tools at his disposal -- political, economic, diplomatic and military and intelligence and law enforcement and the power of persuasion -- and now a new tool, the power of example. And that example will be Iraq, an Iraq that is led by a democratic government living in peace with its neighbors, an Iraq that is using its treasure to benefit its people and not to suppress its population.

We are going to reconstruct Iraq in that image that I just described, not reconstruct it from the devastation caused by three weeks of war. We didn't cause the devastation of Iraq. It was Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime for the last 25 years that has done that. And we're going to reconstruct it so that it will be a different nation and it will be a model to other nations in the region of what you can achieve when you stop supporting terrorism, when you commit yourself to live in peace with your neighbors, and you don't try to develop weapons of mass destruction that can fall into the hands of, perhaps, a terrorist.

MR. BROKAW: Despite the military plan for the United States, our best friends in the region -- the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Jordanians -- continue to be critical of the military operation; and on the Arab street, the criticism of the United States, the rejection, in fact, of the role of the United States, is running at 80 and 90 percent, and so much of that depends on what is going on between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Is there greater urgency than doing something about that, and how quickly can you achieve?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, there is great urgency in doing something about the Middle East peace process, as it is often called. The President recognizes this and he has spoken to it. The President said we needed a new leader to emerge in the Palestinian Authority that we could work with, and we are hopeful that Mr. Abu Mazen will be confirmed by a vote of confidence into the position of Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority.

And when that happens, and I hope it will happen in the next week or so, then we will put to both parties and to the world the roadmap that we have spoken about that is a manner in which we implement the President's vision of 24 June of last year, as well as the vision that the Arab League came up with under the initiative and leadership of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. And the President fully intends to engage in a very forceful way in moving down this roadmap to our goal of two states of living side by side in peace: a Jewish state, Israel; and a Palestinian state, Palestine.

MR. BROKAW: But is it possible within six months to have the Israelis begin to pull back from some of the settlements on the West Bank to show real progress?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it remains to be seen. I have seen hopes dashed about Middle East schedules before. But I think if we get a new Palestinian Prime Minister with a strong cabinet who has authority to act independently, and if that new Prime Minister, Mr. Abu Mazen, immediately starts dealing with the issue of ending the Intifadah, ending terrorism, speaking out, and not just once or twice, but speaking out and committing himself to ending violence and terrorism and working toward a Palestinian state in a peaceful manner, then I think he will find a responding partner on the other side in Israel; and he will also find not only the United States but many other nations anxious and willing to help in every way that we can, and that progress is possible and achievable. And Israel knows what its obligations will be as part of that process.

MR. BROKAW: Mr. Secretary, thank you.


Released on April 11, 2003

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