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Interview by Radio Sawa

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
August 4, 2003

(3:36 p.m. EDT)

QUESTION: Thank you for giving us some of your time. Let me start. Ready?

SECRETARY POWELL: Right.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Since everything that happens in Washington is relevant to the Middle East, let me start by asking you, would you please react to The Washington Post story today?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's nonsense. I don't know what they are talking about. I serve at the pleasure of the President. The President and I have not discussed anything other than my continuing to do my job for him, and this is just one of those stories that emerge in Washington that reflects nothing more than gossip, and the gossip leads to a rash of speculation about who might fill a vacancy that does not exist.

And so I really am not surprised by this kind of gossip. I have seen it before. But the story has no substance and the so-called conversation that took place between my Deputy, Mr. Armitage, and National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, did not take place. And therefore, the story has no source or basis in the beginning; and most of it is just all gossip and speculation from no source.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Let's move to the Middle East, sir.

SECRETARY POWELL: Okay.

QUESTION: In Iraq, we do have right now a Governing Council that elected a president. And, however, some -- we talked to members of that Council and we read the way Arab officials have reacted that Council. It seems like this Council needs some help. They don't have the clout yet regionally, in the Arab region, or in the international arena, or, to some extent, in Iraq. What is Washington doing to help the Council in this area?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, first of all, we believe that it was important that the Council was formed, and it is the beginning of a new Iraqi Government for the people of Iraq. And in just, I guess, two short weeks now, it has elected a president. It has determined a rotating presidency system. It has accompanied Mr. Sergio De Mello, the Secretary General's representative to the United Nations, and it made a presentation to the United Nations.

We believe that Arab nations should welcome the Governing Council and provide expressions of support. I have been in touch with Arab leaders. Yesterday, I spoke to the Secretary General of the Arab League, Mr. Amr Moussa, and hope that they will deal with this and talk about it when the committee, Arab League Committee, meets tomorrow.

We have also communicated to Arab governments at the most senior levels by cable over the weekend asking them to make themselves available to members of the Governing Council, and to show their support for members of the Governing Council. We are hearing from so many leaders in the Arab world that they want to see Iraq back in the hands of the Iraqi people as soon as possible.

That is our goal as well, but we have a responsibility with the Coalition Provisional Authority to make sure that we have rebuilt the infrastructure, and we have put in place a sound system of government. And the creation of the Governing Council is an early and important first step toward that end.

We have also seen the opening up of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries are beginning to open. So we are on our way to putting Iraq back into the hands of the Iraqi people, and the creation of the Governing Council was an important step in that regard.

QUESTION: Thank you. Some key figures and symbols of the former Iraqi regime, for example, the Iraqi Information Minister, although he is not on the wanted list, but he is somehow one of the things that the Iraqi people, you know, would love to see him stay in Iraq and talk to him.

Somehow they have managed to seek refuge in neighboring friendly Arab countries. I would say also the same thing about the daughters of Saddam Hussein. Are the Iraqis consulted before any deal is arranged for those key figures to go somewhere else?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't give you the details in any one of these cases. But if somebody is not charged with anything and there is no reason to suspect them of some crime and they manage to make their way, one way or another, to another nation, then that is a matter between the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Governing Council representing the Iraqi people and the nation concerned. And so I will let each of these cases play out, but I can't take a position on each of the individual cases.

QUESTION: Thank you. If I may ask you about Saudi Arabia. Since the Khobar bombing, way before the September 11, we here in Washington would read reports that the Saudi Government is not cooperating. We hear officials saying, yes, they are; and then we hear unnamed officials saying they are not.

And then, recently, after September 11th, the Riyadh bombing, people are saying the Saudis are now more cooperating. Until recently also, the Congressional Report and the classified section, there is a lot of, you know, kind of vague issues going on. What's going on with Saudi Arabia?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I am a named official, not an unnamed official. And I can tell you that there is good cooperation with the Saudis, and the cooperation has improved markedly in recent months. All one has to do is follow the news and you can see that the Saudis are arresting terrorists. They are finding caches of weapons and ammunition that were intended to conduct terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

They were at the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit last -- month before last, when they committed themselves to stop funding those organizations that have anything to do with any kind of terrorist activities anywhere. I think this all shows an improving level of cooperation. There are always more things that all of us can do. And when we find areas where we believe the Saudis can do more, we will bring it to their attention, do bring it to their attention, and we have been pleased with their response.

QUESTION: Can you name anything that the Saudi -- that you would love the Saudis to do and they are not doing it today?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, frankly, everything that I have presented to them or my colleagues have presented to them, they have responded to. I think they have been especially aggressive, since they had the bombing of facilities in Saudi Arabia back in May. And I think they have turned their full attention and energy to that.

We still are -- you know, we still have issues, with respect to financing, and how money gets to charitable organizations, the financing of madarsas. But I think we are in good conversation with our Saudi friends about that. And, as you know, the Foreign Minister was here last week, Prince Saud, and we had good discussions with him.

QUESTION: On the issue of tourism, Mr. Secretary, since the Department of State started publishing that list of state sponsors of terrorism until today, yet to see one nation graduating out of that list. Don't you think it's time to review that policy? You know, it seems that those countries that are listed on the list have managed to co-exist with being on that list.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, Iraq is no longer on it.

QUESTION: But we had to remove the regime.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that's one way to graduate. The easy way to graduate and to not be on that list is to stop sponsoring terrorists. And those nations that remain on the list continue to have a record of supporting organizations -- Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a number of others, that support terrorist activities, terrorist activities that make it difficult to reach a peace agreement in the Middle East, terrorist activities that continue to give haven to terrorists who threaten civilized nations.

And as long as these nations continue to support that kind of activity or do not account for past terrorist actions they have been involved in, then I think it is quite appropriate for them to remain on that list. It is not a list we take any joy in keeping. We would hope that all nations would abandon terrorism as a form of political activity and remove any justification for terrorist actions, and that such a list would not be necessary. But the list has served a useful purpose in showing to the world that there are those nations that support terrorist activities that put civilized nations and innocent civilians at risk.

QUESTION: Do we expect in the coming few months, few weeks to see a more aggressive approach to make sure that those people that are on the list to behave, or we move forward towards more confrontation or even accountability?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't want to go quite beyond the line of your questioning to suggest that we are on the verge of military action. I don't sense that we are with these nations. But there are other ways to bring pressure to bear on them -- political ways, diplomatic ways, and economic ways -- and we are using all of those tools. And we never remove any of the options that are available to us. But I don't think we are in a new period of crisis.

We believe that with the demise of the Hussein regime, and with more and more people realizing that we now have a promise for peace in the Middle East, I hope that all nations will join in pressing those nations that continue to support terrorism or continue to develop for the purpose of using, or at least having in their inventory weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, and those nations that show a willingness to sell and pass around the world missiles and other systems that are destabilizing and which we would all be better off without.

QUESTION: Did we make any official request directly or indirectly to Iran to extradite the al-Qaida members?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have ways of communicating with Iran, and we have been communicating to them about this subject. We believe it would best if they have al-Qaida individuals who are detained and not doing anything for them to be turned over to us or returned to their home country for appropriate legal action.

QUESTION: A return to their home countries, would that be an acceptable solution to Washington?

SECRETARY POWELL: It would depend. We would certainly -- you know, it's up to the Iranians what they do with them. And we would be very interested in where these people are going back to and with what charges placed against them, and then we can work with their home countries.

QUESTION: Final question. Can you please state what is our stated policy towards the fence that the Israelis are building right now?

SECRETARY POWELL: You know a nation is authorized and it is within its rights to put up a fence, as it sees the need for one. But in the case of the Israeli fence, we are concerned when the fence crosses over on to the land of others, and if it is constructed in a way which makes it more difficult to move forward on the roadmap, this causes us a problem.

So we are in discussions with our Israeli friends about the fence that they are building. And, as you know, that fence has walls as part of the fence. And we hope that we can find a way of discussing this problem, so that it does not -- the fence -- it does not become a hindrance toward progress on the roadmap.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY POWELL: You are welcome, sir. Thank you.

# # #


Released on August 4, 2003

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