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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2003 > August

Interview by Enrique Gratas of Univision Television Network

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
August 13, 2003

MR. GRATAS: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, for this interview. How important is it for the war on terror the recent crackdown on will-be arm dealers to sell missiles to terrorists to blow up American planes?

SECRETARY POWELL: Very important. And the arrests that took place yesterday were very significant because the United States and the Russian Federation worked together to stop this kind of traffic in arms. Small arms, surface-to-air missiles -- all of these in the hands of terrorists put us all at risk. And to think that there would be people in this world that would traffic in a surface-to-air missile that would go up in the sky and hit an innocent plane full of innocent people as an act of terror is disgraceful to contemplate, but there are such people. And that is why the world must work together. All of us have a part to play in this campaign against terrorism, and I am pleased this time it worked and we caught them.

MR. GRATAS: Do you think that the United States and the world will have a complete victory over terrorism someday?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know if we'll have a complete victory, but I think we are making progress and we'll be making more progress in the months and years ahead. You see the Saudis are now cracking down. You saw what we did with the Russians. The Russians have their own terrorist problem in Chechnya, which has now come into Moscow, so people are being bombed in Moscow.

And so more and more nations are realizing, hey, I cannot stand aside, this affects me too, these could be my innocent people. And as more and more of us work together and share intelligence, share police information, share tips, cooperate with military forces and intelligence forces and police forces, we will do a better and better job in shutting down terrorist activity and we'll have less to worry about in the future. But will it be totally solved at any time in my lifetime? Probably not, but it will be a lot better.

MR. GRATAS: A lot of people, in the United States especially, are asking how long the U.S. forces will stay in Iraq.

SECRETARY POWELL: We can't give a precise answer because it's the mission that will dictate how long we are there. The mission is a very simple one: secure the country, get the economy going, allow the Iraqi people to create their own government based on a new constitution; and as soon as that government is in place, a representative government, turn it over to them and leave. The United States has no desire to remain in Iraq any longer than is absolutely necessary.

A lot has been done. Schools are open. Factories are starting to open again. Oil is now being pumped out again. Fresh crude left Iraq today. A lot of good things are happening, but you don't get enough attention on those good things because we still see insecurity and violence. But slowly but surely, the country is improving. A Governing Council has been formed. And so we will move deliberately down this path, but we will not abandon the Iraqi people until we know that they have put in place a government of their own that they have confidence in and who will be able to run the country in a way that that country will live in peace with its neighbors and no longer be developing weapons of mass destruction.

MR. GRATAS: So you think a year will be a fair time?

SECRETARY POWELL: I am very reluctant to say whether it would be a year, two years, because we just don't know. The mission will dictate. And the President has made it clear that we will stay as long as necessary, but not one day longer.

MR. GRATAS: Still, the U.S. forces are still looking for weapons of mass destruction. Do you think those weapons will ever be found?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I think the weapons will be found and the programs that supported those weapons will be found. Mr. David Kay, who is in charge of the research effort, has reported to us recently that more and more information is coming forward as he is able to read all the documents that he's captured and as he is able to interview people who were involved in these programs. And as he assembles this information and is in a position to present it, I think the people of the world will see that the United States and other nations who felt as we did knew what we were talking about.

MR. GRATAS: Mr. Secretary, any misleading whatsoever occurred to the American people or to the world in general by your administration in order to gain confidence to go to war with Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. I think we put forward the best case that we could. We believe that this was a dangerous regime with a dangerous leader; not only did he have weapons of mass destruction, he violated basic standards of human rights, he oppressed his people, he murdered his people and put them in mass graves, he destroyed he marshlands in the south. And now he is gone and the Iraqi people will have a better life.

And I think that the case we made before the world was a case that was based on weapons of mass destruction principally, but it was also a human rights case, a terrorism case that I presented at the United Nations, and I am confident that we presented a case that was a solid case, that was a case that people could believe in, and the American people still support the President by an overwhelming margin and believe that we did the right thing.

MR. GRATAS: Other issues, Latin America. And Mexican immigrant workers, millions of them believing the United States negotiations between Mexico and the United States stopped. Nevertheless, you said in November last year in Mexico City that you personally will push them to get some progress in the next six or seven months. Can you mention any progress in those negotiations?

SECRETARY POWELL: We continue to have discussions with our Mexican colleagues. I was on the phone last week with Foreign Secretary Derbez, and I expect to see him next month here in Washington.

These are very, very difficult issues, especially in the post-9/11 atmosphere. We have to make sure that we are securing our borders and that we are doing it in a way that protects our society. But you know terrorism is not a real threat from Mexico. Mexicans come here in order to earn a living, in order to raise families. Mexicans make an important contribution to the United States economy and to the United States society and culture, and they also make an important contribution to Mexico by the money they are able to send back and the skills they are able to send back and take back to Mexico.

But we want to do it in a way that regularizes movement across the border in a safe way so that Mexicans are not put at risk in their efforts to come to the United States. But we have found it very difficult to find the right answers to the many issues that are out there -- regularization, ease of transit across the border, use of consulate documents.

And what I said last November I believe in very, very much, that we want to work on these issues. The President wants to work on these issues, as he agreed he would do with President Fox two years ago at their first summit meeting. And for the last several months since I made that statement, we have been working on a number of issues that we hope we will be able to put forward and get agreement with our Mexican colleagues on that don't require legislative action, but we can do with executive action on our part.

But each one of them is very complex, there are financial implications, and we are continuing to work on them. I have not abandoned this cause.

MR. GRATAS: But it is not impossible to work out different issues and different solutions to finally legalize all these people?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are trying to find the right answers. It is not practical to think that an amnesty of some kind could be granted for all those who are not here with proper documentation. That would not be reasonable to assume and I would not wish to mislead anyone.

But a lot of the other issues with respect to movement across the border in both directions I think can be dealt with, and I look forward to continuing our discussions with the Mexican Government.

MR. GRATAS: So, hope and time?

SECRETARY POWELL: Hope and -- but more than hope. Hard work and with the goal of getting concrete results and concrete achievements, agreements that both sides can see to demonstrate our good faith and the good faith of our Mexican friends.

MR. GRATAS: Regarding Cuba, do you think it is time for Fidel Castro to go and start a democracy in Cuba? And if that is the case, what the United States is doing to get rid of Fidel Castro and install a democracy in Cuba?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think the answer is yes, it's time for him to go. It's his 77th birthday and I was hoping, but I knew better, that perhaps he would announce his retirement.

But it is not for the United States to install a democracy in Cuba. It is for the Cuban people, as they have been increasingly demonstrated to their leaders who want a better life. There is now an opposition movement in Cuba. People are signing petitions saying give us a chance to honestly determine who should be leading this country.

And what have we seen from Mr. Castro in recent months in response to this kind of movement within the Cuban population? He's cracking down on people. He is making it more difficult for them to express their views.

What is he afraid of after all these decades of his revolution? Why does he have to crack down on his people? Why won't he allow open speech? Why won't he allow people to speak out? Why won't he allow people to say, "We would like to have a different form of government," if his revolution is so wonderful, if everybody is so in favor of his revolution? What is he afraid of?

What he is afraid of is that his people might say, "Listen, there is a better world waiting out there for us if we had a democratic form of government, if we had the right to vote for who should lead us. Instead, we are here in an economy that is failing, with the international community more and more against us. Even the European Union that used to be somewhat friendly to us is now criticizing us because of your abuses against the human rights of the Cuban citizens."

Yes, it's time for him to retire. He should have retired long ago. The Cuban people want a better life and I think when he does retire, and perhaps at that point the Cuban people will have an opportunity to make different choices, honest choices about how they are to be governed, and they can be welcomed into the community of democracies of America and the community of democracies of the world.

MR. GRATAS: Can you tell the exiled Cuban community in the United States that President Bush and your Department is doing the best to help them to fulfill this dream of finally getting a free Cuba?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are, I think, absolutely straightforward on this point. President Bush has spoken out clearly. He has challenged Fidel Castro. If, you know, if you will move in the right direction, we are prepared to change our policy. But Castro dare not move in the right direction, he dare not permit openness in his society because he might be then forced into retirement, so we keep the pressure on.

We honor the obligations that we have and the commitments we have made to the Cuban people. And I think I can honestly say that the United States is doing everything we can to keep the pressure on the regime and to keep hope in the hearts of the Cuban people.

MR. GRATAS: Mr. Secretary, what is your opinion or the opinion of the American Government about President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, President Chavez has taken some actions during the course of his presidency that we have not approved of. He sometimes has some ideas with respect to democratic systems that don't quite comport with ours, or, we believe, with the views of the Venezuelan people. But we believe that any changes that should take place in Venezuela must be done in the constitutional way.

And through the work of the OAS and through the work of the friends of the OAS in Venezuela, we have now put in place a way in which the Venezuelan people can express their views through a referendum that is provided for by the constitution. And the United States will watch very carefully, and whatever disagreements we might have with President Chavez, it is up to the Venezuelan people to decide what kind of democracy they wish to have.

MR. GRATAS: So you don't have any opinion about his personality in general?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, this is not -- this is not the time for personality disputes or discussions or whether I like him or don't like him, favor him, don't favor him. The fact of the matter is he is the president of Venezuela. He was elected to be the president of Venezuela by the Venezuelan people, but now the Venezuelan people have had questions about his presidency and there is a significant opposition movement. And with the help of the OAS and President Carter and other people, a way has been found through a referendum to deal with these issues concerning President Chavez's presidency.

MR. GRATAS: In Guatemala, a former military dictator, Efrain Rios Montt, is running for president -- for presidency and he may become a president of Guatemala. Do you have any worries about that?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is a matter for the Guatemalan people to decide. As everyone knows, we have serious reservations about his candidacy, but we also have confidence in the wisdom and will of the Guatemalan people to decide who their president should be. And we will respond to their will by dealing in an appropriate way with whoever becomes president, but we have serious reservations about General Rios Montt.

MR. GRATAS: Mr. Secretary, if President Bush is reelected, you are planning to stay or you are planning to leave?

SECRETARY POWELL: The only plan I have is to serve my President and to serve the United States to the best of my ability and I don't have a term. I serve at the pleasure of the President. And so that is the only answer I ever give to this question, I serve at the pleasure of the President.

And stories that say they know what I might or might not do, or the President might or might not want, are inaccurate stories. I serve at his pleasure. He and I had wonderful discussions at his vacation home in Texas last week, and I am looking forward to continuing to serve this President.

MR. GRATAS: So you are not planning to retire or to leave the Administration if he is reelected in 2005?

SECRETARY POWELL: As I said, I serve at the pleasure of the President. And it would be most inappropriate for me, as a public servant, in the position that I occupy, to do anything but say that I serve at the pleasure of the President.

MR. GRATAS: One more question. Regarding Latin America, some people think that you have relegated to second plane in Latin America, that the United States doesn't have as much influence as it used to have, and even if we are a natural -- or your natural neighbors, it is not in the biggest interest of the United States to work with Latin America constantly and aggressively. Is that the truth?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, it's not true. We are working constantly and aggressively with our neighbors. They're our neighbors. They live next door. We have to work with the Latin American nations and we do. I was at an OAS meeting just a couple of months ago to represent my government in Chile. On that same trip, I then went to Buenos Aires and met with the new president, President Kirchner, and the new foreign minister, Foreign Minister Bielsa.

My colleague, Ambassador Zoellick, and I are working very hard on a Central American Free Trade Agreement. We're working on a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. We're getting ready for a Mini Summit of the Americas some time next year. We are looking forward to a variety of meetings in the course of the year. We are working with our Argentine friends on their debt problems this summer.

President Lula has been here in the not-too-distant past, and he and President Bush had excellent conversations. And President Bush listened to President Lula and his vision for Brazil. I have spent a great deal of time working on Plan Colombia and the Andean Counterdrug Initiative. I have been to Colombia and met with all -- the whole leadership, President Uribe and everyone else. I have met with the European Union to get more assistance for Colombia.

So I think the United States is hard at work in many ways working with our Latin American friends. Does it always rise to page one news? No.

But is it important work? Is it real work? And is it work we are committed to? Yes.

Why? Because we live in the Western Hemisphere. Canada is our neighbor. Latin America is our neighbor. We are all linked together by common values, common values that extend throughout this hemisphere, everywhere except for Cuba. Everywhere else it is a democracy, free market, trying -- trying to figure out how it all works. And we have an obligation and a responsibility to our Latin American friends, and this President and this Secretary of State are committed to satisfying our obligations.

MR. GRATAS: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Thank you.


Released on August 13, 2003

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