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Interview on CNN's Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Interview by Judy Woodruff
Washington, DC
September 28, 2003


(12:00 p.m. EDT)

MS. WOODRUFF: Mr. Secretary, it's good to see you. Thank you very much for joining us.

SECRETARY POWELL: My pleasure, Judy.

MS. WOODRUFF: It has now been five days since President Bush took his case to the United Nations, since he and you began these hard discussions with leaders of other countries about helping us out -- the U.S. out in Iraq with money, with troops, and other commitments. What do you have to show for it at this point?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think what we have to show is that there is a recognition in the international community that we have to forget what happened in the spring with respect to our disagreement over going into Iraq. And now we all have to come together and help with the reconstruction of Iraq. And I think you saw a better meeting with President Chirac and President Bush, and Chancellor Schroeder and President Bush than people might have expected.

And I'm sensing that within the Security Council there are people who want to move forward toward a new resolution, UN resolution that would provide a broader international mandate for what we're doing, would involve the creation of a multinational force cover for the troops that are there.

Remember, some 31 nations are standing alongside of us in Iraq now. It's not that we are alone. We are not alone.

MS. WOODRUFF: So are you saying the U.S. is prepared to give up some power in terms of running Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's not a matter of giving up. The President has always said that he wanted the UN to play a vital role, and he said in his speech that he encouraged international efforts. So I wouldn't call it question of giving up.

It's a question of finding a resolution that satisfies the needs of some of our partners in the international community, but at the same time makes clear that the future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people through their Governing Council and their cabinet ministers, and recognizing the obligation and responsibility the United States has as the leader of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

MS. WOODRUFF: But there's a contradiction, isn't there, in asking these other countries for their help, for their troops, for their money, and at the same time saying, we still want to run the show in the United States?

SECRETARY POWELL: There's no country that has said, oh, please let us run the show. Secretary-General Annan hasn't said --

MS. WOODRUFF: But it would be the UN?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. The Secretary-General has not asked to run the show. What they want is a transfer of authority as quickly as possible to the Iraqis. We want that. But we can't do it in a hurried manner before the Iraqis are prepared to discharge those responsibilities, discharge that authority in a very, very responsible way.

We have to build up an Iraqi army. We have to rebuild their infrastructure. We have to rebuild their ministries. We have to rebuild their police forces. And we have to make sure that they have a constitution, let them write a constitution, let them have elections based on that constitution.

And no one would be happier than President Bush, and certainly me, when the day comes that a new elected Iraqi leadership stands up and says, "We're ready. Let us have it. Take off the training wheels."

MS. WOODRUFF: But, in the meantime, you're asking other countries to provide troops. And as of now, you're saying there are no troop commitments from these other countries?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, no, no. Wait a minute. Twenty-two thousand troops are there from other countries.

MS. WOODRUFF: I mean the new commitments.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thirty-one other countries. So 31 countries have contributed with -- willingly contributed on the basis of earlier UN resolutions, or just because they felt it was the right thing to do with or without a UN resolution.

Now, we're trying to see whether with a UN resolution there may be other nations that have more of a political mandate of the kind they say they need to take to their people. And the Turks are looking at it, Bangladesh is looking at it, Pakistan is looking at it; other nations are looking at the possibility of contributing troops, but none has made a firm commitment.

MS. WOODRUFF: But the top military man in Iraq, General John Abizaid, was quoted in the last day or so as saying he pretty much isn't counting on any troops from other countries

SECRETARY POWELL: I would expect John --

MS. WOODRUFF: I mean, if you all pretty much resigned yourselves to the fact?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, we haven't resigned ourselves to it, but we also know it's not going to be a huge number that we're going to get. We would like to form one more multinational division. But General Abizaid, as the commander on the ground, can't count on that. So he has to be thinking about the contingencies, and one contingency is to ask for the call up of additional reservists.

MS. WOODRUFF: It was reported that President Bush, when he met with the president of India, President Vajpayee, that he did not ask for troops. Does this mean that a country of over a billion people has no -- you don't expect them to provide any help?

SECRETARY POWELL: We had earlier conversations with the Indians about providing troops. And it's become clear in recent months that, for a variety of reasons, internal political domestic politics and other reasons, the Indians would not be in a position to provide troops.

MS. WOODRUFF: But is that -- so that's a final answer?

SECRETARY POWELL: From the Indians. They have indicated they would not be in a position to provide troops, and I don't expect that position to change.

MS. WOODRUFF: Are you disappointed?

SECRETARY POWELL: I would like to have seen the Indians provide troops, but you know each nation has to make its own judgment. We can't order troops in by diktat. We have to persuade them that it is in the interest of international order for them to provide troops, and we're pleased that so many nations have done that.

Would we like to see more nations do it? Yes.

Can we count on a large number of additional troops? No.

But is there still the possibility of more troop contributors? Yes.

MS. WOODRUFF: Has this whole business of going back to the United Nations, asking these other countries for help, has it been a humbling experience?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, not at all. The President has always said that this was a matter for the international community. He said that last September, a year ago, when he brought the problem of Saddam Hussein once again to the United Nations.

And since the war ended, the major part of the war -- there's still war going on -- but the major combat operation was over and Baghdad fell, we have gotten two UN resolutions passed, 1483 and 1500; 1483 authorized the presence of a coalition force in Iraq, and 1500 welcomed the new Governing Council.

So this is a third UN resolution since the war that we're asking for that would expand the international mandate and give the international financial institutions, the World Bank and the IMF, a basis to start doing work there and give the UN a more defined role than it currently has now.

MS. WOODRUFF: Nothing humbling about it?


MS. WOODRUFF: Secretary Powell, two things about the Iraqis. They were saying -- top-ranking Iraqi officials are now saying, we want power faster than the U.S. is willing to give it. You've talked about six months timeframe for them to write their own constitution. When are they going to be ready to do these things?

I mean, for some people, that sounds like a very fast period of time. Maybe to them it doesn't. How do you know what is the right amount of time?

SECRETARY POWELL: You know, well, you really don't. And that's why in the resolution we are designing, we are asking the Iraqis to tell us what they think the right time is.

Now, some Iraqis are asking for immediate transfer of authority. Other Iraqi leaders on the Governing Council are saying, "Please, don't move that quickly. We need time. We need to put our cabinet ministries back together. We need an army. We need a police force. We need a border patrol. We need a constitution. If we don't have a constitution, what kind of authority are you giving us back to?"

And so we think that six months is an appropriate amount of time to look at, for the writing of a constitution and a ratification of that constitution, and then you have to have elections. And this is a very sensible way to go about it and not give authority to just people who have been selected but don't enjoy the legitimacy of an election.

MS. WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, you have Senator Richard Lugar, probably the most respected Republican in the Congress when it comes to foreign policy, talking about a five-year plan that he's saying it's absolutely essential that the American people and the Iraqi people know that the U.S. commitment is there.

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it's important that we --

MS. WOODRUFF: Is it going to be five years?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know what the right answer is, but I think Senator Lugar is absolutely right. We have to say to the Iraqi people that we are with you for as long as it takes. But it doesn't mean that we have to keep this level of troop commitment for five years; nor do I think Senator Lugar was suggesting that; nor does it mean that we have to be the authority for five years.

Nobody wants to transfer authority back to the Iraqis more rapidly than the President does or I do, or Senator Lugar, and certainly Mr. Bremer and General Abizaid. We want the Iraqis to take authority back. But we also know we don't want to set them up for failure by saying, "You 25 guys, we, America, have decided you should represent your people now without an election, without a constitution."

That isn't the way to go about this. Write a constitution, ratify it, determine your form of government, have elections. And we'll be more than happy to accept the results of those elections and transfer power back to that new government.

MS. WOODRUFF: The UN announced this week that they're pulling out most of their foreign staff inside Iraq for security reasons. They say they just can't guarantee their security, that must be discouraging.

SECRETARY POWELL: It's very troubling. There is a security problem, and it's essentially in the area around the Sunni Triangle, as it's called. The northern part of the country is relatively secure; the southern part of the country is relatively secure.

There are still incidents, just as there are in any country, in any city. It is the central part that we're worried about, and especially Baghdad and the triangle around Baghdad. And the UN has a responsibility to protect its personnel.

I'm pleased that a lot of these UN agencies, although they have to draw down from their presence in Iraq, will be trying to perform their services from countries nearby, out of Kuwait and out of places like that.

MS. WOODRUFF: The $87 billion, is the Administration adamant that none of that money should be a loan, which is what some members of Congress are saying?

SECRETARY POWELL: The issue really is the $20 billion of the $87 billion, the $20 billion that is for Iraqi reconstruction. We really think it is best to give it as a grant and not as a loan. The Iraqi people are going to be faced with a crushing debt load now from past obligations.

MS. WOODRUFF: But do you have any give in your position on this?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, right now, I think it's best that we listen to what Congress has to say about this. But, right now, our position is firm that we believe it should be a grant.

MS. WOODRUFF: Sounds like you're leaving a window open.

SECRETARY POWELL: I have to let the President hear from Congress. But, right now, our position is -- and I think it is a defensible position -- a position we should stick with, that it should be a grant.

What we don't want to do is to put such a burden on the Iraqi people that reconstruction efforts don't really pay off, because the debt that they have to service doesn't allow them to get their infrastructure up and running using their own funds because they're busy using those funds to pay off debt. They have a lot of debt now that we have to deal with and see if we can restructure that debt. Let's not pile on the debt.

MS. WOODRUFF: Let me just ask you to look back for a moment, because there are some statements that have come to light in the last week or so that I think raise questions about going to war in the first place.

February of 2001, Colin Powell quoted as saying about Saddam Hussein: "I think we ought to declare containment a success. We have kept him contained, kept him in a box."

So my question is, if he was contained in 2001, how did he get uncontained by early 2003?

SECRETARY POWELL: He was still contained in the sense that I was describing it, in that he no longer had the ability to project conventional power outside of his borders because the Gulf War, the first Gulf War pretty much reduced his conventional forces. In that same February statement, I did not say he didn't have weapons of mass destruction. I believed then that he had weapons of mass destruction.

How many, I didn't know if it was significant or not. We didn't think it was significant, but a lot changed with 9/11. With 9/11, we saw what could happen with the nexus between nations that had weapons of mass destruction and terrorists who might be anxious to get those weapons of mass destruction.

MS. WOODRUFF: But you did say, though -- you said, "He threatens not the United States. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction."

It wasn't just you. It was Dr. Rice, later in 2001. Vice President Cheney, who said, "Saddam is bottled up."

I guess my question is, how did something that happened here in the United States, al-Qaida behind it, affect what was going on, on the ground in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Because it focused the President's attention, all of our attention, on the fact that if there were nations in the world that were continuing to hold or develop weapons of mass destruction, in the aftermath of 9/11, where we saw the kinds of terrorist organizations that were out there that would stop at nothing to strike us or other civilized nations, then a nexus existed between the possibility of such terrorists getting access to these kinds of weapons.

And, also, the reality of it was that Saddam Hussein did have these weapons. The previous administration acknowledged it. The previous administration went to a mini-war in late 1998 and bombed Saddam Hussein's facilities for four years. And so here -- for four days -- excuse me -- and here it was five years later, in 2003, the President made a decision, based on this continued violation of UN resolutions for all these years, after taking the case to the UN, that the world in this post-9/11 environment could no longer tolerate that kind of activity by a regime as irresponsible as Saddam Hussein.

MS. WOODRUFF: But you can understand why these questions are being asked. We now have the David Kay report coming out, and we're told that he's going to say there's been no weapons found.

SECRETARY POWELL: Let's wait to see what Dr. Kay actually says. But let me make this point. I made it earlier in a number of interviews.

Two weeks ago I was a place called Halabja in northern Iraq, where 15 years ago Saddam Hussein gassed people on a Friday morning in March of 1988 with sarin, with VX, and killed 5,000 people. I saw the mass graves. I saw the victims. I saw those who lost loved ones.

In 1991, after the first Gulf War, we found chemical weapons. We learned a lot about the program. We put in place an inspection regime to pull it all out. By 1998, Saddam had frustrated that inspection regime. President Clinton found it necessary to bomb his facilities. The inspectors left, and then there was this four-year period that was a gap.

Are we supposed to believe that, oh, gee, he gave up all that capability, he no longer has the intent?

Yes, we tried to keep him bottled up, but bottled up does not mean gone away. It means bottled up and still a danger. And 9/11, it seemed to us, pulled the cork out of that bottle, and it was a danger and a risk we no longer wish to take.

MS. WOODRUFF: Very quickly, some things I want to touch on. The cover of Time magazine this week shows President Bush in his flight suit on the aircraft carrier saying, "Mission Not Accomplished, How Bush Misjudged the Task of Fixing Iraq."

A Democratic friend of the Administration, John Murtha, who is the ranking Democrat on Appropriations, a Vietnam veteran, is now saying somebody has to go, somebody has to be held responsible for the mistake of going into -- that were made in Iraq and the aftermath.

SECRETARY POWELL: When President Bush went to the aircraft carrier and made that statement, major combat was over. The battle for Baghdad was over. The regime was gone. He was right. The regime was gone, Saddam Hussein was gone.

What we are dealing with now in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad are remnants of the regime. And they're not just attacking the United States because we're there. They're attacking the UN, they're attacking the Jordanian Embassy, they are attacking news outlets, they are attacking humanitarian organizations.

Why? Just to get Americans out? No. To try to bring back this regime that has been destroyed. And we won't let that happen.

And so even though we have some difficulties now in dealing with these former members of the Baathist regime, these Saddam Fedeyeen and others, and some terrorists have migrated into the area, it's a battle that I think we'll win, just as we won the first battle for Baghdad.

MS. WOODRUFF: Very quickly, the President met this weekend with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among other things, they talked about Iran. And afterwards, Mr. Putin said his government is -- they're going to respectfully suggest that the Iranians comply with international weapons inspections, but Russia is basically going to go ahead with its plan to help Iraq build a nuclear reactor.

The Iranians are saying we're going to go ahead, even with uranium enrichment. Are you disappointed?

SECRETARY POWELL: We never asked Russia to not build the plant at Bushehr. They are building a plant, and President Putin said he's going to go ahead with that plant. The issue is the fuel that goes into that plant and the fuel cycle that is created. Will we be able to control whatever fuel is going into that plant so that it does not become a source of nuclear weapons-grade material?

What is different about the situation this year than, say, just a year ago, with respect to the Russians, is a year ago everybody thought America was overreacting. Everybody thought America was picking on the Iranians.

But it turned out that we had it right. And over the past year, the evidence has become incontrovertible that the Iranians have been moving in the direction of producing a nuclear weapon. The Russians acknowledge it, the International Atomic Energy Commission acknowledges it.

We will see at the end of October another report from the IAEA. And Iran now has to decide whether they are going to make known to the international community what they are doing. They need to sign an additional protocol. They need to answer all of the questions that have been raised to respect to their nuclear programs. And Russia has said --


SECRETARY POWELL: -- respectfully, as Putin says, we need to have these questions answered. But they are still going ahead with the plant, nor did the President tell him not to go ahead with the plant.

MS. WOODRUFF: I want to quickly turn you to a very different subject, and that is one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for president, General Wesley Clark, I know you've said you wouldn't comment on it.

But I have to quote for you from Newsweek magazine last week, where the article said, "To say Clark was unpopular among his fellow officers in the military is an understatement. In conversations with friends, Colin Powell would privately put down General Clark as 'Lieutenant Colonel Clark', i.e. a perpetual eager beaver wannabe."

Did you ever call him --

SECRETARY POWELL: Are those my quotes?

MS. WOODRUFF: The quote from you was "Lieutenant Colonel Clark."

SECRETARY POWELL: Right, he was. He was a lieutenant colonel when he worked for me for the first time in Fort Carson, Colorado, 20 years ago.

MS. WOODRUFF: But at the time you made these remarks, he was a general.

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know when I made -- I don't know who says I made that remark when.

MS. WOODRUFF: But, presumably, it was during the time --

SECRETARY POWELL: I've know Wes Clark for 20 years. He's one of the most gifted soldiers that I have ever had work for me. And beyond that, I really feel it's appropriate for me to recuse myself from any further comment, now that he is a political candidate.

MS. WOODRUFF: You never called him Lieutenant Colonel Clark while he was a general?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't recall that quote. I called -- he was a lieutenant colonel and a very good battalion commander when I was his supervisor as a brigadier general.

MS. WOODRUFF: And if you call somebody a lieutenant colonel when they're a general, does that mean --

SECRETARY POWELL: I cannot account for these kinds of wild quotes that one sees in the media. I don't recall the quote and I don't recall it in that context.

MS. WOODRUFF: We watched you on David Letterman this week and he tried mightily to get you to say whether you are going to stick around for the second term, if there's a second term.

SECRETARY POWELL: Judy, you have --

MS. WOODRUFF: So since you wouldn't tell Dave --

SECRETARY POWELL: Shall I tell you? Judy, you know the answer to the question. I always serve at the pleasure of the President, and any political appointee who goes beyond that shouldn't.

MS. WOODRUFF: And, as of right now, he's pleased with what you're doing?

SECRETARY POWELL: He has not suggested that he wants me to leave by sundown.

MS. WOODRUFF: All right. Secretary of State Colin Powell, it's very good to see you again. We thank you very much for coming on.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Judy. Thank you.

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