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Interview by Wire Services

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
October 10, 2003


(3:10 p.m. EDT)

SECRETARY POWELL: All right, it's Friday.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: At the ceremony this morning, you picked up a new duty?


QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on how the transition in Cuba might be accelerated, and what did the President mean when he said, "We will be prepared when the transition does actually occur"?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's prudent for us, as Castro gets older and this regime gets rustier, to start to think about the fate of these millions of people in Cuba who one day will be free. And Mel Martinez and I will be heading an effort. We're still working on the exact terms of reference and how we will staff it and organize it. But between Mel, who brings great personal knowledge and experience to the issue, and me, with the State Department, and Mel also as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, which has some interest in these kinds of transitions for communities and neighborhoods, so he has both professional relevant experience as well as his personal experience, we'll put together a team and work on what other policies we might adopt of the kind the President talked to today when he talked about allowing more in, more Cubans in, under our admissions program, or what more we can do with respect to our communications activities, as the President discussed this morning, or what else we might be able to do with respect to ensuring that only legal travel is conducted; is there anything else we ought to be doing with respect to our policies?

And when the day comes that a new leadership is in place and the Cuban nation is once again part of the community of democracies in the hemisphere, what policies should we have in place and what should we be ready to do to help the people of Cuba. And that's essentially what we're going to do.

QUESTION: If I could switch topics. In the last month or so, or two months, it seems that Paul Bremer has been courting former Iraqi officers, as well as there have been some stories about actual Iraqi Mukhabarat members. What does this say about the order of de-Baathification in Iraq? Has the U.S. changed course in this respect in trying to bring back some of the old guard?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think Jerry is very pleased with what de-Baathification has done. It has removed all elements of a rotten regime and brought a sense of relief to the people. But these folks are still in Iraq and they are Iraqis and they have some competence, so I'm not sure specifically what your reference is, but I would assume that as you move forward, you would have to start making judgments as to whether any of these people have sufficiently changed or, through the actions and the way they are currently behaving, they could make a contribution to society, and in what way.

But de-Baathification is our policy, was our policy. And Ambassador Bremer has executed it rather aggressively.

QUESTION: There have been indications recently that you could withdraw your draft resolution at the UN?

SECRETARY POWELL: I read that. Yes, I read that.

QUESTION: You read that in the press.

SECRETARY POWELL: That was three days ago.

QUESTION: Sorry about that.

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm hard at work. I've spent most of the day on the resolution.

QUESTION: But my question is more general on your discussions with your counterparts at the UN --


QUESTION: -- and what changes could be -- could be made through --

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, we are in consultations still. Ambassador Negroponte is hard at work in New York. I spoke with Kofi Annan late last night. I haven't spoken with him today, but Ambassador Negroponte will be speaking with him. I've spoken to some of my foreign minister colleagues today -- Jack Straw earlier, and I hope to speak to Ana Palacio in a little while. And over the weekend I expect to contact a number of additional foreign ministers.

We have some ideas for accommodating some of the concerns that have been expressed by Council members on the last draft, while at the same time preserving our principles and preserving our positions. And we are trying to listen, take into account what we are hearing, and bring the community back together around a resolution. And I will know early next week how successful that effort has been after I've had a chance to talk to people and share some language with people.

And I'll try to move quickly next week, if I do have something that I think will achieve our purpose. I'm being a little vague because we're very actively engaged on the resolution now. I'm not thinking of pulling it at the moment, but I might by Monday, but I'm not thinking of pulling it at the moment -- not at all; not at all.

QUESTION: I'm wondering if you --

SECRETARY POWELL: Did you hear that? Not at all. Yet.

QUESTION: Not at all -- what?




SECRETARY POWELL: I'm not thinking of pulling the resolution, not at all -- yet. Don't you speak English (joking)?


QUESTION: Can I ask you if you would expand just a little bit on what you were talking about outside with -- just now about the contacts with the North Koreans or --

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, we have --

QUESTION: -- and what, specifically, you're talking about in terms of security assurances?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. They have consistently said -- they've said they want a denuclearized peninsula. The North Koreans said that. It was one of the first statements that came out of the six-party talks. All six parties say this is what we want.

But they don't like our position. They think we are still an enemy and we're after them, and we won't be satisfied until their regime is gone.

The President has made it clear he wants a diplomatic solution. And they have asked for security assurances. They have often said they want a treaty or a non-aggression pact, and we said we don't do those. They have shifted their language, and so we have been examining what one could present to them that would give them more of an assurance than the kind of assurances they received from the previous Administration, which were essentially letters and statements.

And there are many models from our history of how one can do this. And we have been examining different models. And so we have some ideas as to how we can proceed, proceed in this regard. And in the weeks immediately ahead we'll start to explore these ideas with our friends.

That's all I have on that.


QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Secretary, it's not exactly a secret that in this Administration there's been this kind of ideological conflict between pragmatists like yourself and a what they call neo-conservatives, ideologues. What effect do you think that the outcome of the conflict in Iraq has had on the neo-conservative agenda?

SECRETARY POWELL: I really have nothing to say. Some people have called me a pragmatist. Others have called me moderate. Others have called me this. Others call me that. The only thing I do is focus on what the President wants and try to run a Department that is wholly responsible to the President's agenda and pursues his agenda. And sometimes we even get in front of where he is, but only because he wants me in front of where he is at the moment because it's the good way to go about conducting diplomacy.

And so there are lots of points along the political continuum, and I don't editorialize on who's doing well or poorly with respect to any particular point or position or group of people on that continuum because I just don't see any need to. And I think you have noted over the years that I don't. I stick to my knitting and I do what I'm supposed to do, and that's to serve the President and execute his foreign policy, not anyone else's foreign policy, his foreign policy.

And he makes clear to me what he wants accomplished. We stay in very close touch. We spend a lot of time together. I know what he wants and I try to accomplish his foreign policy, which he has been elected by the American people to formulate. And that's it.

QUESTION: I'm sort of curious about Syria. There are sort of two schools of thought, which may kind of go along with his question a little bit that it would be productive to work behind the scenes with Syria to get cooperation on Iraq and al-Qaida, Mid-east and all sorts of things like that. And then there's another school of thought that it would be good to have some sanctions up on the Hill to show them that we're angry about a lot of things that they're doing, including the camp and things like that.

And I'm just curious what you think. Are those two things in conflict? Which one do you think is the most important to push?

SECRETARY POWELL: Our policy has been one of trying to encourage better Syrian behavior. After 9/11 there was an improved level of cooperation on the intelligence sharing and matters like that with the Syrians, and we took note of that, and I think we said so at the time.

But there are continuing aspects of Syrian behavior that we disapprove of. And I have met with President Bashar Assad three times. And the last meeting I had with him in June or thereabouts -- June?


SECRETARY POWELL: May. I made it very clear to him that unless there's action on these disturbing aspects of their behavior, it would be hard for us not to respond in some way, and it would affect the relationship.


SECRETARY POWELL: At the top of that list was continuing support for terrorist activities in the territories. And as long as Hamas and PIJ felt free to have offices in Damascus that could be used to control terrorist activity in the occupied territories, then you are not working with us trying to find a path to peace.

And there were complaints about, "Why aren't you taking into account Syrian issues that go on," and things of that nature. I said, "I would like -- I want to do that. The President has a comprehensive approach. But why aren't you, then, helping us by helping us shut down terrorist organizations?"

We also talked weapons of mass destruction development; transit across the border; any harboring of Iraqi fugitives; a full range of issues that were a concern to us. I told President Bashar Assad at the time that we really need action, and if we didn't see action, he would see a response from the Executive Branch, but he would also start to see a response from the Legislative Branch.

And at that time, the Syrian Accountability Act was already like this, bouncing around. And we haven't seen the kind of action that we had hoped for, and we continue to see these horrible terrorist activities taking place -- terrorist acts taking place in the territories with terrorist organizations probably taking credit for these actions. And they're all -- they're being led from Syria and Damascus.

And so, Congress has now decided to express its will in the form of the Syrian Accountability Act. And we gave the Syrians notice of this some time ago. So that's our policy. And there may be, you know, once again, along the political continuum -- those who might want to do more of one kind of action, and those who might want to do more of another kind of action, but what I have just described is the President's policy, and the way we're executing it. I don't go to Syria without (taps feet) in mind.


QUESTION: We understand.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: So do I. Yes. Well, you don't freelance going to Syria.

QUESTION: Related to that, when you came into office you were talking about a review of a sanctions policy overall. And you actually were talking up earlier on, the idea of sanctions working against Iraq.

And I'm just wondering, is it now -- with what you have done in Syria, and there is also talk on the Hill, as well, of strengthening ILSA -- is the Administration -- has the Administration come to a general conclusion on sanctions that it talked about reviewing at the beginning? And where is it going on that?

Are sanctions now, more or less, of a viable tool than you thought it might have been at the beginning? And you specifically didn't talk about ILSA, whether you, in fact, should be talking about it?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think sanctions are a surgical tool that can work in some cases, but not in all cases. And I have always cautioned members of Congress who are interested in sanctions to slow down and think it through; and who gets hurt the most by a particular set of sanctions.

A lot of the sanctions that I'm responsible for supervising and executing now were here long before we came into office and remain in effect because the Congress wishes them to remain in effect. But I think we should always be careful about these sanctions and make sure they are achieving the intended purpose; and years later, are they still achieving the intended purpose?

You know, Jackson-Vanik was a form of sanctions, and it's still around long after the original purpose has been served, and we're trying to work our way out of Jackson-Vanik. It's now being used, not for the purpose that it was originally created. And so, I think one has to be careful about sanctions.

And to go back to what you said at the beginning of the Administration, I think what I told the Congress in one of my early hearings, it might have been my Confirmation Hearing, that we ought to review all these sanctions and see which still make sense, which should be grandfathered, or why don't you grandfather all new ones so we can take a look at them every couple of years and make sure they're still sensible?

So I see sanctions as a useful tool in a diplomatic toolbox, but not as a sledgehammer that works in every case.

A PARTICIPANT: Okay, we've got about five minutes.

SECRETARY POWELL: Who's got a follow-up?

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I just -- I asked you about those ILSA expansion.

SECRETARY POWELL: ILSA -- and I had heard about an extension, expansion

QUESTION: And you're talking about limiting the Syria Accountability Act to two years, or whatever? Or --

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't even know what it says right now. We're not going to take a -- you know, we're not opposing it. But we haven't seen it in its final form yet, so I'm reluctant to comment on it.

And I don't know whether there -- it has a time span or not. I have a bias toward putting a time span on these things so we can review it, see it they make sense in some number of years after they have been passed. Are they still serving the original purpose? Are they still needed?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in February at the United Nations, in your testimony, which you have talked about many times, one of the things you said was that there was evidence that the Iraqi Mukhabarat had trained al-Qaida and Afghanistan in document forgery, as well as poisons.

I'd imagine, at this point, the U.S. Government had an opportunity to interview a number of these Iraqi officials. Is that still the case in your mind?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't answer that because I don't think I've received any interrogation reports --


SECRETARY POWELL: -- from the Agency. And the information I presented then was Agency information.


SECRETARY POWELL: Everything I said that day was divined from Agency material; and therefore, I'd have to ask the CIA to answer that question.


SECRETARY POWELL: Or maybe you want to pose it directly to them.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can I just follow up on the security assurances? Can you give us any kind of idea of what form this might take? Would it be a kind of public written undertaking with --

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. It would be something that would be public, something that would be written, and I hope something that would be multilateral.

QUESTION: Say that, the other five parties had no intention to invade or attack North Korea?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't -- we would certainly look at that as one model. All the other parties have said they have no intention of attacking North Korea or each other.

QUESTION: You said there were models in the past. What sort of models would they be, in fact?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's interesting, but my folks have come up with models that span an 80-year period. But I don't want to -- I don't want to give you any better list than that right now.


QUESTION: We're not talking about, like, the Treaty of Ghent or the Hanseatic League?


QUESTION: I've figured out that they're U.S. models.

SECRETARY POWELL: Some are U.S., some are foreign -- or, yes, I mean, some of our allies have done some marvelous work with agreements of this kind. There are some interesting agreements that have dealt with complex problems where people needed assurances and they needed something that was formal, but wasn't a treaty. And that's -- those are the kinds of things we're looking at.

QUESTION: Well, you don't want to give us a hint as to what even one of them --

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't want -- I don't want to put you -- no, I don't want to put you on the trail.

QUESTION: Can it work without intrusive inspections, in which you're actually -- somebody's actually in the country walking around doing, looking for things?

SECRETARY POWELL: The security assurance is --

QUESTION: But that's going to be part of the deal though, right?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. But if you're asking would the security assurance deal with that, I don't think so, no. Security assurance would be a security assurance.

QUESTION: I realize that.

SECRETARY POWELL: It wouldn't be the verification regime that will be necessary to ensure North Korean compliance. That will have to be something separate.

QUESTION: Can it be anything short of basically walking around the -- freedom to walk around the country?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't need to walk around the country for the security assurance. I would need to do something for verification that they have gotten rid of the nuclear weapons. That may not be part of that agreement. It might be part of some separate agreement.

QUESTION: Which is --

QUESTION: And the security agreement?

A PARTICIPANT: This has got to be the last one.

QUESTION: Would the security assurance in any way be tied to what North Korean behavior would be? Would there be something they could do about it?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. I mean, it would have to be something both sides, actions taken by both sides. Right? It wouldn't simply be one -- we give an assurance with nothing on the other side. Now, how we verify what the other side has done --


SECRETARY POWELL: -- that would not necessarily be part of a security assurance.

QUESTION: Okay. I know it's weird. Don't --

QUESTION: I mean, they would be giving you a security assurance in the sense that they would be assuring that they would not attack South Korea, right? I mean, it would be mutual in that respect. Or not?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. But that has nothing to do with what I think the essence of your question is -- the verification of the elimination of nuclear weapons or nuclear infrastructure.

QUESTION: You say it would be public. And I'm just confused about the timing.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. I don't think it would be a secret agreement, not that we knew how to keep a secret.


QUESTION: What would you see -- two statements being issued simultaneously? Or are you saying that the U.S. would do this first, and then with the expectation that North Korea would come back?

SECRETARY POWELL: Wait a minute. No, no, no, no. No, we don't know yet. It would depend on -- no, I don't want to take you down a rat hole. I never do that.

Right, guys?


I can't tell you exactly what the form would be, but it would be something that would -- I expect to be an open, public document so people can look at it and see what it says. And it would not be something "they do" "We do," but something that's an agreement that all parties have agreed to, an agreement between some number of parties. And, perhaps, it's multilateral. That's what we're hoping for. And I think that's the only thing that will really work.

But don't -- this is -- we're at a very preliminary stage, and I wouldn't want to have you writing a lot of stories that I would kick the can out from under next week, or you would -- I'd have to explain myself next week.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: We're in the early stage of this. But the point I want to leave you with is that we do have some ideas that go beyond where we were at the last six-party meeting. That's the message.

Thanks, guys. Have a good weekend.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Released on October 11, 2003

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