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Interview on CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
October 26, 2003


(12:10 p.m. EST)

QUESION: Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Late Edition. Thanks very much for joining us. Let's get to the story today, a big story, this attack at the El Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, where the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and his party were staying.

This looked like a very brazen, well-organized attack. What does it say to you about the level of resistance to the U.S. military-led occupation?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it was a brazen attack. First, let me say I regret the loss of an American life, and I hope those who were injured, to include a State Department employee, are able to recover rapidly.

It says that the situation is still dangerous. But, at the same time, there are very, very positive signs in Baghdad and in Iraq throughout. Paul Wolfowitz, our Deputy Secretary, who I'm glad is safe, was received with joy in a number of the places he visited over the last couple of days. People are glad Saddam Hussein is gone. They're glad the country is starting to rise up again, and on a path to a better future. But it is still dangerous, as we saw this morning and as we saw in recent days.

So we can't minimize the danger. But, at the same time, let's take account of the progress that we are making as well.

QUESTION: There is certainly a mixed report card right now. I think everybody will agree on that. But I want you to look at some very disturbing comments that Republican Senator John McCain gave in an interview with Newsweek, the new issue that's coming out. He says this:

"This is the first time that I have seen a parallel to Vietnam in terms of information that the Administration is putting out versus the actual situation on the ground. I'm not saying the situation in Iraq now is as bad as Vietnam, but we have a problem in the Sunni triangle and we should face up to it and tell the American people about it."

As you know, Senator McCain was a POW in Vietnam. You served in Vietnam. Is his point fair?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't like making comparisons to Vietnam because this isn't

Vietnam and this isn't 30 or 40 years ago. This is Iraq. And we do have a problem in the Sunni triangle. I don't know of any Administration official who has said we do not have a problem. I say it all the time, the President says it, Secretary Rumsfeld does, and certainly General Bremer and General Abizaid. And that's why we are focusing our attention on that triangle and why our units in that triangle are conducting raids and trying to generate the intelligence necessary to deal with this threat.

And so we're not minimizing anything. We just want to make sure that a balanced picture is going out. At the same time we see incidents of the kind you discuss, Wolf, when I was in the northern part of Iraq last month, I was greeted warmly. Paul Wolfowitz was greeted warmly yesterday. We have increased the number of hours people can stay out in Baghdad because we do believe it is safer, and people want to stay out. Economy is starting to thrive in Baghdad. We opened a bridge that goes across the river so people can go back and forth.

So things are happening that are positive. At the same time, we have these negative events such as the attack on the El Rashid Hotel.

QUESTION: What is the exit strategy for getting out of Iraq, and specifically a timeline that you might have in mind - the Administration, that is - right now?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think there are two key pieces to this. One, bringing up Iraqi security forces: police, an army, border patrol, militias, everything that is needed to put Iraqis in charge of their own security. Iraqis don't want to go back to the days of Saddam Hussein. Only a few of them do. And I think as we create these units, they will be better positioned than U.S. units, perhaps, to deal with these kinds of threats. They'll have better insight into the communities. They'll have better ability to obtain the necessary sort of intelligence.

So part one is dealing with Iraqi security forces, getting them created, getting them trained, getting them out on the field and on the streets.

Secondly is to get the political track moving along, have the constitution written, have elections, put in place a government that is responsible and can deal with the authority of running a new Iraq, and then turning it over to them.

The third piece of this, I might add, is the reconstruction of the country, and that's why it was so important for the Congress to pass the President's supplemental request and why it was so important that we had a good result at the Madrid conference on Friday, where some $33 billion in grants and loans were pledged to assist in the reconstruction effort, $33 billion that will be added to by Iraq's own revenues beginning in 2005, when the oil revenue starts to increase to a level that they can apply part of it to their own reconstruction at the rate of $5 billion additional a year on top of the $33 billion that's been pledged by the international community.

QUESTION: 33 billion, 20 billion of which will come from the United States. As you know, the Senate wants half of that 20 billion to be in the form of loans, half in grants; the House says all of it should be in the form of outright grants. The President is threatening to veto the entire 87 billion unless all of that 20 billion is a grant. Is that a hard and fast position as the House and Senate conferees resolve this issue?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, it is. The President feels very strongly that it should be a grant. We need to get this country up and running quickly. And I was quite taken at the Madrid conference I attended, where the UN representative, Mark Malloch Brown, from the UN Development Program, said it should be a grant. We need this infusion of dollars as we structure over a longer period of time the influx of grants and loans on a long-term basis.

QUESTION: We see the new cover of Newsweek Magazine: "Bush's $87 Billion Mess." It says: "Special Investigation, Waste, Chaos and Cronyism: The Real Cost of Rebuilding Iraq." And there's a Newsweek poll, asked the American public is the money spent in Iraq too much. 58 percent say too much, too little 3 percent, about right 31 percent.

Why should the U.S. taxpayer be burdened with all this aid to Iraq as a grant when the rest of the international community, at least most of it, is refusing to provide grant; and some, like France, Germany and Russia, are refusing to provide any aid to Iraq reconstruction at all?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have to remember that this was a conflict that we felt was important. We felt it was in our natural - national interest and in the international interest of the world as well, and we have a particular obligation here.

And with respect to corruption and cronyism, I'm not sure how these charges can be levied when the money hasn't even been appropriated yet.

And so I'm quite confident the money will be spent by Ambassador Bremer and others responsible for spending the money in a way that will be solid, that there will be transparency, everybody will be able to see how the money is being spent, and it will be spent on the basis of competitive bids that come in.

And so I'd withhold judgment until we actually get the money and start spending the money, and I'm quite sure people will be quite comfortable that we are spending it in a responsible way for the purposes intended by the Congress.

QUESTION: The other Newsweek question in the poll that they just released: Does the U.S. have a good plan to establish security in Iraq? 39 percent said yes, 49 percent said no. You still have some explaining to do to the American public.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, we do. And, of course, you know, a poll of that nature, when people see that, it is still a dangerous place, they would tend to say, well, we don't have security under control yet. The fact of the matter is, security is good in the northern part of the country, in the southern part of the country. We're having trouble in the Sunni triangle. But even within the Sunni triangle we are seeing areas of improvement. Baghdad itself. Commerce is coming back. People are staying out longer. They want to stay out longer. The curfew has been extended. And so there are positive signs along with trouble, and we will work hard to solve these troublesome issues and to deal with these remnants of this old, despotic regime that don't want to see a new Iraq. Saddam Hussein is not coming back and these remnants will ultimately be gone.

QUESTION: A lot of us were surprised to read that memo. I don't know if you were surprised, but when I read that memo that was reported earlier in the week in USA Today from the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he had been one of those saying that things were really going well and the media were responsible for placing this filter- or for not reporting all the positive developments happening in Iraq. Then he writes, among other things, in this memo he writes, this: "And it's pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog," s-l-o-g. He seemed to be shifting his emphasis.

Did you read it that way?

SECRETARY POWELL: The President has said from the very beginning that this would be a long, hard task that we have set ourselves upon. He said it right after 9/11, when he made it clear to the American people it wasn't just a matter of dealing with al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, but that this was a global war that would be fought on many fronts, in many ways, using all of the tools at our disposal - military, law enforcement, diplomacy, financial controls, you name it. And he told the American people to get ready for a long, hard road ahead. And we have had successes along that road. Saddam Hussein is gone. The Taliban is gone. We have a new government in Kabul, in Afghanistan. We'll be putting a new government in place in Baghdad that will be a government the people can be proud of. But the task ahead is a difficult task, but we're up to it and I'm quite confident we'll be successful.

Secretary Rumsfeld's memo is the way Secretary Rumsfeld likes to prod his staff and ask them a rhetorical question to get them thinking and keep them thinking.

QUESTION: The other part of the memo that raised some eyebrows, including my own, is this part. And I ask you this question as I read this quote from the memo as someone not only who is the current Secretary of State but a former National Security Advisor to the President, also a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He writes this:

"It is not possible to change DOD fast enough to successfully fight the global war on terror. An alternative might be to try to fashion an new institution either within DOD or elsewhere, one that seamlessly focuses the capabilities of several departments and agencies on this key problem."

Is the Defense Secretary right that it may be time to create a new bureaucracy, if you will, a new agency to fight terror?

SECRETARY POWELL: I really don't know quite what Secretary Rumsfeld was referring to, whether he meant a new cabinet department or something new within DOD. I don't think he was trying to be specific. I think he was musing. He was just challenging his staff to think about things.

I know quite a bit about DOD, and DOD is capable of transforming itself and changing things when it has a clear mission of what it is the leadership decides. And I'm sure that what Secretary Rumsfeld is trying to do is to prod his leaders. Is there something we should be doing that we're not doing now? If so, what is it?

QUESTION: When we return, more of my interview with the Secretary of State Colin Powell.

(Commercial break.)

QUESTION: Welcome back to Late Edition. We return now to my interview with the Secretary of State Colin Powell.

A lot of people are frustrated that the U.S. and its coalition partners still have not found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq six months after the war, in effect, the major combat. Here is the Newsweek question on this. Bush Administration - did it misinterpret the WMD, the weapons of mass destruction intelligence? Fifty percent of the American public said yes, thirty-nine percent said no.

Let's go back to Senator McCain, someone I know you admire. A lot of people look to him for guidance on these kinds of matters. Listen to what he told our own Al Hunt on the Capital Gang this weekend. Listen to this:

"There needs to be an in-depth review of the intelligence that led to statements made by highly respected people - the President, Colin Powell at the UN, and others. There will be a credibility problem unless the American people are assured that those kinds of mistakes are not made again."

I want to give you a chance to respond to that. Looking back now, and obviously all of us are much smarter with hindsight, are you still convinced that Iraq, on the eve of the war, posed a significant danger to the United States and its friends in that part of the world, and that there were, in fact, significant quantities of chemical and biological weapons ready to be used against U.S. forces?

SECRETARY POWELL: I never made a statement that said they were ready to be used. What we've said, and what I said on the 5th of February, was that they had an intention of developing these weapons, they had an intention of keeping these weapons, and that the evidence suggested they had biological and chemical weapons and they were interested in producing nuclear weapons.

With respect to Senator McCain, for whom I have great respect, as you well know, he is absolutely right. There will be investigations conducted by the Senate, by the House. George Tenet is conducting an in-house review of his effort and there will be others who will be looking into this. And we will, in due course, know how close we were to the truth of the matter as Dr. Kay finishes is work. But I think it's premature to start making judgments about what was mistaken or not mistaken. I know that I sat with the intelligence community for five nights, four or five nights, before my presentation in February, with George Tenet sitting on my right and John McLaughlin, the Deputy Director of CIA, sitting on my left, in a room full of their best analysts. And what we put forward, and what I put forward on behalf of the Administration on the 5th of February, was the best judgment of the intelligence community, making as good of an assessment as they could of the information they had.

And guess what? It was an assessment that essentially validated what the previous administration felt, what a number of foreign intelligence communities believed, and what the United Nations believed over a period of 12 years as they kept issuing resolutions demanding that Iraq account for its actions.

And the truth will come out and if adjustments are needed in the way we analyze intelligence, gather intelligence, then we should make those adjustments. But let's not rush to judgment yet.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I want to wrap this up, but a couple of quick questions. We only have a few more minutes to go. This past week, there was the 20th anniversary of the Beirut bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. Some 241 Americans, mostly Marines, were killed, as you well remember living through that era. The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld writes in today's Washington Post, he writes this: "Within six months of the first attack, most of the American troops had pulled out of Lebanon, and from that experience terrorists learned important lessons, that terrorism is relatively low cost and deniable and can yield substantial results at low risk and often without penalty."

Twenty years later, after that Marine attack, has anyone been held accountable for the deaths of those U.S. Marines and other military forces?

SECRETARY POWELL: If you mean in terms of those who actually conducted the attack, no, I'm not aware of it. The Marine commanders themselves took the precautions they thought were appropriate to the situation. Those precautions were not enough.

QUESTION: And but you're, I assume, punting so that Imad Mugnia and others who are suspected of having been involved - Hezbollah, presumably backed or financed at least, like Iran, perhaps even Syria?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, but I must say, Wolf, I haven't exactly been following the audit trail on charges and who was responsible and who has been held accountable over the past 20 years.

QUESTION: One final question, Mr. Secretary, on the Israeli security barrier. What exactly is the position of the U.S. Government as Israel moves ahead with some of this fence, as it's called, deep inside the West Bank?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are in consultations with the Israelis. We are concerned about it. It's one thing to put up a security fence, a barrier that is clearly on your property - the dividing line, so to speak - in order to protect yourself. And that would be understood. But as the fence goes deeply into Palestinian areas and starts to put more and more Palestinians outside of their normal traffic patterns and being able to get to their fields and farms and work places, and as it seems to prejudge what a future Palestinian state might look like, then that's troublesome to us. And we have to get into more - into deeper consultations with the Israelis about their intent and the purpose of this fence.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you're generous with your time. Thanks very much for joining us.


Released on October 26, 2003

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