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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 > November

Interview With Maria Luz Noli of TVN Panama's "Dialogo"

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Panama City, Panama
November 3, 2003


QUESTION: Good afternoon, Secretary Powell.

SECRETARY POWELL: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Iíll go right to the point; your ambassador in Panama was very critical of the Panamanian government during a presentation before the Chamber of Commerce. At that time she focused mainly on the issue of corruption. We are told that the State Department, and you, was advised of what she was going to say, and pre-approved her comments. Did she, in fact, express your governmentís assessment of the situation in Panama?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, and it wasnít a speech in which she was leveling charges, it was a speech in which she was talking to friends. She was saying to our good friends, the Panamanians, and especially the leaders of the Panamanian government, that corruption is a problem in this country and it should be dealt with. Not to satisfy the United States but because of the need to make sure that the whole world and all Panamanians see that this is an honest place in which to do business. And business is what Panama needs, investment is what Panama needs, to encourage investors to look at Panama as a place to put money in and to create jobs for Panamanian citizens. Investors are deterred; they are reluctant to go to a place where rule of law is not triumphant over everything else, and where there is corruption.

And, so we support what the Ambassador said and itís an issue that I raised with the President of Panama earlier today. But this is not a matter of leveling charges. Itís a matter of sharing an honest opinion with good friends. We wouldnít be friends with the Panamanian people if we werenít honest about what we see and what we believe they should be looking at.

QUESTION: Are financial aid and negotiations of a Free Trade Agreement between Panama and the United States conditioned by your views on the performance of the present government?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, weíre looking at the free trade agreement in terms of its long-term prospect, not just related to the current government. A Free Trade Agreement is something that lasts a long time and requires structural adjustment to be made in both countries that are party to the agreement. We are very encouraged at what we see happening here in Panama, and Iím quite encouraged by the state of negotiations between our two countries on a Free Trade Agreement. As you know, there will be a meeting in Florida later this month dealing with the Free Trade Area of the Americas; and after we have dealt with that, weíll be in a position to make a decision and perhaps have an announcement with respect to the Free Trade Agreement with Panama.

QUESTION: Very good.

SECRETARY POWELL: Iím encouraged.

QUESTION: Almost three years after Panama took over the administration of the Panama Canal, what are your views of the efficiency and success of the operation?

SECRETARY POWELL: Itís very, very efficient. Iím impressed by everything Iíve read about how the Canal is being operated. Itís being operated efficiently; revenues are solid. And you know, Iím so pleased about this because 25, 26 years ago, when I first started working at the senior levels of government and we were working at the ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty, people said the Panamanians wonít be able to run it; they wonít be able to do it. Well, the years went by, the treaty ended in 1999; and not only are the Panamanians able to do it, they are even doing it better than we did when we were here before. So, Iím impressed by what Iíve learned about the operation of the Canal.

QUESTION: Will the United States participate in the financing of the extension of the Panama Canal?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that remains to be seen. Iím sure that when the Government of Panama moves forward with their plans for a third set of locks and starts to seek international financial assistance for that, or investment in that, Iím sure that America will give it a good examination, as will many countries throughout the world that will see that to be a good investment.

QUESTION: Sir, at one time you had your man in Panama. And also, at some time or another you had your men in Haiti, Nicaragua, and Iraq, to name a few. These men all had a few things in common. They were the undisputed heads of the government, all were corrupt, and all received generous help from the U.S. and ended up being your worst enemy. But it is certain (inaudible) the lesson one can learn from this is that there are interests that supersede democracy?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, the one thing all of those individuals have in common is that they are all gone. What we have in the Western Hemisphere are 34 nations that are democratically elected. And many of them are democratically elected because the United States helped bring democracy back to these countries. Panama is a perfect example. You know my history, of what happened in 1989; we are very proud of that. We would have it no other way. Nothing trumps democracy. The days of the Cold War, the days of Castro fomenting revolution around the region, thatís in the past. Thirty-four of 35 hemispheric nations are democracies. Only Castroís Cuba remains locked in the past and the past will catch up with him yet.

QUESTION: What warranted a war with Iraq, when that country was only supposed to have nuclear capability, as opposed to your position on Korea, when you know for a fact that they have the technology and have developed nuclear armaments? Is this a diplomatic double standard?

SECRETARY POWELL: In the case of Iraq, there were a large number of UN resolutions that had been passed condemning Iraq and demanding that Iraq answer the question as to what it had. Also, Iraq was country that had used these kinds of terrible weapons, chemical weapons, against their own people and against their neighbors in Iran. And so there was real and present danger associated with Iraq.

With North Korea, it is also dangerous; but we are pursuing a different approach to North Korea. We believe that a diplomatic solution is possible. We have been very successful in recent months in convincing all of North Koreaís neighbors that they should join with the United States in finding a diplomatic way forward. Just in the past few days China and North Korea announced that North Korea is prepared to continue the six-party dialogue, as it is called. Everybody should not feel that the United States is standing around waiting to invade somebody. Thatís really not our policy. Our policy is not to turn away from danger, but to use all the tools at our disposal to deal with those dangers. The first tool we try to use is diplomacy, and thatís what we are trying to do with North Korea.

QUESTION: What affected the notion of the United States as the guardians of world peace? Do you feel that this self-appointed role is really the way to a better future?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it is not a self-appointed role. We believe that we do have a responsibility to work with other nations throughout the world, to help those people who are living under dictatorships, or who are suffering and their suffering can be alleviated. The United States has the role to play on the world stage as a superpower, and also as a nation that believes in basic human rights, in basic human values. Many of the problems that I have to deal with are not problems I went out and sought, but people came to us asking for us to help them. To the extent that we could help others, we help others. But it is not our goal to be the superman of the world or the policeman of the world. We want friends, we want allies, and we want partners. I much prefer talking about free trade agreements and how to end corruption, than I do invasion.

QUESTION: How do you envision the role of the United Nations after all what has happened with the Iraqi conflict? Do you feel that the multinational approach has outlived its usefulness?

SECRETARY POWELL: Not at all. We had major disagreements with some members of the Security Council over the Iraqi operation. But since then, we have gotten a number of UN resolutions passed unanimously when the international community has come back together again to help Iraqi people to a better life, to a better future. The Iraqi people are better off as a result of our operation. The Iraqi people are now building a new society, based on democracy. There are still dangers ahead. We see the security situation as difficult in the central part of the country, but we are determined to stay with this. We will not let the remnants from this old dictatorial regime keep us from helping the Iraqi people to a better life, just as we would not have allowed the remnants of Noriegaís regime to keep the Panamanian people from achieving what they have achieved. And they are now celebrating in this one hundredth anniversary of their independence.

QUESTION: Whatís the meaning of the presence of the U.S. Secretary of State in this Panamanian hundredth anniversary?

SECRETARY POWELL: I very much wanted to do this. I think the President would love to have come if his schedule would have permitted. But, when he wasnít able to come, I was hoping that my schedule would permit it and that nobody else would ask to come, because I have a relationship with the country. I have been watching Panama for many years, and Iím proud of what I see, of the role that Iíve had to play in it. Iím proud of what the Panamanian people have done over the years: restoring democracy, having election after election after election, that people have confidence.

And so I am here as a friend to celebrate with friends their one hundredth anniversary. We agree on so many things. Panama has supported us on the global war on terrorism. We try to support Panama in so many ways, but there are still some differences. Where these differences exist, whether it has to go with home porting, or whether it has to do with cleaning up some of the facilities that we once had here, letís work through it as friends. Friends tell each other the truth. Thatís what good friends are: people who tell each other the truth, and they are not afraid of telling the truth to one another. We have a friendship that is strong enough to take the truth.

QUESTION: One last question please? There is a group of Panamanians that are lobbying very hard in Washington for the Americansí, or the U.S. militaryís return to Panama. Do you foresee any possibility of that in the future?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I donít know of any plans that are around that would lead to such an eventuality. The Panamanian people made a decision some years ago, when I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that they did not wish to have any military presence in Panama. They are a sovereign nation, with their own democratic government. That is your choice, and we left as friends. But I donít anticipate a return. I am not aware of any of such plans.

QUESTION: Mister Secretary, again, thank you for your words and for your time.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you and congratulations.


Released on November 9, 2003

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