Interview With Laurent Zecchini of Le MondeSecretary Colin L. Powell
Le Meridien Hotel
November 18, 2003
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if we read recent opinion polls about transatlantic relations, it seems obvious that there is a misunderstanding sometimes between Americans and Europeans. But that European poll said that for 53% of Europeans, the U.S. are an important threat for the world peace. So if I can put it that way and who’s wrong?
SECRETARY POWELL: I don’t know the nature of the poll or how the question was asked but I think most of my European friends - and I think that my friends in France - recognize that the United States is not a threat to world peace could not possibly view us a threat to world peace. We have been preserving world peace; we created world peace; French citizens know this best of all. And we have continued to maintain world peace over the last fifty or sixty years and will continue to do so.
What we have done in recent months which has caused people to perhaps gain this kind of perspective is we have overcome two terrible regimes: the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Now if that is a threat to world peace – I would argue that it is not. It’s improved the prospects for world peace by getting rid of brutal regimes that were developing terrible weapons, they were harboring terrorists that were imprisoning their own people and were creating mass graves of the kind that we haven’t seen since World War II. And that when this work is finished in Afghanistan and Iraq and these two nations are standing on their own two feet as democracies, we’ll see what the polls say then. They will say that two despotic regimes have been removed and the world is better off for it. And there is a more stable situation both in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
QUESTION: Rightly or wrongly, sometimes the European has the impression to be a good partner and ally of the United States, you have to agree with Washington, DC. Is it possible to disagree and stay good friends?
SECRETARY POWELL: France has disagreed with us quite ostensibly, often and openly in the spirit of disagreement, as well as in the spirit of friendship. I have been quick to say to audiences in the United States- and to audiences in Europe -that the United States and France are friends. They are allies. They’ve been friends for 227 years, or thereabouts, helped us at the beginning of our creation, and we have helped France two major times in the last century. And we will remain friends; we will remain allies.
But we have had a major disagreement about Iraq, but it’s a disagreement we will be over. What we are now unified on is that we have to turn sovereignty to the Iraqi people as soon as possible and do it in a way that leaves Iraq in a better condition than it was when we had the operation. Now there is still a disagreement between the United States and France as to how to do that, but we’re not debating whether it should be done, we’re debating the best way to return sovereignty.
My French colleague, Dominique de Villepin, would like it to be returned more quickly than we think is possible to return sovereignty and under a different set of circumstances than we think are the appropriate set of circumstances to return sovereignty.
But we’re coming back together again - the international community is coming back together again. We debated, and we disagreed and fought over 1441 but we passed it unanimously. We debated 1483 and passed it unanimously, the Syrians joining at the last moment. 1500 and most recently resolution 1511 debate long into the night -up to the last minute -but unanimous agreement. So disagreement and debate is what democracies do best.
QUESTION: Let me take the example of the European defense. You keep saying to the Europeans, “ you must do more in terms of military capabilities” the Europeans say, “ok, we will do the European defense”. But now you criticize the Europeans because they think it’s appropriate when they will come down to military operations outside NATO to have an independent headquarters. What is the argument?
SECRETARY POWELL: The simple proposition is that NATO remains the better rock of transatlantic security.
We support a strong European pillar, a strong European interest in enhancing its defense capabilities. Capabilities, air lift capabilities, communications, intelligence, rationalizing all that - we support all of that. I have been supporting a strong European pillar for the last twelve years – fourteen years – since back when I was Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The issue before us now is how to do that in a way that does not in any way undercut NATO. We had a solution. The solution was “Berlin Plus”. In other words, the Berlin Plus arrangement said NATO will first consider, and NATO remains the bedrock of transatlantic security. And if NATO makes a judgment that this is the correct mission for NATO, then the European Union might wish to use its own capabilities with NATO assistance. And many of these capabilities are embedded in NATO as part of their contribution to NATO, then the EU can do it. And we have seen that happen. We saw it happen in Macedonia; perhaps we’ll see it in Bosnia.
What our concern is that we have to make sure we don’t start duplicating things. We don’t duplicate headquarters where it’s not necessary to have separate headquarters. We don’t duplicate institutions. We don’t imbed language into new constitutions or other ways that suggests that NATO is not at the center of transatlantic security. I think there’s a way to work these differences out, and I look forward to discussing with my European Union colleagues today. So what we need is more capability not necessarily a headquarters or staff officers.
QUESTION: So when the Europeans want to conduct again an independent operation, it’s not necessary for them to have an independent headquarters?
SECRETARY POWELL: I don’t think it’s necessary.; I think there are ways to deal with that. And we’re looking at how to do that within the context of Berlin Plus. Berlin Plus anticipated these kinds of challenges. Berlin plus has made provisions for those.
QUESTION: And the question of kind of a divide between “ Old” and “New” Europe - you think that it belongs to the past now?
SECRETARY POWELL: I’ve never used that formulation.
QUESTION: I know.
SECRETARY POWELL: Europe is Europe is Europe. There are big countries in Europe and little countries. There are new members of the transatlantic community and older members of the transatlantic community. When I look at Europe, increasingly what I see are nations one after another that are all now on the path to democracy and free enterprise systems- some further along than others.
And so I view Europe in its entirety and I want the United States to have good friendships and to engage in partnerships with all the nations of Europe. Either in their collective form, as EU, as NATO or in their individual forms. As individual nations that have the right to their own opinion and to make their own judgments and not be told either by the United States -or any nation- in Europe what their opinion should be or what their judgment should be. That was the whole purpose of wishing for the end of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Iron Curtain- so all these new nations that have now joined the transatlantic community are free to make their own choices and judgments.
QUESTION: Another example of misperception between Europe and the US. Europeans don’t understand why you don’t put real pressure on Israel to start the peace process. And they say it’s because of the coming presidential election in November.
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think they’re wrong. The president went to the Middle East, he went to Aqaba this past summer and stood up with Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Abu Mazen. He stood up with Prime Minister Sharon. He stood up with other Arab leaders and all of them agreed to work on a Road Map together. And we began work on that Road Map. The president knew there was an election coming next year but nevertheless he took the risk of going to Aqaba and presenting the Road Map to the parties and having the parties agree to the Road Map. The president still believes the Road Map is the right way forward and he’s prepared to work with both parties. What stopped the Road Map is terror. What stopped the Road Map is terror.
SECRETARY POWELL: Terror. The Palestinians were unable to bring under control organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which were determined to use the killing of innocent civilians as a political weapon --not to gain a Palestinian state, but to destroy the state of Israel. That was their goal – it still is their goal.
And until the Palestinian leaders and the Palestinian people recognize that the state of Israel cannot be destroyed and this kind of terror activity will not destroy the state of Israel, importantly, it is destroying the dreams of the Palestinian people. It’s hard to move forward. I can assure you that now that we have a new Prime Minister on the Palestinian side, Mr. Abu Ala, we are prepared to work with him. If he- if his actions- make a commitment to end terrorism emanating from the Palestinian community, and we see perform in that way, we are confident that the Israelis are ready to respond and the United States will use its influence to make sure the Israelis do respond in accordance with the requirements of the Road Map.
QUESTION: Do you think Ariel Sharon is doing the right part to start the peace process?
SECRETARY POWELL: I’m encouraged, but I've learned not to be too encouraged about the Middle East until you see things actually happen. I’m encouraged that Prime Minster Sharon’s first response and the first response as well of my colleague Silvan Shalom, the Foreign Minister is they are going to be reaching out to the Palestinians, and to leadership, begin having meetings in the near future. Not sure what level yet, but certainly what Prime Minister Sharon indicated is he wishes to meet- in the not to distant future- with our Prime Minister Abu Ala. That's encouraging, that’s encouraging, it’s a start.
What we have to do is get the two sides talking, and once they start talking to one another, once they have started to realize that the Road Map is the only way forward, they will find the United States there- ready to work with both sides to encourage and cajole both sides to meet their obligations that they have under the Road Map.
Released on November 19, 2003