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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 > 2004 > February

Interview on Al Hurra With Dalia Ahmed

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
February 24, 2004

(4:25 p.m. EST)

MS. AHMED: I would like to start this interview by thanking you on behalf of Al Hurra for talking to us.

Sir, today Egypt and Saudi Arabia announced the rejection of any reform plans, if it was from the outside. What does this mean for your effort in Egypt?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we would never suggest a reform plan that should come from outside. The Greater Middle East Initiative, and the Middle East Partnership Initiative that is a part of the Greater Middle East Initiative, must be something that is acceptable to the parties in the region. These are sovereign nations. They have their own interests to protect. They have their own people, their own culture, their own identity, their own history. What we are trying to do is help each of them, in the way that they choose, to move forward down a path that I think is in their interests to move down. And all of them have indicated a commitment to democracy, to the rights of individuals.

And so the Greater Middle East Initiative that we are working on with them, and with our European partners and with others, are not for the purpose of the United States imposing anything on anyone. In fact, it won't work unless the nations in the region find it in their interests to move in this direction, and we hope that they will. We are in consultations with them now. I've had a number of phone calls and personal meetings recently, the Tunisian President and other leaders. Members of my staff will be in the region over the next week or so to explain the initiative in greater detail and to try to get acceptance and understanding and buy-in from the region.

I agree with the Egyptians and the Saudis: it can't be imposed from outside. It has to be accepted from the inside. And we hope that they will see the benefits of the initiative from inside the region.

MS. AHMED: Sir, the Palestinians say if the wall continues to be built, then there is no meaning for the wall to have; while, on the other hand, the Israelis say that the wall is just for security reasons and we will continue with the roadmap. How can you bridge the gap between the two sides?

SECRETARY POWELL: We're working to bridge that gap, and I'm not sure how much of a gap it really is. The roadmap is the only plan that is on the table that allows the parties to move forward together. The President and I, of course, remain committed to the roadmap. We think it shows how we can get to the vision that the President has, the vision that Crown Prince Abdullah brought to the Arab League, of two states living side by side in peace with each other.

The Israelis felt that they had to put up this fence because the suicide bombers were continuing to come across. We have told the Israelis that we have problems with the fence -- not the idea of a fence, because if you want to build a fence on that which is your property, fine. But when the fence starts to go deep into Palestinian territories and the fence does it in a way that looks like it is prejudging the outcome of negotiations, the outcome of the roadmap, that is a problem for us. We have expressed that to the Israelis; and I think in recent days, you've seen the Israelis have started to make some adjustments to the fence.

What I think it's important to have happen now is both sides to recommit themselves to the roadmap and for them to start talking to each other. The Palestinian side, as I've said clearly many times, must do everything possible to end violence, show that they are making a one hundred percent effort to end the terror and violence on the part of those in the Palestinian community who don't want to see peace, who are not interested in the roadmap. They're not interested in a Palestinian state living by the side of Israel. They're interested in destruction of Israel. They must be stopped and they must be spoken about. And we cannot have any compromise with respect to the use of terror; it's unacceptable.

And we believe that the Israelis, with some of the ideas that they have come forward with -- the elimination of settlements in Gaza as part of a more comprehensive approach to the problem -- this gives us something to work with. And I am anxious to see Prime Minister Sharon meet with Prime Minister Abu Alaa as soon as is possible in the near future so they can talk to one another. And I hope in talking to one another, both sides will prepare to make the kinds of compromises that will allow the roadmap to move forward. We remain committed to the roadmap. We believe it is the way forward and it is the way to finding a solution to this problem and to bring into being a Palestinian state.

MS. AHMED: Yes, but, sir, can we have -- can you state for us a firm American position of the wall?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have said that the wall is a problem. We can't say that a nation is not able to build a wall or a fence or whatever one wishes to call it on their territory. It is a problem for us when it starts to go out into Palestinian territory in a way that may prejudge the outcome of negotiations, the outcome of the roadmap.

The Israelis will respond, “any fence that is put up can also be taken down.” Right now they are in the process of taking down a fence that they have put up recently and moving it. Maybe that will help the situation a little bit.

But it is not a -- it is not an insurmountable object to moving forward on discussions of the roadmap.

MS. AHMED: Sir, can we expect surprises during the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Washington?

SECRETARY POWELL: The visit has not yet been scheduled, but we don't like to surprise people. We hope when the Prime Minister does come, we'll have full, open discussions on all of these issues. And we hope that the Palestinian side will have an opportunity to visit with the Prime Minister and express their concerns.

And so I don't like surprises in meetings of this nature. I hope that we will be able to move the process forward.

MS. AHMED: Today you were about to announce lifting the travel ban from Americans this morning. What happened?

SECRETARY POWELL: There was a bit of a disconnect between something that the Libyan Prime Minister said in London concerning Pan Am 103 families, and we needed to get clarification on that before making the announcement with respect to the lifting of the travel restrictions. I think it's just a momentary delay of a day or so.

I think the Libyans are in the process of clarifying their position. Their position is a position that was communicated to the United Nations and which we have been following in terms of dealing with the settlements for the families and Libya accepting the level of responsibility that was required in order to get this agreement that dealt with the UN sanctions. I think this was just a delay of a day or so while we were awaiting clarification, and I hope that the ban will be lifted soon.

We are very encouraged by what Libya did in saying, "We don't want to have weapons of mass destruction. They are doing nothing for us. They are just causing us problems, and they are not enhancing our security. If anything, these kinds of weapons are damaging our security. We're wasting so much money on these weapons and they accomplish nothing for us. Let's get rid of them."

And Libya said that in a very bold and courageous step on the part of Colonel Qadhafi, and the United States and the United Kingdom responded. The IAEA has now responded. Libya is getting rid of these weapons, and already is starting to see the benefits of not having these weapons. And one of those benefits will be the lifting of the travel ban in the very near future.

MS. AHMED: In the wake of the UN involvement in preparing for the elections in Iraq, where does the United States stand for this election?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we are very pleased by what the United Nations has said in its report. They say that as a minimum you need some eight months after you have in place the basic laws and procedures that you need to have in place before can start preparing for an election. And so we'll be talking to the Iraqi Governing Council, we'll be talking to Ambassador Brahimi and the Secretary General as to when we think we can start that clock running.

So the earliest I think we could have elections would be toward the end of this year, but it may well be sometime in 2005. The difference in terms of months is not so great that one should be worried about it. We don't want to rush into elections. We want to have good elections. We want elections where all of the people of Iraq get to express their view. We want elections that will be seen as open and fair, complete and transparent; and that takes time.

The UN has a great deal of expertise and experience in these kinds of matters, and we look forward to working with the United Nations in helping the Iraqi people conduct the kind of elections that they will be proud of and we will be proud of and the world will be proud of; and this takes a little bit of time.

MS. AHMED: The Syrian President made several hints recently revealing his willingness to resume peace talks with Israel. Why didn't you seize that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we have spoken to the President of Syria before. I've had several conversations with him about resuming discussions with Israel. Offers were made, response comes from the Israeli side, the offer doesn't quite get connected. My impression is that even though there is a possibility of resumed discussion between Israel and Syria, we really do need to see movement on the Palestinian-Israeli side before we can believe that we would get very far with Syrian-Israeli talks. But if the Syrians are serious, I'm sure that the Israelis will listen carefully to whatever they have to say.

MS. AHMED: What is the status of the Syrian-U.S. relationship?

SECRETARY POWELL: Syrian-U.S. relations are not as I would like them to be. I went to Syria last summer after the war and laid out for President Bashar Assad the difficulties that existed in our relationship. I laid out some issues that I hoped he would take into account and deal with: Continuing support to terrorist organizations in the Palestinian area, which causes us to have difficulty getting peace with the Palestinians. And we thought that Syria should not support any kinds of activities on the part of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, should not allow them to operate out of Damascus.

I pointed out some problems with respect to weapons of mass destruction programs that the Syrians were continuing to pursue. I pointed out some problems that I saw with respect to what was moving across the Syrian border into Iraq and what we'd like them to do with respect to those border activities.

I pointed out a number of things where I thought we needed improvements in order for the relationship to improve. I also said to the President that if we didn't see that kind of improvement, they might expect the American Congress to take some action. The American Congress did take some action by passing the Syrian Accountability Act, and I am now in the process of examining my responsibilities under that Act with respect to what action we might take toward Syria.

And so I still hope that the Syrians will realize that the entire strategic situation in the region has changed with the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, with now the emergence of a democracy in Iraq, with the Greater Middle East Initiative that I think has benefits for Syria as well.

And I think it is time for Syria to really take a hard look at the policies they followed in the past and whether those policies are relevant to the future in light of what's happened in Iraq, with a better future now in store for Iraq; in light of how Colonel Qadhafi has changed his situation so dramatically. I think it's time for President Bashar Assad to start looking at steps he might take to change his relationship with the United States and his relationship with the other countries in the region.

The United States is ready to enter any discussions he'd like to have. We have a new Ambassador in Damascus. We have diplomatic relations with the Syrian nation. I stay in regular touch with my Syrian Foreign Minister colleague and I'm always willing to pursue a dialogue on these issues.

MS. AHMED: Okay, one final question. Last week, you met with the Tunisian President and his Minister. As you know, the Arab summit will take place next month in Tunis. What did the Tunisians tell you about their expectations for this summit?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, first of all, I might just say that we have excellent relations with Tunisia. They have been a friend to the United States for over 200 years. We are very pleased at some of the efforts that Tunisia has made to liberalize their society, the role of women, education of all of the people -- these are good items. But we think there is more they can be doing with respect to open media, with respect to a more open political process.

We did talk about the Arab summit that was coming up, and I know that Tunisia is looking forward to hosting it. What they indicated to me is they wanted to make sure it was a summit, not just statements, declarations, but a real action. So I think they're interested in having a very narrow agenda, a few specific items that they want to take up.

We didn't go into greater detail than that because this is really an Arab summit, not an Arab-American summit, and so I didn't pry too deeply into what the issues might be or how they plan to hold the summit. But I have confidence in President Ben Ali's ability and the ability of his government to have a very, very successful summit meeting that is action-oriented and focused on specific issues and not just statements.

MS. AHMED: Secretary Colin Powell, thank you for talking to us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much.


Released on February 25, 2004

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