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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 > March

Interview on NPR With Juan Williams

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
March 8, 2004

MR. WILLIAMS: Secretary Powell, Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is criticizing the Administration for not backing Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who they point out, was democratically elected. He says Aristide was no picnic, but the U.S. should have backed a democratically elected government even if it was performing poorly.

How do you respond?

SECRETARY POWELL: We did everything we could to find a political solution to this terrible crisis in Haiti, yet another crisis in Haiti.

In the case of President Aristide, he was democratically elected but, unfortunately, he was governing very poorly. He governed in a way that allowed thugs to take over. He governed in a way that allowed the legislature, frankly, to be unable to do its work and finally had to go out of existence. There was no legislature. The police became corrupt and he essentially had allowed conditions of chaos to exist.

We found that his performance was so bad and so wanting that it was going to be impossible to find a political solution between the two parties under the circumstances that existed. And so we were not prepared, nor was Canada, France or anyone else prepared to send in a military force, as Senator Kerry suggests, to prop up a leader who was seriously failing.

And we thought that he ought to take a look at his performance and make a judgment as to whether he could continue to serve.

Finally, with the island in such chaos, President Aristide, concerned about his security and the security of his bodyguards, elected to step down and leave the island. He contacted our Ambassador, and our Ambassador made appropriate arrangements so that he could leave safely, which many people said we should make sure would happen -- that nothing would happen to him. And he left of his own free will.

The constitution was followed and the new president, acting president, President Alexandre, has issued instructions. We have a Committee of Eminent Persons following the CARICOM plan who are sitting now to determine who the new prime minister should be, and when that prime minister is appointed it will form a government, and that government will move toward new elections -- all being done in a democratic, constitutional way.

MR. WILLIAMS: Secretary Powell, former President Aristide, though, continues to insist that he was kidnapped at gunpoint. The Administration has denied this, I know, but what's your response to this? Is there any truth to this?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. His -- he left his home going to the airport in the protection of his own private bodyguards. There were U.S. troops there to make sure they got to the airport safely. His bodyguards got on the plane with him and flew out with him. His bodyguards are the ones who went to him and said, "It's time for you to really think about leaving." And he accepted their advice. It was also good advice, at least our security people thought so, as well.

So that does not sound like a kidnapping. He wasn't in any way restrained. He asked us if we would take him to a destination of his choice. He said he wanted to go to South Africa. We contacted South Africa and they said that they were unable to accept him at this point so we quickly looked around, contacted other countries, and with the good offices of the French, they contacted the Central African Republic who was willing to accept President Aristide.

So it was not a kidnapping. We were all minding our own business on a Saturday evening when this all broke and word came to me that President Aristide was asking about circumstances under which he could leave, leave the country and leave his office.

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Secretary, given the continuing violence in Haiti, what's ahead for that country? Will it ever be stable in the long-term? And does Aristide have any role to play? Is it possible that he could come back as a leader there?

SECRETARY POWELL: That's not for me to decide, although I can't see how he could play an effective role in the future. But I -- I just don't think that would be helpful. It's a country that has had many tries at democracy and has not been successful and I deeply regret that very much. But we have to keep trying. These are eight million people in desperate need. Yes, there is some continuing violence on the island; we saw that yesterday. But things have calmed down quite a bit from where we were 10 days ago, when President Aristide was still there and we had violence all over the country and it was getting especially bad in Port-au-Prince, when his paid thugs, the Chimera -- Chimer, as they're called, were going around being a principal cause of the violence. The violence yesterday was inflicted upon a group of anti-Aristide supporters, demonstrators, who were fired on by Aristide thugs.

And so the situation has calmed down considerably. The looting is being brought under control. More coalition multinational interim force personnel are arriving, and we're starting to prepare a UN peacekeeping force.

You know, I wanted President Aristide to succeed. I went into Haiti in 1994 with President Carter and with Senator Nunn. We talked the generals out of power in order to bring President Aristide in. A 20,000-man American force went in. They stayed for months and the last Americans didn't leave until the year 2000. The UN stayed there.

So we gave President Aristide a great deal of support. But in the late '90s, there was such disappointment in his work that the international community couldn't see it appropriately to continue sending money in, money that was being wasted. And the previous Administration, President Clinton's Administration, started to put constraints on the support they would give because of the misgovernment that was taking place.

So we all wanted to see President Aristide succeed, and I helped get him in for that purpose, but unfortunately, it was not working. The island was torn by revolt once again, and I hope that we can put in place now a new government, democratically selected, and the international community to try to see if we can get it going one more time.

MR. WILLIAMS: Very quickly, Mr. Secretary, Senator Kerry also said in an interview over the weekend that you have been kept from doing your job as Secretary of State carrying out U.S. diplomacy.

Too often, in his view, you've been undercut by hawkish members of the Administration. He says they -- he thinks maybe they have locked up the keys to the airplane, that you should have the full confidence of the President, be empowered to negotiate and you don't. How do you respond?

SECRETARY POWELL: That's absolute nonsense. And Senator Kerry really would be well served by not throwing such charges around in a political campaign. I work very closely with the President. I'm the one who negotiated the Treaty of Moscow. I'm the one who is the President's principal agent on our relations with China, with Russia -- with Russia, with Europe.

I'm the one who has been working the Liberian solution in recent months. I spent most of the weekend on the phone trying to get progress toward a peace agreement in the Sudan. My staff is working with the Libyans in turning in all of their weapons of mass destruction and putting them on a path toward normalization of relations with the United States. I'm preparing my troops now, as I call them, to take over the mission of Ambassador Bremer in Iraq.

And so I can assure you that I have not had my keys either locked up or lost. I'm doing what the President wants, and the President and I spend a lot of time talking about what he wants. And so these kinds of charges are unfortunate, but they are to be expected in this kind of political campaign.

MR. WILLIAMS: Secretary Powell, let's turn to Iraq quickly. CIA Director Tenet recently said in a speech at Georgetown that there was never an imminent or grave threat from Saddam Hussein. He said he simply gave the President options, and yet, you and the President did imply there was a grave threat.

How do you respond now about that performance at the United Nations?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think what Director Tenet said was that he didn't think it was an imminent threat. But the fact that Saddam Hussein had never lost the intent to have weapons of mass destruction, he kept in place the infrastructure, he had programs -- there is no disagreement about any of this.

We have seen evidence of his intent. We've seen evidence of programs. We have uncovered documentation and witnesses that talk to these programs. The issue that has gotten all of the attention is whether or not he had stockpiles. We thought he had stockpiles. Director Tenet through he had stockpiles. Most international intelligence organizations thought he had stockpiles, as did the UN, which passed resolution after resolution asking him to come clean on the stockpiles we believed he had.

The previous Administration thought there were stockpiles and programs and bombed Iraq in 1998 because of that belief. So if the intelligence turns out not to have been accurate with respect to stockpiles, we want to have a good examination as to why that was the case.

But at the time we were examining this, and the time we were making decisions, the intelligence picture was rather clear. And the intelligence presentation I made at the United Nations on the 5th of February of last year reflected the best information available to the intelligence community. It was the information that the intelligence community had provided to the President, had provided to the Congress, had provided in the National Intelligence Estimate. And in my presentation we weren't overstating or understating. We were giving the facts, as we knew the facts to exist at that time.

But you know, we can spend a lot of time on what we knew and when we knew it and what we didn't know and why we didn't know it, but the reality is that a year has now passed and this very day the Iraqis of the Governing Council have approved a administrative law that is going to take us into a bright future. It's the beginning of a constitutional process that will lead to a full constitution. And it is a remarkable document for Iraq and for this part of the world.

MR. WILLIAMS: It is incredible, so is the U.S. --

SECRETARY POWELL: -- but a bill of rights, democracy, independent judiciary, freedom of religion, freedom of worship, military under civilian control, a bill of rights that looks similar to our Bill of Rights. And all 25 representatives of the Iraqi people signed that today.

So we're moving forward into a new Iraq where we'll never have to raise questions about weapons of mass destruction and there will never be any more mass graves filled, and where the rest of the world, and especially the other nations in that region will see a democracy being formed before their eyes.

And we will deal with these terrorists and these old Saddam Hussein-ers who are laying around, tossing rockets and setting off bombs, trying to keep the Iraqi people from this brighter future.

The Iraqi people spoke today through their representatives. They will have no part of that past. They have put in place an administrative law that will lead to an interim government that's going to take them into a different kind of future.

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Secretary, what's the U.S. diplomatic presence going to be in Iraq after June 30? And --

SECRETARY POWELL: We're going to have a very large embassy, and it'll be different from the Coalition Provisional Authority because the CPA is the government. The United States Embassy will not be the government.

It will be a normal embassy with very significant and expanded responsibilities as we work with the interim government of Iraq as they get ready for the transitional government, elections, the creation of a national assembly, the writing of a constitution -- and as we help the Iraqi people rebuild themselves using the $18 billion plus that the United States Congress has provided generously, the American people have provided for the reconstruction of Iraq.

The money will be managed by the Department of the Army because they have experience in handling such contracts and projects, but it'll all be under the supervision of the ambassador in Baghdad, who'll be the Chief of Mission for the President.

MR. WILLIAMS: Have you selected an ambassador, and what about security? Is there going -- is the U.S. going to hand security back to Saddam -- to the people in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are looking at candidates now for the job. It's going to take a very, you know, a very terrific choice to do the job well, and that's who we're looking for -- the right choice.

Security will be increasingly in the hands of the Iraqis. They're building up their police force, their military, their civil defense forces, their border police, their intelligence capability, but there will still be a significant U.S. presence -- over 100,000, I would guess -- after the 1st of July and for some period of time. And in the normal manner, that military force will report to a military commander and then back through the chain of command through the Pentagon to the President. So there is a clearly delineated division of responsibilities, and all of the non-combat activities, non-military activities, will be handled by the Ambassador, who is the President's Chief of Mission working under my immediate supervision.

MR. WILLIAMS: Sir, regarding Pakistan, I know that you're going to Pakistan and India, as well as Afghanistan next week. There are questions about why the U.S. didn't come down harder on Pakistan for the actions of A.Q. Khan, the scientist who sold nuclear materials and capability around the world.

He's arguably the biggest nuclear proliferator ever, so did the U.S. just ignore this, as some contend?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, we didn't ignore it at all, Juan. He was, perhaps, the biggest proliferator ever. He is not anymore. And the United States provided information and intelligence to President Musharraf as to the nature of Dr. Khan's activities, and we worked with President Musharraf to make sure that all of these activities became public and were taken into account, and action was taken.

And what President Musharraf did was confront Dr. Khan and his associates, interrogate them, get the information, cause Dr. Khan to go on public television and acknowledge what he had been doing over these years, and we are getting a steady stream of information as to the nature of that network; and the network's being pulled up. And you can see the results already in places like Libya and in other countries.

Now, it turns out, of course, that Dr. Khan is a very prominent figure in Pakistan. He's considered a national hero because he helped Pakistan develop its nuclear weapons some years ago. And so President Musharraf, having destroyed the Khan network and causing Dr. Khan to acknowledge his efforts, has decided that he had to offer to Dr. Khan a conditional amnesty, conditional meaning that it can be taken away.

So we continue to get information. Our goal was to destroy the network, and the network is destroyed and all elements of that network are being ripped up; all of its roots and branches are being pulled up and cut down. And what ultimately happens to Dr. Khan is a matter for the Pakistanis to decide.

But we came down very, very firmly with the Pakistanis on the need for them to help us and to help themselves totally pull up that network, and that's what the Pakistanis have done.

MR. WILLIAMS: So there was no quid pro quo about getting the Pakistanis' help with finding Osama bin Laden and agreeing not to be more harsh about Dr. Khan?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. I think Dr. Khan -- you speak about harshness, Dr. Khan has been forced, frankly, to acknowledge his guilt publicly to the whole world and to the Pakistani people. And in return for him acknowledging all of that, President Musharraf elected to provide him with a conditional amnesty.

I do not think that Dr. Khan is enjoying the position he is in, and I will let the Pakistani Government determine what else they should do with respect to Dr. Khan.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, what about U.S. officials getting to question him?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are getting the information that we need, and I can assure you there is a good and a high level of cooperation between us and the Pakistani authorities on the questioning of Dr. Khan.

MR. WILLIAMS: With regard to --

SECRETARY POWELL: Not just Dr. Khan, but others, as well.

MR. WILLIAMS: Sorry for interrupting.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, go right ahead, Juan.

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Secretary, what happens to the roadmap for peace? Is it possible that in the course of an election year, you will be able to continue those diplomatic efforts, or is it just too much to ask at this point, given the fall elections?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, not at all. We haven't stood down from the roadmap. The roadmap is the way forward. Everybody says so -- the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Quartet that worked on the roadmap and the United States. We are in constant consultations with the Israelis, with other members of the Quartet, with our Arab friends, and we are in touch with the Palestinians as well.

We are studying right now the proposal that Prime Minister Sharon has put forward with respect to coming out of Gaza entirely, and we're studying how this would effect other parts of the territories, particularly, what does this mean for the West Bank.

So we spend a great deal of time on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We must. America is looked to for leadership on this issue. But sometimes, demonstrating that leadership means there are quiet consultations taking place. The thing that we must see progress on is security.

Until the Palestinians take positive action to bring terrorists under control, we're going to have trouble moving forward. This has been the consistent message I give to my Palestinian interlocutors, the Finance Minister and -- one of the most responsible of Palestinians Ministers, Mr. Fayyad, was here last week, and he and I had a long and intense dialogue about this matter.

So we are engaging and we're prepared to do even more, if we can get some movement on the Palestinian side with respect to security.

Thank you very much, Juan.

MR. WILLIAMS: I appreciate it, Mr. Secretary. Thank you.

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Released on March 8, 2004

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