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Interview on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
March 14, 2004

(11:30 a.m. EST)

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: And Secretary of State Powell joins George Will and me now. Welcome, Mr. Secretary.

I want to get to Iraq in just a moment, but let's start with Madrid. Last night, al-Qaida seems to claim credit for the bombing. Do you believe it?

SECRETARY POWELL : I don't know. The Spanish authorities are examining the tape that suddenly appeared as well as examining the individuals, interrogating the individuals they picked up.

I think Spain still considers that ETA could be a candidate for responsibility for this act, but they're keeping themselves open to al-Qaida or others. We just don't know yet.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: What kind of help is the United States giving? Has the FBI gone over, the CIA gone over to help in this analysis?

SECRETARY POWELL : We are -- no, we're in touch with Spanish authorities. I'm not sure precisely what they may need or what they have asked for.

They are very good at this. I mean, Spain is not -- this is not the first time Spain has dealt with terrorist incidents. In fact, long before terrorism became such an issue for us, it has been an issue for Spanish authorities as a result of ETA terrorist activities -- an organization that is on our list of terrorist organizations. So they're good at this, and I'm sure that Spanish authorities will get to the bottom of it and find out who was responsible for this terrible tragedy.

MR. WILL: Elements of the Paris press, the President of the European parliament and others have said this was not an attack on Spain, it was an attack on European democracy. Is there any chance that this attack on the European homeland will change the dynamic of U.S. - European relations, better understanding of what we're going through?

SECRETARY POWELL : I hope that Europeans will now see that no one is immune and no system of transportation is immune -- airplane, rail lines and the like. And I hope this will cause Europeans to rededicate themselves to going after terrorist organizations.

Terrorist organizations, whether it's ETA or whether it's al-Qaida, are a threat to all civilized nations. The President recognized this threat early. He made it clear right after 9/11 that we all have to come together and go after these kinds of organizations, sometimes with military force, more often with law enforcement activities, intelligence activities, going after their financial infrastructure -- all of us have to come together, and we've seen a great deal of progress over the last couple of years.

MR. WALLACE: There are two ways Spain could react to this. They could say, "This hit us because we got implicated with the United States," or they could react and say, "We're got going to be pushed around." If the governing party loses today, would that be an ominous sign for the ability of terrorists to shift opinion?

SECRETARY POWELL : I think what we saw right after the incident was Spain coming together. It was a remarkable scene in Madrid of hundreds of thousands of Spaniards coming out to denounce terrorism.

I don't think the case has been made that somehow this will cause Spain to step back from the war against terrorism or step back from their efforts of working with the United States. Even the opposition party challenging -- the PP Party, as it's called -- knows that with a UN mandate, they should keep their forces in Iraq. So I hope that this will not change Spanish attitudes toward the war on terror or toward their efforts in Iraq.

I think Spain has been on the right side of this issue, both with respect to terror and with respect to Iraq, and I hope the Spanish people will continue to move in that direction and vote in that direction.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: You mention these various terrorist groups, and there are some analysts looking at this now who see some cross-pollination, that maybe some renegade ETA elements were working with al-Qaida, and we may be going back to a period like we saw in the 1970s where you had Bader-Meinhof gang, Red Brigades working with the PLO and the IRA -- all different groups with different goals, but sharing a means.

SECRETARY POWELL : The meaning is to destroy innocent people and to challenge civilized society. I can't tell. I don't see anything yet that suggests that ETA was connected to al-Qaida in any way. But let's just remember that these are organizations that are determined to kill innocent people, I don't care what their political objective is -- sometimes they don't have one, sometimes it's just he killing of innocent people.

And we all have to come together to defeat terrorism in whatever form it manifests itself.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Let me turn to Iraq. You just heard Peter Jennings at the top of the broadcast say the Iraqis he's talking to, including members of the Iraqi Governing Council aren't quite sure whether they're ready for the handover of power on June 30th.

This week, your Under Secretary, Marc Grossman, was up before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a closed session. He was asked, "What are the prospects for success in Iraq, for turning it into a stable democracy, for avoiding civil war?" And he said about five or six.

Now that seems pretty low to me. Why?

SECRETARY POWELL : Well, we are creating a democracy where one has not existed before, but the Iraqi people seem to want a democracy. They want to live in freedom. They enjoy the ability to speak out the way Peter Jennings just described.

There is vibrant discussion and debate taking place now in Iraq, and so we are going to shoot for returning sovereignty, and I think we can make it on the 1st of July. But it doesn't mean we're abandoning Iraq, on the 1st of July. We will continue to have 100,000 troops there, helping them with their security as their own security forces show greater ability to protect the population. We'll also have a very large embassy. So we're not walking out on Iraq on the first of July. We will be with them. And what they will have to do over the next several months is determine what kind of government they want to have during this interim period.

And then there's a lot more to come: The writing of a full constitution, real, full, national elections for an assembly and for a new government. But let's not, let's not discount how much we have accomplished in the last year. Schools are being rebuilt, hospitals are being rebuilt; the infrastructure is coming back up. The oil is starting to flow. We're going to jump-start the economy as fast as we can with the money that Congress has provided. And most importantly, an administrative law has been written, which is the forerunner of the constitution that'll be written that is quite astonishing with respect to basic rights and liberties and how all these different ethnicities can come together.

There's a majority. The Shias are the majority. But this basic law also shows how the rights of the Kurds and the rights of the Sunnis will be protected in a representative form of government.

It's hard. It's difficult. But they want to move in this direction. Do they want to end the occupation? Sure. They also know that they have friends and partners in the United States that will help them during this difficult period.

MR. WILL: The argument about their constitutional architecture is a clear echo in American constitutional history.

The Kurds seem to want to have what we called, "nullification," or "interposition," the right to say, "National law doesn't run here if we don't want it." It was opposed in the United States because Jefferson and everyone else who were on both sides of this issue said, "Well, that looks like the precursor of secession."


MR. WILL: Now, it's been an American position from the start that Iraq shall remain a political unity. You say they want to live in freedom. Do they want to live together? Do the Kurds really want to be part of this, and are we producing a constitution that might be the beginning of slow-motion secession?

SECRETARY POWELL : That's certainly not our intention and it need not be the result. The Kurds want the nation to stay together, but for the last 12 or so years, they have had a degree of independence that they've enjoyed. And that independence has brought them quite a bit of success.

And so they are prepared to yield some of the independence and some of the authority they had over the Kurdish region to a central government, but they also want their unique situation and, to some extent, the fact that they have a regional government up there, something that doesn't exist in other parts of the country, they want that to be recognized.

And so in the administrative law, this situation was dealt with in a delicate manner. And I'm sure it will be something that will come up again in the course of the writing of the constitution.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: You still seem to be having some difficulty coming up with a plan for which Iraqi entity will take over on June 30th. The Caucus plan is dead. Now, there's some suggestion that the Governing Council will just continue with sovereignty, but they haven't yet asked the United Nations to come in. Why not, and is that a problem?

SECRETARY POWELL : They haven't yet asked the United Nations to come in, and we hope they will. We think the United Nations can provide assistance in this process.

Over the next several months, we will work with the Governing Council, Ambassador Bremer, those of us back here, and we hope the UN will work with the Governing Council to determine what's best.

Right now it consists of 25 individuals. I don't think that's representative enough of the entire country.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: So it should be larger?

SECRETARY POWELL : Well, that's one way to go about it. There are a variety of models that are being looked at: Make the Governing Council larger. Some people have suggested having something like a Loya Jirga as we had in Afghanistan. I don't think there's enough time for that.

But we're looking at a variety of models, and ultimately, the only thing that'll work is something that will be satisfactory to the Iraqi people. It will be seen as representative, seen as moving in the right direction. And keep in mind this will be an interim government -- not even a transitional government yet -- an interim government until we can get to a transitional government sometime, hopefully, in the beginning of 2005.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Let me turn to the issue of weapons of mass destruction. We haven't had you on our program for several months.

Since then, David Kay has come out and said he doesn't expect any weapons to be found. Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, in his new book talks about the damage to U.S. credibility by failing to find these weapons. And yesterday, Senator Ted Kennedy gave a radio address on this subject. I wanted to play some of it for you.

"…but on no issue has the truth been a greater casualty than the war in Iraq. The Administration's credibility gap is vast. There was no immediate threat, no nuclear weapons, no persuasive link to al-Qaida, but we went to war anyway."

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: How do you answer the charge of credibility gap?

SECRETARY POWELL : When we presented our case to the American people and to the world, my presentation at the UN last February, the presentation that went to Congress earlier in the National Intelligence Estimate, we were presenting to the world the facts, as we understood them, from our intelligence analysis.

It was not cooked. It was what the intelligence community believed and had reasons to believe --

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: But it was wrong.

SECRETARY POWELL : Parts of it were not -- I mean most of it, I think, was not wrong. We had a country that had the intention to have such weapons, they had the capability of having such weapons; they had the infrastructure for such weapons --

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Yet they had no stockpiles.

SECRETARY POWELL : They -- the question was, did they have stockpiles or not. And we all thought they had stockpiles -- not because we wished it. The evidence suggested that they had stockpiles.

The UN's own data over a period of 12 years suggested they had stockpiles. They hadn't asked -- answered questions with respect to materials we knew they had, but we don't know what happened to that material, and they wouldn't tell us.

So the presumption was and the evidence was that they had stockpiles of these weapons, particularly, chemical weapons. And so we are now examining that more closely under the leadership of Charlie Duelfer, who took over from Dr. Kay. Dr. Kay went in thinking that there were stockpiles, and he came out saying, "I don't think there are stockpiles now."

And so we may not find the stockpiles. They may not exist any longer. But let's not suggest that somehow we knew this. We went to the United Nations, we went to the world with the best information we had, nothing that was cooked. I spent a great deal of time out at the CIA with Director Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin and all of their experts going over that presentation, and it reflected the view of the intelligence community, the United Kingdom's intelligence community, the intelligence community of many other nations, and it was consistent with reporting from the United Nations over time.

And so we had a solid basis for the information we presented to the President, the intelligence community presented to the President and for the decisions that the President made.

MR. WILL: Madrid raised a lot of people on the question, "What's -- what happened here in all these days since 9/11?"

Now, the other Senator from Massachusetts says we're making a big mistake in the war on terrorism -- it's more a police and law enforcement matter than a military matter. Still, the stark number is zero -- zero attacks here. Why not? Is -- how much of that is ascribable to preventive measures we've taken? How much to blind luck? How do you explain this?

SECRETARY POWELL : I think the Senator is wrong when he says it's all a law enforcement matter. It's a law enforcement matter. It's an intelligence matter. It's a financial matter -- getting inside their financial systems to see how they move money around. It's a matter of using military force as a appropriate in a preemptive way if that's appropriate. You have to use all the tools available to you.

Now, why hasn't there been an attack on the United States since 9/11? Well, first of all, I'm glad there has not been. I hope it's as a result of our efforts. I hope that we are defending our homeland a lot better. But there have been attacks in many other parts of the world: Indonesia, in Saudi Arabia, and now in Spain. And what it should say to all of us is that this is a threat to the whole civilized world, and not just to the United States, not just to Europe -- the whole civilized world. And these people have to be fought, they have to be dealt with with all the tools at our disposal: law enforcement, financial, intelligence, military, you name it.

MR. WILL: One of the instruments of law enforcement here is the Patriot Act. I know that's not exactly your bailiwick, but there's a kind of seamlessness to the war on terrorism.

Looking at it from where you sit, is the Patriot Act important, and should it be renewed?

SECRETARY POWELL : It is important and it should be renewed. We have to protect our homeland.

Now, I want to make sure that in the protection of our homeland we don't put such a bubble around ourselves that we dissuade people from applying to come to the country. We've seen something of a problem here in that it's harder to get a visa; it's harder to get through our airports. We have to protect ourselves, but we want to be an open country, a welcoming country.

So as we use legislation such as the Patriot Act and other acts that Congress has passed to protect ourselves, let's always keep in mind that we want this country to be an open country, a welcoming country. We hurt ourselves when we don't convey that attitude to the rest of the world.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: You say that Senator Kerry is wrong when he says this is primarily a law enforcement matter. That is only one strand of his critique on President Bush's foreign policy.

He gave a major speech at UCLA a couple weeks ago, and here's what he had to say:

"I don't fault George Bush for doing too much in the war on terror. I believe he's done too little. Where he's acted, his doctrine of unilateral preemption has driven away our allies and cost us the support and critical cooperation of other nations.

Iraq is in disarray with American troops still bogged down in a deadly guerilla war with no exit in sight. In Afghanistan, the area outside of Kabul is sliding back into the hands of a resurgent Taliban and emboldened warlords."

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: He goes on to attack your policy in North Korea, in Iran, in the Middle East. It's a broad-based critique and you've heard it time and time again. He says it's the most arrogant and inept, reckless foreign policy he's ever seen.

SECRETARY POWELL : Well, you know, it is a political year. We are seeing a campaign unfold. But let's take up a few of these items.

Allies have been pushed away? We've got over 30 allies standing with us in Iraq. Most of the NATO allies are with us in Iraq with their troops on the ground.

Afghanistan, NATO is in Afghanistan doing work. The country is getting ready for elections. The country just passed a constitution for the Afghan people. Women are participating in life. The country is coming back alive. Roads have been built.

Yes, we still have some problems in the southeast section of the country, and we're going to deal with those problems, but Afghanistan is a success story at this point compared to where it was with the Taliban and with al-Qaida that essentially captured a whole country. That's not the case any longer.

With respect to North Korea, we know more and more about what the North Koreans were up to, and we're learning more and more out of the A.Q. Khan network that they had been trying to develop an alternative method of developing nuclear weapons using HEU than the previous Administration knew about.

Frankly, we got taken with the Agreed Framework of 1994 because by then, the North Koreans were already figuring out a way to cheat on it. And we're not going to fall for that this time. So what did we do? Did we unilaterally go in and invade North Korea? No.

We got North Korea's neighbors to agree with us that this was a serious problem for the neighborhood as well as for the United States, and we are now all agreed: The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia working with North Korea, that they have to commit themselves to the complete and verifiable irreversible dismantlement of that program before they expect benefits from the international community.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: You know, you give a full defense there, but Senator Kerry seems to absolve you from responsibility. He gave an interview in The New York Times last week, and what he said was, "Powell, who I know, like, and admire, has been never permitted to be fully a Secretary of State in the way that I envision the Secretary of State. I think the Secretary of State should be the President's full, the Administration's full-confidence diplomat. I think Powell -- I'm not sure they didn't lock the keys to the airplane up sometimes."

So basically he's saying it's not your fault, you're a good guy, you tried to bring other nations in, but you failed.

SECRETARY POWELL : Well you know, the key to the airplane is in my pocket and I'm leaving this afternoon for India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places. I am leading for the President what we're doing with North Korea, Libya, Iran -- in so many areas: The HIV/AIDS account, the Millennium Challenge Account, we've got a lot of initiatives going on. So once again, it is a political year and these are the kinds of charges that we can expect.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: But why do you think the view that he expresses is so widely held?

SECRETARY POWELL : Because it's become something of a familiar and attractive Washington stereotype, but it doesn't reflect reality.

I know what the President wants. The President and I spend a great deal of time together. And if you'll look, not at the characterization you see and the stereotypes, but if you'll look at what's actually happening with this Administration's foreign policy, we are strengthening our alliances -- the expansion of NATO. We are building democracy and peace in Afghanistan. We're going to do it in Iraq. We have brought Libya back into a -- back into the world and abandoned its weapons of mass destruction. We've got international pressure being applied to Iran in a way that causes Iran, Iran to squirm over the fact that they've been called out with respect to their nuclear weapons program.

We've got the best relationship with China that we've had in 20 years. We've got solid relationships with our Asian allies. HIV/AIDS account -- I can go on and on and on, George. And so if you kind of get out of the sort of little stereotypes that people enjoy writing about, you'll find that we've had a very, very active foreign policy, and I'm pleased to say that I have served the President as Chief Diplomat in fostering and pushing forward this foreign policy.

MR. WILL: There's a presidential election today in Russia, an election of sorts. People say that it's really evidence that Russia's continuing to slip back into authoritarianism. Does that worry you? Does it matter whether Russia's authoritarian or not? Do we have a big stake in democracy there?

SECRETARY POWELL : I think we do, and it does concern me. And I have expressed those concerns and the President has expressed those concerns to President Putin and to the other Russian leaders.

But at the same time, I think it's an overstatement to think that Russia is going back to the days of the Soviet Union. They're not going back there. I think they have discovered what democracy is about, they like it, and they want to be able to vote for their leaders.

MR. WILL: These guys --

SECRETARY POWELL : Why the Russians continue to do things like making it hard for people to participate in the political process by denying them access to media, by occasionally harassing them and taking other actions that we find, you know, frankly, not very wise or smart. Why do it when you have a President who is extremely popular and is going to win hands down? He should be encouraging others to at least make a try of it.

MR. WILL: He's going to win with East German numbers, I mean he's going to get 80 or 90 percent of the vote.

SECRETARY POWELL : Yes, but the fact of the matter is though, he is popular in Russia. President Putin has brought a level of order and stability to the country that they country was looking for and wanted after the rather, after the rather hectic and chaotic days of Mr. Yeltsin.

And so we note all of these things. We note what happened in Chechnya with respect those elections and we don't hesitate to point out to President Putin that he should use the popularity that he has to broaden the political dialogue and not use his popularity to throttle political dialogue and openness in the society, but they're still learning. But I don't see it going back to the days of the Soviet Union. But we are concerned about a level of authoritarianism creeping back into the society.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: I was going to ask, how much of that popularity came because he shut down so much of the alternate media. But let me ask another question about it as well.

There's a new CIA assessment that basically says you're concerned about a new assertiveness by Russia, by Putin, after these elections with his neighbors, in Georgia, in Ukraine, in Chechnya. Does that concern you?

SECRETARY POWELL : It concerns me and we're in conversations with him. And the interesting thing here is that on all of these issues: Georgia, Central Asia, the Caucuses, we have open, candid discussions.

Georgia is a great example. When President Shevardnadze stepped down on that exciting weekend in November of last year, I was in constant contact with the Russian Foreign Minister, who was in Georgia at the time -- Igor Ivanov.

And when Shevardnadze stepped down, we consulted with the Russians on it to make sure that there was no instability created or anybody thought the United States and Russia were in some way fighting over this issue.

Both Mr. Ivanov and I were at the inauguration ceremony for the new president, President Saakashvili, and in my discussions with President Putin I said, "This is not an area we have to fight one another. This is where we can cooperate with one another."

And I think we can cooperate with Russia in dealing with their concerns about the countries that they consider, you know, right on their border in the Near Abroad, as they call it. And it's not -- need not be a source of conflict or competition between our countries, but areas in which we can cooperate.

We're doing things in Central Asia that would have been unthinkable five or ten years ago, certainly, when the Soviet Union was there. But now, we're working together on common threats: terrorism, illegal immigration, drugs that come out of South Asia, Central Asia and into the Russian Federation and then all the way across and into Western Europe.

So I think there are many areas of cooperation that exist with the Russian Federation, and in these areas where we think they are moving in the wrong direction or taking tacks that are inconsistent with democracy, we are discussing it with them.

MR. WALLACE: You speak of doing the unthinkable. The Israeli Government's doing something that had not hitherto been thought possible or wise. It's called, "unilateral disengagement." They have said from Oslo through the roadmap, from the Zinni, Mitchell, Tenet Plans, they all presuppose positive parallel steps between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The Israelis have given up on Arafat as an interlocutor. They say, "We're going to solve this, more or less, on our own with unilateral disengagement, the fence, and all the rest." Do you think this is, by and large, given the failure of Oslo, Tenet, Zinni, Mitchell, roadmap, et cetera, this is defensible and wise?

SECRETARY POWELL : I think it is a natural reaction on the part of Prime Minister Sharon to the reality that he hasn't had -- a partner for peace -- on the other side.

Mr. Arafat has not been a partner for peace. President Clinton discovered that, and we know it, and Prime Minister Sharon knows it.

We've tried to help the Palestinians develop an alternative, a Prime Minister with real authority. Prime Minister Abu Mazen was unable to do that last year. So far, regrettably, Prime Minister Queria hasn't been able to do it.

The Palestinians have got to understand that terror has to be ended, and they have got to make that strategic choice and act on it. Now, the idea of evacuating all the settlements out of Gaza and pulling the IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, out of Gaza might be something that we can develop into a broader strategy. And --

MR. WILL: Are you worried that Hamas might fill the void?

SECRETARY POWELL : We are worried that Hamas might fill the void. There is a concern that comes up even before that, and that is, if it isn't Hamas who fills the void, who else might be around to take over authority in a responsible way? Can the Palestinian Authority itself take over Gaza and run it in a way that it will not become a place where people can still enter and shoot rockets back at Israel.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: If they can't, would the United States be willing to send in peacekeepers to Gaza?

SECRETARY POWELL : It is not in our thinking right now, but we are looking that -- for other countries -- the Egyptians have expressed an interest in helping with the security in the Gaza Strip. We'll have to see how that works out.

But I think this is an interesting idea on the part of Prime Minister Sharon. We've had authorities over talking with them over the past two days from the NSC and from the State Department, and we'll be getting their reports today to see what the next steps might be.

MR. STEPHANOUPOULOS: Okay, Mr. Secretary. Thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY POWELL : Thank you George.

Thank you George.

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