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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 > April

Interview with Maybritt Illner of ZDF German Television

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Berlin, Germany
April 1, 2004

Note: Scheduled to air at 10:00pm (3:00pm EST) this evening in Germany on the “Berlin Mitte” show.

MS. ILLNER: Mr. Secretary, yesterday you had a meeting with Chancellor Schroeder. would you also say like George W. Bush, ”He makes me laugh?”

SECRETARY POWELL: (laughing) Chancellor Schroeder and I have known each other for some time and we always have candid, open conversations. And yes, there is a bit of humor in those conversations.

MS. ILLNER: So the Bush administration is turning on the old charm after this poisoned period, this ice age, how to tell, how to put it?

SECRETARY POWELL: It’s true. We had a very difficult period at the time of the decision to attack Iraq and remove that despotic regime. But we have to remember what holds Germany and the United States together is far stronger than any pressures to pull us apart. And I am glad that in recent months we have seen quite a rapprochement, if I can say that, between Germany and the United States and this is good.

MS. ILLNER: President Bush said he wants to be judged on the basis of his performance as the commander-in chief. Do you think that is a good idea?

SECRETARY POWELL: He wants to be judged on the basis of whether we are successful or not in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

MS. ILLNER: Do you think we are successful?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think we are certainly on the way to success in Afghanistan. We have seen this conference in Berlin here where another 8 billion dollars has been raised and we have a constitution in Iraq. People are getting ready to vote in Afghanistan.

MS. ILLNER: Sorry, it was due to you that the United States first attacked Afghanistan after 9/11 and then attacks Iraq. So it was due to you, as I said already. Did the U.S. move too far quickly, the war, away from Afghanistan and then back to Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, the war in Afghanistan took place in the fall of 2001. We didn’t go into Iraq until early in 2003. And so we took care of the Taliban quickly and we had a whole year of reconstruction, and then we had to turn our attention to Iraq.

How did we do though? We went to the United Nations in September of 2002 and said for twelve years they have been ignoring what you have told them to do.

But look at where we are. In Afghanistan, Afghanistan now has a constitution; Afghanistan is getting ready for elections. The international community is helping to rebuild the country. We will be doing the same thing in Iraq. They are working on a constitution. they are working on an interim government. They are working on democracy.

MS. ILLNER: Yes, just one question back to Afghanistan. Neither Al Qaeda nor the Taliban are thrown away out of the country. Hamid Karzai is kind of a Mayor of Kabul and he is unable to break the power of the warlords. So is it something like a half work done?

SECRETARY POWELL: He’s done quite a bit toward breaking the power of the warlords. There are still a few warlords out there who have to be dealt with. And there are still remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. But the Taliban is not in Kabul running the country. Hamid Karzai is running the country. And with each passing day he will have greater and greater control over the whole country. So we will be successful. These are just remnant that don’t want to give up. And we will see the same thing happen in Iraq as these remnants are finally defeated and decide if they give up.

MS. ILLNER: Because Al Qaeda is in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: There may be some elements of Al Qaeda in Iraq but the principle threat that we are dealing with in Iraq are remnants of the old Hussein regime who don’t want to quit yet, and some terrorists have come in. Some of them may have Al Qaeda connections. We are not entirely sure.

MS. ILLNER: Coming to Iraq, you know all those claims. Aleksander Kwasniewski, the premiere of Poland, who said: “We have been taken for a ride.” Prime Minister Zapateros of Spain said he wants to withdraw his troops unless there is a new resolution and because it is a useless war. As CIA Chief Tenet said: “I’ve never said that there is a threat in Iraq and I also pointed that out.” So do you also personally feel misled?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. Well first I have to correct you on some factual errors. Mr. Tenet never said he saw no threat in Iraq. He said ….

MS. ILLNER: concerning weapons of mass destruction.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, no, no. That’s not what Mr. Tenet said. Mr. Tenet said, he did not use the word imminent with respect to threat. The threat information that we used to decide to go into Iraq with our coalition partners was threat information provided by Mr. Tenet and the CIA. And so we went to war on the basis of CIA assessments, UN assessments, and the assessments of, frankly, other intelligence agencies that the threat was there.

What Mr. Kwasniewski said, the Polish President was that he believed he was misled as much by Saddam Hussein, not that he was misled by the United States. And with respect to Spain, yes, they said they are going to withdraw their troops, the new Prime Minister did, in the absence of a U.N. resolution that gives the U.N. political control. Well, let’s see what kind of U.N. resolution may be emerging over the next several months. Spain is a sovereign country. It can do as it chooses and we will respect its decision. Poland has said they will stay.

MS. ILLNER: There will be a new resolution and there will be a NATO mission?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think there will be a new resolution as we move closer to the first of July. With respect to what role NATO might play in Iraq, that remains to be seen. We will certainly be discussing it at a NATO meeting later this week in Brussels.

MS. ILLNER: The question is remaining, has America lost the war? Because after free elections, and there will be free elections in Iraq, there will be an Islamic republic. There will be the role of the Mullahs.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, there will be an Islamic republic, as there are other Islamic republics—Turkey and Pakistan. But it will be within a constitutional framework and Sharia law, Koranic law, will only be one source of basis for the law.

And so we expect that it will be a democratic country that will be an Islamic state because that is the basic religion within the country. But there is no reason that Islam cannot coexist with democracy. That is a judgment we don’t hold. Why shouldn’t an Islamic, country such as Turkey, also be a democracy as is Turkey?

MS. ILLNER: Most of the assassins come from Pakistan. In that country there is a very dangerous mixture of nuclear weapons, fundamentalists, of terrorists. why don’t you attack Pakistan?

SECRETARY POWELL: Why should we when we have the friendship with Pakistan.....?

MS. ILLNER: Your strongest ally now.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, then, why would one attack one’s strongest ally, when we are solving our problems in other ways? We have helped Pakistan pull up entirely the nuclear proliferation network that was being run by Dr. A.Q. Khan. Pakistan turned away from the Taliban because of U.S. interest in getting them to turn away from the Taliban. And we are cooperating and working with Pakistan on anti-terrorist activities. So what we want to do is build up and strengthen Pakistan’s institutions.

It is not necessary to attack every country that you might have a difference with at the moment. The reason we attacked Iraq was that Iraq had been continuing in this pattern of misbehavior for twelve years. For twelve years they said to the United Nations: “We don’t care what the international community thinks.” It is very often people say, “Well, doesn’t the United States care what the international community thinks?” The answer is yes. Iraq didn’t care what the international community thinks. And twelve years, resolution after resolution they ignored and finally the United States, with a coalition of willing nations said, enough is enough. We need to get rid of this despotic regime and whatever it is doing with respect to weapons of mass destruction.

MS. ILLNER: Everyone in Germany, of course, remembers your passionate case you made to the U.N. in front of the military intervention, sorry in Iraq”. However, to date nothing has been found of this proof things that the world sozusagen [so to say], beyond all doubts that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Many of your allegations you made in front of the U.N. have been proved false. How do you now think about your speech?

SECRETARY POWELL: The presentation I gave was based on the best evidence and intelligence information that we had. What we have now found is that, one, he still had the intention to have such weapons. He had the programs.

MS. ILLNER: Are you sure?

SECRETARY POWELL. He had the programs to develop such weapons, that I am sure. That’s been established by Dr. Kay and Mr. Dolfer who was briefing our Congress earlier this week. Also confirms that. What we have not found...

MS. ILLNER: You have no such...

SECRETARY POWELL: What we have not found are actual stockpiles. We thought we would find stockpiles, weapons ready to use, existing. We haven’t found that. And that was a surprise to us. But it wasn’t that we knew they wouldn’t be there when I made that presentation. When I made that presentation, it was the agreed judgment of our whole intelligence community, as well as the belief of U.N. inspectors over a number of years, as well as the belief of most of the sophisticated intelligence agencies in a number of countries.

MS. ILLNER: But you know what Hans Blix, the U.N. weapon inspector was told and wrote down in his books, and what Dr. Kay has said now, that there was no threat of mass destruction weapon in and out of Iraq. So do you think on the whole that it was a really useful war?

SECRETARY POWELL: It’s a useful war. Do you think it is good for Saddam Hussein to be gone or not gone? I think it is good for him to be gone. No more mass graves will be filled. No more wasting of the oil treasure of Iraq. A democracy is going to be created. And so I think the world is a lot better off. Iraq is a lot better off. The region is a lot better off with a new regime coming into power. A new democratic regime that will be elected by the people, With a constitution that will make sure we will never have to raise the question or talk about weapons of mass destruction again.

This was a man who had rape rooms, mass graves, totalitarian regime, destroyed the environment in the south, oppressed the Shias, oppressed so many people in his own country. All of that is gone.

MS. ILLNER: Other horrible dictators too. That was not the question. The question is, was that war, was that attack really necessary, and becomes our world, after these two wars, a safer one?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is a safer one. There is no Taliban. There is no al Qaeda with a sanctuary

MS. ILLNER: are you sure?

SECRETARY POWELL: Wait a minute. There is no al Qaeda with a sanctuary in Afghanistan. There are still al Qaeda remnants and there are still al Qaeda presence around the world we have to deal with. But they no longer have their own home office in Afghanistan. We should be proud that we are here in Berlin providing funds for the Afghan people to build a better world and not yearn for the days of the Taliban.

MS. ILLNER: Sorry, but now we have Turkey, now we have Madrid, Spain, now we have Uzbekistan. So it is danger for your allies, too.

SECRETARY POWELL: It has been a dangerous world before Iraq. Spain was facing terrorists before then. You had your own terrorists here in Germany many years ago. So terrorism isn’t just a new feature of the international scene.

I lived in Germany when it was exceptionally dangerous in the mid-eighties with the Bader-Meinhoff gang and the Red Army faction. These kinds of movements come along from time to time. They all have one thing in common. They are terrorists, who are murderers who go after innocent people for political purposes that are inappropriate and should be fought against. And so to think that you can avoid terrorism by saying: let’s not go after regimes like the Taliban, let’s not go after regimes like Saddam Hussein.

MS. ILLNER: You are only saying this, the question is do we have the right measures, do we have the right weapons to fight against?

SECRETARY POWELL: You need all kinds of weapons. You need law enforcement weapons. You need intelligence weapons. You need financial weapons. And that’s what we are doing better and better and better. going after their finances, understanding how they operate, understanding how they move between countries,; how they find sanctuaries.

And so this is a long campaign that we are all involved in. And we must all work together to defeat terrorism. And it used to Bader-Meinhoff. It used to be just ETA in Spain. Now it’s al Qaeda. And al Qaeda has to be defeated. None of us are safe as long as this kind of organization is not destroyed, is not engaged and destroyed.

MS. ILLNER: There is a commission now held in the United States and President Bush and Condoleezza Rice will have to speak in front of this commission and the former counter-terrorist chief, Richard Clarke, asserted that the threat of al Qaeda had not been taken seriously enough before the attacks. Your remark to this?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we disagree with Mr. Clarke. We believe that we took it seriously.

MS. ILLNER: Not surprisingly.

SECRETARY POWELL: He briefed me as soon as I became Secretary. So I was aware of the threat. We were not unmindful of the threat. We knew about al Qaeda. Now Mr. Clarke said that we didn’t do enough, but we did a great deal. And I think we did as much as we could, knowing what we knew about the situation. We raised our threat levels. We warned our embassies. We warned our people around the world. We made sure our military was safe and were not exposed to the kinds of bombing that took place in Yemen against one of our ships. We did everything we could to protect ourselves.

What we didn’t know was that the people who committed 9/11 were already inside of our country and were planning the strike. That we didn’t know. If we had known it, we would have stopped it.

MS. ILLNER: In November elections will be held in the United States. Could this investigation committee cost President Bush his office? What would you say?

SECRETARY POWELL: I’d say that the President is in fine shape. The American people are watching all of this carefully. The commission will put forward its work. They have interviewed a thousand people, not just Mr. Clarke. They have interviewed a thousand people. They have thousands of pages of documents. They are going to do many more interviews. I’m sure they will come forward with a good, solid, comprehensive report.

But I think the American people still understand that President Bush did a right thing in going after terrorists and in defending our interests in different parts of the world.

MS. ILLNER: Six hundred U.S. soldiers have already died and we all remember the terrible pictures from the Fallujah yesterday. The question how many Americans have to die perhaps till the U.S. withdraws?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are not going to withdraw. We are not going to be run out. I think your viewers should know that America has the ability to stay and fight an enemy and defeat an enemy. We will not run away.

MS. ILLNER: Are you justified at home?

SECRETARY POWELL: Am I?

MS. ILLNER: The death of the soldiers and the death of Americans.

SECRETARY POWELL: We regret the loss of every life. We wish that no soldier, no civilian had been killed in this conflict. But we also know that sometimes to achieve a noble purpose, it does take the loss of life. We regret the loss of every life.

But the United States has demonstrated that we can sustain casualties, if that is what it takes in the cause of freedom and the cause of liberty. We’ve done it before. We’ve done it in this continent several times in the last seventy years.

MS. ILLNER: Which good is more precious is your opinion: is it freedom or is security of the population?

SECRETARY POWELL: Freedom and security. And you can’t have freedom without security. And you don’t want to have security without freedom. So you have to have both, and you have to fight for both.

MS. ILLNER: You are not afraid that the fear of terrorism might change the attitude of Americans to foreigners for instance?

SECRETARY POWELL: Americans know that terrorism is now a real and present danger. And we know that we have to protect our homeland. We have to know who’s coming to the United States, what they are doing in the United States. That’s not unreasonable. Europeans for years have had restrictions on who can come in the country, who can register in hotels, Things that Americans have never done before. So we have to protect our homeland. But we also know

MS. ILLNER: Are you afraid, too?

SECRETARY POWELL: Am I afraid? No. I go about my daily life just as I always have. This is just a part of life and we have to get used to it.

Now what we want to make sure we also do is convey an attitude that America remains an open society. We want people to travel to America. We want you to come to visit our cultural attractions, to go to our universities, to go to our hospitals.

So we want to protect our homeland, but we also want to remain an open place. Because if we become a closed place, then the terrorists win. What we must not allow to have happen is for us to become so afraid of a potential terrorist strike that we begin to withdraw into ourselves. We begin to get so afraid that we are not going to go out or that we fail to fight the terrorists. Because the terrorists are there and because they are bad, that means we must redouble our efforts to go get them everywhere.

MS. ILLNER: Mr. Secretary, thanks having you here in Berlin. Thanks having you in this interview. Thanks you so much.

SECRETARY POWELL: My pleasure.

MS. ILLNER: Much success

SECRETARY POWELL: Auf widersehen.

MS. ILLNER: (laughs) A German sentence! It was perfect.


Released on April 1, 2004

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