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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 > June

Interview on National Public Radio with Michele Norris

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Khartoum, Sudan
June 30, 2004

(11:50 a.m. EDT)

MS. NORRIS: Joining us now is Secretary Colin Powell. He joins us from Khartoum, Sudan.

Secretary, you noted on the plane on the way over that as a diplomat traveling to this region, you're not likely to see the worst of the refugee camps. And with the welcoming ceremony, which I understand was quite colossal, were you still able to get a sense of the suffering in the camps? What did you see?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the camp I went to was one of the better camps; people are being fed. I had a chance to talk to the NGOs, nongovernmental organizations who work there, the International Committee for the Red Cross and the Oxfam Organization and so many other great organizations, as well as my own USAID people.

And I know better than to just take one snapshot of a camp that people have taken me to and let that be the basis of my understanding. I have very in-depth conversations with all of the NGO leaders who are here. What we have is a very, very difficult humanitarian situation on our hands. These people are away from their homes in camps. They are away from their homes in camps because of the security situation.

So the real crisis here is a security crisis. And as I discussed this matter with President Bashir and all of the other leaders here in Sudan, I said that the first thing that must be done is to break the back of the Jingaweit, the militias that have driven these people out of their homes and caused this conflict in Darfur. Until we can break the back of that group and get them out of there and have them stop the violence and the rape and the assaults on people, then we can't get these folks home. Until we do that, we have to take care of them in the camps.

The UN is, with each passing day, able to do more and more in the region by opening new camps and bringing them under control. But I'm sure there are camps out there that are awful and nowhere near what I saw today. And I know that there are people out there that I didn't see today who are in far desperate -- far more desperate need than the ones I did.

But at least the ones that I did see, in a camp of some 40,000 people, away from their homes, wanting to go home, are being taken care of. We've got to get them home, though, because they've got crops to plant and they've got to make sure those crops get planted so that they can harvest them next year, or we will just have the camps continuing to run.

MS. NORRIS: Your mission, I take, was to put some pressure on the Sudanese Government. Were you at all pleased by what you heard? Did you get any assurances, any specific pledges, to stop the bombing or to allow relief workers into the country?

SECRETARY POWELL: We did. We had very serious discussions on all of those issues. I made it clear to them that the international community was prepared to take more action and to put more pressure on the regime. We were considering a Security Council resolution if we didn't see changes, and changes soon.

So the government has agreed to a list of actions that they will be taking in the very near future, with a timeline, that will ease all restrictions on visas for humanitarian workers, will make sure there is no interruption of humanitarian supplies or relief convoys or vehicles for the monitors who are out there. They have also committed to get immediately involved in the political process again, because we really have to solve this conflict ultimately politically or else it will break out again, and they've agreed to pursue that more vigorously under the auspices of the African Union.

They did make a specific commitment that they would more aggressively use their police and military forces to deal with the Jingaweit and start to put security in place out in the countryside, security that the people will trust. We don't want to force the people back into the villages. We want them to want to go back to their villages because they are confident that they will be protected once they are out there.

MS. NORRIS: Secretary, this is, after all, a government, though, that has repeatedly denied that there is a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the country. Tuesday night, the Foreign Minister, who accompanied you to Darfur, said that there is no famine, no epidemic disease, no malnutrition. So how do you force the Sudanese Government to commit to solve a problem that it does not fully acknowledge?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's a complex issue. Whereas at the camp I went to, where I see stocks of food and I can talk to the NGOs and I can see clinics and clean water, there is no famine in that camp. But I'm also absolutely sure, from other information I have, that there are other places in the country, camps and places where there are no camps, where there is famine, where there is disease. I have no suggestion that anything has reached any epidemic level, but we have the rainy season coming, which gives you the potential for serious diseases and the spread of diseases in the conditions in which people are living.

So if you were to say that the whole country is awash in famine, that would not be accurate, because I saw a place today where it was not the case. But to say that there is no famine is also not the case.

MS. NORRIS: But how do you -- if the government there does not acknowledge the scope of the problem, or at least does not agree with the United States take on this problem, how do you then force them to move aggressively to solve it?

SECRETARY POWELL: They do not disagree that there is a problem. They don't disagree that there are places that the international community has not gotten to. They do not disagree that there are places where there might be disease and there are places where there are people in need that no one has reached.

What they push back on is when the charge is made that there is famine everywhere in the country. There are adequate stocks of food in the country. That was confirmed to me today by the UN and in my conversation a few moments ago with Secretary General Kofi Annan and his experts. It's a matter of getting the food out to the people and making sure the distribution system works. Some of the actions that they are going to be taking in the next few days, with respect to easing all restrictions, eliminating all restrictions on the flow of humanitarian aid, should allow us to get the food out to where it is needed.

But nobody would say that there is no famine and there is no disease out in the Darfur area. But it's also difficult to say, when you have got evidence to the contrary, that nobody is being taken care of or there is famine everywhere.

MS. NORRIS: You've called the situation in Darfur a catastrophe, that it was a disaster. You said it was horrific.

SECRETARY POWELL: Security disaster, yes.

MS. NORRIS: The U.S., however, is very careful not to use the word, "genocide." Why is the Administration reluctant to call this genocide?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, why would we call it a genocide when the genocide definition has to meet certain legal tests? It is a legal determination. And based on what we have seen, there were some indicators but there was certainly no full accounting of all indicators that lead to a legal definition of genocide, in accordance with the terms of the genocidal treaties. That's the advice of my lawyers.

But what's the point of arguing about whether all indicators have been met or not when we see the people, we know they are in need, we're trying to take care of that need, and we're doing it in the places I visited today, and the UN is stretching to meet all other places where there is a need? To spend a great deal of time arguing about the definition of what the situation is isn't as important as identifying where the people are who are in need, getting the supplies they need to them, getting them hope in the form of supplies, but hope in the form of security and hope in the form that they'll be able to return to their villages in due course.

MS. NORRIS: For some, the reluctance to label this a homicide hearkens back to Rwanda. And for some, the reluctance to label this a genocide hearkens back to Rwanda.

SECRETARY POWELL: It isn't a reluctance. It isn't a reluctance that, based on the evidence that is available, it doesn't meet the tests of the definition of genocide. It isn't reluctance. I can assure you that if all of the indicators lined up and said this meets what the treaty test of genocide is, I would have no reluctance to call it that. And the fact that we have called it -- have not called it that is not based on reluctance. This is not Rwanda ten years ago; it is Sudan now.

There are some 75 camps under international supervision now. Thirty more will be under international supervision and support in the next month or so. Secretary General Annan will be meeting with the government tomorrow to see if he can extend the reach of the UN humanitarian departments further out into the countryside to try to reach all people who are in need.

There are people who are desperately in need, and the government has made some commitments today that we will see if they follow up on. Words enough are not alone. We want to see them follow up on these commitments to break the back of the Jingaweit and to provide full humanitarian support to these people in need and, as I said, monitor what's going on with the AAU military monitors and then get on a process of political reconciliation.

MS. NORRIS: I don't want to belabor this, but in diplomacy words do count, and as your -- as State Department counsel looks at this issue and determines whether this -- whether this should be labeled a genocide, does that carry a different weight and responsibility for the State Department and the U.S. if they make that determination?

SECRETARY POWELL: The State Department has to weigh all of these matters carefully and what we try to do is to use labels with precision. There are some who, based on what they have heard about the situation in Darfur and their concern about the needs of these people, want to immediately call it a genocide, whether it fits the definition of a genocide or not. I'm more interested in taking care of the people.

Now, if it was a genocide and it met all the tests and we declared it that, we would certainly increase international pressure. But whether we would be doing more than we are now doing is a question that I can't answer. It doesn't open any real new authorities to me or give me any additional powers or responsibilities that I'm not now executing.

MS. NORRIS: In addition to the conflict in Western Sudan, there is also the longstanding civil war, the North-South conflict, and it seems like that's a rather delicate situation because the Administration is engaged in the North-South peace process and negotiating directly with the same government officials who are backing the Jingaweit, the Arab militias, in their campaign of ethnic cleansing.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, and we had considerable success with the same government in the -- I'm sure you're aware that six protocols were signed over the last several weeks that have put us on a path to a comprehensive peace agreement. So, after 20 years, we are in a process that is moving us forward.

Now, what we have said to the government is, "Look, we worked well together to solve the North-South problem," or at least get close to solving it. There's still a lot more work to do. "Let's not let Darfur contaminate this progress. So, it's important for you to work on and solve the Darfur problem so that it can be an example to the world of how we can work together."

And let's use the same method of cooperation and coordination that we use to deal with the problem between the North and the South, between Khartoum and the SPLM. Let's continue that pattern of work and cooperation to deal with the problem in the Darfur. And we've made it clear that until we do deal with the problem in Darfur, the benefits that would have flowed from the North-South solution will not flow. The President is determined to make sure that we're doing everything to solve this problem in Darfur and to link it to the North-South agreements that we have helped the Sudanese and the SPLM achieve.

MS. NORRIS: Mr. Secretary, just one question on Iraq, if I could. With the handover of power there, the State Department now takes the lead in Iraq. The ball is essentially in your court now. What is your plan to help bring stability?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we have a very distinguished ambassador who has opened our mission there. He is at work and we've been in touch with him repeatedly over the last couple of days. We have a sovereign government that is really showing a great deal of courage and determination and we have a very large military presence that will help them with the security until such time as the Iraqis are able to provide for the security themselves.

We have a large sum of money available in the supplemental of last year to assist in the reconstruction effort. So it will be a large embassy operation, but in many ways it will look like all of our other embassy operations around the world. We are there to help the country that we are located in. In this case, the stakes are very high. We're going to help them with their election process as they get ready for elections next year, help them in the writing of a constitution along with the UN and then final elections at the end of next year.

Released on June 30, 2004

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