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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 > September

Interview With Barry Schweid and George Gedda of Associated Press

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
September 10, 2004

(9:25 a.m. EDT)

MR. SCHWEID: 9/11, an anniversary at hand again. Is America safer now, do you think, than it has been?

SECRETARY POWELL: 9/11 was a great tragedy for our nation. It was a great tragedy for the world. I am pleased to say that we have not seen another incident, anything like 9/11. We've not been struck by terrorists since 9/11, so certainly the last three years have been an indication that we are safer.

But we are still in a threatening environment. There are still people who want to strike the United States. As a result of the President's effort and his leadership, we have put in place a Homeland Security Department, we have tightened up our borders, we have a better idea who's coming into the country. We know how to use the information that we get to raise alert levels and take other precautions that protect our nation.

And so, in that regard, we are safer, I believe. We are also safer in that we have eliminated the Taliban as a functioning group in Afghanistan. We have a government that is getting ready for presidential elections in Afghanistan coming up on the 9th of October. And al-Qaida no longer finds safe haven in that part of the world. Iraq has seen a dictator removed and it is no longer a source of that kind of activity, even though we still have challenges there. So, in that sense, I think we are safer.

At the same time, the world has to continue to fight terrorism. We see terrorism in places like Beslan in Russia. We see what happened in Jakarta the other day, a bomb against the Australian Embassy. So while I think the nation clearly is safer, we have to remain vigilant and we have to realize that there are people out there who mean us ill, and they have to be fought and they have to be defeated.

MR. SCHWEID: It's obviously a worldwide problem, but is -- many, many years ago, and she was virtually laughed at by think-tankers, Claire Sterling wrote many, many years ago about the notion of a network of terrorists, that it really is -- that they're interlocked, they're interlaced. Do you --

SECRETARY POWELL: Some clearly are interlocked. I mean, al-Qaida is a worldwide organization and JI is active in Asia and other parts of the world. What we want to make sure is that they don't become any more interlocked than they might be now. And that's why we focus not only just on military action and police action, but law enforcement, financial activities, getting into their information networks, their financial network, computer networks. Any means by which they might connect with one another, we are after to make sure that it doesn't become that kind of worldwide network.

MR. SCHWEID: What are they after, besides chaos and hurting people?

SECRETARY POWELL: They are after, first and foremost, making a statement through the destruction and killing of innocent people. And they have abandoned civilized means of making your opinion known. They reject democracy, they reject openness and they resort to the killing of innocent people.

There can be no justification for what happened in Russia the other day, last week, where young students on the their first day of school, showing up with flowers and pencil boxes to learn, suddenly are put at risk and then are killed by the hundreds. There's no excuse for that. There can be no political justification. There is no religious justification. This is evil and terror staring us right in the face and it's the kind of evil and terror that we saw perpetrated against us three years ago on 9/11. And it must be fought. It must be resisted. There can be no compromise in this battle.

MR. GEDDA: Bin Laden's face has not been seen on television since 2001. I don't know whether you would attach any significance to that. You have no inkling as to why almost three years have passed since he has appeared?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't know why. I don't know where he is and I don't know his state of health. I don't know. We believe he is still alive. I can't prove that. But he clearly is hiding as best he can. He is on the run. He is not popping up on television and he is not showing himself in a way that he could be captured. The whole world is after him for being a criminal and for being a terrorist and for being a murderer, so he is doing everything he can to stay hidden.

MR. GEDDA: How much of a difference would his death or capture make?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. We have done a great deal of damage to the al-Qaida network. A large percentage of the senior leadership of al-Qaida has been killed or captured. But it does have the capacity to regenerate itself at lower levels, but they are not as accomplished and experienced as those who have been taken out.

If he were to be taken out, would that destroy al-Qaida? I think it would be a very, very serious blow against al-Qaida. I cannot tell you, though, that there would not be others who would try to take his place. But the top leadership of al-Qaida has been very badly damaged through capture and death over the last three years.

MR. GEDDA: You mentioned Russia. They have taken exception to some things that have been said from this building. Mr. Lavrov said, "We solve our internal problems ourselves and there's no need to search for an American route to political normalization in Chechnya."

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we didn't suggest any American route to political normalization of Chechnya. I think the Russians are concerned that a Chechen was able to gain asylum here through our judicial system some years back, and Mr. Lavrov made a specific reference to that individual and another individual who was able, through the judicial system in the United Kingdom, to gain asylum. But that's part of our judicial system.

We are fully united and standing alongside the Russians as they deal with the terrorist threat that they face and the terrorist strike that was perpetrated against their innocent citizens last week. And that's what they also heard clearly enunciated by the State Department and there's no confusion here.

How this problem of Chechnya will ultimately be solved is something for the Russians to work out, but with respect to terrorist attacks against innocent Russians, we stand united with the Russians that they have to deal with this in the most powerful, direct, forceful way that they can in order to protect their citizens, the same as we are doing to protect our citizens.

MR. SCHWEID: Do we know yet who was involved, whether it was Chechen, all Chechen, al-Qaida?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't, and that's something we really should let the Russians determine and make appropriate announcements about.

MR. SCHWEID: Can I ask you about Korea? The South Korean -- the disclosures about South Korean experiments and even traces of plutonium from 20 years ago. Is this going to make your job of getting North Korea to cooperate even harder?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think the North Koreans will seize on it, they have seized on it, but it's pretty obvious that these were not significant events. One took place 20 years ago of an experimental nature, the one dealing with plutonium. The one dealing with uranium happened about four years ago. But it's quite clear that these were not intended other than for academic, experimental purposes, and it's over with and I think that's, frankly, the end of the matter. I don't see any great significance to them, but the North Koreans always like to seize on anything to make their point.

MR. SCHWEID: You still haven't -- not that you actually have to announce a date this early in September, but we don't hear a date for the resumption.

SECRETARY POWELL: We don't have a date yet. Assistant Secretary Kelly is in the region consulting with our friends in the region, and we will see whether a date emerges from these consultations.

We have laid out a very strong position, a very flexible position, a position that makes it clear we have no intention of invading or attacking North Korea, we have no hostile intent. But we do insist, as do the other members of the six-party group that we have put together, we do insist that we move toward the denuclearization of the peninsula in a very, very complete and verifiable way.

The North Koreans understand that this has to be the case, and the Japanese and South Koreans have offered initial incentives in the form of energy assistance to the North Koreans to get started on this process. We are interested in participating in the writing of a security agreement that the North Koreans can see as evidence of our policy and we are waiting for the North Koreans to respond to this. North Korea is a country in need. The President has, many times, expressed his concern about the North Korean people. And, hopefully, the North Koreans will understand that there is no point in waiting or stretching this out; let's get started.

MR. GEDDA: Iraq question. You talked to the Saudis, I don't know, six weeks ago, about their idea for a Muslim security force for Iraq. Where does that stand now?

SECRETARY POWELL: I haven't had any recent conversations with the Saudi Foreign Minister about it. I know that they have continued to consult with different Muslim countries, but I haven't talked to him recently about what progress he has made.

MR. GEDDA: You were enthusiastic about the Future of Iraq project two years ago. Almost nothing has been heard about it since then, and -- but you praised it at the time, you thought it was a good idea for the postwar reconstruction.

I hear it's gathering dust, the outcome of this. Are you disappointed in that it never seemed to be acted upon after the war?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the Future of Iraq study was a one-year effort led by the State Department, but it was an interagency effort. And we also brought in outsiders from think tanks, from universities and elsewhere, and it was a very good piece of work. It was made available to the Coalition Provisional Authority. It was made available to Mr. Jay Garner, General Jay Garner, before that. Parts of it have been used and that body of information is here. We're using it.

As you know, we have an office within our Near Eastern Bureau that is working closely with Ambassador Negroponte and many of the people in that office worked on the Future of Iraq study. So it still gives us insight as to things that have to be done with respect to reconstruction, with respect to the political process, and materials are available, both to the office here as well as to Ambassador Negroponte.

MR. SCHWEID: In Israel, the Foreign Minister is speaking of the time may be growing near to exile Arafat. I suppose that's an Israeli decision. But would that, in any way, help the situation?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I haven't heard that particular report. From time to time, you receive -- you hear statements from Israeli authorities as to what the future of Mr. Arafat should be or not be, and other statements come along a few days later. So I don't have any comment at this point. I hadn't heard about it.

MR. SCHWEID: Okay. Is there time left for you to have any impact on the stalemate, do you think?

SECRETARY POWELL: I and members of my Department and the President have stood ready, and members of the National Security Council have stood ready, to engage with the Israelis and the Palestinians at any time such an engagement would be appropriate and would make sense. We're working with the Israelis on the Gaza disengagement plan and the four settlements that would also be removed from the West Bank and other aspects of their settlement policy.

But what we need and what we don't have and what we have been struggling to obtain for the last year, since the President took the bold step of going to Aqaba and endorsing the roadmap and having everyone else endorse the roadmap, is the reform that's needed in the Palestinian Authority. We need to see the end of terror. We need to see the consolidation of Palestinian security forces under responsible leadership.

We need to have an empowered prime minister, and that requires taking authority and power away from Mr. Arafat and empowering a prime minister so he could act as head of government and get on with the process of reforming the administration of the Palestinian Authority, putting in place a solid security organization and getting ready for the Gaza disengagement.

MR. SCHWEID: That would seem to be part of any settlement -- necessary for any settlement. But is it necessary in order -- is it a prerequisite for the U.S. launching another drive? In other words, can you -- I know you're working on it -- but can you step up the drive even when the Palestinians are resisting?

SECRETARY POWELL: We've stepped up the drive repeatedly. We've stepped up the drive at the beginning of this Administration with the Mitchell Plan, the Tenet Plan, the Zinni Plan, multiple trips. In June of 2002, the President laid out a strong vision for a Palestinian state in a way that no president has done previously, but the President noted we needed a partner to work on this, and the partner had to be somebody besides Yasser Arafat.

We needed an empowered prime minister. We thought that we had made progress with that last year when the President went to Aqaba. And, frankly, most of that was undercut by Mr. Arafat. And so it's difficult to see how progress can be made without an empowered prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. But we stand ready. We are in touch with the parties. Assistant Secretary Burns goes there frequently. I am in touch with both sides on a regular basis. But we need to see -- we need to see movement. We just can't go moving back and forth, working with the same arrangement that has failed so many times in the past.

A good friend of mine, who worked on this for 12 years, Mr. Dennis Ross, has just written a book that makes the same point, that Mr. Arafat is not acting as a responsible partner for peace. And it is in the interest of the Palestinian people not to eliminate Mr. Arafat, but to empower a prime minister who can be a responsible partner for peace.

MR. SCHWEID: Yeah, he and Albright are going to hold forth on this subject at noon, by the way.

A quick question: Can the U.S. have good relations with Venezuela under Chavez? Is it possible?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we will have to see. We have concerns about some of the actions that President Chavez has taken over the years in pursuit of his vision of Bolivarian democracy. We want the Venezuelan people to do well. We are friends to the Venezuelan people. And now that the election, or the referendum, is over, we will just have to see how things develop.

MR. SCHWEID: Toward the end of an interview, there is always a bit of a hooker, but I hope you won't take it that way. Four years are drawing to a close. Have you felt that you had a role that was, as a lot of people see you as having, of being a moderating influence in an otherwise far more conservative, far more aggressive -- I can pick the words without looking for a word that isn't terribly charged -- but I think you know what my point is.

I talk to so many people who speak favorably, very favorably of you, and thank heavens that you're there, but they speak in terms of you having a stabilizing interest: going to the UN on Iraq and so many instances and positions you've taken on family planning, on, you know, quotas, on this affirmative action. Do you -- it's an awkward question, but I wonder if you want to deal with it at this point.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I have been given many labels in the course of my career and over the past four years. The only label that really sticks and is important is that I serve this nation and I serve the President. And my job is to help the President carry out his foreign policy objectives as he determines them to be.

And I believe he appreciates the advice I give. We have done a lot that, perhaps, doesn't get enough attention: the creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation; the HIV/AIDS initiative; we were playing a -- played an instrumental role in creating the best relationship we've had with China in decades; a good relationship with Russia; expansion of NATO; working with the European Union to expand it and to work with the European Union to the point where it can take over some responsibilities from NATO in Europe.

I think we played a very instrumental role in helping the Indians and Pakistanis to begin talking to one another again. We have excellent relations with both of those countries and that's not where we started out a few years ago.

We have done a great deal with respect to free trade, open trade, expansion of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, expansion of regional trade agreements here, WTO accession. So I think we've done a great deal that is positive.

And we also did some things that people view as controversial, but I think they are positive. Two despotic regimes are gone, the one that was in Kabul and the one that was in Baghdad, and the world is better off for their departure, and their nations are better off for the departure of these two regimes.

We have challenging times ahead of us in order to consolidate our success there, to get rid of the insurgents both in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, in a few weeks' time, 20-odd million Afghans will have the opportunity of picking a new president in a democratic election. Imagine that, from just three years ago when the Taliban was in charge. And we are trying to accomplish the same mission for the people of Iraq, 25 million people in Iraq.

And the people who are trying to stop it -- stop the Iraqis, stop the Iraqi Government -- are left over from the past. They're terrorists, former regime elements that want to take Iraq back into the days of Saddam Hussein. And we will not let that happen. But, more importantly, I don't think the Iraqi people will let it happen. And so we're building up Iraqi forces to deal with that challenge just as we're building up Afghan forces to deal with the insurgency that still is, to an extent, slowing down the work in Afghanistan.

And guess what. People are turning out. They want to be part of this force. They want their country to move forward in this way. They don't want ex-Taliban or remnants of the Taliban or remnants of the former regime in Iraq to stop their progress.

MR. GEDDA: The President said in Philadelphia the other day he'd be happy to have you around beyond January 20th, assuming he's reelected. Do you have any reaction to that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the President and I have a very strong, solid relationship and I'm pleased he would say such a thing, but you know my standard answer to this question: I serve at the pleasure.

MR. GEDDA: Well, it seems like it is his pleasure.

SECRETARY POWELL: Time will tell. We will see. There's no -- I don't serve a term. (Laughter.)

MR. GEDDA: How are we doing? One more?

MR. SCHWEID: One more quick one. Is there an area -- it would be the case, I suppose, with everybody -- is there an area -- you've dealt now heavily with what's going on in Sudan. Is there an area, is there an issue, is there a subject, in retrospect, you wished you had more time to focus on, perhaps couldn't because of other events? But is there -- the world "regret" comes to mind. I don't quite mean it that way. But is there something you wish you had had a little more time to deal with?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I still have time, Barry. (Laughter.)

MR. SCHWEID: Well, I know. We're not saying goodbye. We're not saying goodbye.

Look, we have done so many things. What I've found in this job is that thereis no area you can ignore. It all comes to my office. And so some days it will be a major issue like Iraq or Sudan. The next day, it might just be flying to Greenland to sign a modest agreement or going to a Panamanian inauguration to show support for Panama. Not momentous actions on any grand scale, but part of the job of being Secretary of State.

So there is no issue I can't get involved in and I do get involved in. And the style that I have and the way the Department runs is, if it's somebody else's problem, then it's our problem. If somebody brings a problem to us because the United States can help with it, then we have a responsibility to help with it.

And we've been successful in a number of areas. We've dealt with Libya and disarmed it from its weapons of mass destruction. We played a very important role in Liberia, in helping it get rid of Charles Taylor. We did the same thing in Haiti, and now we are working to build up the UN force in Haiti so that the Haitian people have a better shot at a brighter future.

And so, sure, I always wish I had more time for the whole agenda, but we ignore no part of our agenda.

MR. SCHWEID: Thank you.

MR. GEDDA: Thanks. Appreciate it.



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