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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 > December

Interview With Reuters

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
December 3, 2004

(10:05 a.m. EST)

MR. MOHAMMED: Mr. Secretary, thanks for taking the time to speak to us today.


MR. MOHAMMED: You're going to the OSCE meeting next week and will have a chance to speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov. Do you believe Russia has interfered in Ukraine's electoral process, with President Putin's two visits there during their campaign, with his clearly premature congratulations to the Prime Minister last week, and with his rejection yesterday of a rerun of the second round?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, this isn't the time, I think, to get into these kinds of issues. What we're trying to do now is to help the Ukrainians find a way out of the situation that they are in now. And I'm very pleased that President Kwasniewski has paid a visit there and may be going back, and Javier Solana and President Adamkus of Lithuania are involved.

And I think all of us have an equity in helping the Ukrainians work their way through this, and I have been in regular touch with Russian authorities, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, on how we can do this. Now, there are different points of view as to how it should happen, and that's why we're having these negotiations. And I hope that once the Ukrainian supreme court has brought down their judgment on what should happen next, we can move forward.

But this isn't the time to point fingers at one another. As the President has said, it's best for all of us to allow the Ukrainians to resolve this problem and for there to be no outside interference. I'm not going to start placing charges against any one or the other.

At the OSCE meeting next week, I'm sure that this will be a major subject of discussion among all the nations that are represented there. And, of course, I'll have to chance to have, I'm sure, bilateral conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov. But it's not just a U.S.-Russian issue. It shouldn't be a U.S.-Russian issue. It's an interest that all the members of the international community are interested in and want to see a peaceful solution without outside interference, a solution that the Ukrainians must decide upon.

MR. MOHAMMED: Do you expect some kind of statement to that effect at the OSCE meeting?

SECRETARY POWELL: I expect it will come up at the OSCE meeting. Whether the OSCE meeting comes to any conclusion or is in any way performing a role in a resolution remains to be seen. We have a resolution mechanism in place with the work of the European Union and the work of President Kwasniewski and President Adamkus and Javier Solana, with all the rest of us helping and staying in touch with the parties. I've been in touch with President Kuchma on a regular basis and Deputy Secretary Armitage has talked to both of the contenders in recent days and we've been in regular touch with the European Union. The President talked to President Kwasniewski. So we're staying closely involved but we're trying to support the Ukrainians as they find a legal, constitutionally-based, political solution to this problem.

MR. MOHAMMED: In September, you told us that Russia appeared to be pulling back on some of its democratic reforms. This morning, the Duma overwhelmingly approved the political changes that President Putin had called for earlier this year. Since September, have you or President Bush heard anything from President Putin to allay your concerns about the backsliding on democratic reforms?

SECRETARY POWELL: We had discussions with the Russians in a variety of fora. President Bush and President Putin had discussions in Santiago, Chile, just a few days ago and I've been in regular touch with Foreign Minister Lavrov and others. And we do have concerns. I've expressed those concerns and the President has expressed those concerns directly to the Russians.

We have no problem and no thought that Russia is going back to the days of the Soviet Union. That's not the case. I think Russia is firmly grounded in democracy and in elections of a president, such as we saw last year where President Putin won. But we have some concerns about how that democracy is going to be firmly grounded in institutions and with a free and open media. And with respect to the selection of governors, or how governors are appointed, we have expressed some of our concerns to the Russians as to the manner in which this will happen. And President Putin has, in turn, explained to the President why he has moved in this direction and now the Duma has ratified that decision.

And so we will continue to speak out when we do have concerns, but we also know that Russia is not going to go back and become the Soviet Union. We just want to encourage the Russians to ground their democracy on those institutions that are vital to a democracy -- free elections, open elections, a media that can represent all the interests of the people -- and this will be a subject of continuing discussion with the Russians in the months ahead.

MR. HUDSON: Mr. Secretary, the Bush Administration has taken no position on whether Kofi Annan should resign until the Oil-for-Food investigations are complete. In contrast, your allies, such as Britain, have praised Annan. Does the United States have confidence in Annan?

SECRETARY POWELL: Secretary General Annan is a good Secretary General and the United States has tried to support him and the United Nations in every way that we can. Frankly, the issue doesn't arise yet. Investigations are underway, an inquiry under the leadership of Paul Volcker, in who we have great confidence, a number of investigations that are taking place up on Capitol Hill. And these investigations are not of Mr. Annan, they're of the Oil-for-Food program.

So let's wait and see what the results of these investigations are. As the Sec -- as the President, excuse me, as the President said the other day, why would this be a question before us right now when we have these inquiries underway? And that's the point he was making. And he did not link it to whether or not we would provide funding for the UN, as I've seen suggested in some accounts.

What he was essentially saying is that the United States, the American people and the American Congress want to see this matter investigated fully, and I think so does the Secretary General.

MR. HUDSON: But in itself, is the failure of UN oversight of the program sufficient grounds to merit a resignation?

SECRETARY POWELL: But you're asking me to prejudge the outcome of the inquiry, and I think that is not the way to go about this. We should not prejudge where this inquiry will take us. Let's wait for not only the Volcker inquiry, but the inquiries and investigations being done by the Congress and anyone else who's looking into this. And the media is also examining all of this, but let's wait until the results are known.

It is a serious matter. We are deeply troubled by what happened with the Oil-for-Food program. There can be no question in anyone's mind that the program was corrupted by Saddam Hussein. And now we've got to get to the bottom of it. We've got to find out who was responsible and when those answers are known, then action could be taken. And it would be, it seems to me, premature right now to assign blame and to take action against anyone until these investigations and inquiries are finished.

MS. GIACOMO: Mr. Secretary, there are increasing reports of political turmoil in North Korea, including a report that large numbers of North Korean generals have gone to China. What do you think is going on there, and do you see any sign that Pyongyang is going to come back to six-party talks?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, with respect to the various reports about unrest in North Korea, I think you just have to see them as reports. I don't know that they represent anything fundamental that is taking place inside of North Korea. It's very hard to divine from day to day and week to week exactly what is happening in this very, very sealed country.

Last week we were talking about pictures that had come down off walls, and then suddenly the pictures were back up on walls of the President of North Korea. So I think we ought to just watch these things but not draw any broad conclusions from them.

With respect to the six-party talks, we hope that the next round can be held as soon as possible. It's up to the North Koreans. All the other members, the five other members, are ready and anxious to move again into the fourth round of six-party talks.

The North Koreans continue to say things that keep it from happening: the United States has a hostile policy, and they want us to show more flexibility. We showed flexibility in June when we put forward a new proposal. The South Koreans also put forward some ideas, as did the North Koreans. Well, there are ideas out there. We showed flexibility. Let's have another round of talks to explore these different possibilities and these different proposals.

We can't have a situation where the North Koreans sit back and say, you're not flexible enough, in the media, and they make these statements, and then we are having a negotiation in the media, and the negotiation is always, why doesn't the U.S. do more? Well, let's get to the table and see what the different positions are and examine the positions in a negotiating context and not just by media statements.

So the United States is ready and we are hopeful that a way will be found to reconvene the next round of six-party talks as soon as possible, or something short of six-party, you know, maybe not -- six-party talks, but maybe not at the same level initially, perhaps working groups, I don't know. But let's get to the table either with working groups or full membership of all six parties at the talks as soon as possible. That's where we ought to solve this problem, not by media charges and media statements back and forth.

MS. GIACOMO: With all do respect, on the question of unrest, though, if a large number of North Korean generals have gone to Beijing, that's something that the United States would certainly ask China about. Have you discussed this with China and what have they told you?

SECRETARY POWELL: Actually, I have not discussed it with China, and it is a report that I haven't seen confirmed yet. And what we can't do is take every report, confirmed or otherwise, and respond to and act on it. I'm sure that if this has happened in some, you know, some significance, we will follow up on it. But these reports come out on a fairly regular basis. If something is happening in North Korea, where people have gone here and people have gone there, and we just have to wait and see what we can confirm and we will act on that which we can confirm.

MR. MOHAMMED: Former Secretary of State Baker yesterday said that once there's a Palestinian interlocutor, the United States should take a direct hand in Israeli-Palestinian talks, offering suggestions, brokering compromises, providing assurances. Do you expect the Bush Administration to take that kind of a hands-on approach?

SECRETARY POWELL: We do. We did it least year when we created a set of conditions that produced a Prime Minister, Mr. Abu Mazen. And we took a very hands-on approach. The President went to the region, he went to Aqaba, he stood there with Prime Minister Sharon, he stood there with Prime Minister Abu Mazen and with King Abdullah and with other leaders present, and committed himself, as they all committed themselves, to the roadmap as the way forward.

Unfortunately, we didn't get traction with that proposal and Abu Mazen stepped down. And now, in the aftermath of Chairman Arafat's death, there is a new opportunity, and as Secretary Baker said, we have to be ready to take advantage of it.

And so we are ready and that's why I went to the region two weeks ago, last week really, to speak to Prime Minister Sharon and to speak to all the Palestinian leaders and let them know that we must not let this new moment of opportunity pass; we have to take advantage of it.

And the next step, I think, in this process, is for us to have the Palestinian election on the 9th of January so that we will have an elected leader of the Palestinian Authority who should give us a responsible interlocutor to deal with Israel and to deal with the international community.

I met with the Quartet last week during my trip in Sharm el-Sheikh, and the Quartet stands ready to help politically, economically and in any other way that we can.

And so I think, as Mr. Baker noted, that this is a moment of opportunity and the United States will continue to be hands-on. We are the designer of the roadmap, we are the leader, frankly, of the Quartet, and we stand ready to do everything we can to move this process forward.

MR. HUDSON: Next week, you attend the Forum of the Future in Morocco. Given anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab world, which has only increased with the Iraq war, is it possible anything seen as a U.S. push for democracy and reform in the region may actually be counterproductive?

SECRETARY POWELL: Not at all. We had the first meeting of this group to get ready in New York at the tail end of the United Nations General Assembly debate period. And 28 nations came to that meeting and they all talked about reform and modernization in the Broader Middle East and North Africa region. And the reason for that is they know they need it, and it is ongoing.

So many of the countries in that region are moving down the path of reform. Each one moves at their own pace, and consistent with their own history, culture, goals, objectives and aspirations. The United States and the industrial community, the G-8 and others, stands ready to help. It's help that I think it is welcomed. We have made it clear that we are not coming to dictate, we are not coming to tell you what your reform program should be; you determine what it is. They all know they need a reform in one way or the other.

We're seeing rather remarkable things. The Saudis are now having municipal level elections. What's happening in Bahrain, what's happening in Morocco, what's happening in Tunisia and other nations -- all of them have reform efforts underway. I didn't touch on all of them, but all of them are doing something. And to the extent that we can help them with resources, through our Middle East Partnership Initiative, training teachers, helping with education, helping with infrastructure, helping with the creation of civic society, of an active civic society, these are things we can do to help them. We have experience and we have resources, and so we're there to help them.

And rather than it being seen as an American initiative, I want it to be seen as a partnership between the United States and the industrialized world and these nations who are in need of reform and modernization. They're in need, not because I say so, but because they say so. In the Arab Development Report, two editions of the Arab Development Report, written by experts, Arab experts that say we need to move in this direction.

Unemployment is the biggest problem that exists in that part of the world, and you only solve unemployment when you have economic activity taking place that will create jobs and when you are educating your young people for the kinds of jobs that will be available in this 21st century.

MS. GIACOMO: President Bush has said that Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. How does the Bush Administration plan to make good on that goal, especially since many Administration officials are deeply skeptical that Iran will adhere to the agreement with the EU-3?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are skeptical, and for good reason. But at the same time, over the last four years, we have put a spotlight on Iran's activities and we put a heat lamp on Iran's activities so that the Russians now in their work with the Iranians at the reactor at Bushehr have made it clear that all of the material that goes into shield that reactor will come back to the Russian Federation, and so it will not be diverted to improper uses.

The IAEA has become much more active since they discovered that Iran was not being fully forthcoming with respect to its activities, and the EU-3, as they are called, the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Britain, have done a good job in getting Iran to commit to the suspension of their conversion and enrichment activities.

But we have to remain uneasy about this because it is still only a suspension, and I understand Iranian officials have said today we're only going to suspend for six months. We really need an end to that program, and I think that we have had some success in really bringing attention to this issue.

Ultimately, though, it is a problem that I think will be solved and can be solved politically and diplomatically. And that's what the United States is doing. We're often accused of acting unilaterally. This is case where we're acting quite multilaterally. We have a view and the view is we should have referred this to the Security Council long ago, but others feel otherwise. So we're working with our friends and partners in Europe and in the IAEA to keep the heat on the Iranians and to keep the spotlight on what the Iranians are doing to make sure that they do not get a nuclear weapon.

MS. GIACOMO: Many people say that the IAEA will never be able to find secret Iranian sites if it doesn't have unrestricted access. How is the United States going to make sure that this happens?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I can't make sure it's going to happen. It's a question of whether or not the international community, in the form of the IAEA, and especially the European Union, the European Union Three, will be diligent and will be insistent in pressing the Iranians to give us full disclosure to their program. But you can't look in every cave that might be in Iran, but for the facilities that are known about I'm pleased that we now have suspension of enrichment and conversion activities, but we now have to build the suspension into something more permanent.

And so I think it is important for the international community to remain alert, to continue to consult within the community and to continue to apply pressure on Iran and to make it clear to Iran that the community remains united in the goal of not having Iran equipped with nuclear weapons.

MS. GIACOMO: Does the Administration plan to increase support for pro-democratic forces in Iran?

SECRETARY POWELL: The United States believes that Iran has a useful population and it's a population that is seeking a more open society. It's a population that I think understands that its interests are best served if it had a better relationship with -- if the country had a better relationship with the rest of the world. And to the extent that in our messages we reinforce that message, we will do so.

MR. MOHAMMED: You're going to Europe next week, possibly for the last time as Secretary of State. What does the United States need to do to heal the breach with those countries in Europe that were so opposed to the Iraq war?

SECRETARY POWELL: Let's start out with the simple fact that so many nations in Europe were supportive of our efforts and contributed troops and other resources to that effort because they understand that what we are seeking is a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a freely elected government that will no longer be a threat to its neighbors or a destabilizing factor in the world. All Europeans now want to see that happen, whether they supported the war or did not support the war.

And so the President has said that he will be reaching out to Europe. He plans to make an early trip to Europe. In my conversations next week in Europe, I will reinforce the point that the President wants to reach out. But it is not just the President and the United States reaching out. I think Europe also has to reach out toward us and have to -- you know, we have to meet one another here and not just say, "Come on, United States, it's all your fault. You heal these breaches." I think Europe has to reach out as well. And that would be my message.

There is a new opportunity here for us to work together in Iraq. NATO has put a training mission in Iraq. The European Union is providing assets. The United Nations is building up its presence in Iraq for the elections.

So I think that particular breach is slowly being healed. And we've done so much together that it sometimes doesn't get enough credit: the transfer of responsibility in Bosnia; what we're doing together, the Europeans and the United States in Afghanistan, which produced a successful election; how we worked with some of our European partners to deal with the problem of Libya's weapons of mass destruction; what we are doing together with respect to Iran.

So there are so many areas in which the United States is working in close collaboration and very successfully with the Europeans, and I think if we keep that spirit of collaboration up and the President reaches out, as he said he would, I hope Europe also reaches out, so the remaining breaches can be healed.

Just look at how we have worked with Europe on the Ukrainian election matter for the last couple of weeks -- close coordination, consistent messages, constant talking between leaders, President Bush and President Kwasniewski, I speaking to so many of my European colleagues and my Russian colleague -- is an example of what we can do together, and really is the pattern rather than the exception. This is how we try to solve problems.

MR. MOHAMMED: We're running out of time. But how specifically should they reach out, the Europeans?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the reason I answered the question that way is that very often, the way it's put to me is that, "What is the United States going to do?" -- as if there's -- you know, it's not a partnership. If there are problems, then two parties have to come together to resolve these problems and heal these breaches. We will explain our policies and positions. We want to listen and we want to hear what our European friends have to say.

But Europe and the United States is pulled together by so many things that create a strong bond: our values system, our belief in democracy, our belief in open economic systems, what we're doing together. All these things pull us together. And if we both work on building on these ties that keep us together, we can overcome the difficulties. But it's a question of partnership. It's a question of everybody talking plainly and clearly to one another and each of us trying to understand the position of the other so that we can come into agreement and gain a consensus as to how we should move forward as a transatlantic community.

Just look how much we have accomplished over the last four years: expansion of NATO, expansion of the European Union. The United States has been active in all of these efforts, in the Balkans together, out of the Balkans together. You know, everybody thought we would walk away as soon as we came into office in early 2001. The President made it clear, no, we have obligations with our European friends.

And so we have done so much together that will continue to pull us together in the bonds of friendship and shared sacrifice over so many years. Our belief in democracy and those value systems that flow from democracy, the values that flow from democracy, this will keep us together and we can overcome these difficulties, of this I'm confident.

MR. MOHAMMED: Thank you for your time.

SECRETARY POWELL: You're welcome.


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