04 January 2004
Powell Lists Anti-Terrorism, Iraqi Sovereignty Among Top Priorities
Interview with The Washington Post Dec. 29
Fighting terrorism, returning sovereignty to the people of Iraq,
establishing stability and democracy in Afghanistan, and working
toward peace in the Middle East are among the top foreign policy
priorities for the United States in the coming year, according
to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In an interview with Robin Wright of The Washington Post December
29, Powell said the United States remains "totally committed" to
the "roadmap for peace" in the Middle East as outlined
by President Bush on June 24, 2002, and encourages engagement between
Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
"Until there is a beginning conversation between the two
sides, I think it's difficult to do much more right now," he
said. "[W]e're anxious to see that conversation begin, and
we're in touch with both sides to encourage that conversation."
Regarding Iraq, Powell said the Iraqi Governing Council "has
expressed its complete support for the 15 November plan" worked
out with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that would transfer
power to a transitional government no later than July 2004.
According to Powell, the coalition is currently "in a dialogue" with
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other influential Iraqis "who
have an interest in how one actually goes about selecting a transitional
assembly and a transitional government."
The secretary said the coalition is "open to refinements" of
the plan but does not expect any need for compromise or major changes.
As for Iran, Powell said, the United States has "always left
open the option of engaging in dialogue" with that country.
He added that a number of "encouraging" things have happened
in recent months, including Iran's signing of an International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) protocol allowing short-notice inspections
of its nuclear facilities and Iran's acceptance of humanitarian
assistance from the United States after the earthquake in Bam.
"[A]ll those things taken together show that there are things
happening, and therefore we should keep open the possibility of
dialogue at an appropriate point in the future," he said. "We
still have concerns about terrorist activities, of course, and
there are other issues with respect to al-Qaida and other matters
that we'll have to keep in mind."
Powell said he hoped Iran and other countries that may be developing
weapons of mass destruction will follow Libya's recent decision
to dismantle its weapons programs.
"I think the Libyans took a look at a determined President
Bush and a determined Bush Administration that was going to deal
with these kinds of weapons," he said. "I think [Libyan
leader Col. Muammar] Qadhafi could see that we were prepared to
take action in Iraq, we were prepared to press the case with Iran,
even though people were waving us off for the first year of the
Administration, and we're also prepared to seek a diplomatic solution
with North Korea and not be cowed or blackmailed or pushed into
some deal with North Korea where we're paying them for their misbehavior."
"I would hope that North Korea and Iran and, for that matter,
Syria, to the extent that they have such weapons, realize that
these weapons serve no political, economic or security purpose.
And to that extent I think, perhaps, Qadhafi is giving a good object
lesson to these other countries," Powell said.
Following is a transcript of the interview as released by the
Department of State:
Interview by Robin Wright of The Washington Post
Secretary Colin L. Powell
December 29, 2003
(3:00 p.m. EST)
MS. WRIGHT: In two days we mark the date specified by the roadmap
for creating a temporary Palestinian state. That date is clearly
going to pass without having achieved that goal. What is the United
States going to do, tangibly, to get the roadmap back on the road
again? And I'm talking about the United States, not what the Palestinians
and the Israelis need to do, but what the U.S. is going to do to
show the leadership you mentioned in earlier interviews.
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we regret that we weren't able to get that
state with interim provisions to it by the end of 2003. It still
remains the President's vision and his goal to achieve a Palestine
state living side by side so, with Israel, with the state of Israel.
So we remain totally committed to the vision that the President
laid out on 24 June of 2002 and totally committed to the roadmap
as the way to get to that vision.
Now, with respect to what we now have to do is after we lost the
Abu Mazen government, we have been waiting for the Abu Alaa [Palestinian
Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, better known as Abu Alaa] to take definitive
steps with respect to condemnation of terror; with respect to what
plans they have to go after terrorist organizations.
We will be reviewing the bidding in the early part of the year
as to whether or not it would be appropriate for Ambassador Wolf
[U.S. Ambassador John Wolf, coordinator for the Middle East roadmap]
to go back in, but he has to have two people ready to talk to one
another. We will be encouraging, and I will be talking -- I talked
to Sharon [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] and Shalom [Deputy
Prime Minister Silvan Shalom] last week -- I will be talking to
Palestinians later this week, encouraging the conversations to
begin between the two sides.
Until there is a beginning conversation between the two sides,
I think it's difficult to do much more right now and we're anxious
to see that conversation begin, and we're in touch with both sides
to encourage that conversation.
MS. WRIGHT: By the way, you guys are making a transcript of this,
SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah.
MS. WRIGHT: Okay.
Are you confident that the United States can still meet the deadline
set out by the roadmap of a solution by 2005, which would mean
crunching a three-year process into two years, or is there likely,
now, to be slippage?
SECRETARY POWELL: I think it's possible, but it's hard to say.
I mean, a year and a half has gone by since those goals were set
out, and so that's a year and a half where we didn't achieve the
interim state we were looking for, or a state with interim provisions,
as I like to say. But it is not unachievable if both sides will
now come to the table, get serious, if we see the kind of crackdown
against terrorism that we have to see or it'll all be a false start,
and if you also take a look at the debate that's taking place in
Israel now as to the way forward, I think that there are certain
dynamics at work that still make it possible to achieve that vision
But time is passing and we need to see the kind of aggressive action
on the part of the Palestinian Authority that will allow us to
once again engage as fully as the President wants us to. He stands
ready to engage. We all do. The roadmap is there. We are staying
in touch with our Quartet partners [Russia, European Union and
United Nations] and they are ready to engage. And we're also staying
in touch with our Arab colleagues, as well.
MS. WRIGHT: On Iraq, the Russians have pledged to forgive 65 percent
of the Iraqi debt. Is that the goal the United States is seeking
from all countries, both in the Club of Paris, and otherwise?
SECRETARY POWELL: We would like to see maximum debt forgiveness,
and I wouldn't put an arbitrary number on it at this point. I would
hope to see a much higher number, but I don't want to assign any
of the countries that Jim Baker [former Secretary of State James
Baker, President Bush's personal envoy on Iraqi debt] is working
with now and Secretary Snow [Treasury Secretary John Snow] is working
with now a number, but we want to get maximum debt forgiveness,
Paris Club and otherwise. And I think we're off to a good start.
And I had good conversations with Jim Baker after he got back from
the European leg and before he went on the Asian leg. And I also
know that he's been in touch with John Snow.
These are commitments-in-principle. What we have to do now is
nail them down in the course of 2004 as the Paris Club meetings
MS. WRIGHT: Have the discussions between Ayatollah Sistani [Iraq
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani] and Jerry Bremer [L. Paul Bremer,
U.S. administrator for Iraq] led, or are they heading toward
a compromise on the issue of elections?
SECRETARY POWELL: We are in touch with the Ayatollah. I don't
know that Jerry has spoken to him directly, but we have a number
of people who have spoken to him.
MS. WRIGHT: But there are letters between them?
SECRETARY POWELL: There may well be letters between them.
All I can say is that the contacts are continuing and what I
have been following, as you can well imagine, is from the 15th
of November on, when we put down the latest plan, what has been
the reaction of the various parties.
The Governing Council has expressed its complete support for
the 15 November plan. It has been presented to the UN. We're
certainly fully behind it, and the Ayatollah has raised issues
with respect to how you do the caucus elections and I think it's
safe to say that we are in a dialogue with him and with others
who have an interest in how one actually goes about selecting
a transitional assembly and a transitional government.
MS. WRIGHT: But do you fore--
SECRETARY POWELL: But the news, the news is that he has not dismissed
the 15 November plan, which some people were afraid he might.
So I think we're having a productive conversation, and it's an
MS. WRIGHT: And, but do you see one further round of compromises
being introduced in the November plan; in other words, accepting
the November 15th, but introducing some kind of compromise that
would address the issue of elections?
SECRETARY POWELL: At the moment, I'm not aware of the need for
a compromise. Everybody is firmly behind the 15 November plan,
but I think we're all also listening because what we want is
a successful process next spring that gives us a transitional
assembly and a transitional government, and puts us on the way
to a full constitution as well as a fully representative government
thereafter, probably in 2005.
So I think we are open to ideas, but there is no compromise that
I'm aware of at the moment that is needed. It's a good plan.
It's a solid plan. It enjoys the support of the Governing Council
and certainly us.
MS. WRIGHT: Well, maybe we're talking about semantics here. Maybe
it's a refinement or something that, that adds to the plan.
SECRETARY POWELL: There -- and I think that's what I was saying,
Robin. The plan is good. If people come up with refinements that
make the plan better and it's agreeable to all parties, then
that is a refinement to a good plan as opposed to changing or
compromising on a plan that is good for a plan that is less good.
And I think what Ambassador Bremer and all of us have been doing
in our conversations is listening and hearing and, "Are
there better ideas that would make the plan more refined, better
and more acceptable to a broader group of individuals and leaders
MS. WRIGHT: Do you expect that soon?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I didn't say that I was expecting there
to be a compromise or that refinements would be made. I'm just
saying that we're open to refinements and we're waiting to hear
what people have suggested, or will suggest.
MS. WRIGHT: Let me shift to Iran. I gather there is an inter-agency
debate or high-level, anyway, debate on whether to resume the
dialogue with Iran. They have, Iran has taken steps recently.
There is this current effort to provide humanitarian aid. Do
you foresee, you know, movement in a specific way toward resuming
that debate with Iran soon?
SECRETARY POWELL: We are not really having a high-level debate
in the sense of major disagreement. I think you have heard me
say previously that we have always left open the option of engaging
in dialogue with Iran. And a number of things have happened in
recent months, which, I think, are encouraging.
Let's start from where we began this Administration three years
ago when we made the case that Iran was undertaking activities
with respect to nuclear weapons that were unacceptable and inconsistent
with its obligations. We pressed the Russians. Everybody pushed
back on us for a while and then the Russians finally came to
the conclusion that there was something there. We started to
create understandings with the Russians on the Bushehr Power
Plant, as you're well familiar. And then more information became
available that made it clear to the IAEA that Iran wasn't fully
complying. And I think we started to get the better of the argument.
And we were pressing the IAEA to take note of all of this and
act, and then my European Union colleagues in the person of the
EU 3 [France, Germany, and the United Kingdom] engaged directly.
I stayed in very close touch with [France's Minister of Foreign
Affairs Dominique] de Villepin, [Germany's Minister of Foreign
Affairs Joschka] Fischer and [the United Kingdom's Secretary
of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Jack] Straw as
they did their work. They never did anything I wasn't aware of
and we hadn't discussed beforehand. And we've now reached the
point where we've got a unanimous IAEA resolution, which said
Iran has not been fully complying and also put in there that
if there was further lack of compliance, it would be dealt with
in accordance with current regulations and obligations that they
And at the same time, Iran has signed the additional protocol
and we are waiting for them, now, to meet the commitments they
made to the EU 3. All of those things taken together show, it
seems to me, a new attitude in Iran in dealing with these issues
-- not one of total, open generosity, but they realize that the
world is watching and the world is prepared to take action.
And then, recently, when this terrible catastrophe hit Iran and
-- and this just pushed politics aside. This was a humanitarian
issue. And the President has always made it clear that when it
comes to humanitarian issues, we'll do what is right for humankind.
And in this case, to show them that we were serious and that
we were seeing it as a humanitarian issue, had [Deputy Secretary
of State] Rich Armitage call the Iranian Perm Rep directly, so
he knew it was not just a routine, diplomatic exchange.
What was surprising here, Robin, is that within a half an hour
to an hour, Rich got an answer back from the Permanent Representative,
who was in Tehran at that time, and within hours, we had started
to assemble relief supplies, planes and rescue workers.
Now all those things taken together show that there are things
happening, and therefore we should keep open the possibility
of dialogue at an appropriate point in the future. We still have
concerns about terrorist activities, of course, and there are
other issues with respect to al-Qaida and other matters that
we'll have to keep in mind.
MS. WRIGHT: Any resolution on al-Qaida, do you see, in the aftermath
of the Governing Council's decision on the MEK [Mujahedin-e Khalq
terrorist organization], which was their conditions?
SECRETARY POWELL: I don't have anything to give you on that at
this time, or yet, Robin.
MS. WRIGHT: Okay. Pakistan. How concerned are you about the stability
of Pakistan in the aftermath of two assassination attempts on
SECRETARY POWELL: I'm still confident that President Musharraf
enjoys broad support within the country. These are extremists
and we were deeply concerned at both of those attacks, and the
President has spoken to President Musharraf and I have spoken
to him a couple of times. I spoke to him over the weekend. And
it just shows that there are those who will resort to terror
to try to impose their ill will on their own people.
And so we still have confidence in President Musharraf and we're
standing behind him.
MS. WRIGHT: One that kind of goes back to Iran, but also -- does
the Libya strategy apply to Iran, and potentially, to North Korea?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I would hope that the Iranians, and,
especially, North Korea would lean back and take a look at what
Libya did. And Libya essentially came to the conclusion that
being isolated on the world stage, being held up to ridicule
by the international community with the condemnation that came
from the international community, all for the purpose of trying
to develop an unconventional warfare capability, that at the
end brought you no economic benefit, in fact, cost you economically,
and frankly, brought you no political benefit, and frankly, put
you in greater danger than the danger that it might have been
keeping you out of.
I think the Libyans took a look at a determined President Bush
and a determined Bush Administration that was going to deal with
these kinds of weapons, but we were not going to be terrified
by them, I think [Libyan leader Col. Muammar] Qadhafi could see
that we were prepared to take action in Iraq, we were prepared
to press the case with Iran, even though people were waving us
off for the first year of the Administration, and we're also
prepared to seek a diplomatic solution with North Korea and not
be cowed or blackmailed or pushed into some deal with North Korea
where we're paying them for their misbehavior. And I would hope
that North Korea and Iran and for that matter, Syria, to the
extent that they have such weapons, realize that these weapons
serve no political, economic or security purpose. And to that
extent I think, perhaps, Qadhafi is giving a good object lesson
to these other countries.
We, however, understand the nature of Mr. Qadhafi and his regime,
and we will approach this carefully with full verification, and
my State Department team is putting together a rather thorough
verification system; and also with political engagement to make
sure that before we provide any kind of relief that we really
do have a changed, a changed leader. But we're very pleased with
MS. WRIGHT: For 2004, what, as you see it, are the four on your "A-list," four
on your "B-list" issues and what is the United States
going to do in specific terms about each one, not just what the
problems are? I've read all your earlier interviews.
SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. Okay. No you didn't.
MS. WRIGHT: I did too.
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, first and foremost has to be the global
war on terrorism. It's not going away. We've made a great deal
of progress over the last couple of years. Cells are being rolled
up. We have a better idea of whom we're fighting, but they're
still out there and they're still coming after us. We have to
protect the homeland and we have to go out and get them where
they are. And we've got to continue to build our international
coalition with law enforcement, intelligence exchange, drying
up their sources of finance and support, and direct action when
necessary. So that will remain number one. And of course, homeland
security fits in that.
The next one on my hit parade, of course, is Iraq -- returning
sovereignty to the people. I, as, you know, Secretary of State,
increasingly will be working with [Secretary of Defense] Don
Rumsfeld to manage the transition to an embassy situation from
the Coalition Provisional Authority when it has completed its
mission some time next year. Hopefully at a time that's coincident
with the returning of sovereignty, and so that's going to be
a major effort on our part, and as I build up that large embassy,
I've got to also generate more international support, UN presence
-- get the UN back in there in force, both humanitarian and to
play a political role; the contracting issue; the role of NATO,
and I think NATO is more and more willing to play a role in Iraq;
and debt relief -- continuing to work with Secretary Snow, who
has the real lead within the Administration, and with my good
buddy Jim Baker.
And then once that is under way, the real challenge for the new
embassy, so to speak, or the new presence will be helping the
Iraqi people get ready for their full elections and full constitution
the following year.
I'm going to keep a close eye on Afghanistan as an area where
we've made a great deal of progress, but we've got to beware
of the remaining dangers: defeat the Taliban in the south and
southeast and make sure that the elections go well next year
and that we have put in place a central government that can control
the whole country.
And then the Middle East will be a priority. We stand ready with
the roadmap, stand ready to engage, and I hope that we will see
the kind of movement that we need to see, particularly on the
Palestinian side that will give us a basis to engage more fully.
There are lots of second tier ones, Robin, and this year is not
over. I'm still working the phones on the Sudan -- a comprehensive
peace agreement I hope that we might get yet, before the end
of the year or shortly thereafter. They've made good progress
in the last couple of months since I visited with the negotiators
And so many other issues are like that. Liberia, consolidate
the success we had earlier in the year. I'm going to be pushing
hard on the President's democracy initiative and all of its pieces
in the Middle East: the Free Trade Area of the Middle East as
well as the Middle East Partnership Initiative.
And I'm going to work very hard, Robin, in making it clear to
our friends in Europe and elsewhere in the world that America is
a partner: spend more time with them; spend more time listening
to them and finding ways that we can cooperate together, and I
think there are many such areas: Iraq, Afghanistan -- we had great
success in Afghanistan pulling that coalition together.
MS. WRIGHT: On Afghanistan, do you believe that the situation
has reached the point that the two halves of the election: for
parliament and the president -- presidency may have to be separated
so you do the presidency next year and maybe defer the parliament
until a next -- the next year?
SECRETARY POWELL: That's certainly a possibility. I haven't been
in conversation with President Karzai lately, but I know that
when last I did speak to him about it, it's a question that's
open. I don't know if Adam [press spokesman Adam Ereli] has heard
anything while I have been sort of in recovery here for the last
week or so.
MR. ERELI: No, sir. Nothing new.
SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, but I think that's still an open question
and I think the presidential election is the one that is key
and that has to come first, in any event, whether it's together
MS. WRIGHT: And what will happen if, within the next period of
time -- six months, whatever -- in the Middle East, you do not
see the Palestinians take the action on, that you've outlined?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I hope they will. And if they do, then
they'll see us fully engaged. If they don't, then I think the
situation will just continue to -- adrift and not improve. And
as you know, Israel is considering steps it might take. I think
it would be unfortunate if we started to see unilateral steps
that are not the result of negotiations between the parties.
And so I'm hopeful that we will see the kind of progress that
will get us closer to the President's vision.
MS. WRIGHT: And one last question that only requires a yes or
MR. ERELI: Okay.
MS. WRIGHT: Will we have Usama bin Laden by the end of next year?
SECRETARY POWELL: Robin, I don't know. I don't know if he is
alive or dead and I can't answer that question. I just don't
know. I do know that he will, if he is alive, he will continue
to be on the run, he will continue to be pressed on all sides,
and we will keep sweeping up whatever vestigial remains of the
al-Qaida network are out there.
MS. WRIGHT: Thanks a lot.
SECRETARY POWELL: Take care, Robin.