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Secretary of State Colin Powell

May 30, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: President Bush is sending Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to India and Pakistan. What will be his mission?

COLIN POWELL: Well, it’ll be another division going over on behalf of the international community, especially the United States, to talk to the leaders of these two countries to try to keep them from frankly getting into conflict with each other. We’re working very hard with both sides.

As you know, the European Union was in last week. Chris Patton, my colleague, the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, was in just within the past few days. The two leaders, Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf will be meeting with President Putin individually, not together, in Alma-Aty, and Deputy Secretary Armitage is going in early next week, and since Secretary Rumsfeld is going to be in Europe and in the Gulf region, around the 8th or 9th of June, it made sense for him to also go into those two countries and see what he could do to help diffuse tensions and also visit our troops in the region as well.

JIM LEHRER: So it should not be seen as a decision on the part of the President that this is more of a military problem and a diplomatic problem, that’s why Secretary Rumsfeld is going instead of you?

COLIN POWELL: Oh, it’s very much a diplomatic matter at this time, but Secretary Rumsfeld has visited over there before, and I am in constant touch with the leaders on both sides, and am sending my deputy in the next few days to go over, so we use all the access available to us, and Secretary Rumsfeld was going to be in the region; it made sense for him to go in.

JIM LEHRER: How close are India and Pakistan to a war?

COLIN POWELL: I am afraid that it is a very tense situation. I can’t tell you how close to a war they might be. What we’re trying to do is make sure they never reach that point. We are pressing President Musharraf very hard to cease all infiltration activities on the part of terrorist organizations across the line of control, and we are asking the Indians to show restraint until we can determine whether or not that infiltration activity has ceased.

And if it has ceased, there will be a basis for the Indians to reciprocate by starting to de-escalate, moving down the mobilization ladder, and then hopefully other actions and other steps can be taken after that. So right now it is a tense situation; we’re worried about it. That’s why everybody is involved, the entire international community, and we’re using all of the tools available to us with visits, phone calls. The President follows this situation on a daily basis, and we’re getting Deputy Secretary Armitage ready to go in now. And my conversations with the leaders are on an almost every other day basis.

JIM LEHRER: President Musharraf said this morning, as I’m sure you know, Mr. Secretary, that was considering taking some of his troops- from – moving them from the border with Afghanistan to the border with India. That’s an ominous sign, is it not?

COLIN POWELL: Well, it’s even more reason that we want to get a handle on this crisis and start moving it in the other direction, because if he were to do that, felt it was necessary to do that, then that would take away from our campaign against al-Qaida and remaining Taliban forces in western Pakistan, who have crossed over from Eastern Afghanistan. So we’re trying to avoid that, and that’s another good reason why Secretary Rumsfeld will be able to deliver a strong message, since he is concerned about that issue and its effect on Operation Enduring Freedom.

JIM LEHRER: If there is, in fact, a conflict, how likely is it that it would eventually lead to the use of nuclear weapons by these two countries?

COLIN POWELL: I can’t answer that question, but I can say this: In my conversations with both sides, especially with the Pakistani side, I have made it clear that this really can’t be in anyone’s mind, I mean, the thought of nuclear conflict in the year 2002 – with what that would mean with respect to loss of life, what that would mean with respect to the condemnation, the worldwide condemnation that would come down on whatever nation chose to take that course of action would be such that

I can see very little military, political, or any other kind of justification for the use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons in this day and age may serve some deterrent effect, and so be it, but to think of using them as just another weapon in what might start out as a conventional conflict in this day and age, seems to me to be something that no side should be contemplating.

JIM LEHRER: Now when you said that to President Musharraf, what response did you get?

COLIN POWELL: I have a clear understanding from President Musharraf that he understands that message, and that he sees things in the same way. But at the same time, you know, he is the president of a country that has such weapons under his control and possesses such weapons, and so you don’t get ironclad guarantees with these kinds of issues in this dangerous a situation. And so I will continue to discuss with both sides now how important it is for us to start moving in the other direction and not toward conflict with all the unintended consequences that often come with conflict.

JIM LEHRER: And you delivered that same message to the Indian side?

COLIN POWELL: I have been in touch with the Indians. I haven’t – I’m sure that in the days ahead I will have an opportunity to debate the message in the same way. I started really speaking about nuclear issues this past week with President Musharraf.

JIM LEHRER: But as we sit here right now, you have no assurance from either side, that if this thing comes to conflict, that either one or both won’t end up using nuclear weapons?

COLIN POWELL: Yes, but I really don’t want to sort of fall into that trap of saying because I have no assurance, that means it’s going to happen. I think both of these leaders understand the grave consequences associated with the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional conflict between the two of them, what starts out as a conventional conflict. And I think they are both sobered at the moment by what those consequences are.

It would be horrific in the year 2002 to see a second use of nuclear weapons in history. The United States was the first user to stop a world war in 1945. And since then, nuclear weapons have been developed by other countries to include these two for deterrent purposes, and we do not want to even contemplate the use of nuclear weapons. And that’s my message to both of them.

JIM LEHRER: For folks who have not followed the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir – it’s been going on for many, many years – how would you define it in its simplest terms? What is it that has brought these two countries to the brink of war?

COLIN POWELL: It is a very sensitive issue between the two sides. There are political consequences; there are religious issues involved in it. It has been an intractable problem for 50 years. It has to do with the various populations that coexist within Kashmir. And they have never been able to find a political way to solve this difficult problem that really has been there since the formation of these two countries. A number of U.S. administrations over the years have tried to play a role in finding the way forward.

The U.N. has tried; others have tried, and have not been successful. I think if we get this crisis moving in the other direction, start down the escalatory ladder, we really do need to once again see if we can start a dialogue between the two sides, discuss issues that are existing between them and ultimately discuss Kashmir and how to get past this 50-year impasse.

JIM LEHRER: But, again, as we sit here now, there’s not even a peace plan on any table anywhere, is there?

COLIN POWELL: There are a number of ideas and plans that have been out there for many, many years, but right now there is nothing active before the two parties for them to consider.

JIM LEHRER: Are you considering coming up with one, a U.S. plan, say, hey, look, here’s a way to go, if you can just back down, we can – we’ll help you try to resolve this? Have you considered doing that?

COLIN POWELL: I don’t think you can come in with any outside plan. I think the two sides have to discuss this with each other. I don’t think there is a role at this point for a mediator to come in from the outside. I think this is something that has to be dealt with between the two sides, and outsiders can play a role in getting them talking to one another, and putting a process in place, but it’s a plan that they will have to come up with.

JIM LEHRER: Why won’t they talk to each other right now?

COLIN POWELL: Well, they have had some very bad experiences in recent years as they have tried to talk to one another. They have conferences – the Arbor [ph] meeting of a year or two ago did not turn out well, so there’s a lack of trust between the two sides, a lack of good faith between the two sides on this issue, and we’ve got to get beyond that as well.

JIM LEHRER: What’s the U.S. stake in this?

COLIN POWELL: Well, the U.S. stake is – is a large one. We have good relations with both countries, and especially with Pakistan in the last six months as a result of a strategic choice that President Musharraf made. They have joined us in the campaign against terrorism. We also have good relations with India. We’re on the upswing with respect to our bilateral relations. We want to keep that going.

It becomes immensely more difficult if they’re involved in a conflict with each other, a conflict that does have the potential of becoming nuclear, even though we hope that everybody will realize it makes absolutely no sense. And it also affects or could affect our campaign against terrorism and the work we’re doing in Afghanistan with Operation Enduring Freedom.

As you noted earlier, if troops are diverted from working with us to capture al-Qaida and Taliban remnants back to the border with India, the border that is so tense right now, it takes away from our own world campaign against terrorism. And it simply would not be good for the world right now to see this kind of a regional conflict break out between these two nations.

JIM LEHRER: Salman Rushdie, the writer, had a piece on the op/ed page of the “New York Times” this morning, and he said, “Kashmir is everybody’s problem. Right now it’s the most dangerous place in the world.” Do you agree with him, Mr. Secretary?

COLIN POWELL: It is certainly one of the most dangerous places in the world, I would agree with that. I think the Middle East can also be seen as a very dangerous place, but even as dangerous as the Middle East is, the consequences that can flow from something in the Middle East don’t rise to the source of consequences that can flow from a conflict between India and Pakistan, as we have already discussed.

JIM LEHRER: What about evacuating American citizens from India and Pakistan, have you made a decision yet on recommendations about that?

COLIN POWELL: We have put out advisories to travelers that it would be best to avoid traveling into that region right now – tourists and others. And we are examining this very afternoon what our policies should be with respect to any draw down of our presence in the country, and when we are through with that review and have consulted with others in the administration as well as our allies, we’ll be making the appropriate announcements if any change is warranted.

JIM LEHRER: Is it true – “USA Today” had a story today that said there were roughly 65,000 Americans – I think it was a round figure – in both of the countries – most of those in India, is that correct?

COLIN POWELL: The numbers are in that range – my best information – even higher than that. That really reflects those we know about, that we have records on or at least checked in with our embassies. There may well be thousands more who are there living in the country that we’re not aware of or not keeping track of or haven’t checked in to us, to register themselves in our tracking system, so it is a large number of the order of magnitude that you just mentioned, or even higher.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, finally on this issue, do you have the – is there an urgency to it? I mean, are you and your colleagues, not only here in the U.S. administration, but all the others you mentioned earlier, the EU and Jack Straw and others, do you have a feeling that if these folks don’t stand down fairly soon, this thing could blow up?

COLIN POWELL: There is an urgency to it. We are deeply concerned. The situation has not improved in the last month or so. We were receiving assurances from President Musharraf that infiltration activity across the line of control would be ended. But unfortunately we can still see evidence that it was continuing. He has now given assurances again, and these assurances are more positive, and we hope he is now giving the necessary orders and taking all the necessary actions to stop the infiltration.

And if we see that, if everybody can detect the end of this kind of infiltration activity, then we have a basis for calling upon the Indians to start moving in the other direction, with respect to their mobilization and preparation for attack actions. And so there is a sense of urgency, and there are also some weather issues as to when you actually could found such an operation before the monsoon season starts later in the summer.

So there is a sense of urgency, and that’s why we are all involved – the European Union, bilaterally with many of our friends. I have spoken to the Chinese foreign minister. And I know that they have engaged themselves. Prime Minister Blair has been making calls. President Chirac of France has been calling, and Kofi Annan has been making calls. So we are all heavily engaged in trying to find a way out of this crisis.

JIM LEHRER: In its simplest terms, Mr. Secretary, is it that if India does not get evidence that the infiltration has stopped, that they’re going to take military action sooner rather than later?

COLIN POWELL: I would not presume to speak for the Indian government. It’s always a political decision as to whether or not military action will be taken in a democracy such as India. But I hope that as they examine the situation, and as they look at the consequences that could flow from such a decision, that they will exercise maximum restraint while we wait and see what is happening over the line of control. And I still feel there is a way out of this crisis, and it need not result in war.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

COLIN POWELL: Thank you.