Secretary of State Colin Powell
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JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.
President Bush said today he was very disappointed in Yasser Arafat. Do you share his disappointment?
COLIN POWELL: We’re all very disappointed. We’ve had a number of starts toward the Mitchell plan, a plan that would get us to a peace process. The President gave an important statement at the United Nations General Assembly last fall on his vision for a Palestinian state. I did the same thing in my speech at Louisville.
Chairman Arafat gave a speech on the 16th of December saying that he would do everything to eliminate terrorism, get the violence down so we can get this process started, and then along comes this ship – the “Karine A” – loaded with munitions, loaded with explosives, headed to the region and with a clear Palestinian connection.
That has to be very disappointing to all of us, all of us who want to see a cease-fire, and want to see a process again that will lead to negotiations. And the message that I have been giving to Chairman Arafat, the President, all of us have been giving to Chairman Arafat is that you must crack down, you must explain the “Karine A” and you must crack down on this kind of terrorist activity.
Not only is it causing so many lost lives on both sides, but at the same time it is destroying Chairman Arafat’s ability to lead the Palestinian people. So he must crack down, and that’s the clear, consistent message that this administration has been giving to him.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any question in your mind, Mr. Secretary, that Chairman Arafat knew all about this shipload of arms?
COLIN POWELL: I can’t put it right at him personally, but it’s clear from all the information available to us that the Palestinian Authority was involved, and leaders in the Palestinian Authority had to know about this, and there were Palestinian Authority personnel on the ship, so it’s hard to – to say we know nothing about it; let’s form a commission to go investigate it. It’s a pretty big smoking gun.
JIM LEHRER: So what do you want him to do about it now?
COLIN POWELL: I think he ought to acknowledge as a first step toward moving forward, acknowledge that this has happened and they bear some responsibility for what happened, and give the international community, especially the Israelis, an assurance that this kind of activity is going to stop, and do it in a way that will be persuasive and convincing and allow us to move forward. We all want to see a cease-fire; we all want to see peace.
All sides – the Palestinian side, the Israeli side, the American side, the international community want to see a Palestinian state side by side, living in peace with its Israeli neighbors, a Jewish state in Israel. And all we need is people of goodwill to come together, stop the terror. And if you’re going to be part of this new world, you’ve got to crack down on the kind of terrorist activity that takes innocent lives. We recognize that there are grievances on both sides.
But the terrible thing about this is that every day this remains unresolved, people are dying on both sides, and it’s time to bring an end to this.
JIM LEHRER: Now have you said what you just said to Chairman Arafat?
COLIN POWELL: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: You talked to him on Wednesday, right?
COLIN POWELL: I talked to him on Wednesday at some considerable length. I talk to him very often, very regularly, and I have delivered this message rather directly and rather forcefully as recently as this last Wednesday.
JIM LEHRER: Now what does he say when you say you must acknowledge this and – just exactly what you said -
COLIN POWELL: We get into a conversation where he says that we ought to form a commission and go look at it, and he does not acknowledge responsibility.
JIM LEHRER: He still doesn’t acknowledge responsibility?
COLIN POWELL: Not as of Wednesday afternoon.
JIM LEHRER: Now, there was a meeting of the National Security Council today and the word going in was that you all were going to consider with the President the possibility of severing ties with Chairman Arafat. What’s the conclusion?
COLIN POWELL: We are forever reviewing our policies with respect to the region and with respect to the Palestinian Authority and Chairman Arafat. Those options will continue to be under review.
But you have now heard today from the President and from me and other administration officials, so you can see what the message is: A clear, stern message to Mr. Arafat that this must stop and a willingness on our part to move forward with the process if it does stop. But if it doesn’t stop, it gets very, very difficult to move forward.
What new steps can we put on the table and think it would be a positive step, something that others would respond to, if this kind of activity is constantly undercutting our efforts? So this is – this is in some ways a moment of truth for Chairman Arafat.
JIM LEHRER: Can you move on without Arafat?
COLIN POWELL: Well, you know, he is the leader of the Palestinian Authority and a recognized leader of the Palestinian people. There will come a time, as there comes a time of every man and woman, when you move on and others come along, and we don’t know when that will be or under what circumstances. We will continue to work for peace.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Have you expressed the possibility to Chairman Arafat that hey, look, if you can’t make this work, we’ll find some other Palestinians to make it work?
COLIN POWELL: I talk about a lot of things with Mr. Arafat, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to go into any greater detail in our conversation.
JIM LEHRER: But you called it a moment of truth. Does he understand, at least from your perspective, that this is a moment of truth for the United States?
COLIN POWELL: Well, I can’t say what he understands. He should have no misunderstanding about it, because I think the President has spoken clearly; I’ve spoken clearly. And we’ve spoken to the Arab leaders in the region to make sure this message gets communicated as clearly as possible.
JIM LEHRER: The Israeli novelist, Amos Oz, was on this program the other night. He said that from his perspective on the ground there that the people of Israel and the Palestinian people have both moved beyond their leaders, that both Sharon and Arafat are locked up in old grievances and processes of the past, and it’s time for both of them – well, he didn’t say to step aside – but that it’s going to be difficult as long as these two men are in charge. Do you see it that way?
COLIN POWELL: Well, I don’t think I’d quite put it that way. Ariel Sharon is the elected leader of Israel, a democratic nation that elected him freely, and he will put his leadership to the test when the next election is held, and Chairman Arafat is the recognized leader of his people, and however much others might wish one or the other to go into retirement or to leave the scene, we have to deal with the leaders who are there, and they are the ones who are there.
And we have led with – we have dealt with other leaders in the past. There will be other leaders coming along in the future. But I don’t have the luxury of thinking about who might be there five years from now. We have to deal with the leaders who are there now.
JIM LEHRER: Oz also said that those who think that some day there’s going to be – one side is going to say, okay, we won and the other is going to say, yes, you won, and they will embrace and move on – it’s not going to happen, that it’s only going to be kind of – he called it a “clinched teeth compromise” – called, as you said, side by side states and one day most of the people are just going to say, no more killing, more of this, that’s what’s going to happen. Do you see that coming?
COLIN POWELL: I think that is the more likely outcome. I don’t think either one will prevail over the other in a test of arms. And the sooner that this realization seeps in, then we may be on our way somewhere, and I think it has to seep in on the Palestinian side as soon as possible, and that’s the message we’re giving to Chairman Arafat.
The Mitchell plan gives us a way forward. With a cease-fire, with confidence building measures, and then with the beginning of those negotiations under UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which can lead to the settlement of this dispute, but you can’t have a discussion and negotiation under these conditions of violence, these conditions of terror.
Now that the world has seen terror for what terror really is and what it can do to people, people are less hesitant about speaking out about these kinds of terrorist activities, and Mr. Arafat has to realize that and act against this kind of terrorist activity, which is not just a threat to Israel, which it is, it’s a threat to the Palestinian people, and their vision to live in peace with Israel.
JIM LEHRER: Another crisis situation, India/Pakistan. India fired a nuclear missile today as part of a celebration, a nuclear-capable missile, I should say, as part of the celebration. Was that the right thing to do in this current environment?
COLIN POWELL: That’s a very important distinction. It was just a missile…
JIM LEHRER: Right.
COLIN POWELL: It was a test that had been scheduled for some time. We would have preferred that they had not fired it during this time of tension, but I don’t think it escalates things that much more. Their day of celebration is coming up tomorrow, Republic Day, and it might have also been linked to that.
Both sides have indicated that they are willing to work for a diplomatic solution to this crisis, and we are actively involved with both sides to find the elements of that solution. Nevertheless, it’s a tense, dangerous situation, with two armies in close proximity to one another; and a spark could set something off. Both of these nations are well armed and nuclear armed, and so we’re doing everything we can diplomatically to keep tensions from rising any higher, which is why I would just as soon had not seen a missile test earlier today.
JIM LEHRER: You’ve been very much involved personally in this, have you not? How did that come about, why?
COLIN POWELL: Well, right after the events of the 11th of September, I began a series of conversations with President Musharraf of Pakistan, and he and I got in the habit of talking to each other rather frequently as we went through the post September 11th crisis period, and then I’ve gotten to know Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh of India. And so when the 13th of December came along and we had that attack, that terror attack against the Indian parliament, and things escalated rather quickly, I used those contacts that I had made and the friendships, frankly, that I had developed with President Musharraf and his foreign minister, Foreign Minister Satar, and with Foreign Minister Singh on the Indian side, and just kept in regular touch with them, and then I visited the region recently, as you know, to see if the United States could play a helpful role in keeping things under control until we can start to deescalate again.
And I think that’s where we are now, looking for a diplomatic solution, so we can start to deescalate and remove the tension from this situation. President Musharraf made an important and bold speech not too long ago, weekend before last. He is acting on that speech by arresting extremists, by shutting down their offices. He has taken some actions to reduce tensions along the line of control. The Indians are waiting and seeing if this action is permanent and irreversible, and I’m pleased that both sides realize the dangers of getting into a conflict. Both sides are willing to pursue a diplomatic option for as long as we can until we find a solution.
JIM LEHRER: Did you talk to either or both sides today after the missile was fired?
COLIN POWELL: No, I haven’t had a chance to, and I’m not sure I will; it’s already late in the region. As you know, I had the foreign minister of the new interim authority of Afghanistan here and a number of other things that kept me from making those phone calls.
JIM LEHRER: So you don’t see this as a big deal, this firing of this missile today?
COLIN POWELL: Well, it’s a big deal in the sense that with this level of tension it might have been better not to have such an event, but I don’t think it raises it to a higher level of tension and crisis.
JIM LEHRER: In general, is the crisis continuing to boil, or do you believe it’s going down the other side now; are you over the worst in fact?
COLIN POWELL: It’s continuing to bubble. It’s not quite boiling at the moment. But I will not be comfortable until we have found a solution, and we can start going down the escalation ladder, rather than just staying where we are on the escalation ladder, and I certainly don’t want to see us go up any higher on that ladder.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
COLIN POWELL: Thank you very much.