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Part II: Secretary of State Colin Powell

April 17, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Speaking of getting messages, is it your belief that what happened in Iraq led North Korea to change its view on how they were willing to negotiate with the United States?

SECRETARY POWELL: I’m sure they didn’t ignore what was happening in Iraq over the last several weeks and the buildup to that, but the concept that is before us now of a trilateral, a multilateral meeting, was put in motion before the war. We have been in contact with our friends in the region — Japan, South Korea, China and Russia — about the need for there to be comprehensive discussions with the North Koreans, not just U.S.-North Korea discussions, because all the countries in the region are affected.

So, for the last several months, we have been in touch with our friends, and especially with the Chinese, to see if they could help persuade the North Koreans that this was in their interest. So it had been going on for some time before the war. I’m sure the war also was noticed and lessons drawn from the war. And I hope that we will get these conversations started very soon.

JIM LEHRER: Next week, right?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we hope so.

JIM LEHRER: Questions about — I mean, there are discussions about discussions?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, what we want to do is begin these discussions with the three countries — North Korea, China and the United States — full participants in the discussions. We’re coming with no conditions or preconditions. Let’s sit and start to exchange views. And let’s do it at a fairly moderate level. Let’s not raise it to the highest level yet, just to start the discussion and see where these discussions take us.

JIM LEHRER: Should this be interpreted, Mr. Secretary, as a breakthrough of some kind; that this means it is possible, more so than it was before this agreement was at least, to resolve this through negotiations without having to rattle any more sabers, without even having to even talk about possible military action?

SECRETARY POWELL: You know, the president has said from the very beginning, from last October, when the story broke, that he was interested in a diplomatic solution. He was interested in discussion. A lot of people tried to push the president to immediately do something with the North Koreans or to start rattling sabers. The president never did.

The president said repeatedly, despite all of the criticism that was directed at the administration, that we will handle this diplomatically, and we will handle it in a multilateral order, in a multilateral way. Not a word that is usually attributed to the policies of our administration, but in this instance it is accurate. That is what we wanted to do, involve others in the region in the solution to what was a regional problem with North Korea. And I hope that North Korea continues to view this as an opportunity for them to present their case.

We have items we want to present to them, and we want to hear from the North Koreans. The Chinese want to hear from the North Koreans. The Chinese have a point of view. The Chinese position is that the peninsula should be denuclearized. And so I think this is an opportunity to lower tensions, and for the parties in the region to begin a dialogue that will continue to lower tensions. And I hope the North Koreans approach this meeting in that sphere.

JIM LEHRER: On Iraq, Mr. Secretary, before the U.N. Security Council, you made a much covered, dramatic presentation to the Security Council about weapons of mass destruction that were in Iraq, and you were very specific. You talked about mobile labs and you talked about tons of nerve gas and missiles with chemical warheads. Have any of those things been found?

SECRETARY POWELL: Not yet. But if they were to be easily found, the inspectors would have found them. But we are quite confident of our intelligence. And I spent four days and nights of my life in the days before my presentation in February with the intelligence community, at the highest levels, going over everything that I was to present to make sure that the entire community agreed on that information, and they did.

And so we think it’s pretty solid information. And we are quite confident that, as the coalition forces complete their combat operations, turn to stability and security, make sure we’ve got the humanitarian aid flowing, and we are trying to restore life back to normal, as much as we can, then they will turn their attention to talking to people who have knowledge about these kinds of programs and searching out sites. There are thousands of sites that will have to be looked at and there are hundreds and hundreds of people who have knowledge who will have to be interviewed.

JIM LEHRER: What if they don’t find them?

SECRETARY POWELL: They will find them, and that I’m reasonably sure of.

JIM LEHRER: So, in other words, you are not worried that one of the major premises for going to war against Iraq might not prove valid?

SECRETARY POWELL: I am not worried about that. There was a huge intelligence collection effort with all of our agencies working together to come up with the body of knowledge that we took to the U.N. and that we had been presenting before the world for a long period of time.

JIM LEHRER: Another premise, of course, and you made the point that there — you suggested that there was a connection between the Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qaida. Has any evidence, further evidence, of that turned up since the war?

SECRETARY POWELL: There is some additional information concerning who might have been living in Baghdad who had a connection to terrorist organizations, and, among those terrorist organizations, al-Qaida. And so we are pursuing all of those leads. And then you look suddenly, we captured Abu Abbas, a terrorist. Now, not al-Qaida.

JIM LEHRER: Not al-Qaida, right.

SECRETARY POWELL: But somebody who has been in hiding in Baghdad for all of these years. And he killed an American, Mr. Klinghoffer, by throwing him off the Achille Lauro. And now we have got him, and he will be brought to justice. So there is no question that Iraq has been a nation that has not only terrorized its own people under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, but has been a haven for other terrorists.

JIM LEHRER: Well, I guess what I am actually getting at is this, Mr. Secretary. When it’s all said and done, if the only really verifiable premise turns out to be — and there is no debate about this — that Saddam Hussein was an evil man, he was a dictator and he oppressed his people, would that be enough justification by itself for what happened in Iraq over the last three or four weeks?

SECRETARY POWELL: I suspect that many of the people that we are seeing on television now, who are welcoming coalition forces, and who are even now demonstrating against coalition forces in some instances — democracy is a wonderful thing, you can start to start to speak out again — I think they would say it was sufficient justification.

The justification we used was a comprehensive set of charges beginning with violation of U.N. resolutions over the years, many of them, possession of weapons of mass destruction. It was a terrorist state, and in its terrorist action was in violation of the U.N. resolution. So I think the case that we made to the world was that they were in violation of many obligations they had under U.N. resolutions.

The most important of those obligations, and the one that formed the basis for Security Council Resolution 1441, was possession of weapons of mass destruction. They never accounted for them. They never told us what happened to the anthrax, and the other horrible chemicals and biological agents that they were developing. They never accounted for the missiles that we knew they had, and they knew they had. So they did not ‘fess up. They did not come into compliance. They did not do what they were supposed to do. And that’s why they suffered the serious consequences that followed.

And I think when this is all said and done, when the searching is all over and the evidence comes forward, this will raise — this conflict will rest on a solid foundation of fact, with respect to the reason that we went to conflict.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, as the principal representative of the United States of America, we have talked about a few of them, but there are all kinds of other things all over the world where you are going to represent our country. Are you completely comfortable with what the United States did in Iraq, and the message that goes out from that to the rest of the world, and delivering the message and explaining the message and defending the message?

SECRETARY POWELL: Absolutely. We removed a dictatorial regime that was developing these horrible weapons and oppressing its people, and we have freed a Muslim people. We freed Muslim people in Kuwait 12 years ago. We saved a Muslim people in Kosovo a few years ago. In Afghanistan, we got rid of a terrible regime that was oppressing a Muslim people, the Taliban. We removed a terrorist organization, al-Qaida. There are remnants of it there and we are fighting those remnants of al-Qaida in Afghanistan. We’ve put in place a government that is representative of the Afghan people.

So the argument I will take to the whole world, especially to the Muslim world, when you look at what the United States has done over the last 10 or 12 years, stand back a little and take a look. What we have done is come to the assistance, to the rescue, of Muslims who were desperately in need, who were being terrorized and were being oppressed; and, in every instance, we removed that oppression, we helped them to a better life and put them on the road to a better future, and we are not staying around. We want to finish the job and come home.

It’s a powerful message. It’s a message that is consistent with American values and it is what we have done so many times over the last 50 or 60 years. The charges you hear about the United States being a nation that is only going to use a preemptive strategy and we’re going in everywhere, I sometimes josh with my European colleagues– you ought to look at your own history over the last 100 years or so before you suggest that this is our strategy.

Our strategy is to live by our values, hope that the values we live by give inspiration to other peoples around the world. Our values include principles that we believe in strongly. And when it’s necessary to go to war because we can find no peaceful solution, which is always our first preference, or we can find no diplomatic solution — part of our first preference — when it’s necessary to go to war, we do it, we do it well, we do it in a way that minimizes loss of civilian life or destruction of private property or public property, and then we put the people of that country on to that path to a better future. And then we come home.

There is no 51st state in waiting out there. There is no American colony about to be created. Our record is good and our record is solid, and I can take that case anywhere in the world.

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