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Newsmaker: Colin Powell

December 17, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now a Newsmaker interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell. I talked to him late this afternoon from the State Department.

Mr. Secretary, welcome.

COLIN POWELL: Good evening, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: On Palestinian Leader Arafat’s call for an end to violence against Israel, how do you read the effectiveness of that call so far?

COLIN POWELL: Oh, I think it’s too early to tell. The very fact that he gave the call was important. We have been suggesting to Mr. Arafat for some time that he needed to make this call to the Palestinian street and do it in Arabic on Arabic media, so that the leader of the Palestinian people – the legal leader as well as the moral leader – would say to the Palestinian people, it’s time to stop this violence, and for those of you who are trying to disrupt the peace process, it’s time for you to stop.

And we need to find a way to get the violence down and to get to the Mitchell plan through a cease-fire so that we can get back to negotiations, which will lead to a peaceful settlement. So I am pleased that he gave the call, and now we’ll have to see whether that call is followed and whether he also takes the actions necessary to crack down on Hamas and PIJ and other organizations, which are determined that there be no peace process and which are a threat not only to Israeli lives but are a threat to Mr. Arafat and his ability to lead the Palestinian people.

JIM LEHRER: Do you believe he has the power to stop the violence?

COLIN POWELL: I believe he has a great deal of power. He’s got tens of thousands of armed people under his authority as the leader of the Palestinian Authority. He also has moral authority. Now, does that mean he can stop every single shooter or bomb thrower? Probably not, but I think he can do a lot more, and that’s what we are encouraging him to do and do it as soon as possible so we can bring this situation back under control.

JIM LEHRER: Some are suggesting that he’s kind of between a rock and a hard place, that if his call is, in fact, heeded and the violence stops, then you and others will say, see, you could have done this earlier, you’ve been responsible for the violence up till now.

COLIN POWELL: Well, I will not. What I want to do is see what happens tomorrow and the day after, not go back and talk about what might have been done or happened in the past, and I hope it’s a call that is taken seriously by the Palestinian people and that he acts on it with all his power, with all of his authority, with all of his resources. And if we can get the violence down and get a cease-fire in place, and get the negotiations started, we can do a post-mortem on what happened before some other time.

JIM LEHRER: What constitutes a cease-fire in this context?

COLIN POWELL: I think in this context a cease-fire is when the two sides are talking to each other, when they are responding together to go to points of friction, when they’re going after together those who are determined to conduct acts of violence, those who are known to be preparing bombs, those who are known to be participating in this kind of activity, and both sides are working to stop this kind of activity, and when the actual number of incidents goes down significantly.

We’d like to all see it, and we’d all like to see it go to zero. Zero is a hard goal to achieve, but I think if there were a significant reduction and 100 percent effort on the part of the Palestinian leadership and 100 percent effort with respect to knocking off the incitement and the images on television and the voices over Arab radio that stir people up, if we saw 100 percent effort, and something approaching that in the way of results, we’d have a basis to move forward.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think that Arafat and his folks can stop these young suicide bombers from doing what they’ve been doing?

COLIN POWELL: Not all of them, but they’re being trained places, and we know the organizations that are recruiting them and giving them that training. And I think Mr. Arafat can go after those organizations.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any kind of deadline either officially or unofficially at work here, you must do something by a certain date if you want to get this thing resolved?

COLIN POWELL: No, there’s no calendar deadline, one day, two days, three days. We’d all like to see it happen as soon as possible; that is our goal; it’s been our goal from the beginning.

The one thing that I’m sure of now, 11 months into the job, is that we’re not going to get moving toward a process of confidence building between the two sides or negotiations under the provisions of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, land for peace, until the violence is brought down. There is no other way around it; there is no other plan that’s coming. It’s the Mitchell Plan, and it begins with the end of violence and the beginning of a cease-fire.

JIM LEHRER: Well, let’s say there is an end to the violence. Are you confident that Israel will then take the steps that are required of it under the Mitchell Plan: settlements, curtail the settlements, et cetera?

COLIN POWELL: Yes, they’ve said so. They have committed to the Mitchell Plan from the very beginning. Just within the past few months Prime Minister Sharon has indicated his understanding of the need for a Palestinian state and would work toward that end as the negotiations continue. The Israelis are not happy with the situation the way that it exists. The violence has not gotten better in the course of Prime Minister Sharon’s term. Israelis are dying every day, so they want to see a cease-fire.

They’re willing to do their part, I’m quite sure. They want to see the Palestinian people get to their jobs and see economic activity starting to move again. It doesn’t serve Israeli interest to have the Palestinian people not earning a living, holding their revenues back. It doesn’t serve their interest, but what they have to do is get some sense of security and the end of violence before they can begin serving that interest of seeing the Palestinian people start to enjoy a better life.

JIM LEHRER: Arafat says what Israel has been doing is occupying Palestinian territory; they are an occupier, a brutal occupation force, or those kinds of terms that he uses. How would you describe Israel’s role in the Palestinian territories?

COLIN POWELL: Under the UN Resolutions that have been longstanding United States policy as well that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories, and that’s what we’re trying to work our way through – use these UN Resolutions and the clear directions given in the UN Resolutions to trade land, land that people now consider occupied, for peace, and at the end of this vision, at the end of this process, see two states living side by side in peace – Palestine and Israel – neither one threatening the other, both allowed by the other to live in peace and security – two peoples living side by side.

JIM LEHRER: Do you really think that’s ever going to happen?

COLIN POWELL: It’s a vision we must hold on to. I think it is possible. I think it is achievable. There have been steps in that direction over the years, and we must not give up hope. The United States will not give up hope. We will remain engaged. President Bush is determined to remain engaged. General Zinni, my special envoy, will remain engaged. And I look forward to him returning to the region after we’ve had him here for some consultations, and after the circumstances in the region make it appropriate for him to return.

JIM LEHRER: There are no plans right now for him to go back?

COLIN POWELL: He just got home.


COLIN POWELL: And I’ll be seeing him in a day or two.

JIM LEHRER: And that – his going back is dependent on what?

COLIN POWELL: His going back is dependent on I think some improvement in the situation so that he has two sides to talk to, and that’s what we’re trying to work on now. Prime Minister Sharon took a position last week with respect to dealing with Chairman Arafat, but he is still dealing with other elements of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian leaders. And Mr. Arafat has given his speech now – long-awaited speech – and we’ll see how that starts to play out.

And General Zinni would have been coming back in December anyway, having been over there for several weeks. I would have brought him back under any circumstances sometime during December. He came back a little earlier than I might have otherwise brought him back.

JIM LEHRER: Is Israel, as far as you know, willing to reconsider this declaration of Arafat’s irrelevance if, in fact, the violence does reduce, is reduced?

COLIN POWELL: I will leave that up to Prime Minister Sharon to decide. I don’t want to put words or thoughts in their mouth. I think that they know at the end of the day to go forward, to get out of the difficult situation that both sides are in, there will have to be dialogue between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Right now we continue to believe that Mr. Arafat has been chosen to be the head of the Palestinian Authority and he enjoys the support of his people. And that’s why we will continue to work with him and deal with him.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, on the fighting in Afghanistan, is it essentially over now?

COLIN POWELL: No. As Secretary Rumsfeld has very clearly said, this is not over. There are still al-Qaida remnants out there. There are Taliban remnants out there, and we haven’t got Osama bin Laden. So the war is far from over. I think one can make the case that the power of al-Qaida as an organization functioning, that part of al-Qaida in Afghanistan has been fractured, if not destroyed, even though there are many elements, individuals, and people out there that we want to go after.

But they’re on the run, and when you’re on the run and when you’re afraid to communicate and when you’re looking at the sky, you’re not running much of an effective organization any longer. But Don Rumsfeld puts it quite correctly when he says we’ve got keep chasing and do not think this conflict is over, but they’re sure not who they were six weeks ago.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any fresh word today on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden?

COLIN POWELL: No. We just don’t know. He might still be in Afghanistan. He might have gotten out of the country. He might be dead for all we know. We don’t have any fresh information.

JIM LEHRER: What about Mullah Omar, what about him?

COLIN POWELL: Same thing.

JIM LEHRER: Why don’t we know where these guys are?

COLIN POWELL: You know it’s not hard to hide in a country like that with rugged terrain, a place that you know well, and if you are doing everything to keep from being seen, heard, or detected in any way, and you’re blending in with the population, it is not that hard to stay hidden. You could stay hidden in the United States in one of our big cities or even one of our rural areas without a great deal of difficulty.

JIM LEHRER: Are you satisfied with the “post-Taliban government” that is forming in Kabul?

COLIN POWELL: I’m very, very pleased at the results that have been achieved so far. A few weeks ago when we began the process of putting an interim authority together, we weren’t sure what we’d come up with, but in a relatively short period of time under the strong leadership of Mr. Brahimi, the UN Representative, and a lot of people working on it, including Ambassador Jim Dobbins from the US, this interim authority did come together and will be moving to Kabul in the very near future, and to get ready for a more representative government that will be brought into place in another six months time, and then elections two years after that. That’s quite a bit of progress just in the last month when you consider where we were about a month or so ago.

JIM LEHRER: You and the President and Secretary Rumsfeld have made a very strong commitment to the idea of getting al-Qaida and the Taliban possibly out of there and certainly getting Osama bin Laden. What’s the state of our commitment to making sure Afghanistan survives as a viable nation when it all is said and done?

COLIN POWELL: Our commitment is just as strong and as the President and Don and I, all of us have been saying, it’s not just al-Qaida in Afghanistan; it’s al-Qaida wherever it is around the world. With respect to humanitarian relief for the Afghan people and reconstruction, that remains a commitment.

I launched a reconstruction campaign here a few weeks ago at the State Department, and there will be a serious donors conference in Japan next month. The international community is united and doing everything we can to bring hope to the people of Afghanistan by not abandoning them once this immediate conflict is over.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the international community, Russian President Putin said today that he expects the United States to consult with Russia before any widening of the war against terrorism beyond Afghanistan begins. Is he expecting correctly?

COLIN POWELL: Well, we consult with all of our friends and allies as much as we possibly can, but the President retains his authority as President of the United States to do what he thinks is in the best interest of the American people for their national security. And so we have made no decisions with respect to the next phase of our campaign against terrorism, but you can be sure that we stay in close touch with our friends and with our allies.

It’s an important coalition but the existence of the coalition has not removed any authority that the President has. Without that coalition, though, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we’re doing now. We needed those members of the coalition to give us access to get into Afghanistan.

We needed all those coalition members to go after the financial infrastructure of terrorist organizations — the law enforcement exchange and intelligence and information exchange — the coalition is very valuable, and where we have a common purpose militarily, then coalition members can join and we can all work together, but the President has never given up his authority to act as the President of the United States to protect the people of the United States, to protect our interest and the interest of our friends and allies.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Secretary, the armed forces of India and Pakistan are on high alert, bad words flowing back and forth. How dangerous a situation is that tonight?

COLIN POWELL: Well, we are concerned, and we are in touch with both governments. We hope that India will share all the information that they have acquired concerning this – this tragedy in their parliament building in New Delhi with the Pakistanis, who have condemned the attack and are anxious to cooperate with us, with our FBI, and we’re ready to cooperate with the Indians with our FBI to see what we can do to find out who is responsible, make sure we’ve got the right identity of organizations and then it’s in the interest of both governments to go after those organizations as part of the campaign against terrorism.

I think we all have to be very careful about this. We would not wish to see this escalate to a direct exchange between the two nations going after each other, as opposed to going after their common enemy, which is terrorist organizations that conduct these kinds of horrible, horrible attacks.

JIM LEHRER: Is there a real possibility they could go after each other?

COLIN POWELL: Well, that’s what we’re trying to make sure does not happen. I think both sides are acting responsibly at this time. The Indian government I think has worked hard to find out who is responsible. We’re in touch with both governments, and I hope the degree of calmness that we have seen and degree of patience that we have seen sustains for quite a bit longer so that the situation doesn’t become critical.

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

COLIN POWELL: Thank you very much, Jim.