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Newsmaker: Colin Powell

September 30, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.

COLIN POWELL: Thank you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: The chief U.N. weapons inspector said today he could have inspectors ready to go into Iraq within two weeks. Does that sound possible to you?

COLIN POWELL: Well, Dr. Blix has I think done a very good job in pulling together a cadre of inspectors ready to go and that team would be expanded. So I think as a mechanical thing he could be ready to go, but I think also he will have to wait and see whether or not the United Nations Security Council comes up with new guidance or additional resolutions that might require him to modify his plan, so I’m pleased that he is in that state of readiness and we’ll have to see how things develop over the next couple of weeks with respect to resolutions with new requirements.

JIM LEHRER: Now, where do matters stand on that issue?

COLIN POWELL: I’m pleased with the way the negotiations have been going. It’s pretty much unfolding the way I thought it would. I believe that United Nations Security Council has to look at three elements in any resolution or set of resolutions. One, let it be known that Iraq is in material breach of all of its previous commitments under the 16 or so previous U.N. resolutions.

Secondly, we have to make it clear that in order to deal with this weapons of mass destruction issue, we need a strengthened inspection regime if there are going to be inspections. We saw what happened last time when the Iraqis were able to run the inspectors around, deny them access to certain facilities, make it impossible for them to do their jobs. It is our opinion — the United States’ opinion – that the inspectors cannot go in under that same set of circumstances, so we need a new resolution. Those are the first two elements. They are at breach and two, there has to be a tough set of conditions for any new inspection regime.

It’s the third element where there is quite a bit of debate taking place, and that is whether or not we should put down what the consequences are – what is the international community going to do, what is the Security Council going to do if once again inspectors go in and Iraq frustrates them and we find ourselves right back to where we were in 1998, should the U.N. then act, take some action? There have to be consequences. And the debate we’re having with some of our Security Council colleagues is whether those consequences should be indicated or spelled out in this first resolution or whether there should be a second resolution. As you well know from the press reporting, the French and others believe that there should be a second resolution.

This is an issue that is being discussed at a political level but in New York I have instructed our delegation to meet with other representatives of Security Council members and begin to discuss the first two elements: what should be in that first line with respect to a breach and what should be the conditions under which the inspectors go back in. While at a political level we have to talk about the suggestions that some have made about a second resolution. The United States’ position is that we believe it would be better to put this in one resolution, but since this is a consultation, we want to hear what our friends have to say.

JIM LEHRER: So the U.S. is flexible on that, it doesn’t have to have all three of them?

COLIN POWELL: Well, we want all three of them.


COLIN POWELL: That’s our position, and we’re going to argue and fight for that position, but we’re in a negotiation. We haven’t tabled a resolution. We think it is appropriate at this stage of the discussions to share our ideas, and we are doing that in New York today and have been doing it over the last several days with Undersecretary Grossman’s trip to Moscow and to Paris, and the British have sent a representative to Beijing to talk to the fifth member of the permanent membership of the Security Council, the Chinese. So we’re having discussions.

We’re not at the point yet of tabling a resolution, because we thought it would be useful to have discussions and hear what our friends think. We believe one resolution is the cleanest, best way to go. The reason the Iraqis have started to respond in recent weeks after the president’s speech is not because they’ve suddenly turned – changed their mind or discovered the errors of their ways; they are responding because of the enormous pressure that the president’s speech generated We ought to keep that pressure on and not let them wiggle out of it this time by some weak resolution or series of weak resolutions. This is the time to bring this matter to a conclusion.

JIM LEHRER: But if I’m hearing you correctly, Mr. Secretary, you’re saying that third area, the action area, is not necessarily a deal breaker for the United States?

COLIN POWELL: No it is — there have to be consequences. The debate that’s taking place between the United States and some of our friends is whether or not that consequences element is in the first resolution or you have to bring the new violation, ignoring the new inspection regime back to the Security Council for a Security Council action at that time. I think everybody agrees —

JIM LEHRER: So it wouldn’t be automatic, in other words?

COLIN POWELL: It wouldn’t be automatic. Automaticity is the word we’ve been using to describe the difference between the two resolutions. But I think everybody agrees that there has to be some consequences for continued violation of these resolutions; otherwise, the U.N. is going to look absolutely impotent.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Now, back to the second part, which is a new regime for the inspections themselves. As you know, the Iraqi government has said they will not accept any changes from the prior arrangement. How important is that reaction? What does it mean?

COLIN POWELL: I’m not interested in the Iraqi reaction. What I’m interested in is the United Nations Security Council coming up with a tough set of procedures, a tough regime if inspectors are going to go back in, if that looks like a way to move forward. What we’re looking for is the Iraqis to change their behavior. So far they are continuing to act in the old pattern of slowing down, obfuscating, finding reasons to thwart the will of the international community. And this time we need a tough inspection regime, which should be in a United Nations resolution and a United Nations resolution that the Iraqis will be faced with, and we’re not going to negotiate the conditions or terms of that resolution with the Iraqis.

JIM LEHRER: When you use the word “tough,” what is the major change that the United States wants in this new resolution in terms of the inspections that is not in the original one?

COLIN POWELL: The inspectors can go any place, any time, speak to whomever they have to speak to, have access to the documents that are required to be seen in order to find out what the Iraqis have been doing, to have the Iraqis come forward with complete and full declarations and to make sure that the inspectors can move quickly about Iraq so that in the process of getting to a particular place we don’t give the Iraqis so much time that they can hide things or move things — a toughened regime that will make sure, as much as we can make sure, that they are complying with the conditions of these resolutions.

Now we’ve been talking about weapons of mass destruction. Let’s not turn loose of the fact that Iraq is in violation of other… other resolutions that deal with human rights, that deal with return of property, accounting for prisoners, to include the accounting for an American pilot that was lost in the early days… the first day of the Gulf War. And so there are many other things we have to worry about. But the focus has initially been on weapons of mass destruction.

JIM LEHRER: Now, from the United States’ point of view, Mr. Secretary is, those inspectors that Mr. Blix is talking about today in Vienna — in fact he is, in fact, meeting with officials from Iraq, and, as we said at the beginning, he said that he could be ready to go in two weeks. Those inspectors aren’t going anywhere from the U.S. point of view until a new resolution passes the United Nations Security Council?

COLIN POWELL: That is our position. And I think even Dr. Blix has made it clear that today’s meeting was a procedural one: points of entry and things of that nature. He is very much aware of the kinds of things that we’re talking about at the United Nations now. And I think Dr. Blix has done a good job of bringing this team together, but he is fully aware of the possibility– and I think there’s a high likelihood– that there will be a new resolution coming forward that will structure his work and his actions.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, finally just in general terms, how should the average American view this state of play right now? I mean, is this… are we headed for some kind of confrontation or do you sense some movement and some possibility of agreement at the U.N. Security Council, which could lead to what the U.S. wants in terms of inspectors and it could lead to what you want to find out on the ground in Iraq and a confrontation could be avoided? What’s your sense of this now?

COLIN POWELL: My sense right now is that the president fundamentally changed the international environment in which this issue was being discussed by his powerful speech on the 12th of September. The international community is now mobilized to determine whether or not Iraq is willing to come into compliance with its resolutions and with this new resolution.

And I think the international community also realizes that if Iraq once again violates the will of the international community, action is going to be necessary. And I can’t rule out that that action might be of a multi-lateral, as well as a unilateral, action. The president has made it clear that he wants the international community to act. That’s why he brought it to the United Nations. Everybody was saying why don’t you bring it to the United Nations? That’s exactly what the president did. And he made a powerful argument. Having brought it to the United Nations, the United Nations must now act, in our judgment.

But if at the end of the day there is not that collective will in the Security Council to act, the president reserves the right and the option to do whatever may be necessary in order to protect the United States and to protect our interests. And that is the reason he is also asking Congress to pass a resolution giving him that authority to act. So we have two tracks moving at the moment. I’m working the United Nations track. My other colleagues are working the congressional track. And I hope Congress will act quickly on a strong, powerful resolution so that it will show that America is united behind this effort. And that would help our diplomatic efforts in New York.

JIM LEHRER: So you don’t sense a momentum going either way at this point?

COLIN POWELL: Right now we don’t know what’s going to happen, Jim. The president did not go to the United Nations to declare war; he went to the United Nations to declare purpose. And he put that purpose down clearly. And now we will have to see how events unfold. But I can assure you that the president is keeping all of his options not only open but warm, let me put it that way.

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

COLIN POWELL: Thank you, Jim.