TOPICS > Politics

Secretary Colin Powell

January 22, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.

COLIN POWELL: Thank you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to conclude from the statements of Pres. Bush and others in the last few days that the U.S. has decided military action is justified against Iraq now?

COLIN POWELL: The president hasn’t come to a conclusion that military action is appropriate yet. The president is in consultation with leaders around the world and we are anxiously awaiting the report of the two chief inspectors, Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei, on Monday. And we’ll study those reports carefully. There will be a debate within the Security Council as to the implications and the meaning of those reports. And then the president will make his decision after that.

But certainly we are not encouraged by what we have seen in recent weeks. We are not encouraged by Saddam Hussein’s performance; he continues to cheat; he continues to deceive. And it’s a question of whether or not we’re looking for a needle in a haystack or whether he was supposed to open up a haystack and show us the needle. And the right answer, he was supposed to come forward, give a full, accurate, complete declaration. He has not done that. He’s not letting our reconnaissance planes fly. He is not providing the basic information the inspectors need to do their job.

What happened to all the anthrax, all the botulin, to the chemical warheads? Things keep getting discovered that he should have brought forward earlier. And so we are certainly not satisfied with his performance at this time. We’ll see what the inspectors say on Monday, and then he’ll be in consultation with his colleagues, and we’ll make appropriate decisions as we move forward.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see this report on Monday as a final report, or interim report, which is what the inspectors call it?

COLIN POWELL: Well, technically, it is an interim report from the inspectors, but the question of how much longer should the inspectors work is really a function of what they’re able to achieve in the presence of this kind of performance on the part of the Iraqi regime to deny them what they need to do their job, to follow them around, to have what more people following them than our inspectors inspecting. And so the question is: Do we do that for a few more weeks, a few more months? It doesn’t make any difference if he is not coming forward; if he is not letting it be – making it possible for the inspectors to do what the resolution calls for.

The resolution does not call for them to go snooping all over Iraq to see what they can find; the resolution puts the burden not on the inspectors but on Saddam Hussein to come forward, complete declaration, full cooperation, and telling us everything that has been going on in Baghdad and throughout Iraq, lo these many years, with respect to weapons of mass destruction. If he were to do that, if he had done it over the years, but especially in the weeks since [U.N. Resolution] 1441, here’s what we used to do, we’re not doing it now, you can audit it, here’s what we have left, and we haven’t told you about it before, we’re telling you now, here is the difference between what you think we have and what we actually have, and here is how we account for those differences – if that had been his attitude, we’d be in a different situation; that has not been his attitude. He still thinks that he can string out this process and escape the judgment of the international community. And the international community cannot allow that to happen.

JIM LEHRER: The conclusion that you just spoke of, is this a United States conclusion on its own, or is this based on the briefings from Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei and others involved in the U.N. inspecting process itself?

COLIN POWELL: I think it is a judgment that we have come to by watching the process unfold over the last couple of months but also what we have heard from the inspectors. Dr. Blix was heard on television earlier today complaining about the fact that Iraq will not let reconnaissance planes assist in the effort. They’re slow – they’re making it impossible for us to assist the inspectors in that regard. We also saw the declaration of the Iraqis put forward.

You know, we had a specific reason for inserting the requirements for a declaration in 30 days and insisting that the resolution calls for the declaration to be full, accurate, and complete, because we wanted to test the Iraqis; are you serious, are you really going to start telling the truth, or are you not, and it is obvious that that declaration was not anything that – that we could have confidence in. And the United States declared a material breach at that time in December. Other nations did not do so but not one nation stood up and said, this is a good declaration and they’re serious this time. That’s the problem we have. So we have enough to make a judgment but we’re going to wait and see what the inspectors say on Monday, and then the president will be in consultation with other heads of state and government. I’ll be in consultation with my colleagues on the Security Council and Amb. Negroponte, who will be participating in the discussions that will take place in New York.

JIM LEHRER: Well, it appears to an outside observer that a huge collision is about to come about as a result of this report on Monday, the position of France, Germany, Russia, and China, among others, are saying, give the inspectors more time, military action is not justified. How do you explain that?

COLIN POWELL: Well, there are those who feel that if the inspectors just had more time, they would find everything. We have a view and I think others have a view quite similar to ours that says in the absence of cooperation the inspectors will not find everything, they will not find that which is most troubling to us, weapons of mass destruction, and the capacity to make those weapons and so in order for inspectors to do their work they have to have full Iraqi cooperation, but it’s just more than cooperation. What the resolution called for was not just Iraqi cooperation. It demanded that Iraq be disarmed, Iraq disarm itself. And the inspectors are supposed to verify or ascertain that disarmament. And in the absence of Iraq’s stepping up to its responsibilities and saying to the international community not only am I claiming I am free of weapons of mass destruction, I will give you all the evidence you need to prove that fact, and that’s what they have not done. And they have said they don’t have any weapons of mass destruction. If that is the truth, come forward to the evidence of that truth and lay it out before the world, lay it out before the inspectors to verify, and there will be no war. But Iraq has not taken that step.

JIM LEHRER: Are we confronted with a situation here where the United States and France and Germany and China and the rest of the world are looking at the same information and interpreting it differently, or does the United States have knowledge about something that the rest of the U.S. Security Council and the rest of the world doesn’t know about?

COLIN POWELL: I think it’s a combination of the two, Jim. I believe that we have more information and knowledge, much of it highly classified, that others do not have access to, or at least say they are not aware of, things that have gone on inside of Iraq, and I hope that we’ll have the opportunity to present this in the debate that’s coming up. We will be making more statements in the days ahead after the inspectors have been given the report. My deputy, Deputy Sec. Armitage, gave a powerful presentation yesterday on some of the discrepancies that have not been dealt with. And Deputy Sec. Wolfowitz of the Defense Department will be making a similar statement tomorrow, and I’ll be making a statement at Davos this coming weekend. But I think we will be putting out more information.

But frankly, Jim, there are some nations in the world who would like to simply turn away from this problem, pretend it isn’t there. They are troubled by the consequences of going down this road to the requirements of 1441, which is ultimately the use of force if Iraq does not comply. The United States fully understood that when we went down the path of 1441, we were hoping for the best but we were preparing for the worst.

Now, let’s also be clear about something else. The only reason the Iraqis are participating in this inspection process now – the only reason they allowed the inspectors to come back in in the first instance was because of the threat of force. And as my colleague, Don Rumsfeld, said on another show earlier today, the deployments that are now underway, those wonderful young men and women who are now deploying to the region, are still supporting diplomacy, the president has not yet made a decision for war, and that decision can be avoided if something happens in the very near future on the part of the Iraqi regime to come into compliance with their obligations under all these resolutions, but the one thing that we have also made clear is that time is running out. We cannot let them stretch this game out until the world loses interest in this issue. The United States will not lose interest in this issue.

JIM LEHRER: As you know, support for the U.S. position seems to be dropping among nations around the world. Also, recent opinion polls among the American people show the same thing; they want unified action with the U.N.; they’re less enthusiastic about the U.S. going it alone. Does that concern you at all?

COLIN POWELL: Certainly it does. We watch the polls of course, but we have to do what we believe is right, and we believe that if we can make our case to the American people, to the world, that support can be generated; it can be turned around. And I also think that people will understand that if we have to take military action, the United States will not be doing it alone. There will be other nations that will be joining us, whether part of a U.N.-approved action under a second resolution, or, if that’s not possible, and we believe military action is appropriate, there will be other nations that will be joining us. It will not just be the United States and the United Kingdom.

I’m also confident that there will be a successful operation, and in the aftermath of that operation, the Iraqi people will be better off, as we would work with coalition partners and international organizations to put in place a new government in Iraq that would be responsive to its people and use the treasure that it has for the benefit of its people and not threaten its people or to threaten its neighbors or to threaten the world.

JIM LEHRER: Was it a correct reading of your response Monday to what happened at the U.N. – and I won’t go through the whole thing – but did you get a little annoyed with the French and their attitude about this?

COLIN POWELL: Well, the meeting was called at the request of the French president to discuss terrorism. And we had a good full discussion of terrorism within the Security Council and in private meetings we also talked about Iraq and North Korea and other issues. And so the French decided to focus on Iraq and we kind of frankly trampled the purpose of the meeting, and so I responded to that, and we’re in touch with our French colleagues, and to make sure that we all understand each other’s position as we go forward. But the meeting was called to deal with terrorism, recognizing that Iraq is in the background and everybody wants to talk about Iraq, but 15 foreign ministers came together to talk about terrorism in general.

JIM LEHRER: But you thought you were sandbagged on Iraq?

COLIN POWELL: Oh, I wouldn’t say “sandbagged” is the word. I just think that my colleague, Foreign Minister de Villepin, found it necessary to talk about Iraq, and when it came my turn for a press conference following the Security Council meeting I also spoke about Iraq; it was an issue of the day. But it’s unfortunate that we didn’t spend as much time in our press conferences getting the press conference back to the subject of the day, which was terrorism.

JIM LEHRER: As you probably know, both French Pres. Chirac and Mr. Schroeder of Germany met together and had a joint news conference in Brussels and said essentially that they’re going to do everything they can to prevent military action against Iraq. What do you think of that?

COLIN POWELL: Well, I’ve heard that and perhaps they should wait and see what the inspectors have to say on Monday. The United States is preparing itself for military action if it’s called for. The president still hopes for a peaceful resolution of this matter. The matter is in the hands of the Iraqi regime. But what we are determined to see happen is that Iraq be disarmed, disarmed peacefully, and if that turns out not to be possible, then disarmed with the use of force. And I think all of the nations of the world and all of the members of the Security Council should wait and see what the inspectors have to tell us on Monday. And that’s certainly what the United States is waiting for.

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

COLIN POWELL: You’re welcome, Jim.