Newsmaker: Secretary of State Colin Powell
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JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.
COLIN POWELL: Thank you, Jim. Good evening.
JIM LEHRER: Good evening. First, on the Middle East, the Israeli pullout from Gaza today, is this a major event on the road to peace?
COLIN POWELL: I think it is a significant event on the road map process. Now whether it will lead to peace or not we don’t know yet. We certainly hope so. This is a kind of step that the president called for and expected to see after the Sharma el-Sheikh and Aqaba summits; both sides undertaking their obligations under the road map.
In the case of the Israeli side, they’ve released prisoners; they have removed some of the unauthorized outposts that were there, and are taking other steps, for example, transferring Gaza over to the Palestinians. The Palestinians are willing to take on Gaza and to take responsibility for what happens in Gaza. And so I think both sides are now stepping up to those obligations and that is very, very good.
The fact that three organizations, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Brigades of Fatah today also declared cease-fires, kind of makes it a little easier for the Palestinians to take over. It was not a part of our arrangement. We’re very pleased with this. Ambassador John Wolf of my staff has been deeply involved in making the arrangements between the Palestinian and Israeli sides. We hope this will extend to Bethlehem in the next day or so, and that the process will continue from there.
So it’s a good start, Jim, and we ought to be pleased with it, but we have a long way to go.
JIM LEHRER: Now the Israelis pretty much dismissed this cease-fire from these militant organizations, but you’re not dismissing it, are you?
COLIN POWELL: I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand, but I understand the Israeli position. What they say is, what good is a cease-fire if the capability for terror exists within those organizations? Does not a cease-fire just give them the opportunity to regain strength? The Palestinians’ point of view: let’s take over Gaza and let’s not get into a civil war with Hamas right away over removing that capability.
And so I think it’s a step forward, but it is not the end of the game. We are committed to seeing those organizations completely eliminate all capacity for terrorist acts against Israel. And as Prime Minister Abbas has said, the Palestinian prime minister has said, you can’t have a democratic state if anyone other than the government has guns. So he is committed to making sure that these kinds of organizations do not continue to destroy the dreams of the Palestinian people for their own state.
The good news also today is the people of Gaza can now start to move freely within Gaza, and I hope that as a result of that – being able to get around, being able to get the job, being able to go to schools and to take care of their health care needs – I hope as a result of that, they will be encouraged by what Prime Minister Abbas has brought about, and this will gain him additional support, hopefully at the expense of those organizations, who have been committing terrorist acts and have not been moving the Palestinian people any closer to peace or their state.
JIM LEHRER: Has the United States taken any concrete steps to help the Palestinian Authority control matters in Gaza now, to maintain a police force, maintain order, et cetera?
COLIN POWELL: We are working with the Palestinian Authority on what needs they have for vehicles, communications equipment, training, whatever other support they might require. We’re working with them, as are others. Arab leaders are involved, and members of the Quartet that worked with me on this: the European Union, the U.N., Russian Federation – all doing what we can to enhance the ability of the Palestinian Authority.
Ambassador Wolf, as I mentioned earlier, is leading our monitoring group there, and he will help them coordinate with each other, but he will also assess what needs they have and he’ll make a judgment as to how to satisfy those needs.
JIM LEHRER: Is it too early to say that there’s something fundamentally different with this peace process than those that have come before and have failed for the most part?
COLIN POWELL: Well, there are some developments to it that I think make a difference now, and perhaps the most important of these is that we have responsible leadership on the Palestinian side in the person of Prime Minister Abbas and his new cabinet, who have committed themselves to the road map, who have committed themselves to transforming the government of the Palestinian Authority, making it more responsible, making their financial activities more transparent. The finance minister, Mr. Fayyad, has been doing a good job at capturing all the funds that are available to the Authority, and thereby available for the Palestinian people.
So we are seeing more responsible and reformed leadership come into place. That’s fundamental. Another fundamental element, I think, is President Bush’s involvement. He said that when the Palestinians came up with new leadership, and after the Israelis had gotten through their election at the end of last year, that he would involve himself directly, and he did that, with the road map that was presented to the parties and with his participation in the Sharma el-Sheikh and Aqaba Summits. So I think that’s essential.
Perhaps one other element that I should touch on that is perhaps even more fundamental than anything else I’ve talked about – both sides are stuck in this cycle of violence. Both sides are watching their economies just go right into the ditch. Both sides see that their people want peace and both sides now realize that if they don’t take this opportunity, with the involvement of the entire international community, the Quartet, and President Bush, then what is the alternative, and they’d better grasp this opportunity and run with it.
JIM LEHRER: All right, sir, on Africa today, there were new calls for the U.S. to send 2,000 troops and take a lead role in Liberia. Is that going to happen?
COLIN POWELL: We’re deeply concerned about the situation in Liberia. And we have been studying it over a period of time, and in the last several days, our study has become more intense, as you would imagine. The principals, the senior leaders in the national security part of our government, met on the weekend on this subject. And we are looking at a variety of options and plans, and we will discuss it in greater detail tomorrow.
But no decisions have been made yet except that we are concerned with the situation in Liberia and concerned as well with the safety of our people in Liberia, but really for the suffering that the Liberian people are going through right now. And as President Bush said in his speech last week, we believe it’s time for President Taylor to step aside so that we can find a solution to this problem.
JIM LEHRER: Secretary General, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said today he thinks it’s also time for the United States to take a leadership role. Have you talked to Kofi Annan about this?
COLIN POWELL: Yes, I spoke to him today and I’ve spoken to him several times over the past seven days, and we met on the subject in the Dead Sea, in a resort area in Jordan last weekend. So he and I have been in very close touch on this situation, following it closely. And all of this will be presented to the president in the very near future, and then we will make our decisions and the president will tell us what he wishes to do, what we should do about this, and then we’ll move on.
JIM LEHRER: Is there likely to be a decision soon? When you say the next few days, do you mean like tomorrow, the next day, over the Fourth, something like that?
COLIN POWELL: There’s a sense of urgency with respect to the situation. And I don’t want to pre-judge when the president might decide or what he might decide, but we are seized with the matter. We understand that this is a problem that has to be dealt with in the very near future.
JIM LEHRER: As I’m sure you recall, Mr. Secretary, during the 2000 presidential campaign, then-candidate George W. Bush said that he did not see Africa as being a vital national security interest to the United States. So have you got an additional burden to get over in order to get the president to do something about places like Liberia?
COLIN POWELL: No. And your quote from the debate during the 2000 campaign is a little bit out of context, but I won’t belabor that. The president has made it clear that Africa is important. The Millennium Challenge Account, providing huge new sums for development of infrastructure in developing countries in Africa; the HIV AIDS Initiative. The president all suggests that he understands Africa is very important.
His speech to the corporate Council on Africa last week was one of the most wide-ranging and longer speeches that he has given, describing his commitment to helping Africans help themselves. And of course, he’ll be going to Africa next week. I think that shows that he is determined to play a role, a leading role, in Africa. It will depend on the situation and on the particular country.
JIM LEHRER: Well, for instance, another country, Congo, there are little boys and girls carrying weapons there and shooting at each other, where rape is being used as what they call a weapon of mass destruction. They’re talking about genocide. Is that on the list of U.S. priorities as well?
COLIN POWELL: Yes, and we’ve been participating in the debates in the U.N., and we are looking at the latest request from the secretary general to increase the size of the U.N. force in Congo. And we have been in close touch with our French, and other European, colleagues about their activities in Northeast Congo around the town of Bunia. And I spoke to French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin about the situation today.
So we are staying in close touch and we’re very pleased that the French have taken the lead in places such as Northeast Congo and in Cote D’Ivoire, and our British colleagues have taken the lead in Sierra Leone.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Zimbabwe is another… you recently, in fact, called for the ouster of President Mugabe. Is anything being done about that or was that just a call for his departure?
COLIN POWELL: We’ve been very tough, frankly, on Zimbabwe since the beginning of the administration. Early in my tenure as secretary of state, when I gave a speech in South Africa, I called for reform in President Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, and unfortunately, the situation has just continued to deteriorate. And so we believe that change is appropriate there, too, to help the people of Zimbabwe.
It used to be a country that exported food to the region; now it is an importer of food. And the political situation has deteriorated. The human rights situation has deteriorated. And we’re working with our European friends, but especially with our African friends in the region, to bring a greater pressure to bear on President Mugabe. And I’m sure this will be a subject of considerable discussion during the president’s trip next week.
JIM LEHRER: So there is not a separate standard for Africa versus the rest of the world?
COLIN POWELL: No. In fact, if you look at the Millennium Challenge Account and you look at the other things we are doing – the Middle East Partnership Initiative, the HIV AIDS program that the president has put in place – we believe that there should be one standard for the world, whether it’s the Muslim part of the world or the African part of the world or any part of the world, and that is people should be free to pursue their dreams – that the democratic system, not necessarily an American-imposed Jeffersonian, democratic system, but a system of governing where people are free to choose their leaders in an open process. We still believe that that is a political system that is most in tune with the needs and aspirations of people around the world today.
And yes, we believe that the free market economic system, if practiced correctly, with an economic system based on the rule of law and a willingness to participate in a globalizing economic system throughout the world, is the best way to proceed. But it requires investment in these countries. It requires them to invest in democracy in a free economic system, and it requires those of us with money – the United States and other nations around the world, the developed world – to invest in these countries that are moving down the right path toward the future. And that’s what the Millennium Challenge Account Initiative is all about.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
COLIN POWELL: You’re quite welcome, Jim.