TOPICS > Politics

Newsmaker: Colin Powell

April 23, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: Thank you, Jim. Good to be with you again.

JIM LEHRER: What is the latest on why that American missionary plane was shot down over Peru?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: Well, first let me express my condolences, as well as those of the United States Government, for the loss of those two people, the mother and the infant. It’s a great tragedy, and that’s what it was: a tragedy.

It happened as a result of a program that we have participated in with the government of Peru for some time, a very successful program in interdicting drug aircraft. And in this case, something went wrong. Our people performed the role they normally do of identifying and tracking such aircraft and turning them over to the Peruvian air force, which makes the final identification and judgment as to whether or not action should be taken.

There is some indication that our folks were trying to hold the Peruvians back from action, but we’ll have to look into all of these issues. But it is a tragedy and it should not have happened. It did, and we have to look at it. So we’ve stopped the program until we can complete our review, and the Peruvians have done likewise.

JIM LEHRER: Is it a CIA operation?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: A number of government agencies are involved in it. The CIA has the lead on it, and they will be taking all the specific questions on it. But don’t read anything nefarious into the words “CIA.” It was a good, solid program that has been well known. People have known about it. It is not something that is dark and secret. In fact, we have credited this program with helping to reduce drug trafficking coming out of Peru, so it’s a successful program that has had this tragedy now associated with it, and we’ve got to review the entire program.

JIM LEHRER: A tragedy there. In the last few months, there was the tragedy, the submarine tragedy in the waters off Hawaii; there was the collision between our surveillance plane and the Chinese fighter; and now this, is there a trend here to be concerned about, or is this just normal life in a dangerous world?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: It’s normal life in a dangerous world. I have been around this business for many, many years, and I’ve seen these things happen. And when you’re using sophisticated equipment, when you’re using airplanes, when you’re using weapons, and when you have young people who are doing these things, you try to do everything you can with respect to training, with respect to rehearsals, with respect to making sure you have procedures in place. And most days nothing happens. But every now and again something goes wrong and you have one of these tragedies, and it takes center stage for a while and you have to investigate it, redouble your training, take another look at your procedures, but at the same time continue to exist and work in this troubled world that we live in.

JIM LEHRER: The Summit of the Americas in Quebec — how much of a distraction were the protesters and the teargas and all of that for you and others trying to do business?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: It was a minor distraction at the beginning when it delayed the start of the summit, but once the authorities in Quebec and the police got on top of it, it wasn’t much of a distraction at all. All of the rest of the meetings went off well and produced a very successful summit, in my judgment, a summit where 34 democratic nations came together. Rather remarkable when I go back 12 years to when I was National Security Advisor to look around the room and see nations that are now free and democratically led that, back in those days, were being pulled apart by insurgencies, by generals running countries and by all kinds of totalitarian regimes. And now thirty-four — all but one nation in our hemisphere — is democratically led. It doesn’t mean they’re all out of the woods. It doesn’t mean those democracies aren’t fragile. But here there were, all together, pledging themselves to want more democracy, that the best solution for the problems of democracy is more democracy, and making a statement that any nation that slides back, that starts to move in the other direction, will be ostracized by the other democratic nations of the region.

And secondly, in the second basket, pledging themselves to free trade, saying that the problems in our region will be helped by free trade, by reducing tariffs, by reducing barriers to trade. There are problems that come along with this, because it requires economies to transform themselves, requires people to learn new skills. Some people may find that the skills they currently have and the sorts of investments they are currently making in their economies have to be shifted. And so these dislocations cause problems, and those problems were candidly discussed. But as President Bush clearly said, free trade is the way to go; the United States is committed to free trade. More importantly, the Summit of the Americas said that all 34 of those nations are committed to free trade.

JIM LEHRER: But the Congress of the United States isn’t committed to this as yet, is it?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: Well, some are; some aren’t. And the President said that he is committed, and he is determined to get trade promotion authority, what used to be called fast track, this year, because we have to make the case to the Congress that at the end of the day, once you get through the dislocations that come along, free trade works. We’ve seen it with NAFTA. Despite criticisms of NAFTA, when you look at what has happened to trade in the North American part of our hemisphere over the last ten years or so, from the Canadian Free Trade Agreement up to NAFTA, it has been successful.

JIM LEHRER: When you left there yesterday, did you have the feeling that a free trade agreement for the whole hemisphere by the year 2005 is a realistic goal, that it really might happen?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: Yes, I think it’s a realistic goal, and it’s going to take some very tough negotiations to get this in place by January of 2005, and it will be even more difficult, as was noted, to get it all implemented by the end of 2005. But it is realistic. We can do it. And without setting that kind of a goal, that positive optimistic goal, then it may never happen.

Now, along the way there may be other agreements, first a US-Chilean agreement. There are lots of other groupings of nations that want their own separate agreement. What was fascinating about it is everybody is trying to cut a free trade deal with everybody else in one way or another. This is exciting, and it is a recognition on the part of these democratically elected leaders that we now have to have democratic economic systems that believe in free trade and the free flow of ideas and goods and technologies spread across the whole hemisphere.

The third basket I’d like to touch on is human potential; that if we’re going to move in this direction with free trade and democracy, it’s got to be free trade and democracy that ultimately will touch all the peoples of the region. One of the heads of state made a poignant plea about somebody he called Maria Soledad, who is struggling to put food on the table, struggling to earn a living for her family. Democracy doesn’t have meaning for her yet, and democracy will only have meaning for her when she sees her life has been bettered.

And so human potential, the education of the people of the hemisphere, the explosion of the Internet, connectivity, training people in new schools, education, dealing with the indigenous populations of our hemisphere who have not yet been touched by the success that we see here in the northern part of the hemisphere, all of that has to be part of a complete package.

JIM LEHRER: Another part of the world, Mr. Secretary. There is a meeting this week in Nigeria about the AIDS problem in Africa. The Clinton Administration said the problem was so serious– 30 million people are estimated might die in that part of the world from AIDS in the next few years– that it was a national security issue for the United States. How do you see it?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: It is a very serious issue. You can call it a national security issue; you can call it a pandemic; you can call it a destroyer of families and cultures. It is every bit that serious. Twenty-five to thirty million people are at risk of dying. And what we need is a full-scale assault coming from not just the United States but from the rest of the world to deal with this. And it has to have several aspects to it. It has to be, first, prevention and that’s mostly educating people how to protect themselves and how to get treatment when they need it; secondly, treatment, doing all we can to get the price of the treatment down; and then third, constantly looking for the cure for this disease. But prevention, I think, is the most important part of it.

And the United States is engaged. We are totally committed to this. Secretary of Health and Human Services Thompson and I have formed a joint task force, cabinet task force, working under the direction of Mr. Everett in the White House. He will have the coordinating responsibility for what we’re doing in the White House.

In the last several years, Congress has doubled the funding that we give to HIV-AIDS programs. In my budget submission for the State Department this year, we’re asking for another 10 percent on top of that. We’re going to pull together all of the elements of the Bush Administration toward this effort, and also reach out to the medical community, the educational community, the non-profit, non-governmental organizations, bringing in the work of foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There are a lot of pockets of resources and wealth and talent out there that we have to bring together to deal with this problem — not just in Africa, in the Caribbean, in other parts of the world. It is a worldwide problem that we all have to be engaged in.

JIM LEHRER: On the scale of priorities, where does it rest with you and the Bush Administration?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: It’s one of the top priorities, as is Africa. But, you know, it’s sometimes hard in my job and my business to say what’s the top priority every day. And as I said on a number of -

JIM LEHRER: Something new every day.

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: Well, exactly. I mean, the keys go up and down on the piano as you play every day. But what I’ve tried to say to people is that there is no part of the world that doesn’t touch America; there is no part of the world that we can ignore any longer; there is no part of the world that we don’t have an interest in. We are all joined together, increasingly joined together, by the power of the Internet, by the power of television, and everything is a priority. Now, that’s a bit of a dodge, but I find that in the course of my day that I shift priorities about every 27 minutes.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of priorities, where does the Middle East fit in right now? You and the President have both made it clear that you’re going to do it differently; you’re going to handle the Middle East differently than prior administrations. Meanwhile, the violence is escalating every day, speaking of the keys on the piano.

Are you changing your mind about maybe you need to get more involved or the President needs to get more involved?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: The President is completely involved. I am completely involved. We have been talking to the leaders on a very regular basis. Last week, the President spoke to Prime Minister Sharon and also to President Bashar in Syria. I talked to Mr. Arafat and I talked to Prime Minister Sharon and I talk to Foreign Minister Peres on a regular basis. I meet with the other leaders in the region who have an interest.

We are working the violence problem at two levels right now. We have a series of security meetings taking place under U.S. “hospitality”; I should put it, where we’re getting serious people together to figure out how to get the violence down. And we have another level that we’re working at to get other connections going on between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side.

The first step in restoring a sense of normalcy and getting back ultimately to a negotiation track is to get the violence down. I am absolutely convinced until that starts to happen we’re not going to be able to make progress in other baskets. And hopefully, I think there’s a little bit of traction now starting to take place as people see that we can’t keep doing what we have seen being done in recent weeks.

This isn’t a matter of lack of engagement on the part of the United States. It’s just doing it a slightly different way without a lot of attention being drawn to all the things we are doing. But we are engaged. We cannot fail but to be engaged. It is a major challenge for the world, a major challenge for the United States, and it takes a lot of my time.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, where are we on getting our plane back from China?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: Well, as you know, we had the meetings last week, and we exchanged very well known points of view. That team has now come back. And the task of working out with the Chinese how the plane is returned will be left to our very capable Embassy team in Beijing, working with their colleagues in the Foreign Ministry, and those discussions continue.

JIM LEHRER: Is it important to you to get the plane back?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: It’s our plane, and there is no reason it shouldn’t come back. This was an accident. It was a regrettable accident, and now let’s clean it all up. Our young men and women are back. They shouldn’t have been held for the length of time they were held, but they’re now back. Let’s get the plane out, get it back, and then let’s get back to building our relationship with China by discussing with them both those areas in which we agree and those areas in which we disagree.

JIM LEHRER: A personal question. Are you at ease now being called “Mr. Secretary” rather than General?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: It’s taken a while, but “Mr. Secretary” works fine. But as I recall, you had many other names for me, Jim, over the years, which you continue to be free to use.

JIM LEHRER: What’s the major difference between being a general and a diplomat?

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: Surprisingly, less than I thought. I have always tried to do my job in a way that I have people give me different points of view. This business of a general just shouts orders and screams at people a lot; that was not my experience in the military. And I’ve found that many of the techniques and procedures and way of doing business that worked for me in the military seem to work fine here in the State Department.

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

SECRETARY COLIN POWELL: Thank you very much, Jim, Mr. Lehrer.