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04 January 2004

Powell Lists Anti-Terrorism, Iraqi Sovereignty Among Top Priorities
Interview with The Washington Post Dec. 29

Fighting terrorism, returning sovereignty to the people of Iraq, establishing stability and democracy in Afghanistan, and working toward peace in the Middle East are among the top foreign policy priorities for the United States in the coming year, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In an interview with Robin Wright of The Washington Post December 29, Powell said the United States remains "totally committed" to the "roadmap for peace" in the Middle East as outlined by President Bush on June 24, 2002, and encourages engagement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"Until there is a beginning conversation between the two sides, I think it's difficult to do much more right now," he said. "[W]e're anxious to see that conversation begin, and we're in touch with both sides to encourage that conversation."

Regarding Iraq, Powell said the Iraqi Governing Council "has expressed its complete support for the 15 November plan" worked out with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that would transfer power to a transitional government no later than July 2004.

According to Powell, the coalition is currently "in a dialogue" with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other influential Iraqis "who have an interest in how one actually goes about selecting a transitional assembly and a transitional government."

The secretary said the coalition is "open to refinements" of the plan but does not expect any need for compromise or major changes.

As for Iran, Powell said, the United States has "always left open the option of engaging in dialogue" with that country. He added that a number of "encouraging" things have happened in recent months, including Iran's signing of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) protocol allowing short-notice inspections of its nuclear facilities and Iran's acceptance of humanitarian assistance from the United States after the earthquake in Bam.

"[A]ll those things taken together show that there are things happening, and therefore we should keep open the possibility of dialogue at an appropriate point in the future," he said. "We still have concerns about terrorist activities, of course, and there are other issues with respect to al-Qaida and other matters that we'll have to keep in mind."

Powell said he hoped Iran and other countries that may be developing weapons of mass destruction will follow Libya's recent decision to dismantle its weapons programs.

"I think the Libyans took a look at a determined President Bush and a determined Bush Administration that was going to deal with these kinds of weapons," he said. "I think [Libyan leader Col. Muammar] Qadhafi could see that we were prepared to take action in Iraq, we were prepared to press the case with Iran, even though people were waving us off for the first year of the Administration, and we're also prepared to seek a diplomatic solution with North Korea and not be cowed or blackmailed or pushed into some deal with North Korea where we're paying them for their misbehavior."

"I would hope that North Korea and Iran and, for that matter, Syria, to the extent that they have such weapons, realize that these weapons serve no political, economic or security purpose. And to that extent I think, perhaps, Qadhafi is giving a good object lesson to these other countries," Powell said.

Following is a transcript of the interview as released by the Department of State:

(begin transcript)

Interview by Robin Wright of The Washington Post

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
December 29, 2003
(3:00 p.m. EST)

MS. WRIGHT: In two days we mark the date specified by the roadmap for creating a temporary Palestinian state. That date is clearly going to pass without having achieved that goal. What is the United States going to do, tangibly, to get the roadmap back on the road again? And I'm talking about the United States, not what the Palestinians and the Israelis need to do, but what the U.S. is going to do to show the leadership you mentioned in earlier interviews.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we regret that we weren't able to get that state with interim provisions to it by the end of 2003. It still remains the President's vision and his goal to achieve a Palestine state living side by side so, with Israel, with the state of Israel. So we remain totally committed to the vision that the President laid out on 24 June of 2002 and totally committed to the roadmap as the way to get to that vision.

Now, with respect to what we now have to do is after we lost the Abu Mazen government, we have been waiting for the Abu Alaa [Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, better known as Abu Alaa] to take definitive steps with respect to condemnation of terror; with respect to what plans they have to go after terrorist organizations.

We will be reviewing the bidding in the early part of the year as to whether or not it would be appropriate for Ambassador Wolf [U.S. Ambassador John Wolf, coordinator for the Middle East roadmap] to go back in, but he has to have two people ready to talk to one another. We will be encouraging, and I will be talking -- I talked to Sharon [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] and Shalom [Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom] last week -- I will be talking to Palestinians later this week, encouraging the conversations to begin between the two sides.

Until there is a beginning conversation between the two sides, I think it's difficult to do much more right now and we're anxious to see that conversation begin, and we're in touch with both sides to encourage that conversation.

MS. WRIGHT: By the way, you guys are making a transcript of this, right?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah.

MS. WRIGHT: Okay.

Are you confident that the United States can still meet the deadline set out by the roadmap of a solution by 2005, which would mean crunching a three-year process into two years, or is there likely, now, to be slippage?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it's possible, but it's hard to say. I mean, a year and a half has gone by since those goals were set out, and so that's a year and a half where we didn't achieve the interim state we were looking for, or a state with interim provisions, as I like to say. But it is not unachievable if both sides will now come to the table, get serious, if we see the kind of crackdown against terrorism that we have to see or it'll all be a false start, and if you also take a look at the debate that's taking place in Israel now as to the way forward, I think that there are certain dynamics at work that still make it possible to achieve that vision by 2005.

But time is passing and we need to see the kind of aggressive action on the part of the Palestinian Authority that will allow us to once again engage as fully as the President wants us to. He stands ready to engage. We all do. The roadmap is there. We are staying in touch with our Quartet partners [Russia, European Union and United Nations] and they are ready to engage. And we're also staying in touch with our Arab colleagues, as well.

MS. WRIGHT: On Iraq, the Russians have pledged to forgive 65 percent of the Iraqi debt. Is that the goal the United States is seeking from all countries, both in the Club of Paris, and otherwise?

SECRETARY POWELL: We would like to see maximum debt forgiveness, and I wouldn't put an arbitrary number on it at this point. I would hope to see a much higher number, but I don't want to assign any of the countries that Jim Baker [former Secretary of State James Baker, President Bush's personal envoy on Iraqi debt] is working with now and Secretary Snow [Treasury Secretary John Snow] is working with now a number, but we want to get maximum debt forgiveness, Paris Club and otherwise. And I think we're off to a good start. And I had good conversations with Jim Baker after he got back from the European leg and before he went on the Asian leg. And I also know that he's been in touch with John Snow.

These are commitments-in-principle. What we have to do now is nail them down in the course of 2004 as the Paris Club meetings unfold.

MS. WRIGHT: Have the discussions between Ayatollah Sistani [Iraq Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani] and Jerry Bremer [L. Paul Bremer, U.S. administrator for Iraq] led, or are they heading toward a compromise on the issue of elections?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are in touch with the Ayatollah. I don't know that Jerry has spoken to him directly, but we have a number of people who have spoken to him.

MS. WRIGHT: But there are letters between them?

SECRETARY POWELL: There may well be letters between them.

All I can say is that the contacts are continuing and what I have been following, as you can well imagine, is from the 15th of November on, when we put down the latest plan, what has been the reaction of the various parties.

The Governing Council has expressed its complete support for the 15 November plan. It has been presented to the UN. We're certainly fully behind it, and the Ayatollah has raised issues with respect to how you do the caucus elections and I think it's safe to say that we are in a dialogue with him and with others who have an interest in how one actually goes about selecting a transitional assembly and a transitional government.

MS. WRIGHT: But do you fore--

SECRETARY POWELL: But the news, the news is that he has not dismissed the 15 November plan, which some people were afraid he might. So I think we're having a productive conversation, and it's an ongoing conversation.

MS. WRIGHT: And, but do you see one further round of compromises being introduced in the November plan; in other words, accepting the November 15th, but introducing some kind of compromise that would address the issue of elections?

SECRETARY POWELL: At the moment, I'm not aware of the need for a compromise. Everybody is firmly behind the 15 November plan, but I think we're all also listening because what we want is a successful process next spring that gives us a transitional assembly and a transitional government, and puts us on the way to a full constitution as well as a fully representative government thereafter, probably in 2005.

So I think we are open to ideas, but there is no compromise that I'm aware of at the moment that is needed. It's a good plan. It's a solid plan. It enjoys the support of the Governing Council and certainly us.

MS. WRIGHT: Well, maybe we're talking about semantics here. Maybe it's a refinement or something that, that adds to the plan.

SECRETARY POWELL: There -- and I think that's what I was saying, Robin. The plan is good. If people come up with refinements that make the plan better and it's agreeable to all parties, then that is a refinement to a good plan as opposed to changing or compromising on a plan that is good for a plan that is less good. And I think what Ambassador Bremer and all of us have been doing in our conversations is listening and hearing and, "Are there better ideas that would make the plan more refined, better and more acceptable to a broader group of individuals and leaders within Iraq?"

MS. WRIGHT: Do you expect that soon?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I didn't say that I was expecting there to be a compromise or that refinements would be made. I'm just saying that we're open to refinements and we're waiting to hear what people have suggested, or will suggest.

MS. WRIGHT: Let me shift to Iran. I gather there is an inter-agency debate or high-level, anyway, debate on whether to resume the dialogue with Iran. They have, Iran has taken steps recently. There is this current effort to provide humanitarian aid. Do you foresee, you know, movement in a specific way toward resuming that debate with Iran soon?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are not really having a high-level debate in the sense of major disagreement. I think you have heard me say previously that we have always left open the option of engaging in dialogue with Iran. And a number of things have happened in recent months, which, I think, are encouraging.

Let's start from where we began this Administration three years ago when we made the case that Iran was undertaking activities with respect to nuclear weapons that were unacceptable and inconsistent with its obligations. We pressed the Russians. Everybody pushed back on us for a while and then the Russians finally came to the conclusion that there was something there. We started to create understandings with the Russians on the Bushehr Power Plant, as you're well familiar. And then more information became available that made it clear to the IAEA that Iran wasn't fully complying. And I think we started to get the better of the argument.

And we were pressing the IAEA to take note of all of this and act, and then my European Union colleagues in the person of the EU 3 [France, Germany, and the United Kingdom] engaged directly. I stayed in very close touch with [France's Minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique] de Villepin, [Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs Joschka] Fischer and [the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Jack] Straw as they did their work. They never did anything I wasn't aware of and we hadn't discussed beforehand. And we've now reached the point where we've got a unanimous IAEA resolution, which said Iran has not been fully complying and also put in there that if there was further lack of compliance, it would be dealt with in accordance with current regulations and obligations that they have.

And at the same time, Iran has signed the additional protocol and we are waiting for them, now, to meet the commitments they made to the EU 3. All of those things taken together show, it seems to me, a new attitude in Iran in dealing with these issues -- not one of total, open generosity, but they realize that the world is watching and the world is prepared to take action.

And then, recently, when this terrible catastrophe hit Iran and -- and this just pushed politics aside. This was a humanitarian issue. And the President has always made it clear that when it comes to humanitarian issues, we'll do what is right for humankind. And in this case, to show them that we were serious and that we were seeing it as a humanitarian issue, had [Deputy Secretary of State] Rich Armitage call the Iranian Perm Rep directly, so he knew it was not just a routine, diplomatic exchange.

What was surprising here, Robin, is that within a half an hour to an hour, Rich got an answer back from the Permanent Representative, who was in Tehran at that time, and within hours, we had started to assemble relief supplies, planes and rescue workers.

Now all those things taken together show that there are things happening, and therefore we should keep open the possibility of dialogue at an appropriate point in the future. We still have concerns about terrorist activities, of course, and there are other issues with respect to al-Qaida and other matters that we'll have to keep in mind.

MS. WRIGHT: Any resolution on al-Qaida, do you see, in the aftermath of the Governing Council's decision on the MEK [Mujahedin-e Khalq terrorist organization], which was their conditions?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't have anything to give you on that at this time, or yet, Robin.

MS. WRIGHT: Okay. Pakistan. How concerned are you about the stability of Pakistan in the aftermath of two assassination attempts on President Musharraf?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm still confident that President Musharraf enjoys broad support within the country. These are extremists and we were deeply concerned at both of those attacks, and the President has spoken to President Musharraf and I have spoken to him a couple of times. I spoke to him over the weekend. And it just shows that there are those who will resort to terror to try to impose their ill will on their own people.

And so we still have confidence in President Musharraf and we're standing behind him.

MS. WRIGHT: One that kind of goes back to Iran, but also -- does the Libya strategy apply to Iran, and potentially, to North Korea?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I would hope that the Iranians, and, especially, North Korea would lean back and take a look at what Libya did. And Libya essentially came to the conclusion that being isolated on the world stage, being held up to ridicule by the international community with the condemnation that came from the international community, all for the purpose of trying to develop an unconventional warfare capability, that at the end brought you no economic benefit, in fact, cost you economically, and frankly, brought you no political benefit, and frankly, put you in greater danger than the danger that it might have been keeping you out of.

I think the Libyans took a look at a determined President Bush and a determined Bush Administration that was going to deal with these kinds of weapons, but we were not going to be terrified by them, I think [Libyan leader Col. Muammar] Qadhafi could see that we were prepared to take action in Iraq, we were prepared to press the case with Iran, even though people were waving us off for the first year of the Administration, and we're also prepared to seek a diplomatic solution with North Korea and not be cowed or blackmailed or pushed into some deal with North Korea where we're paying them for their misbehavior. And I would hope that North Korea and Iran and for that matter, Syria, to the extent that they have such weapons, realize that these weapons serve no political, economic or security purpose. And to that extent I think, perhaps, Qadhafi is giving a good object lesson to these other countries.

We, however, understand the nature of Mr. Qadhafi and his regime, and we will approach this carefully with full verification, and my State Department team is putting together a rather thorough verification system; and also with political engagement to make sure that before we provide any kind of relief that we really do have a changed, a changed leader. But we're very pleased with this development.

MS. WRIGHT: For 2004, what, as you see it, are the four on your "A-list," four on your "B-list" issues and what is the United States going to do in specific terms about each one, not just what the problems are? I've read all your earlier interviews.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. Okay. No you didn't.

(Laughter.)

MS. WRIGHT: I did too.

(Laughter.)

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, first and foremost has to be the global war on terrorism. It's not going away. We've made a great deal of progress over the last couple of years. Cells are being rolled up. We have a better idea of whom we're fighting, but they're still out there and they're still coming after us. We have to protect the homeland and we have to go out and get them where they are. And we've got to continue to build our international coalition with law enforcement, intelligence exchange, drying up their sources of finance and support, and direct action when necessary. So that will remain number one. And of course, homeland security fits in that.

The next one on my hit parade, of course, is Iraq -- returning sovereignty to the people. I, as, you know, Secretary of State, increasingly will be working with [Secretary of Defense] Don Rumsfeld to manage the transition to an embassy situation from the Coalition Provisional Authority when it has completed its mission some time next year. Hopefully at a time that's coincident with the returning of sovereignty, and so that's going to be a major effort on our part, and as I build up that large embassy, I've got to also generate more international support, UN presence -- get the UN back in there in force, both humanitarian and to play a political role; the contracting issue; the role of NATO, and I think NATO is more and more willing to play a role in Iraq; and debt relief -- continuing to work with Secretary Snow, who has the real lead within the Administration, and with my good buddy Jim Baker.

And then once that is under way, the real challenge for the new embassy, so to speak, or the new presence will be helping the Iraqi people get ready for their full elections and full constitution the following year.

I'm going to keep a close eye on Afghanistan as an area where we've made a great deal of progress, but we've got to beware of the remaining dangers: defeat the Taliban in the south and southeast and make sure that the elections go well next year and that we have put in place a central government that can control the whole country.

And then the Middle East will be a priority. We stand ready with the roadmap, stand ready to engage, and I hope that we will see the kind of movement that we need to see, particularly on the Palestinian side that will give us a basis to engage more fully.

There are lots of second tier ones, Robin, and this year is not over. I'm still working the phones on the Sudan -- a comprehensive peace agreement I hope that we might get yet, before the end of the year or shortly thereafter. They've made good progress in the last couple of months since I visited with the negotiators in Kenya.

And so many other issues are like that. Liberia, consolidate the success we had earlier in the year. I'm going to be pushing hard on the President's democracy initiative and all of its pieces in the Middle East: the Free Trade Area of the Middle East as well as the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

And I'm going to work very hard, Robin, in making it clear to our friends in Europe and elsewhere in the world that America is a partner: spend more time with them; spend more time listening to them and finding ways that we can cooperate together, and I think there are many such areas: Iraq, Afghanistan -- we had great success in Afghanistan pulling that coalition together.

MS. WRIGHT: On Afghanistan, do you believe that the situation has reached the point that the two halves of the election: for parliament and the president -- presidency may have to be separated so you do the presidency next year and maybe defer the parliament until a next -- the next year?

SECRETARY POWELL: That's certainly a possibility. I haven't been in conversation with President Karzai lately, but I know that when last I did speak to him about it, it's a question that's open. I don't know if Adam [press spokesman Adam Ereli] has heard anything while I have been sort of in recovery here for the last week or so.

MR. ERELI: No, sir. Nothing new.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, but I think that's still an open question and I think the presidential election is the one that is key and that has to come first, in any event, whether it's together or separated.

MS. WRIGHT: And what will happen if, within the next period of time -- six months, whatever -- in the Middle East, you do not see the Palestinians take the action on, that you've outlined?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I hope they will. And if they do, then they'll see us fully engaged. If they don't, then I think the situation will just continue to -- adrift and not improve. And as you know, Israel is considering steps it might take. I think it would be unfortunate if we started to see unilateral steps that are not the result of negotiations between the parties.

And so I'm hopeful that we will see the kind of progress that will get us closer to the President's vision.

MS. WRIGHT: And one last question that only requires a yes or no.

MR. ERELI: Okay.

MS. WRIGHT: Will we have Usama bin Laden by the end of next year?

SECRETARY POWELL: Robin, I don't know. I don't know if he is alive or dead and I can't answer that question. I just don't know. I do know that he will, if he is alive, he will continue to be on the run, he will continue to be pressed on all sides, and we will keep sweeping up whatever vestigial remains of the al-Qaida network are out there.

MS. WRIGHT: Thanks a lot.

SECRETARY POWELL: Take care, Robin.

2003/1305

(end transcript)