24 September 2001
Transcript: Powell Says Campaign Against Terrorism Has Begun
(Interview 9/23 on NBC's "Meet the Press") (4830)
The United States has already begun a broad campaign against the
perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon, and against terrorism in general, says
Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Appearing on the NBC News program "Meet the Press" September 23,
Powell said "It's begun with rallying the international communities on
our side of this issue, letting nations around the world know that
this is the time to choose, you're either for freedom or you're for
The secretary also said he is "absolutely convinced" that the al-Qaeda
network headed by Usama bin Laden was responsible for the attacks.
Following is the State Department transcript of the interview:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
September 23, 2001
INTERVIEW OF SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN L. POWELL
ON NBC'S MEET THE PRESS
September 23, 2001
QUESTION: But first, the Secretary of State is with us. General Colin
SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Tim.
QUESTION: Twelve days ago, America was attacked like never before.
Where are we in terms of response?
POWELL: In terms of response, we have begun a broad campaign against
the perpetrators of this attack, and also against terrorism in
general. The campaign has already begun. It has begun with rallying
the international communities on our side of this issue, letting
nations around the world know that this is a time to choose. You're
either for freedom or you're for terrorism.
And we have also continued the campaign by getting nations such as the
United Arab Emirates to cut off relations with the Taliban. We are
getting cooperation with respect to shutting down the financial
systems that exist to provide support to these kinds of organizations.
We are getting solid action in the United Nations and Nation and the
Organization of American States, the Organization of Islamic
Conferences. Many things are happening. So this campaign has begun.
We got solid support from Pakistan, as you well know. And, of course,
we are putting in place our forces, in the event the President decides
it's time to use military force as part of the campaign. But we are
not waiting. The campaign has begun.
QUESTION: And we have lifted economic sanctions against Pakistan, as a
reward for their assistance?
POWELL: We have waived some sanctions that have been in place against
both Pakistan and India. It was something we had been considering for
some months now. But we consulted with Congress this past week in
light of these changed events, and in light of the very forthcoming
position that the Pakistani Government has taken, and the President
waived some of the sanctions that were in place yesterday.
QUESTION: But it is an important signal that the United States will
reward its friends.
POWELL: It's an important signal that we will stand by our friends who
stand by us.
QUESTION: Are you absolutely convinced that Usama bin Laden was
responsible for this attack?
POWELL: I am absolutely convinced that the al-Qaida network, which he
heads, was responsible for this attack. You know, it's sort of
al-Qaida -- the Arab name for it is "the base" -- it's something like
a holding company of terrorist organizations that are located in
dozens of countries around the world, sometimes tightly controlled,
sometimes loosely controlled. And at the head of that organization is
Usama bin Laden. So what we have to do in the first phase of this
campaign is to go after al-Qaida and go after Usama bin Laden. But it
is not just a problem in Afghanistan; it's a problem throughout the
world. That's why we are attacking it with a worldwide coalition.
QUESTION: Will you release publicly a white paper, which links him and
his organization to this attack, to put people at ease?
POWELL: We are hard at work bringing all the information together,
intelligence information, law enforcement information. And I think, in
the near future, we will be able to put out a paper, a document, that
will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to
this attack. And also, remember, he has been linked to earlier attacks
against US interests and he was already indicated for earlier attacks
against the United States.
QUESTION: Do you believe there is any United States law or executive
order, which would prohibit our killing Usama bin Laden, if we find
POWELL: An interesting question. There are a number of authorities
that are in place, executive orders and the like, that we are
examining, to make sure that we have all the freedom of action we need
to bring him to justice or to bring justice to him, as the President
QUESTION: Let me show you an article in USA Today, dateline Islamabad,
and I'll put it on the screen:
To some Pakistanis, bin Laden is like a god. T-shirts and turbans
bearing the image of Usama bin Laden and the words "world hero" are
big sellers at the open market. So are fake credit cards, $50 bills
with his picture and phrase "In Usama we trust." But forget about
buying cassettes and CDs of his fiery teachings where he says "Every
American man is my enemy." They sold out hours after last Tuesday's
attack at six times the normal price. Usama has become like a god for
the Moslem people, says Amir Kahn, 21, as he waived a white Taliban
flag and led anti-American protests outside the city's Red Mosque.
"America and Pakistan should be warned if they try to kill Usama or
attack our Afghan brothers, we'll wage war against them. American and
Pakistani blood will flow in the streets."
Is there a concern by demonizing Usama bin Laden that we could trigger
an uprising in Pakistan that may have very serious destabilization for
that country, which has nuclear weapons?
POWELL: We are very sensitive to this question. And it is unfortunate
that there are Moslems who feel that way. The reality is that Usama
bin Laden has demonized himself. He is unfaithful to the religion that
he says he is an adherent to. He is a murderer. He has murdered
thousands of people, not just Americans, thousands of people from
around the world. Eighty countries lost people in the World Trade
Center. He has committed these acts of murder around the world, and
that's what he should be seen as, a murderer.
And, in fact, there are many Moslems and many Islamic countries, led
countries, that are supporting of our efforts. And I hope that as we
go forward, as we put the evidence out, the case will clearly be made
that he is not someone to be admired or followed; he is someone to be
condemned as against civilization as we know it, against the
principles that we believe in, against the principles that will make
this a better world, not a world of terror and violence.
QUESTION: Are you confident that the current Pakistan Government can
remain stable and that the nuclear weapons that they have will not
fall in the hands of supporters of Usama bin Laden?
POWELL: Everything I've seen over the last two weeks convinces me that
President Musharraf made a courageous decision and he did it with full
awareness of the potential domestic consequences. He is supported by
all of his military commanders and all others in the government. So, I
am confident that Pakistan will remain stable and I have no concerns
about their nuclear programs.
QUESTION: There is a $25 million reward for Usama bin Laden. Do you
think there is a possibility that someone on the ground in Afghanistan
could drop a dime on him for the money?
SECRETARY POWELL: $25 million is a great deal of money, and I am sure
there might be somebody so motivated, whether they can do that or not.
But let's not just focus on Usama bin Laden. It would be nice to see
him brought to justice. But that won't end it. It's the whole network
that has to be ripped up and brought to justice.
That's why it isn't strictly a military operation; it is an operation
that covers financial activity, information activity, protection of
borders, shutting down the ability of people to move easily from
country to country. That's why we are calling it a full-scale
campaign, using all the elements of national and international power.
QUESTION: Afghanistan. How would you rate the Taliban army?
POWELL: Well, the Taliban regime has a military force that has
succeeded in gaining control of some 90 percent of the country. But it
is not a modern force by any means. It is a very dispersed force, at
the lower end of the ability to conduct modern warfare. But it is a
force that one would have to take seriously because of their
experience in the kind of warfare that is typical of Afghanistan.
And as we develop our plans, they will be plans that go after al-Qaida
and we will try to take advantage of whatever weaknesses exist there
and play to our strengths and not act against their strengths.
QUESTION: The Russians when -- then the Soviet Union -- engaged in a
10-year war with Afghanistan, lost about 30,000 people according to
unofficial estimates. One gentleman who was in the service there, now
in the Russian Parliament, Yevgeny Zelinov, said that no matter how
they prepare for a ground operation, it is hopeless in that
POWELL: It depends what kind of a mission you are trying to achieve
and what your objectives are before you declare hopelessness. And I am
sure our military leaders have a pretty good idea of the difficulties
of operating in Afghanistan. And I am sure all of our military leaders
have studied carefully previous experience, especially the experience
of the Russian army.
QUESTION: It's a different kind of war -- if we have one. General
Powell, as you well know, the Powell Doctrine, using overwhelming
force in order to overcome our enemy. General Wesley Clark, who
oversaw our operations in Kosovo, said we become allergic to close
combat. How different is a war against terrorists in Afghanistan than
from something you mounted in the Persian Gulf 10 years ago?
POWELL: It's quite different. And I never talked about overwhelming
force, I've always talked about decisive force. Meaning, you go to the
point of decision and that's where you apply decisive force.
In the Persian Gulf war 10 years ago, you had an army sitting out
there, easily identifiable. There it was, waiting to be attacked, and
we applied decisive force against the Iraqi army. It's different this
time. And we shouldn't see this in the same context, as if there is a
large enemy out there that we plan to attack in conventional ways.
If the President decides that this is what we should do and have to
do, I can assure you that our military will have plans that will go
against their weaknesses and not get trapped in ways that previous
armies have gotten trapped in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Previous wars from the air, very limited if any American
casualties. Do you think the American people would be accepting of
large amounts of casualties in order to win this war?
POWELL: You know, I have always shied away from this concept that you
can fight a war without casualties. It has never been anything that I
put forward. You always want to make sure you can minimize casualties
and do everything you can to protect the force. But war is war and
there will be casualties.
I think the American people understand that this is a difficult
situation and we may have to put lives at risk. And it is something
that the military understands. And we can't conduct wars in such a way
that we are terrified of putting anyone at risk. War does put people
at risk and it's a risk we have to take in light of the current
circumstances. We will always try to conduct all of our military
operations in a way that reduces casualties as much as possible, but
there is no such thing as a zero-casualty conflict where you are using
all the elements of your military power and you are going into a
place, say, like Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Sixty-five percent of the people in the Arab world are under
the age of 18. How concerned are you that countries like Egypt,
Jordan, Saudi Arabia could become destabilized, that revolution could
be fomented if, in fact, there is a large-scale war?
POWELL: Well, let's not assume there will be a large-scale war. I
don't know that we should even consider a large-scale war of the
conventional type. But it is more interesting to note that Egypt and
Saudi Arabia and most of the countries in that part of the world have
come to our support. They have recognized that terrorism is a threat
not only against the United States, against them. They have suffered
from terrorism as well. And they recognize that this is not consistent
with Islamic teachings. It is absolutely inconsistent with Islamic
So I think they understand the domestic pressures they are under and
they understand what they have committed themselves to. And when you
even have countries such as Syria and to some extent even Iran
indicating that they sense the problem associated with this kind of
attack, it gives us something to explore, something to work with. And
what we should be looking at really is the solid support we have
received from Arab nations.
QUESTION: Let me show you what the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak
had to say and give you a chance to talk about it a little bit. "If
you launch an attack against Afghanistan or another country on your
list of rogue states, you will kill many innocent people, just as the
terrorists killed many of your people," President Mubarak said in an
interview. "Don't play the game of your enemy. They want your
reprisals to bring forth from the blood and ruins of your bombing a
new generation of militants who will cry for revenge against the
POWELL: We are very sensitive to that. One has to be careful that in
your reaction, you don't give the enemy exactly what the enemy would
like to have, a new cause celebre. And so we will be very sensitive to
that. And I know that my colleagues in the Pentagon are sensitive to
that, as they consider the various options that are available to them.
QUESTION: The Washington Post reported yesterday that Saudi Arabia is
denying the United States the use of Prince Sultan Airbase as a place
for offensive operations. Is that true?
POWELL: Well, the article said that I had called them to protest this
or ask for a change in policy. There were no such phone calls. The
article is incorrect. And I have been in daily touch with Saudi
officials and they have been very responsive to all of the requests we
have placed on them.
QUESTION: So they will allow us to use that airbase?
POWELL: They have been very responsive to all the requests we have
placed on them. There is no show-stopper with respect to what we have
asked of the Saudis. But I do not want to go into what we have not yet
asked of them.
But, as of right now, for everything we have put to them, they have
been responsive in a way that we can see that responsiveness, if it is
not always headline news or something that you would see across, say,
a television screen. But they have been responsive.
QUESTION: Many of the hijackers had ties to Saudi Arabia. Tom
Friedman, who has lived and studied and written about this world for a
long time had this to say in the New York Times. "Some Arab regimes,
most of which are corrupt dictatorships afraid of their own people,
made a devil's pact with the fundamentalists. They allowed the Islamic
extremist domestic supporters to continue raising money, ostensibly
for Moslem welfare groups, and to funnel it to Usama bin Laden on the
condition that the Islamic extremists not attack these regimes. The
Saudis in particular struck that bargain."
POWELL: Well, I have found that in recent days the Saudis have been
very forthcoming with respect to that kind of issue, and they have
promised us full cooperation in going after financial support for
these kinds of groups. As you know, a long time ago, they ostracized
Usama bin Laden and took away his Saudi citizenship. We are working
closely with them.
But I also need to point out that a lot of the financial support comes
from outside the Arab world. I mean, it is quite easy in European
nations and in the United States to raise money for these kinds of
dissident, terrorist-oriented causes. And so it is not just an Arab
problem, it is an international problem. We have to go after their
financial support wherever we find it, in Arab nations or in western
We are also focusing on some of the so-called humanitarian,
charitable, non-governmental organizations that raise money. If we can
trace any of that money to terrorist activity subsequently, we really
have to go after these kinds of organizations as well.
QUESTION: On Friday, several Americans, several dozen Americans, the
Project of the New American Century, released a letter to the
President saying that we should target terrorism wherever it exists,
even if it means conducting military operations against Iraq, Syria,
Iran. In your estimation, what would happen to your international
coalition if we were to mount military campaigns against Iraq, Syria
and Iran while still trying to find Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan?
POWELL: Rather than deal with that hypothetical, let me deal with what
we are actually going to do. What the President said is we're going to
go after terrorism. That doesn't always mean you have to use military
force to go after terrorism. There are many elements of national
power. And you also have to keep your attention focused on a
particular objective, before you start adding different goals and
And the objective that the President has focused on in this first
instance is al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden, his presence in Afghanistan.
And then we will consider all other options and all other sources of
terrorist activity and go after it in an appropriate way. That
approach has met with great favor in the international community.
And since this has to be an international response to an international
threat, I think it is important that we are able to get the United
Nations Security Council resolutions that will help us deal with the
financial transactions that take place. That's why I think it is
important that we keep that coalition together so we get a statement
such as we did Friday night from the European Council giving full
support of the European Union to what we are doing. It is important we
keep that coalition together so you can get statements such as we did
Friday from the Organization of American States or the Organization of
If we want to go it alone and say we know what's best in all of these
cases and we know exactly how to deal with them and lose the support
of the world, then I think we will have made a strategic mistake. New
opportunities have been presented by the way the President has laid
out this campaign and the focus that he has given to it. And he has
made the decision about how we are going to go about this campaign.
And he has left nothing off the table with respect to phase two, phase
three or phase four. And we will get to those phases in due course.
But let's not lose our focus on phase one.
QUESTION: Are there some in the administration who are urging more
immediate attacks on Syria and Iran, rooting out terrorists?
POWELL: As you would in any administration, we had lots of
discussions. But the President, his Vice President, the Secretary of
State, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, the
Attorney General, the Secretary of the Treasury, all were together and
discussed these items and the President made his decision and that's
the only thing that counts, not what others somewhere in the
administration might think.
QUESTION: Iran and Syria have long harbored terrorists. Is this a
chance for them to have a new start, a fresh start with America by
saying, you know what, we're going to take care of our terrorist
problem and we're going to help you deal with Usama bin Laden?
POWELL: I think that might well be the case. They have been sponsors
of terrorism and we have so designated them and those designations
have not gone away. But the Syrians were somewhat forthcoming in their
response to 11 September and I talked to the Syrian Foreign Minister
and we are looking to see if we can explore areas of cooperation.
But they can't be for one kind of terrorism and against another kind
of terrorism. They have to realize, you've got to change your pattern
if you want to be a part of this civilized world that is in a
coalition against terrorism.
And the same message goes to Iran. Not quite the same context, but we
have heard from the Iranians through channels, and we are willing to
explore this possibility. They have always been against the Taliban
and against this kind of activity in Afghanistan, but they have also
supported terrorist organizations. You have got to be ready to go
against all terrorist organizations.
QUESTION: But it's pretty hard with Iran, because of their involvement
in Khobar Towers, where they blew up a lot of our service men.
POWELL: Yes, it is. And what the President said in his speech is
continued conduct of that kind will identify you as someone who has a
hostile interest toward the United States and the interests of the
QUESTION: How about Saddam Hussein and Iraq? Is there any evidence
that he was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center or the
Pentagon? And is he currently harboring terrorists and therefore is
someone that we would like to engage on this issue?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there are some reports of linkages but not to
the extent that I would say today there is a clear link. But we are
looking for links and we are watching very closely. We have no
illusions about Saddam Hussein. He means us no good, he means the
region no good. He has, of course, tried to develop weapons of mass
destruction. For 10 years, we have kept him contained and we will
continue to keep him contained. And, as you know, we always have the
ability to strike if that seems to be the appropriate thing to do.
And so we are taking no options off the table. And we always consider
him to be a potential source of terrorist activity and to harbor
terrorism and terrorist activities. So we have got a good eye on the
QUESTION: There are reports this morning on the news wires the Taliban
Government is saying Usama bin Laden is missing. How confident are you
that we will find Usama bin Laden?
POWELL: I don't know. I really can't answer that question. He might be
"missing," whatever that means. I am not quite sure I am ready to put
credence into the Taliban report. The Taliban may be trying to find a
way to get themselves out of the terrible box they are in. I don't
And even if we were to get Usama bin Laden tomorrow, he showed up, was
turned over to us, that would be good but it would not be the end.
It's his lieutenants we have to get, it's the whole network that has
to be ripped up. We can't rip out the head and have the tail and other
parts of it laying around waiting.
QUESTION: How many people are we talking about?
POWELL: We're talking several thousand, maybe many thousands. We're
not entirely sure. But we do know --
QUESTION: Everywhere? Europe, America?
POWELL: They're everywhere. They're in Europe, they're in America. You
can find connections to them all around. And we have to get them all,
or else we will always have a degree of uncertainty and a degree of
insecurity within not only American society but within societies all
over the world.
We have to keep remembering that the World Trade Center was that, the
World Trade Center. Almost 80 countries, about 80 countries, lost
citizens. And so it was an attack against Americans, it was an attack
against Moslems, it was an attack against Jews, it was an attack
against Africa and Asia and Europe, all parts of the world. It was the
World Trade Center and they knew what they were doing.
QUESTION: You have lived a full life, mostly as a military man. You've
seen death up close. How have the events of September 11th changed
POWELL: They have been deeply moving for me as they have for every
American. To see your own home state, New York -- I'm a New Yorker --
to see it struck that way and then to see a building that I spent so
many years in the Pentagon struck that way -- I went over to the
Pentagon yesterday with Don Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld, to look
It's deeply moving to know that, one, we had this kind of
vulnerability and that there were people out there who we knew were
out there but never really had a sense of how determined they were to
strike us in this way. And it means that as we go forward, we will
have to work harder to protect ourselves, work harder to find this
kind of enemy, work harder to defend ourselves. And I am so pleased
that Governor Ridge will be playing an important role in homeland
But at the same time, I'm just as convinced, in the face of this
horror, that we've got to go on, we will go on. We're a strong people,
we have a backbone of steel, we're patriotic, we're not afraid of
people. We're not going to hide under our desks, we're not going to go
We've got to get back to work, we've got to get back to our ballgames,
we've got to get back to our theaters. We've got to get this economy
moving again. And that will be the best answer to what happened. While
we're also chasing them, while we're also going after our campaign
with all the vigor at our disposal and all the strength at our
disposal. The real answer to them is to get back at being Americans,
the kind of Americans we know we are. And we'll show the world what
this country is really made of.
QUESTION: Before you go, why do they hate us so much and how do we
offer those young Moslem boys and girls around the world a competing
destiny that says America is not bad, our capitalist system is not
bad, Christianity and Judaism is not bad. Because the leaders of Usama
bin Laden's group are fueling within them this rabid hate for our
country and our way of life.
POWELL: Well, for reasons that are very complex, they hate our value
system, they hate our presence in parts of the world that they think
we should not be in.
But let me make this point. Go to any American city and you will find
many proud American Moslems, proud American Moslems who came to this
country because they wanted to be a part of this society, who came to
this country for the opportunities we presented, who came to this
country proud of their Moslem heritage but at the same time wanting to
be an American, just as my parents came to this country and your
grandparents came to this country.
And so while we are looking at the Moslems who through a false
application of their faith are doing this, let's look at those Moslems
who understand the power of the democratic system, who understand the
power of the free enterprise system and let's celebrate the Moslems
who have come to this country to become Americans and to share in the
values of this nation.
QUESTION: Colin Powell, Secretary of State, we thank you for joining
us this morning.
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