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04 April 2002

Powell Discusses U.S. Mideast Policy, Engagement

(April 3 interview on CBS "60 Minutes II") (2330)
Following is the transcript of Secretary of State Colin Powell's April
3 appearance on the CBS news program "60 Minutes II." Powell's
discussion of events in the Middle East took place prior to the April
4 White House announcement of the Secretary's upcoming travel to the
(begin transcript)
Interview by Scott Pelley on CBS'S 60 Minutes II
Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC April 3, 2002
MR. PELLEY: As the Mideast descent into chaos deepens, President Bush
and his national security team are searching for ways to stop the
violence. So far, nothing is working. In the midst of this today, we
sat down with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told us about his
talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian chief
Yasser Arafat. We also asked him for the latest on Osama bin Laden.
First, we wanted to know about the rising criticism of the United
States and its handling of the Mideast crisis.
It seems that there are very few countries in this world that are
siding with us in favor of the Israeli incursion. The UN is siding
with the Palestinians. The European Union is siding with the
Palestinians. The Pope today sided with the Palestinians. Are we alone
on this?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, we side with the Palestinians, too. We side with
both the Israelis and the Palestinians. We are working for the
interests of both of those peoples. I think all of the nations and
groups you just touched on also recognize a legitimate right of
self-defense. Now, you can argue about whether that meets everyone's
standards as to what Israel is doing. But we understand the terrible
situation that the Prime Minister finds himself in when a bomb goes
off every other day, some days two bombs a day. And so I don't know of
any of these leaders who are critical, what they would do if they were
in the same position.
MR. PELLEY: Is your message to Sharon that he's gone far enough?
SECRETARY POWELL: My message to Prime Minister Sharon is what I will
convey to him when next I speak to him. And what I have said to him is
that a cost is being paid in the international community, in Israeli
standing in the international community. And a cost is being paid,
frankly, in terms of US interests, as a result of what's happening
now, and that he has to take that into consideration. And I know he is
taking that into consideration.
And just as candidly, he expresses back to me, "I know that, but I go
to funerals every day, and I have to do something about the security
of the Israeli people."
MR. PELLEY: Those are the stark messages Secretary Powell now carries
with him as he shuttles between the State Department and the White
House. We caught up this morning, as he headed into a meeting of the
Bush war cabinet in the White House situation room. With a quick
knock, Powell slips in the back door for a review of America's war on
terror. These days, that meeting is followed by a daily session on the
Mideast crisis with the President and National Security Advisor
Condoleezza Rice.
THE PRESIDENT: I know that you're working hour by hour on the Middle
East. It's why your hair is white.
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there's another reason for that. It's called
getting old.
MR. PRESIDENT; That's right. You're doing a great job, and I think the
people appreciate the steady hand, America's steady hand, in the
process. There's a difference between showboating an issue and
actually bringing a sense of purpose and resolve, and that's what
you've done, and you're doing a great job.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Mr. President.
MR. PELLEY: The President and Powell are sharply aware of the
criticism that the administration isn't doing enough to break the
violence. Mr. Bush hasn't called either Israeli Prime Minister Sharon
or Palestinian leader Arafat in recent months, leaving those direct
talks to Powell instead.
Sir, the violence is getting worse, not better. Is the administration
going to intervene in the Middle East aggressively, and if so, how?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, let me say that the violence is getting worse,
and we are deeply troubled by it. And the administration has been
deeply involved from the very beginning. The very first day of this
administration we picked up the Middle East process, and we have been
trying to get the violence under control.
MR. PELLEY: In fact, it was in November that Mr. Bush became the first
President to call for creation of a Palestinian state, and since then
the White House has been prodding both sides toward a cease-fire. In
June, Powell met with the leaders to seal the deal.
SECRETARY POWELL: I went over, got Mr. Sharon to say, "I'm willing to
get going but I have to have seven days of quiet." We went to Chairman
Arafat. I looked at him across this table and said, "Mr. Chairman, do
your very best to give seven days of quiet so we can get going."
Chairman Arafat looked at me right across the table and said, "You're
a general, I'm a general. I salute you, I will obey." We still didn't
get seven days of quiet. And then --
MR. PELLEY: Did he lie to you?
SECRETARY POWELL: We didn't get seven days of quiet. I don't know
whether it was in his capacity or not, but he didn't do everything he
could have done to get that seven days of quiet. Time passed. We
remain engaged.
MR. PELLEY: Powell says he believed a breakthrough was near, until
hell broke loose on a holy day. (News report follows.) Powell told us
that the Bush peace plan can still work under the right conditions?
SECRETARY POWELL: You'll not solve this just with more visits; you'll
only solve it when we can get a handle on the violence.
MR. PELLEY: Don't you get a handle on the violence when the President
of the United States picks up the phone and talks to the antagonist?
Don't you get a handle on the violence when the Secretary of State
flies into the region and shows the flag?
SECRETARY POWELL: I have flown in the region, I have shown the flag.
The Vice President of the United States flew into the region two weeks
ago, showed the flag? So we have been engaged.
I am now reviewing what other actions I should take, and it's not out
of the question that I might go to the region. It depends. I'm willing
to go to the region, but I have to go to the region if I have a
purpose that I can serve and there is something concrete to be done. I
spend an enormous amount of time on the phone -- not the same as in
person, but I can assure you the conversations I have on a daily basis
with the leaders in the region are intense and fulsome, just as if we
were in the room together.
MR. PELLEY: The European Union said today that perhaps the United
States should step down as the chief peace negotiator, perhaps leave
it to the UN or the European countries. Is it simply time, Mr.
Secretary, for the United States to step back and let someone else
take the lead?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, absolutely not. One individual representing the
European Union made that statement. I don't think the European Union
was saying the United States should step down. They know that the
United States can't step down, and moreover we will not step down. We
are the leader in this endeavor. As difficult as it is, we are the
leader, and we will not shirk our leadership responsibility.
It is a difficult account, the most difficult account we deal with. My
predecessor, Secretary Albright, and President Clinton, they had the
same difficult account, and they engaged in it to the depth of their
soul. President Clinton gave this his all, as did Madeleine Albright.
President Clinton called me at 4 o'clock on the 19th of January, 2001,
just as he was getting ready to leave office, the evening of
Inauguration Eve, and shared with me what he had been doing and his
frustration with this account.
And that's not to say we have to do it entirely in a different way; it
just shows how difficult the account is. And an opportunity was lost,
as the Clinton administration left, that we're trying now to recreate.
But we can't recreate it in any way like the same manner until the
violence goes down.
MR. PELLEY: Powell said he talked to Arafat, who is now under Israeli
siege, but not since Monday. The administration is clearly losing
patience with Arafat, and outside the Oval Office this morning Powell
gave us what seemed to be a less than forceful commitment to Arafat's
SECRETARY POWELL: As you know, we are working very hard to try to
bring the situation under control. We think it would be best if no
harm comes to Chairman Arafat. I am pleased that Prime Minister Sharon
recognizes that as well.
MR. PELLEY: Mr. Secretary, the President said famously, after
September 11th, "You are either with us or you're with the
terrorists." Arafat doesn't seem to be siding with us. Why doesn't the
United States move against Arafat and the terrorists in the
Palestinian territories in the way that we moved against Mullah Omar
and the Taliban?
SECRETARY POWELL: We have moved against various organizations in the
Palestinian territories. As recently as a few days ago, I designated
another one of them as a terrorist organization. And that is well
known. So --
MR. PELLEY: But the point is Arafat, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POWELL: He has not performed in the way that we would like
to see him perform. But he still has authority. Whether we like it or
MR. PELLEY: Let's be frank, Mr. Secretary. You don't trust Arafat, the
President doesn't trust him. Do you think the Palestinians would be
better served without him?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, that is a question that I will let the
Palestinians deal with. The fact of the matter, he is there. And this
is not a matter of trust; I come from the old Ronald Reagan school,
you will remember from the old days. It's "verify." And what we're
looking for is verifiable action -- not promises, not statements, but
verifiable action on the ground.
MR. PELLEY: The Israeli crackdown is an obstacle to the White House
for yet another reason: it complicates the President's dream of
getting rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
How do you do that when every Arab nation is aligned against us with
regard to Israel and Palestine?
SECRETARY POWELL: What we have said to our Arab friends is you may not
see Saddam Hussein the same way we do, but you ought to, because those
weapons of mass destruction that he is developing -- chemical,
biological, nuclear -- they're more likely than not directed at one of
you than us?So there may be a little bit of patience with him on the
part of the Arab nations right now, but I'm quite sure that not one of
them would really wring their hands or cry too long if the regime was
MR. PELLEY: But doesn't our support for Israel, in the present
circumstances, make it virtually impossible to move against Iraq, with
no Arab support on our side?
SECRETARY POWELL: Nothing is impossible. We have enormous capabilities
available to us. But obviously I would not be forthcoming, I would not
be straight with you, if I said the situation in the Middle East
between the Israelis and the Palestinians does not affect our
situation throughout the region. We understand that.
But at the same time, we cannot let Saddam Hussein, or the authorities
in Tehran, in Iran -- or the authorities in Syria -- conduct terrorist
activities and support terrorist organizations, using the Middle East
conflict as an excuse for those terrorist organizations. To some
extent, their support for that kind of terrorist activity is fueling
the crisis in the Middle East.
MR. PELLEY: As for the number one terrorist organization on the White
House hit list, Powell says we are closing in one some al-Qaida
lieutenants, but not its leader.
Do you believe that Usama bin Laden is alive today?
SECRETARY POWELL: I have no idea. I don't know if he's alive or dead.
We haven't seen or heard much of him for some time now. And he used to
be, you know, a frequent appearer on television with videotape, and he
simply hasn't been seen or heard from recently.
MR. PELLEY: There's no intelligence suggesting that he's still alive?
SECRETARY POWELL: There's no intelligence suggesting he is alive or
MR. PELLEY: In the Mideast tonight, the Israeli invasion of
Palestinian territory is deepening. Powell says the Israelis have told
him the operation will go on for weeks. He is not expecting an opening
for peace while the Palestinians are under siege.
SECRETARY POWELL: Sharon came in because the Israeli people said, "We
tried for peace. We're not getting there. Now we have to have security
in our homes and places."
The Palestinian people need security. They need to be free from
humiliation at checkpoints. They need to be free to go to their jobs.
They need to be free to educate their children. They need to be free
to build their economy. They need to be free to pursue their own
destiny. And we are as committed to that, I am as committed to that,
as I am to the security of Israel. We have to do this for both people.
And that will be my goal, and that will be my objective.
(end transcript)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site:

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