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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

08 February 2004

Powell Says Decision to Take Military Action in Iraq Justified

Intelligence capability needs improvement, secretary says

The information on which President Bush made his decision to take military action in Iraq was based on "the best analysis possible," according to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The secretary, speaking on the "Sean Hannity Show" February 6, said that the president's decision was apolitical and that the president "was right to act on that [available intelligence]."

Powell said the United States was "absolutely sure we've got a guy in Saddam Hussein who had the intention to have these weapons, to develop these weapons, to develop even deadlier weapons, and he had the capability to do it."

The secretary noted that this same intelligence information also was made available to members of Congress in the fall of 2002.

Summarizing the current controversy regarding pre-war intelligence as "whether or not we're going to find stockpiles [of weapons of mass destruction]," Powell urged that this debate not "take away from the rightness, the correctness, of the President's decision."

In response to a question regarding the likelihood that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have been securely hidden within Iraq or sent to another country, the secretary said such options could not be ruled out. "That's why it's important not to politicize this thing now, but to continue the work of the inspection group and get to the bottom of this," he said.

Powell also responded to a question on whether other countries, specifically Iran and North Korea, posed an imminent threat. The secretary said that both countries' clear intent to develop weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, made them ongoing areas of concern.

"The Iranians have been somewhat forthcoming in recent months," Powell said, but "we're still watching them very, very closely."

Regarding North Korea, the secretary said that the president has enlisted North Korea's neighbors to help ensure that country permanently and verifiably abandons its nuclear weapons program. The next round of six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States is scheduled to begin February 25, Powell said.

The secretary acknowledged that additional work is needed to improve U.S. intelligence capabilities, although he declined to offer any estimate on how long that process would take. Powell expressed strong support of such improvements.

"[M]y view is whatever it take to get our intelligence capability up to the level that the boss, George Tenet, and the other experts say we need, then we've got to do it, and we've got to invest in it," the secretary said.

Following is the State Department transcript of the interview:

(begin transcript)

Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release
February 6, 2004

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
On The Sean Hannity Show

February 6, 2004
Washington, D.C.

(5:05 p.m. EST)

MR. HANNITY: The President basically defending the decision that it was an act of justice to go into Iraq. Let's talk about the -- have we politicized this whole issue as of this point?

SECRETARY POWELL: Let me tell you something. I think what you're asking about is this whole debate this week about weapons of mass destruction, Sean, and let me tell you, Director Tenet gave a good speech about the subject yesterday. The information that he made available in the fall of 2002 in his Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was the same information I used when I presented to the U.N. a year ago, and it was the basis upon which the President made his decision, it was the best analysis possible, there was no politicization of it, nobody told the CIA what to say or do, and the President was right to act on that with the recommendation to act of all of his advisors.

MR. HANNITY: One of the things, Mr. Secretary, I've pointed out many times on this program, I've gone back and I've quoted many of these Democrats that are now critical of the President, and they had all used similar, if not identical, language that you have used and the President used in terms of how we were compelled to act against Saddam Hussein.

SECRETARY POWELL: Sean, you can go back through the last six or seven or eight years, and you will find quote after quote.

The other thing you'll find is that the same intelligence information that the President received was made available to members of Congress when they were getting ready to vote on a resolution to support the President's actions in the fall of 2002. And so if they were questioning that information, that was the time to do it.

But it was a good case, it made sense, and we're absolutely sure we got a guy in Saddam Hussein who had the intention to have these weapons, to develop these weapons, to develop even deadlier weapons, and he had the capability to do it.

What the whole debate has been about for the last week or two is whether or not we're going to find stockpiles or not. Well, let's finish the work. Let's let Charlie Duelfer, the new head of the team, go out there and finish the work. But let's not allow this debate to take away from the rightness, the correctness, of the President's decision.

Even Dr. Kay, the former guy in charge of our Iraq Support Group effort, and who believes there are no weapons, makes this point. He says nevertheless all of the other evidence pointed to a despotic dictator who [inaudible] such weapons, and that the President was absolutely right in taking him out. He was in violation. The guy was in violation of U.N. resolutions.

MR. HANNITY: Yeah. Isn't this -- it's got to be frustrating to you, seeing how this has been politicized to the extent that it has, I would think.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, it does get on your nerves when you see people trying to use this for straightforward political purposes. But, you know, that's the nature of this town in an election season. But the President was absolutely right in what he did. And we were all standing behind him on this one. And I think the American people understand that we're better off. Saddam Hussein is gone, and no political attack can remove that sentence from the vocabulary. He is gone.

MR. HANNITY: Isn't it also more likely, considering we had such a long buildup -- and by the way, Secretary Powell is on our Newsmaker Line -- isn't it more likely that the weapons were either securely hidden in that country or that the weapons were sent to a country like Syria? That's the more likely scenario, is it not?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, you can't rule out any options. Those two are certainly options that have to be examined. Maybe they destroyed them before we got there. And as Director Tenet acknowledged yesterday, maybe we weren't absolutely right in some of the data that we had. That's why it's important not to politicize this thing now, but to continue the work of the inspection group and get to the bottom of this.

MR. HANNITY: Yeah. What would this battle have been like -- let me ask you a question this way, and I don't want to drag you into political questions because I don't think you want to go there anyway. But if we didn't have the B-1 bomber, the cruise missile, the MX missile, the Trident submarine, the Patriot air defense missile, the F-15 or -16 fighter plane, the Stealth bomber, the Pershing-II missiles, what would our military be like today?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, without all of those, we wouldn't be a modern 21st century military with capabilities to respond to any situation anywhere in the world, and to defend the United States against any attack. These are important systems. They are the most technically advanced in the world. They are expensive, but what you buy for that money is the security of the country.

MR. HANNITY: Well, John Kerry voted for the cancellation, or called for the cancellation, of all of those weapons systems. And, of course, he was a big nuclear freeze supporter and even pushed forward a bill to provide a verifiable freeze for the United States and the Soviet Union.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, those weapons -- and I can speak now as a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- certainly, certainly paid off and did what they were advertised to be able to do.

MR. HANNITY: Yeah. You've spent a big part of your career serving your country admirably, and we are indebted to you in many ways, in the military. And an issue also came up this week when Terry McAuliffe said he looks forward to a debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL. Just to update you -- you've been in the air and you've been out -- the Guard Commander has recanted that story to begin with, but that's an aside.

When you hear that kind of rhetoric about our Commander-in-Chief and these types of allegations that are unsubstantiated, how does that make you feel?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's very disturbing, and I wish this kind of attack wouldn't take place. Both men served, they served honorably, they got honorable discharges. They both stood up when their country needed them. Let's get on to the issues of the day and not reach back for these kinds of scurrilous attacks, especially against a Commander-in-Chief who is fighting wars right now in active theaters in Afghanistan and in Iraq and on the global war against terrorism.

MR. HANNITY: There was a story that came out this week about this gentleman -- I believe he's from Pakistan -- that disclosed he had traded nuclear know-how with countries like North Korea, Iran, Libya, in exchange for money and missile technology.


MR. HANNITY: Mr. Khan. That's correct.

SECRETARY POWELL: Mm-hmm. He is a Pakistani, and we've known of his activities for quite some time and we conveyed to the Pakistani Government our concern. And when we started to "roll" some of these countries, if I can use that term -- the Libyans giving up their weapons systems - more evidence came forward as to Mr. Khan's activities.

And I'm glad that President Musharraf, the President of Pakistan, has now taken action to relieve him of his responsibilities, to get all the information he can from him about his activities. And he has also granted him amnesty. He is considered something of a national hero in Pakistan. But he will no longer be in the business of proliferating this kind of technology.

MR. HANNITY: Secretary of State Colin Powell with us.

You know, when the President gave his "axis of evil" speech, he talked about Iraq, but he also mentioned Iran and North Korea. You're dealing with these situations every single day. Do we have anything to fear in terms of an imminent threat from either one of those countries?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I wouldn't use the word "imminent," but both Iran and Iraq have made it clear over the years that they were pursuing weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons.

Iraq, of course, has been dealt with. We don't have to worry about them anymore.

The Iranians have been somewhat forthcoming in recent months in letting the IAEA know what they are doing and in their agreements with some of our European foreign ministers to tell more about their programs. But we're still watching them very, very closely. There's more they have to do.

The North Koreans -- as you know, the President has enlisted all of North Korea's neighbors to work with us to bring that program under control, to make sure that North Korea permanently, and in a verifiable manner, gets rid of its nuclear weapons program. And we'll be having meetings with the North Koreans and our other partners, the so-called six-party format, on the 25th of February.

MR. HANNITY: George Tenet mentioned earlier this week that we were about five years away from getting our intelligence capabilities up to the level that we need. Is that about your estimation?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, George is the expert on this. I don't know that would have an estimate of my own. But my view is whatever it takes to get our intelligence capability up to the level that the boss, George Tenet, and the other experts say we need, then we've got to do it, and we've got to invest in it.

MR. HANNITY: All right, our good friend, Secretary of State Colin Powell. I know you're very busy, and we always appreciate you taking time to be with us. And we are also appreciative of all the hard work you do on behalf of our security, and we mean that sincerely. Thank you for being with us.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thanks, Sean. Look forward to the next time. Bye.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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