WASHINGTON – Linked by satellite, young people around the world got personal Thursday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking him pointed questions about condoms and why he once said, "I ain't that black."
Powell noted his relatively light complexion, but said he's black enough to have been thrown out of whites-only establishments while growing up in America, precivil rights.
"I consider myself an African-American, a black man," Powell said during a teleconference put on by MTV, the music network. "As I go about my job, what I say to people is, `I'm the American secretary of state.' I don't say `I'm the black secretary of state,' because it implies, `Gee, is there a white one somewhere?"'
Race was one of the easier questions Powell fielded from 260 young people seated in studios in Washington; London; Moscow; Cairo, Egypt; New Delhi, India; Milan, Italy; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Tougher ones were about AIDS, Iraq, the Middle East and the war on terror.
Ida Norheim-Hagtun, a 19-year-old Norwegian who was in the London studio, minced no words in asking Powell: "How do you feel about representing a country commonly perceived as the Satan of contemporary politics?"
"Seen as what?" Powell asked. "Satan? Oh."
Taken aback, he gathered his wits and fired back: "Far from being the Great Satan, I would say we are the Great Protector."
During a commercial break, Powell quipped: "This is like being in a congressional hearing," according to Irene Schwoeffermann, 20, a member of the audience in Washington.
During another break he told a story of how former President Bush, while trying to light a fire at the White House, created a smoke-filled room.
For his MTV appearance, Powell wore a dark suit and tie with an American flag pin on his lapel. The young people were in T-shirts, tank tops, jeans and khakis.
Despite the clothes clash, Powell was presented in an MTV video introduction as an alliance-builder with a foreign-policy outlook presumably close to that of many young people.
Poised for another question about diplomacy, he was hit by one instead about condoms, from Daniela Satori, 19, a Roman Catholic in Milan. He grinned widely before answering.
"I certainly respect the views of the Holy Father and the Catholic Church," Powell said. "In my own judgment, condoms are a way to prevent infection, and therefore, I not only support their use, I encourage their use among people who are sexually active."
That brought an objection later from Gary Bauer, president of the conservative group American Values. "He should stick to diplomacy, since he's not the administration's top health official," Bauer said, calling condoms "bad medicine" for youth.
On other subjects, Powell:
— Said Usama bin Laden "took credit, with pride, for killing almost 3,000 innocent people who were going about their daily lives, innocent people from 80 different countries. ... If he is not the person responsible, then why doesn't he step forward, if he's alive, and defend his innocence?"
— Agreed AIDS drugs should be made cheaper for HIV patients in poorer countries but said drug companies cannot go uncompensated for the money they put into research. "There has to be some return on the investment that drug companies make," he said.