Transcript: Interview with Colin Powell

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This partial transcript of Fox News Sunday, November 18, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

Secretary Powell, let's respond to the latest news.  The Northern Alliance, I gather, actually has now agreed to hold meetings outside of Afghanistan to try to form a new government.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Yes, Jim Dobbins, the United States ambassador to the Northern Alliance, who has been over there for the last several days, met with the foreign minister of the Northern Alliance in Tashkent.

And as a result of that meeting, the Northern Alliance has agreed that they would send representatives to a meeting chaired by the Mr. Brahimi, who is Secretary General Kofi Annan's representative for this matter.

Now, where that meeting will be held is yet to be decided, but I'm very pleased that the Northern Alliance has now shown a willingness to participate in that meeting.

SNOW:  Any timetable on a meeting?

POWELL:  As soon as possible, I'm quite sure is what Mr. Brahimi is hoping for, but I cannot give you a specific timetable.  But I would hope it would be within days, not within weeks.  We've got to get this moving.

And the purpose of the meeting would be to bring together a number of leaders representing different parts of Afghanistan, different ethnicities, different tribes, and see if we can get an interim government in place and then stand up a broader government over time.

SNOW:  The Northern Alliance covers a lot of the northern tribes -- Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazara -- but obviously the Pashtun in the south may be the most important element to get in there.  Do you have agreement now that there's going to be Pashtun cooperation?

POWELL:  Yes.  Mr. Brahimi has agreement that there will be Pashtun representatives at this meeting.  The hold-up had been the Northern Alliance, and with this announcement today, we should be able to move forward quickly.

SNOW:  There's been a lot of talk of the former king, the Zahir Shah, heading up some sort of caretaker government.  Is that still on the table?

POWELL:  I think the king plays an important role, a symbolic role.  I don't want to prejudge what the discussions might lead to, but it seems to me that his role would continue to be symbolic as opposed to being the executive or the chief executive of the new government.

SNOW:  Now, there's been some skepticism in the past about the Northern Alliance.  One of the reasons that we feared their setting up a government is they didn't have a whole lot of success the first time around.  How are they behaving right now?

POWELL:  Quite well.  They have kept the bulk of their forces outside of Kabul, which is what we hoped they would do and asked them to do.

They did send security forces into the city, and as a result of that, the city has been relatively calm compared to what happened last time they were in Kabul and compared to what we thought might happen.  So things are going rather well right now.

Mr. Rabbani went back into Kabul, but he made it clear that he was still supporting a broad-based government to be formed.  He represents a minority of the Afghan people, and he understands that. And for us not to go back to the kind of Afghanistan we've seen in the past, we need this broad-based coalition, and I'm pleased that he understands that and wants to participate in the creation of this coalition.

SNOW:  Is it your sense now that the Taliban, the Afghan elements in the Taliban, have for the most part fled, and what remains are Arab fighters who are not themselves Afghan citizens?

POWELL:  Yes.  Arab fighters are the toughest, but there are still Taliban elements that are fighting in Konduz, up in the north, as your reporter noted, as well as in Kandahar in the south.

So this war is not over.  It'll continue for a while, until the Taliban power is totally cracked and other tribes in the south start to reassert control.

Let's also keep in mind that our political objective was to get al Qaeda, that terrorist network, and to get Osama bin Laden.  So the United States' political objective and military objective will not be satisfied until we have done that in Afghanistan.

And the broader strategic objective that President Bush had was to go after al Qaeda in all of the 50 countries it's located in around the world, each one of them capable of designing and executing a terrorist attack, and also to go after terrorism in general.

So let's not see this as all suddenly coming to an end.  A long- term campaign against terrorism that will take years, and we'll stick with it.

SNOW:  Are we closing in on bin Laden?

POWELL:  Well, a lot of reports suggest that his freedom to maneuver has become quite limited.  And I don't think there's any country in the region that would be anxious to give him guest privileges if he showed up.

SNOW:  Do you think he's still in Afghanistan?

POWELL:  I think he's still in Afghanistan simply because I have seen no intelligence or information to suggest he has left Afghanistan, and I don't know of any country in the region that would be very anxious to see him arrive.

So I think he's still in Afghanistan, and it's getting harder for him to hide, as more and more territory is removed from Taliban control.

SNOW:  There's also word that al Qaeda fighters are actually turning on Taliban fighters.  Is there some prospect that maybe some Taliban fighters may ultimately be the ones who point the finger at where bin Laden is?

POWELL:  It could well be.  There's quite a reward out there. And, as they start to realize that there is no future hanging around with either the al Qaeda organization or, for that matter, with the Taliban regime, it wouldn't surprise me to see some people start to make more informed choices about where their best interests lie.

SNOW:  Allied forces came across a safehouse recently.  It had a lot of evidence that there were some attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction.  What do we think bin Laden has?

POWELL:  I don't think he has a nuclear weapon.  I think that's quite unlikely.  And the material that we've seen in these safehouses certainly suggests that he was interested in one and they were moving in that direction, but it doesn't seem to me that we've seen anything that would suggest he had one or was close to having one.

SNOW:  Do we think he has radioactive material?

POWELL:  I can't confirm that.  I don't know.  We are always interested in fissile material that might be loose or has gotten away from those nations that have such material.  But I can't confirm that he ever got his hands on any.

SNOW:  All right.  So, we should or should not worry about a dirty nuke?

POWELL:  You should always worry about someone who is trying to develop a nuclear device or dirty material to spread around or chemical or biological weapons.  But at the moment I don't think that Mr. bin Laden had reached that level of capability, with respect to nukes anyway.

SNOW:  Let us suppose Osama bin Laden somehow got out of Afghanistan, either into Pakistan or a neighboring country.  Have we worked out arrangements with those governments that our forces could pursue him across borders?

POWELL:  With the countries that you have identified, I'm quite confident that they would be more than anxious to detain him.  If it's an element or a situation of hot pursuit, I'm sure we would coordinate with them if we were hot on his trail.

But they have been very cooperative, and he is not going to find a safe haven in Pakistan or Uzbekistan or Tajikistan or Turkmenistan or Iran...

SNOW:  China?

POWELL:  I don't even think in China.  I mean, I don't think this fellow is going to be welcome to anywhere.  He is an outcast.  He is a murderer, he's a terrorist.  The whole world recognizes that.  And he is on the run, just as the president said he would be.  And we will get him.

SNOW:  A story in today's Washington Post says that the central command, headed by General Tommy Franks, has to sign off on specific kinds of operations against the Taliban fighters and al Qaeda fighters, and, as a consequence, on a number of occasions, the permission has returned to the region so late that they were not able to strike those targets.  Is that how it ought to work?

POWELL:  I can't talk to those stories because, although I used to be in that system, I'm not in the targeting system now.

But based on my experience, there was always creative discussion between the targeteers and the lawyers and others when you go after targets.  We are a nation of law.  And we are also a nation that wants to minimize civilian casualties.  So you always have these kinds of discussions.

But I'm quite confident that General Tommy Franks, a terrific commander who's done a great job, is able to resolve these matters in a way that is appropriate.  And I'm also quite sure that Secretary Rumsfeld and his associates have been in a position to make determinations as well.

So I read the story, but I can't say much more about it except, these things -- these things go on.  And you have a method to resolve any difficulties or differences with the commander, General Franks, who we have great confidence in, and Secretary Rumsfeld, who has great experience in these kinds of matters.

SNOW:  Has General Franks gotten a bad rap?

POWELL:  Yes.  I mean, two weeks ago everybody was beating up on Tommy.  He's a great commander.  But he didn't -- he didn't satisfy people two weeks ago.  Now everything's falling in place.  Such is the nature of celebrity life in Washington and in the United States.

SNOW:  Well, you're a celebrity.  Tomorrow you're going to head to the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville and deliver a speech on the Middle East.

POWELL:  Right.

SNOW:  The administration's position is, we would like to see a Palestinian state next to a safe and secure Israeli state.  We don't have that right now.  What does Yasser Arafat need to do?

POWELL:  He needs to get the violence down.  He needs to make 100 percent effort to end all the violence.  And we need to see results that reflect that 100 percent effort.

And in my speech tomorrow, I will lay out the vision that we have for the region, a vision of hope and promise.  I will lay out what the United States is prepared to do to push this process forward.  Both sides have to do certain things.  And I hope it will be just a comprehensive statement.

I'm not introducing a new plan.  People keep asking for a new plan.  We have a plan.  It's a solid plan.  It's called the Mitchell committee report.  It leads to the kinds of negotiations that are required to settle these issues.  But the only way you get to those negotiations is to enter the front door of the Mitchell Plan by getting the violence down.  And until that happens, we're not going to go anywhere.

And a new plan coming in from the flank isn't what's going to do it.  It's both sides working together, finding ways to talk to each other, so that we can get a real cease-fire in place.  And we can use that cease-fire to start rebuilding trust and confidence, get openings in the region so people can go back and forth and get to their jobs. And when you start to build that level of trust, then you're on your way to the negotiations called for in the Mitchell Plan.

SNOW:  It's our position that Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and a number of other organizations are terrorist outfits.

POWELL:  We have so identified them.

SNOW:  Yasser Arafat has talked about forming a coalition government with them.  Should it be incumbent on him to go back on that proposal and say no, no, no and make them outcasts also in his midst?

POWELL:  Well, we think that these organizations are -- have been so identified, as you described them.  And we deal with the Palestinian Authority.  And any coalition that brings into that coalition the sorts of organizations that practice those kinds activities, we would have to take a, you know, a dim view of that.

SNOW:  The State Department also has taken a pretty dim view of their operations, those organizations in Syria.  Is Syria a potential target in the future if it does not go ahead and try to go after at least a dozen identified terrorist groups that are operating freely out of Damascus?

POWELL:  I met with the Syrian foreign minister last week in New York at the United Nations General Assembly.  And we had a very straightforward, you know, three-feet-apart eyeball-to-eyeball talk. And I said terrorism is terrorism.  And terrorism masquerading as freedom fighters who go out and kill innocent people are not freedom fighters, they're terrorists.

And in order for us to move forward in our relationship, the United States and Syria, and to get the past behind us to see if that's what you want to do, you have to recognize that we will not ignore this kind of activity that is sponsored or supported by Syria or finds a safe haven in Syria.

So we've had some rather direct conversations with the Syrians. They have -- they have said and done some things and have cooperated with us recently that suggest that they're looking for a better relationship with the United States, and maybe there are opportunities here that we can now explore.

SNOW:  You also have shaken hands with Iran's foreign minister. The Iranian people like us; the government does not.  Do you think that government is going to fall sometime?

POWELL:  I have no way of knowing.  And the government really has two parts to it, really.

SNOW:  An elected part and a...

POWELL:  You have the religious leader, Mr. Khomeini, and then Mr. Khatami, the president.  And clearly there's tension between those two elements of the Iranian political leadership.

And you can just see the Iranian people bubbling, wanting more freedom, wanting more access to what the 21st-century world offers to people who are ready to come out and play in the 21st-century world. And so hopefully, we can explore new opportunities with the Iranians as well.

But we have no illusions about the nature of that regime.  It has not meant us well.  And it is developing weapons of mass destruction that causes a great deal of concern.

And the Iranian foreign minister and I were together last week at a meeting on Afghanistan.  And it was the same morning that we lost the airplane, the American Airlines airliner, coming out of Kennedy. And he gave a very gracious statement of condolences to the American people and to those who lost their lives.  I thanked him and shook his hand to express my appreciation for his message of condolence.

SNOW:  The Russians just sold nuclear plant technology to the Iranians.  I think that probably violates the Iran Nonproliferation Act.  That law calls for the United States to impose sanctions on companies that do the sales.  Are we going to do that?

POWELL:  We are in constant discussions with the Russians with respect to their cooperation with the Iranians and their sale of power plant components to the Iranians and other things they sell to the Iranians.

We have had rather tense discussions with the Russians, and we made it clear to them that anything that leads to the ability of the Iranians to develop any weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them, the United States will find it as very, very troubling, and it will affect our relationship. The Russians have responded that they understand that and they are not making those kinds of sales.

So, we are still in discussions with the Russians on this one. There is nothing to be invoked at the moment.  But it has been a consistent element in our discussions.

SNOW:  OK.  A couple of very quick questions.  One, are we about to give the Russians a six-month notification on the ABM Treaty?

POWELL:  We will continue having discussions with the Russians with respect to the ABM Treaty and missile defense.  What they know is that the president is totally committed to developing a limited missile defense system that does not threaten Russian strategic offensive weapons.  And we will continue to discuss that.

But they know that, sooner or later, the testing that we have to do will run into the constraints of the ABM Treaty and when that happens we have got to get out of the constraints of the ABM Treaty.

SNOW:  Within the next year?

POWELL:  The good news -- I don't want to give a specific time, I'll leave that with Mr. Rumsfeld.

The good news out of the meetings last week was that the president gave to the Russians a new strategic offensive number that will reduce our strategic offensive weapons by two-thirds over the level we now have, and about 40 percent below what the Start II Treaty called for.

And we expect the Russians in the very near future to respond to that with a number that is in that same range of 1,700 to 2,200 or something around that range.

And so the good news is that these two nations who used to keep 10,000, 15,000 weapons, strategic weapons, pointed at each other, have now got it down to somewhere under 2,000, with an opportunity to build transparency, build confidence-building measures as to where those weapons are, what they might be available for.

And this shows the strength of the new relationship that is developing between the United States and Russia.

SNOW:  Let me try to get a yes or no out of you on this one. There's a report that the Taliban in Konduz may be ready to surrender. Should we accept that?

POWELL:  I can't confirm that.  If they're ready to surrender, then one has to let somebody surrender who intends to surrender.

SNOW:  OK.  I think I understand that.


SNOW:  Secretary of State Colin Powell, thank you.

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