Secretary of State Colin Powell says there has been "considerable progress" in the U.S.-led war against terrorism even though the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden remain unknown. In an interview with VOA timed to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Mr. Powell says he thinks U.S. actions, and events, since then have narrowed the gulf between the United States and the Islamic world.
Mr. Powell was the only senior Bush cabinet member out of the country when the terrorists struck. He was in Lima, Peru, holding talks with fellow ministers of the Organization of American States. He flew back to Washington with an OAS resolution of solidarity that became first element of an unprecedented international coalition against terror. In an interview in his State Department offices, Mr. Powell said the attacks on the United States provided a "wake-up call" about the menace of terrorism, and the entire world responded:
"You name an organization in the world, and it was part of that coalition within a few weeks' time," he said. "Whether it was the Organization of American States, NATO, the General Assembly of the U.N., the Security Council of the U.N., the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Organization of African Unity, they all came together. The Rio Treaty, the ANZUS treaty, because everybody saw the threat, and everybody wanted to respond to it. And this was enormously reassuring to me, to the president, to the American people, that everybody in the world understood the need for us to create such a coalition to go after this new enemy, this new enemy that was not only a threat to the United States but a threat to the civilized world."
Mr. Powell cautioned that no single military engagement can win the war against terrorism and that years of effort, much of it painstaking detective work, will be required. But he had an upbeat assessment of the past year's achievements in the first battleground of the war, Afghanistan, where he said al-Qaida has been uprooted and a democracy is taking hold:
"Afghanistan is no longer a place from which al-Qaida can operate," said Mr. Powell. "We broke them in Afghanistan. Yes, there are remnants running around. Osama bin laden: we don't know whether he is alive or dead or his whereabouts or if he is alive. But never-the-less Afghanistan is no longer a place in which they can operate. We are also in the process removed a regime that was harboring them, and refused to stop harboring them, the Taleban. And we have restored Afghanistan to a better form of government. We have given it a better form of government under President Karzai and with the loya jirga meeting and providing a democratic base for this new society. And we are involved with the entire international community in reconstructing that country."
Mr. Powell reiterated U.S. concern that some donor countries have been slow in making good on pledges of Afghan reconstruction aid made at last January's Tokyo conference, and said President Bush has written the governments in question to be more forthcoming.
Under questioning, the secretary also downplayed the notion that the 9-11 attacks had revealed an unbridgeable divide between the United States and the Islamic world and said he thinks headway has been made in increasing understanding in those countries for U.S. policy and motives.
Though acknowledging there had been scattered statements of praise for the suicide hijackings in the Arab world, he said it was "very noteworthy" that almost every Muslim government condemned the attacks and said they were not in keeping with the tenets of Islam. The secretary also insisted the United States does not see the war on terrorism as a religious conflict.
"We are striking back at criminals and terrorists who kill innocent people," said Mr. Powell. "We are not striking back at any religion. We are not striking back at any adherent of any religion. Islam is a faith of love, a faith of reconciliation, a faith of understanding. And this is consistent with the American value system. And we have tried to make the case that in the last 12 years, for example, we have gone to war in Kosovo, we have gone to war in Kuwait, we have gone to war in Afghanistan. In all three of those instances, we were going to help Muslims. And in all three of those instances, not for the purpose of subjugating them, but for the purpose of liberating them. For the purpose of freeing them. And so I think our record is clear."
The secretary of state defended the Bush administration's Middle East peace efforts. Mr. Powell pointed out it is obvious the Islamic world believes the United States should be doing more to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he said the administration is trying to do more.
"President Bush has called for establishment of a Palestinian state, called Palestine," he said. "In his speech of 24 June he laid out a plan that would lead to such a state within three years and perhaps an interim arrangement along the way toward that state. He also called for the end of the occupation by Israel. He called for the end of settlement activity. He called for reconstruction and humanitarian relief for the Palestinian people. But he also said at the same time that there's an obligation on the part of the Palestinian people to end the intifada to end the violence, to not support those who pursue terrorist activity. And if that happens, if we can bring the violence to an end, then all of these other things can be 'teed up' and put in place to create this Palestinian state."
Mr. Powell stressed the importance of working for a settlement through the so-called "Madrid Quartet" an informal grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. The group first convened last April in the Spanish capital as Mr. Powell sought international backing for a crisis mission to the Middle East.
It is due to meet again September 17 in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly where Mr. Powell will be joined by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller representing the EU, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.