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Full Text of VOA Interview with Colin Powell

GOLLUST: Mr. Secretary, 9/11 was a watershed event in history. It is being compared, for instance, understandably, to the attack on Pearl Harbor. How has it changed things for U.S. diplomacy and for you personally?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think the characterization of it as a watershed event is accurate, and one can compare it to Pearl Harbor. In Pearl Harbor, the United States was attacked by a foreign power. And on the 11th of September, we were attacked by a different kind of foreign power, a new kind of foreign power; not a state, but a terrorist organization, a non-state organization that has found harbors in many states, places to operate safely in many states around the world. We knew it was there, but we did not know how dangerous it was not only to the United States but to the 90 countries that lost people in the World Trade Center and how dangerous it was to our hopes and aspirations for a better world in the 21st century. And so it was a wakeup call to the United States and to the world that terrorism had to be fought and had to be defeated. For me personally, you can imagine what kind of a day it was, when I wasn't even in my own country when my country was being attacked. I was in Lima, Peru, and I spent a long, seven-hour flight getting back to the United States to help put together, under President Bush's leadership, a coalition, a coalition of nations that snapped together. I mean, you name an organization in the world and it was part of that coalition within a few weeks' time. 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 Islamic Conferences, 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. 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.

GOLLUST: Can you say at this point, or make a determination, a progress report on the war on terrorism, and if there could be one?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think we have had considerable progress. First, Afghanistan is no longer a place in which al-Qaida can operate. 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 if he is alive but, nevertheless, Afghanistan is no longer a place in which they can operate. We also, in the process, removed a regime that was harboring them and refused to stop harboring them, the Taliban. 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 international community in reconstructing that country and creating a better life for the people; and hundreds of thousands, who have been refugees, are returning to the country. That I think is a great success. An important achievement has been the fact that here it is now a year later and the coalition is still hard at work. It is not always a direct conflict against somebody like the Taliban; more often it's quiet, steady police work, intelligence exchange, tracking terrorist financing. And it has gone beyond al-Qaida to other terrorist organizations around the world. And we are showing success. Not a day goes by when you don't hear of another arrest of some individuals in a cell somewhere who were plotting and planning, and not just against the United States but against other nations. So I think the work will continue. And as President Bush said repeatedly, we have to be patient, we have to be dogged, we have to stick with it, and we realize it is not going to be won in a single battle. It is going to be a campaign that will take years. And he has committed the American people to that campaign for whatever amount of time it takes. And I believe the coalition has indicated, certainly in every way that is imaginable, that they are in it for the long run as well.

GOLLUST: 9/11, I think you would concede, laid bare a fault line between the United States and the Islamic world, grievances held in Muslim countries against U.S. policy. Do you think any headway has been made in the past year in narrowing this divide, or at least getting understanding in the Islamic world for what the United States is doing in the world?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I think we have made a great deal of progress. This is not to say that there are not issues that are controversial in the Islamic world with respect to some U.S. policies. Obviously the Islamic world believes we should be doing more, and we're trying to do more, with respect to the Middle East peace process. But with respect to the issue of terrorism, it was very noteworthy that almost every Islamic country condemned this kind of terrorist attack, made it clear that it was not keeping with the tenets of the faith of Islam. And even though there were some outrageous statements made early on about "the United States deserving it" and this was "just desserts" for our policies, I think that all faded as the American leadership, the American government, especially President Bush, took the case to the people of the world, and especially to the Muslim people of the world, that we are striking back at criminals and terrorists who kill innocent people, we are not striking back at any religion, we are not striking back at any adherent of any religion, that 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, and the President has spoken out on this regularly, as have we all, that this is not a conflict with Islam. And I think people are now starting to understand it is a conflict with criminals, it is a conflict with murderers, it is a conflict with those who do not believe in a civilized world.

GOLLUST: You mentioned the Arab-Israeli conflict. And certainly, again, the list of Islamic grievances against the United States has something to do with that. You have seen really perhaps the most violent year in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, late in the year, can you point to any signs of hope in that conflict?

SECRETARY POWELL: It has been a difficult year. The whole history of the region is replete with examples of difficult years and a number of wars. This is the second Intifada, and it has been a difficult year, but I see some reason for hope. President Bush laid down a framework that will allow us to move forward. President Bush has called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, by the name of Palestine. 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. We also said at the same time that there is an obligation on the part of the Palestinian people to end the Intifada, to end the violence, to not support those who pursue terrorist activities. 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. And that is why we are working hard on security arrangements to assist the Palestinian community in putting in place a security apparatus, working with the Israelis, that will bring an end to the violence. And that is why we are also working with a number of nations around the world in the context of the Madrid Quartet as we call it, or the Quartet as we now call it, the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation, and the United Nations, as members of the Quartet. And we are also working with task forces that take the Quartet but also add other countries, such as Japan and Norway, and the World Bank and the IMF, in order to help the Palestinian people with humanitarian aid, with economic reconstruction, with all that they need to be a successful state. So I think we are deeply engaged in this process, all for the purpose of creating two states living side by side, in peace and harmony with each other.

GOLLUST: I want to skip around a bit. Afghanistan, are you concerned that we might be seeing sort of a repeat of what happened in '89? I think the U.S. has been concerned about the degree to which some of the donor countries from Tokyo have anted so to speak. Do you see a danger of that?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. I think that the commitments were made in good faith. Each nation now has to go to its own parliament and legislature to find those funds. And we are working with each and every donor to get them to push the funds forward as fast as possible. There is also the challenge of growing the Afghan government as rapidly as possible so they can make effective use of these funds. So we are doing a number of things. We are helping the ministries of the Afghan government get up and running so that they can profitably use the money that is coming in, and we are encouraging donors to do more as fast as possible. President Bush recently wrote to all of them, asking for additional contributions. And I am in regular touch with all of the donor nations to encourage them to do as much as they can. We want to do big projects, such as road construction, but we also have to do small projects, such as the building of schools and homes, starting small businesses up. And so Afghanistan needs just about everything, and we are trying to do everything we can, but we are in for the long term. And I believe the international community is committed to it for the long term.

GOLLUST: Do you have any concerns about the political stability in Pakistan? President Musharraf took a big gamble and sided with the United States on the war on terrorism. Certainly there is terrorism that has cropped up there.

SECRETARY POWELL: President Musharraf did take a big gamble when we went to him last September and said "You really do have to make a choice." And he made the choice. He made the right choice to move against the Taliban, move against al-Qaida. And he also made a choice at that time and in the months that followed, when we had the crisis between Pakistan and India, to end cross-border terrorism across the Line of Control in Kashmir. So he has got a rather full plate: cutting support to the Taliban, doing something about cross-border infiltration across the Line of Control in Kashmir, and dealing with radical elements within Pakistan society, and at the same time putting Pakistan on the road to democracy once again. It's a very difficult balancing act, and he is making tough choices and judgments. There are some areas where we have expressed our concerns to him with respect to the democratization process. Some of the constitutional amendments that he has put in place by decree are causing us a little bit of concern and we are sharing those concerns with him. But my own view, having spent a lot of time with him and worked very closely with him, is that I believe he is committed to fully returning Pakistan to democracy. He is committed to ending cross-border terrorism. We don't have a complete success yet in any of these areas, but we hope that we can be helpful to President Musharraf as he moves down this path.

GOLLUST: Let me talk about Iran for just a second. They were helpful in moving relief aid into Afghanistan. They worked with a group of six countries around Afghanistan. Lately, though, we have heard, for instance, reports that they have sheltered al-Qaida members and may be perhaps continuing to do that. At a time when the United States says you're either with us or against us in the war on terrorism, where does that leave Iran?

SECRETARY POWELL: I was pleased at the role that Iran played in the Bonn conference that created the current Afghan administration and the role that Iran played in the donors conference in Tokyo. And they have allowed some humanitarian aid to flow. But it is a mixed picture because, at the same time, we do have evidence that al-Qaida is finding some sanctuary in Iran. And there is a debate going on in Iran. It's a very fascinating debate to watch between moderate elements of Iranian leadership and more radical elements of Iranian leadership. Do you support terrorism or don't you support terrorism? Should you pursue weapons of mass destruction or not? Should you harbor terrorists or not? And what we have said to Iran is that the opportunity for a better relationship with the United States rests on your foreswearing support of terrorist activity - and that has to include al-Qaida, of course - and your moving away from weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And so Iran has to make a choice: If it wishes to be a part of the world that's moving forward in the 21st century, it has to start acting in a more responsible way. And I think there is a debate taking place, a very active debate taking place, within Iran now as to what direction that society will move in the years ahead.

GOLLUST: Mr. Secretary, thanks for sharing time with us.

SECRETARY POWELL: You're very welcome.

GOLLUST: Can I shift a gear, though, to Africa for just a minute?


GOLLUST: Obviously you're going to Johannesburg. This is sort of a perennial question already. The president is not going to be there. Is this some kind of, again, manifestation of an administration that goes it alone?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, not at all. The President has done a lot with respect to our Africa agenda since he came into office. He is for expanded African Growth and Opportunity Act legislation. He will be going to Africa early in the new year. He launched the initiative for a global health fund with respect to HIV, AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. He has made a commitment with respect to provision of additional funds for anti-retroviral drugs to stop mother-to-child transmission. And if one looks at what he has done with what we call the Millennium Challenge Fund, this represents a 50 percent increase in the kind of assistance that the United States will be giving to those nations in greatest need, as long as those nations commit themselves to good governance, ending corruption and the rule of law. These are the acts of a president who is committed. These are the acts of a president who wants to help Africa and other areas of the world where there are people in need. As you have seen from the work of the summit in Johannesburg, we have created partnerships and we have made a commitment with respect to the Congo Basin Initiative, the preservation of forests, with respect to how to get clean water to people, more clean water. And so the United States is committed, President Bush is committed, and you will see that commitment when he does visit Africa in early 2003.

GOLLUST: And why Angola?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm going to Angola because, one, I've never been there before; and, two, it is a country that is going through a very fundamental change right now. The conflict has finally come to an end. Disarmament is under way. The United States is part of the joint commission that is helping them to reintegrate the forces of UNITA into the society and for reconciliation among the warring parties. And so, being in that part of Southern Africa, it seemed an appropriate thing for me to do to go and visit with President Dos Santos, visit with the other members of the Joint Commission, and to lend my support to this reconciliation effort, and to get a better sense of what Angola now needs to rebuild its society and hopefully find a way forward that can take advantage of the riches available to it in the form of petroleum reserves and now use those riches to benefit all the people of Angola as they reconstruct their nation and their society.

GOLLUST: And Gabon, one last [question]?

SECRETARY POWELL: Gabon is another place that we are interested in. It is a country going through transition as its oil reserves now start to drop and they have to make their economy much more diversified. And it is also an opportunity to see what they are doing with respect to preserving part of their national treasure, their forests. The United States is working with them on this initiative to preserve their forests, and this was an opportunity to meet environmentalists and others concerned about the preservation of forests and jungles and that kind of natural resource. And I wanted to make sure that everybody understood that this is something that the United States is very interested in and committed to. (End of interview)