Text Of Powell Interview

Scott Pelley Interviews Secretary of State

The following is a transcript of correspondent Scott Pelley's interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell:


Scott Pelley: Sir, the violence is getting worse, not better. Is the administration going to intervene in the Middle East aggressively? And if so, how?

Colin Powell: Well, let me say that the violence is getting worse. And we're deeply troubled by it. And the administration has been deeply involved from the very beginning. The very first day of this administration, we picked up the Middle East process. And we were trying to get the violence under control.

In this current situation, we have been supporting the efforts of the United Nations, the E.U., and others, to try to get the violence down. We've been appealing to (PLO) Chairman (Yasser) Arafat and other Palestinian leaders to do everything they can to end the suicide bombings that are a cause of violence.

And we have been also saying to (Israeli)Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon that, while we recognize he has an inherent right for self defense, it has to be done within limits, and there-- there should be some time dimension to how long he continues this operation. Because with this exchange of fire going back and forth, the suicide bombers, and Israeli self-defense actions, the one thing I'm absolutely sure of is that, sooner or later, there will have to be a political process.

Neither side is going to be able to decisively defeat the other. It's going to take a negotiation, a political process, to get out of this violence. And so I'm encouraging both sides to understand that. And I'm keeping in play Gen. (Anthony) Zinni and the other senior officials in the United States government, and our friends in the region, and our friends around the world, to be ready to engage politically as soon as it's possible to do so.

Pelley: But Mr. Secretary, you know what the criticism of this administration is, that it hasn't been engaged in the way other administrations have been. The president hasn't called Sharon personally. He hasn't called Mr. Arafat personally. And you've been on the phone instead of on a plane.

Powell: I've been on a plane a couple of times in the region. I've been on the phone a lot. But to say we are not engaged is simply not reading the history of the last 14 months very well.

As soon as we came into office, I asked Sen. George Mitchell to continue the mission he had been performing, to come up with a plan to move forward. He was about ready to leave that mission behind. But I persuaded new Prime Minister Sharon, who came in on a platform of security for the Israeli people, so that they weren't subjected to this kind of violence, to stay with the Mitchell process.

Mr. Mitchell – Sen. Mitchell - came forward with a plan - an excellent plan - that described how both sides could go forward. One, stop telling each other, "End the violence." Two, maybe alittle confidence between the two side [sic]. And three, immediately get into a negotiation, a political process.

And all of that was connected. It all is one- one- one tapestry. And the only thing that will really end it is the negotiations leading to a process. We presented that. Both sides signed up for it. We didn't get it going right away. So we sent Gen. - we sent-- Director (George) Tenet over, of the CIA.

He came up with what is known as The Tenet Work Plan, a series of concrete steps each side can take to get into a cease fire situation to start Mitchell. We weren't able to see success in that endeavor.

I went over, got Mr.Sharon to say, "I'm willing to get going, but I have to have seven days of quiet." We went to Chairman Arafat. I looked at him across his table. Said, "Mr. Chairman, do your very best to give seven days of quiet so we can get going." Chairman Arafat looked at me right across the table, said, "You're a general. I'm a general. I salute you. I will obey." We still didn't get seven days of quiet.

Pelley: Did he lie to you?

Powell: Then. We didn't get seven days of quiet. I don't know whether it was in his capacity or not, but he didn't do everything he could have done to get that seven days of quiet. Time passed. We remained engaged.

For the President of the United States to show that we were committed to the aspirations of the Palestinian people, (we) kept engaged. And he went to the United Nations. And at the United Nations General Assembly, he called for the establishment of the Palestinian state called Palestine, the first American President to do that.

I followed up with a comprehensive speech (UNINTEL) which laid it all down. I had satisfactory response from both sides. I sent Gen. Zinni over with the agreement of both sides for high level discussions to get security going, and then security immediately into the Mitchell political process. Gen. Zinni's efforts were greeted by suicide bombs. Came back for consultation, sent him back in. Effort was greeted again by violence.

It's very hard to ask the Israeli people to enter into this kind of serious negotiation if they see their innocent citizens being lost. The worst part about this, Scott, it's not just innocent Israeli civilians that are being killed. It's the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

These are young Palestinians that are giving their life to something they believe deeply in. But at the same time, this kind of action does not achieve, that vision does not achieve, that dream. Rather than martyrs, they're sacrificing themself [sic] for no purpose, and in fact, are seen as, almost as murderers. So this has to stop.

We were committed to it. And then we sent Gen. Zinni back in once more, ready to work. And a lot of things started to come together. And last week, I was deeply encouraged at the progress we were making.

Gen. Zinni was in the region. He was having good meetings. The Israeli side had signed up to his plan to get the Tenet Work Plan started. There was a successful Arab summit. We had a new U.N. resolution, 1397, that called for a Palestinian state.

Everybody was ready to put these pieces together. What did we have? We had the Passover massacre, a bomb that killed 22 then. Now it's - the number's risen to 25 people. And at that point, Prime Minister Sharon said, "I've got to provide security for my people," and launched the military incursions.

It's understandable. And I see what he is doing. But I had serious conversations with him that say, "What will happen when this is over? We'll have to get back to some process that gets us into political discussion." But one more point.

Because-- we have to realize that-- while Israel has the right to self defense-- Palestinians have a right to the homeland that they have been searching for all these years. And the United States is committed to the security of Israel, but also committed to the needs the Palestinian people have to live in peace and security in their own state, side by side with Israel.

So it is not that we are just favoring Israel. I want both sides to live side-by-side in peace. And I'm working with both sides to that end.

Pelley: They've a right to a Palestinian state?

Powell: I think they have a right to a Palestinian state. But even more important than that, we have said - all of us - we have said it. Israel has said it, the U.N. has said it, President of the United States has said it, that we have an obligation to move in a direction that provides the Palestinian people a state that is not at the expense of Israel. Two states living side by side in peace.

And that is a vision that is achievable if we can get the violence down. And to say that, "Well, we need a new political dimension to it, or we need more-- secretaries of state and others in the region," is an interesting point. But you'll not solve this just with more visits. You'll only solve it when we get a handle on the violence. That's what Prime Minister Sharon was elected for by the Israeli people.

Pelley: Don't you get a handle on the violence when the President of the United States picks up the phone and talks to the antagonists? Don't you get a handle on the violence when the Secretary of State flies into the region and shows the flag?


Powell: I have flown in the region. I have shown the flag. The vice president of the United States flew into the region two weeks ago, showed the flag, talked to one side, and showed a willingness to talk to the other side and come back to talk to the other side, if the-- if the most basic steps toward ending the violence had been taken.

So we have been engaged. I am now reviewing what other actions I should take. And it's not out of the question that I might go to the region. It depends. I'm willing to go to the region. But I have to go to the region if I have a purpose that I can serve and there is something concrete to be done.

I spend an enormous amount of time on the phone. Not the same as in person, but I can assure you, the conversations that I have on a daily basis with the leaders in the region are intense and fulsome, just as if we were in the room together.

Pelley: The European Union said today that perhaps the United States should step down as the chief peace negotiator. Perhaps leave it to the U.N. or the European countries. Is it simply time, Mr. Secretary, for the United States to step back…

Powell: No.

Pelley: … and let someone else take the lead?

Powell:Absolutely not. One individual representing the European Union made that statement. I don't think the European Union was saying the United States should step down. They know that the United States can't step down. And moreover, we will not step down.

We are the leader in this endeavor. As difficult as it is, we are the leader. And we will not shirk our leadership responsibility. It is a difficult account, the most difficult account we deal with. My predecessor, Secretary (Madeleine) Albright, and President Clinton, they had the same difficult account. And they engaged in it to the depth of their soul.

President Clinton gave this his all, as did Madeleine Albright. President Clinton called me at four o'clock on the 19th of January, 2001, just as he was getting ready to leave office, the evening of - inauguration eve - and shared with me what he had been doing, and his frustration with this account.

And that's not to say we have to do it entirely in a different way. It just shows how difficult the account is. And an opportunity was lost as the Clinton administration left, that we're trying now to recreate. But we can't recreate it in any way like the same manner until the violence goes down.

So there is an obligation on the part of all to try to get the violence down. On the part of Chairman Arafat, of all other Palestinian leaders, an obligation on the part of all Arab nations to apply pressure to Palestinian leaders to let them know that they're destroying their own vision. An obligation on the U.N., the European Union, and an obligation on the United States of America, an obligation we take seriously. We will remain engaged.

Pelley: You talked to Chairman Arafat on Monday night?

Powell: Yes.

Pelley: On the telephone?
Powell: Yes.
Pelley: What did he say?

Powell: He said that he was obviously distraught about the circumstances in which he was being held. He was concerned about the casualties that had been incurred in his headquarters. We talked about the need for…in those circumstances to do everything he could to control passions, to talk to his people about the fact that this kind of violence will not serve their purpose.

He really needs to do something about reducing the incitement level that exists in the region. He is the leader of the Palestinian people. Whether we like it or not, they see him that way. And I think a proper leadership role for him would be to speak out against that kind of incitement. And we talked about that.

We also talked about the Zinni bridging plan, Gen. Zinni's bridging plan, in order to get into Tenet Work Plan. And I encouraged him toadopt that right away, so that we have something to work with when we stabilize this current crisis situation. I also reaffirmed to him that I had spoken once again to Prime Minister Sharon, and that he would not be harmed, and his needs or immediate needs of food and utilities would be taken care of.

Next: More of the interview
  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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