Powell - Rather Interview Transcript

Powell On Saddam Hussein and Iraq

Read the full transcript of Dan Rather's interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell. The interview took place Wednesday evening, after Powell spoke to the U.N.

Dan Rather: Mr. Secretary, thanks for doing this.

Colin Powell: Thank you, Dan.

Rather: Listened closely to you today. Impossible to come away with any other conclusion, we're going to war.

Powell: Well, we hope we don't have to go to war. But I must say, that unless there is a change in the part of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime, I think the Security Council will have to - deal with this. I think they will stand up to the challenge of a dictator who doesn't understand that the will of the international community cannot be ignored in this way.

Rather: So, unless something dramatic changes, we're going to war.

Powell: I wouldn't answer it that way, Dan. Because I always - like to keep hope alive that one can avoid war. We'll see what happens when the two chief inspectors go to Baghdad this weekend, and whether they bring back anything -- of use for Security Council deliberations. And then next Friday --both of them, Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei, will report again to the Security Council.

I think that'll be a very important meeting. Where they will tell the Council whether or not there has been any change in attitude. A new ... level of cooperation that will get to the bottom of this, that will allow us to make sure that Saddam Hussein is disarmed of his weapons of mass destruction. And, if that turns out not to be the case, he will not participate in that disarmament, he will not bring forth his weapons, he will not produce a document, he will not allow people to be interviewed, or the reconnaissance performed that is necessary for the inspectors to do their job, then the Security Council will have to make a judgment about that. And as you know, the President always reserves his right to make a judgment about it as well.

Rather: A prudent citizen would or would not conclude that it's likely sometime between the middle, roughly the middle of this month, and the middle of March, that we'll be there.

Powell: I would never speculate on war or the timing of war. Both as a security matter, but because one should always keep out the prospect of peace. And so, a prudent citizen should look at the situation, realize it's a very serious situation. Realize that we are determined that Saddam Hussein will be disarmed of his weapons of mass destruction. And if it isn't done peacefully, through the use of the Security Council, and through the use of the inspectors and monitors that exist in UNMOVIC and IAEA, it will be done by force.

But when that might happen is a matter that is up to the President of the United States, as well as to the members of the Security Council. Either collectively, or just on the basis of the President's own determination.

Rather: Didn't mean to step on that last sentence.

Powell: Quite all right.

Rather: My apologies. You mentioned the Chief Inspectors going back to Baghdad. Is it or is it not your expectation that Saddam Hussein will offer some kind of compromise? Maybe allow the U2 flights, or something such as that? Be enough to get a delay?

Powell: It wouldn't surprise me if he offered some token to the inspectors, and made some - offer with respect to process. But that's not what we're looking for. We're looking for a substantive change in the policy of his government. Not just another way to play cat and mouse with the inspectors.

So, in my judgment, it will not be enough for him to simply say, "Okay. I'll now start to allow the U2 flights." That's not the issue. The issue is him, making people available so we can find out what they know about these weapons of mass destruction, without monitors being around. So that he starts to turn over equipment that we know he has, and he's hiding. That he comes clean.

He needs to come clean. Not just find ways to stretch it out, and hope that the international community will lose interest in this, or the United States will not act. It would be - it would be a tragedy for the United Nations for us to allow this situation to just - to continue indefinitely, and then peter out. With it remaining unresolved.

Rather: Mr. Secretary, I want to read you what the Iraqi official spokesman said after you appeared before the United Nations today. And I quote directly. About what you presented. "A collection of stunts, special effects, and unnamed sources." That was one quote. Another: "Utterly unrelated to the truth." Your reaction to that?

Powell: I went over my remarks at length, with people who know. I spent most of the last four days going after every sentence in my statement, and making sure that when people raised questions about every one of those statements, we could support those statements. There were no doctored tapes. There were no doctored photos. What you see is the truth, and it is reality, and we are very, very confident in what we presented today.

Rather: I may be wrong. But in listening carefully to the French Foreign Minister's remarks after your remarks. He seemed to put some emphasis on the anthrax information. Bottom line. In the end, will the French be with us?

Powell: Only the French can answer that. And be with us in what? It remains to be seen what the next step will be. I think that if I take the French and what they had said, over the past several months, with respect to this issue-- if it is clear that Saddam Hussein will not disarm, then France has indicated that they would be amenable to another resolution, or the use of force.

But. There's a dis-- dispute between us, obviously, as to how much time should be given. And what full cooperation means. And we'll continue to have discussions with the French. I just had a meeting with my French colleague, Foreign Minister de Villepin. And we'll stay in close consultations.

Rather: Did he indicate to you that they were ready to say at the very least, we won't veto it? May not vote for it, but --

Powell: We never -- we never got to that level of conversation. And it isn't appropriate to have a conversation like that now. We're both waiting to see what the Chief Inspectors come back with.

Rather: Mr. Secretary, in addition to being a diplomat, you're a lifetime soldier. Why wouldn't Saddam Hussein say, "Look. If you're going to strike me, I'm going to unload what anthrax, or some other chemical or biological weapon-- now. Or, at the very least, use them against our troops when they go in?"

Powell: I faced this question before, in the Gulf War. And he could have done it then. We made sure that he and his subordinate leaders understood that there would be consequences for such action. And those officers who would actually execute such orders, would be held to account after the conflict.

They weren't used then. But even in anticipation that they might be used, we did everything to protect our soldiers. And we did not let the threat of that kind of capability stopping us from what needs to be done. And we cannot let that kind of a threat now, stop us from what might need to be done.

Rather: And the possibility-- some would say the probability that even as we speak, he's getting some of these chemical and biological weapons in the hands of terrorists-- Al Qaeda and otherwise.

Powell: I don't know if he is, or he is not. But that's a chance that-- we don't wanna take. That's why I was so-- strong, in making that case today about the danger of the nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Rather: Mr. Secretary, you have to be aware, a lot of people are saying, "Colin Powell's changed. And for a long time, he was the-- at least the one strong voice in the Bush Administration saying, 'Diplomacy. Go with the UN. We can't go it alone.'"

And now you make this appearance before the UN, and -- people say, "Listen. He's gone to the other side." What say you?

Powell: I haven't gone anywhere. I am right where I've always been. These silly labels that people like to hang on various individuals, in -- in government, are just those. Silly labels.

I said clearly at the beginning, that we should try the diplomatic route. The President agreed with that. The President decided to go the diplomatic route. But when we passed Resolution 1441, there was a hammer in 1441. It said, "You've been in breach. Saddam Hussein, and Iraq. We are giving you a chance to get out of breach by coming clean. And if you don't come clean, there are serious consequences."

And everybody who worked on that resolution, and all of us who passed it on the -- eighth of -- November last year, understood that serious consequences meant the use of force. So, I have always understood, from the very beginning, that as we did our diplomacy, diplomacy would be backed up by force. And if diplomacy didn't work, then force would be used.

I have been consistent in that view from the very beginning. Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime are slowly going by all the off-ramps for peace. All the off-ramps for diplomacy to solve this problem.

Rather: Let me make sure I understand, Mr. Secretary. This morning, you said, "We're not talking about months. We're talking about weeks." To make a dramatic, significant change. Correct?

Powell: Right.

Rather: By weeks, we're talking two weeks, three weeks?

Powell: Dan, I'm not gonna answer that question-- of.

Rather: All right.

Powell: It -- it's weak.

Rather: I -- I acknowledge that it is.

Powell: Yeah.

Rather: But -- have to throw it at you.

Powell: Of course.

Rather: Was all of this evidence that you presented today available last fall?

Powell: In-- in bits and pieces. A lot of it is fresh. As you noticed, a number of the things I used today are within - a week's distance of - of being actually taken. Pictures being taken, and conversations being heard.

So, there's a lot of information that's been out there for a long period of time. Much of it has been very classified. And a great deal of the information I presented today, and a lot of other information, that I did not present today - because it's still going to be acted on by the inspectors-- have been given to the inspectors. We've given them a lot of information, given a lot more this week.

Rather: You said you just came out of some bilateral discussions-- all afternoon, with-- some with our allies. Some with-- other folks who might be-- in other categories. Did they raise the possibility, concerns about North Korea and the latest news out of North Korea, and the possibility of a second front?

Powell: No. It wasn't a subject of discussion. All of my conversation today dealt with-- dealt with Iraq. With the Russian and Chinese Foreign Minister, because it is right in their neighborhood, we did have-- some conversations about it. But - we have stayed in close touch, looking for a diplomatic and peaceful solution.

Rather: What's the most important thing for Americans to know about what you did today, Mr. Secretary?

Powell: Put down a case that I think convincingly demonstrates that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. There is a nexus between Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction and terrorist organizations. And I made the case before the world again that we cannot step back from this challenge.

United Nations must not step back from this challenge. And that there is still a chance for peace. But it's up to Saddam Hussein as to whether there will be peace, or whether there will be war.

Rather: And to those who say, "Well, there's no smoking gun," would you argue with that?

Powell: What do you mean by smoking gun? How about lots of smoke? I think - I put forward a case today that said there's lots of smoke. There are many smoking guns.

When we say that he has had thousands of liters of anthrax, and we know it. He's admitted it. It's a matter of record. There's evidence. There's no question about it. Is that a smoking gun?

Is it a smoking gun, that he has this horrible material somewhere in that country, and he's not accounted for it? And the very fact that he's not accounted for it, I say could be a smoking gun. It's been a gun that's been smoking for years. And I think the evidence I presented today, the information I presented today suggests that he has not stopped. At any of his efforts to develop these weapons of mass destruction.

Rather: Someone very high in government, an admirer of yours, said today, "Colin Powell delivered a really solid series of base hits. Wasn't a home run, because there's no home run to be hit." Would you argue with that?

Powell: I – I - I don't - I'm not that great a - baseball expert, to know whether I hit a first, second – a - a single, double, triple, or home run. I'll let you guys make that judgment.