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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 05:08 GMT
US softens line on 'evil axis'
Colin Powell
Powell said the US was not planning any invasions
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said America is willing to talk to states which President Bush described as an "axis of evil".

Their people are not evil but the governments that lead them are evil

Colin Powell
Mr Powell defended the president's description of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, but said Mr Bush was referring to their leaders, not their people.

The secretary of state said that while Mr Bush's remarks did not mean America was about to invade any of the states, "action is going to be required".

President Bush's comments, in his State of the Union speech last Wednesday, have been criticised by Iraq, Iran and North Korea, as well as some of America's allies around the world and even from within his Republican party.

1. Iraq: Suspected of wanting to pursue programmes to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and missile developments
2. Iran: Listed by US as state sponsor of terrorism. Washington says Tehran plans to develop weapons of mass destruction
3. North Korea: The US's main concern has been missiles and other weapons programmes and willingness to export sensitive technology

See also:
Detailed clickable map

Mr Powell said America was ready to hold talks with North Korea unconditionally, but rejected Iraq's offer on Monday to resume talks with the United Nations on the issue of sanctions.

On Iran, Mr Powell said Washington had a long list of grievances - but he also acknowledged Iran's co-operation over Afghanistan.

The BBC's State Department correspondent Jon Leyne says what was most noticeable was the difference in tone between Mr Powell's remarks, the president's speech and subsequent tough comments by the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, Mr Powell said Mr Bush's characterisation was fair.

"[Iraq, Iran and North Korea] are deserving of this kind of designation", he said.

"There is no reason for us not to identify them for what they are: regimes that are inherently evil," Mr Powell told the committee.

War will continue

Mr Powell said the president had tried to make the point that the war on terror would not end as long as there were "still regimes out there" that were developing weapons of mass destruction.

The secretary of state said he stood by the president's words, which were reminiscent of former US President Ronald Reagan's description of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire".

"The fact of the matter is Ronald Reagan was right and the fact of the matter is George Bush is right," he said.

The BBC's Mark Urban
"Washington is increasingly assertive in defence of its security"
US Under-Secretary of State John Bolton
"What the president has done is change the terms of debate"
See also:

05 Feb 02 | Middle East
Powell 'rejects' Iraq talks
04 Feb 02 | Americas
US renews attack on 'evil axis'
31 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran lashes out at Bush
30 Jan 02 | Americas
Iran accuses Bush of war-mongering
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Kim dismisses 'rogue' status
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