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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 April, 2003, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
War with Iraq vindicated
Colin Powell, US Secretary of State
Colin Powell, US Secretary of State

Interview with Colin Powell, US Secretary Of State, 13 April 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.


Sir David Frost met the Secretary of State in his private office at the State Department in Washington yesterday, at the end of this momentous week for Iraq and the forces ranged against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

He started by asking him about the opposition to military intervention and the way the battle against the Iraqi government over the past 21 days turned out.

DAVID FROST: All that advance criticism before it actually happened, a million people demonstrating in London and so on and so forth, do you feel a sense of vindication this morning?

COLIN POWELL: I think we should feel a sense of vindication, we should feel that we were right.

The President was right, Prime Minister Blair and so many other world leaders were right, that even in the face of protests and demonstrations, we knew that this was a regime that had to be dealt with because of its failure to comply with international obligations, and the people of Iraq are going to be better off, they will be under a democratic form of government and we will help bring that democratic form of government into being.

DAVID FROST: How important is it that you do discover weapons of mass destruction? Would it be embarrassing if you didn't?

COLIN POWELL: Well, we will find weapons of mass destruction. For the past three weeks we've been fighting battles and once this combat period is over we can then turn our attention to finding the weapons of mass destruction - and I think they will be found.

That was the basis upon which we went in and I think there is strong evidence, there is no question about the fact that there are weapons of mass destruction and we will be looking for them.

DAVID FROST: And if there are, they would tend to be likely to be chemical and biological rather than nuclear, wouldn't they?

COLIN POWELL: There is, I think, a higher likelihood of there being chemical and biological weaponry. The nuclear programme, we also think is there, but we don't think it was as advanced as perhaps the chemical and biological weapons programmes were.

DAVID FROST: And the coalition obviously said at the beginning that it's going to do it's best to minimise civilian deaths, but did it do it better or worse than you feared? Were there more or less civilian deaths than you hoped?

COLIN POWELL: We really don't know how many civilian deaths there have been and we don't know how many of them can be attributed to coalition action as opposed to action on the part of Iraqi armed forces as they defended themselves.

But I don't think we could have done more to minimise civilian casualties or destruction of property.

I remember on one of the early nights of the war when there was a massive strike against Baghdad and people were calling me - various foreign ministers were calling me saying you're destroying Baghdad. I said not at all. It may look like it but these are very surgically directed strikes.

And the next day you could see that. The city was attacked, buildings had been destroyed, facilities had been taken out, command centres had been destroyed, but the people were going about their business.

They never stopped using buses, they never stopped using taxis, it wasn't like London in the days of the Blitz where everybody went into the basement and hid.

They knew that the Americans were going after selective targets and not targeting the general population. And in some, in some instances, this actually caused us to accept a higher level of risk towards our young men and women because we wouldn't use overwhelming force if it could be avoided on a particular target in order to avoid collateral damage or loss of innocent life.

DAVID FROST: Can we have closure of this war without finding out what happened, or finding, or capturing, or killing Saddam Hussein?

COLIN POWELL: Yes, I mean this, this campaign, this operation will come to a successful end when there is a new government in Iraq that has been decided upon by the people of Iraq, not imposed by the outside forces or the coalition.

And when the people of Iraq have forsworn any support of terrorism, when there's no more, there are no more weapons of mass destruction and when they are committed to using the wealth of Iraq for the benefit of the people of Iraq and not to develop weapons to threaten neighbours, then we will have closure, with or without Saddam Hussein.

Sure we would like to know exactly what happened to him but he is no longer in charge of anything. If he is alive, he is not going to show his face. And if he is dead, we may never know it.

DAVID FROST: But he might melt away as Osama bin Laden seems to have done.

COLIN POWELL: I don't think that Saddam Hussein has any control any longer and he will not be pulling any strings. As you saw the people of Baghdad and the other cities respond to the coalition forces, they're glad he's gone. They were the ones pulling down the statues of Saddam Hussein and tearing up his portrait and so I don't think he has any further control over the emotions of the people of Iraq.

DAVID FROST: Would you like to see Nuremburg trials for war crimes or for crimes against humanity, either the 55 generals or other people?

COLIN POWELL: We believe all of those who are responsible for crimes against humanity and crimes against their own people should be brought to justice.

And in the first instance, hopefully we can put in a place a government in Iraq so that they can bring their own people to justice. And that would be our, that would be our

DAVID FROST: And do you think looking back, I mean as some people in Europe have suggested, the fact of the way the French and the Germans and to a lesser extent the Russians, held up the theory that the UN contributed to the need for war, sustained Saddam Hussein a bit?

COLIN POWELL: There is no doubt that after 1441 passed, that was the major resolution that passed unanimously, 15 to zero, that said he is in violation of his obligations and if he didn't comply now there would be serious consequences.

That was a strong, powerful message to Saddam Hussein. And I believe if we could have kept that unanimity within the council, so that we gave a strong, powerful message to him every step along the way, things might have turned in a different direction.

But once it became clear that some members of the council would never impose serious consequences on Saddam Hussein in any reasonable period of time, France, especially, Germany and Russian, Russia as well - but Germany said under no circumstances did they think they could support the use of force - certainly that gave Saddam Hussein some comfort because he could see that the disunity within the council.

DAVID FROST: And that leads us on to the question of the role of the UN in the future and Jacques Chirac said earlier this week, and seems to have repeated roughly the same thing in St Petersburg, he said: "We are no longer in an era where one or two countries can control the fate of another country, therefore the political, economic, humanitarian and administrative reconstruction of Iraq is a matter for the United Nations."

COLIN POWELL: The United Nations has -

DAVID FROST: You do not agree.

COLIN POWELL: No. The United Nations has a role to play.

DAVID FROST: And that was humanitarian and suggesting names for the -

COLIN POWELL: And suggesting names.

DAVID FROST: For the cabinet.

COLIN POWELL: So, the United Nations will have a role to play. The United States is not mad with the United Nations, we believe they have a role to play.

But at the same time it was this coalition of nations that was willing to put its treasure at risk, take the political risk and put its sons and daughters at risk and lost lives in the pursuit of this campaign and the execution of this campaign, and we are committed to making sure that the Iraqi people have a democratic form of government and we believe we have a leading role to play in bringing this about.

So if central role of the UN means that as soon as hostilities are over that the coalition members just please go away and, and don't bother any more and someone else in the form of the United Nations or the Security Council will take over everything and have the only role to play, that's, that's not acceptable to us.

DAVID FROST: But basically what you're saying is that the coalition at the moment, the United States does not at the moment see a political role, at least in the first few months. No political role for the UN.

COLIN POWELL: Well, I don't know what you mean by no political role -

DAVID FROST: Not decisions. Not decisions, only -

COLIN POWELL: I think the decisions ultimately have to be made by the Iraqi people - not even, not even the coalition. Our whole goal, a singular goal, most important goal, is to now bring together leaders in Iraq and Iraqi leaders outside Iraq will be returning, the external opposition who have struggled so hard for so many years to bring about this day and, and -

DAVID FROST: Well, you've got a meeting on Tuesday in Nasiriya.

COLIN POWELL: We'll beginning this process on Tuesday in Nasiriya where General Franks, with the co-ordination, and of course the concurrence of everybody back in Washington, has invited Iraqi leaders to assemble themselves in that part of Iraq, and begin discussions as to who should be represented in an interim authority.

As other parts of the country are secured, we will have other meetings in other parts of the country, slowly building an interim authority that will have legitimacy, legitimacy given to it, first and foremost, by the Iraqi people who will be assembled at these meetings, and then ultimately, legitimacy that I am quite sure will be conferred by the United Nations in due course through an endorsement of the Iraqi authority.

DAVID FROST: But the UN won't be there at Nasiriya on Tuesday?

COLIN POWELL: Not in this instance because it is - the Secretary General does not yet believe he has a mandate for this. But I think in due course the United Nations will play a role. So we're not fighting the United Nations.

DAVID FROST: But at the beginning, in the period leading up to the IIA, obviously you want to be there without the UN and without France - you don't want them there at that time.

COLIN POWELL: We don't feel a need right now to consult with respect to the weapons of mass destruction because the campaign is still underway.

Then we will turn our attention to looking for these weapons of mass destruction and we will see what assistance can be provided in this effort.

DAVID FROST: That's right, but you wouldn't probably want France, Germany or Russia as part of that.

COLIN POWELL: Well, it's not a role for France, Germany and Russia. I mean, we will be the liberating authority. We will have occupational responsibilities. It's not a matter of keeping anybody out; it's a matter of first things first.

DAVID FROST: But would it be fair to say that it may be some time before President Chirac gets an invitation to Crawford?

COLIN POWELL: Well, I don't handle Crawford invitations. We are not at war with France. We have had a very serious disagreement over this issue.

And I remain in touch with my French counterpart, my German counterpart, my Russian counterpart, and we will find ways to bridge the differences that have emerged in recent months.

DAVID FROST: Mr Chalabi is going to be at the session on Tuesday, and so on. Is he officially the US nomination or is he absolutely just one of many?

COLIN POWELL: The individuals who will be there on Tuesday are being invited by General Franks - I don't know who they all are yet - and we are consulting with General Franks on who should be invited and who will be attending. But the United States has not anointed anyone to be the future leader of Iraq or to be the leader of the IIA, the interim Iraqi authority.

We believe very strongly that the Iraqi people and representatives of the Iraqi people, in the first instance, are the ones who should do that. The President has made it very clear that we are not in the business of installing the next president of Iraq.

DAVID FROST: What about the news, the headlines of the last couple of days, about the looting and so on?

COLIN POWELL: I think that this is an unfortunate by-product of a campaign of this nature but I think order will be restored. And I know that General Franks, as he finishes the military part of this, the hostilities part of this, will devote more and more of his attention to making sure that order is restored. We're sending in police advisors to help recreate a police force.

DAVID FROST: How many of those? 1,200, isn't it?

COLIN POWELL: 1,200, yeah. Now, we're not going to become the police force, but we can provide assistance in creating a new police force once we get rid of this awful leadership that was provided by the Baath Party, make sure the cancer has been cut out, then we can be in the process of rebuilding.

DAVID FROST: And talking about the UN, as we have been, the events since last September through to today, I mean, most people would say that obviously the UN has been weakened by what's gone on, maybe seriously. But seriously weakened? I mean, that's inevitable, I suppose, because of what happened.

COLIN POWELL: I think it has been weakened. I don't think we should deny this, sort of soft-pedal it. The UN was presented with a challenge by the President last September, and they wouldn't face the simple, simple fact that Saddam Hussein was not complying and he was using extended inspections in order to drag it out, and hopefully interest would fade.

That, I believe, was a failure on the part of the Security Council. And at that point, we believed we had more than enough authority from 1441 that a willing coalition could take action.

DAVID FROST: And so, I mean, would you think that the UN should stay weakened, which would be welcome to some people in Washington, or would you like to strengthen it again?

COLIN POWELL: I want to see the UN as a strengthened institution. The UN is our international institution; 191 nations belong to the United Nations and the United Nations does important work around the world. The United States has expressed its support for the United Nations in recent years. We have paid our arrears. We have, as you know, rejoined UNESCO. We support international organisations financially.

We participate in them fully. So we want to see a vibrant UN, but the UN has to meet its responsibilities, however distasteful sometimes meeting those responsibilities are, such as imposing serious consequences, the use of force, over a nation such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

DAVID FROST: You seem to have had reasons to get more concerned about Syria. Some people have said that they may be hiding weapons of mass destruction. Others say they may be hiding members of Saddam's family. Syria is a real concern at the moment, isn't it?

COLIN POWELL: Well, Syria has been a concern for a long period of time. We have designated Syria for years as a state that sponsors terrorism and we have discussed this with the Syrians on many occasions.

And we are concerned that materials have flowed through Syria to the Iraqi regime over the years, and so we are making this point clearly and in a very direct manner to the Syrians, and we hope the Syrians will respond accordingly.

Also, we think it would be very unwise, and wouldn't be consistent with what I just said, if suddenly Syria becomes a haven for all these people who should be brought to justice who are trying to get out of Baghdad.

DAVID FROST: They should be returned?

COLIN POWELL: It seems to me that Syria would not find it in its interest, nor do I know why Syria would become a place of haven for people who should be subject to the justice of the Iraqi people.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of - in addition to Syria, your other worries at the moment would be North Korea, who have weapons of mass destruction, and Iran.

COLIN POWELL: We have been worried about Iran and North Korea, and of course with have discussed them in the context of an expression the President used, which is the "axis of evil" nations, who have systems that are certainly not friendly to democratic principles, who have supported terrorist activities over the years, and who have been developing and may even possess weapons of mass destruction.

And one of the good things that will come out of what's happened in Iraq is that Iraq can become an example, not an example to be necessarily imposed on anyone else, but an example of a nation that can now use its treasure to develop an economic system and political system, that will make them welcomed into the family of nations, can become a responsible player in the region.

DAVID FROST: Well, thank you so much, Mr Secretary. I sort of gather that you think winning the peace may be almost more difficult than winning the war.

COLIN POWELL: Winning the peace will be difficult, but it's a welcome challenge and it's a challenge we will meet. We are doing this for the Iraqi people, we are doing it for the region, we are doing it for the promise of the 21st Century and a better world.

And we want to turn our agenda from war to going after HIV/AIDS, to economic development, to development assistance for people in need. The President has a powerful agenda that he will be pursuing.

He has added $5 billion a year to our development budget for nations in need that are committed to democracy, $15 billion for HIV/AIDS. We have got a powerful agenda and we will now be turning our attention to that.

DAVID FROST: Mr Secretary, as ever, thank you very much.

COLIN POWELL: Thank you, David.



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