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Special Event

Secretary of State Colin Powell Announces Plans to Visit Middle East

Aired February 9, 2001 - 12:32 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you to the State Department because the secretary is announcing he is traveling to the Middle East. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: ... few weeks. I hope you understand that it'll be my policy to do everything I can to help you do your jobs, try to do these press conferences on a fairly regular basis and give you the access that I know you want and I want you to have so that you can report the activities of the Department of State and foreign policy of President Bush and his team.

And I have been rather busy, and I hope you can appreciate that it took me a little while to get to this point. I've met with 25 foreign ministers, presidents and other leaders of nations over the last three weeks and have been making dozens upon dozens of phone calls to reach out and talk to our allies and talk to our friends around the world.

And I'm here this afternoon to let you know of the first trip. I think it's already been told to you by Richard Boucher. But my first trip will be to the Middle East region. I plan to visit in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel and Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan, and to be in Kuwait on the 26th for the 10th anniversary Gulf War celebrations.

And then I will be going from there on to Brussels, where I've been invited by NATO to join a meeting and exchange views with my NATO colleagues. I was invited by Lord Robertson. And I also hope at that same time and expect at that same time to meet with European Union leaders and Commission President Romano Prodi.

And the purpose of this trip will be to share views with friends in the region, especially in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank, to make an assessment of the situation, talking to, I would expect, Chairman Arafat and the prime minister of Israel, Mr. Barak if he is still in the caretaker status, of course, and also with Mr. Sharon.

And with that, I will take whatever questions you have for a few moments. I only have a few moments on this occasion, and then I'll turn it over to Richard.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary? POWELL: Yes?

QUESTION: Insofar as the administration coming down with a policy on missile defense, could you give us some indication of how the administration is going to proceed, and also especially in talking to the Russians, and how long might this take? Mr. Cook, your good friend, was talking to us the other day and, of course, suggested all of the above and thought it would take some time, he thought before you choose a defense system.

POWELL: I would only add one P.S. to my earlier statement. The travel itinerary I gave you, there may be other additions and modifications as we go along, and we'll let you know as they arise and as we go along.

With respect to your specific question, the first thing we really have to do is give Secretary Rumsfeld a chance to get his team in place, and to make an assessment of the various technologies that are out there, to look at the work that has been done in recent years, and to come up with a concept.

I can't tell you how long that will take because that's Secretary Rumsfeld's decision to make. And he'll have to take a good hard look at.

While, however, he is making that assessment, it gives the rest of us the opportunity to discuss with our friends and allies and the Russians and the Chinese and others what we have in mind and how it all fits into an overall strategic framework that involves offensive nuclear weapons, our nonproliferation efforts and defensive systems, both of theater missile defense nature and national missile defense nature.

So I think the point that Foreign Secretary Cook was making, and I'd like to make, is that there is more than adequate time to consult with anybody who has an interest in our plans and to get their input, so that we can use that with Secretary Rumsfeld and his team as they make their assessments, and have an opportunity to hear the various views that are out there and try to design a system that deals with the problem that exists.

And that problem is, simply, that there are nations on Earth who are developing these weapons that can threaten their neighbors and can threaten us. And it would be irresponsible of us not to move forward with technologies that have the possibility of being able to stop these kinds of weapons.

We think it is, at the end of the day, stabilizing. It is part of an overall deterrent system. And it will strengthen deterrence.

And so the president is fully committed to move in this direction, but we will do it in a deliberate way, examining technology to make sure it works, understanding the cost implications of what we are doing and understanding the arms control and diplomatic considerations that must be taken into account to do this in a way that will reassure the world that this adds to deterrence and does not take away from deterrence.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: The view from the Bush administration on this issue seems to have been, "We are going ahead with this, and our challenge is to simply convey that to our allies. And then once they realize the United States is serious, they will go along."

I wonder, is that an accurate assessment of what you're doing, and if it is, does that fit into the humility approach to foreign policy that you've talked about? It seems rather blunt. You know, "We're doing it; you'd better learn to like it." That seems to be the approach.

POWELL: Humility can coexist with principle, and our principle and our belief is that this adds to deterrence. This is the right thing to do.

And so President Bush has stated clearly, as have all the other members of his team, that we are planning to go forward with missile defense because we believe it is achievable, we believe we can do it in an economical way, we believe it adds to deterrence. And we are going to consult with our allies to hear their concerns, but we are not going to get knocked off the track of moving in this direction as long as the technology points us in that direction.

And I don't consider it as being an arrogant position or one where we are trying to force anything on the rest of the world.

We're trying to convey the power of our position to the rest of the world and at the same time hear from them, hear from our European allies, hear from China and Russia particularly, and see if we can convince them that there is a cooperative way to approach this that will benefit all of us.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, you said in your testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that you were looking at re- energizing sanctions against Iraq. Members of the opposition are in town right now, they just received a license within Iraq with U.S. funds, are looking for more logistical support.

When you take your trip to the region to meet with U.S. allies there, will you be reviewing a much harder policy toward Saddam Hussein and are you realistic that there could be a democratic regime change during your tenure?

POWELL: Well, I'm always optimistic. I think democracy is such a powerful set of principles and a powerful system that one can always hope that people who are not living under democratic systems will eventually come to the realization that they could do a lot better in the 21st century if they did live under a democratic system. That's a part of our principal belief going into the 21st century.

As I travel throughout the region I will be concentrating on the UN part of the policy, as opposed to the United States bilateral relationship with respect to Iraq and our other activities in the Gulf and with the Iraqi opposition. And the UN piece of it is rather straightforward and clear: It is an arms control regime.

It is an arms control regime that Iraq agreed to at the end of the Gulf War. And it exists for one purpose, and that was to keep Iraq from threatening its neighbors with weapons of mass destruction that would be delivered by missiles. It was a regime that was for the purpose of protecting the children in the region, protecting the people of the region, bringing Iraq into a world where one does not threaten and attack its neighbors with these kinds of horrible weapons.

And part of that regime was to deny Iraq the opportunity to purchase weapons or material that would allow them to do this, to keep their missile programs under control, and the oil-for-food program was put in place as a way of making sure that this regime did not hurt the people of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein has more money available to him now than he had at the beginning of the last decade. At the beginning of the last decade he wasted the money available to him by investing in the military. He can't do that as well now, because of the regime that we have placed upon him. And there was more than enough money to take care of books for the children of Iraq, food for the children of Iraq, medicine for the children of Iraq; all of the children of Iraq require, there is money for.

But what we will not allow him to have money for, and not remove these sanctions from preventing him to doing is to go forward with weapons of mass destruction. And the sooner he comes to that realization that we can rally around that simple proposition that I just laid out for you, and the sooner he allows inspectors to come in and see whether or not he is or is not doing this -- we think he is; he says he is not.

There is a simple answer: Let the inspectors in, and we can get beyond this. But until he does that, then, I think we have to be firm. We have to be vigilant. And I will be carrying this message to my friends in the region.

It is a problem of his making. And any suffering that's taking place in Iraq is because of his actions and his policies.

QUESTION: If we could back to your trip, this is kind of a -- what kind of time frame are you talking about in terms of spending time at each of these stops?

POWELL: Not as long as I'd like it to be. This is about a five- day trip.

QUESTION: Right. Is there a reason why there's no stop in Damascus? Or is it just timing? Or should we read into that...

POWELL: Don't read anything because you have only heard of the first tranche, shall we say. And I reserve the right to change my mind. I'm the secretary of state, and I can change my mind.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: So you'll be leaving...

POWELL: I think -- I'll let Richard go over the details. But we should be leaving the evening of the 22nd.

STAFF: 23rd.

POWELL: Evening of the 23rd or thereabouts. Coming back the 27th or 28th or the 1st, I guess. But it's about that kind of a window.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

POWELL: Yes, I'm the only newly confirmed person in the department, and my leash will only let me go that far for that length of time.

(CROSSTALK)

POWELL: Let me go to the back just to show that I am fair. The gentleman who is almost leaping up, yes?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) constant attack to Greece regarding the security of the Olympic Games in connection with terrorism?

POWELL: I'm sorry. I have a hearing loss.

QUESTION: How do you view the accusations against Greece the Olympic Games in connection with terrorism?

POWELL: The Olympic Games? I am confident that the authorities will do everything to make sure that the games go off in a safe manner. And anything we can do to assist them with the experience that we have from the past or any other assistance we can give will be made available to the government. But I have confidence in their ability to make this happen.

I'm afraid I do have to go to another meeting, so I have to turn it over to Richard at this point. I'll be back, don't worry.

Thank you very much.

ALLEN: The new secretary of state announcing he has a trip planned to the Middle East coming up at the end of February. He'll be going to many countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, Kuwait. He also talked about the administration's policy on the controversial missile defense system, saying that while President Bush has asked for a review of the Defense Department, that should give him enough time to talk with nations who are opposed to this controversial plan.

Let's talk with CNN State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel.

Andrea, first the significance of Mr. Powell going to Israel now? And what's the hope there?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Natalie, it's important to recognize that the timing of this trip, and the significance of the timing of this trip is tied to the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait later this month, on the 26th. Secretary of State Powell of course intimately familiar with that event. Ten years ago, he was the top U.S. military official leading the U.S. military campaign in the Gulf War.

During his time in the Middle East, Secretary Powell, of course, has one top issue on his agenda, certainly, for the Bush administration, and that is to reenergize sanctions against Iraq. It's still a work in progress, so Secretary Powell will be consulting with a number of the United States' key Arab allies in the region.

Another issue you just alluded to: Middle East peace. This administration also already saying it will distance itself from the Clinton administration's hands-on approach, another topic sure to come up during all of those stops, Natalie.

ALLEN: And on the missile defense system, Andrea, which are the countries that most eagerly want to talk with Mr. Powell about what the administration's plans are?

KOPPEL: Well, certainly that will be the main topic of discussion when Secretary Powell travels to Brussels for the foreign ministers meeting of the NATO alliance. A number of countries there extremely concerned that the Bush administration is planning to push ahead with national missile defense irrespective of their own reservations.

We heard Secretary Rumsfeld got an earful just last weekend. Secretary Powell is sure to get the same -- Natalie.

Andrea Koppel at the State Department. Thank you, Andrea.

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