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America Strikes Back: Colin Powell Holds Press Conference with British Foreign Secretary

Aired October 24, 2001 - 11:36   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Colin Powell now with the British home secretary Jack Straw, also meeting in Washington. Let's dip in there and listen.

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECY. OF STATE: ... due to scheduling difficulties, and I have to get up on the Hill very quickly.

But it is a pleasure to welcome him, especially today after we'd seen such progress yesterday in the Northern Ireland peace process, and I want to extend my congratulations to Jack and to Prime Minister Tony Blair and to the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern for his step forward. And it shows what can happen when one remains persistent and with a determination to solve what appear to be intractable problems.

I'm sure that the minister and I will also have occasion to talk a great deal about the situation in Afghanistan. And let me take this opportunity to again thank the British government for the strong support that they have given to us in this time of crisis since the 11th of September. As always, we can count on the United Kingdom, and they've come through again, and likewise, we deeply appreciate their military contribution to the campaign.

But more than just these political military things, we deeply appreciate the outpouring of support that we've received from the British people during this time of challenge and crisis. And we also had a chance to extend our condolences to Her Majesty's citizens who were lost in the World Trade Center as well.

We will be speaking, I'm sure, also about the future of Afghanistan. The foreign minister gave a very important speech earlier this week that talked about what we have to do with respect to putting in place a broadbased government and what we have to do with respect to helping the people of Afghanistan get on a path of a better life in a post-Taliban regime.

And I'm sure there are a full range of European issues, NATO issues, that we will also have a chance to discuss in the next hour or so.

So, Jack, welcome. It's always a pleasure to have you, sir.

JACK STRAW, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Colin, thank you very much, indeed, for that welcome. I'm delighted to be here. The last time I was in this room was toward the end of June in rather more benign circumstances, since then we've had the atrocities on the 11th of September.

STRAW: And I think it is worth my underlining to you and to the American people of the huge admiration we have in the United Kingdom for the steadfastness and courage, which was shown, on the 11th of September, by so many people in New York and Washington and elsewhere, for the steadfastness and patient and wisdom shown by your president, by you, sir, and by members of your administration, for all the work that is now being done by United States forces, as well, and for the fact that there was -- and I can say this as somebody who has only ever been politician -- politicians, sometimes, put their reputations but no more on the line; it's members of our armed forces who put their lives on the line. And we expect great things from them. And we get great things from them.

You have been very kind, as your president has, about the sentiment and the feeling in the United Kingdom. It was instinctive. It was just there, because we feel part of a, well, sort of family.

But it was also instinctive, because of a recognition that on two occasions, in a very short space of time, the United States came to our aid. We would not enjoy the freedoms which we do in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and throughout the rest of the world without the selfless aid of, say, the United States at our time of need. So it is the least, the very least that we can do.

Secretary Powell has gone through the agenda that we will be discussing during our lunch, obviously, include the future of Afghanistan. You're good enough to mention the speech which I made two days ago.

We've done a great deal of thinking on both sides of the Atlantic about the future of Afghanistan. You can't say exactly what form of government it should have, but I think we can see the building blocks that are necessary to secure a stable and safe future for that country.

And on the issue of terrorism, thank you, too, for what you said about the Northern Ireland peace process. That, I think, is a very good example about how, from very, very dark circumstances -- and we've had to live with terrorism; the people of Northern Ireland, much worse, have had to live with terrorism for year after year after year -- killed hundreds of people.

STRAW: But from very, very dark beginnings, it is possible to see a light and then, provided the process is kept going and kept going through those difficulties, you can achieve a result. And that, I believe, is what has happened. Thank you.

POWELL: Thank you, Jack.

We have time for a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the situation in the West Bank, a little unclear, but Israeli forces have made two arrests, and apparently, maybe half a dozen Palestinians have been killed. You know, you and the president have asked Israel to step back, to pull back. What do you make of all of this? Do you approve of the arrests, and I guess you don't approve of the continued presence?

POWELL: Well, I think it's important for us to try to get back to where we were a week and a half or so ago when we started to see some movement toward Mitchell committee implementation, interrupted by the tragic, tragic death of the Israeli cabinet minister.

But right now, I think it's important for Chairman Arafat to do everything within his power to make the arrests of those who are responsible and to get the violence down to zero, preferably, but to the lowest level possible.

And I think at this time, it would be appropriate for the Israeli government to immediately withdraw from the Area A villages that they have occupied, and let's try not to let this cycle of violence become even more intense than it has been in recent days. This is a very volatile period.

POWELL: And I would like to see this start moving in the other direction.

QUESTION: Let me ask, General Powell, first, as a soldier, how much do you think we're going to be able to achieve militarily on the ground by this deadline of mid-November, winter and Ramadan, in terms of removing the Taliban, in terms of eliminating the bin Laden network?

POWELL: Well, we're, of course, sensitive to the fact that Ramadan will be beginning in the middle of November, and winter also will start about that same time, the winter period, which makes military operations more difficult.

But the important point to remember is we have military objectives to accomplish, and I would like to see all of those objectives accomplished in the next few days. And as we approach this period of Ramadan and winter, we'll just have to make an assessment at that time as to where we are. And if it's necessary to continue military action, then we'll -- that's the judgment that I'm sure the president will support. We'll wait to hear from our military authorities about it.

We're sensitive to Ramadan, but we can't let that be the sole determinant of whether we continue continue our military...


QUESTION: ... by then?

POWELL: Well, I can't say. I think I'd better leave to how events unfold between now and then and the judgment of our military authorities, not mine.

Yes? QUESTION: Can you give us an idea of where the discussion or the debate is regarding whether the U.S. plans to put Iraq on its list of targets very soon, especially...

POWELL: On its list of what?


QUESTION: Goes after Iraq soon. There's a lot of discussion about this, especially now with speculation that some of these biological agents, chemical agents, could be coming from Iraq. And would the British support this as...

POWELL: First of all, that is speculation, so I can't respond with a concrete answer on that speculation.

We keep a close eye on Iraq. We will continue to work on modifying the sanctions regime so we keep the Iraqi regime bottled up with respect to the development of weapons of mass destruction but we do not hurt the people of Iraq, so that they can get the goods that they need. And I think the entire international community is united around that strategy.

But as the president has said, first things first. And our first priority right now is to deal with the Al Qaeda network and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and wherever else it is located around the world, wherever else it has host countries supporting Al Qaeda.

POWELL: And then in due course, we will turn our attention to other sources of terrorism which are so destabilizing in the world, and we'll keep a close eye on Iraq during that whole process.

STRAW: Yes, our position on Iraq -- just to repeat what I've said on many occasions -- is this, and it applies to any other country as well: You take military action on the basis of the clearest possible evidence of wrongdoing and also following a view that no other methods of restraint will work. Those conditions have been present in respect to the Al Qaeda organization and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But it is only there, at the moment, that military action is on the agenda.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you made reference to, it's time for Chairman Arafat to make arrests.

POWELL: More arrests. He's made some.

QUESTION: Right. Prime Minister Sharon has asked for those arrested to be turned over to Israel. Would it be sufficient, as far as the U.S. is concerned, if the Palestinians prosecute those that they may arrest?

POWELL: I don't want to take a position on that. I just want to see -- let's get the perpetrators in solid custody, where they are not just in some form of light house arrest where they can walk out any time they wish. Let's get them in solid custody where they clearly have been arrested and they are no longer in a position to commit new acts of terrorism, and then we can deal with the issue that you raised.

One more, and then we have to go to lunch.


QUESTION: Secretary Powell, does the situation in Northern Ireland not show us all that negotiations is really the only way forward in all of these situations? And just secondly, when you met Martin McGuinness yesterday, did he give you assurances that there is no link between the IRA and the FARC guerrillas in Colombia?

POWELL: When I met with him yesterday, we didn't discuss that. We were just sort of celebrating the progress that was achieved yesterday. And I think that negotiations are always to be preferred to military conflict, and even when you have military conflict, it doesn't always result in the kind of classic military win. Very often, it sets the stage for negotiations.

And so I hope what we have seen in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours, which culminates a process that took many, many years long to get to this point, is an example of what can be achieved when people of good will come together, recognize they have strong differences -- differences that they have fought over for years -- but it's time to put those differences aside in order to move forward and to provide a better life for the children of Northern Ireland.

STRAW: Could I just add one thing to that? I mean, of course, negotiations far, far better, not (ph) infinitely better, than military action.

As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, we welcome hugely the progress has been made following the Good Friday Agreement.

It also has to be said that, before that happened, there had to be a change of approach by those who saw terrorism at the answer. And that approach partly changed because of the firmness of the military and police response to that terrorism. And if there had not been that firm response by successive British governments and others to the terrorist threat that was posed on both sides, we would not have been able to get some of those people into negotiation, and we'd not be marking what is a satisfactory day in the history of Northern Ireland today.

Thank you.

POWELL: Thank you. Now we do have to eat.

STRAW: Thank you very much, indeed.

HEMMER: Cooperation between the U.S. and Great Britain has been in absolute lockstep going back to the events of September 11th. Again, you can see they were again displayed in Washington. Colin Powell and Jack Straw, the foreign secretary. I said he was the home secretary. He was in that position up until about a month ago. But you heard a lot and will hear a lot in coming weeks about the holy month of Ramadan. Officially on the calendar, that will begin on November 17th, so again, as we follow this story through, make sure that date is kept in mind. The 17th of November.




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