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Larry King Interview With Colin Powell

Aired November 26, 2001 - 18:30   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: We're at the John Quincy Adams Reception Room, United States Department of State, Washington, D.C., and it's our special pleasure to have as our guest, Secretary of State Colin Powell. We are old friends, but I will call him Mr. Secretary.


KING: All right. You're welcome.

POWELL: I'll call you Mr. King.

KING: No, don't do that.

First, before we get to anything else, how does this job compare to all the other posts you've held?

POWELL: Oh, it's quite different. The reach of the jobs is so much broader. When I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I essentially focused on things military. But in this job it's political, it's diplomatic, large economic content to the job -- everybody wants to talk about trade. The travel demands are a lot greater. And the urgency of the issues with which I deal are much, much greater than when I was even chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

KING: Are you enjoying it?

POWELL: Yes, very much so. Exciting to see history being made every day, to work with the dedicated people who are here in the State Department, to work with my colleagues in the administration, to take on challenges such as Afghanistan, but at the same time to take on opportunities such as a new relationship with Russia or China, helping African nations enter the world of trade in the 21st century, work with our friends here in the Americas on a new free trade agreement for the Americas and see democracy spread throughout the Americas.

So even though we're in a war right now, it is also a time of opportunity and I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to help President Bush cease those opportunities.

KING: I remember when you were national security adviser and they used to say that this -- there automatically is a clash between the national security adviser and State. Do you have a clash with Condoleezza Rice? POWELL: No. I have no clash with Dr. Rice.

There is always tension between State, Defense, national security adviser and the CIA, and this is creative tension. We each bring different perspectives and we bring different constituencies to the process.

And the national security adviser's job is to reconcile these different points of view and to make sure that all the tensions are creative tensions and not destructive tensions. And her final job is to make sure that the president gets the best information that he needs to make a decision, and that's also our jobs as Cabinet officers.

KING: So you do argue.

POWELL: Oh, sure with fiery...

KING: You're from New York.

POWELL: Incredible arguments. But, I mean, argument is how you get the best out of people, it's how you test the strength of somebody's position; through argument.

So within this team, between Vice President Cheney, myself, Dr. Rice, Don Rumsfeld and George Tenet, you have people with strong views, with strong constituencies. And I think it serves the president well for us to bring it all on the table and not hide it.

KING: Before we get to current issues, there's lot of stories around that the far right wing element of the Republican Party is very angry, mostly at you. They feel you are the least war-like of this group. And there's more criticism coming from that end of the party than from the liberals on the left or the centrists. How do you react?

POWELL: Well, in the first place, I've seen more war than most of them have, so I know what war is about. I've been in wars. I've run wars. I've conducted a number of military operations. So I think I know a little bit about what war is and I think I know how to prosecute a war when a president has decided that that's what we ought to do.

And so I take criticism as part of the job. I sometimes get hit from the left, I sometimes get hit from the right, and it's part of working in the Washington environment.

But the client I serve is the president of the United States and the client he serves are the American people. And as long as I'm serving those two clients, I'm doing my job.

KING: The late Chappie James, first black four-star general, told me once, "Nobody hates war more than a warrior." True?

POWELL: I think every sane person, to include warriors and especially warriors, hate war, because we see the consequences of war. But when it is necessary to go to war, then you do it, you do it to the best of your ability.

KING: All right. President Bush, when asked what would happen if Iraq did not allow inspectors in, Hussein did not allow inspectors in, he said that, today, quote, "He'll find out," end quote.

POWELL: That's an excellent answer. He'll find out.

KING: What does that mean?

POWELL: Well, the president didn't say what it meant today, so I'm not going to prejudge what it might mean.

But we have been pressing Iraq for the last several years, since 1998 when they threw the inspectors out, to let the inspectors back in. The inspectors are not there to do anything harmful to the Iraqi people. The inspectors are going back in for one single purpose, and that's to make sure that Iraq is complying with the agreements it made at the end of the Gulf War to give up all weapons of mass destruction activity. And the only way we can be sure of that is the inspectors go back in and are allowed to do their work the way they see it proper to do their work. And that's what these U.N. resolutions are about and that's what the economic sanctions are about.

KING: But a term like "he'll find out" is threatening, isn't it?


KING: "He'll find out" ain't I'm going to send you a (inaudible)

POWELL: Well, I think he should see it as a very sober, chilling message: He'll find out. There are many options available to the international community and to the president.

KING: You talked to your Russian counterpart today about sanctions on Iraq.


KING: Can you tell us anything about that?

POWELL: Well, I talked to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov frequently. This is the second time we've spoken in the last five days. As you know, the current sanctions rollover period expires at the end of this month, which is the need of this week. And so he and I have been working on what the new rollover should look like and we're talking to our other friends on the Security Council. And we have instructed our two ambassadors and other members of the Security Council to get together in New York today to see if we can come to some compromise. It's been a tough issue.

We believe that smart sanctions, the position the United States has been pushing, is the way to go, because it removes the argument that the Iraqis have been using that we're trying to hurt the Iraqi people. Smart sanctions says, "No, we'll let the civilian goods go in, because we don't want to hurt the Iraqi people...

KING: Medicine goes in.

POWELL: Medicine, food.

What we don't want to have go in are equipment that can be used for developing weapons of mass destruction. We're not doing this just to protect America, but to protect the region. He has demonstrated he will use chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors. So this is something to protect the region, not just for the United States interests, and that's why the...

KING: And the Russian...

POWELL: ... that's why the international community feels so strongly about it.

The Russians also understand this and are supportive of that position, but they have certain commercial interests that they want...

KING: They want to...

POWELL: ... they are concerned about and we have been trying to find a way. Fourteen of the 15 members of the Security Council have been supportive of a new way of going about this through smart sanctions, and we have been working with the Russians to see if we can find a compromise that would satisfy the need.

KING: Do you ever look back, Mr. Secretary, and say, "We should have gone there 11 years ago"?

POWELL: Gone where?

KING: Iraq. Should have gone in...

POWELL: We did go to Iraq.

KING: I mean, go in and take them, you know.

POWELL: What we did was exactly what the international community said we should do. The coalition came together to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. We accomplished that mission. When that mission was accomplished and was finished, President Bush, on the advice of all his military and civilian advisers said, "Time to stop the war."

There was never, ever any planned intention to go to Baghdad during that conflict. It was not the mission that was given by the international community. Moreover, it was not the mission that the president had selected for the United States armed forces. Moreover, when the proposition was put to the United States Congress for them to pass resolutions supporting the president's efforts, they only supported it to accomplish the U.N. mission, which was not to overthrow the regime or go to Baghdad, but to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. That mission was accomplished, and we all...

KING: Is there anything in hindsight (inaudible)?

POWELL: In hindsight, we did what we set out to do. Now, there are a lot of people said, "Well, you should have changed the mission at that point and gone on to Baghdad." But that was not the mission, that was not the decision that the president and the international community was prepared for.

We all hoped that Saddam Hussein would not survive the aftermath of that, but he has. And that's why these sanctions remain in place, that's why the president said the kind of thing he said earlier today and why we have kept this regime fairly well bottled up.

They're a danger. They continue to try to develop these weapons, and we will keep the pressure on them to make sure that these weapons do not become a serious threat to the region or to the world.

KING: We'll be right back with United States Secretary of State Colin Powell right after this.


KING: We're back with the secretary of state, Colin Powell. We're at the State Department in Washington on this edition of LARRY KING almost live, because it was done this afternoon for tonight. We never lie to our public.

Mr. Secretary, you're going to Russia next week. What's the agenda?

POWELL: I'll be in Russia two weeks from today, I guess it is, and I'll meet with Foreign Minister Ivanov and President Putin. We'll talk about many things: the strategic framework that President Putin and President Bush have discussed with respect to strategic weapons, and I'm sure we'll be talking about missile defense as well. I'd like to explore other parts of our agenda as well: a campaign against terrorism, economic issues, regional security issues...

KING: Iraq?

POWELL: ... the situation in Chechnya, I'm sure we'll talk about Iraq. A full range of issues.

We have very good discussions with the Russians. Foreign Minister Ivanov and I have become quite close, and we've met something like nine times now -- this, I think, will be the tenth time. In fact, I'll be seeing him three times next week at three different conferences.

KING: How have they done, Mr. Putin and the Russians, since you've taken office?

POWELL: It's been an interesting 10 months. We had a rocky start, you may recall, when we had the spy caper, which people forget about just a months later, when we threw out 52 of their spies, and they threw out 52 of our citizens who had done nothing wrong. But we got over that, and ever since then the relationship has been in the upswing.

From the day that the president met President Putin in Slovenia in their first meeting -- they have now met again in Genoa, and they've met now in Crawford and Washington, D.C., and with each meeting, the relationship has become closer, not only in a personal sense, but as you begin to understand each other's policies and each other's needs.

And so I think we are now seeing a very, very strong and growing relationship with the Russians on areas where we are in agreement. And where we still have differences, we pursue those differences.

KING: Relationship similar to Reagan-Gorbachev isn't it? They really got along.

POWELL: Yes, they got along. And these two gentlemen, President Putin and President Bush, get along very well. I was down at Crawford for part of the visit, and I watched them in Washington, I've seen them on other occasions, and they get a long very, very well. The respect one another, and they appreciate each other's point of view, and that's the basis of the strong relationship.

KING: You're a military man, and now you're our chief diplomat, so this question is military. How's the war going?

POWELL: Well, the war's going pretty well, I think, in fact, better than pretty well, I think it's going darn well right now.

I think that we started off with a good political and diplomatic strategy of bringing the coalition together. We couldn't have gotten a war without a coalition -- without the Pakistanis, and the Uzbeks, and the Tajiks, and the Turkmens, and even the Iranians and others all coming into to help us -- without our strong British friends who have been so terrific, without all of the other organizations and countries -- international organizations and countries that helped us.

So we built that coalition together, and then the Pentagon put together a very strong military plan that we all participated in watching it being shaped and putting our advice forward. And that plan unfolded in a very, very sensible and effective way. Sometimes you don't see exactly what's happening.

But the first thing you have to do is build your force up. You can't start out with a major air campaign on day one; it takes time to generate the force. And that's what the Pentagon did so well under Tommy Frank's leadership -- General Franks, and under Secretary Rumsfeld's direction.

And then they slowly went after air defense systems to make our skies free for our planes to fly. Then they went after Taliban military installations. They went after the camps. And then slowly but surely, as we started to get our special forces people in on the ground, they were able to direct that air power down to assist the Northern Alliance to take Mazar-e-Sharif initially, and then to do what they have done in Kabul, which is essentially to have their forces outside the town, but they do have some forces inside the town providing security inside the town, and that's gone very well.

The real challenge now is in the southern part of the country where there is no Northern Alliance equivalent. And now we have Marines going in, we have other forces operating there. It'll probably take a little bit longer, but I think the military campaign is going just about the way we anticipated it would.

KING: With no loss of life. Should we expect loss of life? Military men do talk in that language: How many men do you lose?

POWELL: Military men always understand that there will be casualties, and you should never go into a conflict thinking it will be casualty-free or trying to conduct it casualty-free.

You should always try to conduct it in a way that you minimize loss of life to your side. That's sensible, and that's what we're taught. But the mission comes first. And in the accomplishment of that mission, you have to expect that you will take casualty; lives will be lost. And that's why they're called soldiers.

KING: Do you think the public will continue to support when and if lives are lost?

POWELL: Yes. It's a mistake to think the American people are not able to make sacrifices of this kind. They only want to understand that it's for a proper cause, that the mission makes sense, it is for an interest that is important to us, or our friends, or our international alliances. And the American people have shown throughout the course of our history that we can take casualties when those casualties are in a good cause.

KING: The Russians fought in Afghanistan for a long time. Did they help us with regard to advice?

POWELL: They have given us a great deal of advice. We have gone to school on their experience.

KING: They had a rough time.

POWELL: They had a rough time, but this is a different kind of conflict. They were fighting a nation that was united against them, and they tried to do it with blunt force. We are fighting a nation that really isn't in the hands of the Taliban -- they didn't really want this kind of regime over them. And so you can see those fissures start to break it up into its different components: Pashtuns, Northern Alliance, Tajiks, Uzbeks, all sorts of folks who are now very happy to see the Taliban regime go.

So it's quite a different campaign.

KING: Is Osama bin Laden's capture or death a must?

POWELL: I think it is something that we have to pursue. We have to get Osama bin Laden because he is the head of the organization we're after.

KING: He's more than just a symbol.

POWELL: He's the head. He's a symbol, and he is the head. And so as long as he is there, then you can expect him to continue to try to regenerate any part of the organization that we do take down.

But it is not just Osama bin Laden. It is also the Al Qaeda network that he runs, but which is semi-autonomous. In about 15-plus countries, there are cells. We have to go after all those cells.

But as the president made clear from the very beginning, it's terrorism and terrorists we're after. And there are other terrorist organizations, there are other forms of terrorism around the world that we have to turn our attention to. That's why he keeps reminding the American people, reminding the international community, reminding all of our friends, that this is a long-term campaign that will go on for years, even if we got Osama bin Laden tomorrow.

KING: And might we -- you don't want to comment on, specifically, when he said, "He'll find out" -- might we have to go on to Iraq? Might we?

POWELL: I don't want to answer that in the speculative manner that the question often comes to us. The president has all of his options. The Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein is an evil one. They are developing -- tried to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The U.N. inspectors and the U.N. sanctions have kept them rather constrained. We control something like 80 percent of the money available to Saddam Hussein. We know what that money is being spent for through the oil for food program.

And so the president has all of his options, and he will look at all of those countries that continue to provide safe havens and harbors for terrorists.

KING: So when you say...

POWELL: It's not useful to try to draw out from us what is the president going to do, when the president has all of his options. He can decide.

KING: But when you say, "long, long, long time," that's not just Afghanistan, right?

POWELL: It's not Afghanistan. It's not just Iraq. It's terrorism. What we're after is terrorism. And terrorism wherever it is, if it's the type of terrorism that has a global reach, that it could affect our interests, the welfare of our citizens or the interests of our friends in a way that it becomes an interest of ours, that is on our agenda.

KING: We'll be right back with the secretary of state, Colin Powell, right after this.


KING: We're back with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

POWELL: Is something wrong, Larry? KING: No, you should show your sense of humor more in public. You do have a great sense of humor. And I know this is very serious business here, but you do have a great sense of humor.

By the way, if Iraq happened -- and again, I'm not saying you're to speculate -- would that destroy the coalition, if we have to take action there?

POWELL: Larry, this is all speculative. What we might have to do will be something we'll make a judgment on in the future. And at that point, you can be sure the president would consult with his coalition partners.

KING: Fighting terrorism. In World War II, there were kamikazi pilots, right? The poor men were on a ship, and here comes a plane. How do you fight someone who is willing to die?

POWELL: Well, you give them every opportunity to show that willingness before they're able to conduct the attack. You have to use your intelligence assets, your law enforcement assets, try to get into their networks, use your financial tools to find out how they're being funded. And you've got to stop them, and hopefully, have them commit their suicide before they have a chance to do it against one of our targets.

KING: Which didn't happen pre-9/11.

POWELL: Didn't happen pre-9/11. But I think we're doing a much better job now, working within the coalition, on rooting up financial networks, finding people who have buried in, people in Spain, in Germany and elsewhere. Some of our friends in the Gulf region are giving us tremendous access to bank records and information that will help us trace these kinds of organizations. Not only will this lead to people who are willing to kill themselves to get at us, but it will also make it harder for them to do that because they are now being watched and we're now ripping up those networks.

KING: Have we stopped some things we'll never know about?

POWELL: I'm sure we have.

When you put this amount of effort against it -- FBI, thousands of agents, the Central Intelligence Agency, other intelligence agencies, when you get all of our coalition partners working together to do the same thing, this gets inside their planning and decision cycle. They have to be far more careful than they ever were before. They can't (ph) with impunity say, "Well, let's get a visa and go to the United States." A little harder now and they're being watched more carefully.

So this gets inside their planning cycle, and I'm sure that we have stopped some attacks, just as sure as I am that they are still planning other attacks.

KING: Any thoughts on John Ashcroft's decisions to hold people -- people not of American birth against -- without, you know, sort of, like habeas corpus, without having charges?

POWELL: Well, you know, what happened on the 11th of September was not just an average crime. It as a crime against the United States, but a crime against humanity. Some 4,000 people lost their lives; this wasn't routine. And we discovered that we had a lot of vulnerabilities in our society. And I think what the administration is trying to do, what Attorney General Ashcroft is trying to do, is to go against these immediate vulnerabilities we have and do it as quickly as possible.

So interview people that we think may be sources of information, do a better job of watching our borders, taking other actions that in this emergency are warranted, and the American people expect us to take in order to protect them during this very, very serious time of high tension.

KING: So we have to bend a little then?

POWELL: I think we have to show a little willingness to do things we might have not done before September 11. But I'm also sure that as we find ourselves more secure again -- once again secure in our own society, that some of the things that are inconveniences now will go away and go back to our normal way of doing business.

KING: Did the scenario of September 11 ever come up in your years of discussion? Was it every said, "You know, what if they ever take a plane and go into a building"?

POWELL: It may have happened. I mean, there may have been some people who had war-gamed that out, but I had not war-gamed it out. And it was a shock to all of us.

But it was a very well-executed, well-planned, extremely sophisticated operation. Very, very difficult to intercept unless you had intelligence that it was going to happened and you could have found the people who were planning such a thing.

KING: As a New Yorker, was it particularly painful to you?

POWELL: Very. And I know those two buildings. I watched them being built. I remember when they opened. And to see my city hurt that way it was very painful.

KING: You were a young guy when they started to build those.

POWELL: No. I was already in the Army at that time. But nevertheless having grown up, as you did, Larry, with the Empire State Building being the tallest, the biggest, then to watch the World Trade Center come up in the early-70s -- late-60s, early-70s -- as the new symbol of New York. And then to watch on television as they both collapsed...

KING: You were in Peru.

POWELL: I was in Lima, Peru, meeting with...

KING: Watching it somewhere else.

POWELL: I was with the president of Peru, President Toledo. At breakfast, we were having a meeting talking about economic issues, talking about how he wanted a better trading relationship with the United States when the notes comes in. I got my note just a little before he was being handed a note. And when I saw the note and realized there were two planes...

KING: That's what it said?

POWELL: It said two planes, first a jet and a prop plane. It's always the first reports always a little off. But when I said it was two, I immediately said, "It wasn't an accident. It had to be a terrorist incident." And then within a few moments after that, other notes came in and the magnitude of the disaster was obvious.

And our meeting was about to finish. I was in Peru for an Organization of the American States meeting to pass a charter of democracy for the Western Hemisphere. And so I went to that meeting while my plane was being readied -- canceled the rest of my trip -- and while my plane was being readied, I went to that meeting and received the condolences from all of my colleagues in the Organization of American States, 34 nations. And then they arose and applauded and then we -- by unanimity, we stood up and endorsed this charter for democracy, as a response to the terrorists.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Colin Powell right after this.


KING: We're back with our remaining moments with the secretary of state, Colin Powell.

The speech in Louisville, the reaction to it, any surprise?

POWELL: The reaction was far more favorable than I had anticipated, and I'm very pleased by that reaction. In that speech I tried to lay out a comprehensive vision that the United States has for the Middle East, for Israel and Palestinians -- Israelis and Palestinians. We have to end the violence. We have to recognize the frustration that exists on the Palestinian side. We have to move forward to land for peace and find a way for these two peoples to live in peace in this wonderful land.

KING: Is this in a change, Mr. Secretary, from -- the hypothesis originally of the Bush administration was, of course, a hands-off, solve it yourself; did September 11 change all that; that nation- building is part of our process now; we are involved?

POWELL: No. It really wasn't changed by September 11. In fact, if it hadn't been for September 11, I would have given the speech earlier. We were planning this speech from early August on.

And what we were trying to do for the first months in the Bush administration was to try to bring in effect the Mitchell plan, which was a plan put together by Senator George Mitchell and a number of distinguished international leaders who came together, which said, "Let's get a cease-fire and then from cease-fire to confidence- building measures and then get back to negotiations under U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, land for peace."

So we had not been able to get there. We hadn't been able to get this cease-fire going. And we had made a judgment that, let's try to escalate the level of dialogue with respect to security relations and getting to the cease-fire.

And this speech was for the purpose of laying out the whole situation as we saw it for both sides and saying, "We're prepared to engage at a higher level with General Zinni and Assistant Secretary Burns. But both sides have got to come to the table prepared to give, prepared to compromise." This is not something that can be solved by Colin Powell or President George Bush or General Zinni. It can only be solved by the two parties. And anybody who thinks that there is some new magic plan waiting in a closet somewhere, they're going to be disappointed.

Prime Minister Sharon has made it clear that he has to have security and the absence of violence in order for him to do the things that he is ready to do for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people know that they have to get the violence down in order to get what they want: opening of the closures, removal of the Israeli Defense Forces in places that Israeli defense forces in places that they shouldn't be, ending of settlement activity and getting to negotiations. So both sides require things and both sides are going to have to work this out face to face.

KING: Do you see in your lifetime a Palestinian state and Israel living in peace?


KING: You do.

POWELL: I think it is possible. Now, I don't know what my lifetime is anymore, Larry...


... my age.


KING: Every time I moderate a debate on this issue they get upsetter and upsetter.

POWELL: It's the toughest account that I deal with every day. But the reality is that it'll only be resolved when the violence ends, when both sides realize they're going to have to make difficult compromises to get back to the negotiating table. But it can be done if they come to the negotiating table with a willingness to understand the point of view of the other and a willingness to see each other as partners to move forward. KING: Are we pro-Israel?

POWELL: We are pro-Israel. We have been pro-Israel since the day we...

KING: That is not stated.

POWELL: Never, never will. But I'm also pro-human kind, and I'm also pro-Palestinian to the extent that they are human beings, to the extent that they have a desire to see their children grow up in peace.

And so my job is to try to bring the two sides together so that they can find a way to live in peace in this blessed, wonderful land.

But the security of Israel will never be put at risk as we move forward.

KING: Two other quick things. A post-Taliban government: Are we going to be involved in that?

POWELL: We have an ambassador, Ambassador Jim Dobbins, who is in Bonn now. He was instrumental in getting the Northern Alliance to send representatives. I'm very pleased with what Ambassador Dobbins has been able to do.

Now, we are helping. We are available...


POWELL: ... pushing and prodding.

And our presence is very, very important. But it's going to have to be Afghan leaders who decide what kind of provisional government that we put in place.

KING: And finally it's been said that no matter who was elected, Gore, Bush or McCain, Colin Powell would have been secretary of state. So give me your assessment of this president. Now, I'm not asking for some flowery thing. We all got to know him. You got to know him, right? You didn't know him that well beforehand. Give me your assessment, in closing.

POWELL: I think he's doing a great job. The American people think he's doing a great job. He was tested mightily on the September 11 events. And I think he has shown what he is made of. He has shown the strength of his character. He has shown the kind of determination that is built into his very fiber. And I think he is a great leader for this nation and a great leader for the world at this time.

KING: Do you see it in meetings when the doors are -- when we don't see it?

POWELL: I see it all the time. I see it in meetings. I see it in international conferences. You know who you're talking to when you're looking at George Bush across the table. He is straightforward, direct, honest. And people know they are looking at America when they talk to George Bush.

KING: Thank you. Always good seeing you.

POWELL: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Secretary of State Colin Powell.




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