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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Profiles of Kim Jong Il, Colin Powell

Aired February 8, 2003 - 17:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS -- he's taken the case against Iraq to the United Nations. A soldier turned diplomat whose words are being weighed around the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has what the military folks call a command presence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A kid who started on the streets of New York and ended up in Washington's inner circles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARILYN BERNS, SISTER: We came from a kind of family that raised you and sort of programmed you for success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The story of Vietnam veteran, Gulf War hero, Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Then, he's a wild card in America's war on terror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing he has is military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A reclusive leader whose subjects seem to worship him. He stepped out of the shadows to assume power from his father.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Korean, we have the expression, tiger father and dog son. So he felt like a dog son compared to his tiger father.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: But leading North Korea wasn't his only calling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Takes a dictator to make 100,000 people dance in step. He said that he would really have loved to have been a movie director.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: An eccentric dictator with an extravagant lifestyle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Hennessy cognac confirmed his annual bill runs between $650,000 to $720,000.

ANNOUNCER: The strange life of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Their stories and more, now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.

His name is Kim Jong Il, but to his people, he is simply known as "great leader." Kim is the absolute ruler of North Korea, the last Stalinist leader. He is reclusive and eccentric, but new fears about North Korea's suspected nuclear aspirations have placed Kim squarely on the world stage. Our profile now from CNN's Jonathan Mann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North Korea, a state shrouded in mystery. And ruled by an enigmatic dictator. But beneath the bluster and pageantry, a nation in distress. The country depends heavily on foreign aid for survival. And Kim Jong Il, the man North Koreans reverently call "the great leader," stands defiant as the U.S. brands him part of the axis of evil.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We got people starving to death, because the nation chooses to build weapons of mass destruction.

MANN: North Korea blames the U.S. for the most recent tensions.

PARK GIL YON, NORTH KOREAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Under such constant strip (ph) of the military aggression on the part of the United States, our people and our army are fully ready, or they should be ready, to defend our sovereignty.

MANN: Kim Jong Il boasts the world's fourth largest army, and a history of arming any country willing to play, states including Iran and Syria.

JAMES LILLEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO S. KOREA: That is a real danger -- putting nuclear weapons and long-range missiles and biological and chemical warfare in the hands of terrorists or nations that hate the United States.

MANN: Since the end of the Korean War, troops from North and South Korea have stood eyeball to eyeball along the uneasy DMZ. Also standing guard on the peninsula, some 37,000 U.S. troops.

The stakes have gotten higher. Kim recently withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the U.S. fears North Korea is building nuclear weapons.

At the center of it all, the world's last Stalinist leader.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He is a complete product of a communist, Marxist society, raised by a father who believed in it, living in an environment in which there is a mega personality cult.

MANN: A personality cult started by Kim's father, the first North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung.

MIKE CHINOY, CNN SR. ASIA CORRESPONDENT: It's unquestionably the most pervasive personality cult anywhere in the world. In many ways, North Korea resembles a religious cult as much as a country in which life of ordinary people is organized around mass worship of the great leader.

JEROLD POST, FORMER CIA ANALYST: One of the challenging aspects of trying to profile Kim Jong Il is separating the man from the myth.

MANN: The man sports a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hair-do, elevator shoes and jump-suits.

POST: He has great insecurity about him personally. He's only 5-foot-2, weighs rollie pollie, 175 pounds, wears four-inch lifts in his shoes.

MANN: But in the capital city, Pyongyang, Kim takes on mythical proportions. Officially, Kim Jong Il was born on a sacred Korean mountaintop, amid rainbows and bright stars.

LILLEY: He was not. He was born probably in the Soviet Union, when his father was a major in the Soviet army.

MANN: Major Kim Il Sung organized guerrilla warfare against the Japanese in World War II. The family was Korean, but lived in Siberia during the war.

At the war's end, the Soviet Union controlled Northern Korea, and put Kim Il Sung in charge. In 1950, Kim Il Sung launched an invasion of South Korea. He expected victory in six months. U.S. and United Nations forces came to the South's aid, pushing the invading army back up to the Chinese border. China jumped into the fight for the North. After three years and two million dead, the war reached a stalemate. The invasion failed, but North Korea's strongman learned a lesson.

DR. KONGDAN OH, INSTITUTE FOR DEFENSE ANALYSIS: He basically swore to himself, these Americans have superior air power and these Americans have superior military power. This is my sworn enemy. And we have to build our military to fight against these bad guys.

MANN: Kim Jong Il was about 10 years old at the end of the war. He watched his father rebuild the military, seal off the country and preach a philosophy called "Juche."

POST: Juche is the philosophy of self-alliance. It appeals to the Korean sense of the hermit kingdom. We don't need anybody else, we only rely on ourselves.

MANN: The philosophy called for self-reliance, though the Soviets and China propped up the economy. Most North Koreans led austere lives, but not Kim Jong Il.

POST: He was told from very early on that he was the sort of God, in effect, a daunting challenge.

MANN: In 1964, he graduated from Kim Il Sung University with a political economy degree. Though intelligent, the timid graduate was a far cry from his formidable father.

OH: In Korean, we have the expression, tiger father and dog son. So he felt like he's a dog son, compared to his tiger father.

MANN: It was Kim's artistic side that won at least some respect. The son produced movies and musicals, lauding his father's exploits.

OH: When these movies (UNINTELLIGIBLE) shown to his father, father was in tears, and he said, ah, my son, his ability as well as incredible loyalty and skill to make myself as a true ruler.

MANN: While Kim orchestrated the national worship of his father, he also showed signs of his own decadence.

LILLEY: I got a firsthand story that he came into one of the meetings fairly drunk. And his father made him sit in the corner, and then dismissed him. But it's clear that, although his father didn't treat him well all the time, this was the anointed leader and this was the man who was going to succeed him.

MANN: In 1980, Kim's father officially named his son as successor. For the next decade, Kim rotated through various government positions in preparation for the top job.

In July of 1994, Kim Il Sung died of a heart attack. North Koreans sobbed in the streets as Kim Jong Il took his father's place as head of state.

When we come back, filling his father's shoes, the eccentric world of Kim Jong Il.

ALBRIGHT: The reading that is available in the west makes you believe that he is not only ruthless, but kind of perverted and peculiar.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MANN: Call it Kim Jong Il's coming out party. In October of 2000, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright became the highest ranking American ever to visit North Korea. Kim put on quite a performance. ALBRIGHT: I thought to myself at that time it takes a dictator to make 100,000 people dance in step. Kim Jong Il said that, you know, everybody had volunteered to do this. Big grain of salt there. And that he himself had taken a personal interest in the dancing and the color of the costumes and the various production numbers, and later, at a dinner, he said that he would really have loved to have been a movie director.

MANN: Movies apparently do color his world. Some of his favorites -- "James Bond," "Friday the 13th" slasher films and "Daffy Duck."

POST: He is fascinated with the media, reportedly has a collection of 20,000 videotapes, which many have said shape his view of the west.

MANN: That fascination with film led to a bizarre kind of crime. In 1978, the kidnapping of a South Korean director and his actress wife, to make movies.

POST: When he first met her, he said to her, well, Madam Choi (ph), you must be surprised to see that I resemble the droppings of a midget. So there's a lot of insecurity, not just politically, but personally.

MANN: But Kim put the filmmakers under his complete control.

OH: After taking his confidence, then they were then given some freedom to make movies.

MANN: Eventually enough freedom to travel. On a stopover in Vienna in 1986, they slipped away from their guards after eight years in captivity.

But other kidnappings ended differently. Last September, at a summit with the Japanese prime minister, Kim admitted that in the '70s, North Korea sent teams into Japan to seize a dozen of its citizens. According to his explanations, it was to teach North Korean agents to speak Japanese. According to his account, most of the captives have since died.

Western intelligence also blames Kim for bombings. The 1983 attempt on the life of South Korea's president that barely missed him and killed 17 of his officials. And in 1987, the bombing of a South Korean jet that killed 115 people, an apparent effort to scare tourists away from the upcoming '88 Seoul Olympic games.

Over the last decade, Kim's own people have suffered. A U.S. congressional report estimates two million starved to death in the last 10 years.

PAK: We will overcome such difficulties, one after another, by mobilizing all the efforts of our people. And, of course, we are receiving a number of the international organizations humanitarian assistance. CHINOY: It got so bad that a very proud government, which has had a philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance and not asking for anything from the rest of the world, was forced in an unprecedented step to ask for international food aid.

MANN: But for Kim, there is plenty to eat and enjoy.

POST: Just one example of his extravagance. The Hennessy cognac manufacturers have confirmed that his annual bill from Hennessy runs between $650,000 and $720,000 for their most expensive cognac, which is called Paradis.

MANN: How does Kim stay in power? Critics say he takes a firm hand with any opposition.

LILLEY: And if anybody takes him on, you've heard about the Gulags. They are gigantic. It's holocaust stuff. You don't cross this guy, or you're dead.

MANN: A starving people, a failed state. But more than a million men under arms, reserve troops add nearly five million more. North Korean missiles can easily reach South Korea and Japan and may soon be in striking distance of Alaska.

LILLEY: He hasn't got anything to export in terms of ideology or material achievement. The only thing he has is military. And he has expressed a willingness to use this. Turn Seoul into a sea of fire. Turn Washington into a sea of fire. This kind of talk he makes, his people make. And you got to pay attention to it.

MANN: Washington is paying attention. Coming up -- a nuclear crisis and new dangers posed by Kim Jong Il.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

MANN: With an ironclad grip, Kim Jong Il reigns over this mysterious society, rarely seen by foreigners. Controlling every aspect of life in North Korea, he is the God-like center of a cult of personality so strong, ordinary citizens sob and scream at the mere thought of their great leader.

Loyalty is paramount here, even among a population suffering through drought and famine.

POST: He regularly talks to the Korean people about the need to sacrifice, to pursue their goals of Juche, which means self-reliance.

MANN: Though the North Korean leader has had to get help from foreigners. In return for concessions on North Korea's developing nuclear program, Kim Jong Il received massive food and oil shipments from the U.S. and opened dialogue between some of his former foes in Asia. But for the most part, he and his country have stayed in the shadows. But then, in January of last year, the hermit kingdom was thrust into the spotlight on not so flattering terms. President Bush put North Korea on America's most wanted list.

BUSH: North Korea has a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

MANN: While Iraq and Iran were obvious choices to be branded enemy states of the U.S., the inclusion of North Korea caught many off guard, including Kim Jong Il himself.

OH: Those three words, axis of evil, may have had a more bombshell impact on Kim Jong Il's anger and mentality and his perception toward the new administration more than anything else.

MANN: But it wasn't just North Korea that objected to President Bush's remark.

ROH MOO-HYUN, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT-ELECT (through translator): To call North Korea an axis of evil is to take a position that would invite a significant danger to the Korean peninsula.

MANN: But the administration quickly moved to justify its stance and put the blame squarely on Kim Jong Il and his country's policies.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It's the most aggressive and spreading ballistic missile technology around the world. It is the chief merchant. It's the place that you go if you want to buy ballistic missile technology.

MANN: In October of last year, the U.S. said North Korea admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons program. The North Koreans responded angrily.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Democratic People's Republic of Korea will immediately revive the old Soviet-designed nuclear reactor and resume construction of other nuclear facilities.

MANN: North Korea says it was the United States that forced its hand by cutting off aid shipments of food and oil.

CHINOY: The evidence from leaks from the CIA, the American intelligence is that it was in the last two years that the North really moved forward on the uranium program, and it was the admission by North Korea to American officials last fall that they had this program and American demands that the North stop and U.S. pressure on North Korea to force them to stop that triggered the chain of events that's led to the current crisis.

MANN: But why would Kim Jong Il risk the wrath of the world's military superpower?

LILLEY: Attention. Money. Food. Energy. Recognition. Early stages of bargaining is to put on what we call opera for the world. People will get intimidated. People were intimidated in 1993-'94. We came out of that thing with a bucket of gold, worth $5 billion to help him stop screeching and threatening. Try it again.

OH: North Korea's is the only self-claimed socialist country which does not recognize the market economy at all. If you are such a country, if you are the ruler, think about it, how am I going to defend from any aggressors or anybody who doesn't like us? In that case, you must have a military force policy.

MANN: Whether he was bluffing or looking to protect his sovereignty, the United States was not sympathetic to Kim Jong Il's case.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The world could right away be in the same position again, where the world takes North Korea at its words, North Korea sees if it can get anything, and then North Korea plays this blackmail game again.

MANN: But eventually, diplomacy began to prevail.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: North Korea knows the United States does not intend to start a war with North Korea. All of our friends in the region know it. The president has made this clear repeatedly, as have I, as have other members of the administration.

ALBRIGHT: We talked to Stalin. We talked to Mao Zedong. And I think it's very important for us to have a dialogue to make absolutely clear what it is that we require from North Korea if we are to have some kind of functional relationship with them.

MANN: Unlike Saddam Hussein, his colleague in the axis of evil, it appears that Kim Jong Il is out of imminent danger.

But is the world out of danger?

CHINOY: There is a very limited time frame after which the United States and the rest of the world will have to face the prospect of a North Korea with a genuine nuclear weapons capability.

MANN: The CIA estimates the one or two nuclear devices already in Kim Jong Il's possession could grow to half a dozen within just six months. But would he launch a nuclear attack?

OH: As a matter of fact, North Korea neither is smart and strategic and brilliant. I don't think he's stupid to use nuclear bomb for any country, because he knows that by triggering one bomb, means the end of North Korea.

MANN: The bigger concern is what he's willing to do with his massive arsenal.

JAMES WOLFSTHAL, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTL. PEACE: The concern is that North Korea could turn into kind of nuclear Kmart, where they could sell nuclear material to Iran, whom they've also sold ballistic missiles, to other countries, such as Syria, or Lybia, which has also been a purchaser of North Korean equipment, or even, God forbid, to small sub-national groups, al Qaeda, other terrorist organizations.

MANN: But for now, the outcome remains in the hands of this unpredictable, complicated leader.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: After much pleading from his doctors, Kim Jong Il recently gave up smoking, a reported three-pack a day habit. But true to form, the great leader apparently didn't quit alone. Every senior officer in the North Korean army was reportedly ordered to stop smoking, too.

ANNOUNCER: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns -- drumming up international support to take on Saddam Hussein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: We, as a council, we as the United Nations say, enough. Enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The story of a reluctant warrior. Secretary of State Colin Powell. His story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out the case for war against Iraq this week, taking the United Nations and the world step by step through a litany of alleged violations and acts of deception. Time and again, president to president, Powell has been the man the White House turns to in moments of crisis.

Here's Andrea Koppel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been two years since Colin Powell was asked to switch hats from America's number one soldier to America's number one diplomat. But even as secretary of state, he's had a hard time escaping the specter of war. Powell has been one of President Bush's pointmen, dealing with one international crisis after another, most recently, the prospect of proliferation of nuclear weapons in North Korea and the continuing showdown with Saddam Hussein.

As the voice of the Bush administration, the secretary of state made the case against Iraq in front of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.

POWELL: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

KOPPEL: Presenting what he called "irrefutable and undeniable proof" that Iraq is not cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors, Powell called the international community to action.

POWELL: How much longer are we willing to put up with Iraq's noncompliance before we, as a council, we as the United Nations, say enough. Enough.

KOPPEL: This is not the first time Powell's stature and experience have helped bolster the Bush administration. As the first member of the new cabinet to be announced...

BUSH: ... and ask him to become the 65th secretary of state of the United States of America.

KOPPEL: Powell gave instant credibility to the president-elect, the candidate who lost the popular vote and who lacked experience in international affairs.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Powell is a man of independent stature. He has built a reputation based on the force of his personality. He has what the military folks call a command presence.

KOPPEL: Though the courtship between Bush and Powell was long, the honeymoon was brief.

JOHANNA MCGEARY, TIME FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: For a time, Colin Powell was finding himself in the position where, in the minds of lots of other people, he wasn't the preeminent voice of American foreign policy. Diplomats abroad would listen to what Colin Powell had to say and then turn around and ask, but what does Vice President Cheney think? What does Defense Secretary Rumsfeld think? What does National Security Adviser Rice think?

KOPPEL: But time and again, Powell has managed to secure and justify his place in the administration on issues ranging form the Middle East to the war on terrorism.

Powell's journey to the corridors of power in Washington began in the tough streets of New York. He was born in 1937 and his parents soon settled in the Bronx, where they managed to keep their kids out of the trouble that tempted so many others.

POWELL: Frankly, it was a very fine upbringing that I received in the South Bronx. We had our problems of drugs and crimes and none of our parents were very, very rich. In fact, they were all quite poor.

KOPPEL: His parents, immigrants from Jamaica, worked in the garment district, his mother, Maude, a seamstress; his father, Luther, a shipping clerk foreman. They had come to New York with a dream, determined their children would have a bright future.

MARILYN BERNS, SISTER: We came from a kind of family that raised you and sort of programmed you for success. You know, the expectations were there that you would go forth and achieve.

KOPPEL: Colin and his sister Marilyn were taught that education was the key to success, but all the way through high school, young Colin was hardly passionate about school.

BERNS: Oh, well I think everybody knows that, you know, his studies were pretty average when he was in school.

KOPPEL: But the melting pot of 1940s New York educated him in other ways.

POWELL: And I learned a great deal about myself on the streets of New York. I grew up with people, went to school with people of all different ethnic origins and backgrounds and religions.

GENE NORMAN, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: The totality of a neighborhood that lets you see the world through many different eyes.

TORRY GRANT, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: He prides himself on his ability to speak Yiddish.

NORMAN: Well, I don't believe a word of that.

GRANT: Well, he says it but we all picked up a little Yiddish. We all picked up a little German, Spanish, Italian.

JOSEPH PERSICO, BIOGRAPHER: Colin Powell had very little sense of being a member of an oppressed minority when he was growing up because, as he put it, he lived among Italians, Jews, Poles, Puerto Ricans. Everybody was a member of a minority.

KOPPEL: Although racism was a fact of life in the '40s and '50s, his parents refused to let their children think of themselves as second-class citizens.

POWELL: My parents kept telling, and the adults in my life kept telling me, don't worry about that. Don't care what people say about you or how they point to you and think you're different. You're not different.

KOPPEL: His parents expected him to go to college and so he did to CCNY, the City College of New York.

POWELL: They let me in with my bad grades and I stayed there for four and a half years, it was a four-year course, with bad grades.

KOPPEL: Despite the bad grades, he found his calling.

When the story of Colin Powell continues, the sorry student discovers a reason to stay in school.

POWELL: And now I'm the favorite son, the most famous person who ever graduated CCNY, and they give me all kinds of honors, and I smile because they were sure anxious to see me go 35 years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KOPPEL: After squeaking through high school, the kid from the South Bronx took his "C" average to CCNY, City College of New York. Clearly academics did not excite him, but something else did. POWELL: I found something that I liked at CCNY. It was ROTC. I liked the discipline and structure of the military. I felt somewhat distinctive wearing a uniform. I hadn't been distinctive in much else.

GRANT: He used to love hiking up and down the block practicing his marching, calling cadence out to himself. He really enjoyed it. So it was without question that Colin was going to be a career man.

KOPPEL: Powell's military career began in 1958, when he received his Bachelor's Degree in Geology and a commission in the United States Army. Colin was now Second Lieutenant Powell.

BERNS: My mother thought, oh this is nice, when he graduated. He'll go in the Army for a few years and he'll come out and get a job.

KOPPEL: Little did she know her son was in it for the long haul.

POWELL: The Army was the way out for me, the way out of the city. It was an opportunity when there weren't many other opportunities for young blacks, even young blacks who had completed college.

KOPPEL: But when Powell reported for training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he ran into an unexpected roadblock, segregation.

PERSICO: Now, the way Colin Powell handled something like this, yes he's exasperated. He's enraged. But he's not going to let it destroy him. As he put it to me best of all, "I was not going to let other people's opinions of me become my opinion of myself."

KOPPEL: The young man, who had been programmed for success since early childhood, would not be discouraged.

PERSICO: He told me once how one of his officers, early in his career, had said, "Lieutenant Powell, you're the best black lieutenant in the U.S. Army." Powell was not satisfied with that. He didn't want to see this artificial color barrier. He said, "I was determined to become the best lieutenant in the U.S. Army."

KOPPEL: In 1962, the 25-year-old was shipped to Vietnam. Initially excited to serve in combat, he soon became frustrated that decision makers in Washington had not clearly defined the mission and had no plan for getting out.

POWELL: I came away from that experience with a belief that if we're going to send young men and women into harm's way, we should make sure they have a clear purpose that they are fighting for. They understand that purpose. The American people understand it and the American people are supporting them in what they do.

KOPPEL: The United States Powell returned to was very different from the one he had left. Anti-war protests, the civil rights movement, violence was everywhere. The only calm in the storm was on the home front. The newly promoted Captain Powell had married Alma Vivian Johnson in 1963. Over the years, Alma would hold down the fort during her husband's many absences, making sure the growing Powell clan had everything they needed.

PERSICO: Alma Powell accepted that this was the life this man loved and that he had a great deal to give to it, and she accepted her sometimes very difficult role as a mother on her own and also an Army wife who was expected to be charming, tactful, and entertaining. She carried out that role rather beautifully for 35 years, and I think part of his rise is due to the fact that he had a suitable wife.

KOPPEL: With his family in good hands, Colin Powell concentrated on his career. The next big push came in 1972, when Powell's commanding officers ordered him to apply for the White House Fellows Program.

POWELL: The beautiful part about the Army is that they were always -- they were always giving me something that was beyond me. They were always testing me and by being pushed, I grew fast.

KOPPEL: Out of 1,500 applicants, he was accepted, and once again rose to the challenge.

FRANK CARUCCI, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If you gave him a project, it got done. It got done effectively. It was easy to spot him as a rising talent at that time.

KOPPEL: Then another golden opportunity. Powell was named military assistant to the secretary of defense, and was exposed to decision making at the highest levels.

POWELL: At some point in my career, I realized I was doing well enough to become a general.

KOPPEL: So Colin Powell left Washington for an assignment at Fort Carson, Colorado, one that would put him within reach of that once unthinkable goal, but the newly minted general would not stay away from the capital for long.

CARUCCI: He didn't want to come back, but we had Ronald Reagan call him and he agreed to come back.

KOPPEL: It was an offer he couldn't refuse, deputy national security adviser. He was later promoted to national security adviser, a first for an African-American. When George Bush became president, he kept Powell close by, naming him to the highest military rank in the country, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Powell exploded onto the scene in August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Powell was initially reluctant to commit U.S. troops, but eventually he became one of the administration's most trusted spokesmen, when the assault on Saddam Hussein's army finally came.

POWELL: Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we're going to cut it off and then we're going to kill it.

KOPPEL: When the war was over, Powell had become a national hero. Powell's term extended into the Clinton administration, where he again argued against military action, this time in Bosnia. Even though ethnic cleansing reached gruesome proportions, the mission did not fit the parameters of the Powell doctrine.

POWELL: I have been characterized as the reluctant warrior. Guilty. But I follow in a long tradition of American generals who have always been reluctant warriors.

KOPPEL: In 1993, Powell retired to write his memoirs with a reported $6 million advance. Published in late '95, the promotional tour was mobbed.

POWELL: I'll take a question.

SAM DONALDSON, CORRESPONDENT: General, is this really the start of a book tour, or the start of a presidential campaign?

POWELL: Today is the beginning of a book tour, Mr. Donaldson, and...

DONALDSON: And tomorrow?

POWELL: And tomorrow, we'll continue to promote the book, but at the same time, we'll be traveling around the country, meeting many Americans and answering any questions they may wish to put to me.

KOPPEL: With both Democrats and Republicans courting him, Colin Powell weighs his options, next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The latest CNN poll has you right now ahead of both President Clinton and Senator Dole. How does that make you feel?

POWELL: Well, I'm not worrying about the polls or paying attention to polls right now.

KOPPEL: With a runaway best seller, and sky-high ratings in the polls, Colin Powell in late 1995 was at a crossroads.

POWELL: The question I faced was, should I enter politics and seek the presidency of the United States.

KOPPEL: But it was no secret that Alma Powell, his staunchest supporter for 33 years, did not want him to run. After months of public speculation and weeks of private anguish, he concluded he lacked the passion to run a successful presidential campaign.

POWELL: The passion and commitment that, despite my every effort, I do not yet have for political life.

KOPPEL: But he now clearly committed to a party, the Republicans. At the 2000 Republican Convention, staged to showcase the party's new inclusive image, Powell blasted the conservatives on affirmative action.

POWELL: Some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education, but you hardly hear a whimper when it's affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax code with preferences for special interest. It doesn't work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I, Colin Powell...

KOPPEL: Despite his differences with the party's right wing, Powell's credibility with the public made him a natural choice for the new Bush administration. The State Department staff literally cheered when Powell took command. Expectations were high. But his temperate approach frequently clashed with other members of the president's national security team.

BIDEN: In this administration, the overwhelming part of the foreign policy establishment is very hard right, movement right conservatives.

KOPPEL: Powell advocated caution and coalitions. The prevailing view in the administration was that the victor in the Cold War could impose its will unilaterally. When President Bush said he wanted U.S. troops out of the NATO peacekeeping force in the Balkans, Powell argued for supporting NATO. On negotiations with North Korea to stop developing long-range missiles, Powell said he would pick up where the Clinton administration left off. The White House said no, at least not right away.

POWELL: Because I have pitted others in saying, I got a little too far forward on my skis.

KOPPEL: And on the international treaty to stop global warning, the White House pulled the plug on U.S. support, without consulting Powell.

BIDEN: There seems to be a real distrust among movement conservatives, the right wing of the Republican Party in control of this administration, a real distrust for Powell.

KOPPEL: But his supporters said Powell fights the battles he considers most important, and Powell has ultimately turned many of the policy decisions his way.

RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: It seems to me you ought to view Secretary Powell, not as a 100-yard sprinter, but as a marathoner.

KOPPEL: As the lone voice pushing diplomacy, Powell persuaded the president to work with members of the United Nations to disarm Iraq.

BUSH: I want to thank the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, for his leadership, his good work and his determination over the past two months. KOPPEL: But Powell has had to fend off attacks from the outside as well as from the inner circle of hawks. As a prominent African- American, in a Republican administration, he is often a target. In October of last year, singer and activist, Harry Belafonte, lashed out at the secretary of state, comparing him to a house slave on a plantation.

HARRY BELAFONTE, SINGER AND ACTIVIST: Whenever somebody was in our tribe, within our group, emerges but has the position of authority and power to make a difference in the way business is done, our expectations run high. Many times those expectations are not fulfilled.

KOPPEL: Powell responded with dignity.

POWELL: If Harry had wanted to attack my politics, that was fine. If he wanted to attack a particular position I hold, that was fine. But to use a slave reference, I think, is unfortunate and is a throwback to another time and another place that I wish Harry had thought twice about using.

KOPPEL: On the flip side, Powell is often asked to speak on behalf of African-Americans. Just last December, he was pressured to publicly rebuke Republican Senator Trent Lott after he made comments interpreted as pro-segregation. Powell complied saying he deplored the sentiments behind the statement.

Now, with a new year beginning, the man once dubbed a reluctant warrior is dealing with the possibility of another war with Iraq.

MCGEARY: One of the things that people have always felt about Colin Powell is that he is a man of such great promise that what you want to see is that that promise is used to do great things. And if he has ever had a chance to show that to us, he has a chance to show it to us now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: When Secretary of State Colin Powell made the case for war against Iraq, he did so with the apparent backing of much of the nation. According to a new CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup Poll, Secretary Powell is the White House official Americans trust the most on Iraq, even more than the president himself. That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Next week, Michael Caine and Robert Downey Jr.

I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us.

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