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US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Iraq and Iran, September 29, 2004

'Powell Discusses Iraq Conference, Possible French Participation', Washington File, September 29, 2004.

Office of the Spokesman

Interview by Agence France Presse's Matt Lee and Christophe de Roquefeuil

Secretary Colin L. Powell

Washington, D.C.
September 29, 2004
(2:10 p.m. EDT)


MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: Thanks for seeing us today. First question on Iraq: Last week you announced an international conference on Iraq. Can you be more specific about the date, place for this conference? And also, I saw that the French government said that this conference should discuss, or begin to discuss, a possible withdrawal of the American soldiers from this country; and so the French are suggesting that the Iraqi insurgents should participate in this conference. What do you think of this -- about this?

SECRETARY POWELL: Let's start with the first point. I mentioned the conference at a number of points last week [at the United Nations], but it was a conference, really, that had been mentioned earlier by [Iraqi Interim] Prime Minister Allawi. And we have been working with him to arrange such a conference.

He has been going around talking to his neighbors, and then he wanted to bring them together and add the G8 [Group of Eight industrialized nations plus Russia] and perhaps some others to it. And so that's what I was referring to last week. As opposed to announcing it, I -- it was something that had been out there, [that] we had been talking about.

We think it is probably going to be held in the latter part of November. Prime Minister Allawi and his staff are in touch with countries in the region to host it. I think one of the leading candidates would be Cairo, Egypt. And details are being worked [out]. We'll certainly be one of the participants, as a member of the G8, but it is a conference that is now being organized by the Iraqi interim government [IIG].

Purpose? To bring the neighbors together: let the industrialized world, represented by the G8 and perhaps some others -- the Arab League, I expect, would be present, a representative of the Arab League, and a representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and maybe one or two others -- and talk about the situation in the region, and how they all could work together to provide greater stability in Iraq, and assist Iraq as it deals with its challenges, and as it gets ready for elections in January.

With respect to the French government, there was some confusion. I think it's been clarified by the French Foreign Ministry. Monsieur Barnier was not in any way suggesting that talking about withdrawal of U.S. forces was either a condition for the conference, which was reported initially, or necessarily an agenda item for the conference. There is no agenda yet for the conference.

I think what Michel was referring to was the U.N. [Security Council] Resolution 1546, that talks about: a year after the passage of the resolution we review the continued presence of the MNF [Multinational Force -- Iraq]. That's the reference that I think he was making, and I think it got, sort of, picked up in a slightly different way, but the French [Foreign] Ministry has corrected it; although, as I've found, the corrections don't always have the same import as the original story.

With respect to -- and certainly it would not be a conference that would include -- I don't think my colleague ever suggested that it would be a conference that would include people who are actively fighting against the government. If people had laid down their arms, and now wanted to participate in the conference, it would be up to the Iraqi interim government to decide who should represent the Iraqi people; but you can't have terrorists going to a conference.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: Just a follow-up on --

SECRETARY POWELL: Nor did I read that into any of the French remarks. I didn't think that's what they said.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: Right. Just to follow up on Iraq, what's your assessment of the security situation in this country? I saw a survey published this morning in The New York Times, very pessimistic about the number of attacks occurring in --

SECRETARY POWELL: It's a difficult environment. And some parts of the country are reasonably quiet, very quiet, and reasonably secure, quite secure. Other parts of the country are seeing increased activity.

The Sunni Triangle remains the center of the insurgency and has to be dealt with, and we anticipated and said, I think, at the time of transition that the insurgents would do everything they could: one, to keep there from being a smooth transition to an interim government; and they would do everything to try to keep successful elections from taking place, because successful elections mean that the Iraqi people have spoken. And the Iraqi people said, "These are the people we want to be our leaders, not these guys who are putting car bombs out in the streets every day and killing innocent civilians, and killing police who want to sign up to be policemen, or who are destroying the property and facilities and the hopes and dreams of the Iraqi people."

So we knew this would be a tough time, and it is a tough time. But I'm also confident that with the efforts of our multinational forces and with the continued buildup of the Iraqi security forces under the direction of General Petraeus, we'll get on top of it. And we're going full [speed] ahead for elections by the end of [January] 2005. And we're working with the United Nations, working with the Iraqi interim government, and we are now starting to take those steps necessary to organize ourselves for those elections.

MR. LEE: As a related question, you got an agreement today in Damascus with the Syrians, the Iraqis on the (inaudible) of the MNF. I'm wondering if you can elaborate a little bit more on what the Syrians have agreed to do. I assume you're pleased at this as long as they follow through with evidence that they've got.

And also, we have two days from now -- the [U.N.] secretary general [Kofi Annan] is supposed to present his report on Syrian compliance. Is there any way that they can pass the test, as it were, in the next two days?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think they're two separate things.

MR. LEE: Right.

SECRETARY POWELL: The U.N. resolution, I think I'll wait for the secretary general to report before characterizing what score the Syrians get on their compliance with the resolution; but I hope it's a tough report. I hope it's a report that makes it clear that the international community is expecting more compliance than we have seen so far; but I'll withhold judgment until we've seen the report.

Separate and distinct from that: in Damascus, we have had tripartite meetings. A number of understandings have come out of this meeting, with respect to commitment with the IIG and the coalition and the Syrians to stop illicit activity across the [Iraqi-Syrian] border, and to take a number of other measures that would enhance cooperation: sharing of information, sharing of intelligence.

I don't have the whole list in mind, I'm sure Richard [Boucher, State Department spokesman] will get it in the next day or so for you. But I think it is a positive step, but what really matters is action and not just an agreement. But the fact that the Syrians, the Iraqi interim government, and the Multinational Force -- to include U.S. generals -- actually sat down in Damascus to go over these matters; I think we should say it is a positive step forward.

Now, what we have to see is action on the part of the Syrians. They have also taken a few other steps -- with respect to financial activities and intelligence activities -- that I also find positive; but what really counts is completed action, not intentions...

MR. LEE: And what about Hamas and PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad]?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't have anything to report on that, except that [Syrian] Foreign Minister Shara and I had a very thorough discussion of this last week, and I know that they are examining the situation. And they had some ideas, but we'll see whether any of these ideas bear fruit.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: On Iran, this morning the Russians have said that they still don't think that the case, the Iranian case, belongs to the [U.N.] Security Council. And you're still arguing to bring this thing to the Security Council next month?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we thought -- we thought it should have gone to the Security Council last year; but at this point, it's not that important to analyze what the Russians think or what the Americans think. What the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] thinks is that Iran has to come into full compliance with its obligations, and that Iran should consider the position that it is in. And the 35-member board of the IAEA says that when they examine this again in November, they'll have to make a judgment as to whether Iran has complied or not.

And I think if the judgment is no, and Iran has not satisfied the community, there will be more of a consensus to refer to the Security Council than there was this month. And so we will see.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: Do you think you can get unanimity on this?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. We'll see.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: Will you go for a vote --

SECRETARY POWELL: I think -- of course we'll go for a vote. We always go for a vote at an IAEA meeting. But I can't tell you now because, one, I can't see into the future, and I don't know what the Iranians might do between now and then.

It is really not what we do: it's what the Iranians do between now and November that will decide what happens in November.

MR. LEE: Barring the overnight creation of some kind of time machine or a transporter device, it seems like the six-party talks [on North Korea's nuclear weapons program] aren't going to happen in September -- resumption of them. What have the -- what have the North Koreans squandered by stalling? And for whatever reason they offer, I mean, do they think they're going to get a better deal if there's a change in [the U.S.] administration here than they -- or whatever. But what have they -- where have they missed out?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think they've lost an opportunity, or they're delaying an opportunity -- it's not a lost opportunity, but certainly a delayed opportunity -- to work with the international community to achieve the goal that all six parties agreed to, and that is, denuclearization of the peninsula.

I think what they're also delaying is an opportunity for the international community to give them what they've asked for: a security agreement; and to provide them assistance with their internal economic needs, whether it's in the form of fuel from some of the countries -- initially, not us -- or other economic assistance.

So all of that, I think, is put into abeyance, and what is causing them to delay: One can speculate on all one wishes to. People think it's because of our election. There are other scenarios that there have been some internal debates, and other problems of a personal nature, inside the regime. I don't know. But the United States stands ready, with the other members of the six-party framework, to pursue this.

We believe that a diplomatic solution is possible. The president has made it clear that that's what he seeks. He wants to help the North Korean people in their time of need. We want and must have a denuclearized peninsula, and we have no intention of invading or attacking North Korea and -- notwithstanding their repeating the case constantly -- no hostile intent.

MR. LEE: Right. Well, you're meeting with the Chinese foreign minister tomorrow. I mean, do you expect to talk about the new kind -- new dates or new ideas?


The first one has to do with two U.N. staffing questions, which, one on the IAEA: I've heard [Director General Mohamed] ElBaradei is going -- wants to serve a third term and in the past, the U.S. has been opposed to anyone, sort of, whether they --

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, we think that the -- I think it's called the Geneva Rule -- it's a good rule.

MR. LEE: So you would not support his --

SECRETARY POWELL: We think the Geneva Rule is a good rule: two terms. We think it's a good rule. It's been, it's been not -- it's been not followed in the past on many occasions, more often than not.

MR. LEE: Right.

SECRETARY POWELL: But we still think it's a good, useful rule.

MR. LEE: In this specific case?

SECRETARY POWELL: We will make our judgment on specific cases when the time comes to make judgments on specific cases.

MR. LEE: OK, well, I -- because then, but, when you say you think it's a good rule, no exceptions to it?

SECRETARY POWELL: I've told him that. You know, Mohammed knows that, we talked about it, I think it's a good rule. He's free to offer his candidacy, yeah.

MR. LEE: Right. OK, but you -- we, I won't ask you that.

And then at the U.N. --

SECRETARY POWELL: As you know, Matt, we wait until we have such votes before we decide.

MR. LEE: Right. But the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries have put forward a Thai foreign minister as a candidate, and you didn't --

SECRETARY POWELL: I noticed that.

MR. LEE: -- to be the next secretary general, and so Kofi Annan, your friend is up for his term is up for -- his term is up in a couple of years, or a year-and-a-half from now, or something. Same question.

SECRETARY POWELL: I know the minister very well, as you know. He is -- I consider him not only a dear colleague but a good friend. And I'm pleased that he would offer himself up for service, and I'm not surprised. In fact, I congratulate him and ASEAN for ASEAN standing behind him. But it's premature to make judgments on this matter. We don't know what the full universe of candidacies might be, and this is some time in the future...

Source: US Department of State, Washington File, http://usinfo.state.gov.

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