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Powell Predicts Smooth Turnover of Sovereignty to Iraqi Government

Questions concerning the situation in Iraq and the June 30 turnover of sovereignty dominated a June 18 roundtable interview of Secretary of State Colin Powell, but the secretary also responded to queries on Uzbekistan and the Middle East peace process.

Powell met in Washington with reporters from five regional newspapers.

Addressing the preparations for returning sovereignty to Iraq, Powell said he is "impressed by the way in which the interim Iraqi government has started to function even before they have received full sovereignty," and added that "everything we've seen so far suggests it [the turnover of sovereignty] will go smoothly."

Powell predicted the U.S. relationship with Iraq after the turnover would be "normal political-diplomatic relations" with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq representing the U.S. government and reporting to the president through the secretary of state. Supervision of U.S. funds allocated for Iraq reconstruction will fall under the authority of the U.S. ambassador, the secretary added.

U.S. military forces remaining in Iraq will continue to report through the military chain of command. Powell said he foresaw no problems in this arrangement "because "it's a standard arrangement that we have used in many countries over the years," and cited Germany and Korea as examples.

Powell also stated his belief that "the handover helps with security" and pointed to the buildup in Iraqi police, military and paramilitary forces as evidence that the Iraqi people are "willing to put themselves on the line" to ensure the security situation is brought under control.

The secretary reminded that reporters that "there is a lot of positive news that could be reported." Pointing to the passage of the U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq, Powell stated that the 192 member countries of the United Nations "now stand behind this transition effort, this sovereign government, [and] this reconstruction effort." The adoption of the resolution "also provides a clearly vital role for the United Nations to come in and supervise the elections," he added. But the secretary acknowledged, "[I]t's hard to get that good news out when you have this security problem."

Security is an issue not just in Iraq, as tragically evidenced by the reported death of American Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia, and reporters queried the secretary on what can be done to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens abroad.

"You cannot protect every single individual that's living in a foreign country," Powell responded, but added that the United States would continue to do all it can to inform individuals of risks and ways to reduce risk, as well as to work with other governments to enhance security.

In response to a question on Uzbekistan's progress on human rights, the secretary said that, "Uzbekistan has been a good, good friend in the global campaign against terror. ... But we do have some concerns about some of their human rights and reform practices." The secretary, who must make a determination in the next few weeks on whether the country has made "substantial and continuing progress" on human rights, said he is assembling information from the U.S. embassy in Uzbekistan, the Uzbek government, and interested third parties on which to base his decision.

According to the State Department's 2003-2004 annual report on human rights and democracy, Uzbekistan's human rights record remains very poor, and it continues to commit numerous serious abuses. The report cited endemic torture, extremely harsh prison conditions and harassment of independent journalists, opposition politicians and human rights activists.

On the Mideast peace process, Powell said he is continuing to work with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to advance President Bush's road map for peace. The secretary praised Ariel Sharon's plan for Israeli withdrawal from settlements in Gaza and on the West Bank, and urged Palestinians to "take advantage of this opportunity."

"[The] United States ... stands ready to help," Powell concluded, adding that "I have been carrying that message to Arab leaders everywhere ... and I am in steady contact with both Israeli and Arab and Palestinian leaders."

Following is the transcript of Powell's interview:

(begin transcript)

Roundtable with Regional U.S. Newspapers*

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
June 18, 2004

(3:00 p.m. EST)

SECRETARY POWELL: Time is short so let me just welcome you. And I always look forward to these opportunities to speak to the regional press and there's a lot going on today. We are awaiting confirmation that the reports we're seeing on Al-Arabiya that Mr. Paul Johnson has been executed. If they are confirmed -- the reports -- then it's a terrible tragedy. It shows us again the evil nature of these individuals who would do such things to innocent people such as Mr. Johnson, who are trying to help others -- a horrific act. And it will do nothing but reinforce our determination to deal with terrorism. I am confident it will have the same effect in Saudi Arabia as well with the Saudi Government. And I extend my condolences to Mr. Johnson's family. They have shown a great deal of courage and their faith has been seen on television and in print over the last several days, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family.

We are also spending a lot of time this week and today on getting ready for the transition to full sovereignty in Iraq at the end of the month. Ambassador Negroponte is hard at work getting ready for his new duties, which are the not the same as Ambassador Bremer's duties. Ambassador Bremer is the government in Iraq right now and he will cease to be the government when sovereignty is transferred, and Ambassador Negroponte will be there as an ambassador, not as the governor.

And I am impressed by the way in which the interim Iraqi government has started to function even before they have received full sovereignty. Fifteen ministries are up and running and the prime minister is acting like a prime minister, the president like a president. And so the government is starting to show movement and we hope that the transition will go smoothly and everything we've seen so far suggests it will go smoothly. And we are certainly preparing ourselves for the additional responsibilities the State Department will have when the transfer takes over.

In the interest of time, I'll stop there and we can just go around. I'll start with Farah. Do you want to start?

QUESTION: I strategically sat at this side of the table. (Laughter.) About the transition, one of the big transitions is going to be from Pentagon to State Department. Just how much control is the State Department going to have over U.S. policy now in Iraq? How will Negroponte relate to the four-star general who will be in the country?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, the State Department and the Defense Department and the National Security Council have worked closely over the past years, over the past year, because it essentially was a military-dominated occupation and only the military brings the assets to bear in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. It was a full executive authority under the Pentagon for the Coalition Provisional Authority and the military forces that were there working with Ambassador Bremer.

With this transition now, we will have normal political-diplomatic relations and economic relations with the new government, which is properly the role of not only the State Department but the other agencies of the U.S. Government, and it is appropriate for there to be a chief of mission, an ambassador, who is not just a State Department rep, he's the President's rep for all of the governmental activities, U.S. Governmental activities in a country, reporting to the Secretary of State, and I, in turn, report to the President. Although the chief of mission is the President's designation, he reports to the President through me.

The military there, U.S. forces, of course, continue to report through their military chain of command, which then flows back to Don Rumsfeld as the Secretary of Defense, and then from him to the President.

I don't expect any difficulties with this arrangement because it's a standard arrangement that we have used in many countries over the years. It's an arrangement that exists in Germany and in Korea, in Afghanistan and so many places around the world. We know how to do it and we know how to do it well. And we have had a good transition team pulling this all together, Retired General Kicklighter from the Pentagon; and Ambassador Ricciardone from the State Department, our ambassador in the Philippines, who is also a master Arabist, has been here for the last six months working on it. And I think it will be a smooth transition.

All of the reconstruction effort, all of the supervision of the funds that are going into the reconstruction effort now fall under Ambassador Negroponte, reporting back to me, and through me to the President and to the other Cabinet officers involved. And the chain of military command remains intact under the President and Secretary Rumsfeld.

QUESTION: Yeah, I'd like to go back for a moment to Paul Johnson. He's originally from our region.


QUESTION: Is there anything that the government, our government, can do to prevent groups like this from apparently wreaking violence and havoc without -- with impunity? We haven't seen to have been much -- very successful. What should be done?

SECRETARY POWELL: You cannot protect every single individual that's living in a foreign country. You try to make sure they are aware of the dangers. You try to give them all the information that you have with respect to what they can do, actively and passively, to protect themselves by their work patterns, by their personal habits. I know that the Saudis are hard at work now seeing if they can do more with respect to area security, meaning security of a particular part of a community or a compound, a group of villas where these folks live, and protect the country itself by watching who is coming into the country and following up on all intelligence leads that they get.

But it is one of the most difficult things in the world to do to try to give total assurance to a population that you will not be subject to this kind of criminal activity. Just like in any city represented here, you can't give assurance to every citizen that they won't be subject to some sort of criminal activity. In this case, a terrorist criminal activity.

So what we have done is put out a renewed warning to Americans to avoid traveling to Saudi Arabia unless, you know, it's absolutely essential, and they ought to check to see whether it's absolutely essential. We've drawn down our diplomatic presence there, but there will continue to be a risk associated with being in Saudi Arabia and it's also a risk in other parts of the world as well. There was an American who was killed in the Dominican Republic yesterday -- yeah. These things happen. And it's unfortunate when it happens, and this is a particularly horrific case because of several factors. One, it comes after a series of such assaults against expatriates over the last couple of weeks. And if it is confirmed that he was beheaded, it makes it that much more of a horrific act.

QUESTION: Can I just follow that very quickly? What impact do you think this will have, acts like this will have, on the willingness of Western workers to go there, to live there, to work there -- these people who are, I think, are essential to the Saudi Arabian oil industry?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think they will all examine their situation. They tend to be people who understand the risk in their business and the risk in the places that they do their business. And I think they will redouble their efforts with respect to their personal security. I have spoken to some CEOs about this. I spoke to the CEO of Mr. Johnson's company a few days ago and I know that he will be doing more to protect the people that are there.

What we can't do is let these terrorists scare us out of the country. Then they win. And they can't be allowed to win. So I appreciate that there are people who are willing to take this kind of risk for a greater good. And oil people especially tend to have a good understanding of risks that are out there.

QUESTION: Do we know anything about the group that did this?

SECRETARY POWELL: I've heard various reports; I've heard al-Qaida claims, but I've learned over the years to just wait a while before you label a particular group. All I'm doing is what you're doing, is we're getting it through Al-Arabiya for the most part right now. And there are some al-Qaida claims, but al-Qaida is a big, amorphous thing -- with [inaudible] specific group.

QUESTION: Sir, I'm wondering about your confidence in the handover to Iraq in terms of transition to power, considering what's going on, especially with the -- I can't remember how many it were, but there were some folks who were killed in Iraq as they were waiting, I believe, to sign up for the Iraqi military and things of that nature.

SECRETARY POWELL: A total of 41 in two bombings.

QUESTION: Yeah. And how does that affect your -- your level of confidence in the handover and your concerns about what you think will happen?

SECRETARY POWELL: We hope the handover will help the security situation because if the Iraqis, on the 1st of July, see that it is their leaders who are in charge and they have control of their own destiny, then who are they attacking? They may be attacking Americans, but when they kill 41 of their fellow citizens and they kill, in the attempt to kill their fellow citizens who are signing up to become part of the security services to secure the country, I would hope that most Iraqis would say, this does not make a great deal of sense and why would we find any reason to support this kind of activity.

So I think the handover helps with security. What will also help are the troops that we have there, but even more important is the building up of Iraqi police, paramilitary and military forces as fast as we can in order for them to take on the greater burden. We have seen that they are willing to put themselves at risk, and more Iraqis have been killed recently, both innocent civilians as well as police officers and civil defense types, as have Americans. So they're willing to put themselves on the line and ultimately it will be up to the Iraqis, working with us and with our support for some considerable period of time, to bring the security situation under control.

Mr. Simpson.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about two things, if I can. First is there's been a lot of back and forth in the last couple days over what relationship, if any, existed between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaida. And you delivered an important part of that message when you were at the Security Council last year. Beyond the question of whether there were meetings or not, it seems pretty clear the message was there was a dangerous nexus between these two people. Do you feel now that that message, not kind of parsing the words, but the overall message was wrong?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. Can you give any evidence that it was? If you read what the commission said yesterday, and not what a number of newspapers said about it, it essentially said that there had been contacts and linkages and ties between Saddam Hussein and these kinds of organizations, and specifically with Mr. Zarqawi involved in it. And if you read what I said at the UN last February, I focused on that at some considerable length with Mr. Zarqawi, the fact that he had gone there for medical care and he had been living in Baghdad for some period of time, and that over the years there had been connections and linkages.

Now, what happened yesterday with the great, you know, first day's response to what the commission staff said was a number of commentators immediately said that the Administration had said or done something wrong because the staff said there was no linkage to 9/11. You can look through everything I've ever said or written and you can study my 5 February thing, and I have never made any claim between this activity of Saddam Hussein and 9/11. I have seen no evidence to suggest that. And neither has the President.

And, so as you heard, I think it was both Lee Hamilton -- especially Lee Hamilton, the co-chair of the commission, but also Governor Kean, they essentially said that's right, that what they said and the commission staff reports is not inconsistent with what we have been saying over time.

One could argue about the words "ties," "links," "connections," "meetings," but you have not seen in my 5 February presentation or anything the President said to link some of the stuff that happened in Prague to Saddam Hussein and then back to 9/11. There's no reason not to find out what happened in Prague, and we did a lot of research to see what happened in Prague, if anything.

The commission says they don't think anything happened in Prague; that individual was never there. But there was nothing wrong with making sure that was the case and we've never made a conclusive statement, at least I haven't and neither has the President, that would, in any way, suggest that we have linked Saddam Hussein to 9/11, which was the impression that was created in some of the media outlets. I haven't read your newspaper yesterday so I'm not accusing anybody present.

QUESTION: The other thing I want to ask you real quick is just, you have to make a decision in the next couple weeks on Uzbekistan in terms of whether they've made substantial and continuing progress.


QUESTION: Some human rights supporters think that that's going to be a key test for the overall change in the strategic calculus that we made after 9/11. One, how are you leaning on that? What do you think about Uzbekistan and the overall issue of --

SECRETARY POWELL: Uzbekistan has been a good, good friend in the global campaign against terror and especially initially after 9/11 and our efforts in Afghanistan. But we do have concerns about some of their human rights and reform practices that we have been engaged with them on for a long period of time. And as you noted, I will have to make a certification sometime in the not-too-distant future. There's no deadline for the certification; there's a problem with the money, the reprogramming of money.

And I am assembling all the information I can from our embassy and from outsiders and others who have an interest in this, as well as from the Uzbek Government to make sure that I make a judgment with respect to certification that is consistent with the law that I'm operating under and reflects reality.

QUESTION: I want to follow up briefly on Cam's question regarding the 9/11 Commission. They did address the September 11th-Iraq connection. They also addressed the broader relationship, saying apparently there was no collaborative relationship with al-Qaida, that there were some meetings and those meetings -- there's no evidence those meetings resulted in anything.

I've been talking to some people on the Hill, members of Congress, who they feel they were misled by the Administration, either explicitly or implicitly; there was an implication that al-Qaida and Iraq were working together or had stronger ties than what this commission, this bipartisan commission, found.

How do you respond to that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know who I'm responding to when you say that. All I can say is that what I have said, and what I believe you can derive from my 5 February presentation, and the President has said, I think is not inconsistent with what the commission has said. Now, I'm not using the word "inconsistent" to hide behind the failure to use the word "consistent." I think that what we have said is there were connections, there were ties, and in my presentation I described training activities that we knew took place. His presence in Baghdad over an extended period could not have been unnoticed by Saddam Hussein. And why was this guy there, this connection to Ansar al-Islam? And I think that was a sufficiently robust presentation on my part and was supported by the intelligence. And I haven't read the staff report yet myself -- I'll do that over the weekend -- but I don't think the staff report undercuts what I said on 5 February, which is pretty much the definitive statement.

QUESTION: Can I just, more broadly, for the past month or so, the Administration, the President and yourself, have -- others -- have been out there trying to stress the positive of what's going on in Iraq. How difficult has it been, do you think, to get that message through, given the continued violence, given Abu Ghraib?

SECRETARY POWELL: I mean, a bomb going off in the morning is news and it will be on my television station when I get up and it'll be a page one, if not above the fold, close to it. If we open another school or we open up another hospital or a town council has just met for the first time ever and elected a new chairman or if 200 young Iraqis showed up to be recruited into the military, it's not going to be seen as news. It becomes news when a bomb goes off outside a recruiting station, but few of the stories pointed out that these were several hundred young men who had come forward to serve their nation and to get a job, and both a job and an opportunity to serve their nation was there.

And so it is hard in the presence of this kind of violence and terrorism to get the more positive story out, but there is a lot of positive news that could be reported. A 15-0 UN resolution that was reported as something that happened in the UN yesterday -- I think a lot more could have been said about the fact that it was bringing the international community together. That resolution said all of us, all 15 of us representing all 191 nations -- or 192 nations of the United Nations, now stand behind this transition effort, this sovereign government, reconstruction effort, multinational force; we will do everything we can to help the Iraqi people to a better life.

A great deal of news was given -- was made by the appointment of the new government on the 1st of June and that was good. And, you know, you saw the Prime Minister this morning on your television, I think, at the site of the bombing yesterday -- or maybe it was yesterday morning. And so it gets through: There is a new government that is about to take over and Saddam Hussein is gone. And this horrible regime -- we can -- we will debate for many, many years to come the nature of its horribleness and what we knew about it and the intelligence picture as we saw it and how others saw it.

But the real news is that he is gone and the issues of whether or not he had this or didn't have this--no longer an issue. He doesn't; he's gone. And we have an opportunity to put in place a democratic form of government which will not look like ours; it will be different. It will be something that they're going to design over the next year and a half. They are going to write their own constitution.

But it's interesting to note that they have written a Transitional Administrative Law that enshrines human rights, that puts the military under civilian control, that has an independent judiciary, that protects the rights of women, that recognizes that the Shias are the majority and, therefore, need protection for minorities so they can participate in the political life of the country. That's good news for that part of the world. And a country that is not going to be aggressive against its neighbors, not going to be wasting its money on palaces and will not be developing weapons of mass destruction. That's good news.

But it's hard to get that good news out when you have this security problem. And I'm not downplaying the security problem. It's a problem. We've got a problem. We've got to get on top of this problem. And if we were on top of this problem, people would be, I think, congratulating us and praising us for what we are doing, but we are not on top of the security problem. We've got to get on top of the security problem or it will continue to make news every day and it will continue to undercut what the new government is trying to do.

QUESTION: After the UN vote, Ambassador Negroponte said that this provides some important momentum for us.


QUESTION: Have we been able to capitalize on it at all?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, the very fact that we are no longer in a debate within the Security Council membership, which is the G-8 membership and the other major organizations, NATO and the like -- there's such a combined membership in all these organizations -- is and of itself momentum moving forward. The international community is behind us now.

Now, there was some belief that this momentum would generate more forces and we tried to downplay that because there are no large bodies of forces standing around waiting for a UN resolution or sovereignty to be transferred to contribute troops to this. There may be some countries out there that can make a contribution and we are looking at that, and it is also not clear the Iraqis really want more outsiders in their country, although they have expressed a willingness. What they really want to do is build up their forces as fast as possible so they don't need foreign troops. Nobody wants foreign troops in their country; they need to be avoided.

I think it gives us the opportunity to get some of our European friends who haven't been participating to participate with some kind of police or military training and that will be discussed at the NATO summit this next week. And it puts me in a stronger position to talk about delivering on the promises they made in Madrid with financial contributions to Iraq and it puts us in a better position of working with our friends to get technical assistance and other kinds of assistance of a non-military combat nature into Iraq.

But it really got us past this continuing debate about whether the transition, the writing of a new constitution and the time schedule for the final election at the end of 2005. We're not debating that anymore. That's been resolved. It has now been blessed by the United Nations.

It also provides a clearly vital role for the United Nations to come in and supervise the elections. Secretary General Annan now is looking for a new senior representative to go in and serve principally to get them ready for their elections.

QUESTION: Going back to the situation in Iraq, where are the suicide bombers coming from? Do you have any sense of who they are?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know if it's a single source, whether it's multiple sources, and by that I mean different places where these things are being built and whether they are different organizations or just one organization. Not all the attacks, but just the suicide bombers.

It's an insurgency that has a number of pieces to it and some of it is former regime elements, some are outside folks that have brought in some expertise and there are still pockets of disgruntled young men who will do something for money. And so it is a very complex intelligence picture and we have not yet been able to penetrate it to see where the sources for all of these things actually are. Zarqawi is clearly part of the problem. I don't believe he is the whole problem, but he is certainly a part of the problem.

QUESTION: He is a foreigner.


QUESTION: And if they are foreigners, they are not going to have a stake in the Iraqi government that --

SECRETARY POWELL: No. He has to be destroyed. Zarqawi has no stake in the Iraqi government. But he is only one person and he has to draw -- to be effective, he has to draw support from those who should have a stake in the success of Iraq.

Okay. I've got to go.

QUESTION: Putin's remarks today and his claim that he gave intelligence to the United States?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, I don't -- I'm not familiar with what the Russians might have given us, but I'd just have to yield to my friends in the intelligence community. Those sorts of things usually come from service to service and I just haven't had a chance this afternoon to see what the CIA is saying about it.

QUESTION: The other question is, I know that one of your big goals when you came into office was to make progress in the Middle East and you spent an enormous amount of time on the phone with Sharon and Arafat. You went over there and you did a lot of shuttle diplomacy. Since that time, it seems from the outside that the NSC, in some ways, a lot of the Middle East policy is coming from the White House. And I'm just wondering, when did it become apparent to you that Arafat wasn't going to be a player and that -- when did this change and what did you --

SECRETARY POWELL: The President decided on the 24th of June 2002 when he gave his speech that Arafat was not a partner and he called for a new leadership and he called for the creation of a Palestinian state. And then we waited and the next year the Palestinians finally got the message that we weren't going to deal with Arafat. There was no point in me going to Ramallah if I'm not going to deal with Arafat. I had spent a lot of time over there, a lot of time with Mr. Arafat telling him that, "If you don't act and demonstrate you are a partner for peace, we can't work with you." And he didn't and we didn't after 24 June.

Now, last year, finally, they came up with a Prime Minister, Mr. Abu Mazen, and the President went to Sharm el-Sheikh and then to Aqaba and we had good meetings and a good start. The President wanted to make it clear that the whole government, the United States Government, was now united behind making this work. And so both the NSC and the State Department were given the responsibility to make that happen so that Dr. Rice and I were working together in tandem and we both continue to work in tandem on it.

I have been, frankly, the lead recently in -- and in the post-Sharon visit period. Dr. Rice does it from here, but I have been to the region, went to the Dead Sea and spoke at the World Economic Forum to make the case that you ought to see in what Sharon has done an opportunity. He's leaving settlements, 21 in Gaza and 4 to start in the West Bank. Take advantage of this opportunity even though you may not have liked the way the opportunity is presented to you. You didn't like what you saw when the President and Mr. Sharon stood out in front the Rose Garden. Well, take a hard look at it now. It is based on 242, 338. It is consistent with the roadmap. It leaves all final status issues to be negotiated between the parties themselves. And the United States, all parts of the United States Government, stands ready to help.

And I have been carrying that message to Arab leaders everywhere, whether it's been my trip to the World Economic Forum where I met with all Arab foreign ministers and a number of leaders, met with King Abdullah early this week, and I am in steady contact with both Israeli and Arab and Palestinian leaders.

I do have to go. Thank you.

*Regional U.S. Newspapers:

Chris Mondics, Philadelphia Inquirer
Cam Simpson, Chicago Tribune
Ruby Bailey, Detroit Free Press
Jim Puzzanghera, San Jose Mercury News
Farrah Stockman, Boston Globe

Released on June 19, 2004

(end transcript)


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