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
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:
Roundtable with Regional U.S. Newspapers*
Secretary Colin L. Powell
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
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
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
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
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
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.
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes.
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
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
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.
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
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.
SECRETARY POWELL: Mm-hmm.
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
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
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.
SECRETARY POWELL: Mm-hmm.
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
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.
SECRETARY POWELL: He is.
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
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