Washington Post Interview with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell (Excerpts)

December 29, 2003

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MS. WRIGHT: Let me shift to Iran. I gather there is an inter-agency debate or high-level, anyway, debate on whether to resume the dialogue with Iran. They have, Iran has taken steps recently. There is this current effort to provide humanitarian aid. Do you foresee, you know, movement in a specific way toward resuming that debate with Iran soon?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are not really having a high-level debate in the sense of major disagreement. I think you have heard me say previously that we have always left open the option of engaging in dialogue with Iran. And a number of things have happened in recent months, which, I think, are encouraging.

Let's start from where we began this Administration three years ago when we made the case that Iran was undertaking activities with respect to nuclear weapons that were unacceptable and inconsistent with its obligations. We pressed the Russians. Everybody pushed back on us for a while and then the Russians finally came to the conclusion that there was something there. We started to create understandings with the Russians on the Bushehr Power Plant, as you're well familiar. And then more information became available that made it clear to the IAEA that Iran wasn't fully complying. And I think we started to get the better of the argument.

And we were pressing the IAEA to take note of all of this and act, and then my European Union colleagues in the person of the EU 3 engaged directly. I stayed in very close touch with de Villepin, Fischer and Straw as they did their work. They never did anything I wasn't aware of and we hadn't discussed beforehand. And we've now reached the point where we've got a unanimous IAEA resolution, which said Iran has not been fully complying and also put in there that if there was further lack of compliance, it would be dealt with in accordance with current regulations and obligations that they have.

And at the same time, Iran has signed the additional protocol and we are waiting for them, now, to meet the commitments they made to the EU 3. All of those things taken together show, it seems to me, a new attitude in Iran in dealing with these issues -- not one of total, open generosity, but they realize that the world is watching and the world is prepared to take action.

And then, recently, when this terrible catastrophe hit Iran and -- and this just pushed politics aside. This was a humanitarian issue. And the President has always made it clear that when it comes to humanitarian issues, we'll do what is right for humankind. And in this case, to show them that we were serious and that we were seeing it as a humanitarian issue, had Rich Armitage call the Iranian Perm Rep directly, so he knew it was not just a routine, diplomatic exchange.

What was surprising here, Robin, is that within a half an hour to an hour, Rich got an answer back from the Permanent Representative, who was in Tehran at that time, and within hours, we had started to assemble relief supplies, planes and rescue workers.

Now all those things taken together show that there are things happening, and therefore we should keep open the possibility of dialogue at an appropriate point in the future. We still have concerns about terrorist activities, of course, and there are other issues with respect to al-Qaida and other matters that we'll have to keep in mind.

MS. WRIGHT: Any resolution on al-Qaida, do you see, in the aftermath of the Governing Council's decision on the MEK, which was their conditions?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't have anything to give you on that at this time, or yet, Robin.

MS. WRIGHT: Okay. Pakistan. How concerned are you about the stability of Pakistan in the aftermath of two assassination attempts on President Musharraf?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm still confident that President Musharraf enjoys broad support within the country. These are extremists and we were deeply concerned at both of those attacks, and the President has spoken to President Musharraf and I have spoken to him a couple of times. I spoke to him over the weekend. And it just shows that there are those who will resort to terror to try to impose their ill will on their own people.

And so we still have confidence in President Musharraf and we're standing behind him.

MS. WRIGHT: One that kind of goes back to Iran, but also -- does the Libya strategy apply to Iran, and potentially, to North Korea?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I would hope that the Iranians, and especially North Korea would lean back and take a look at what Libya did. And Libya essentially came to the conclusion that being isolated on the world stage, being held up to ridicule by the international community with the condemnation that came from the international community, all for the purpose of trying to develop an unconventional warfare capability, that at the end brought you no economic benefit, in fact, cost you economically, and frankly, brought you no political benefit, and frankly, put you in greater danger than the danger that it might have been keeping you out of.

I think the Libyans took a look at a determined President Bush and a determined Bush Administration that was going to deal with these kinds of weapons, but we were not going to be terrified by them, I think Qadhafi could see that we were prepared to take action in Iraq, we were prepared to press the case with Iran, even though people were waving us off for the first year of the Administration, and we're also prepared to seek a diplomatic solution with North Korea and not be cowed or blackmailed or pushed into some deal with North Korea where we're paying them for their misbehavior. And I would hope that North Korea and Iran and for that matter, Syria, to the extent that they have such weapons, realize that these weapons serve no political, economic or security purpose. And to that extent I think, perhaps, Qadhafi is giving a good object lesson to these other countries.

We, however, understand the nature of Mr. Qadhafi and his regime, and we will approach this carefully with full verification, and my State Department team is putting together a rather thorough verification system; and also with political engagement to make sure that before we provide any kind of relief that we really do have a changed, a changed leader. But we're very pleased with this development.


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