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Secretary of State, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Address Reporters

Aired April 14, 2003 - 10:22   ET


COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: ... how these developments in recent weeks opened up new opportunities with respect to peace in the Middle East and greater cooperation among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League.

We also discussed the meetings that will be taking place in An Nasiriyah tomorrow, that begins the formation of the new political system for the new Iraqi government and how it must respect, as we go forward, the territorial integrity of Iraq, this process. And how we are hopeful that these conversations, beginning tomorrow and going on into the future in many different places throughout Iraq will be able to take into account the interests and equities of all the people of Iraq and an opportunity to participate in a political process, both of those who have been outside of Iraq struggling for these many long years to bring about this change, as well as those inside Iraq who are now free of this dictatorial regime.

In our discussions, we also talked about Syria and hopeful that Syria will understand its obligations in this new environment. And I also made a point of mentioning to the minister that we were concerned about some of the looting that took place in the museum in Baghdad, one of the great museums in the world. And the United States will be working with a number of individuals and organizations to not only secure the facility, but to recover that which has been taken, and also to participate in restoring that which has been broken.

I've been in touch with the European Union presidency this morning; Foreign Minister Papandreou who has experience in such matters, and we're also in conversations with UNESCO. But the United States understands its obligations and will be taking a leading role with respect to antiquities in general, but this museum in particular.

Mr. Minister, it's a great pleasure to have you here. And again, thank you for all you have done.


I expressed today Kuwait's appreciation for the work that the United States is doing in liberating the Iraqi people from their ordeal.

I also discussed with the secretary, in addition to the points that he just mentioned, also discussed with him ways of more intense cooperation between our forces and agencies to find the Kuwaiti POWs who are still unaccounted for in Iraq. One out of every thousand Kuwaiti is still unaccounted for in Iraq, and this something that the secretary has indicated the United States is most concerned about. And we agreed to expedite and strengthen our cooperation on this issue.

We also discussed the elements of stability in the region-wide area -- and this is the Arab-Israeli conflict -- and the need to get back and to put this track on its proper (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We expressed our need for intensify our consultation, because the challenges ahead of us is now very, very real, but we are all optimist about the future.

Thank you.

QUESTION: How serious is the border problem with Syria? Are there many potential war criminals getting across that border?

POWELL: I can't quantify how many might be slipping across the border. The basic point is that the card deck of 55, 53, plus others who have knowledge about weapons of mass destruction development activity over the years, plus those who are in other senior political leadership positions in the former regime or in the Baath Party, these are the kinds of individuals who should not be allowed to find safe haven in Syria. And this is a point that we have made to the Syrians directly and we'll continue to make to the Syrians.

And as the president noted over the weekend, we are concerned that Syria has been participating in the development of weapons of mass destruction, and as the president noted, specifically on chemical weapons. And we believe, in light of this new environment, they should review their actions and their behavior, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction, but especially the support of terrorist activity.

And so we have a new situation in the region and we hope that all the nations in the region will now review their past practices and behavior.



QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you say -- and can the foreign minister also comment on this -- whether you had been in touch with the Syrian government on the question of chemical weapons and biological recently, and whether you have asked them to return people within their borders? And do you know if the border is indeed closed, as they said it was last week?

POWELL: Well, we're told the border is closed, but as you know it's a rather porous border. And so when you say it's closed, it might mean the main roads are closed. But whether or not others are able to get across the border is something that I can't speak to. But once they get into Syria and start heading to Damascus, I would expect that Syrian authorities would do everything they could not to provide these people safe haven. Syria is well aware of our concerns with respect to weapons of mass destruction and with respect to terrorist activity. It is a subject of discussion with the Syrian leadership whenever we meet with them. Our ambassadors are making demarches. I've been there twice. Ambassador Burns, Assistant Secretary Burns has also talked to the Syrians on a regular basis about this. It is not secret to the Syrians about our concern over these kinds of developments.

AL-SABAH: Well, we have our own lists of the Iraqi war criminals, and we are going to pursue them all over the world wherever they are found.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you please tell us if you have asked your Kuwaiti counterpart to intervene in this message?


POWELL: I will yield to him for that answer.

AL-SABAH: Well, I have not been given a specific message to carry to Syria. The secretary, he can reach the Syrians directly. And I think that Syria can play a constructive role in establishing security and stability in the region.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary (OFF-MIKE) that soon you are going to release the road map. How do you see Syria in this regime as a partner for peace process?

POWELL: We'll be releasing the road map as soon as Mr. Abu Mazen has been confirmed by voter confidence as the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority with his new cabinet.

Obviously, as we go down the road to peace, we want it to be a comprehensive peace. And ultimately, of course, that would have to include finding a way to settle the outstanding issues with Syria, as well.

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, are you satisfied with the way the meeting is developing in Nasiriyah? There are some complaints among some of the Iraqi-excel community that Chalabi is not being invited. Do you think that there's going to be a lot of turmoil amongst those Iraqi-excels, particularly outside the country who maybe do not feel like they're sufficiently involved at the moment?

And to the Kuwaiti foreign minister, can you confirm whether Kuwaiti prisoners of war were indeed located this morning in Najaf (ph)? Thank you.

POWELL: With respect to the meetings that begin in An Nasiriyah tomorrow, let's remember this is just the first of many meetings that will be held. And in order to get the process started, it was determined that we should representatives of the various groups at this meeting, and it will be a fairly large gathering of individuals.

It will be chaired, initially, by Ambassador Khalilzad, the president's personal representative. Of course, key individuals have been invited by General Franks. And then, General Garner will address the group. And then, Ambassador Ryan Crocker will moderate the proceedings. So I think it's a good start.

And I think most of the groups outside the country in the resistance understand the need for starting in this way with a modest beginning, so that we begin a dialogue. And so, I don't think there is much concern about this not being a productive meeting and also a meeting that reflects the views of those who have been struggling outside, as well as those who are now free inside.

AL-SABAH: This is a breaking news story, and I don't have really any confirmation on it.

POWELL: Nor do I.

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, sir, are you considering any measures against Syria in light of the allegations that you've made, perhaps recalling the U.S. ambassador, downgrading U.S. relations, anything along that?

And also, in addition, on the humanitarian front, many nongovernmental organizations, the International Red Cross and others, have complained that the security situation is so bad on the ground that they can't get the aid in there. Is there anything that the U.S. is considering to do to beef up security?

And for Dr. Muhammad, sir...

POWELL: That's two already. Thank you.

With respect to Syria, of course we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward. We are in touch with Syrian authorities. We have a very effective ambassador there, Ambassador Kattouf, who will stay in touch with them and make them aware of our concerns. Adn we'll see how things unfold as we move forward.

With respect to the humanitarian situation, it is improving on a daily basis. Secretary Rumsfeld gave us a report this morning of the various military civil affairs units working with our combat troops to slowly reestablish security and stability throughout the various cities. We are starting to hire again police forces in the south, and that will be expanded as we move north.

And there is a huge amount of humanitarian equipment and supplies that are now moving in. Hospital kits are moving in to reestablish health care. Water is beginning to flow in the southern cities. And there is a great deal that is going on.

But the campaign is not yet over. And so I think, as you see, day by day the situation will improve adn the NGOs and other humanitarian organizations and U.N. organizations will be able to accomplish their work.

There is not a shortage of food. Food is adequate in marketplaces, as well as food being brought in from the outside. We want to go to work on the health care system and the water system and getting the power on throughout the country, which tends to affect the water supply system, since you need power to run it in the first place.

So we're seized with the problem, hard at work on the problem, and the situation will improve day by day.

Thank you.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of State Colin Powell wrapping up that press conference this morning with the Kuwaiti foreign minister, Muhammad Sabah Al Ahmed Al-Sabah. And it's clear that their talks, over the last day or so, have clearly been focusing on Syria and looking toward Syria to help wrap things in Iraq.

The secretary of state says that he can't say how many Iraqi officials and potential war criminals have been slipping over the border from Iraq into Syria. And he says that -- he knows that it's happening. He's been told that the border there has been sealed. However, he says, it is a porous border and he expects Syrian officials to not provide any safe haven for any Iraqi officials that have slipped over the border.

We also heard the Kuwaiti foreign minister there says that he's calling upon the Syrian government right now to also play a constructive role in stabilizing region. So we'll continue our focus on that particular topic here on the network.



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