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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Powell, Spain's Foreign Minister Hold Press Conference

Aired May 1, 2003 - 10:19   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are back, and we are off now to a palace outside of Madrid, where you see Secretary of State Colin Powell there, thanking Spain for their support in the war on Iraq.
COLIN POWELL, SECY. OF STATE: ... throughout the world as we all come together now not to fight any longer, but to heal, to rebuild the nation, to help people who are in need, in need not as a result of this conflict, but in need as a result of 20-plus years of dictatorship. And we look forward to working with Spain and other nations in Europe and throughout the world as we bring to Iraq peacekeeping forces, forces that will help rebuild the infrastructure to the country, as we make contributions. And Spain has made a generous contribution to the work that is ahead of us.

To put in place a democratic form of government in Iraq to help them create their own government -- we already seen that start to happen now.

A government that will lead a country that is no longer pursuing weapons of mass destruction, that is no longer terrorizing some people, that is no longer using these horrible weapons against its own people or against its neighbors, a government that will not -- as the Saddam Hussein regime had done -- invade its neighbors. This fundamentally changes the situation in the region for the better.

And now with the addition of the elevation of Mr. Abu Mazen to prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and our ability to put before the parties a road map, there is now a new dynamic in that part of the world. And we will be working very closely with Spain to pursue these two new dynamics. One, the Middle East peace process, which one could even say got its start here in Spain back in 1991 in Madrid after the first Gulf War, and was jump-started here in Madrid last April when we created the Quartet that will now be deeply involved in the road map process.

Spain therefore has been performing, I think, a very valuable leadership role to deal with the challenges facing the international community. And we greatly respect the role that Spain is playing.

As the minister mentioned, we talked about a number of issues, whether it had to do with the expansion of NATO, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), a variety of other regional issues, but I need not belabor all of those, since she has already touched on them.

Let me just close by saying that the bilateral relationship between the United States and Spain has been strong and will remain strong. And we'll thrive in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the future. And we look forward to working with Spain in all the regional and international issues that are on our agenda.

And Madam Minister, again, I want to thank you for your hospitality.

QUESTION: Secretary Powell, I would like to know (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I would like to know to what extent -- where the U.S. government is ready to go to, to verify the circumstances of the attack under which a Spanish citizen died, Jose Couso, U.S. government consider that it was a mistake to attack a hotel that was full of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that accommodated the special envoys to Baghdad. Is the U.S. government going to apologize and compensate Jose Couso's family?

And for the Spanish minister, what is the Spanish government ready to do? Where is it ready to get to in demanding an explanation for this?

POWELL: We are continuing to investigate this incident. The minister and I have spoken about it many times. I have been in touch with our military authorities. I have spoken about it with Secretary Rumsfeld and the commanders in Iraq, our military commanders.

And General Franks has people who are continuing to get all additional facts that might be available.

It was a tragic accident, the war. We regret that it happened.

And as I said to Minister Palacio in my letter to her and through her to the Spanish people, and to the family of the gentleman, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the family. Any loss of life is a tragedy for the family. But we believe truly it was an accident of war.

We knew about the hotel. We knew that it was a hotel where journalists were located and others. And it is for that reason it was not attacked during any phase of the aerial campaign.

But what we had on that day was a ground battle. We had young American soldiers who were trying to liberate that section of Baghdad, and they came under fire. They came under serious fire, and their lives were at risk.

As they tried to engage the enemy, as best we understand what happened, as they returned fire in order to protect themselves, which is their responsibility to do, and they must do. Regrettably, in the heat of battle, they fired in a way that hit the hotel in a place where Mr. Couso was located, and he was killed.

But there was no fault, we believe, on the part of our soldiers. They were acting in self-defense, and they used appropriate force. And we regret that it happened.

It was a battle zone. And we had tried to caution all noncombatants that they should avoid and clear out of these battle zones. And the fire was being received from the vicinity of the hotel, and we believe the troops acted properly. Having said that, I once again extend my condolences to the family and to the Spanish people. And we will continue to see if we can gather any more information with respect to the matter through our investigation to see if there was anything that was done that was improper or inappropriate. But at the moment it appears to be one of those tragic incidents of battle.

ANA PALACIO, SPANISH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): There's not much I can add to what the secretary of state has just said. It is a tragedy, especially for us the loss of any human life is tragic, but in this case it affects all Spaniards more.

In addition, it's the loss of a life in a very symbolic action (UNINTELLIGIBLE) society, someone who was there covering one of the roles, one of the functions that legitimize our democracies: information. Because we are truly most legitimized by perceptions, and perceptions are built through this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of information.

So it's a tragedy to us. Most especially, it symbolizes what the right to information means in our societies. But in addition to that, I can't add anything to what the secretary of state has said.

On the one hand, you have to recall that the U.S. forces are known for being very scrupulous in their control of this kind of situation. And I would like to refer to what the secretary of state's letter already says. And he sent it to me through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And we made it public to the Spanish public opinion and that we would be notified of any further information.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) of training forces and policing forces in Iraq?

And, Minister, what role is Spain prepared to play?

POWELL: We did discuss this. Both in terms of an actual contribution to personnel, as well as a financial contribution. And it was, I think, a very positive response that I received from the Minister, but I'll let her tell you what the response is.

PALACIO: Well, we are willing to participate. We have already, the Spanish government, has already appointed a high-level commissioner that is coordinating all these issues. We are sending, right now, four high-level civil servants that we'll integrate in different fields, from humanitarian aid to peacekeeping. These teams are already working in Iraq, and we are willing to consider whatever our help can be in the benefit of the Iraqi people, which is in the end what moves us both.

QUESTION: What about the police function?

POWELL: But of course, this is one of the issues that is being discussed. We have addressed this issue, and I hope that we will have more details in the very near future.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Secretary Powell, what do you think of Madrid hosting another conference? And would you consider Spain a better choice than France?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I'm sorry but the microphone is not working very well.

POWELL: I heard it.

(LAUGHTER)

POWELL: It's very premature to start talking about a conference, and certainly, therefore, the site of a conference. We just put the road map before the parties tomorrow. And I think a lot of work now has to take place. We need to see progress on the road map. We need to see both sides entering into discussions with each other. We need to see the end of terror and violence and actions on the part of the Israeli side as well.

And so, it's premature to start talking about a conference or the location for a conference. And it wouldn't be simply a decision for the United States, anyway. It would be a decision for the Quartet and the other parties to decide where such a conference should be held.

We have already seen what success can be achieved when one holds a conference in Madrid. So I would hope that all the parties would use Madrid as a candidate that should be high on the priority list.

PALACIO: As far as I'm concerned, there's no competition here.

HARRIS: And we're going to step away from this press conference there. Secretary of State Colin Powell with the Spanish prime minister -- actually, Spanish foreign minister there, talking about basically Mr. Powell being there personally to thank Spain for its support.

As you know, Spain basically endured some withering diplomatic pressure, if you will, from inside the European Union because of opposition there in Europe to President Bush's plans for war in Iraq. Also, Spain's population, the citizens, were very much against it, overwhelmingly against it, but Spain's government, though, did step up and support President Bush in the war effort.

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