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Colin Powell News Conference

Aired January 6, 2004 - 12:11   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's head right over to Washington. The State Department, the Secretary of State answering reporters' questions. Colin Powell, his first exchange with reporters since his treatment of prostate cancer.
COLIN POWELL, SECY. OF STATE: Well, good morning, everyone, and happy new year. Pleasure for me to start my new year meeting with an old and dear friend, the foreign minister of Tunisia. We go back some 20 years serving in one capacity or another with each other, and that really reflects not only the personal relationship I have with Habib, but the strong relationship that exists between our two countries.

The foreign minister is here to prepare for the visit of President Ben Ali next month. And President Bush is looking forward very much to that. And as you know, I visited Tunis last month in order to also prepare for the trip.

We talked about how we could find ways to improve the level of our strategic dialogue with each other. I thanked the minister for the kind of cooperation that our military have enjoyed for so many years.

We also reviewed the situation in North Africa, in the Maghreb, hoping that we can see progress toward a solution of the situation in the Western Sahara, taking note of the very important developments that have taken place in Libya in recent weeks, which is right in the neighborhood.

POWELL: And President Ben Ali and the minister had quite a bit to do, I think, with shaping the environment for the Libyans to realize it was time to make a change in policy.

We also reviewed some of the current events of the day. Most significantly, the very successful talks that were held between the Indians and the Pakistanis in Islamabad. And as President Musharraf said, I think it was a historic meeting that has taken place and opened new opportunities for achieving peace in that part of the world.

We talked about the Middle East as well and hopefully that in this new year we can find ways to move forward on the road map to achieve the president's vision as laid out in his speech of 24 June of 2002.

And so, once again, Habib, it's a great pleasure to welcome you here and I look forward to seeing you again next month when you come with President Ben Ali. HABIB BEN YAHIA, TUNISIAN MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, Mr. Secretary, it's nice to see you again after your quick visit to Tunis. To see you again and back in good health in your office is a source of satisfaction for us, to have a friend in the State Department.

I think my -- as you said, I'm here to prepare the visit of my president next month. And you're talking about two old friends -- our relationship dates back to 1797. So old friends that knew each other, supported each other. Tunisia's independence was gained through a lot of hard work and the support of the United States, and support of the United States during the early days of our independence.

YAHIA: So I agree with you that we do have -- developed together a strategic relationship that we would like to preserve and even develop further. We have worked together for peace in the Middle East, for peace in North Africa, for peace in Iraq. We struggle together against terrorism. We have been both victims of terrorism.

And this is what I can add to what you said with all Tunisia's support to the United States policy in putting the clock (ph) all around the world to the beginning of this year to peace time.

Thank you.

POWELL: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Kurds? There's been a lot of speculation that the U.S. may be moving toward a position -- probably don't want to use the word "autonomy" because that's a legal phrase that may be too restrictive. But is there something in mind? I know it's Iraq's decision, but does the U.S. have something in mind to give them more self expression, give them a little more freedom, so to speak?

POWELL: I read some stories about it earlier this week, which I think, perhaps, overstated what our position is.

Our position is to let the Iraqis work this out. It was the position of the United States in the very beginning of this crisis that it had to remain one single integrated country. How it organizes itself, recognizing the major constituencies in the nation, remains to be determined.

We will work with the Iraqis as they work their way through this challenging issue for them. The governing council has discussed it on a number of occasions. They have different versions of the administrative law that they're working on to deal with this. And I would not want to prejudge here now what they might end up as finding the right solution.

But clearly, the Kurds wish, in some way, to preserve their historic identity and to link it in some way to geography. But I think it's absolutely clear that that part of Iraq must remain part of Iraq.

QUESTION: Could this be managed without irritating or antagonizing Turkey?

POWELL: Well, we are not looking to irritate or antagonize anyone, certainly neither are the Iraqis. And as this plan develops, as the November 15th plan unfolds over the next six or seven months, we'll be in close consultation not only with Turkey, but with the other neighbors in the region who have an interest as well.

QUESTION: Given the importance of Pakistan to the United States in the war against terrorism, is there a reluctance on the part of the administration to pursue all leads as to how Pakistani designs for centrifuges got to Libya, including A.Q. Khan and other figures who could not have operated without the support of the government there?

Is there reluctance because of our reliance on Pakistan and because of the...

POWELL: No, I don't know of any reluctance. We have been interested in proliferating activities on the part of any nation that would create instability or allow rogue nations to develop nuclear weapons.

I have discussed this issue on a number of occasions with President Musharraf and other Pakistani leaders. And as you know, President Musharraf has announced that he will be looking into it himself very thoroughly. And to the extent that we can help him with information, we will.

We haven't been reluctant. I can assure you of that, because I've been the one who's been talking to him about it over these years.

QUESTION: What's the next step with Libya? We and the British are now planning to work jointly on (inaudible) do you think, in the case of Libya and in the border countries, that there needs to be a new nonproliferation effort internationally because of what we've discovered there and also in Iraq?

POWELL: I'm not sure I heard the whole question because the airplane, but the next step is to make sure we have a clear understanding of what Libya possesses, make sure it matches up with what we think they possess and what they tell us they possess -- and they are very forthcoming to this point -- and then make sure that we have worked with them to verify their holdings and the destruction of those holdings in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

POWELL: That's the next step, and our teams are being formed now to pursue that.

We will also work with IAEA, Dr. ElBaradei, and the folks who are working on Chemical Weapons Convention activities as well.

When we get that under control and we have a good sense of all of that, then we'll start to examine the political and policy issues that relate to bringing Libya back into a different relationship with the United States and with the rest of the international community. We'll be looking at the sanctions, we'll be looking at other measures that we have taken against Libya over the years that should now be reviewed in light of that, keeping in mind always the interests and the views of the Pan Am 103 families.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, another proliferation question -- on North Korea also.

North Korea is now making noises that it is willing to basically suspend its nuclear weapons program which has not been acceptable to the United States. Do you have a response to the latest announcement from North Korea? And have you heard anything from China that would convince you that they truly are ready to come back to the negotiating table now under conditions as the U.S. wishes?

POWELL: I'm convinced that all of the six parties want to get back to the table. Because we're not sitting at the table does not mean we have not been talking to each other, and a lot of papers have gone back and forth. And we are in touch with our four partners in this effort, and some of our partners are directly in touch with North Korea.

So we've been doing a lot. And I hope that the next six-party talks, when they occur, will take us a step beyond where we have been with the trilateral and the first six-party talks.

To your specific question about what the North Koreans said, it was an interesting statement, it was a positive statement. They, in effect, said they won't test, and they implied that they would give up all aspects of their nuclear program, not just weapons program. And this is an interesting step on their part, positive step, and we hope that it will allow us to move more rapidly toward six-party framework talks.

POWELL: And what we're looking at is what should be the outcome of those talks so that it is not just a discussion, but we see real progress at the end of those talks. And I'm encouraged, I'm encouraged by the statement the North Koreans made.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that Pakistan was, indeed, the source of some of the technology designs that may have helped Libya in its nuclear program?

POWELL: I don't have enough information at hand to answer a question quite as specific as that. We know that there have been cases where individuals in Pakistan have worked in these areas and we have called it to the attention of the Pakistanis in the past. And I'm very pleased now that President Musharraf is aggressively moving to investigate all of that.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, Mr. Secretary, if you are going to work with the Pakistanis to find out, how far are you willing to follow this trail? And what if you find out that some of these technologies were transferred to Libya or to other countries while President Musharraf was in office, even after September 11th, when the U.S. and Pakistan pledged their allegiance to...

POWELL: That's just much too hypothetical to draw an answer. We will be examining all of this. We have a lot of information that we've held for a long time and have shared with people over the years to say that proliferation is a problem.

That's why we recently started the proliferation initiative to get more members of the international community involved in halting the flow of knowledge, equipment, technology, materials that could lead to nuclear weapons. And we've had a breakthrough now with Libya.

A great deal of pressure has been put on Iran so that Iran has now signed the additional protocol of the NPT and has made certain other commitments to the international community.

Iraq is no longer going to be a source of weapons of mass destruction. And I hope our colleagues in Pyongyang are watching all of this and realizing that they're wasting a lot of money for weapons and technologies and other kinds of programs that will not gain them anything politically.

Thank you.

BLITZER: The Secretary of State Colin Powell answering reporters' questions at the State Department, the diplomatic entrance at the State Department. The nuclear weapons proliferation clearly high on the agenda. Libya, Iran, North Korea, the Secretary of State making the case that progress is certainly being made with Libya. More progress needs to be made, he says, with Iran and North Korea.

We'll monitor all of that and get some more information for our viewers.

The Secretary of State clearly appearing to be fine and fit, looking good after his prostate surgery last month.


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