of State Colin Powell
Interview with NBC Meet the Press
September 23, 2001
QUESTION: But first, the Secretary of State is with us. General Colin Powell,
SECRETARY POWELL: Good morning, Tim.
QUESTION: Twelve days ago, America was attacked like never before. Where are
we in terms of response?
SECRETARY POWELL: In terms of response, we have begun a broad campaign against
the perpetrators of this attack, and also against terrorism in general. The
campaign has already begun. It has begun with rallying the international communities
on our side of this issue, letting nations around the world know that this is
a time to choose. You're either for freedom or you're for terrorism.
And we have also continued the campaign by getting nations such as the United
Arab Emirates to cut off relations with the Taliban. We are getting cooperation
with respect to shutting down the financial systems that exist to provide support
to these kinds of organizations. We are getting solid action in the United Nations
and Nation and the Organization of American States, the Organization of Islamic
Conferences. Many things are happening. So this campaign has begun.
We got solid support from Pakistan, as you well know. And, of course, we are
putting in place our forces, in the event the President decides it's time to
use military force as part of the campaign. But we are not waiting. The campaign
QUESTION: And we have lifted economic sanctions against Pakistan, as a reward
for their assistance?
SECRETARY POWELL: We have waived some sanctions that have been in place against
both Pakistan and India. It was something we had been considering for some months
now. But we consulted with Congress this past week in light of these changed
events, and in light of the very forthcoming position that the Pakistani Government
has taken, and the President waived some of the sanctions that were in place
QUESTION: But it is an important signal that the United States will reward its
SECRETARY POWELL: It's an important signal that we will stand by our friends
who stand by us.
QUESTION: Are you absolutely convinced that Usama bin Laden was responsible
for this attack?
SECRETARY POWELL: I am absolutely convinced that the al-Qaida network, which
he heads, was responsible for this attack. You know, it's sort of al-Qaida --
the Arab name for it is "the base"-- it's something like a holding
company of terrorist organizations that are located in dozens of countries around
the world, sometimes tightly controlled, sometimes loosely controlled. And at
the head of that organization is Usama bin Laden. So what we have to do in the
first phase of this campaign is to go after al-Qaida and go after Usama bin
Laden. But it is not just a problem in Afghanistan; it's a problem throughout
the world. That's why we are attacking it with a worldwide coalition.
QUESTION: Will you release publicly a white paper, which links him and his organization
to this attack, to put people at ease?
SECRETARY POWELL: We are hard at work bringing all the information together,
intelligence information, law enforcement information. And I think, in the near
future, we will be able to put out a paper, a document, that will describe quite
clearly the evidence that we have linking him to this attack. And also, remember,
he has been linked to earlier attacks against US interests and he was already
indicated for earlier attacks against the United States.
QUESTION: Do you believe there is any United States law or executive order,
which would prohibit our killing Usama bin Laden, if we find him?
SECRETARY POWELL: An interesting question. There are a number of authorities
that are in place, executive orders and the like, that we are examining, to
make sure that we have all the freedom of action we need to bring him to justice
or to bring justice to him, as the President has said.
QUESTION: Let me show you an article in USA Today, dateline Islamabad, and I'll
put it on the screen:
To some Pakistanis, bin Laden is like a god. T-shirts and turbans bearing the
image of Usama bin Laden and the words "world hero" are big sellers
at the open market. So are fake credit cards, $50 bills with his picture and
phrase "In Usama we trust." But forget about buying cassettes and
CDs of his fiery teachings where he says "Every American man is my enemy."
They sold out hours after last Tuesday's attack at six times the normal price.
Usama has become like a god for the Moslem people, says Amir Kahn, 21, as he
waived a white Taliban flag and led anti-American protests outside the city's
Red Mosque. "America and Pakistan should be warned if they try to kill
Usama or attack our Afghan brothers, we'll wage war against them. American and
Pakistani blood will flow in the streets."
Is there a concern by demonizing Usama bin Laden that we could trigger an uprising
in Pakistan that may have very serious destabilization for that country, which
has nuclear weapons?
SECRETARY POWELL: We are very sensitive to this question. And it is unfortunate
that there are Moslems who feel that way. The reality is that Usama bin Laden
has demonized himself. He is unfaithful to the religion that he says he is an
adherent to. He is a murderer. He has murdered thousands of people, not just
Americans, thousands of people from around the world. Eighty countries lost
people in the World Trade Center. He has committed these acts of murder around
the world, and that's what he should be seen as, a murderer.
And, in fact, there are many Moslems and many Islamic countries, led countries,
that are supporting of our efforts. And I hope that as we go forward, as we
put the evidence out, the case will clearly be made that he is not someone to
be admired or followed; he is someone to be condemned as against civilization
as we know it, against the principles that we believe in, against the principles
that will make this a better world, not a world of terror and violence.
QUESTION: Are you confident that the current Pakistan Government can remain
stable and that the nuclear weapons that they have will not fall in the hands
of supporters of Usama bin Laden?
SECRETARY POWELL: Everything I've seen over the last two weeks convinces me
that President Musharraf made a courageous decision and he did it with full
awareness of the potential domestic consequences. He is supported by all of
his military commanders and all others in the government. So, I am confident
that Pakistan will remain stable and I have no concerns about their nuclear
QUESTION: There is a $25 million reward for Usama bin Laden. Do you think there
is a possibility that someone on the ground in Afghanistan could drop a dime
on him for the money?
SECRETARY POWELL: $25 million is a great deal of money, and I am sure there
might be somebody so motivated, whether they can do that or not. But let's not
just focus on Usama bin Laden. It would be nice to see him brought to justice.
But that won't end it. It's the whole network that has to be ripped up and brought
That's why it isn't strictly a military operation; it is an operation that covers
financial activity, information activity, protection of borders, shutting down
the ability of people to move easily from country to country. That's why we
are calling it a full-scale campaign, using all the elements of national and
QUESTION: Afghanistan. How would you rate the Taliban army?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the Taliban regime has a military force that has succeeded
in gaining control of some 90 percent of the country. But it is not a modern
force by any means. It is a very dispersed force, at the lower end of the ability
to conduct modern warfare. But it is a force that one would have to take seriously
because of their experience in the kind of warfare that is typical of Afghanistan.
And as we develop our plans, they will be plans that go after al-Qaida and we
will try to take advantage of whatever weaknesses exist there and play to our
strengths and not act against their strengths.
QUESTION: The Russians when -- then the Soviet Union -- engaged in a 10-year
war with Afghanistan, lost about 30,000 people according to unofficial estimates.
One gentleman who was in the service there, now in the Russian Parliament, Yevgeny
Zelinov, said that no matter how they prepare for a ground operation, it is
hopeless in that environment.
SECRETARY POWELL: It depends what kind of a mission you are trying to achieve
and what your objectives are before you declare hopelessness. And I am sure
our military leaders have a pretty good idea of the difficulties of operating
in Afghanistan. And I am sure all of our military leaders have studied carefully
previous experience, especially the experience of the Russian army.
QUESTION: It's a different kind of war -- if we have one. General Powell, as
you well know, the Powell Doctrine, using overwhelming force in order to overcome
our enemy. General Wesley Clark, who oversaw our operations in Kosovo, said
we become allergic to close combat. How different is a war against terrorists
in Afghanistan than from something you mounted in the Persian Gulf 10 years
SECRETARY POWELL: It's quite different. And I never talked about overwhelming
force, I've always talked about decisive force. Meaning, you go to the point
of decision and that's where you apply decisive force.
In the Persian Gulf war 10 years ago, you had an army sitting out there, easily
identifiable. There it was, waiting to be attacked, and we applied decisive
force against the Iraqi army. It's different this time. And we shouldn't see
this in the same context, as if there is a large enemy out there that we plan
to attack in conventional ways.
If the President decides that this is what we should do and have to do, I can
assure you that our military will have plans that will go against their weaknesses
and not get trapped in ways that previous armies have gotten trapped in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Previous wars from the air, very limited if any American casualties.
Do you think the American people would be accepting of large amounts of casualties
in order to win this war?
SECRETARY POWELL: You know, I have always shied away from this concept that
you can fight a war without casualties. It has never been anything that I put
forward. You always want to make sure you can minimize casualties and do everything
you can to protect the force. But war is war and there will be casualties.
I think the American people understand that this is a difficult situation and
we may have to put lives at risk. And it is something that the military understands.
And we can't conduct wars in such a way that we are terrified of putting anyone
at risk. War does put people at risk and it's a risk we have to take in light
of the current circumstances. We will always try to conduct all of our military
operations in a way that reduces casualties as much as possible, but there is
no such thing as a zero-casualty conflict where you are using all the elements
of your military power and you are going into a place, say, like Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Sixty-five percent of the people in the Arab world are under the age
of 18. How concerned are you that countries like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia
could become destabilized, that revolution could be fomented if, in fact, there
is a large-scale war?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, let's not assume there will be a large-scale war. I
don't know that we should even consider a large-scale war of the conventional
type. But it is more interesting to note that Egypt and Saudi Arabia and most
of the countries in that part of the world have come to our support. They have
recognized that terrorism is a threat not only against the United States, against
them. They have suffered from terrorism as well. And they recognize that this
is not consistent with Islamic teachings. It is absolutely inconsistent with
So I think they understand the domestic pressures they are under and they understand
what they have committed themselves to. And when you even have countries such
as Syria and to some extent even Iran indicating that they sense the problem
associated with this kind of attack, it gives us something to explore, something
to work with. And what we should be looking at really is the solid support we
have received from Arab nations.
QUESTION: Let me show you what the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak had to
say and give you a chance to talk about it a little bit. "If you launch
an attack against Afghanistan or another country on your list of rogue states,
you will kill many innocent people, just as the terrorists killed many of your
people," President Mubarak said in an interview. "Don't play the game
of your enemy. They want your reprisals to bring forth from the blood and ruins
of your bombing a new generation of militants who will cry for revenge against
the United States."
SECRETARY POWELL: We are very sensitive to that. One has to be careful that
in your reaction, you don't give the enemy exactly what the enemy would like
to have, a new cause celebre. And so we will be very sensitive to that. And
I know that my colleagues in the Pentagon are sensitive to that, as they consider
the various options that are available to them.
QUESTION: The Washington Post reported yesterday that Saudi Arabia is denying
the United States the use of Prince Sultan Airbase as a place for offensive
operations. Is that true?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the article said that I had called them to protest this
or ask for a change in policy. There were no such phone calls. The article is
incorrect. And I have been in daily touch with Saudi officials and they have
been very responsive to all of the requests we have placed on them.
QUESTION: So they will allow us to use that airbase?
SECRETARY POWELL: They have been very responsive to all the requests we have
placed on them. There is no show-stopper with respect to what we have asked
of the Saudis. But I do not want to go into what we have not yet asked of them.
But, as of right now, for everything we have put to them, they have been responsive
in a way that we can see that responsiveness, if it is not always headline news
or something that you would see across, say, a television screen. But they have
QUESTION: Many of the hijackers had ties to Saudi Arabia. Tom Friedman, who
has lived and studied and written about this world for a long time had this
to say in the New York Times. "Some Arab regimes, most of which are corrupt
dictatorships afraid of their own people, made a devil's pact with the fundamentalists.
They allowed the Islamic extremist domestic supporters to continue raising money,
ostensibly for Moslem welfare groups, and to funnel it to Usama bin Laden on
the condition that the Islamic extremists not attack these regimes. The Saudis
in particular struck that bargain."
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I have found that in recent days the Saudis have been
very forthcoming with respect to that kind of issue, and they have promised
us full cooperation in going after financial support for these kinds of groups.
As you know, a long time ago, they ostracized Usama bin Laden and took away
his Saudi citizenship. We are working closely with them.
But I also need to point out that a lot of the financial support comes from
outside the Arab world. I mean, it is quite easy in European nations and in
the United States to raise money for these kinds of dissident, terrorist-oriented
causes. And so it is not just an Arab problem, it is an international problem.
We have to go after their financial support wherever we find it, in Arab nations
or in western nations.
We are also focusing on some of the so-called humanitarian, charitable, non-governmental
organizations that raise money. If we can trace any of that money to terrorist
activity subsequently, we really have to go after these kinds of organizations
QUESTION: On Friday, several Americans, several dozen Americans, the Project
of the New American Century, released a letter to the President saying that
we should target terrorism wherever it exists, even if it means conducting military
operations against Iraq, Syria, Iran. In your estimation, what would happen
to your international coalition if we were to mount military campaigns against
Iraq, Syria and Iran while still trying to find Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan?
SECRETARY POWELL: Rather than deal with that hypothetical, let me deal with
what we are actually going to do. What the President said is we're going to
go after terrorism. That doesn't always mean you have to use military force
to go after terrorism. There are many elements of national power. And you also
have to keep your attention focused on a particular objective, before you start
adding different goals and objectives.
And the objective that the President has focused on in this first instance is
al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden, his presence in Afghanistan. And then we will consider
all other options and all other sources of terrorist activity and go after it
in an appropriate way. That approach has met with great favor in the international
And since this has to be an international response to an international threat,
I think it is important that we are able to get the United Nations Security
Council resolutions that will help us deal with the financial transactions that
take place. That's why I think it is important that we keep that coalition together
so we get a statement such as we did Friday night from the European Council
giving full support of the European Union to what we are doing. It is important
we keep that coalition together so you can get statements such as we did Friday
from the Organization of American States or the Organization of Islamic Conferences.
If we want to go it alone and say we know what's best in all of these cases
and we know exactly how to deal with them and lose the support of the world,
then I think we will have made a strategic mistake. New opportunities have been
presented by the way the President has laid out this campaign and the focus
that he has given to it. And he has made the decision about how we are going
to go about this campaign. And he has left nothing off the table with respect
to phase two, phase three or phase four. And we will get to those phases in
due course. But let's not lose our focus on phase one.
QUESTION: Are there some in the administration who are urging more immediate
attacks on Syria and Iran, rooting out terrorists?
SECRETARY POWELL: As you would in any administration, we had lots of discussions.
But the President, his Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary
of Defense, the National Security Advisor, the Attorney General, the Secretary
of the Treasury, all were together and discussed these items and the President
made his decision and that's the only thing that counts, not what others somewhere
in the administration might think.
QUESTION: Iran and Syria have long harbored terrorists. Is this a chance for
them to have a new start, a fresh start with America by saying, you know what,
we're going to take care of our terrorist problem and we're going to help you
deal with Usama bin Laden?
SECRETARY POWELL: I think that might well be the case. They have been sponsors
of terrorism and we have so designated them and those designations have not
gone away. But the Syrians were somewhat forthcoming in their response to 11
September and I talked to the Syrian Foreign Minister and we are looking to
see if we can explore areas of cooperation.
But they can't be for one kind of terrorism and against another kind of terrorism.
They have to realize, you've got to change your pattern if you want to be a
part of this civilized world that is in a coalition against terrorism.
And the same message goes to Iran. Not quite the same context, but we have heard
from the Iranians through channels, and we are willing to explore this possibility.
They have always been against the Taliban and against this kind of activity
in Afghanistan, but they have also supported terrorist organizations. You have
got to be ready to go against all terrorist organizations.
QUESTION: But it's pretty hard with Iran, because of their involvement in Khobar
Towers, where they blew up a lot of our service men.
SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, it is. And what the President said in his speech is continued
conduct of that kind will identify you as someone who has a hostile interest
toward the United States and the interests of the civilized world.
QUESTION: How about Saddam Hussein and Iraq? Is there any evidence that he was
involved in the attack on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon? And is he
currently harboring terrorists and therefore is someone that we would like to
engage on this issue?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there are some reports of linkages but not to the extent
that I would say today there is a clear link. But we are looking for links and
we are watching very closely. We have no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He
means us no good, he means the region no good. He has, of course, tried to develop
weapons of mass destruction. For 10 years, we have kept him contained and we
will continue to keep him contained. And, as you know, we always have the ability
to strike if that seems to be the appropriate thing to do.
And so we are taking no options off the table. And we always consider him to
be a potential source of terrorist activity and to harbor terrorism and terrorist
activities. So we have got a good eye on the Iraqi regime.
QUESTION: There are reports this morning on the news wires the Taliban Government
is saying Usama bin Laden is missing. How confident are you that we will find
Usama bin Laden?
SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. I really can't answer that question. He might
be "missing," whatever that means. I am not quite sure I am ready
to put credence into the Taliban report. The Taliban may be trying to find a
way to get themselves out of the terrible box they are in. I don't know.
And even if we were to get Usama bin Laden tomorrow, he showed up, was turned
over to us, that would be good but it would not be the end. It's his lieutenants
we have to get, it's the whole network that has to be ripped up. We can't rip
out the head and have the tail and other parts of it laying around waiting.
QUESTION: How many people are we talking about?
SECRETARY POWELL: We're talking several thousand, maybe many thousands. We're
not entirely sure. But we do know --
QUESTION: Everywhere? Europe, America?
SECRETARY POWELL: They're everywhere. They're in Europe, they're in America.
You can find connections to them all around. And we have to get them all, or
else we will always have a degree of uncertainty and a degree of insecurity
within not only American society but within societies all over the world.
We have to keep remembering that the World Trade Center was that, the World
Trade Center. Almost 80 countries, about 80 countries, lost citizens. And so
it was an attack against Americans, it was an attack against Moslems, it was
an attack against Jews, it was an attack against Africa and Asia and Europe,
all parts of the world. It was the World Trade Center and they knew what they
QUESTION: You have lived a full life, mostly as a military man. You've seen
death up close. How have the events of September 11th changed you?
SECRETARY POWELL: They have been deeply moving for me as they have for every
American. To see your own home state, New York -- I'm a New Yorker -- to see
it struck that way and then to see a building that I spent so many years in
the Pentagon struck that way -- I went over to the Pentagon yesterday with Don
Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld, to look around.
t's deeply moving to know that, one, we had this kind of vulnerability and that
there were people out there who we knew were out there but never really had
a sense of how determined they were to strike us in this way. And it means that
as we go forward, we will have to work harder to protect ourselves, work harder
to find this kind of enemy, work harder to defend ourselves. And I am so pleased
that Governor Ridge will be playing an important role in homeland security.
But at the same time, I'm just as convinced, in the face of this horror, that
we've got to go on, we will go on. We're a strong people, we have a backbone
of steel, we're patriotic, we're not afraid of people. We're not going to hide
under our desks, we're not going to go into bunkers.
We've got to get back to work, we've got to get back to our ballgames, we've
got to get back to our theaters. We've got to get this economy moving again.
And that will be the best answer to what happened. While we're also chasing
them, while we're also going after our campaign with all the vigor at our disposal
and all the strength at our disposal. The real answer to them is to get back
at being Americans, the kind of Americans we know we are. And we'll show the
world what this country is really made of.
QUESTION: Before you go, why do they hate us so much and how do we offer those
young Moslem boys and girls around the world a competing destiny that says America
is not bad, our capitalist system is not bad, Christianity and Judaism is not
bad. Because the leaders of Usama bin Laden's group are fueling within them
this rabid hate for our country and our way of life.
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, for reasons that are very complex, they hate our value
system, they hate our presence in parts of the world that they think we should
not be in.
But let me make this point. Go to any American city and you will find many proud
American Moslems, proud American Moslems who came to this country because they
wanted to be a part of this society, who came to this country for the opportunities
we presented, who came to this country proud of their Moslem heritage but at
the same time wanting to be an American, just as my parents came to this country
and your grandparents came to this country.
And so while we are looking at the Moslems who through a false application of
their faith are doing this, let's look at those Moslems who understand the power
of the democratic system, who understand the power of the free enterprise system
and let's celebrate the Moslems who have come to this country to become Americans
and to share in the values of this nation.
QUESTION: Colin Powell, Secretary of State, we thank you for joining us this