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 Home > News & Policies > April 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 7, 2003

Press Briefing with Secretary Powell and Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Belfast, Northern Ireland

12:17 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you a very quick rundown, just on the schedule, while we're there. And then Secretary Powell will be happy to talk to you, take your questions.

Tonight, the President will have dinner with the Prime Minister of Great Britain at Hillsborough Castle. And tomorrow there will be a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister and the President, followed by a press conference which will take place at 11:00 a.m. at Hillsborough Castle.

Following the press conference there will be a trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahern; and then there will also be a working luncheon with the Prime Minister -- both Prime Ministers. That will be followed by an expanded trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Blair, Prime Minister Ahern and Northern Ireland leaders. And then we'll return to Washington, D.C.

And with that, Secretary Powell, if you have any questions.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. The only thing I might mention is that we've seen some progress in the last 12 hours with respect to humanitarian supplies and support for our military coming through Turkey. So all of the backlogs that we had had and some of the bureaucratic problems have been dealt with.

And some thousand metric tons of World Food Program supplies have crossed over from Turkey into Northern Iraq. I think you're familiar with the military situation, so I won't belabor that. And in the interest of time, I'll go right to whatever questions you might have.

Q Mr. Secretary, what are we likely to see come out of this meeting tonight and tomorrow, with Mr. Blair?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think they will certainly have a good discussion about the state of the Operation Iraqi Freedom and a great deal of progress has been made in recent days. I think British troops are doing very well in the south, around Basra. And American troops are circling Baghdad, starting to probe into the city. So I think the campaign is going exceptionally well. It's been handled very professionally and will continue to be so. Humanitarian re-supply, I'm sure they will be talking about how to make sure that the population is taken care of, not only in the north, but in the south.

And I think they'll talk about the way forward. A lot of discussion about the role of the U.N., and I'm sure that will be a subject for discussion. There isn't as much debate and disagreement about this as you might read in the newspapers. Everybody knows from the Azore statement of a couple of weeks ago that there will be are role for the U.N. as a partner in this process.

I've spent a good part of the weekend in conversation with Kofi Annan, and I think the Secretary General may well have an announcement about that this afternoon, with respect to -- well, I'll let him make his announcement -- with respect to how he will participate in deliberations with the coalition.

As we said from the very beginning -- and I don't think there's any inconsistency here -- when you're in a military campaign such as this, when it comes to an end, the active hostilities come to an end, the military commander must be in charge for a period of time to stabilize the country, ensure security, make sure that the military -- the other side has been disarmed, find the weapons of mass destruction and make sure that humanitarian supplies are coming in. That is his obligation as the military commander going in.

In this instance, though, we hope to quickly establish an interim authority that can show to the people of the world -- and especially the people of Iraq -- that it is our intention to put authority into their hands as fast as we can and as rapidly as they are able to use that authority. And then, hopefully, the interim authority will grow -- embryonically, it starts, but it will grow into a representative government that will reflect the desires and aspirations and hopes of all of the people of Iraq.

Within that context, then, there is also a role for the United Nations -- initially, humanitarian -- World Food Program and other U.N. organizations are already there. And we'll be discussing with the Brits tonight, and we'll be discussing with other coalition partners -- and, ultimately, at the Security Council -- the nature of U.N. resolutions that would lay out what the role of the United Nations would be. And so I'm sure that the President and the Prime Minister will have a good discussion about the role of the U.N. But there's no question the U.N. will play an important role.

Q What does the administration think about the British proposal that Straw put forward the other day -- the proposed resolution that Straw talked about the other day, Blair's blueprint for a U.N. role? Isn't it more involved, has the U.N. more involved than the President would like? And will that be ironed out at this meeting, the small difference?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have had teams working on a resolution. And so there is no -- there aren't competing resolutions, there are points of view being brought together in a U.S. and UK group to make sure that we all have a common view.

But the expression "more involved, less involved," really isn't appropriate. We've just started to discuss this issue, we've just started to put down different points of view. And eventually now, it isn't just what the U.S.-UK think is appropriate; it's what we take into the Security Council and what the Security Council is prepared to do.

Keep in mind, the Secretary General has made it clear he does not want to have ownership of Iraq. He has no intention of the U.N. taking over full responsibility for the political future of Iraq. And I think that there's a way to make sure that all international organizations have an opportunity to play a role in the rebuilding of Iraq after two decades of Saddam Hussein's deconstruction, or destruction of Iraq. Everybody will have a role to play.

And as I said the other day in Brussels, the coalition, having spent the treasure, having taken the political risk and having paid the cost in lives, must have a leading role as we transition from a phase of hostilities to post-hostilities to reconstruction, to putting in place a representative government that belong to the Iraqi people.

The other responsibility that the coalition has, initially, is to protect the assets of the Iraqi people -- their oil fields. It's one of the reasons the campaign was structured the way it was -- to get control and to protect the oil fields as soon as possible. And so all of these obligations initially with the military commander -- the military commander being assisted by General Garner and his group, as we go in and help the ministries get rid of the old Baath Party leadership, put in place responsible Iraqi leadership with the regional coordinators that we are now staffing General Garner with; and then an interim authority, growing it into a full government, and the U.N. playing a role. And other international organizations playing a role -- whether it's the World Bank, the IMF -- there is enough work for everyone to have a role. But the leading role initially, of course, has to be the coalition necessarily.

Q What is the peacekeeping force? Will it be a U.N. peacekeeping force? Will it be a coalition peacekeeping force?

SECRETARY POWELL: We're examining what's going to be needed in the way of security or a peacekeeping force. It's not clear yet what's going to be required and when it's going to be required or where it's going to be required. It is for that reason that we are in discussions, not only with the U.N. but with NATO.

One of the items for discussion in Brussels last week was, is there a role for NATO. And I was very pleased that all of my NATO colleagues at the North Atlantic Council meeting we had, accepted the possibility that there may be a role for NATO organizations, NATO units to go in an peacekeeping, security or stability role, perhaps helping in the search for weapons of mass destruction infrastructure.

Now, they haven't decided that or voted upon it, but nobody rejected it as a possibility. So the message that we are trying to give people, and the President has been giving the message in the Azores presentation statement, and I'm sure you will hear it coming out of this message, this statement tomorrow and the conversations over the next 24 hours, is that the hostilities phase is coming to a conclusion. It's time for all of us to think about the post-hostilities phase, how we create a representative government consisting of all elements of Iraqi society -- those inside the country now who are committed to a different kind of Iraq, an Iraq that's living in peace with its neighbors; no weapons of mass destruction; everybody has a chance to participate in the life of the nation and the government -- as well as those individual outside Iraq, the external opposition, who for all these years never lost sight of the possibility of a free Iraq. They obviously have an important role to play in the new Iraq, as w


But the President is committed, as he has said, to all parts of Iraqi society being involved -- external and inside.

Q You said the hostilities phase is coming to an end. Does that mean that you're relatively confident that we're not going to see this type of bloody, urban, door-to-door combat inside Baghdad?

SECRETARY POWELL: I've learned not to predict how a battle may or may not go. But, clearly, the campaign -- which is less than three weeks old now -- has had remarkable achievements in terms of the speed with which the forces advanced, the integration of the air battle and the land battle and the one single battle, dealing with problems as they came along. We had a problem with rear-area security; they responded and dealt with it. They had a problem in Basra; the British surround it, take care of it, cut it off, reduce it. We'll keep focusing on Baghdad, which is the center of mass, which is the main objective. And so what I see in this campaign, as a former Chairman, is a bold, daring campaign with a great deal of agility and flexibility displayed by the commanders and the troops on the ground.

Has the operation come to a pause? No. It just changed its content briefly when we shifted to air power, as the trains were being brought up, the supplies were being brought up and as the commanders shaped the battlefield with air in order to get the land component going again. So there was never a pause. This battle has not stopped from day one. It just -- on any particular day, you may see more of one element of combat power being applied than another element: air power, land power, information power, communications power, intelligence power. These are all part of a single campaign, a single battle plan, and it's been executed exceptionally well.

Q Ahmed Challabi said last night on "60 Minutes" he thinks the U.S. military should be there for possibly two years. Is he being too pessimistic? And why?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know how long the U.S. military will be there. I think we'll have to see what circumstances exist when the hostilities phase comes to an end. Will we have truly broken the back of the regime and have they all gone? Or could we purge them quickly? So I think it's premature to make any judgment as to how long the coalition will be there.

But as the President has said, we don't want to stay one day longer than we have to. And we don't want to leave one day earlier than we should.

Q To follow up on that, what's the concern about intra-ethnic tensions in the region? You talk about purging the government, but you also have religious groups. You have the Kurdish minority in the north that is very interested in its own territory. Is that realistic? Is his prediction, then, realistic, in order to make certain that everyone sitting in his or her corner understands this is how we have to play the game?

SECRETARY POWELL: Obviously, we have given this a lot of thought -- Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, different groups within the Kurdish community, and a lot of tribal allegiances and alliances, as well. But we are committed to the territorial integrity of the country. And that's another reason for us to make sure we stay there long enough so that is inculcated in the political thinking of the interim authority.

It was one of the President's principal objectives and one of the issues he spent a lot of time thinking about is how to make sure that these diverse elements come together and stay together so that Iraq does not break into different parts. But there will be some challenges if we go down this road.

Q And I know that General Garner doesn't report to you directly, but why did he cancel his press conference today?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know why he cancelled his press conference. I just don't know.

Q Is that a symbol of the lack of confidence that --

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. I wouldn't read to much into that. What he is doing is underway. We all understand -- read your papers today, and it will tell you who's responsible for what particular coordination jobs. We've got a number of U.S. ambassadors in the group and more are going over to help the people who have experience who -- Arabists working with the others who are there already. But why the press conference was canceled, I don't know.

Q Mr. Secretary, what's your timing on setting up the interim authority?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have to make sure we do it right. And we'll be sending people over this week to begin the process of bringing together a group that would constitute the authority. But I'm reluctant to tell you or to speculate on how long that might take. We want to do it quickly because we want to see an interim authority put in place early, so it can work with the military part of the coalition, with the civil administration or civil coordination part of the coalition under General Garner. And then the U.N. working there.

We also want the interim authority to be there during all of this, because if we send regional coordinators in under General Garner's group and they start to see what ministries need, they start to clear away the old Baath Party leadership and get down to bedrock, then it's at that point you want the interim authority there to begin exercising authority over these ministries.

So these will be ministries and issues that will be handed off as quickly as possible, but in a sensible way -- military to civil to Iraqis, with the U.N. playing a role. Of course, the U.N. has a big humanitarian role to play, as well as, as you recall from the Azores statement, an endorsing role to play to the interim authority to give it legitimacy.

Q What is this group doing this week? Specifically, what are they doing?

SECRETARY POWELL: Garner, or the other group?

Q The group that's going over to begin the process of bringing the interim authority --

SECRETARY POWELL: They're getting themselves organized today. I don't have their travel plans, so I can't talk to -- we'll make an announcement in due course.

Q But is it that they are starting the interim authority this week, or --

SECRETARY POWELL: No. I don't think I said that. No, what I said is -- what I said, they're going over to begin the process, but I cannot tell you how long it will take.

Q Is it reasonable to predict when hostilities might be ending, or is this simply a prudent step?

SECRETARY POWELL: I would not speculate on such a matter. I would leave that to my military colleagues, and I bet they won't speculate either.

Q Can you tell us a little bit about the road map and Northern Ireland, as well, sir?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm sure the Middle East peace process will be discussed. And as the President and the Prime Minister have said previously, the road map is an important element of our Middle East policy, and we are still planning to release the road map at the time that Mr. Abu Mazen gets his vote of confidence on his cabinet and is confirmed. At that time the road map will be released.

Q And Northern Ireland?

SECRETARY POWELL: On Northern Ireland, I think it is very significant that the President will be meeting on a trilateral setting with Mr. Ahern and Mr. Blair, and then meeting with the principal leaders of both sides, and put our support behind the Hillsborough Plan, as it is now called, looking for a breakthrough.

This is a very significant step in the life of Northern Ireland, and as you know, Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern will be presenting it on Thursday. And this was just a fortuitous chance for the President to engage with all of the parties and give his support to the Good Friday Agreement and this latest effort to move that agreement forward, the Hillsborough Plan. We hope that as a result of the President's commitment to it and the support he will show tomorrow, we can get on with the process of decommissioning and all of the other things that are called for in this Hillsborough Plan.

Q And tomorrow, can we expect to hear some resolution of the differences in what the U.N. role should be? Will Prime Minister Blair and the President come out and say, we've agreed on what role the U.N. should play, and these are the resolutions we'd like the U.N. to pass? Is that we should expect to hear tomorrow?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm quite sure that in tomorrow's statement you will hear something with respect to the role of the U.N. that both the Prime Minister and the President agree to. How did you like that? (Laughter.)

Q That sounded like a dodge. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it sounded like an answer.

SECRETARY POWELL: That's why they're called, joint statements.

Q Will it be any more specific than the agreement they reached at Camp David?

SECRETARY POWELL: The reason -- you're asking for a level of specificity which doesn't exist yet. We're still working on resolutions. We're still examining what resolutions are required. It is a very intricate situation with respect to, what do we need in the way of an endorsement from the U.N. in order to satisfy international financial institutions that this authority is somebody they should deal with. What do we need from the U.N. in the way of an additional mandate, a broadened mandate for the Secretary General to do things.

All of these things are being discussed between the United States and the United Kingdom and with other coalition partners. And ultimately, the discussion has to expand to include the Secretary General's Office -- the Secretary General, and then ultimately, the Security Council.

So we're at the beginning of a very intricate and involved process of discussion and negotiation on a resolution, or resolutions, that will deal with an emerging post-hostility situation. I don't need a U.N. resolution today. We're still in a hostilities phase. And so we're preparing ourselves for the post-hostility phase, when a U.N. resolution would be useful and appropriate. And we're discussing now what authority should be in there, what's the role of the U.N. And I view this all as the normal negotiation that one goes through on this kind of a matter.

Q But we'll get a sense of what that resolution will be tomorrow?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think you'll get a sense of the thinking of the two leaders, but I don't think you're going to get in to see the specifics of a resolution -- a specific document.

Q Would you say this is a turning point, after the tension of the past several months between the coalition and the U.N., especially as it came up to deciding whether to have the vote on the second resolution?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think what I would say is that the tension of the last few months, which had to do with the second resolution, that's all behind us now. Operation Iraqi Freedom is going to be successful. The people of Iraq are going to be liberated. So let's not fight that fight again. Let's get back to the basic proposition that is before us, and that is to rebuild a country that has been devastated not by this war, but by its failed leadership of the last two decades. And let's not refight old battles, so let's step forward.

That's the message I gave to 20-odd countries' foreign ministers in Brussels last Thursday, and I think it's understood. And I hope that when you see the joint statements that come out of this summit meeting you will sense that the President and the Prime Minister are also looking to the future. Looking to the future with respect to Iraq, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland. I mean, I think it's going to be fairly upbeat.

Q When the military commander is in control -- is that when you would envision a full-scale search for WMD?

SECRETARY POWELL: Once the hostilities are over and we're not fighting battles every day, the search for weapons of mass destruction capability and infrastructure will, of course, be intensified, as you can allocate resources to it. We're not chasing it now. If you run into something that looks suspicious, as you know, reports come up every couple of days, we look at it. We found a lot of defensive equipment, and there are always reports surfacing about something that's out there. But that's not the mission of the troops right now. Their mission right now is to defeat the Iraqi army.

And so I think that the international community that I deal with recognizes it's time to look forward; 1441 was a success. We had the authority that we needed from 1441 -- that gave us the authority. We have now conducted this campaign; it's going to be a successful campaign.

The debate over the second resolution -- a resolution we didn't need in the first place, but we did it for our friends, and we didn't get the vote in that resolution. Guess what. We attempt to get the resolution, gave our friends enough support that we were serious about it so that each one of them were able to go to their parliaments and get a successful vote. Mr. Blair, in London, even without the second resolution; Mr. Aznar and Mr. Berlusconi, Prime Minister Howard.

And so that diplomatic effort achieved the purposes we intended -- 1441 gave legitimacy, and it is that legitimacy, undercoated by the earlier resolutions 678 and 687, that we have used to provide legitimacy to this operation.

Q Is that why Condi went to Moscow, on a fence-mending mission?


Q On a kind of fence-mending mission.

SECRETARY POWELL: Condi -- wherever Condi may be -- (laughter) --

Q Who knows where she is?

SECRETARY POWELL: We've been reaching out. I met with every foreign minister, except the Icelandic foreign minister, in Brussels and Turkey last week. I also met with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov -- he came to Brussels. So we have been reaching out and saying to everybody, let's get beyond the debate of the past several months; let's all come together on making sure we have the transatlantic relationship intact. Any gaps that existed let's start healing, let's start closing those gaps.

And of course, Russia is an important partner for the United States in a variety of ways. So I met with Igor on Thursday evening and we thought it very, very useful for Dr. Rice to go to Moscow to meet with Sergei Ivanov, her counterpart, and also Minister of Defense -- partially her counterpart -- still close to President Putin, and also to have a conversation with President Putin that she could report back to President Bush on.

Had enough?

Q Thank you.

* * * * *

SECRETARY POWELL: -- (in progress) that does not mean that you are in an environment of total peace, without anything happening. It's still a very dicey situation. But I think that we can see that the campaign is proceeding very, very well, and is reaching a point where we should start thinking about post-hostilities. But don't take that to mean there can never be another incident, or if an incident occurs. It means that we're not entirely (inaudible).

Just as in Afghanistan, even though we put in a new government, it's still generating difficulties. But I think the nature of what you're seeing is going to reach a culminating point, and then it will be something else as humanitarian aid comes in, as we start to put in place an interim authority. So that tells you --

Q I think that was clear earlier. You're not implying that we're at the post-hostility stage now?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, absolutely not.

Q See that light at the --

SECRETARY POWELL: At some point in the future, yes, right.

MR. FLEISCHER: I just wanted to make sure it didn't --

Q And then once we get to that spot, there might be a transition where -- there's a flare-up every once in a while but you can --

SECRETARY POWELL: The fact that General Garner is sort of moving and getting ready to do his work, the very fact that we're talking about U.N. resolutions -- you know, that suggests we're getting ready for what happens after this campaign, as you have seen it for the last almost three weeks, comes to some culminating point of some end.

Q Thank you.

END 12:46 P.M. EDT