Text: U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
Monday, Sept. 17, 2001
Following is the transcript of U.S. Secretary of Colin Powell's news conference on the coalition of countries coming together against the terrorists. Powell also answered questions on the Taliban's pending decision on whether or not to hand over Osama bin Laden, the terrorist thought to be behind the attacks.
POWELL: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Sorry I'm a little late, I just got off of the phone with the president of Yemen, President Saleh. And we had a good conversation about the support that Yemen is giving to us in this crisis.
They have been very helpful recently in the continuation of the Cole investigation and now are helping us with respect to leads in this current crisis, the September 11 incident.
He also mentioned to me that the president of Syria is visiting and that later this afternoon, the two presidents will issue a joint statement, once again condemning the actions of last week, condemning those who are responsible for it, condemning terrorism and committing themselves to work with us in the days and weeks ahead as we deal with this problem.
This expression of support is characteristic of the expressions of support we have continued to receive as we call leaders around the world and as we begin this building of a coalition, a coalition that will be conducting a campaign, a campaign that will have many parts to it, as I have said to you before--legal, political, diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence collection and military as appropriate.
And so I am pleased that the coalition is coming together. I think everybody recognizes that this challenge is one that went far beyond America, far beyond New York City and far beyond Washington; 37 countries lost citizens in the World Trade Center. And what we have to do is not only deal with this present instance but the whole concept of terrorism, deal with it as a scourge upon civilization and go after it.
But in the first round of this campaign, we have to deal with the perpetrators of the attacks against America in New York and in Washington. And it is becoming clearer with each passing hour, with each passing day, that it is the Al Qaeda network that is the prime suspect, as the president has said, and all roads lead to the leader of that organization, Osama bin Laden, and his location in Afghanistan.
That is why we are pleased that the Pakistani government sent emissaries in to try to persuade the Afghans, the Taliban leadership, that they should do what they had been required to do for a number of years under U.N. resolutions and reject this presence in their country, this invasion of their country by a terrorist organization.
We mean no ill toward the people of Afghan. They are a suffering people. They are a poor people. And it's for that reason alone they should not allow these invaders to put their society at risk and to connect themselves to the government of Afghanistan.
So I'm very pleased that more and more people around the world recognize the nature of this campaign, recognize that we have to get involved, recognize it's not going to be solved in one day or one week, but it'll be a long-term campaign. And that as the president and other government officials have indicated earlier, we are also doing everything necessary to protect ourselves here at home and to put ourselves on the right kind of security footing so that we can be vigilant and alert to the threats that still exist within the country or may be directed at us in the future.
With that, I will take a few questions. Once again, I'm under a time--yes?
QUESTION: Is it too early, do you have any indications of how the message is being received by Taliban? The Saudi foreign minister is coming here Wednesday, and could you tell us what you will ask of the Saudis, and whatever they do, would you prefer this time that they be explicit?
POWELL: I always like explicit rather than vague. And I look forward to seeing Foreign Minister Saud when he comes here.
And I have spoken to him--I guess it was last Thursday or Friday--I'm losing track of the days. And so I expect he'll be forthcoming. I expect he'll be coming with a message of support and commitment. And I know that they are looking at a number of ways in which they can help us. And we will welcome that help and assistance.
They are good friends of ours. They have condemned this act from the very outset, from the very beginning, from last Wednesday morning on. And I'm sure he is coming with a message of continued support and commitment, but I don't want to get into what specifically we might be asking of them.
QUESTION: Any early indications of what Taliban is saying?
POWELL: The Taliban, of course, is responding in the way that it always has, that Osama bin Laden and his associates are guests in their country. Well, it's time for the guests to leave.
QUESTION: Two things, first of all, the Pakistanis are saying that there is a deadline of three days to hand over Osama bin Laden. Is that true?
POWELL: Whose deadline?
QUESTION: The deadline for the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden...
POWELL: The Pakistanis gave them a deadline?
QUESTION: Well, that's what I'm asking, is it a Pakistani...
POWELL: I don't know is that is the case, that the Pakistanis actually said that, and whether they said it in their own name or whose name, but it wasn't in our name.
QUESTION: It wasn't yours.
And, secondly, on the front line, have you made specific and formal requests to all front-line states around Afghanistan, including Iran?
POWELL: We have not made specific requests for assistance. Those requests are being considered now by our intelligence, law enforcement, and military communities to see what might be needed as we put our contingency plans together. Nothing has been asked of Iran in particular.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you say whether this government intends to contact the Taliban and to give either an ultimatum or whatever words you care to choose of the language? Can you deal with these people?
POWELL: I'm sure there will be some communication in the future, but I'd not like to characterize what that communication might be yet.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as you've put the pieces of your diplomatic puzzle together, could you sort of elaborate for us on the importance that Saudi Arabia, Morocco and other Islamic states play within the Arab world in sort of building this international consensus?
POWELL: I think they are important, not only those specific countries, but all countries, Arab and otherwise, but especially Arab to come out and condemn this kind of activity because this is a threat to their own countries. There isn't one of them you've mentioned that hasn't faced some kind of terrorist attack against their legitimacy, against their own sovereignty.
And so it is important for them to speak out, especially when we have seen the strong statements from Pakistan. And I think Pakistan would like to see other Arab and Islamic countries speak out and act in a stronger way as Pakistan has. And you know, Uzbekistan has been rather forthcoming and others have been rather forthcoming.
And I think as the days go by and as the various plans come together, you'll see more and more of them speaking out. The UAE has said it is reviewing its relationship with Taliban activities within the UAE and we'll see where that leads. The Sudan has become suddenly much more interested and active in working with us on various items. So there are a lot of things that are going that will become more manifest as time goes on.
POWELL: I did. I talked to my colleague Yeoryios Papandreou over the weekend. I can get the specific date for you. Richard has a rather imposing list of phone calls, but I can no longer remember which day--it was over the weekend--both to my Greek and to my Turkish colleagues, on the same day.
QUESTION: Is turning over Osama bin Laden enough? Are there other things the Taliban will also have to do?
POWELL: We are after the Al Qaida network, not one individual. It's lots of individuals and it's lots of cells. As I said on television yesterday, Osama bin Laden is the chairman of a holding company, and within that holding company are terrorist cells and organizations in dozens of countries around the world--any one of them capable of committing a terrorist act.
So it is not enough to get one individual, although we'll start with that one individual. It will not be over until we have gotten in to the inside of this organization, inside its decision cycle, inside its planning cycle, inside its execution capability, and until we have neutralized and destroyed it. That is our objective.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the Taliban today is apparently offering that a court of Islamic clerics would determine the fate of bin Laden and that they would accept that outcome, but this is something they've offered before and the U.S. rejected it before. I want to know if that's still your feeling, if there is any kind of flexibility? And also, is there interagency team planning to go into Pakistan any time soon?
POWELL: On the first point, I'll wait and see what they end up doing and what that court decides, once it is convened in whatever fashion it convenes itself and what action it takes. I don't want to pre-judge what we might do in response to what it might do.
With respect to an interagency team going to Pakistan, we are making a determination now and it'll take a day or two or a couple of days as to what we might want to ask the Pakistanis for. And when that has been determined, then we will form a team appropriate to that task.
QUESTION: Are you certain that Osama bin Laden is still in Afghanistan? And are you confident that the Taliban could actually find him?
POWELL: I can't be certain of where he is. I'm reasonably confident and certain that if the Taliban government wanted to find him, they would know where he is if he is still in Afghanistan. I have seen nothing to indicate he is not still in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, any plan to follow-up on the positive signals being sent from Iran?
POWELL: From Iran?
POWELL: As I said yesterday, these are positive signals, and I have to reinforce that it is a positive signal, and it's worth exploring. And that's where I would leave it right now--not move it any further than that--worth exploring.
Remember now, as you surely do, that Iran is a nation we have designated as sponsoring state terrorism. And they may want to make cause against the Taliban, but will they make cause against other terrorist organizations that they have provided support to?
And I'm willing to explore that, but let's not get any further than that. Some have suggested that they're part of the coalition, they're going to be partners. Not so fast. We recognize the nature of that regime. They have said something that is different than what we have heard from them previously. They, too, are shocked by what happened, they tell us. And so, it seems to me that is an opening worth exploring, and that's as far as we go right now.
I'm running out of time.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, who has not responded well? What countries have disappointed you in their response?
And secondly, last week Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz used the phrase ``ending'' regimes that sponsor terrorism. No administration official has repeated that formula. Are we really after ending regimes, or are we simply going to try to change their behavior?
POWELL: We're after ending terrorism. And if there are states and regimes, nations that support terrorism, we hope to persuade them that it is in their interest to stop doing that. But I think ending terrorism is where I would like to leave it, and let Mr. Wolfowitz speak for himself.
QUESTION: What countries have fallen short, let's say?
POWELL: I really don't have a list of fall-shorts. Some have been able to do more than others. Some it is rhetorical in nature and they really don't have much else to give us other than words of support and encouragement. Others, it is far more than that, to the point of, if you have to do something militarily, ask us if we can participate.
So it is a full range. But within the capabilities that they have, I am very satisfied with most of the responses that I have received. Where there is an opportunity for a country to do more and they haven't yet offered to do more, I'd rather deal with them rather than single them out.
One more, then I got to go.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, NATO said they would be with us. But apparently, Italy--there was a statement this morning that Italy would not participate militarily in any sort of action. And there have been some countries in the Middle East and elsewhere that have expressed concern that this is going to be too broad a campaign and they want it to be very narrowly focused and they're nervous. What would you say to them?
POWELL: We're sensitive to all those concerns. I heard something quite different from Italy, but my Italian colleague will be here this week, so Rinaldo (ph) and I can talk directly.
POWELL: Hold on, hold on, hold on. Pushy, pushy.
QUESTION: I'm a New Yorker.
POWELL: Now, I forget the question. Next.
QUESTION: You just said a little earlier that there will be communication, but you would prefer not to characterize it. Yet yesterday, I think you said that in a couple of days the United States would be talking to the Taliban. Are you suggesting here that the first communication will be military rather than anything else?
POWELL: No. I think both statements are consistent--communication, contact.
QUESTION: When will the United States be talking to the Taliban? Will we be sending someone in from Islamabad?
POWELL: That's what I also said today, that I'm not prepared to comment on the modalities or when or under what set of circumstances what the nature of the communications would be, because that's still being resolved.
OK. Do you remember what the question was? I'll try to remember the answer.
QUESTION: I do. The second part of the question--forgive me, as an ex-New Yorker--was about Israel. Ariel Sharon has not been terribly helpful, it seems, in this. A lot of Arab countries are saying we have to do something about this conflict and we have to restrain Sharon or a coalition isn't going to fly.
POWELL: I think we do have to do something about the situation in the Middle East. I carve out part of my day to press and work on that. Prime Minister Sharon and I had a very long phone conversation last night. And we talked about his latest approach of his son and an official from the ministry visiting with Chairman Arafat and talking about how this series of meetings could get started.
And I never lose sight of the fact that one of the underlying and continuing problems we will have--we had it before 11 September, we're going to have it for the foreseeable future--is that we have to get into the Mitchell plan and we have to get back to negotiations in due course.
And so I can assure you, I haven't taken the United States eye off that ball.
I do have to go.