Text: Powell on U.S. Response to Attacks
Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001
Following is the transcript of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's news conference on U.S. response to the terrorist attacks and conversations with world leaders.
POWELL: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I thought what I would do is to update you on the activities of the last several hours since I spoke to the press this morning.
Let me being once again by saying that our hearts go out to all the victims and to their families. It is a tragedy. But as the president has made clear, it is a tragedy that we are strong enough to overcome. Our spirits will not be broken. The resilience of this society will not be broken. We will find out who is responsible for this and they will pay for it.
We are undertaking a full court press diplomatically, politically, militarily, and in the course of the morning and early afternoon I have been in touch with a number of foreign leaders and international organizational leaders to coordinate the diplomatic approach to this.
I have talked to Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, and I thank the United Nations for the Security Council resolution they passed and also for the statement from the General Assembly, and I expect the General Assembly to also work on a resolution later today.
Lord Robertson in NATO is hard at work with a resolution that is under consideration now that would tee up, if I can put it that way, prime Article 5 responsibilities. Article 5 of the charter says that an attack from abroad by anyone against any member of the alliance is an attack against the alliance.
If that resolution goes forward, that doesn't invoke Article 5 yet, but it puts in a position to be invoked when the United States makes a judgment about the nature of the attack and where that attack came from.
And I appreciate what Lord Robertson and his colleagues are doing for us.
I've also been in touch with Foreign Minister of Belgium Louis Michel, who is also head of the presidency of the EU at this time, and High Representative Javier Solana to thank them for the strong support we have received from the European Union and the statements they have made, and their cooperation promise to us to deal with this tragedy and to move forward.
I've also attended, along, of course, with my other colleagues, a National Security Council meeting with the president, where we reviewed all that has happened and began to make our plans for the efforts we will be taking in the future, not only to bring these perpetrators to not only justice, but to the punishment they deserve; but at the same time, to undertake a worldwide effort to build a coalition against all forms of terrorism, wherever it may occur and however it rears its ugly head.
This will be a major priority of the administration. And I can assure you, it will therefore be a major priority of the State Department.
I have also, in the course of the day, spoken to foreign minister of Great Britain, Germany, Canada.
I have spoken to Foreign Minister Peres twice, Prime Minister Sharon, Chairman Arafat and Foreign Minister Manley of Canada, if I didn't mention that, Foreign Minister Ivanov of Russia, Foreign Minister Ruggiero of Italy, and I have a number of other calls that are in the process of being made so that we can bring all this together.
And I must say, I am deeply touched by the expressions of support I have received from my colleagues.
As I think you all know, the president has been very busy. And I'm sure the White House has announced his two phone calls to President Putin, as well as to Mr. Chirac, Jiang Zemin--President Jiang Zemin, Prime Minister Blair, Chancellor Schroeder and Prime Minister Chretien. So he's spoken to all five members--the four members of the Security Council--permanent members of the Security Council.
And I will leave it to my other Cabinet colleagues to talk about the issues under their purview over at Defense, Justice and FBI.
There are, of course, lots of reports and rumors out there. And I think it is wise for all of us to take many of these reports and rumors into some context and perspective. This is also the time, of course, in that regard, for the American people to try, in this time of tragedy, to restore the society to a sense of normalcy. We've got to get back to our jobs.
We've got to go back to work. And I know that Secretary Mineta, as soon as it is possible and as soon as it makes sense and is safe, will restore the air traffic system and commercial air traffic will be brought back on-line. And I will wait for him to make those announcements with respect to that. And I know that's very much on your mind.
Once again, we're building a strong coalition to go after these perpetrators, but, more broadly, to go after terrorism wherever we find it in the world. It's a scourge not only against the United States, but against civilization, and it must be brought to an end.
I will be delighted to take a few questions.
QUESTION:Mr. Secretary, the State Department has been advocating restraint in response to terrorism with the argument that violence only provokes more violence; it's an endless cycle. I wondered if the U.S. will be guided by its own admonition now that the U.S. has been horribly attacked by terrorists?
POWELL: I think when you are attacked by a terrorist and you know who the terrorist is and you can fingerprint back to the cause of the terror, you should respond.
QUESTION:But--but--I mean, limited response or...
POWELL: You should respond, whether it's limited or other than limited; you should respond to those who did it and if you are able to stop terrorist attacks, you should stop terrorist attacks.
QUESTION:Secretary Powell, one country you didn't mention was Pakistan. And I understand that your deputy has spoken with the ambassador to Pakistan, and that this evening the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan will be meeting with General Musharraf. What specific steps are you asking Pakistan to take?
QUESTION:And have you at all insinuated that if all signs do lead to bin Laden, that the U.S. would take military action against Pakistan and Afghanistan?
POWELL: Our ambassador is going to be having that meeting that you made reference to. It will probably not be this evening; more than likely tomorrow as a result of scheduling problems. But Ambassador Armitage--Deputy Secretary Armitage did meet with Pakistani officials today and really to share views.
We have not made a determination yet as to who is responsible for yesterday's attack. But we thought, as we gather information and as we look at possible sources of the attack, it would be useful to point out to the Pakistani leadership at every level that we are looking for and expecting their fullest cooperation and their help and support as we conduct this investigation and as we generate more information, to see if they can be helpful in generating information as well as how helpful they might be if we find a basis to act upon that information. So yes, we are doing what you described with the Pakistanis.
QUESTION:Just to clarify, when you say you're ``building a strong coalition to go after the perpetrators,'' does this mean that you are expecting or hoping that other countries will participate in some kind of military retaliation?
POWELL: Under Article 5, if we go that far and it actually is executed, then there is an obligation on the part of our NATO allies to assist if we go in this direction.
It doesn't mean that they necessarily will participate in the attack, but it makes it easier to obtain support in the way of overflight rights and things of that nature.
But I don't want to get into what we might or might not do and who might go with us and who might not go with us, because that's just too speculative at the moment.
QUESTION:Can I follow that? Having been through the Gulf War, as you were, would you hope to build a kind of coalition that extends perhaps beyond NATO and includes, perhaps, Muslim nations, nations from different parts of the world?
POWELL: Yes. It should include Muslim nations. Muslim nations have just as much to fear from terrorism that strikes at innocent civilians. And I do have a number of calls in. I just haven't connected yet with other leaders in the world representing Muslim populations.
As I was coming down, I was waiting to receive a call from Amma Moussa (ph), head of the Arab League. And I'll also be talking to Egyptian colleagues and Jordanian colleagues before the evening is out.
QUESTION:Mr. Secretary, you have not yet mentioned the point that President Bush made last night, the idea of holding other countries responsible.
QUESTION:This seems to be a dramatic escalation in the U.S. view on how it responds to terrorism. Is that a correct interpretation of it?
And as a follow-up, you talk about returning to normal, yet there have been all these mentions of acts of war and the idea that the country is in a war. How can we just return to normal in a situation like this?
POWELL: On your first point, I mentioned in my earlier statements, and I will mention it again, that it's not just a matter of going after the perpetrators, but it's going after and dealing with the sources of support that they have, whether that source of support might come from a host country or other organizations that provide them.
We have to make sure that we go after terrorism and get it by its branch and root.
And so we will hold accountable those countries that provide support, that give host nation--if you can call it that--support and facilities to these kinds of terrorist groups.
Now, yes, we believe that acts of war have been committed against the American people and will respond accordingly. But at the same time, life has to go on. In all of the difficult times we will be facing ahead, we have to still try to return life to a sense of normalcy.
We cannot be a people who are afraid to live. We cannot be a people who will move away from a relatively open society. We cannot be a people who walk around terrified.
We're Americans. We don't walk around terrified. We're going to be strong in this difficult period. And we're going to move forward with pride and with determination. And we will get our society back to normal with whatever additional precautions nevertheless might be necessary to secure our society without locking ourselves down.
QUESTION:Secretary Powell, yesterday Senator Graham said that in response to the attacks he would be willing to reassess the ban on assassinations of foreign leaders. And I was wondering, would you support such a reassessment?
POWELL: The ban is an executive order, and we have not made such a reassessment. And I'll just leave it there.
QUESTION:Mr. Secretary, (OFF-MIKE) has said many times (OFF-MIKE) terrorist camps in Pakistan and now U.S. officials, including members and lawmakers here on the Hill, are saying that Osama bin Laden have his training camps in Pakistan and that he's sending all his relatives and (OFF-MIKE) in Pakistan. So now, is it time now to go after those countries who are harboring terrorism? Because how long can we wait? And how many innocent people can be killed?
POWELL: Well, I don't want to confirm what the Indian government may or may not have said. But as the president said last night, we will be directing our efforts not only against terrorists, but against those who do harbor and do provide haven and do provide support for terrorism.
QUESTION:Deputy Secretary Armitage heads a task force of the Russians on Afghanistan, where the United States and Russia seem to share some interests. Can this be used as a platform in the coming days, as you make decisions?
POWELL: Yes, we're planning to do that.
QUESTION:In what way?
POWELL: As you know, it's a little difficult to travel right now, but we're looking at ways that he and Deputy Foreign Minister Trubnikov can pursue this.
QUESTION:Mr. Secretary, with a country like Afghanistan, with whom we don't have diplomatic relations, there's less leverage that we have against that country. What kind of things are you thinking of using now when you talk about going after the entire country? Is it food aid? How else can you push the Taliban?
POWELL: We haven't singled out any country to go after. What we're trying to do now is gather the evidence and the information so that we can make a judgment as to who is responsible for this act. And once we do that, we will go after that group and we will determine what kinds of support they've been getting from what host countries or other supporting agencies, and we will go and deal with them as well.
QUESTION:Mr. Secretary, there are some 25 organizations on the list of FTOs on the State Department's list. Should all those organizations consider themselves targets of this global campaign against terrorism?
And secondly, when you speak to the Arab leaders, will you be asking the specific acts of support of material assistance in this campaign?
POWELL: On the first question, just the very designation that they have been put on that list of foreign terrorist organizations suggests that the United States will be taking action against them. And we've just identified another one this week, the AUC in Colombia, and we take certain actions against them. It doesn't mean we go in and attack with them with military force, but there are a variety of political and diplomatic and other--and legal actions that you can take against them.
With respect to conversations with Arab leaders, I'm sure I will discuss with them a full range of possibilities, as to what kind of support they can give us of a political and diplomatic nature.
I don't know of any other kind of support that I would ask for at this time.
I might mention that in the context of my discussions this morning with Shimon Peres and Chairman Arafat, and also Prime Minister Sharon, I encouraged all sides to do everything they can to get this process of meetings started that we have all been waiting for; for Mr. Arafat and Mr. Peres to find an opportunity in the very near future to meet and not have protracted discussions about where to meet. It's more important to meet.
So in this time of tragedy, in this time of heightened tension throughout the world and especially throughout that region, let's seize this opportunity to see if we cannot start this process of meetings, this schedule of meetings, so that we can get to the Mitchell peace plan. So even while we are dealing with this situation, this crisis that is here in Washington and New York, we are also working on the Middle East situation and seeing if we can get that jump-started.
QUESTION:Is this--do you believe that this attack is linked to the events in the Middle East, to the Arab-Israel crisis, or is this something that precedes this current intifada? And, secondly, do you believe that this bombing will somehow serve as a problem for moderate Arab governments whose peoples seem to be more enthusiastic about this bombing than their governments who have condemned it?
POWELL: The governments have condemned it. I think that when it is realized throughout the region what a horrible act this truly was, I think it will be sobering for the region. And I hope everybody will realize that no matter what you might think about the crisis in the Middle East, this is not the way to solve it. This is not the way to express your views about that, by killing hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians.
I hope that is--I hope that is sobering to anybody who has any civilized drop of blood flowing through their body and who believe in an almighty of some form or another.
This is not the way you do it. There is no religion that would condone the kinds of action that we are seeing.
And so, I hope this will be a sobering experience for the world, and especially for those in the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf.
QUESTION:Mr. Secretary, we know you have said that you don't know who is responsible, but your comments this morning on television and the president's comments about harboring terrorists do seem to indicate an organization such as Osama bin Laden; and also, about harboring terrorism, point to Afghanistan as a country that harbors terrorists.
What did you make of the comments by the supreme leader of the Taliban yesterday about the attack? And do you think that the Taliban are still harboring Osama bin Laden? And if he is deemed responsible for this attack, do you think that the Taliban will expel Osama bin Laden and help the U.S. bring him to justice?
POWELL: I'm sure that the Taliban leadership providing protection and opportunities and facilities for Osama bin Laden, but I don't want to get into the hypotheticals as to whether or not he is responsible for it.
A body of evidence is being developed, and in due course, we'll make an announcement. But I don't think it's useful to say, ``Well, we're 50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent sure it's this organization or that.'' That just leads to very often incorrect answers. And I don't think it's helpful during this time.
So as the evidence builds, and it is building, in due course we will make a judgment and we will act upon that judgment in the way the president has indicated.
QUESTION:What conversations do you anticipate having with the leaders of Persian Gulf countries? What support will you be seeking from them if, in fact, it's found that the threat originated in their part of the world? And what kind of military latitude would you like to be able to exercise in that part of the world with their blessing?
POWELL: If we think they can be helpful in finding those who may be responsible, we will expect that help. And we will express that point of view very, very clearly, and I've already started to do some in some of my preliminary conversations.
And, frankly, I expect support. They are outraged. They are shocked. They are stunned. Whatever their views might be or whatever the views of their people might be with respect to the crisis in the Middle East, they are stunned and find this to be a deplorable act.
I think they're speaking not just as leaders, but as leaders of people who, although some might rejoice and shout, most find this to be deplorable and something to be condemned.
And going back to an earlier question, obviously the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis has been going on for a long time and is always in the background, but some of the terrorist organizations that we have seen at work over the years conduct terrorist activities against the United States regardless of how the peace process may or may not be going with respect to the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
QUESTION:... conversations you are going to have with the Persian Gulf leaders?
POWELL: I beg your pardon?
QUESTION:Specific conversations you anticipate having.
POWELL: With who?
QUESTION:Will you be talking with the Saudis, the Kuwaitis...
POWELL: Oh, yes. I've already had some conversations with Saudis, and I'll be doing more this afternoon. We're still changing time zones as I catch up on my phone calls.
QUESTION:Secretary Powell, ABC News is reporting that the intended target was not the Pentagon. Ari Fleischer told our reporter at the White House that the target was not the Pentagon, but, in fact, the White House, and that Air Force One was also a target.
POWELL: Ari said that?
QUESTION:Yes. Have you heard that?
QUESTION:Could you give us more detail about that...
QUESTION:... what you've heard that the intended target...
POWELL: No. I don't have anything to go beyond what Ari said, and I really need to yield that part of it to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.