Colin Powell

Final NATO Presser as Secretary of State

delivered 8 December 2004, Brussels, Belgium


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Secretary Powell: Thank you very much, Jaap, for those kind words and let me also congratulate you as you complete your first year as Secretary General. It's been a most successful first year and I wish you so many more in the future.

Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer: Thanks so much.

Secretary Powell:
This morning I attended my eighth and last North Atlantic Council meeting as Secretary of State. And it gives me great pleasure that during this period the Alliance moved into an entirely new era. We transformed NATO to deal with threats from anywhere in the world, and marshaled our strengths against global terrorism. We supported democracy and stability in Afghanistan and the Balkans; we began helping Iraqis to provide for their own security; we welcomed seven new members into the Alliance; we created a partnership with the European Union under Berlin Plus; and, launched a new relationship with Russia through the NATO-Russia Council.

Today, my colleagues and I reviewed the progress since NATO's leaders met last June in Istanbul. We took new decisions to advance our shared agenda. We committed NATO to support Afghanistan's spring parliamentary elections and to expand NATO-led operations to western Afghanistan. We decided to proceed to the next stage of training of Iraq's security forces, and we reaffirmed our desire to deepen cooperation with our partners in the Middle East and Mediterranean.

All of these achievements confirm my optimism about the future of our Alliance and our transatlantic relationship. But we cannot rest on our accomplishments. Our rapidly changing world presents new challenges and opportunities. Today, the Alliance expressed its support for the Ukrainian people, who are striving for a free and fair election to choose a leader of their choice. In Kosovo, 2005 we will find ourselves in a decisive year. NATO has pledged to maintain a robust presence in Kosovo. There are so many similar issues and challenges and opportunities facing NATO.

NATO remains the essential forum for our transatlantic community, but we are only as strong as our capabilities. Our capabilities are our credibility. The United States and Europe must work in partnership, using our different strengths and abilities to advance the values of freedom and peace: the values upon which this great organization was built over 55 years ago.

The President remains committed to the transatlantic relationship and especially to the NATO pillar of that relationship and that is why, as you heard earlier today, we'll be announcing in Washington this morning that the President will be traveling to Europe on the 22nd of February. He'll be here on the 22nd of February for meetings here at NATO on the morning of the 22nd, and meetings in the afternoon with our colleagues from the European Union. There will be other parts of the President's trip, which are still being worked out and will be announced in due course.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, I'd be delighted to take a few questions.

Question: Arshad Mohammed with Reuters. Mr. Secretary, can I ask you a question that we just asked the Secretary General? Are you not disappointed that a half dozen or so countries in NATO have refused to take part in the Iraq training mission? And does that not set a potentially damaging precedent for the Alliance that members who are politically committed to something do not in fact wish to send their people to carry it out?

Secretary Powell: I, of course, would have preferred that every member of the Alliance were to participate in -- in the effort that the Alliance at a political level approved and agreed to. But the nature of our Alliance is that every nation is sovereign to contribute as it sees fit. I'm glad that most of the nations are making a contribution and I heard some very solid expressions of support in the course of our meetings this morning. So, I think the Alliance will meet the challenge, which is what is important. Will we get the job done? And I'm confident that with what I heard today and the commitments that have already been made, and the commitments that are going to be made by the end of the month to the Secretary General, that the need will be met; the mission will be accomplished, and that's what we're all about.

Question: Mr. Powell, how can you comment on recent accusation by Mr. Lavrov that State Department via Freedom House financed the campaign of Mr. Yushchenko?

Secretary Powell: The Department of State provides funds to a number of non-governmental, non-profit organizations throughout the world, in many countries throughout the world, to assist with the development of civil society, to assist people in exercising their rights and presenting their case, in participating in free, open democratic debate and dialogue. We're pleased to do this. It's not for the purpose of taking sides. It's for the purpose of making sure that all sides have an opportunity to express their view and to participate in public discourse. And so, we find nothing inappropriate about what Freedom House is doing or the kinds of contributions that we make to various non-governmental organizations in countries throughout the world that are moving down a path toward a democracy and where there is a need for that kind of assistance.

Question: [Inaudible] News, Mr. Minister. You support Iraqi elections. Do you believe that it will be a democratic election? And the second question, what about the -- on the Iranian nuclear fight?

Secretary Powell: There's no reason that we can't have a full, free, fair election in Iraq, except for one thing. There are terrorists who are trying to keep it from happening. Let's make it absolutely clear that the Iraqi people want an election. They've said so. Their leaders have said so. The commission that's been set up wants to go forward with these elections on the 30th. We are working hard to create a security environment by increasing the number of U.S. troops that will be there, the number of coalition troops, by doing everything we can to build up the Iraqi police and security forces, by bringing in observers, by asking the UN to increase its presence in the country to assist the Iraqis. Registration is underway. So, clearly the energy is there to have these elections and to have the right kinds of elections by the end of January. And we're committed to that.

We have to work hard, however, to bring this insurgency under control and do something about these murderers and terrorists who are determined not to have an election. Why? Because they want to go back to the past. They want a tyrant to be in charge of the country. They want their power back so that they can waste the treasure of the nation as they have in the past, so they can threaten their neighbors, and so they can spend their money unwisely. And that's not what the Iraqi people want. That's not what the international community has sacrificed to create the conditions for in Iraq. We're creating the conditions for these people to select their own leaders, to decide how they will be governed in a democratic way where all parties in Iraq are respected and represented in the government -- Shia, Sunni, Kurds, all of the others. And so, we're going to continue to move forward and bring this insurgency down to a point where the people of Iraq will feel secure in going to their polling places at the end of January.

With respect to Iran, we are pleased that the EU-3 were able to come up with this agreement with Iran that would cause Iran to suspend its conversion and enrichment activities, but we have to be concerned that it is only a suspension, which means it can be terminated at a time of Iran's choosing. We hope that in subsequent negotiations with the EU-3 this can be made into something that is permanent.

We continue to have concerns and suspicions about the Iranian nuclear program. It's been underway for 18 years. For 18 years they've been hiding parts of the program. We keep finding out things. The -- IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] found out about things it should have known about. And so, we have to be nervous when a nation such as Iran continues to take action that at least suggests to us that it is -- it continues to be interested in a nuclear weapons program. And I hope that with the pressure that has now been brought to bear on Iran, through the work of the IAEA, or us working with the Russians, the work of the international community, especially the work of the European Union and the EU-3, the spotlight and the heat lamp that has been put on Iran will make it difficult for them to move forward with this program. And hopefully they'll come to the realization that the international community will do everything to keep such a program from achieving a level of success, meaning the development of a nuclear weapon.

Question: You are leaving the office at the end of January, and you said yesterday in the German Marshall Fund several things about it already, and you were offered today from the German Foreign Minister some beer as far as I've heard. Have you a short comment on this? And may I come back to the Iraq question and the sovereignty of --

Secretary Powell: I'm sorry, what was the first question?

Question: An offer, some kind of remark to the beer he offered you, Joschka Fischer as a farewell. And the first question or the second question is about the sovereignty of nations in NATO about participating in Iraq, and especially the soldiers working in staffs like Mons. General Jones had a very tough remark in Washington a few days ago. Would you say he's right and the nations are obliged to bring their soldiers serving in staffs like Mons to Iraq?

Secretary Powell: The -- The soldiers in these international staffs never lose their connection to their -- to their nation. The nation ultimately has sovereignty over them. However, it is our expectation that when units and individuals are committed to an international staff they then work in that international staff and become a key part of that international staff. They train together; they do reports together; they do plans together. And when it comes time to perform a mission, it seems to us to be quite awkward for suddenly members of that international staff to say, "I'm unable to go because of this national caveat or national exception." You are hurting the credibility and the cohesion of such an international staff or organization. And I think that's what General Jones was referring to, and I referred again to it today in my intervention with my colleagues.

But, the position of some of the nations that are not willing to have their troops go to Iraq, even if they are on an international staff, is that, at least as they see it, they thought they had made it clear previously. But, we think it is a problem and we had a pretty good discussion of it at our lunch. A number of nations at lunch reinforced their belief that since they had committed individuals to an international staff, if that international staff is going to participate in a mission in a place like Iraq, they have an obligation to send their troops and they did so willingly. But a number of the nations don't feel that way, to include Germany.

And the first part of -- ?

Question: Any comment on the case of beer that Joschka Fischer gave you?

Secretary Powell: Well, I don't know. I havent -- I haven't had a chance to drink it yet. I will report in due course.

It is...a little joke that Joschka and I have played on each other for several years. I expressed my admiration for German flip-top beer one day, the kind with the little tops that pop off, and Joschka sent me a case. And I enjoyed it very much. And the next time I saw him since he's a member of the Greens Party, I gave him the empties back.

Question: Mr. Secretary, in addition to the...problem that you have that you just expressed about, with Iraq and the training missions, there's also -- there also seems to be a brewing problem with -- not to mention the beer -- there seems to be a brewing problem with your idea that -- to merge in...Afghanistan, to merge ISAF with the...Operation Enduring Freedom. I'm wondering if you got any sense today if French and German objections to that merger can be overcome after you leave?

And then if I could, while you were in Brussels at your last NATO meeting, it emerged in a poll in the state of New York that you might be a favorite should you run for Governor of that state -- obviously moving from Virginia to New York like the former First Lady did. I'm just wondering as've said you're not interested in public life after this, but do the results of the poll give you any pause or cause to change that --

Secretary Powell: No.

Question: -- change that stance?

Secretary Powell: I don't think I -- I've ever said I would not be interested in public life again. I think what I have repeatedly said over the course of roughly nine-plus years is that I have -- I have no interest in political life. I will not be running for -- for office even in my beloved home state of New York, as flattering as that poll might be.

With respect to your first question, the focus of our discussions on Afghanistan was how to expand our efforts out to the west. And I -- I come away encouraged that a number of the nations are going to be looking at what they can do with respect to putting PRTs [Provincial Reconstruction Teams] out in the west or increasing the number of troops that will be in the country, in preparation for the parliamentary elections next spring. So, that was quite encouraging.

On the subject of merging the two in some way, I think this is -- this is an issue that we should discuss. It -- It's logical to discuss it, but it didn't get a great deal of discussion at this meeting and I heard no one lay down any immediate objection to the idea of looking at it. So, I think it will be examined by NATO authorities and U.S. authorities, coalition authorities, as we -- we move ahead. It doesn't necessarily mean that the only option is to put everything under a single command. We can look at other ways that two military forces with somewhat different missions could cooperate or work in...closer coordination and conjunction with one another. An option would be to merge them all, but there are other options that are being examined by NATO military authorities and U.S. military authorities.

Question: Peter Miller from the European Security Defense. Sir, you worked more than 40 years for this Alliance. What is your forecast for this Alliance? And I am seeing security policies now more than 2300 years old, from Plato to NATO. What is your forecast?

Secretary Powell: I have been with this Alliance on and off for 40 years of public service, from a young lieutenant to Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, corps commander, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And I've been through many crisis -- crises with this Alliance. And I've seen a number of points over these years where people were saying, well, "Whither NATO?" That was a great -- great expression that everybody was using in the early 90s, "Whither NATO? What will happen to NATO? Can NATO transform? Can NATO do this?" We're forever taking NATO apart and laying the parts out, and after looking at all the parts we say, "This is pretty good. Add some more parts and put it back together." And you discover that the Alliance still works. It still has a purpose. It still has a meaning.

And what I have seen over the last 12 years or so since the end of the Cold War is that to the new nations that have joined the Alliance, the Alliance means even more to them than perhaps it means to some of the older nations in the Alliance, the longer-serving members. Because, they know what it's like to be alone, to be out there by themselves. And to become a member of NATO is to coordinate and connect yourself to all of Europe. But not just Europe. You connect yourself in a very important way to North America, to the United States and Canada. And that's why the Alliance is thriving. That's why more and more nations want to become part of this great Alliance. And so, I see a bright future for NATO.

And NATO has responded. After the Cold War it didn't just sit there and say, "Okay, well, maybe the Iron Curtain is gone but we have nothing else to do except sit here in this little part of Europe." Quite the contrary. We argued and debated and I remember those debates about out of area. Does NATO have any business going out of area? Out of the question. We couldn't possibly send, for example, German troops out of area. But that's happened and NATO is out of area. There isn't any out of area definition any more. NATO's in all parts of the world where there is a need. And there are other parts of the world where the NATO -- NATO isn't there as an Alliance, but units within NATO under their own national flag are performing missions. And the reason they can perform these missions so well with other like-minded nations is because of the training and the cooperation and coordination and all of the policies and procedures that have been built up by being a part of NATO.

So, I think NATO is alive and well. It has met the challenges of the last 12 years. It's expanded its size. It's done so in a way that has also drawn it closer to Russia, through the NATO-Russia Council. And here are more nations out there waiting for their turn to join the Alliance: an Alliance that continues to grow, that continues to have the complete commitment of its original members and the new energy of its new members and aspiring members as an Alliance that will continue to be valuable, continue to be vital, as part of the transatlantic family, partnership.

Question: Mr. Secretary, there was some difficulty at the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] meeting, getting a joint statement on the new Ukrainian elections and the Supreme Court ruling. But the NATO-Russia Council's statement today did make reference to a free and fair electoral process and to the rule of law in Ukraine. Are you encouraged by that? And do you think that now the Russians are -- are going to embrace the process from here on out?

Secretary Powell: I think the -- the statement speaks for itself, the statement -- today's statement out of the NRC. We now have a path forward that was created by the Ukrainians. And we have the Ukrainian leaders coming together. The Rada has spoken. The Supreme Court has spoken. People are now moving away from the ministry buildings. They believe that they have the prospect of a free, fair, and open election on the 26th and I'm pleased that Russia was able to join with NATO in agreeing to the statement today.

In OSCE I think it would have been not that difficult for Russia to agree two days ago and give us consensus there. But it's a different organization, different issues were involved, and I think what we ought to do is accept what we see today in the NATO-Russia Council statement as an expression of the Russian position and I'm pleased that we leave here today with this -- this union of views with respect to what happens next in Ukraine.

Thank you.

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