Secretary of State Colin Powell
Interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's Late Edition
Shanghai, China
October 21, 2001

MR. BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us, and let's get right to the issue at hand. This is now entering week three of the US-led military campaign, a new phase over the weekend, ground troops, special operations forces. The American public is asking: How much longer is this going to take?

SECRETARY POWELL: Until the mission is accomplished. I think the President has made it clear from the start, and Secretary Rumsfeld has made it clear from the start, that we shouldn't be expecting this to be over immediately; that it is a difficult campaign going after entrenched individuals, and we'll stick with it until the mission has been accomplished.

There are some constraints that are coming in front of us, in the form of winter arriving in about a month, which might change the tempo of our operations. But we also are noticing that the Northern Alliance, which we are supporting, has become more aggressive in their actions up north and moving toward Kabul in the very near future. And so let's hope the campaign comes to an end soon, but the most important thing to remember is we will pursue it until our mission has been accomplished.

MR. BLITZER: Are you encouraging the Northern Alliance forces, the anti-Taliban forces in the north, to go in and take Kabul?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's a subject of discussion. We are very interested in seeing them take the town in the north, Mazer-e-Sharif, and I am quite confident that they want to at least invest Kabul. Whether they actually go into Kabul or not or whether that's the best thing to do or not, remains to be seen. It is an issue that is under continuing discussion.

MR. BLITZER: That is because the Pakistanis are nervous about the Northern Alliance, with which they don't have a good relationship, taking the lead in overthrowing the Taliban regime?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, there are others who wonder whether or not it would be the best thing for a group, however effective it might be, that really only represents 15 percent or thereabouts of the overall population actually going into the capital. Would that just crystallize opposition elsewhere? Even the Northern Alliance recognizes this problem, and they have been rather candid in discussing it with us as to whether it makes the best sense or not for them to go into the city.

MR. BLITZER: There were suggestions, some say, that you were saying that earlier in the week that perhaps so-called moderate elements of the Taliban could be part of some new regime that could replace the current Taliban regime. Are there moderate elements of the Taliban?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm not sure that's quite what I said, but I would have to check my transcript. I was with President Musharraf of Pakistan, who did talk about moderate elements of the Taliban. My position and the United States position is rather clear: There is no place for any element of current Taliban leadership in a new Afghanistan.

But at the same time, there are many people within the Taliban movement in a leadership position who have not been active and who may well want to become part of a new Afghanistan. And unless you are planning to ethnically cleanse them all or ship them off to other countries, they are going to be there and they will have to be accommodated in what we hope will be a new arrangement that represents all of the people of Afghanistan. But there can be no place in a new regime for the current leaders of the Taliban regime.

MR. BLITZER: Will the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim Holy Month, in mid-November -- you were talking earlier about constraints on the US military, like winter beginning. Will Ramadan be a factor as well?

SECRETARY POWELL: We will have to see as we get closer to Ramadan. It is a very important religious period, and we will take that into account. We will have to see where the mission is at that point and what needs to be done. And I would yield to my colleagues in the Pentagon as to what we will do as we approach the season of Ramadan.

MR. BLITZER: Clarify for us, if you will, what the US military mission is as far as Usama bin Laden is concerned. Is the US military authorized to go ahead and kill him if they spot him?

SECRETARY POWELL: Our mission is to bring him to justice or bring justice to him, as the President said.

MR. BLITZER: Does that mean the President would go ahead and authorize the kind of, I guess what some would call assassination or targeted killing of Usama bin Laden?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I am not going to speculate on what the President might or might not authorize, but I think it is quite clear that we are anxious to see Usama bin Laden brought to justice or justice brought to him.

MR. BLITZER: Some have criticized your administration on the Hill, some pro-Israeli senators, many in Israel, for having a so-called double standard, criticizing the Israelis for their policy of so-called targeted killings of suspected terrorists, but the US, in effect, now going about doing the same thing.

SECRETARY POWELL: What we are trying to do is to bring people to justice. We understand that the difficult situation in the Middle East and in Israel and in Gaza and the West Bank have created a great deal of turmoil, especially in recent weeks. And the United States position over a long period of time has been to point out that targeted assassinations of the kind that we have seen there is not in the best interest of trying to find a way to move forward with the peace process. And so it has been a continuing discussion with the Israelis and we will continue to discuss it with them.

Right now, I am just anxious to see the violence go back down again, hopefully to zero, and to see if we can not get back to where we were a week or so ago when we began to see a little progress toward the Mitchell plan before we had the terrible terrorist attack which killed a cabinet minister, an Israeli cabinet minister, and got things all off course again. So I am hoping we can bring the violence down.

Hopefully the Israelis will be able to leave the territory that they have occupied recently. I talked to Prime Minister Sharon this morning and he said he did not plan to stay in those areas. And I hope they will finish what they are doing, remove themselves as quickly as they can, so that we can get back to a process that hopefully will lead to a cease-fire -- elimination of violence is our goal, although it's a hard goal to achieve -- and then get into the Mitchell plan and the confidence-building measures, and ultimately get back to negotiations, negotiations that will be on the basis of UN Resolutions 242 and 338 so we can find a way for these two peoples to live in peace together.

MR. BLITZER: Some here in Washington -- the former CIA Director Jim Woolsey, some Members of the Congress -- are pointing a finger at Iraq in looking at the anthrax-laced letter attacks here in the United States. Do you suspect Iraq, because of its supply of its known quantity of anthrax that it does have, may be involved in this?

SECRETARY POWELL: I just don't know. I think we have had a lot of stories over the past four or five days. First it was weaponized anthrax, then it was highly refined, and then when it was analyzed it was discovered it was none of the above, but it was fairly high quality. So rather than speculate as to what kind of anthrax it was and what the possible sources of such anthrax could be, I think I will just leave that in the hands of the very qualified people -- the FBI, the Center for Disease Control and the Army's laboratories at Fort Detrick, Maryland -- and let them figure that out.

Once we know exactly what we're dealing with, then you are in a position to make an informed judgment with respect to where it might have come from. I don't put it past Iraq. We know they have been working on this kind of terror weapon, and we keep a very close eye on them. And as the President has said, it is in the first instance we are going after al-Qaida and Usama bin Laden, and that is the principal focus of our attention; but we recognize there are other regimes that give haven and harbor to terrorist activity, and we will turn our attention to them in due course.

MR. BLITZER: But your primary suspect in the anthrax attacks would be Usama bin Laden and the al-Qaida organization; is that what you are suggesting?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I didn't come anywhere near suggesting that. What I am saying is I don't know, and I am not sure our law enforcement officials yet know, who the primary suspect is. I think that investigation, that analysis, is still ongoing, and it is premature to make any judgments yet because we don't know.

I think, frankly, with too much speculation and wild rumors flying all over the place, it would be wise for all of us to take a deep breath and let our investigative agencies figure this out before we go rushing in front of television sets to present these rumors and to present this speculation and get the country all excited.

MR. BLITZER: On that note, I want to thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Have a safe trip back to the United States.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.