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Last Updated:12/4/02
Secretary of State Colin Powell interview with El Tiempo (Colombia), December 2, 2002
Office of the Spokesman

December 3, 2002


Secretary Of State Colin L. Powell
By Sergio Gomez Maseri of El Tiempo

December 2, 2002

MR. MASERI: -- your basic interest on the trip to Colombia and especially one which was mentioned by the spokesman last week about Colombia being the president of the Security Council now in December, which is a crucial month and especially because Iraq is there.

What would you expect from Colombia as president of the Security Council this month?

SECRETARY POWELL: December could be a very important month in the Security Council as the Iraqi declaration comes in, and I expect Colombia would be an active chair, would do an excellent job in making sure that the Council deliberates with utmost seriousness on the elements of the declaration.

Colombia was very helpful in the work that we conducted over the past two months to get the Iraqi resolution, and I stayed in close touch with my Colombian colleagues and I'm confident that would be the case for the month ahead.

Chairing the Security Council is an important responsibility, but I think it's something that Colombia has demonstrated it can do and do well. And all we would ask is Colombia not to show favor to any side, but to do what is required, especially with respect to Iraq, under 1441 to evaluate, along with other Security Council members, and as head of the Council, Iraqi compliance with 1441.

MR. MASERI: In terms of the visit, Mr. Secretary, two times: one canceled; one other time was planned but never took place. What's the message you want to take to Colombia in this opportunity?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's a message of solidarity. It's a message of support for President Uribe. I feel very badly that twice I've had to postpone a trip to Colombia. The first time everybody understands. It was the day of 11 September when I was heading to Colombia later that very same day when I had to come home. And then there was another emergency the next time I planned to visit it.

So this time I am coming. I am coming because I want to show the United States' support for President Uribe, his administration, for the new national security strategy and for our joint efforts to find narco-trafficking and narco-terrorism and those terrorist elements within Colombian society who are trying to destroy the dream of the Colombian people to have a democracy that gives them a society that is safe, a society that is developing in a way that will make Colombia a contributing member of the international community.

I also want to visit for the purpose of gaining an assessment of the situation so that I am better able to come back to the United States and present Colombia's case within the administration, but also on Capitol Hill; as we get ready for hearings next year I defend the funds we'll be requesting for that part of the world, and especially for Colombia to support Plan Colombia.

MR. MASERI: You mentioned those terrorist elements that are threatening Colombia. One of those terrorist elements, the paramilitary forces, has announced their intentions to go through negotiations with the government. They already have a unilateral cease-fire that is taking place. President Uribe has acknowledged that the contacts are taking place.

What do you think about that first contact?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it's certainly encouraging. Any time you see that kind of a cease-fire announcement, it's encouraging that maybe those elements in AUC have decided that this is not the way to go, this does not help our country, this does not help our people, this gives us a bad human rights reputation in the world and we should stop it. But now it remains to be seen whether it is a true cease-fire and whether it leads to a process that will end the difficulties that have existed with AUC. And I will be interested to hear President Uribe's response to what he has heard.

MR. MASERI: In terms of the fact they are a Foreign Terrorist Organization, according to the State Department, what them or any other organization have to do in order to eventually be removed from that list and be --

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, what they have now done does not get them off the terrorist list. It is merely a statement of a cease-fire.

We will see whether or not they fully renounce and reject these kinds of extralegal, unconstitutional actions and whether they are prepared to be integrated into a society that is based on democracy, and respect for human rights, and the rights of individual men and women, and the rule of law. And if that turns out to be the case at the end of the process and the Colombian Government believes that they have been integrated into society, then we would take all that into account.

We only keep on our list those organizations that have been participating in terrorist activity.

MR. MASERI: In terms of the US has been very aggressive pursuing, this year especially, leaders from those organizations. In the case of the AUC, Carlos Castano is in extradition request and also an indictment here. Do you think that fact that the US is pursuing that organization should become an obstacle for those contacts that have been taking place between both government and the AUC?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't really speak to that. It's up to President Uribe to decide who he, you know, wishes to have contact with as a way of moving forward. But the leader remains indicted under US law and we would like to bring him to justice, and the AUC will remain a terrorist organization until it demonstrates that it is no longer a terrorist organization.

MR. MASERI: Mr. Secretary, two recent actions from the US that involve militaries in Colombia, one, the position of the recommendation of Ambassador Patterson to decertify the unit that has been involved in human rights, and the other one the decision to remove the visa from not a general, an almirante which has nexus with narcotics.

What's the message there in those two actions? I mean --

SECRETARY POWELL: In the case of the general, there are specific issues that are under the purview of the Justice Department that caused the visa to be lifted. And in the case of the First Command, I think you're referring to --


SECRETARY POWELL: Their Combat Command, the incident that caused us concern is still under review and investigation.

The message, though, is that people have to be held accountable for their actions, especially if the actions are seen to violate universally accepted standards of human rights and how you operate with a democratic system. And so we will always continue to uphold these principles and the rule of law, and bringing people to justice, I think, is an essential element of the democratic system. And Colombia has suffered from elements within it -- the AUC, the FARC and ELN -- who have been trying to damage Colombia's democracy, and narco-traffickers who are undercutting Colombian democracy are hurting people who would like to be living in a country where democracy flourishes, where economic development is taking place, where the rule of law applies to all. These kinds of activities are seen as totally undemocratic, totally unconstitutional, and have to be dealt with and have to be fought and people have to be brought to account.

And I think that's one of the things that the Colombian people were expecting from President Uribe and he seems to be leading in that direction.

MR. MASERI: The position of the decertification of that unit has already been --

SECRETARY POWELL: To my knowledge. I can make a check on it, but I don't think the unit has yet been decertified. But I'll let Ambassador Boucher be precise.


SECRETARY POWELL: The recommendations were made, but then I think we went back to get more information. So I don't know if the actual decision has been made so let me not answer and Richard will get you the answer.

MR. MASERI: Going to the program, the interdiction flight program has been delayed for the last one-year and a half. What's the status on that? Do you have any --

SECRETARY POWELL: All of the retraining is underway now and when the retraining has been accomplished and we have taken the issue back to the President for his certification, then we will start it again. I don't want to give a specific date because I might be wrong. I am anxious to get it started as soon as possible. I've been pressing my staff for the longest time to get this finished.

But we had to be very careful because we want to make sure that the air bridge denial program is run in a way that makes sure that innocent people are safe flying in the airways, and for that reason we had to go through retraining, recertification, making sure we knew what we were doing, putting in place the right procedures and processes so we didn't have a repeat of what happened a few years ago.

And for that same reason -- I mean, it applies both to Colombia and to Peru -- we're working hard, but I want to get it started again.

MR. BOUCHER: I hate to cut this off. Can we do one more question?

SECRETARY POWELL: We've got a swearing-in.

MR. MASERI: Yeah. There's a big movement of Colombians here and US citizens also here that have been requesting the State Department to grant eventually a TPS or Temporary Protection Status for millions of Colombians that are already here. You know this.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, it continues to be under review. It's really a judgment that the Attorney General makes, with the advice and participation of the Secretary of State. But I don't have an answer for you now except to say it continues to be under review and I'm not expecting a decision in the immediate future.

I think that's the right -- that's where we have it at the moment, Richard. We understand the need for such status and we know that a number of nations who would like to have that status accorded to them also present their cases to us. But we have to use that authority as it currently exists with some discretion so that it isn't seen as a way of getting around our other immigration policies. So we'll have it under review.

We are anxious to do everything we can to help Colombia at this time. That's why we are pressing forward with our requests for money in the Congress. That's why we have gotten authority so that we can do more for Colombia with respect to intelligence, with respect to the kind of support that we can give to different parts of the Colombian Government. Colombia is threatened. Its democracy is threatened. And I'm pleased that President Uribe is leading in a way that will deal with these challenges and the United States wants to show its support of the president and his administration, which is why I'm taking this trip.

MR. MASERI: Thank you.

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