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State Department Briefing: Hearing of the Foreign Operations Subcom of the House Appropriations Com Appropriations for the State Department

Location: Washington, DC




REP. STEVE ROTHMAN (D-NJ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Secretary, a pleasure to see you. I was at Walter Reed Hospital yesterday, and one of the very seriously injured soldiers asked me to convey something to the administration. I said, "I'm going to see Secretary Powell. This is not his jurisdiction anymore." But he asks and pleads that we up-armor all of our Humvees. He was most concerned about his gunner's exposure-and up-armor all the Humvees.

I wanted to ask a couple of questions and then give you a chance to respond. Regarding Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, as troublemakers in not only the Middle East but also in Asia and in Europe, their efforts threaten our troops in Iraq. They threaten the development of a democratic and non-fundamentalist nation in Iraq. And they threaten our allies in the region and countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Just last week-I believe it was last week-the Iranians convened a terrorist summit. Attending were representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, allies of al Qaeda such as Ansar al-Islam, along with 30 other groups, all designated by the United States as terrorist organizations.

Furthermore, Iran reportedly used Syrian planes, flown to Iran for humanitarian purposes after the earthquake, to supply the return and supply arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Finally-well, another element; the Russian minister of atomic energy continues to indicate that Russia may soon deliver thousands of fuel rods to the Iranian Bushir nuclear reactor. Is that a good thing, a bad thing? And what are we doing about it?

And then I have one fast question about Haiti. I'm led to believe that on February 19th you were quoted as saying, "It is a difficult situation in Haiti right now. In many cases it's just a few thugs that are dominating a particular town or city. And so what we have to do now is stand with President Aristide-he is the elected president of Haiti-and do what we can to help him."

If that quote is true or is accurate, what happened between February 19th and the end of the month of February, less than 10 days later, when the administration, we are told, began urging President Aristide to resign his position?

SEC. POWELL: On the first question, Iran and Syria, we have been very uneasy about their efforts and the policies they have been following. It's one reason why Iran has been designated as a terrorist organization and the president identified it as being a nation on the axis of evil in the famous State of the Union speech that he gave.

On Syria, we have not been satisfied with their activities and we have spoken to them on a number of occasions. I went there last year and laid out a list of things that I thought we had to do if they wanted to have a better relationship with the United States and a better relationship with the new government that was going to be in Iraq.

They have only done a few of those things, and their performance has not been satisfactory. And I even said to them at the time, you know, "Be prepared for action on the part of our Congress."

REP. ROTHMAN: Mr. Secretary, is it fair to say that the actions of Iran and Syria are today posing a threat to our soldiers in Iraq?

SEC. POWELL: I can't make that direct a connection, although we are worried about what goes across the Syrian-Iraqi border. It's a very porous border. How much control the Syrians have on it, we can't be sure. But we have believed that what was going on during the war, and immediately after that war, could be continuing to this day, could pose a threat to our youngsters in Iraq. And that's why we have pressed the Syrians and the Iranians on this point.

I cannot confirm the story that you mentioned or the point you mentioned about the airplanes and what they were carrying going back and forth.

REP. ROTHMAN: How about the meeting that Iran convened with all those terrorist groups?

SEC. POWELL: I'm just not familiar with it, Mr. Rothman. I'll have to get an answer for the record on that one.

REP. ROTHMAN: If you could get back to me on that, and --

SEC. POWELL: I would not put Saudi Arabia, however, in that same group as you did.

REP. ROTHMAN: Well, with regards to Saudi Arabia's continuing financing of fundamentalist teachings, Wahhabiism, around the world-in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East-they're certainly not helping the situation in terms of the development or the breeding ground for new terrorists --

SEC. POWELL: I think they have started to --

REP. ROTHMAN: -- that threaten America.

SEC. POWELL: I think we have had some success in our discussions with the Saudis and cautions to the Saudis, in saying to the Saudis, you know, "You cannot keep funding these kinds of madrasas, these kinds of fundamentalist organizations."

And they have taken actions to bring this funding under control in the government funding. And now what they're doing is looking at private funding or foundation funding or charity funding which goes out looking like charity but really isn't charity. I think we've had some success with the Saudis, but there's more work to be done there.

With respect to Russia, Russia is still committed to the Bushir power plant. But what we're working on is to make sure that the fuel cycle is totally captured and it doesn't become a source of material for nuclear weapons development.

In February, we were working with CARICOM and with the United Nations and with the OAS to try to find a diplomatic solution in Haiti, a political solution. And we knew that President Aristide was the democratically-elected president of Haiti. One could argue about the nature of that election, but nevertheless, he was.

But the situation deteriorated badly and we had anarchy breaking out in the country. We had President Aristide also using his shamirs (ph) to go after people in the street. And it reached a difficult point in our deliberations, both the United States and France and Canada and in some other countries, that you just had to look at it.

And this democratically-elected president was no longer governing in a democratic way, had no longer used the position that he had to effect positive change within the country. Legislation was no longer functioning. The police force was falling apart and no longer -- (inaudible.) -- the result of corrupt leaders that he put into positions of authority. And we were facing a situation where the whole country was about to collapse in total anarchy.

And so we began to discuss this with our friends and allies and began to signal that Mr. Aristide would need to take a look at what's best for Haiti. And he did. And we had the change that everybody is familiar with. This morning a new prime minister was announced, and he will be going back to the country to assume the prime ministership within a few days' time. And we still have a level of disorder in Haiti, but nothing like what we were facing two weeks ago.

And so while this was a controversial event, his departure-there have been a lot of charges thrown back and forth-the fact of the matter is that the kind of disorder that was in existence and was rampant two weeks ago has been brought under control.

Disarmament will begin-you saw the reports in the press this morning-by the international force. A U.N. team is down there now looking at the humanitarian situation and what the peacekeeping needs will be. And we did use the constitutional process to get to where we are now.

President Aristide wrote a letter of resignation. It wasn't forced on him. It wasn't drafted by anyone else but him. He wrote it. And as he left the country, it was given to us. We gave it to the supreme court justice, who accepted it as the resignation of the president without duress. And that supreme court justice accepted the acting presidency. And we've been following the constitutional process. And hopefully we'll get to elections quickly and give this country another chance.

REP. ROTHMAN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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