In an interview with Hemi Shalev of Israel's Ma`ariv newspaper on July 30, 2003, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell permitted himself the sort of humor that high officials don't usually allow themselves on the record. A few examples:
In the middle of an arch-serious discussion of Syria, Powell asks Richard Boucher, the department spokesman: "Since my second visit [to Damascus]-second or third, Richard? Second, I guess. Or third." Boucher replies: "I don't-I forget." To which Powell retorts, "When you're having fun in Damascus" and the transcript then notes "(laughter)."
A few minutes later, Powell asks, in an aside: "What was it?" and Boucher replies, apropos nothing: "Three times in Damascus." Powell murmurs: "Three times. See, I've got to keep checking him." To which Boucher demurs: "I don't have a brain, but I've got a Palm."
At one point in the transcript, it states, "(Phone rings)" and Powell tells Shalev, the interviewer, "Hang on. I can't tell if it's a crisis or not."
Powell quotes Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon saying to him that people are out in the street in Israel, "They're going to restaurants. They're more comfortable. They're a little more confident. There hasn't been that. So, Powell, why don't you get rid of the travel advisory?" "Good question," retorts Shalev. "Well, it's a great question," Powell admits. "And but we have an answer for it, but I won't give you the answer because you'll get mad at me. (Laughter.)"
When Shalev asks Powell when he is going back to the Middle East, the secretary replies thus: "Don't know. I'm going to be back for sure. I just don't know when yet. But we-between my ambassadors-you guys are taking all my ambassadors again. I've got Kertzer, I've got Wolf, I got Jack Feltman, Bill Burns going there regularly. I'll be going. Condi will be going. We're going to flood the place." To which the interviewer jovially replies, "It's to try to bring back tourism" and Powell agrees: "Well, this is it. I mean, the Prime Minister made reference to that. We're filling your hotels."
And best of all: at the end of an emphatic point on how the Palestinians must stop the terrorism before the roadmap can go anywhere, Powell mentions Mohamed Dahlan, the Palestinian Authority's security "minister".
I don't know how many conversations we've had with Mohamed, and, you know, I've sat there, I sat there at Aqaba when the three of them were outside having a nice chat, like a picnic. Mofaz, myself and Dahlan were in there arguing. They were arguing in Yiddish or Jewish or Hebrew-I couldn't understand what was going on. … They go back a long way. They've known each other. They know each other like-they should be brothers. They've known each other and they've been in each other's homes. And as he said, "I've been in your office." And Dahlan was like, "Well, then why did you blow it up?" So, I mean, there's a history there.
The interview comes to a rousing conclusion with this "who's on first" routine:
SHALEV: If I may, just one more question. At Aqaba, if I'm not mistaken, the President sort of gave out tasks to each side, and he said it was the American task to persuade Arab states to improve relations. But, I mean, what seems to have happened with that? Jordanian ambassador is still in Jordan, the Egyptian ambassador is still in Egypt. Egyptians are not-have not invited Sharon yet, or at least he hasn't gone yet.
SECRETARY POWELL: (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY POWELL: All the above.
SECRETARY POWELL: That I can't answer.
SHALEV: You have an answer and you can't answer, or you don't know?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I-I shouldn't speak for other governments. I've been on the phone with both of them this morning. Conditions are coming- conditions are changing in a way that, if we keep moving in a positive direction, both the issues you talk about and don t talk about.
SECRETARY POWELL: All three.
SHALEV: No, I mean, soon.
SECRETARY POWELL: Who?
SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. I said (inaudible).
SECRETARY POWELL: Okay?
SHALEV: Thank you very much.
(August 1, 2003)