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Interview With Condoleezza Rice

Friday, December 15, 2006 9:56 AM

U.S. Department of State transcript of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's interview with The Washington Post editorial board on Dec. 14, 2006, in Washington, D.C.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for coming.

SECRETARY RICE: Of course.

QUESTION: It will be on the record.

SECRETARY RICE: On the record.

QUESTION: Unless you say otherwise. Do you have any news you want to make first?

SECRETARY RICE: No. (Laughter.) Why don't you see if you can try. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I'll start with a very editorial-minded kind of question. The Iraq Study Group doesn't mention democracy. They urge you to talk to Iran and Syria, which has not been helpful to the democracy cause, particularly in Lebanon. There seems to be a lot people in Washington saying, well, it was a good try but let's get realistic and move on with the democracy agenda. Talk a little bit about your reaction to that in the Iraq context and then on the report broadly.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't believe that we started down this track in terms of the democracy agenda out of a sense idealism and fancy -- fantasy. We started down this road because I think that, first of all, the United States has always been most effective when it is leading both from power and principle. I think that we would never have defeated an empire with 30,000 nuclear weapons, five million men under arms with deployments that stretch from Angola to Cuba without a strong commitment to democratic principles. And Europe would never have emerged free, where we could actually have a NATO summit two weeks ago on the territory of the former Soviet Union in the Balkan states without a freedom agenda, if I could call it that.

I don¿t think that Asia, South Korea, Japan would be the allies that they are without there having been a commitment not just to interest in some balance of power sense but also to the freedom agenda. And the piece that has been missing from American foreign policy in that road has been the Middle East for 60 years. And I think we learned on September 11th that we paid a price for that and that price is the absence of legitimate channels for the development of political forces that are mainstream and moderate. It's absolutely not true that there wasn't politics in the Middle East, but the politics was in the radical mosque because that was the only outlet for it. So I think that it misses the point to assume that democracy is just a matter of moral principles in the United States. It is certainly that. But it is also a matter of strategic interest; that's when we've done best and that's when we've created -- helped to create circumstances that turned out to be secure and stable in an enduring sense. And so this President is committed to the democracy freedom agenda in the Middle East.

Now, it's not easy and it's not going to be concluded on our watch and there will be ups and downs. And as your editorial page has pointed out on numerous occasions, perhaps we've not always been able to pursue it in ways that were completely effective. I take that criticism. But the commitment to people who simply want to enjoy the same freedoms and the same sense of human dignity and the same sense of women's empowerment that everybody else in the world enjoys, I don't see how the United States of America can ever back off of that commitment in the search somehow for stability which I am quite certain will be a false stability.

So the commitment is really strong. It is having an effect in, you know, invariably in different places. But I think if you go to the Forum for the Future and you see these non-governmental organizations gathered together and being able to sit across the table from the most conservative Arab states like Saudi Arabia all the way out to reforming states like the states of the Gulf and Jordan, it's quite an achievement and I can list the achievements: they have women voting in Kuwait, the beginning of municipal elections in Saudi Arabia; but also if you look at places like Bahrain and Oman and Morocco and Jordan, the reform agenda is alive and well. And what will we say to those people who have staked their future on reform and democracy if somehow this word disappears from American foreign policy? And so to me this is at the core.

It's also the case, just on Syrian and Iran, that they've not just -- they've been both bad for stability and security and bad for support of democratic forces. But we went out of our way the other day to say to the Lebanese, Lebanese democracy is not going to be sacrificed somehow to a deal with Syria about "stability" in the Middle East. That we had to say that was unfortunate, but we felt that in the wake of some of the discussion that's gone on in the United States we had to say it.

QUESTION: Could you talk about what the U.S. Government is doing to back up the Government of Lebanon. Fuad Siniora seemed to say the other day that the answer was not much.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have committed large resources to reconstruction and we will commit more to reconstruction. We'll, I think eventually head towards a billion dollars for reconstruction and redevelopment in Lebanon. We have been very supportive politically with really the French on pushing forward on the tribunal through the UN Security Council which I think is in many ways the most important step that can be taken. Now, to be fair, the Lebanese have been -- the March 14th people have been very tough and very committed and have hung in there in terms of the tribunal against a lot of very tough odds. But we've been the ones who have been pressing it in the international community. We have been working with the mainstream Arab states -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan for both political support and financial support to the Lebanese. You know, it's no accident that Lebanon is a subject when the GCC + 2 meet, because everybody understands that Lebanon is -- the future of Lebanon is very important. And ultimately, you know, we were the ones who negotiated the ceasefire and put Lebanon in a situation in which its forces have extended their control throughout the country.

I believe that -- and I've said this to Prime Minister Siniora -- we do need to do more on that part of Resolution 1701 that relates to the larger political agenda. The Secretary General is supposed to do a report on both the disarmament aspects of 1701 but also on Shabaa Farms and on the delineation and demarcation of the border between Syria and Lebanon so that that issue can be resolved. And we need to press and we need to press harder, so on that piece I agree with you.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up very quickly?

SECRETARY RICE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Our correspondent in Beirut is hearing that the U.S. is about to announce a large financial package to help rebuild or strengthen the Lebanese army so that it can eventually take over from the UN, monitor its own borders and so forth. Can you give us a sense of what percentage of this $1 billion is actually going to go for the military?

SECRETARY RICE: Robin, I can't. First of all, we are still working out the details of what we can do to support the army. We also have some Hill consultations that need to be done. But we have wanted very much to support the reform of the Lebanese armed forces, the reequipping of the Lebanese armed forces. It's not just the package that we would put forward, but it's also the package that I think others are prepared to, including the mainstream Arab states are prepared to contribute to. Because ultimately that's one of the most important things that you can do is to strengthen the Lebanese armed forces not -- I think probably not to replace the United Nations forces for some time, but to be more capable themselves of defending the country and providing a stable platform. So I don't -- I can't give you details but, yes; we are looking at a package of support for them.

QUESTION: And is there no concern about the political implications of appearing to side with the one side --

SECRETARY RICE: With the pro -- with the anti-Syrian forces? No, there is no concern. That's a side I'll take. The people who are -- who stood in the streets so that Syrian forces would leave the country after 30 years of occupation, the people who stood in the streets and insisted that there be accountability for the assassination of Rafik Hariri and according to what is beginning to be said by the people who are investigating maybe 14 other murders, no, I -- that's a side I'll take.

QUESTION: One of the other recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report was the idea that the United States should talk to Syria and Iran. Now, you've dealt with this -- I've heard your language on this before, but I -- part of the argument is that during the worse period of the Cold War, the United States talked at very high levels with the Soviet Union, even when the Soviet Union was engaged in all sorts of proxy wars against the United States throughout the world. And yet we've not had a figure of your stature talk to the Syrians for a long time. I think I was there when Powell went in 2003. In Iran it's been, you know, it went back when I was in college. So what is the --

SECRETARY RICE: You're that young Glenn -- (laughter) --

QUESTION: Yes, I think so. Anyway, what is the roadblock there? What is the difficulty with simply sitting down and talking with them and making -- in the way that we did with the Soviet Union?

SECRETARY RICE: Okay. Well, let me make three points. The first is that on Syria, you're right, Colin Powell talked to them. When the President was reelected Rich Armitage talked to them. It's not a matter of not talking to them; it's a matter that they never act.

QUESTION: I think they would say that you've lectured them and there was no real good --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there are certain things that about which there should be no give and take, like stop supporting terrorists is a kind of non-negotiable demand. So, yes, I think we have talked to the Syrians. On the Iranians, well, we would have ended 27 years of policy. I think I put it very, very -- I thought in fairly colorful language. I'd meet my counterpart any place, any time. All they have to do is suspend their enrichment -- which has been, by the way, a demand of the international system going back a couple of years ¿ that¿s so that the talks don't become a cover for continued enrichment activity that just practices how to resolve the engineering difficulties that would then allow you to go industrial-scale production. So the offer is there. And by the way, we didn't say you could talk only about the nuclear issue; we said we could talk about anything. But they couldn't take up that offer.

Now in the current context, I think the problem is that you have to ask if Iran and Syria are, in fact, have decided that it's in their interest to have an Iraq that is more stable than the one now, even if it's not full stable -- more stable than the one now, I assume they'll act. I assume they'll do it. And that we aren't the ones who have to tell them to do it.

The other explanation is they're looking for compensation to do that and that's a problem. Because when you go to the table, particularly in the circumstances now where you're going and saying, please, help us with the stability of Iraq, the potential that what they're really looking for is compensation. And then you have to ask -- it's very high -- and they you have to say, what is that compensation? Well, on the Syrian side, I suspect that the highest priorities are being played out in the streets of Lebanon including about the tribunal, including about Syrian power in Lebanon. And on the Iranian side, the Iranians have been pretty upfront about it. They're not going to talk about Iraq over here and their nuclear program over there. And so do you really want get yourself into a situation in which you're talking about allowing the Iranians to continue to acquire the nuclear technology that will allow them to build a nuclear weapon to try and achieve or try to get their support in Iraq where, if they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they'll do it anyway. So I just -- I think we have to come down from the level of talk to them and ask what's really going on here.

QUESTION: But some people would say the situation in Iraq is really bad and isn't the U.S. in a position where you may have to start paying the price.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that -- first of all, that the solutions to what is happening in Iraq lie in Baghdad and principally with Iraqis and their national reconciliation and their ability to deal with their own political differences not in Iran and not in Syria. There's no doubt that Syrian and Iran are exacerbating those tensions, but I think it's really principally in Iraq. And do I really want to pay the price of an Iranian nuclear weapon? No. That's not a price that is worth paying.

But let me just go to what I think is a rather facile and if I must say so, Glenn, not you -- I've heard it from many people -- a rather facile but empty comparison, which is to the Soviet Union.

QUESTION: All right.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't ever remember sitting down and talking to the Soviet Union about how they could help us secure stability in Western Europe, you know, defending Western Europe. That's not the conversation we had with the Soviet Union. We talked mostly to the Soviet Union about how not to annihilate each other because we were both in a position with large nuclear arsenals where there was a reason to try and work out some modus vivendi so that you didn't have a nuclear war. And to be fair it went a lot better as the Soviet Union got weaker. So there was a reason that those summits between American presidents and general secretaries of the Communist Party always reached their culmination with the signing of an arms control agreement because that was really the centerpiece of the relationship.

Now, we also talked to the Soviet Union in a particular context. Glenn, is looking because I gave this answer the other day and he was there, so he must be just trying to put it on the record. The Soviet Union -- we had a context for talking to the Soviet Union. We had a military alliance of democratic states that were committed to resisting Soviet aggression, like-minded states. We had the most extensive set of sanctions ever to be against a state, the system was called CoCom. And we effectively denied to the Soviet Union not just military technology but civilian technology to the point that the economy was the third world by the time the Soviet Union collapsed. We also talked to other people. We talked to refuseniks. We talked to dissidents. We talked to a lot of people who were trying to bring the system down. And so if you put the question of who do you talk to and under what circumstances in that context it looks a bit different than just to say, well, you talked to them during the worse days. We had a lot of leverage and a lot of arrows in our quiver in those days.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to what Fred asked. That as you see the situation in Iraq deteriorating -- if one wants to use the word (inaudible). You said that one of the reasons for not talking to Iran is that it would give them coverage to continue their nuclear program. I'm not sure I understand.

SECRETARY RICE: No, I said I think -- I didn't say -- look, the cover I think would come from just continuous talks which is why we had insisted on suspension for the nuclear talks.

QUESTION: Right. But the fact is they are continuing with their nuclear plans.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. What I don't want --

QUESTION: What do we get out of it and why -- in keeping our goal, our goal of getting them to suspend their nuclear plan and, secondarily, to do something in Iran -- in Iraq, why can we not change our tactics because the tactics that we're using now don't appear to be working? They're continuing to interfere in Iraq and they're continuing with their nuclear program.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all I don't want to link what we do on the nuclear program to what they do in Iraq; that's the real point here. Because we are on a track on the nuclear program -- you're right, they haven't suspended yet but we have international agreement that they have to suspend and go back to negotiate. Now, the day that the United States suddenly, because we want to make a deal about something, says, oh, by the way, we don't really have to -- you don't really have to suspend and the nuclear issues becomes a part of talks that I am quite certain will not be kept separate -- Iraq over here and nuclear over here. We've also blown up the international consensus that if we have a chance to have diplomacy work on the nuclear program is our only chance to make that diplomacy work.

We do have -- I think we will get a resolution in the Security Council that is a Chapter 7 resolution on Iran. A Chapter 7 resolution has its own collateral effects on a state. They'll be in a pretty specialized category along with North Korea as states that are under Chapter 7 resolutions. And so we have to continue -- we're engaged in increasingly tough financial measures against the Iranians. We have to continue that course because an Iranian nuclear weapon really, really will destabilize the Middle East in major ways. And I don't think we can afford any confusion about what we are prepared to do on the nuclear side in order to gain somehow support for something that they should do.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I won't belabor it, but you said we don't want to allow them to lead the issues. But it seems to me that we are the ones that will bring the issue. The President got up the other day and said -- when he was asked about the recommendation in the report to talk to them, he said, we will only talk to them about -- if they get rid of their nuclear program. So we're the ones that are linking it. We're saying unless that happens nothing else is happening.

SECRETARY RICE: The President was saying that we've offered the opportunity to talk because of the nuclear program. But I'm speaking to this hypothetical set of discussions with the Iranians that somehow not -- doesn't come from their accepting our offer to talk after suspension. This is a hypothetical set of talks and I think that that hypothetical set of talks goes in a very bad direction, which is that the Iranians come to the table, if they're prepared to talk about Iraq in any way, certainly wanting to link that to their nuclear program, they've been clear about it. Actually they've been saying, well, you know, we would have to talk about the nuclear program. And I don't think they mean they just want to talk about the nuclear program; they want a deal on the nuclear program and that's very dangerous.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can you -- what is your feeling on Maliki as Prime Minister of Iraq? Do you believe he is capable and willing to take the steps against the militias to put outreach and reconciliation for the Sunnis in a way that will significantly defuse the tension on the ground?

SECRETARY RICE: I think he is capable and I do think that he has a very difficult political situation and that it cannot just be Maliki who is prepared to take difficult steps. There are other Iraqi leaders: Hakim, Tariq al-Hashimi, the Kurds and others who are a part of that more moderate center who are going to also have to be willing to take difficult steps. You cannot ask -- what is, by the way, functioning as a democracy -- a prime minister to step out and take difficult steps when nobody will back that up. I think they are and have been having discussions about the situation in which they all find themselves.

I find Prime Minister Maliki a strong man. I find him impatient with his lack of tools to do difficult things. He came in with a kind of acceleration program for his own security forces and so forth, because I do think that this is somebody who wants to take control of Iraqi's problems. So I find him a strong figure. But we need to recognize that it is the Iraqi political leadership as a whole that needs to take responsibility for the difficulties in which they find -- in which Iraqis find themselves. And since it goes back really, this most difficult phase goes back to the Samara bombing and what was a deliberate strategy on the part of Zarqawi and al-Qaida to stoke sectarian tensions, it's going to take a broad coalition of leaders to support action.

QUESTION: What kinds of feedback have you guys gotten from the conversation the President had with the politicians that you mentioned?

SECRETARY RICE: You get a sense that they understand that this is their role as leaders of Iraq and that they understand that they have to bring their constituencies along too. But they're going to have to act. The Iraqis -- Iraqis are really the only ones ultimately who can solve the sectarian problem. We can help. We can support. We can do a lot of things. But ultimately they are the ones who can solve it and that's been much the nature of the conversation.

QUESTION: But they haven't been so how are you going to get them to do it?

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, know I'm as impatient as anyone and I understand that there are questions of the American people's patience with this. I fully understand that. But if you look at where we are, we're talking about a particular -- there was violence in Iraq before, I fully admit that. But we're looking at something that, in terms of the sectarian violence that we're seeing now and the worst elements of that in the kind of neighborhoods that are being attacked, this really is a phenomenon that is largely post-February '06, largely post-Samara. The growth of these death squads and their willingness to really, in a brazen way, challenge the authority of the government is a relatively new phenomenon. The militias were always a problem and so forth, but the kind of mix of the politics and the sectarian violence, I think is a relatively new phenomenon. This is also a relatively new government. It's been in power six-and-a-half or so months and so I think we have to give them a chance. And what they're saying to us is you've also not given us enough capability and really enough flexibility and enough responsibility for taking control of this issue. They're going to have to take control of it and I think we're going to have to support them in taking control.

QUESTION: Secretary, the review that's going on that the President is conducting right now of Iraq policy, broadly speaking, what do you expect that to yield? Do you expect it to yield, you know, particularly around the edges, do you expect it to yield radical changes? And is the President the kind of person who can make radical changes? A lot of people say that he doesn't have that capacity; that once he's on a course he doesn't like change.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, the change the President isn't going to make is the change in the commitment to an Iraq that can govern themselves as a stable Iraq and defend itself. If by radical change people mean is he going to drop that goal? No. But all of us, including the President, are capable of looking at the situation and saying that this is not working, the new circumstances from February to now with the uptick in sectarian violence which has presented us with another challenge on top of what were already very difficult challenges and, therefore, there needs to be a hard look at strategy and some decisions made about how to think about our responsibilities, Iraqi responsibilities and the capabilities to carry them out, I think the President can be quite expansive in what he's going to accept that way. But that is -- when people say is he willing to radically change, he's not going to radically change from this goal because he -- we went to war because we believed that Saddam Hussein had to be overthrown. And in its place there had to be a new Iraq that was capable of democratic governance. Nobody believed it was going to be democratically -- easily democratically governed eight weeks after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

But you should understand that we had the debate inside the Administration, the discussion inside the Administration about whether it was good enough to overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a strongman. We had that discussion and it was rejected because --

QUESTION: When did you have that?

SECRETARY RICE: Before the war, before the war.

QUESTION: Who wanted a strongman? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Actually nobody. But I'm saying that the point was put on the table and it was rejected because the view was that if you were going to overthrow Saddam Hussein the Iraqi people deserved a chance at democratic development -- democratic development would give the best chance for a different kind of Iraq and ultimately a different kind of Middle East and that ultimately another strongman was just going to leave some administration 20 years from now with another Saddam Hussein. And so this was a conscience choice about what kind of Iraq we were going to try to build and I think it's important to understand that that was a choice before the war.

QUESTION: Hasn't actually the goal radically changed already? I mean, you talk about an ability to govern, sustain and defend itself. That's far from being a beacon of democracy in the Middle East in the broader terms that you used at the beginning.

SECRETARY RICE: Well look, it takes a while to move from one of the most tyrannical societies, and by the way one was drawn -- the map was drawn on the fault line between Shia and Sunni Arabs and a few Kurds thrown in for, you know, for good measure in the way the country was drawn. It takes a while. But it is absolutely the case that the foundations for that democratic development have been laid. This is a country that has had successful elections. This is a country that has a constitution. It's a constitution that may in time need to be revised, but it is a constitution. It is a functioning parliament. What it is is a relatively new government that is feeling a lot of pressure, particularly from extremists on both sides, and that is trying to replace repression and violence with politics. And that's hard.

But just because you won't have that democracy that is a beacon for the Middle East in 2007 doesn't mean that you won't have an Iraq that is that beacon of democracy in the Middle East. You know, you didn't have that beacon of democracy in South Korea for quite a long time either, but the conditions were there and now you have it.

QUESTION: Secretary, you described the project, the fulfillment of which is pretty complicated, and there's two years left in the Administration's time. There are people in Washington, there's one of your predecessors, who would argue that the (inaudible) this country has sustained its political will but there's strong evidence that that the political will of this country is changing (inaudible) the elections (inaudible).

How far pursuing the themes you're pursuing, support of a democratic government, how far can you get by January 2009 and how much do you have to take into account the changing political state in the United States?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think first and foremost we have to take into account and the President is taking into account the challenge on the ground in Iraq and to make the adjustments to policy that give the Iraqis the chance and the space to push the extremes aside and to have a middle that can hold. That's the first goal, and not to focus on our politics but to try to get to a place that is sustainable in that sense.

I think one of the very good things about both Baker-Hamilton and the discussions that the President has had subsequently is that when we sit around the table with people from Congress, with the people who supported the war and people who didn't, there is very strong recognition that the United States of America needs to find a way to succeed in Iraq. Nobody wants to see the outcome of this be failure.

And so I think that gives an opportunity on a bipartisan basis to come to a place that is, if you will, a strategic agreement that our commitment to Iraq has to be one that will produce success. Now, there may be very different prescriptions for how that happens, but when you start with, as Baker-Hamilton did and as I've heard from so many people, that yes, you should be striving for an Iraqi government that can govern itself and defend itself and sustain itself, I think you've gotten over in a sense the debate about should we have or should we not have, and you've begun to focus on how do we now achieve that goal.

And I think there is therefore possibility for a broad consensus around, if not agreement with every policy decision that the President undertakes, enough of that policy that people will want to sustain it. And if you can get to that point, I think you're looking at a recognition that just like the broad changes that are being -- underway in the Middle East in the war on terror and so forth, this is all a generational project. It's not something that is going to end with this President.

After, you know, World War II there wasn't much consensus either about an American continued presence. The Washington Treaty of 1949 I don't think anybody thought we were actually going to get a commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But because of bipartisanship of people like Vandenberg and others, we got that commitment. And that commitment then lasted the 40 years that it took to collapse the Soviet Union.

And we're at another one of those critical junctures in international politics and I know that it is difficult and it's fractious and it's very, very hard, but I have to say that I think since the election and with the coming out of Baker-Hamilton, the discussions sound like problem-solving discussions. You know, how would we do this? Even if there are differences and even if differences remain, people want this to work. And that's as good a basis as any, I think.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask you about that critical juncture. I've been struck that a variety of foreign policy experts recently have been talking about the strategic vulnerability of the United States at this point. Richard Haass said to me on Sunday we're in a more vulnerable position as a nation than we've been in decades. Yesterday a professor (inaudible) said to me this is the worst position we¿ve been in as a nation since December 8th, 1941. What's your sense of the strategic position of the United States and whether our influence is waning globally?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I do think that it is a difficult moment because when the international system starts rearranging itself the way that it is rearranging itself currently, there are -- it's turbulent and it's often violent and it is very challenging to find that strategic middle around which people can agree.

And I think that in a sense is the debate we're having, but one reason that I bring up the end of the World War II were there were plenty of people who also thought we just ought to leave Europe and leave them to themselves and, you know, European Union, what's that, NATO, what's that, and so forth. And so it's not as if it hasn't been fractious before.

I think we do have some difficulties that we have to deal with because a lot of the old bargains in the Middle East have really collapsed. There is a new relationship brought about largely by Iraq that is going to have to emerge between Sunnis and Shia. That's challenging. There is a debate that is going on within Islam and therefore bringing into it states with which we have good relations and some with which we don't have good relations about the role of politics and religion. It's a debate, by the way, that I think has long been deferred because of the absence of free expression in this part of the world. That's very challenging.

There is a freeing up of political systems that has exposed the relative weakness of moderate political forces vis-à-vis more extreme political forces which were organized. Those are all emerging. But of course with any challenge of that kind, there also comes certain opportunities. And as the Middle East is rearranging itself, it's also creating new alliances and new opportunities. The Middle East is really exhibiting now a clarity that this is really between extremism on the one hand and mainstream states on the other, or mainstream actors on the other. On the one side of the divide you have Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria, which has chosen to throw its weight on that side of the ledger. On the other you have the so-called moderate Arab states, I'll call them mainstream states -- Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf states. And strangely, they then find themselves in support of fledgling democratic forces in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories and in Iraq.

QUESTION: What side are the Iraqi Shiites on?

SECRETARY RICE: I am firmly of the view that the Iraqi Shiites are on the mainstream side of this ledger.

QUESTION: Including Muqtada al-Sadr?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't know about all Shia in Iraq, but this Prime Minister and the mainstream -- I think this is -- that is an issue. But this government is one that is first of all committed, I think, to its Iraqi identity, which means that it is not committed to a world in which Iran dominates Iraq. And these mainstream states -- and we're doing a lot of diplomacy with the GCC + 2 -- who now find themselves worried about Iranian aggression and Iranian influence and therefore supporting those against whom Iran and its allies are going, provides a whole different strategic context in the Middle East than five years ago. And you have to be very careful in trying to deal with the difficult circumstances that you don't unravel this new and much more favorable strategic context in the Middle East.

Now, there's one other element of this, which is that I think it's also given room if the Palestinian political crisis can be resolved for a potential new push on the Israeli-Palestinian issue because the mainstream states also, I think, would actually really like to see a resolution of this conflict now. You have more energy with people saying, well, we ought to be able to resolve these issues. I just think the strategic context is very different and it's in transition so it's difficult and it's hard and it's somewhat turbulent, but it has real advantages for the United States if we can act smartly in that new strategic context rather than being drawn back to the old strategic context in search of, I think, a stability that no longer exists in the Middle East because it was based on bargains that no longer exist.

QUESTION: Is that where Baker --

QUESTION: The end of my question, Fred, was is it strategically declining, the influence of the United States globally.

SECRETARY RICE: You know, I don't -- no, no, I just don't think so. I can't tell you in a sense what it's like to be in my position and have it assumed that it is the United States of America that must be involved in everything in order to get it resolved. And I think that says something as to how people see the international system.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask whether Baker-Hamilton would draw you back to the old strategic --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know, I don't know. I mean, there were some things in there that seemed to me a new strategic context. But what the new strategic context really must preserve is an emphasis on democracy and the forward movement of reform in the Middle East because the Middle East that was not stable but stagnant, that produced that Arab Development Report, cannot reemerge. And without reform and democratization, even if it's imperfect, even if there are fits and starts, even if we can't always be as effective as we might like to be, that's a strategic shift of enormous proportions and it's critical.

The other piece is not to try to -- I'm going to use a not very -- fuzzy -- not to make fuzzy again what is a kind of clarifying moment between extremism and mainstream. That's the new strategic context.

QUESTION: But what do you plan to do in terms of reigniting the Arab-Israeli peace process? And secondly, did Vice President Cheney get any guarantees from the Saudis that if there was new movement on the Arab-Israeli conflict that the Saudis might move on recognition of Israel faster than on different terms that have been set, the plan that's already been agreed among the Arab League?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Robin, I'm not going to go into the Vice President's discussions with the Saudis. The Saudis have been talking a lot about the Crown Prince initiative and the Arab initiative that came out of that. You may have noticed that the Israeli Prime Minister has taken note of those initiatives on a number of occasions.

QUESTION: Did you encourage him to do that?

SECRETARY RICE: He's taken note of it on a number of occasions. I think that there is some space there for a discussion about the broader Arab-Israeli issue of which, of course, the Saudis are a key element.

On the Palestinian-Israeli side, that -- there is still work to do and it's -- but the context there is one that is also in many ways changed for the better. You know, I just want to remind people that in 2001 when this Administration came into office, we had the collapse of Camp David, the second intifada, two years of extraordinarily bad violence including the Dolfinarium, the Passover massacre. You then had the siege of the Muqataa. It was a very bad period of time. You had Yasser Arafat finally expose himself as taking Iranian arms and the President deciding that there was no need to continue to deal in that context, but in that period the President having established that the United States would support a Palestinian state.

And lest we think it is just now an accident or it just is sort of a natural thing that people talk all the time about the two-state solution and the Palestinian state, no American president had dared state it as a matter of policy until 2001. And so something has changed here. And not only is it American policy, but it's Israeli policy to have a two-state solution. One of the so-called final status issues has been resolved. That there would be a state is accepted by everyone.

QUESTION: What are you going to do tangibly about it? I mean --

SECRETARY RICE: Robin, get ready. We're going to go to the Middle East a lot next year. (Laughter.) I do think this is a time for pushing and consulting and pressing and to see what we can do to take advantage of this new strategic context. But it's not the sort of thing that is going to produce an outcome in a great conference after one or two months or weeks. This takes hard work. But in the next two years nothing would be better than to really put the time and energy into trying to take this new strategic context and begin to show people in the international community that this new strategic context has the capability of being a truly more stable and democratic one than the one that was left.

QUESTION: You mentioned the new UN resolution about Iran. From the outside, it looks like you could have gotten that resolution three months ago and much stronger if it had not been for the need to negotiate with the Russians about it. And I think it raises the question: Are the Russians crippling the international effort to place real pressure against Iran and would it be better to try either without them or at least to speak more openly about the obstructionism you¿re encountering.

SECRETARY RICE: Well yes, if we had written the resolution ourselves we could have -- it would have been a stronger resolution. There's no doubt about it. But there -- it's a reason it's called a P-5 and you need the agreement of the five.

Now, I think that the resolution that is now proposed to be passed is a very good resolution. The piece that I've been most concerned about, frankly, is that it be under Chapter 7 because I do think that Chapter 7, as I said, puts Iran into a category that states shouldn't generally like to be in and it begins to govern or it begins to affect how all kinds of institutions, investors, states think about the shadow of the future with Iran because the possibility that there are more sanctions coming and ever tougher sanctions coming is always there. We already know that several banks have decided that they don't want to deal with the Iranians because they worry about assets that may in fact be tied up in either terrorism or the WMD. So I think it will have an effect.

Now, it's very important that we recognize that there are several tracks though. The UN track is one and it's an important track, but the United States has just sanctioned -- designated Bank Saderat, an Iranian bank. I think that will have effects on what the financial system is prepared to do with certain Iranian banks. And so we will keep up our own financial measures and encourage others to join us to deal with those issues.

We also, of course, are keeping the door open for negotiation should the Iranians ever decide that that's in their interest. But I don't want anyone to think that the UN track is the only track. It's a critical track. It's very important. It's very good that the P-5 have been able to stay together because that too sends a signal to the Iranians. But some of what happens down the road is going to depend on Iranian behavior. If they keep crowing about 54,000 centrifuges, I rather think it's going to get more people's attention and probably tougher sanctions.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the Russians?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, the Russians, they've had a different view about how to deal with this specific phase. But the Russians have also come a very, very long way in their attitudes about the Iranians from a year or so ago when it was a difficult conversation to even get them to abstain on a resolution in the IAEA that called for suspension, to now when they are going to back sanctions under Chapter 7. So I think the Russians have come a long way, but I hope they'll come further.

QUESTION: If I could ask about the Russians, if you don't mind. You talked about a beacon of democracy and it takes time. But 15 years ago this month, of course, the Soviet Union went kaput. Is this what you were expected when you were at the NSC 15 years ago to see at this point -- do you see Russia actually ever becoming a beacon of democracy with Litvinenko, with Politkovskaya? You visited Novaya Gazeta people.

SECRETARY RICE: Right.

QUESTION: What did you expect 15 years ago?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I didn't expect a straight line. I didn't. And while I think there were some really remarkable and positive developments in the Russian political system, I think there were also the seeds of some very bad things that were being -- that were churning underneath, including I think a privatization that in retrospect has had bad effects. I think also -- and look, the West tried not to have there be a sense of bitterness or humiliation. Everybody did. But there was a sense of bitterness and humiliation.

I remember going to Moscow in 1992, not too long after I had left government, about a year after I had left government, and you know, old ladies on the streets trying to sell half a tea cup, street children -- Romanian street children, gypsies running around and tugging on people. I was walking into the Café Pushkin and the driver said, "Oh, a man with a machine gun," as now somebody came down the Tverskaya, the major street of Moscow, toting a machine gun. I mean, we have to recognize that this is not an easy time for Russia either.

And so I never expected a straight line. I've been disappointed principally in two things. One is the concentration of power in the Kremlin; that is, that alternative or rather countervailing institutions didn't really develop. The Duma, which seemed to be quite a bit livelier seven years ago than now. And frankly, the absence of a kind of neo-liberal party that might have been an advocate for certain kinds of changes in Russia.

And so there have been some missed opportunities. There have been some disappointments. It hasn't gone in a straight line. I think that the linking up of energy and politics is pretty troubling. But it's also not the Soviet Union and personal freedoms are considerably greater than anything that we would have imagined when I was there. There is a burgeoning middle class that I think in the long run will want to protect its interest and ultimately I think that will take political form.

What we have to do, I think, is to continue to speak out for those political alternatives -- (inaudible), Novaya Gazeta -- because I think the free press has been under a lot of assault. But we also need to have outreach to that burgeoning middle class, to entrepreneurs. We've been working on an entrepreneurs fund that would allow these people to begin to develop because it will have a political impact. But yeah, I'm disappointed in some elements, but I never expected that it would go in a straight line. And I recognize that that period right after the collapse of the Soviet Union had some real downsides for some people, for a lot of people in the Soviet Union, for a lot of people of Russia itself.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question on --

QUESTION: Walter had promised we'd get a question in.

QUESTION: Really a twofer. One is how you look at Afghanistan as a kind of Iraq with having the same kinds of problems, and my question is how do you see that evolve and apparently there's more (inaudible) concerns about come spring and the government really hasn't been able to reach out beyond Kabul (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think the government has reached out beyond Kabul. But I agree, it isn't the kind of extensive control of the country that one would hope for. Look, I think Afghanistan -- for a country that went through 25 years of civil war that essentially has no infrastructure, I mean no roads, no electricity, where one of the biggest problems we face in recruitment of police is illiteracy, Afghanistan has, I would argue, done pretty well. I know that's a contrary view, but I have to say that it's one by one met its problems. You know, the problem was going to be that warlords like Ismail Kahn were never going to vote. Ismail Khan is the minister of something and industry in Kabul these days. I mean, they've made a lot of progress.

They've also got a remarkable commitment from NATO, not perfect but we are -- NATO, when I was at the NATO summit, what really struck me was the degree to which the NATO leaders and the NATO ministers now see Afghanistan as theirs, as really NATO's strongest and most important commitment. And I think that will matter over time.

Afghanistan really suffers from three problems and we just have to attack them. One is an economic development problem. They just don't have a basis for an economy at this point and so it's one reason that poppy is what it is. Somebody once -- somebody said to me not too long ago Afghanistan was a great land bridge until people discovered the sea. And so you're not going to be able to build an economy again on kind of tariffs, and so finding the center of an Afghan economy is not easy and it's going to be very important. But in order to do that, you've got to do things like build roads. One of our military officers when I was out there said I'll give you two brigades for some roads in Afghanistan. And so we now are attacking in a strategic way the road network in Afghanistan.

The other problem that they face is that area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is just very rough. It's been ungoverned forever and we are going to have to make -- they are going to have to make and we are going to have to make a more concerted effort to prevent safe haven there. When Musharraf and Karzai were here, they had a discussion with the President. They're trying to get the tribals on both sides together. They're trying a lot of things. But I think that probably -- those problems, you know, the lack of an economy, the lack of an infrastructure and the ungoverned areas, are the real challenges.

QUESTION: Somebody told us that there's a proposal that you and Defense agreed on -- it's before OMB now -- to triple the aid. Is that --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm not sure it will be quite triple, but we're going to make a big commitment to Afghanistan. We need to, particularly on the reconstruction side, particularly on the reconstruction side.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, is that it? Gee. I have to go give a speech. You had one final one.

QUESTION: I just had a question about the Iraq policy review, specifically on the military front, which you haven't talked about. There seems to be, at least judging from the comments of the President and the military leaders, sort of a consensus that the military mission in Iraq will change over the next two years from one of combat to training. Is that an accurate perception and what can you sort of tell us about where that review stands right now?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's in the middle. I mean, the President is getting advice. He was out at the Pentagon yesterday. I don't think there's any doubt that over time as Iraqi forces get more capable that they will do more of the frontline work. And I think that's what they want to do. So there is going to be an evolution. But the question of how quick that evolution can be and how to use structures to make that evolution as smooth as possible -- you know, you don't just send in trainers and say, okay, now it's yours. I think those are the kinds of discussions that are being had. And it has to frankly be linked up with also an effort to make Iraq more capable on the political and economic front. One of the challenges is that particularly at the provincial level there isn't much governing capacity, and so one of the reasons for the provincial reconstruction teams has been to try to increase that governing capacity.

So this is a multi -- there are many, many elements to this. But on the military side, the President is still reviewing various options.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you -- one last thing?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you -- how would you categorize -- if you had to put an adjective in describing how different the new strategy is going to be from the existing, are we talking about a radical overhaul, are we talking about modest changes? Can you just characterize it for us a little bit?

SECRETARY RICE: You know I'm not very good at that, Robin. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So if you won¿t answer her question, one more thing. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Look, it will undoubtedly be a departure because there is a new set of circumstances. But I can't give you an adjective.

Yes, Gene.

QUESTION: In your most optimistic view, what will Iraq look like in January 2009?

SECRETARY RICE: I actually think that if they can get control of the sectarian violence -- and most of it is Baghdad. I mean, this is overwhelmingly in and around Baghdad. Now, it's not the only problem. There's Anbar and Diala and al-Qaida. But the sectarian violence, the part, that piece that's really threatening Iraqi citizens is really principally around Baghdad.

I think if the Iraqi Government really takes responsibility and has the tools to in a sense take back control of Baghdad so that Iraqi citizens believe that the government is going to protect them against those who kill, which is what they've been saying -- whether they are Sunni or Shia, those who kill, it will give an opportunity to these fledgling political institutions to deal with what are some pretty daunting problems but actually not unsolvable. You know, the question of how you are going to divide oil revenues is actually not an insoluble problem. The question of how you are going to -- when you're going to hold provincial elections is not an insoluble problem. And every day -- the remarkable thing about these leaders is that they get up and they try to work on those problems. I mean, they are working on the creation of their reconstruction board which would be able to disburse money more quickly for projects because the Ministry of Finance is having trouble disbursing money.

They get up every day and they work on those kinds of problems. But they do it in the context in which they see the same report every morning that we do. You know, there's been another car bomb and there have been x number of bodies found. And so much depends, I think, on their ability with our help to reassert that there is really only going to be one authority. Now, there will be violence because a few people can always pull off the spectacular violence. But I think the kind of fear in the population that exists now because it doesn't look like the government is capable, that has got to be brought under control. If that's brought under control, I would think that in 2008 or 2009 -- well, 2008, then you'll be talking to somebody else in 2009 -- you would be sitting here saying, "Well, why can't they get a law on this or that that makes sense?" And it will be more a case of normal politics for a young democracy.

Thank you.

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