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Excerpts From Interview with U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice

From Staff Reports
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 10:03 AM

Excerpts from an interview with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

On defining U.S. interests at the United Nations:

"We are interested in an effective and productive United Nations because we believe fundamentally that given the nature of the 21st century security challenges we face we need to maximize the effective cooperation of as many states and peoples as can be mustered to deal with these challenges, because they are by definition transnational, the sort that can arise in any part of the planet, spread to any part of the planet, whether I'm talking about terrorism, proliferation or pandemic disease, the effects of climate change, criminal networks.

"No single country, even one as powerful as our own, can deal with these challenges in isolation. So, we are fundamentally living in an era when our security and our well-being is very much linked to the security and well-being of people elsewhere; it's a pretty simple recognition of reality . . . Effective cooperation is about both the will of countries to want to move with us and believe that the things that we care about are worth them caring about, investing in and combating and the capacity to be effective.

"So that gets to the whole challenge of conflict, fragile states, poverty, countries that are hobbled in one form or another by bad governance, lack of democracy in their ability to deliver for their people and thus deliver responsibly in the international system -- are sort of weak links that need to be shored up toward the larger goal of building an effective global cooperation. So that is fundamentally what we're about."

On the role of the United Nations:

The United Nations is the venue in which every country has a voice, which has a unique international legitimacy and an un-paralleled capacity to perform against these critically important challenges. Whether it's the humanitarian assistance, delivery of food, water, emergency care; whether it's the global health networks that is the WHO [the World Health Organization], which is un-paralleled in its ability to track and contain and prevent the spread of disease, whether it's the Security Council in its role in upholding or trying to promote global peace and security, whether it's the infrastructure to deal with non-proliferation and disarmament, which is uniquely again a U.N. aspect. This is the place where we have a real stake in whether we can progress against these 21st-century challenges.

On competing for influence with America's traditional adversaries, including Iran, North Korea and Sudan:

"The fact that there are a handful of countries with which we have profound differences that populate the United Nations doesn't in any way change the calculus that I just outlined: that we have an interest in maximizing effective cooperation with as many people and states as we can to deal with these challenges. It means that there are occasionally countries whose interests diverge from our own and they impose obstacles, but they are a small minority and they are a fact of life and they're going to be there whether we're are trying to utilize [the United Nations] constructively or not. I don't want to suggest that they are inconsequential, but they don't define the nature or lack thereof of our engagement here at the United Nations. They can be speed bumps at best.

"We are working within the [Security] Council, but also in the p-five plus one [the permanent five members of the Security Council plus Germany] and other contexts to make sure Iran has a very stark choice. There are two paths that are out there: one of insuring that there can be no ambiguity about the nature of its nuclear program, its full compliance with its international obligations and then pointedly its full integration back into the community of responsible nations or a path of greater pressure and isolation. And each of the members of the p-five plus one have shared the same goal. We have varied ways of approaching it at times but I think that we are all pretty much conveying that message to Iran."

On containing the spread of nuclear weapons:

"We have many [priorities at the United Nations]; among them is effective cooperation to deal with the specific challenges posed by North Korea and Iran. We have seen real progress in recent months, effective and swift cooperation on North Korea, where we've managed to put in place the toughest sanctions regime in the world today. Working closely with not only our traditional p3 partners [the United States, France and Britain] and Japan and South Korea but very crucially with China and Russia. And the resolution that I hope and expect we will adopt on Thursday is also a product of very constructive cooperation with the not only the p-five [the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council] but with the larger council and I think it will be a significant step forward in strengthening the normative foundation for pursuing our key three goals of advancing nuclear disarmament, strengthening non-proliferation infrastructure and securing the loose nuclear materials. To be quite honest the good will and effort that everybody put into this, including and if not especially Russia and China, is quite significant.

On rejecting Richard Goldstone's U.N. report on war crimes by Israel and Hamas:

"As I said the other day the mandate was unbalanced, one-sided and unacceptable. Goldstone did seek to expand his purview to look at Hamas and others and while we note that, the weight of the report is something like 85 percent oriented towards very specific and harsh condemnation and conclusions related to Israel and very sort of lightly treats without great specificity Hamas' terrorism and its own atrocities. So in that respect it remains unbalanced, although obviously less so than it might have been and so that is still a source of significant concern.

"We think that this [Goldstone's Gaza report] derived from the [human rights] council and belongs in the council as the venue for its consideration. And in this as in many other respects the US focus, and I think constructively the focus of many other countries, is to try to look not to the past but to the future. The best way to end suffering and abuses is for there to be a long term solution and peace based on two states living side by side in peace and security and that's what this administration is focusing on tirelessly. And things that take us backward, not just this, but bad habits here in the U.N. that are old school habits need to be challenged and put aside if we are going to create an atmosphere conducive to progress and a future that is far better than the present one.

"The United States understands that Israel is a vibrant and strong democracy and it has more than sufficient capacity to conduct a credible internal investigation and we've encouraged it to do so. But the fundamental problem with this particular report is it was hatched with a bias inherent in its mandate. It is as a consequence a product that largely reflects that imbalance in its mandate, notwithstanding the effort to look at the other side to some extent, albeit a lesser extent.

"It comes from a body whose track record and history is one of focusing unduly and excessively on one country, Israel, to the exclusion of credible sustained treatment of the world's most egregious instances of human rights abuses in places like Sudan or Zimbabwe or Burma and so we are committed to bringing greater balance, bringing greater focus to the most egregious instances of abuse and we think that despite its flaws the place for this report to be discussed remains in the [Human Rights] Council.

On confronting charges of a double-standard on human rights by African officials, including Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalhaleem Mohamed:

"It's a very convenient and self-serving ploy by the representative of a government responsible for genocide. On its face it lacks credibility. There's absolutely no equation between the two. That's the kind of dishonest old school politics that we need to move beyond. This is a crazy line of argument because of the four cases that have been referred to the ICC three were referred by the Africans themselves, one by the Security Council, so the notion that Africans are the victims of some nefarious ICC, to which they have signed up is unfairly targeting Africa is just backward and needs to be really called for the bogus claim that it is. I can tell you in my private conversations with a number of African senior officials they'd be the first to acknowledge that this is a disingenuous argument."

On responding to mass killings in Sri Lanka:

"My perception is that we spoke out very forcefully; we were among those leading the charge for council discussion and consideration of Sri Lanka and asking for [the U.N.] secretariat and the [U.N.] secretary general and his senior team to devote due attention to engage, to go out there. I view us as very much in the forefront of pushing for the concerns that we had about the [internally displaced persons] IDPs for humanitarian access, for freedom of movement. for protection of human rights. I think that this is an instance where our stand was clear consistent and principled. Yes, there were others, [including France] that shared that concern and were with us. Since the British and the French sent their foreign ministers there I think they had a particular profile that came from that. But I think in the context of our work in the Security Council I think we were all very much on the same page, We did send senior people to deal [with the crisis in Sri Lanka].

"First of all we had a very strong ambassador on the ground, Robert Blake, who was very engaged through out. Diplomatically, the senior officials in Washington were working this issue constantly. Assistant Secretary of State [for Population, Refugees and Migration], Eric Schwartz, went out there and lead a very important assessment mission and has been leading the charge on the humanitarian response and the political peace [process]. The Secretary of State herself has been very much interested in and focused on this and I think we very much supported what the secretary general has done by sending his [top political advisor B. Lynn] Pascoe out there to assess the situation and call out the concerns that he sees and we all share. We make a distinction between the legitimate posture of the government versus the terrorist organization, the LTTE. That said we were very concerned about the excesses in the way that the government forces dealt with the circumstances. And we said so. There needn't be equivalence for there to be a legitimate expression of concern and pressure to rectify those concerns."

On whether the response to Sri Lanka underscores the limits of Security Council power:

"First of all, there is a cluster of issues upon which the council frequently founders and they are not only Sri Lanka. Your Burmas your Zimbabwes . . . what they all share is that these are essentially internal conflicts. Some of them like Darfur have obvious cross border dimensions. They are substantially internal conflicts in which the government is accused or believed to be abusing its citizens. There is a fundamental divergence within the council between those who believe, not just in theory, but in practice, that those cases warrant significant council oversight and action, and those who think that these are essentially internal matters which have to get way out of control before we challenge what they would complain are sovereign responsibilities. This is not new; its not unique to Sri Lanka. It is a perennial challenge and where the council has managed to overcome those challenges is when there's really hot fighting, that is, sustained, that culminates in or involves the deployment of international or U.N. forces. And once we're at that stage we're in a different place. There's just a fault-line and we make progress we've discussed Burma in the council, we've discussed Sri Lanka, we've gotten statements out. It's not nearly as polarized and calcified as it's been in the past. But it's not where we might like it to go. And that just a fact and we're going to continue to push, we're going to continue to stand up for the rights and principles that we think are crucial. Others will take a different stand and we'll push as far as we can get."

On stalled Senate deliberations on energy bill:

There are multiple challenges on the road to Copenhagen and multiple players who have not gotten off the dime and I'm not going to name names but you know who they are and you know what the problems are. So it's not like everything would be smooth on the road to Copenhagen if just the Senate would act. That's not the case. It is a rocky road full of substantial pitfalls. In any case now obviously the [Obama] administration and many in Congress are eager for action on an energy bill in the Senate that could be conferenced with the House bill. We'd like very much for that to happen as quickly as possible, ideally in advance of Copenhagen. I don't need to bore you with the legislative calendar and the challenges that entails but to suggest that but for action in the US Congress everything would be smooth sailing is I think you know its not an accurate portrayal of the reality. We've got a tough road ahead.

On defining the U.S. approach to Darfur: "I think I've been very, very clear about the concerns that the US has had and continues to have about the situation in Darfur and indeed Sudan overall. It's a very important priority for the president and we're all spending a good deal of time both on the policy formulation and on its implementation now. [Ret. Air Force Maj. Gen.] Scott Gration is doing the very practical nuts and bolts work of trying to push implementation of the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a 2005 power-sharing pact between the Khartoum and Sudan's southern rebels] which is vitally important and to try to respond initially to the outrageous decision of the Government of Sudan to kick out the international NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and to mitigate its consequences which I think he helped do quite admirably and effectively and he's been working to try to unify the rebel groups and create the foundations for a successful resumption of negotiations between the government and the Darfurians, which is what is necessary at the end of the day to deal with the underlying sources of conflict.

"All that is important, necessary but that doesn't mean that we are any less concerned that we are prepared to wield carrots in advance of concrete and very significant steps on the ground. That's not the policy of the United States. But the fact that we have in this instance as in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, devoted intense and sustained effort to the very complicated and painstaking diplomacy that necessary to make progress to end these conflicts is indicative of the very importance we attach to their resolution."

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