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Rice Remarks at NATO Headquarters

Remarks at The North Atlantic Treaty Organization Headquarters


SECRETARY GENERAL SCHEFFER: Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

SECRETARY GENERAL SCHEFFER: Let me welcome you once again very warmly to NATO. It's a great pleasure that you've come. I just told the members of the press that we've had a very successful luncheon; that there is, on the other hand, much work to do. And I'm sure you're going to answer the questions how much work and where it is to do, but may I say here in front of the cameras that I wish you, as all ministers did, in fact, success, very much success, in your coming career as U.S. Secretary of State.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

SECRETARY GENERAL SCHEFFER: Thank you very much, indeed. Thank you so much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. Thank you very much.

Good afternoon. I'd like to report just a little bit on my first meeting here at NATO as the U.S. Secretary of State, but I'd like to begin by thanking very much the Secretary General for his outstanding leadership of NATO, and my colleagues, the foreign ministers of the NATO countries, for their warm welcome here and for the excellent discussions that we just had.

It was, frankly, very gratifying to sit at this table with the members of this NATO alliance to remember its extraordinary past, which, of course, is a past that managed to, through common values and resoluteness, face down imperial communism on this continent and to see the emergence of a Europe whole, free and at peace with itself. It is an alliance that today talked about its common future and talked about how this alliance, as great as it has been in the past, will have an even better future because it will remain devoted to those values and it will remain devoted to the spread of liberty.

It was remarkable in the sense that, in sitting around this table, we sat with nations that have not so long themselves lived in tyranny -- the Baltic states, the states of Central and Eastern Europe -- and this great alliance now united across Europe has an opportunity to deliver that promise to people beyond the transatlantic borders.

I was gratified by the fact that as the discussion went on, it was very clear and very obvious to everyone that we agree on the agenda before us, and that countries are prepared to take practical steps to advance that agenda.

We had an extensive discussion of Afghanistan, of the remarkable events that have taken place there in the last three-and-a-half years, of NATO's seminal role in stabilizing that country, in the role of ISAF, in the role of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Many NATO members have contributed to those teams, to the progress that is being made by the Afghans themselves, first, in having their presidential election, and to the support that NATO must give to the parliamentary elections that will take place this spring.

We discussed the work yet to be done in the Balkans and in Kosovo, but from a perspective of how far we have come in NATO's support for that process. And in the discussion of -- while there is work yet to do -- the quite excellent work that was done in the turnover of the SFOR mission from NATO to the EU, demonstrating that the EU and NATO can work very effectively together and that Berlin Plus works.

We then went on to a discussion of the Middle East, and I was able to report to my colleagues on my trip to the Middle East my meetings with Prime Minister Sharon and with President Abbas. Everyone noted the historic decisions that are being taken -- the historic and difficult decisions that are being taken by those two leaders -- and pledged the support of all to the efforts that they are undertaking.

We had discussions, also, of Ukraine and the remarkable events that have taken place there over the last month. We look forward to a Ukrainian-NATO summit meeting when President Bush is here on February 22nd, and we look very much forward to continuing to work with Ukraine as it develops its democratic future.

Finally, we had a very good discussion of Iraq, and I have to say that it is the best discussion of Iraq that we have had as an alliance since the Saddam Hussein regime fell, and, in fact, well before that, because it was clearly a unified alliance; unified because we know what the work is to do -- to be done ahead; unified also because the Iraqi people, in going to the polls in large numbers despite the threats of terrorists to literally take their lives, was reminiscent for this alliance of what many around that table had gone through, their countries where people had died to be able to have the simple benefits of liberty and freedom, and recognizing that the Iraqi people had taken many of those same risks. And I think there was a kind of coming together of the common purpose that the Iraqi people have given us to support their historic turn for the better.

We talked about -- and the Secretary General put before the alliance -- the need for continuing contributions to Afghanistan, and especially for new contributions to support the evolution of Iraq, and particularly to support its security forces and their training and the security mission that was established by NATO back at the Istanbul Summit.

I can say with gratitude to colleagues around the table that there were a number of countries that immediately agreed to contribute, and a number of others that said that they would intend to contribute, because everyone understands the importance of training the Iraqi security forces so that the Iraqis are capable of taking on their own security tasks, something that they are not yet capable of doing but something that, given the way that they took control of their own political future last week that everyone believes they are quite capable of doing with the right support and the right training.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience to be here at this great alliance. It was a wonderful experience to talk about how this alliance is going to move forward into the future. And it is always a gratifying experience to sit in a room that is full of people united by common values, by a common past, by common sacrifice, but more importantly, by a common future.

Thank you, and I'm happy to take questions.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, let's start down here with Andrea Mitchell.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary. Andrea Mitchell from NBC News.

You suggested earlier today that UN sanctions, or at least referring the Iran question to the UN, would loom over Iran if Iran did not recognize the significance of the issue. And you also seemed to suggest that the message was not being adequately delivered by the EU-3. Could you clarify whether you have any question as to whether that message is being delivered strongly enough by the negotiators with Iran, and whether you think that you would have European agreement at this point or at some future point to refer to the UN? Because, up until now, they have not agreed with that.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm quite clear and I believe that everybody is telling the Iranians that they are going to have to live up to their international obligations or next steps are in the offing; and I think everybody understands what next steps mean.

We've had these discussions in the IAEA Board of Governors. It is obvious that if Iran cannot be brought to live up to its international obligations, that, in fact, the IAEA statutes would suggest that Iran has to be referred to the UN Security Council.

I said yesterday, or the day before or the day before that -- I really can't remember which day -- that the Iranians should take the opportunity that the Europeans are giving them to live up to their obligations. And we and the Europeans talk all the time about the importance of sending a strong message to the Iranians that they are being given an opportunity to demonstrate that they are prepared to live up to those obligations.

So I think the message is there. The Iranians need to get that message. And we can certainly always remind them that there are other steps that the international community has as its disposal should they not be prepared to live up to these obligations.

MR. BOUCHER: Why don't we go over on that side -- maybe the gentleman one in from the aisle?

QUESTION: Tom Donnelly, Financial Times.

Secretary, are you more -- you're seeing the EU today and tomorrow. On the Chinese arms embargo, are you more reassured than you were a few weeks ago? The Europeans are floating this idea of technical consultations with the U.S. and Japan to make sure that technologies which are sensitive are not transferred. Could that reassure you at all? Could that be the basis of an understanding?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we are still in discussion and open discussion with our allies about how to deal with the prospect of the lifting of the EU embargo on -- arms embargo on China.

I really have to underscore how much the Europeans have tried to take account of our concerns, how good our discussions have been about that. I do not know where this will all come out, but I do hope that everyone understands, and I think by now everyone does understand, that the United States has very specific concerns about the lifting of the embargo, having to do, first, with human rights, that Tiananmen -- there were about 2,000 people arrested at the time of Tiananmen. This embargo was sort of put on in that context and there's still those 2,000 people who are jailed in China. And secondly, that we do have to worry about the military balance in that region and that we have concerns about technology and technology transfer.

But we're having fruitful discussions with our European colleagues and I hope that they will come out in a way that is fruitful for both sides. But I do feel that we're being listened to.

MR. BOUCHER: Mr. King.

QUESTION: Neil King with the Wall Street Journal.

The Secretary General, when he was just here, had mentioned the possibility of NATO playing some role in the Middle East as the talks move ahead. Do you see that that could actually be a prospect?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I hope we get to the day that we're talking about some kind of mission to keep the peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That would be a very good day, indeed.

For now, of course, we are working on the very more rudimentary side of this, which is to get the Palestinian security forces trained. I think that's principally going to be a mission for the regional powers and for the United States, although I'm certain there will be contributions from the Europeans to that training and equipping of the Palestinian security forces.

It is also, of course, something that we should look to the future to see what role eventually any of the many organizations that we may want to see involved, should we get to the point of a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I've been very gratified by the discussions we've had here because there is such great political support and such unified political support for the steps that the parties have to take, starting with the training and equipping of the security forces of the Palestinians, the building of democratic institutions there, the reconstruction of the Palestinian economy, the peaceful carrying out the Israeli withdrawal and disengagement plan from the Gaza and the four settlements in the West Bank. And there is just tremendous political unity about supporting those steps as we go forward, and then also unity about getting back onto the roadmap where, of course, the Quartet would have a major role.

So we had good discussions of that. But, again, I think we are trying to take this one step at a time. We are still, unfortunately, a long way from the point at which we're talking about monitoring a peace agreement.

MODERATOR: Try the gentleman down here in front, on this side.

QUESTION: Radio Free Europe, Ukrainian section.

Madame Rice, I would like to remind you, 15 years ago, when President Bush, Sr., did visit Kiev, capital of Ukraine, for the first time, he made a speech when he said that United States cannot imagine Ukraine separately without Russia, and you've been also involved in the preparing of this speech.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's just be clear. I --

QUESTION: Now, do you -- can you imagine Ukraine --

SECRETARY RICE: Actually, I was long gone to Stanford by that time. But just to be historically accurate, I was at Stanford.

QUESTION: Can you imagine Ukraine in NATO? And can NATO -- can United States help for Ukrainian efforts to become the member of NATO?

SECRETARY RICE: Things that were unimaginable 15 years ago are now imaginable, but I think that we need to do practical things here. Obviously, Ukraine is in -- has had a remarkable set of events. We hope to sustain and help the building of Ukrainian democracy. We have always said that NATO -- for NATO, the door remains open for all European democracies. That's the way that it should be.

Ukraine has an action plan with NATO that we can be more active on now, and we should do exactly that so that we begin to take the practical steps that can support Ukraine's democratic process and can support Ukraine's coming toward Europe and toward mainstream Europe.

So NATO is evolving in unusual ways. For now, I think we need to do the practical steps. But, of course, as I said, NATO has to be open to all European democracies.

MR. BOUCHER: Let's do the Associated Press, down here.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on Iran, you've met now this week with all of the European countries that are engaged in the tripartite diplomacy with Iran. How long should that diplomacy continue before it's time, as you said earlier, for stronger measures? Have you set some sort of deadline, either with them or with your -- within your own mind and administration, for how long that process should be allowed to run?

SECRETARY RICE: No, we've set no deadline, no timeline. The Iranians know what they need to do. They shouldn't be permitted to, under cover of civilian nuclear power or try to continue to build their forces -- I think everybody -- try to build a nuclear weapon. I think everybody understands that the Iranians have to be held to their international obligations.

We haven't set any timetables. We continue to be in completely close consultation with the Europeans about how it is going, about whether progress is being made, about whether the Iranians seem to be moving toward living up to those obligations, and we'll just monitor and continue those discussions.

And I want to say those discussions are quite active. There are meetings that go back and forth where technical experts meet with each other in Washington and here, in Europe. There are constant phone calls and meetings at higher levels on the Iranian issue with our European colleagues. So I'm quite sure that we will have a feel for how this is going because we are in very close consultation.

MR. BOUCHER: We have time for two more, if we keep them short. Let's go the gentleman over here and then down here, in front.

QUESTION: [Name inaudible], Al-Ahram News.

Dr. Rice, you say attacking Iran is not in your agenda. But do you have, really, the means to do it, especially after the situation on Iraq and the domination of the Shiites of the votes in Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the United States President never takes his options off the table, but we believe that this is a time for diplomacy in what we are trying to achieve with Iran. And I should note that we talk often about the Iranian nuclear program. But, of course that is critical, but there are also other issues with Iran that we and our partners are in discussion about.

The Europeans -- I believe when Secretary Straw was speaking, he talked about the fact that the human rights issues in Iran are a part of the dialogue that they have with Iran. It is also the case that everybody will be trying to get the Iranians to see that no one can accept Iran's continued support of rejectionist groups in the Palestinian territories when we are all working toward a peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

So there are a wide range of issues here on which the United States, the Europeans and others are united in the message that we are giving to Iran. We do have diplomatic means at our disposal. We are doing this bilaterally, as well as multilaterally, and I believe that a diplomatic solution is in our grasp if we can have unity of purpose, unity of message with the Iranians, and if the Iranians understand that they international community is quite serious about it living up to its obligations, and that the international community as a whole has concerns with both its internal and external behavior. And I think you heard across Europe an affirmation that there is, indeed, concern about that.

MR. BOUCHER: Let's do the last question down here, in front.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), NRC Handelsblatt from the Netherlands.

Secretary Rice, the wider European audience is still skeptical about the Bush Administration, whose policies are often considered as being dictative and unilateral.
Now, you have talked during your trip about a new chapter in the relationship, but what concrete changes in style and policy can the Europeans expect from you as Secretary of State?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're in a different phase. We did have disagreements before. I would just note that we had disagreements, but we also had a coalition of a number of states that did participate in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.

But our difference, I think, are really behind us because it is so clear what the future holds for the alliance -- for the transatlantic alliance -- and what it is that we need to do. As I said, I have never experienced a greater unity about what the agenda requires of us than I just experienced in this lunch.

People talked about the fact that Afghanistan -- we must complete the obligation to Afghanistan so that we have not just a successful presidential election there, but successful parliamentary elections; and that we need to deal with the counternarcotics problem in Afghanistan; and that we need to have more Provincial Reconstruction Teams so that the administration of President Karzai can extend its scope outside of the capital more fully than it has been.

We had very good discussions about the support of Ukraine, about what we have to do in the Balkans and in Kosovo, in particular; and in the Middle East, complete agreement on what needs to be done in the next several months.

Now, on Iraq, where the differences really emerged, again, what happened last Sunday when the Iraqi people voted, despite the terror threats against them, it gave all of Europe and all of the transatlantic alliance new unity of purpose to support these people in what they're doing.

Someone mentioned the Shia list and how well it has done in the elections. We know that the elections, nonetheless, have to lead to the formation of an assembly and a government that will be representative of all Iraqis and that will be respectful of all Iraqis and their very different traditions and ethnic groupings and so forth.

And throughout Europe, I heard the desire of everyone to contribute to that process, not to get entwined in the political process -- that's an Iraqi matter -- but to support that process with capacity building and institution-building and assistance if the Iraqis desire it with constitutions and further elections and the building of ministries. I heard devotion to helping more on the reconstruction side and, most importantly, to helping with the training of the security forces inside of Iraq, outside of Iraq, in the NATO training mission.

So this isn't really a matter of style. This is a matter that we have an agenda before us. We're unified in what that agenda entails. That unity has been reinforced by the fact that it is so consistent with our values. It's so much the way that this alliance has been great in the past. It is so much the way that this alliance has had the moments that it enjoyed in 1989 and 1990 and 1991.

And we all recognize that the Middle East is a place that is badly in need of reform, badly in need of hope. The good thing is that there are many people in the Middle East who also recognize that, and what you've seen is a coming together of this alliance based on values of liberty and freedom and human dignity to reach out a hand to those in a region that has long been denied those elements to say that we are going to find a way to partnership to try and bring the kind of victory of liberty and freedom in the Middle East that we have seen throughout Europe.

Thank you very much.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.


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