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Rice To National Conference of Editorial Writers

Remarks to the National Conference of Editorial Writers

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
April 5, 2005

(2:15 p.m. EDT)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, thank you very much. It's a pleasure to join you for a little bit. And I know that you have lots of questions and so I will not do what academics do, which is to go on for 50 minutes uninterrupted so that you never got a chance to ask what it is you wanted to ask.

Let me just say that it's been an eventful couple of months since I've been here, an eventful couple of months since the President's reelection and inauguration. I think it's a time of enormous change, obviously, in the international system. It's a time when we seem to be seeing a period of time in which people are starting to speak out for their aspirations for democracy and freedom and liberty. They're doing it in many different corners of the world, places as varied as Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and, on the other hand, Lebanon, and rumblings in other parts of the world as well. And so this is a hopeful time.

I'm very often asked if this is somehow in direct response to what the President had said in his inaugural address and, in fact, had said a number of times before, which was the United States was going to stand for those who were willing to stand for their freedom. And I would just like to submit that what the President of the United States is sometimes able to do is to help people to see a different set of possibilities; that is, to expand the realm of what is possible. That, I think, is what has happened is that people have begun to see possibilities which they did not see before.

And once that process has begun, it is an unpredictable process, but if we have confidence and faith in the values of freedom and liberty, if we have confidence and faith in democratic institutions and the moderating influence that democratic institutions can have on old divisions and old differences, then I think that we see that there is quite possibly a very vibrant future out there in which democracy will be on the march for some time.

I don't mean to underestimate the difficulty that lies ahead for the many people who are trying to express themselves in this way. I just spent the last couple of hours, actually, more than that, with President Yushchenko, who was here with President Bush, the President of the Ukraine. And it is a marvelous story -- what has happened in Ukraine and there is still a sense of anticipation and enthusiasm in that Ukrainian delegation, I think representing how the people of Ukraine feel. But they also recognize that they have a difficult road ahead to meet the expectations of people who now have very high expectations of governments that will be accountable to them. That is only right. That's the way that it should be.

But the role now of the United States and of the international community is to support these young democratic movements, to help them with technical assistance where they need it, to help them with plans for their future, but to stand by them and to recognize that while the road ahead is difficult, the road behind them was also not one that was sustainable or one which at all cared about the demands of human dignity.

So whatever path we're on, it is a path that is better than the one that we are leaving. And so I'll stop at that.

MODERATOR: Great. And if you all will just remember to let us know your name and your outlet.

John.

QUESTION: Yes. John Bersia, Orlando Sentinel. We were listening to Elizabeth Cheney earlier today talking about the historic pace of change in the Middle East, and there are some who have said things are moving so rapidly we probably could use a special envoy or even a super envoy to the Middle East. Has any consideration recently been given to that? I know Donald Trump presented himself as a candidate -- (laughter) -- on Larry King Live a few months ago, but he's kept talking about it, which suggests to me that he's serious. Have you talked to him or is he somebody you might talk to?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I've not talked to him. (Laughter.) He's a very interesting man. He's done a lot.

Let me just speak to the issue of the special envoy. There may well come a time when the best form is -- or the best solution is to have a special envoy. We have nothing against special envoys in principle. It is just that one has to choose what a special -- choose the right moment when a special envoy would have something important and useful to do.

We don't want to be guided by form over substance and I would note that the substance is -- the substantive program before us is actually pretty clear over the next several months. If you look at what has happened in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since, really, the beginnings of Ariel Sharon's decision and now having made its way through the Israeli Government that there should be a disengagement of Israel, Israeli forces, Israeli settlements, from the Gaza and from the four settlements in the West Bank, if you take that and then you look at what has happened in the Palestinian territories since the death of Yasser Arafat, it actually puts forward a pretty clear path of what they need to achieve over the next four or five months.

They need to achieve on the Palestinian side the reform of security forces, the development of institutions of democracy, the development of transparent, accountable, noncorrupt financial and political institutions that can form the basic institutions that would then be the basis for statehood. On the Israeli side, they need to have the successful disengagement of Israeli forces and settlements from the Gaza and those four settlements in the West Bank.

If we can achieve that over the next several months, then I believe you will see that we will have accelerated progress on the roadmap and then the next phases should be not only somewhat easier but -- not only somewhat clearer but somewhat easier because the two sides will have established relationships of confidence. The Palestinians will have established security forces that can actually be part of the solution, not part of the problem, in the Gaza, and hopefully also in the West Bank.

The tendency will be on both sides, particularly on the Palestinian side, to try to get ahead of this and to try to start to talk again about final status. We will get to final status, I am quite confident, and the roadmap is a reliable guide to a two-state solution. The roadmap is a reliable guide to a political horizon for the Palestinian people that ends up in an independent Palestinian state. But it is really important that this four or five months is successful, and so what we need to do is to concentrate the parties on that. I think for that we need -- probably need coordinators. We have a security coordinator. We will look at what other additional personnel we may need. But we're not yet at the point of negotiating final status issues, and if we jump to that before we have successfully concluded this next four or five months' work, I think we're actually going to end up failing.

QUESTION: Lynnell Burkett, San Antonio Express-News. There is concern among the Palestinians about expansion of the settlements near Jerusalem. And do you plan to pressure the Israeli Government not to expand settlements at this particular time?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, our policy is very clear: The expansion of settlements ought to stop; settlement activity ought to stop. We've also been very clear that we are particularly concerned about any kind of activity that would prejudge the outcome of a final status agreement and that it is contrary to American policy for Israel to do so.

Now, we will have discussions with the Israelis over the next several weeks about this. I think we've been very clear. We do need to put it all in context. There is a new reality created by the disengagement plan and that is that that new reality is that this will be the first time that land has actually gone back to the Palestinians in any sizeable -- really at all since the '67 war. And so this is really quite a dramatic return and that's why I concentrate so heavily on doing what we need to do over this next several months.

But absolutely we are saying to the Israeli Government with absolute certainty that the settlement activity ought to stop. They say that this is the beginning, this is planning, this is tendering, but we are very concerned that there not be any land taken here that could be viewed to be some kind of attempt to get ahead of a final status agreement.

QUESTION: But you did say last week that the Israelis could not be expected to pull out from all the West Bank settlements; is that correct?

SECRETARY RICE: No. What I said was that the President said on April 14th in his assurances to Prime Minister Sharon that there is a certain reality that has been created since the armistice and then since the '67 line was created that most peace agreements, most peace proposals, have recognized that there are certain realities on the ground and among those realities are major Israeli population centers. But the President has also said that anything of that sort has to be negotiated at the time of final status. But people are going to have to take -- at the time of final status are going to have to take account of the fact that there are these new realities on the ground.

QUESTION: You mentioned the Ukraine and about a month ago there was an African American diplomat who was beaten by skinheads in the Ukraine.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: And I wonder whether his case or cases like that have been discussed, I mean, at the meeting today or any other --

SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. Well, they were discussed before this meeting because as soon as it happened we were in touch with the Ukrainian Government. I've talked to my own counterpart about it.

Look, it's a very ugly incident. It is not an unknown fact about Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, that this kind of behavior by skinheads, particularly against people of color, has been a problem in the past. This is an area of the world I know really well both as a specialist and as a person of color, and so I'm very aware of these problems.

And the Ukrainian Government was deeply embarrassed by it, promised and I think is conducting a full investigation. They don't want this sort of stain on their new democracy either. They're dealing with really bad elements that have grown up in that part of the world over a long period of time. But they are not just aware of it; I think they really are trying to do something about it.

QUESTION: Rick Holmes, Metro S Daily News. Can you comment on the passing of the Pope and what that means in terms of American foreign policy or any other personal reflections you've had?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me start with the foreign policy and then close with personal reflection.

There is no doubt that this was a gigantic figure, Pope John Paul II was a gigantic figure in human history. He was because he was a man of great moral certainty, a man of great moral authority, someone who spoke out about issues that had long been -- on which the Church had long been silent, like anti-Semitism, like the relationship between Christianity and Islam. He is someone who I think was a central figure in the emancipation of Eastern Europe because of his dedication to people who were behind the Iron Curtain. He worked closely with the United States and others to help to effect the liberation of his homeland and in doing so brought the kind of authority to that set of circumstances that nobody else could have.

He was also someone who cared deeply about the poor and the suffering and someone who understood that as the head of his Church, but also as a world figure, it was important to make entreaties and to work with the peoples of Africa and Latin America and Asia. So he was always a very global figure, not someone just confined to Europe.

He was just an extraordinary, extraordinary figure and he's going to be greatly missed because that kind of moral authority, coupled with a willingness to act and to travel and to go to places that people had not been, is just -- was an extraordinary breakthrough, I think, for the Papacy and for this great world figure.

On a personal note, he obviously - as a specialist on that part of the world, I remember when we all realized that the first Polish Pope had been elected and there was speculation at the time, you know, what would this mean to Communism, what would this mean to the fact that the Church had been so strong in Poland and had been such a bulwark against Communism and would this Polish priest who had now ascended to the highest authority of the Catholic Church take this as his charge. And there were those who believed that he would. There were those who weren't so sure. And he did.

I remember being in my Czech language class the morning that he was elected. And my teacher was a Czech refugee and he came in and he was practically -- he was, actually, in tears and saying that this man, this Polish priest, archbishop, but for him he was a Polish priest, had been elected to the Papacy and that he believed this was going to mean something important for Eastern Europe. And it turned out to be absolutely right.

The other thing is that I would just say that for people of faith I think he showed and modeled what it really meant to walk completely in the company of God at various stages of life, all the way to the end. So he is a figure of enormous historic significance and he'll be greatly missed.

QUESTION: Tom Donlan with Barron's Magazine. Would you share my ignorant assumption that India and Pakistan probably pose the greatest threat of the use of nuclear weapons in the world today? And what would the U.S. be able to do to reduce their eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation or at least to help them secure themselves against the possibility of something awful going off? And finally, how does the sale of jet fighters to either or both country advance the goal of peace there?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me take you back to what this was like in December of 2001 or June of 2002 and then let's look at how this relationship looks now. In June -- in December of 2001, there is no doubt that we all believed that the chance of conflict between India and Pakistan was actually quite high and everybody worried because, of course, these are nuclear-armed states. In June of 2002, there was another point at which the threat was very, very high.

But in the intervening years, in part because the two sides recognized the dangers that they posed: in part, because the war on terrorism has, interestingly, put Pakistan and India on the same side against extremism in a way that they had never been before; and, in part, because the United States has worked very hard to have good relations with India and with Pakistan, in other words, we have de-hyphenated the relationship -- we have a good relationship with India, we have a good relationship with Pakistan -- all of that, I think, has contributed to a significant improvement in relations between the two. I was just there, as you know, and what's remarkable is to walk into a room with Prime Minister Singh or with President Musharraf and have them quite separately say that they are committed to good relations, that they believe relations are going relatively well. It was time for cricket diplomacy when President Musharraf was going over to Pakistan -- or over to India to watch a cricket match.

They are working hard. Now, it doesn't mean that there won't be difficulties between them, but you do sense that they recognize the importance of rapprochement between the two sides and that they both have a lot of stake in that rapprochement, because India, which is looking to grow its influence into global influence and which, by the way, is a goal we support, and Pakistan, which is looking to a settled neighborhood so that it can deal with extremism inside its own borders of Pakistan -- Musharraf has said himself that you can't have a modern Pakistan and an extreme Pakistan. They can't live in the same body. And so there are a lot of incentives for them to have better relations and they seem, to me, to be committed to trying to do that.

Now, in that context, one has to understand that we have a vision for a South Asia that -- in which we do have good relations and excellent defense cooperation with India, with Pakistan, with Afghanistan. And in that context, the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, by the way, which has been on the agenda for a long time, but also, the decision to participate in the request for information from India for high-performance aircraft means that we believe these two relationships can develop on independent tracks; that we are not somehow destabilizing the balance of power by having good defense relationships with each of them; that, in fact, we are creating a new set of circumstances in which the balance will be more stable by an American defense relationship with both of them.

And we learned a bad -- a tough lesson after the collapse of Soviet power in Afghanistan, which was that we did not pay attention to our relationship with Pakistan and we've paid for it ever since. It became a very, very dicey, extremist situation and I think it's made a lot of progress the other direction. So if you look at this as a strategy for South Asia rather than a Pakistan or an India or an Afghanistan strategy, I think you see why defense cooperation with both is important.

QUESTION: I'm Bob Davis from the Anniston Star.

SECRETARY RICE: From Alabama, that would be, let me just note.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: I thought everybody knew that. Our first speaker, Mr. -- and I'm going to mispronounce his name -- Ereli -- he mentioned a concern about an image problem, although not unduly concerned, but there is a concern. That's how he put it. We didn't have a chance to really flesh that out, so I'd like to turn it on you and ask, does a perception of the United States being a torturer among the prisoners or detainees that it's holding, is that the primary cause of this image problem? And if it is, is that what you're confronting? And if it is what you're confronting, how are you confronting it?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. I think the question of America's image in the world, of which the Muslim world is a subset, but image in the world, is a fairly complicated phenomenon. Let me be the first to say that something like Abu Ghraib doesn't help and, in fact, it was, as the President put it, a stain on us and on the United States.

But I hope that in the way that it was dealt with, people could see why democracies are different than the kinds of dictatorships that have recently been overthrown. We have had people who have been punished for Abu Ghraib. Their rights were acknowledged. I mean, they had due process, but we've had people who have been punished for Abu Ghraib and people will continue -- there will continue to be investigations of Abu Ghraib. It was all over our newspapers. The Secretary of Defense was before the Congress testifying.

I mean, we have checks against certain -- that kind of behavior in democracies that do not exist in dictatorships. And it was extremely important, in light of that incident, to make sure that people understood that we operate as a transparent democracy that punishes -- I was on television in Germany not long after it happened and I said, "Look, democracy does not mean that bad things won't happen. Bad things happen in democracies, too. People do bad things. But the difference is democracies are transparent about it and people are punished when they do."

Now, as to the broader question, I think there's several things going on. One is that the United States has had to do some difficult things and make some difficult decisions, not all of which were popular. And if you're too worried about how you will be viewed, then you won't make difficult decisions. For instance, it was simply time to take down Saddam Hussein's regime. It was time. This had been 12 long years of a torturer, somebody who -- whatever -- despite the fact that he did not have stockpiles, apparently, of weapons of mass destruction, where you were never going to break the link between Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, you were simply never going to break the link, where he had destabilized his neighbors, where he had invaded his neighbors, where he had used weapons of mass destruction, where he was shooting at American and British aircraft trying to patrol the no-fly zone, where you could not conceive of a Middle East, a different kind of Middle East, with Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the middle of it. So it was time to do -- to get rid of this regime.

Not a popular decision, but a decision that now, I think, people are beginning to see has unlocked the possibility of a different kind of Middle East, most especially as they saw Iraqis voting on January 30th and as people in Egypt and Lebanon and other places saw Iraqis voting on January 30th.

So tough decisions. The decision that Yasser Arafat was a problem and we weren't going to deal with him anymore. Well, now you see how much of a problem he actually was. So yes, we had to say some things and do some things that were not popular.

I also think, though, that we had a bigger problem, which was that for 60 years or so, the United States has been associated with a policy of exceptionalism vis-à-vis the Middle East where it came to issues of democracy. We talked about democracy every place else in the world -- Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe -- but not in the Middle East, because there we talked about stability. And what we learned was we were not getting stability and we were not getting democracy; we were getting a malignancy that caused people to fly airplanes into buildings on September 11th. And so the President finally spoke out about that and I think that has started to change people's views in the Middle East of what the United States stands for.

The final point that I would make is that we could do a much better job of getting our message out. It's not well understood that the last several times that the United States has used force, it has been on behalf of Muslims, whether it was Muslims who were being -- in the Balkans who were being oppressed and killed by Serb and Croat forces, whether it was in Kuwait where Saddam Hussein had annexed a Muslim state, whether it was in Afghanistan where Muslims were being oppressed by the Taliban, or in Iraq where people were suffering in rape rooms and torture chambers. This is the kind of message that needs to get out.

But we need not only to have better messaging out, we need to also make this a conversation, not a monologue, which means that we need to better understand other cultures, other languages. Now, I'm a Russianist, Soviet specialist. I was trained during a period of time when those of us who were good in school were told, "Well, Russian is an important thing for the United States of America. It's a critical language for the United States of America."

We have far too few people who speak Arabic and Dari and Farsi and all of those languages. We need, as a country, to recognize that we're in a generational struggle in this war of ideas and we have to prepare ourselves for it by being able to understand cultures and listen to them and speak to them in their own tongue.

So yes, we have a big job to do, but it's a more complicated issue than just the latest polls on who likes America and who doesn't.

MODERATOR: Someone from our side of the table from Fort Worth?

QUESTION: Sarah Pederson with the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth. Several thousand of my readers are very interested when they hear talk about co-production of F-16s or of fighter jets with India. Could you expand on that a little bit?

SECRETARY RICE: No. At this point, all we're talking about is tendering -- the Indians have asked for information about our high-performance aircraft. What kinds of arrangements would be worked out for what kinds of production, we're not there yet. So I would just say to your readers all that's been asked for, so far, is a request for information on can we supply, are we willing to bid. It's really even, are we willing to bid on high-performance aircraft to India.

QUESTION: Herb Field, Patriot News, Harrisburg. I wonder if you could speak a little bit about Iran and in the context of -- well, if Pakistan has a nuclear program and India has a nuclear program and they're not supposed to have nuclear programs, why can't Iran, which is a proud nation -- why can't they have a nuclear program?

And also, would you respond to the pressure that the United States and the European states are putting on Iran to deal with this nuclear issue and the threat of an oil crisis that an Iranian official made about a month ago that, if the United States takes this to the Security Council, there will be an oil crisis?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, and I'd like to know what they're going to do with their oil. Eat it? I mean, you know, we shouldn't be put off by these sorts of threats. The price of oil is very high. I'm quite sure that the Iranians are in need of being able to sell their oil and, after all, oil is a commodity and --

QUESTION: So you don't take it seriously?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I just think we will not be blackmailed by the Iranians on such -- on anything of the sort. The Iranian nuclear program is a very serious matter. We would have preferred that the NPT had constrained other states as well, but because you weren't able to constrain states in the past doesn't mean that you have to stop trying to constrain states in the future, particularly one like Iran that has (a) a very long history and rap sheet when it comes to terrorism. This is, after all, probably the most important supplier -- important supporter of terrorist rejectionist organizations, for instance, in the Middle East.

We were just talking about the possibilities for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Well, the Palestinian rejectionists, those who are trying quite literally to blow up the prospects for peace, are getting an awful lot of their support from Iran. You can't have it both ways. They can not be -- the rest of the world and we can not favor a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and turn a blind eye to what the Iranians are doing in their support for terrorism.

Secondly, this is a regime that is out of step in terms of its internal dynamics with the way that the rest of the region is going. Everybody else in the region is trying something on the reform side, as minimal as some of the reforms may be, whereas Iran is going the other direction with a population that is sophisticated, that has several times demonstrated its desire for a democratic development, and at every turn, the mullahs become more restrictive of the aspirations of the Iranian people. And so that can't be -- we can't look aside at that.

Now, the Iranians have -- are trying to say that they have the "right" to civilian nuclear technology in support of their nuclear industry. Let's leave aside the question of why Iran, sitting on all of that oil with which they sometimes want to threaten, would need civilian nuclear technology. Let's leave that question aside and let's note that there is a presumption of access to civilian nuclear technology for states that are in compliance with their Nonproliferation Treaty obligations. But what is at question is whether Iran is, indeed, in compliance with its international obligations in this regard.

And we believe that there is sufficient evidence that they are not and others are sufficiently worried about it that the IAEA is continually investigating and asking Iranians for more cooperation. That the European-3 have entered into negotiations with the Iranians to try and deal with the technological issues associated with the ability of the Iranians to enrich and reprocess; that the Russians, when they sign their Bushehr civilian nuclear power deal, insisted on a fuel take-back provision, fuel provision and fuel take-back so that the Iranians could not reprocess.

Now, that suggests to me that there are a number of people who are really worried about what the Iranians are doing. And so they have an opportunity to convince the international community that they don't intend under cover of civilian nuclear power to try and build a nuclear weapon. They've not yet done that. And until they do, they're going to continue to be under pressure from everybody to do so because a nuclear-armed Iran would be a seriously destabilizing factor in the international system and particularly in that region.

QUESTION: Kay, did you --

QUESTION: Yes, I did. My question -- Kay Semion from the News-Journal in Daytona Beach. My question has to do with Iran, too. There have been reports in the international press that United States and Israel are planning a military action against Iran.

SECRETARY RICE: Just not true.

QUESTION: Period?

SECRETARY RICE: Period.

QUESTION: What's Plan B then if the negotiations --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that's a different question. (Laughter.) The President has said that he believes very strongly that we can resolve this diplomatically. I think we made a good step forward when we and the Europeans came to a common position on how to deal with Iran when we removed our objection to WTO application for Iran and to some spare parts so that we could give the strongest possible hand to the Europeans in the negotiations that they are conducting. You don't want the American President to ever take his options off the table and he won't. But the fact is that we believe this is something that can be resolved diplomatically.

MODERATOR: I'm afraid this will have to be the last question.

QUESTION: Alfred Doblin, Herald News, New Jersey. In our first session when we were talking a bit about spin, the other area that came up was the Sudan. And while the United States has labeled it "genocide" and made it very clear what's happening there, there is a perception that it's not taking enough of a proactive stand in making it stop. I mean, it is going through the process at the United Nations of trying to bring resolutions and bringing an end to the -- you know, to the genocide that's happening.

Do you foresee a point where the U.S. will say, in the case of Darfur, United Nations is taking too long, we need to do something on our own?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it would be very difficult for the United States to resolve Darfur on its own. Very difficult. It's hard to imagine precisely how one would do that. You need the African Union to help resolve Darfur in a political sense, the sort of large political framework. You need other countries that have economic and other relationships with Sudan to put pressure on the government in Khartoum.

We've achieved over the last ten days or so a peacekeeping operation for the North-South agreement which, if we can stabilize that agreement, we believe gives us some leverage to resolve Darfur.

We have achieved a sanctions resolution which we -- which, frankly, I thought was going to be the hardest thing to do because there was a lot of resistance to it in certain corners of the Security Council, but we did get that through. And now we have an accountability resolution. And the United States was prepared, if we could protect our people and if it was very clear that the United States had no obligations under a treaty that we did not sign, through a Security Council resolution to permit -- to abstain so that this could go to the ICC, if it comes to that.

I think that all of that has given us new pieces of an arsenal. Now, we've also been extremely active on the humanitarian side, trying to get routes. We were the ones who got the route open with Libya. Trying to maintain access. Trying to get a new set of AU monitors in because where there are AU monitors there actually is less violence. Right now, there are, I think, about 2,600-2,700 there. The AU has said they could probably go to five or six thousand. We'll try to get that number up very quickly. So there are a lot of parts of this that we're trying very hard to get it moving.

Pressure on the Khartoum Government is probably still the most important element of this because while, yes, some of these militias are somewhat out of control, the Khartoum Government, we believe, has the capability of stopping this, at least in its larger -- in its larger dimensions, and we're going to continue to press Khartoum to do it. But, you know, sometimes you really do have to do things multilaterally. (Laughter.) And it's kind of interesting that, on the one hand, the United States is unilateralist; but when something isn't resolved quickly, then people would like us to be unilateralist. This is one that we really do need multilaterally.

We got time for this gentleman and one more person, real quick.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, thank you very much. I'm from South Asia. The United States has the largest and most advanced Arab-Muslim community in the world. And after the Cold War, most of the decisions relate to the Middle East. How come that you don't have anybody who really have feet on the ground in the Muslim Middle East? You have the neo-conservatives, who since 1992 have this agenda of attacking Iraq and preserving, I mean, Israel's nuclear monopoly, which you are talking about --

SECRETARY RICE: What did I say -- I'm sorry. One second. Israel -- what did I say about Israel's nuclear -- ?

QUESTION: No, you said -- no, your agenda that Iran should have -- you talk about --

SECRETARY RICE: Ah. Okay. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- Israel's nuclear weapons. Iraq was attacked because it could have nuclear weapons. So it is preserving Israel's nuclear monopoly. John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, , who took us to the war -- such an unpopular war -- you felt obliged to put him in the United Nations up there.

My question is: Does this Administration feel hostage to the neo-conservatives or the President just doesn't get it?

(Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know what the President gets? The President gets that actually, thanks to the decisions that he has made over the last three and a half years, 50 million people no longer live under dictators in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

The President gets that because he took a very tough line about what the responsibilities of the parties to the Middle East peace process had to do, the Israelis and the Palestinians actually have a chance for peace and Ariel Sharon, the father of the settlements, is getting ready to abandon settlements in the Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank.

The President understands and gets that because he has spoken out for freedom and because with the French we passed a little known resolution in last summer called Resolution 1559, the people of Lebanon are now out in the streets demanding that the Syrians end their occupation and that Syria give to the Lebanese people the opportunity for freedom.

The President gets that you have the first stirrings of change in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia that are added to considerable stirrings for change in Jordan and Bahrain and Oman and Qatar, and you can just keep naming them. Right?

This is the most progressive policy on the Middle East that the United States has had in 60 years. And you can continue to talk about neo-conservatives or non-neo-conservatives or realists or whatever you want to talk about, but you cannot deny that something is happening in the Middle East that wasn't happening even six months ago. And I'm sorry, it didn't just happen by chance.

One final question.

QUESTION: Yeah. Dan Simpson, Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I wanted to follow up on the question from Alabama.

(Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Piggy-back on Alabama, that's good.

QUESTION: No, no, this is good. Are you -- do you feel comfortable that the United States is in compliance with the UN -- the convention on prisoners of war? I mean, and I think of torture, I think of detention, incognito detention of prisoners, a certain amount of what some people would say is impunity, and so on. I mean, I think it's a very important place for the United States to be purer than the driven snow.

SECRETARY RICE: No, no, you're right. Look, I do -- the President made very clear that we were to be -- we were to be in compliance with our own laws and also with our international obligations and we believe that we are in compliance. Where there have been problems like Abu Ghraib where we clearly -- that clearly couldn't be considered to be in compliance with Geneva by anybody's stretch of the imagination --

QUESTION: Such as Guantanamo and --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, but Guantanamo -- let me just speak to Guantanamo. Guantanamo represents a different kind of set of circumstances coming out of a different kind of war. What you do not want to do is to stretch the Geneva Convention to cover people who should not have Geneva Convention rights. Even so, the President said that he wanted people treated consistent with, to the degree possible by dealing with military security, consistent with the Geneva Conventions --

QUESTION: And U.S. principles.

SECRETARY RICE: And U.S. principles. And U.S. principles. But the last thing that you want to do is to give al-Qaida Geneva protection. That will blow a hole in the Geneva Conventions.

So we are in compliance. When we have seen cases where we were not, we have acted on them. There probably does need to be an international discussion of what to do about the new kind of situation in which we find ourselves where, by no stretch of the imagination do terrorists, like al-Qaida fit under the Geneva Convention statute. So we -- the President and his team have been very, very attentive to this because, you're right, the United States has been the upholder of international law, the upholder of international norms, and we have to continue to be.

I'm afraid I have to go. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you for spending so much time with us. We appreciate it.

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, sure. No, it was great. Thank you very much for being here. Bye-bye.

###

2005/376

ENDS


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