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Condoleezza Rice Interview With AFP

Interview With Peter Mackler and Christophe de Roquefeuil of Agence France-Presse

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC May 25, 2005

(10:00 a.m. EDT)

MR. MACKLER: Madame Secretary, obviously, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in town and you'll be seeing him. The Israelis have been pretty loudly saying that they don't think he's been doing a good enough job in cracking down on the militants. What is your assessment and do you think -- the Palestinians are asking for more concessions from the Israelis to support President Abbas against the militants. Do you think it's time that the Israelis come through with that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is time for everybody to recognize that this is a moment of great opportunity and that everybody needs to do the maximum, make the maximum efforts. And the maximum effort needs to be made in fighting terrorism and dealing with the security situation. Maximum effort needs to be made to adhere to roadmap obligations. Maximum effort needs to be made by the Israelis to live up to their Sharm el-Sheikh commitments that they made and to give the Palestinians freedom of movement.

So what we are trying to get everyone to see is -- and I am going to spend less time talking with the Palestinians about what the Israelis need to do or the Israelis -- talking with the Israelis talking about what the Palestinians need to do, and talking with each party about what they need to do. And this is just a time of opportunity and it has to be seized.

We have before us over the next several months the historic opportunities provided by the Gaza withdrawal. We have to -- they have to make that successful. Jim Wolfensohn has been out there. He's now preparing a plan for economic reconstruction that I think the international community will be very keen to participate in. General Ward is out working on the Palestinian security forces. So there is a lot of activity. And when President Abbas comes here, I think he will find that the United States is very supportive of what he is trying to do, very supportive of the fact that he's trying to do this in difficult circumstances. But this is a time for everybody to make their maximum effort.

MR. MACKLER: Up until now, do you think that President Abbas has been doing as firm and aggressive an action against the violence that -- need to be?

SECRETARY RICE: He has done some very good things. I think there is no doubt that this is a different Palestinian leadership than we have had in the past. He is a committed person. I think the state of the security forces is still an issue. They still need to be reformed further although he has made a lot of good structural changes. But look, more can always be done and I do think that we will want to talk about what more can be done. But let's not underestimate the fact that he's done a good deal.

MR. MACKLER: Are you a bit disappointed by the fact he does not seem to be bent on dismantling these groups, but trying to sort of work with them and rein them in?

SECRETARY RICE: I think he understands that the Palestinians have a roadmap obligation to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and the terrorist organizations. There is a political context for this, of course, and -- but at some point in time, the Palestinians and -- the Palestinian people, not just the Israelis -- the Palestinians are going to have to be able to count on the fact that there's one government and one authority and, as he often says, one gun, not multiple organizations that are armed.

So we need to step back and realize that this is a process that we were involved in and not everything can happen overnight. But the commitment of this leadership to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very good start.

MR. MACKLER: Okay, just one last question on this particular one. It's been widely reported that what he's actually coming here for, one of the things he wants most, is a letter, sort of like Prime Minister Sharon got last year, a letter committing the United States to a contiguous Palestinian state against expansion of settlements. Do you think he will come away with that?

SECRETARY RICE: The Palestinians have the President's words and they have them publicly that the President is committed to a two state solution, of a Palestinian state that would be viable, that would have contiguous territory. He's said that this can't be a state of scattered territories that would not be viable. He has said that Israel needs to end its settlement expansion because that is not in accordance with Israel's obligations. And he's said that Israel must do nothing that prejudges a final status agreement because these territorial issues have to be mutually agreed by the parties at time of final status.

So those words are on the record with you and with the American people, so I think --

MR. MACKLER: So it sounds like he's not going to get a letter.

SECRETARY RICE: There hasn't been a discussion of a letter that I'm aware of. The words are there. He's got the commitment.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: On Iran, as you know, there is a very important meeting today in Geneva between the Europeans and Iranian negotiators. The Iranians, apparently, are floating the idea of a kind of compromise with Russia involving some of their conversion activities being done in Russia. Do you think that such a compromise would be acceptable and what kind of message would you send to the Europeans on that?

SECRETARY RICE: Our view is that the Paris agreement is -- has to be observed and observed fully by the Iranians; that they must maintain the suspension of enrichment and reprocessing activities; that they cannot begin conversion, to reopen the conversion facility; that they have obligations under the Paris agreement. We believe the Europeans are living up to their obligations and the Iranians ought to live up to theirs.

This agreement has to end up, wherever these negotiations and issues end up, in somehow a cessation of these activities, one that is a permanent cessation. And it also has to end up not leaving the Iranians with the sensitive technologies and activities associated with a nuclear fuel cycle. So with that in mind, you know, I'm not going to comment on proposals that are flying around. You know, I don't want to get into speculation. But that's where this has to come out. That's our understanding with the Europeans. That's the Europeans' understanding with the Iranians.

And let me just say that we are in very close consultation and discussion with our European colleagues at several levels and I think that it would be a very good thing if the Iranians, at this point, take the -- continue the negotiations on the deal that's before them.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: Are you still calling for a full dismantlement of the Iranian sensitive activities, or just a cessation?

SECRETARY RICE: Iran must not be allowed to perfect the technologies that are associated with the fuel cycle. That's really what this is about. And so, you know, our understanding is that the word is used, "objective guarantees," that those activities are not being pursued. And so that's how we see it as well.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: Just a follow-up on that. The Iranians are going to resubmit shortly their application to the WTO. Are you still agreeing with this application to go?

SECRETARY RICE: What we have said is that as a part of the support for the negotiations, the support for the European negotiations, we are prepared to lift our objection to an Iranian application for accession to the WTO. We will see where we are in the negotiations when that decision has to be made.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: So there is conditionality?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, because this is to support the negotiations, so we are going to see how the negotiations are going and we will see whether the time is right. But we have made a clear statement that we support these negotiations and that the -- we will not object because we want to be supportive of the negotiations. So, obviously, it's a matter of what's going on in the negotiations.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: So there is an implicit condition?

SECRETARY RICE: It's always been in support of the negotiations.


MR. MACKLER: On the --

SECRETARY RICE: Just a sec. You say condition. We have always stated it exactly this way, that our lifting of -- we are prepared to lift our objection to Iran's -- as a part of this negotiation, so that's the link. It's not new conditionalities.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: So you are waiting to see how the negotiations are going? All right.

On Syria, apparently, you still have some disagreements with Syria, despite the fact that Damascus has withdrawn its troops from Lebanon. What's your position or do you have any intention regarding potential or possible new sanctions against Syria? That's still possible under the Syria Accountability Act.

SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, we always have that option, but --

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: Is it something on the table?

SECRETARY RICE: It's an option. The Syrian Accountability Act gave us this option and so it is always there if we feel that it is necessary. But, yes, the Syrians have indeed pulled their military forces out of Lebanon. That is a very good thing. They have also pulled some of their security personnel out, their intelligence personnel. But we would encourage them to take all of their intelligence personnel out, not just the transparent forces but those that are not so transparent.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: Do you have evidence that they are still intelligence -- Syrian intelligence personnel?

SECRETARY RICE: I think that there's a -- there is a question that is raised about whether the Syrians are continuing to try to influence Lebanese politics in ways that are not appropriate for a neighbor.

Now, our problems with the Syrians go back a long way and most recently the problem has centered on the use of Syrian territory by insurgents, Iraqi insurgents who are -- and foreign terrorists, by the way -- principally, as a matter of fact -- I won't say principally but a lot of foreign terrorists, not just Iraqis -- who are using that border and Syrian territory to come into Iraq and kill innocent Iraqis and to endanger coalition forces.

And so it should be unsurprising to people that we are very concerned about this and have made it clear to the Syrian Government that this is a problem and that they need to get control of that border, they need to stop people from using their territory in this way, because the Syrians have gotten themselves into a situation in which they are funding and supporting Palestinian rejectionists.

So they're standing in the way of people like Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership that wants a peaceful resolution, not to mention the Palestinian people. They have a -- they are finally getting out of Lebanon, having stymied the wishes of the Lebanese people for decades. And now, they are contributing to the support of people who are killing innocent Iraqis who are trying to find a better life in a democratic process.

So the Syrians are out of step in the region and they need to get back in step and become a positive force, not a negative force.

MR. MACKLER: To this end, do you see -- if they continue their activities, do you see the request to tougher action there? I mean, what do we -- where do we go from here?

SECRETARY RICE: We go through -- there's always options, but, you know, I don't believe in trying hypothetically to determine what you're going to do when. I just think it's quite obvious that Syria is not doing what Syria needs to do.

MR. MACKLER: Another part of 1559 regards the holding of the elections in Lebanon. Now that the Syrians are out, at least in large part, and the process is underway -- I think the first set of polls is going to happen on Sunday -- how do you see the process unfolding now? Is the process unfolding in a satisfactory way to you? Do you think the Lebanese people are having a free and open expression of their --

SECRETARY RICE: It's hard and I'm sure that like all elections that are in transitional circumstances that it will not be perfect, but it is a very important and good step forward for the Lebanese people that they are going to hold these elections, that at least there will not be the overt presence of Syrian military forces there. There has been a lot of political conversation among the Lebanese as they move forward and they are going to have a lot of work to do to overcome what have been a lot of historical differences among various parts of the Lebanese population. But I think there is a lot of goodwill and, again, I'm sure that there will be difficulties and problems but it's a really very, very good step forward that they're moving down this road.

MR. MACKLER: Up until now, do you see any remnants, any (inaudible), of the Syrian influence in the process or do you think it is unfolding as free expression?

SECRETARY RICE: I think the Lebanese people are taking advantage of the opportunity before them and that they are trying as much as they can to make this a Lebanese process. Now, it is just really important to keep saying to Syria that they need to let this be a Lebanese process and that everybody is watching to make -- watching their activities and their behavior to make this a Lebanese process.

MR. MACKLER: Right, okay. One of the groups, obviously, that's involved in this process is Hezbollah, which along with Hamas is on the list of terrorist groups of the United States, both of which are assuming a higher political profile now in Lebanon, in the territories there. Do you see a point at which the United States will be willing to do business with these groups, to accept them as a political power?

SECRETARY RICE: Our views of Hamas and Hezbollah have not changed in terms of their terrorist activities. I don't think there's any doubt but that they continue to -- that they've been involved in terrorist activities in the past and quite recently, in fact, involved in terrorist activities.

In all these circumstances, when the political context changes, I think you have to wait and see what will happen to the balance of forces in this region and how various people will react, how individuals will react. But the fact is that no democratic state can survive if it tolerates armed groups outside of the apparatus of the state. The state has to have a monopoly on violence. That's the way that modern, stable, democratic states operate. And so this will be an issue because you can't have armed groups within a democratic state. But we're in the beginning of a process here and so I don't think we want to get ahead of ourselves. Let's take things one step at a time.

MR. MACKLER: But, so what I'm hearing is that if, down the road, these two groups are willing to renounce violence --

SECRETARY RICE: Peter, I said -- I said I'm not going to get ahead of ourselves. We're going to take this one step at a time. When conditions -- political conditions change, all kinds of things can happen. But what you cannot have is armed groups that are outside the monopoly of violence that the state has to have.

MR. MACKLER: In Egypt, we're also having a referendum on the political reforms today. We've had reports on our wire and AFP reporters have seen people, who are opposing this process, are actually being beaten by police and stuff like that. It's anecdotal. I can't say how widespread it is. There have there been complaints that the reforms that are adopted are a step forward, as you've said, but are still not really geared to have a significant challenge to President Mubarak. Do you think -- how do you react to these opposition complaints?

SECRETARY RICE: I've not seen the reports that you're talking about today. We have said to the Egyptians that this process needs to be as open and as forward leaning as possible because political reform is a necessity for Egypt. Now, they are taking steps forward. Not everything moves at the same speed and there are going to be different speeds in the Middle East. But again, if you just step back and ask yourself whether a year ago or two years ago, you would have seen these developments in the Middle East, if you could have predicted that you would have seen these developments in the Middle East, I would think you probably wouldn't have.

So the whole character of the conversation has changed about what needs to be done in the Middle East, about what's possible in the Middle East, about what the expectations are in the Middle East. And having done that, I think we want to continue to encourage governments to be supportive and proactive about reform. Not every step is going to be an ideal one, but if we can keep the forward momentum going, I think you're going to see a lot of changes in many of these places, including in Egypt.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: There's another referendum coming up in France over the weekend, on the EU -- constitution for the EU. Do you think that the result of this referendum, whether it's a yes or a no, could have an influence on the relations with the U.S.?

SECRETARY RICE: I assume that, you know, our relations with France will continue as they are and I have to say they're really good at this point. We're working together well on a lot of issues, including the work that we're doing most centrally on Syria and Lebanon and 1559.

We've been very clear that we are supportive of the European project and that it is -- that a united Europe is one of the two pillars of a strong and united transatlantic relationship with Europe, the other pillar being NATO. And I don't think there's any doubt that the European Union has provided, kind of, incentives for democratizing states to go ahead with difficult choices and difficult reforms and the accession of countries like Poland and the Czech Republic and then, you know, followed by others and then hopefully to be followed by others. There are accession talks going on with Romania and Bulgaria. There will be, at some point, with Turkey. I think that it's been a positive force and I -- you know, that's the position of the United States and I don't see why this would have any effect on how we interact with France.

MR. DE ROQUEFEUIL: When you say that you are supporting the European project, you mean the European project in general, not this specific constitution?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. We're not members of the European Union. We're also not -- we're not a member state of the European Union and our population isn't being asked to vote. But I'm just saying that the whole European Union construction, the efforts to make it a stronger, more effective union are things that we support.

MR. MACKLER: If France votes no, do you see it as a setback for U.S.-European Union ties if the European Union comes out weaker than this? Do you --

SECRETARY RICE: I don't know. From our point of view -- you know, we'll have to see. I'm not going to try to second-guess what's going to happen in this referendum, but the -- I'm having members of the troika here for an EU-U.S. Ministerial in -- June 2nd?


SECRETARY RICE: June 2nd. So --

MR. MACKLER: Next week.

SECRETARY RICE: So we expect to continue with strong relations with Europe.

MR. BOUCHER: Last one.

MR. MACKLER: Could we do two more? Just two more, please?


MR. MACKLER: Kosovo. Do you support the independence for Kosovo?

SECRETARY RICE: We are in a process with our European allies of, first of all, reviewing where we are on Kosovo over the next several months and we've set up a very good structure for reviewing where we are, for looking at how we move forward, for dealing with the standards that we need to have developed there, like minority rights and so forth, and then to look at the question of status. And so, again, I don't think this is something that we can prejudge, but we are -- we're going to have to move this process along and I think everybody understands that --

MR. MACKLER: Do you see any viable alternatives to independence?

SECRETARY RICE: We said we would deal with standards and then we would deal with status. That's where we are. We're going to have these discussions with our European friends. I think we -- it's critical that the Balkans be stable and that we finish what we started in the Balkans. And if there's some good developments in places like Serbia and there are still -- there's still a lot of work to do, for instance, with the capture of the war criminals and the like, so there's a lot of work to do in the Balkans. That's why we are launching this major review and we'll have these discussions with our allies.

MR. MACKLER: Last question on Iraq. We were just in Iraq, obviously.


MR. MACKLER: And Deputy Secretary Zoellick was in Iraq. Neither one of you saw the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister did. Now, you've talked a lot about the possibility of Iranian influence in this whole process there. Do you see the way it's unfolding as becoming in a way with Iranian influence growing in that country in a worrisome way?

SECRETARY RICE: I have no evidence, nor do I believe the Iraqi people have any intention, of trading the yoke of Saddam Hussein for the yoke of the Iranian mullahs. Iraq is moving to democracy. Iraq is not just Shia -- who are, by the way, Iraqi Shia, not Iranian Shia -- they're not just Shia, but they're also Sunnis and Turkomen and Chaldean Christians and Kurds. And Iraq's multi-ethnic society is coming to terms with what it's going to be. And I would -- and you know, they have a constitution that they're about to write. We've made clear that we believe there needs to be greater inclusion of the Sunnis in that. They did very well on inclusion of the Sunnis in the government. And, of course, we've been watching now the Sunnis starting to organize politically. So there's a very vibrant political life in Iraq.

Contrast that with Iran, where reformist candidates are apparently being eliminated by fiat of the Guardian Council, I guess a couple to be reinstated by fiat of Khameni. Contrast what's going on in Iran as they get ready for "presidential elections," with people manipulating who's going to run, and what's going on in Iraq, where they're having a vibrant political life, and ask yourself who might influence whom in these circumstances. You know, I don't see the Iraqi people wanting -- preferring to have somebody choosing their candidates for them in that way. 2005/551

Released on May 25, 2005


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