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Condoleezza Rice Interview on CNN With John King

Interview on CNN With John King

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Brussels, Belgium
June 22, 2005

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you for joining us. You're here at this conference where the international community is coming together to talk about the challenges facing the new Iraq.

As you know, back in the States, the political climate has become much more testy in recent days and weeks, the Democrats beginning to be much more open and aggressive in questioning the administration and its strategy. A leading Democrat in the Senate, Joe Biden, just yesterday gave a big speech. He's just back from his fifth trip to Iraq, and he said the administration is being way overly optimistic. He said he does not share the Vice President's assessment that the insurgency is in its "last throes" and he says, unlike the President, he is not pleased with the progress, and that he sees the potential for disaster in Iraq. Do you?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have to say that, listening to the Iraqis here, who are taking their own future into their hands gives you a lot of confidence that Iraqis are courageous and brave and desire to be supported, and that we need to express confidence in them because they have demonstrated at every turn that they are up to the task, whether it was taking on sovereignty less than a year ago to those amazing elections at the end of January where 8.5 million Iraqis went out to vote, despite the terrorist threats, to the constitutional process that they are now involved in with their new government.

I thought the Iraqi Foreign Minister said something very interesting. He said, I am not here essentially to paint a rosy picture, but I am here to say that Iraq is going to succeed. And so you can be optimistic about the future and still be realistic about the challenges that they have.

They are engaged now in a political process that day-by-day more Iraqis are involved in, and where Iraqis see their future on the political side not with the people who are getting off suicide bombs against innocent Iraqis. So I do think it's entirely consistent to be optimistic about their future but to be realistic about the challenges that they have.

QUESTION: And so when the Democrats say that the administration is being overly optimistic, you would say?

SECRETARY RICE: I would say you can express optimism in these extraordinary people who are facing down terrorists every day. Difficulty comes with big, historic transformations like this.

I sometimes wonder if people had given up on the Europeans in 1942 or 1943 where we would be right now. There were some very dark days as Hitler expanded his power across Europe. If people had given up on Poland or Czechoslovakia when the Soviet Union invaded in 1968 in Czechoslovakia, where would we be today? If people had given up on countless other countries that came through extraordinary difficulty.

Yes, the Iraqis are going through a very difficult time because there are evil killers who have essentially no political program but just want to kill innocent Iraqis so that they create headlines to show that there is chaos. But if you listen to these Iraqis today -- and, by the way, if you look at this gathering of more than 80 nations, some 65 or 66 at the level of foreign minister, you can see that also the international community knows what's at stake, knows that the Iraqis can succeed and is mobilizing to support them.

QUESTION: Your predecessor, Secretary Powell, said at the beginning of the year that he thought it would be possible to bring some U.S. troops home by the end of 2005. The insurgency has spiked in recent weeks again. Is that a reasonable possibility or is that now off the table?

SECRETARY RICE: I think we don't want to set any timetables. But this political process is moving forward. And at the end of the year, you will have elections for a new government in Iraq, and that will create a new set of political circumstances when they have a permanent government.

Already, this temporary -- this interim government that is broadly based and now is working to write a constitution I think has the support of the Iraqi people. One of the things that the Iraqis are saying here is that they want more support from their neighbors. They announced that Egypt would be the first Arab nation to send an ambassador back to Iraq. That means they're being accepted into the Arab fold. They mentioned that they need more help from their neighbors like Syria to stop the insurgents from coming in and these terrorists from coming in across their territory.

So there is much that the international community can do, there is much that the Iraqis are doing. But the most important point is that they are taking responsibility for their own future. Their security forces are being trained, their political process is under way. And at the end of the year, they are going to turn a new page and I think we will see then what is needed of the coalition.

QUESTION: Let me move on to some of the other portions of the trip before you arrived here in Brussels. You gave a speech in Cairo that generated front-page headlines in the United States and around the world, essentially telling Egypt and other countries in the region to trust democracy, to trust the power of freedom and to open up their societies. You also though mentioned in that speech that there has been some violence against opponents of the Mubarak administration in Egypt.

What happens down the road if that climate does not change? Will -- you're trying to be optimistic and trying to encourage them to move along, but what if they don't? Did you make clear to them that there will be repercussions and sanctions in the relationship?

SECRETARY RICE: The Egyptians have now set an important standard for themselves. The foreign minister stood there and said, we're going to have free and fair and transparent elections. And Egypt has now said to the world, we want this reform process to move forward.

QUESTION: But if you'll excuse me, they said that earlier, and people have been beaten and intimidated.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. But I do believe that you have an Egyptian government that understands there is a spotlight now on Egypt.

Now, there are many hurdles ahead across the Middle East, across the Arab world, as they try to overcome years and years of authoritarianism, years and years of deeply entrenched conservative views, really I would say reactionary views about issues like the role of women. This is not going to be a process that is quick or a process that is -- goes in one direction. I'm sure there are going to be ups and downs. But the conversation is really different in the Middle East than it was even several months ago and certainly than it was a year ago.

I'll tell you, John, I met with civil society groups in Egypt, people who are in opposition to the government, some who are trying to reform the party, the president's party, from within. They even disagreed among themselves about how much progress had been made. But it says to me that people are now taking on the opportunity, the new possibilities for freedom and liberty. And that is a process that is going to continue. You can't go back once you've unleashed those kinds of forces.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the conversation is changing in the Middle East. While you were in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we spent some time wandering around the territories. And there was this profound mistrust of the United States. You have said and the President has said you want to work as aggressively as you can on the U.S. image in the region.

But the Palestinians would say that you come to them saying, have reforms, have elections, have transparency, end corruption. And you insist on it and demand on it. And then the administration says to Israel, stop expanding settlements, stop building the wall, take some of these checkpoints away, and Israel does none of those things. From the Palestinian street, they say you're not credible.

SECRETARY RICE: The United States and this President is the first President who actually made it policy to seek a Palestinian state. And, yes, we believe that state ought to be sought on the basis of democracy and transparency and accountability and the lack of corruption. And again, in meeting with Palestinian civil society, you realize that these are people who are really ready for democracy. This is a vibrant civil society, a vibrant society in which women are really active participants and have been for decades in the Palestinian areas.

And so, yes, we will stand for those issues. And, yes, we will stand with the Israelis for the principle that Israel should do nothing to try and prejudge final status. Because one way or another, at the time of final status, the boundaries of the new Palestinian state are going to have to be negotiated between the parties. So nothing that Israel does is going to prejudge that outcome.

The President has made clear that he believes that there have been certain realities that have changed since 1949 or since 1967, but that any changes in those boundaries are going to have to be mutually agreed and that will be the position of the United States at final status.

QUESTION: Is it still necessary, though, and is there anything the United States, I guess, can do to change Israel's mind about some of the checkpoints? There are checkpoints when you cross from Israeli territory into the Palestinian territories. But there are -- if you imagine this room as being within the Palestinian territories, there are sometimes checkpoints within this room, even though you are not stepping anywhere near Israel.

SECRETARY RICE: I do believe that there is more that Israel can do to allow freedom of movement for the Palestinians, and we've made that case. I also recognize that there are real security concerns here. You've seen incidents even very recently in the Gaza, and it's particularly problematic when you have groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, by the way, operating with offices in Damascus, who say that they're not going to respect the calm that President Abbas has tried to bring about.

But the way that we can move forward on this is that the Israelis are preparing to turn over whole cities to the Palestinians, and they should then really release the pressure around those cities so that Palestinians can move freely. They've released two and they've talked now about Bethlehem and Qalqilya. That should go forward. That will improve freedom of movement. When Israel leaves Gaza, starting in August, again if there is freedom of movement for Palestinians in a Gaza that is free of Israeli settlers and free of Israeli military forces, that is going to improve freedom of movement.

So we work at the micro level, kind of checkpoint by checkpoint. But we also look for these larger changes that will really improve freedom of movement for the Palestinians.

QUESTION: One of the groups that at least so far has honored the truce or cease fire, whatever you would call it, is Hamas. And we sat down with a Hamas leader who said that he could even see coexistence with Israel. Hamas politicians, as you know, are winning some of these local elections and the U.S. officials on the ground say they're waiting for the State Department essentially to make a decision as to whether, if the mayor of a Palestinian town is affiliated and aligned openly with Hamas, can he get U.S. money? Can U.S. money to go to that mayor to build roads and build schools, or is he a terrorist?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Hamas is a terrorist organization. We've listed it as such. As far as I know, Hamas has not yet changed a very important part of its doctrine, which is the destruction of the state of Israel or the use of terror. It continues to be armed. And to our mind, this is a difficulty for an emergent democratic state that is, after all, going to have to have a monopoly on violence, so to speak, of the state.

We'll deal with the Palestinian Authority. I think that's our best approach. They have an elected government through President Abbas. He is someone who won with 62 percent of the vote. And he won, John, not on a platform that said, let's go for the destruction of Israel or I'll turn your children into suicide bombers but, rather, on a platform that said that it is time for the armed intifada to end, it's time to make peace with Israel. And I have to believe that that's going to be also a popular approach, a popular platform throughout the territories.

QUESTION: The President said that, you have just said it, the President said it once in the Rose Garden. But since the President said it, Hamas has been gaining strength on the ground. And their leaders say that it's hypocritical for the President of the United States to say, have a democracy, and then not respect the will of the Palestinian people if Hamas affiliated candidates are elected.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there is an election to take place. And we have a policy that comes from a reality of what Hamas is and Hamas has done. The election will take place. It is going to be a Palestinian election with the Palestinians setting the rules for how that election takes place. And we'll respect that.

QUESTION: I want to move on to another issue, which is the nomination of John Bolton to be the ambassador to the United Nations. As you know, the Democrats blocked the vote again.

One of the options the President has is to make a recess appointment and to let John Bolton serve for a matter of months, maybe a little bit longer, once Congress adjourns. A leading Republican in the Congress, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, said that would not only weaken Mr. Bolton but also weaken the United States. That, essentially, he would have no credibility at the United Nations if they did not go there with bipartisan support. Do you agree with that statement?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, John, we're concentrating right now on trying to get the Senate to take an up or down vote on John Bolton. There have been hearings, there has been information exchange. Questions have been answered. In fact, Senator Roberts himself answered questions about certain inquiries that John Bolton had made in certain intelligence matters, answered them, I would hope, to the satisfaction of anyone who really only wants to know whether John Bolton was engaging in some kind of activity that was inappropriate. And Senator Roberts has answered that. As chair of the Intelligence Committee, he has talked to the intelligence officials. He knows the story. He has answered that question.

QUESTION: What if the Democrats don't back down?

SECRETARY RICE: The problem is requests keep getting different and broader. The goalposts keep changing on what needs to be known in order to confirm John Bolton. Let's just take a vote and those who want to support John Bolton can support him; those who don't want to support him can decide not to support him. If he has the votes, then he becomes U.N. ambassador. I think that's the only fair way to deal with the President and to deal with John Bolton and, frankly, to deal with the interests of the United States.

Because we have a massive reform of the U.N. that is being debated. I have spent probably more hours on U.N. reform recently than I've spent on almost anything else.

QUESTION: As you know from your experience, life is not always fair and politics is not always fair. If you can't get that up or down vote, as the leading diplomat of the United States of America, do you think the best option is a new nominee or to put John Bolton there under a controversial procedure?

SECRETARY RICE: John Bolton is the person to do this job, and we're seeing why. Because the reforms that are being contemplated about -- for the U.N. are pretty fundamental, and we need a strong voice and somebody who has the knowledge and who cares about these issues.

I just would urge everybody in the Senate to just give him a vote. Let's just see. If he doesn't win the vote, he doesn't win the vote. But there is so much information now that has been shared about John Bolton, this is one of the most thoroughly vetted nominations that I can remember. It's time to have the vote, and let's just see what happens.

QUESTION: You're saying he's the right man for the job. It sounds like if you don't get that vote, you would recommend the President put him in?

SECRETARY RICE: John, I am concentrating now, and I've been on the phone even here from Europe with people back in Washington, let's get the vote. We have answered countless inquiries. John Bolton has answered countless inquiries. Other senators acting on behalf of the whole Senate have answered inquiries. I think it's only fair and it's only appropriate when the President makes a nomination, the Senate absolutely has the constitutional duty to vet that nomination thoroughly and then to either consent or not to consent. But just to continue to hold it up it seems to me is just unfair.

QUESTION: Let me ask you lastly, a colleague of yours in the administration, the CIA director, Porter Goss, was quoted in Time Magazine this week as saying he had an excellent idea where Usama bin Laden is. Do you have an excellent idea where Usama bin Laden is? And if he is, can you tell the American people why?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, my view of the hunt for Usama bin Laden is that on the day that I get the phone call that he's been found, that will be a very important day. But close is not good enough. We just have to -- there's a very active campaign to get him. His world has clearly gotten a lot smaller.

QUESTION: But is a statement like that unhelpful in the sense that either it could raise the expectations of the American people or allow political critics to say, you're just trying to distract --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't know the context of the statement. What I think is being communicated is that we are active every day in the pursuit. But again, Usama bin Laden will be a tremendous victory -- the capture of Usama bin Laden or bringing him to justice will be a tremendous victory because he's been the face of this terror, the face of what happened to us on 9/11. But it's also important to remember that it is not just Usama bin Laden; this is a very dangerous network. Every time we take down one of their field generals, like the recent capture of Abu Faraj al-Libbi or the earlier capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we weaken that organization as they get less and less experienced at that level.

We also have to realize that while, in the medium term, it is the dismantling of the network, dismantling of their finances and the like that is our focus, the work that we have been doing here in the Middle East is also aimed at changing the circumstances that produced September 11th, that produced al-Qaida.

When you go to these countries and you recognize that you have stagnant economies and where corruption had just been expected, where young people don't have the opportunities that they need, where the absence of freedom has taken what is a great civilization and a great culture and made it now lag behind the progress that is being made on almost every other continent, you realize that we're going to be fighting terrorism for a very, very long time if the nature of the Middle East cannot change.

And that is why it is so heartening to be here at this conference today, because you see that Iraq is producing an example of what is possible in the Middle East when people are able to throw off tyranny and when they are able to see the democratic future. Yes, the Iraqis themselves are here today to say how hard it is. But they are also here to say that, with support of the international community and with their own courage, which is showing through, that they are going to be a very different kind of regime certainly than Saddam Hussein's regime was, and they're going to be different than most of their neighbors.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. 2005/T10-20

Released on June 22, 2005


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