Rice Roundtable Interview with Arab Journalists
Roundtable Interview with Arab Journalists
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
London, United Kingdom
June 23, 2005
SECRETARY RICE: (In progress) -- the meeting on Iraq with the international community and then of course the swing through the Middle East. And so I think, really, you know what I've been doing. I am happy to take questions. Let me just emphasize three points.
The first is that, obviously, this trip has focused very heavily on the changes that are taking place in the Middle East, the changes that are taking place as a result of the really, I think, increasing calls for and desire for democratization and reform in the broader Middle East. It has been spurred, in part, by American policy and by the President's Second Inaugural and speeches that he's made before, but I want to emphasize something that sometimes does not come through. We also recognize that there have been people who have been advocating for reform for a long time in the Middle East and indeed I met vibrant civil society groups in Egypt. I think the Palestinian territories the civil society is alive and well. I know that I would have had an opportunity to meet people in Jordan, had there been time, who have been -- and indeed the King and Queen themselves have been advocates of reform, education reform. So there's a lot that's going on in the Middle East. What the President, I think, has done is to open the realm of what people think is possible to advance their desires for freedom and for reform.
Second, I have had an opportunity to go and talk with the Israelis and Palestinians, and while we have never accepted the view that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a precondition for reform, there is no doubt that if you think about a different kind of Middle East then a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be one of the important pillars of that different kind of Middle East. And I've been focused this time very much on the disengagement, not because there shouldn't be a day after the disengagement, not because it's Gaza only, but because we have to focus on the next six weeks through the end of the disengagement to try and do everything we can to make it successful, and by that I mean peaceful and orderly.
And then finally, there are several places that are going through very rapid change that we've had an opportunity to talk about: Iraq, where I think the conference turned a new page for Iraq and demonstrated that the international community is willing and able to forge a new partnership with the elected Iraqi Government. They presented -- the Iraqi Government presented their agenda and now the international community will respond. It means that there is great responsibility on Iraq's neighbors to contribute to stability and we are particularly concerned about the Syrian border and have made that known.
And in that same category of new and emerging democratic efforts, the elections in Lebanon and the need for everyone to contribute to the stability in Lebanon, to fully comply with Resolution 1559.
So it's been pretty comprehensive -- the trip to the Middle East to discuss with our friends and colleagues in the international community how to move forward. And in sum, I think we're making progress toward a very different Middle East than could have been envisioned even maybe a year ago.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Again, I would like to thank you for making the time to see us. We really appreciate that. Personally, I would like to congratulate you on your speech in the American University in Cairo Monday. I think that was very well received by reformists and democracy activists throughout the region.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: And I would like to ask you on this speech, obviously, it was not very well received by the government. I mean, the state-controlled media didn't even report it. So what response did you get from President Mubarak when you raised the specific concern you mentioned in the speech, like allowing international observers to elections, lifting the emergency decrees and meeting objective standards for free election? Is it the United States position that if these standards are not met, the election is going to be invalid?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I had very good discussions with President Mubarak, who, by the way, is the one who opened this door. And so the issue now is to walk through it and to trust the Egyptian people in these choices. It was a good discussion. I think the Egyptian Government recognizes that the spotlight now of the world is on these elections.
And let me just -- they're presidential elections and we know that there is -- the time is short and so perhaps the organization for alternative candidates may be difficult, but it's important to establish the principle of competitive presidential election. Then you have the parliamentary elections, and there I hope that there is even more time to prepare the basis for elections because, as you know, an election is not what just happens on the day of the election. Egypt needs to be sure that it adheres to certain principles. People need to have access to the media in order to be able to campaign. There shouldn't be intimidation of people who are trying to assemble in order to talk about their political views.
We believe there should be international monitors and/or observers. Interestingly, I did hear different views about that from the civil society groups, so this is not just the government that has not made a determination, but I think there may be others in Egypt who wonder about the need for international observers. I would just say that it is now a pretty standard practice, particularly with new electoral systems, that there are international observers. It's not anything specific about Egypt.
I think the speech got through. I don't know how it was covered, but I have a feeling that it got through.
QUESTION: So you do expect, like, these standards are going to be met? I mean, will the election, as far as you are concerned, will be free, as you wish? Do you expect that?
SECRETARY RICE: This is a process and I know that we may not be looking at perfect elections, given that these are -- this is the first step. But I certainly hope that the Egyptian Government is going to do everything it can not to disappoint the international community and not to disappoint its people.
QUESTION: But you didn't have any kind of guarantee, for example, about (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, in fact, when we talk about elections, I think my speech said both presidential and parliamentary, so we mean both. I will note that standing there next to me, the Foreign Minister said free -- said fair and transparent, and then he was asked what about free, and he said free, fair and transparent. So that, to me, is a commitment from the Egyptian Government, not just to me but to the entire world.
QUESTION: The main thing was the opposition in Egypt. Was it just a gesture or anything concrete?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I wanted to hear from civil society their views of how things are going. I asked the question, "How much of a difference do you think the changes that have been introduced will make or can make?" And again, I got differing views. Some people said they expected it would make very little change. Some people said, well, it depends on how we use it. Others said this is a big change. So there were varying views.
But because this is a new set of conditions in Egypt, I thought it was important to hear from other people who are contesting, some who will contest in the elections, some civil society groups -- there was a university professor there who works on these issues -- how they think it will move forward. Obviously, the United States wants to be supportive of party building activities and the like, not choosing any specific candidates or parties -- that's not our role -- but in the kind of help for democracy building. And if there are ideas -- I told them if they have further ideas, they should definitely let us know.
But I was impressed with the vibrancy of the civil society in Egypt. I was familiar with the civil society in the Palestinian territories. I've met with those people before. But Egypt was very vibrant.
QUESTION: Why the Muslim Brotherhood not invited to that meeting? And that is like send a message, a particular message, to, like, moderate Islamic movements in the region who are willing to take part in democratic process?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, the rules of who participates have to be left to any state. I said this about the Palestinians. It's also true about Egypt. And I assume that over time the rules will confirm with how the population views the electoral landscape.
But I am going to respect the laws of Egypt and that's why. And some of -- with some groups, there is a history of certain kinds of activities that has yet to be overcome. But the important thing is that this process, as it opens up, some of these questions about who should participate and who should not, I think will get resolved within the normal processes between Egyptians. It's not my role to try and resolve that and therefore I'm going to respect the laws of the Egyptian Government.
QUESTION: So talking to moderate Islamists is not an option?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're talking to moderate Islamists all the time in Iraq. The president of the Iraqi Islamic Party was there yesterday. And in Afghanistan. My only point is that I'm not going to violate the laws of a country, but I have -- it's not our responsibility or our view or our role to decide the range of views that can be held in any country. That really has to be the work of the people of the country.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that's why (inaudible) expect from you a change in this issue.
SECRETARY RICE: Remember that we are embarked on a process here where things are going to change. In Iraq, where it is now an open political system, you have as wide a range of views and political positions and political activities as you could possibly imagine. I mean, the Iraqi Communist Party has people involved, the Iraqi -- the moderate Islamists, the not-so-moderate Islamists. And what they're going to do is they're all going to go out and they're going to compete for the people's vote.
Because the slate was wiped clean in Iraq by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Iraq, this system is, in a sense, starting with a clean slate from scratch. And what is remarkable is how many different political views and parties. And I think in Afghanistan it was a hundred-some parties that emerged.
In places where it is a reform movement, where there is an existing government that is trying to carry out the reforms, it will be a different process. But an open political system, I think will start to give voice to a wide range of views. But again, there's a history here. We're not going -- I'm an official of the United States Government and so I'm not going to violate the laws of Egypt. There are a lot of changes that are going on in that country and in that society, and I think that the good news is that the government has opened up a door, a window. And I said to the civil society groups who were gathered some of how far that door gets pushed is dependent on them, just not dependent on the government, because reforms can take on a life of their own.
QUESTION: Talking on opposition movements, are Administration officials talking to Syrian opposition? And if so, is the purpose regime change in Damascus?
SECRETARY RICE: We have talked to Syrian opposition and have tried to be supportive of people who want to change the circumstances in Syria. You know, unlike the Egyptian Government, the Syrian Government hasn't demonstrated very much interest in changing its own circumstances. But our view is to try and get the Syrians to change their behavior and we have diplomatic relations with Syria. We've not had an ambassador there for a while.
But we engage the Syrian Government -- we have engaged the Syrian Government in the past -- about what it needs to do. Colin Powell went there two and a half years ago. Rich Armitage was there just after the President was reelected. So we really do think that what needs to happen here is the Syrians need to hear a clear message from everyone that their behavior needs to change. And that means that they should no longer be in a position where they are causing instability in Lebanon that is a problem for the now freely-elected Lebanese Government; in Iraq, where the Iraqi Government clearly said that they are a problem for them; and in the Palestinian territories, where Islamic Jihad, which headquarters out of Damascus, and sits there and says it's outside the consensus for the Palestinian calm.
So that the Syrians need to change their behavior and they need to open up their society. But every situation is different. Syria is not Iraq, and Iraq is not Syria. And I need to emphasize that Iraq was, in many ways, a very special circumstance given all of the problems with Iraq, including its connections to weapons of mass destruction over a long period of time, including using them, terrorism, 17 resolutions in the UN Security Council, and we were essentially still in a state of war with Iraq. So Iraq is not Syria, and Syria is not Iraq.
QUESTION: So just a follow-up question. Are you prepared to go as far as regime change in Damascus?
SECRETARY RICE: To do what?
QUESTION: Regime change.
SECRETARY RICE: Am I prepared to --
QUESTION: To go as far as changing the regime.
SECRETARY RICE: The Syrian regime can change itself. It can change its policies. It can change its behavior. It can change its relationship to its people. And that would be the course that we would hope will take place.
QUESTION: Is it true that you give Syria some (inaudible) about (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: It's not our -- you know, it's not our job or our place to go around doing such things. But let me just be very clear. What's on the agenda with Syria is a change in Syrian behavior. That's what we are looking for and what we are seeking.
QUESTION: You mentioned Saudi Arabia also in your speech and you actually criticized the government for imprisoning the reform activists who were petitioning the government for reforms. Has this issue been discussed with Prince Abdallah when he was with President Bush recently? And did you raise it yourself with the Saudis when you visited them in the same day?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. It had been -- I had raised it with Prince Saud before and I raised it both with Crown Prince Abdallah and Prince Saud this time.
QUESTION: What were his thoughts on it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, you heard the response from the Foreign Minister, who said that it's a legal matter and that it's in the courts. But we continue to believe that this is the kind of thing that is very much in need of reform, when petitioning the government can be a crime. We think that --
QUESTION: Do you intend to take the matter farther? I'm asking you this because there is like two separate kind of thoughts now in the region about your position, and let me be straightforward. Some people are saying what you -- what the United States are doing now is just part of a public diplomacy to improve its image in front of the people, so you are not actually going to take any action to make sure that diplomacy happens and that's why you said when it (inaudible) it took the United States a hundred years to get to democratic system. And other people think you are really serious and you do believe that this is the credibility of the United States in stake regarding democratization of the Middle East. So which one is correct?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, it took the United States a hundred years, but that was a hundred years ago and things move much faster and should move much faster now.
Secondly, we are quite serious about reform because we believe it's the right thing and because we believe that our own security is linked now to a reformed Middle East. And perhaps that's the piece that people don't focus on enough. We tried it the other way. We tried it just saying, well, it really doesn't matter what the form of government is; as long as it's stable, then we can live with it. This is, by the way, at the same time that we were promoting democracy in Latin America or in Africa or in Eastern Europe. But the Middle East was somehow considered an exception.
And what the President has really said is we did that and then one -- you know, when al-Qaida struck on September 11th we had to take a hard look at what produced such a sickness that people would fly airplanes into buildings or strap suicide bombs on themselves and blow up innocent people. And I know that the first thought was, well, it's poverty. But, of course, al-Qaida was -- most of these people were anything but poor. These are middle class people. I've always said, you know, looking at their biographies, what was going on here?
And al-Qaida and people who associated with it are lost. You just have to confront them and go to war against al-Qaida, which is what we've done. But the conditions that created that have to be addressed through opening political space for people's legitimate aspirations so that they don't turn to extremism. We have got to help the people of the Middle East make room for moderate tolerant Islam, which many people -- scholars of Islam and practitioners of Islam -- I think would say is what Islam is really about.
And so I think that if people really look at now what our interests are, our interests are in a reformed Middle East. Now, when people ask me, well, what will you -- you know, will you punish this state or that state? Well, first of all, by raising the profile of this, states are responding. They are responding and they are opening up space. And we will keep pressing and pressuring states to do this. But some of the responsibility now rests on the people in those states to bring their own kind of pressure and insistence now that the space is opening up.
But we could not be more serious. The President didn't give the Second Inaugural as a public relations exercise. Presidents of the United States only get one Second Inaugural Address and this President decided to use this one to press for freedom.
QUESTION: So there could be actions, too, like --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, there could always be actions. But I think we would like to concentrate on positive reinforcement of good trends, spotlighting negative trends and helping to build the ability of the people of those countries to be more effective within the system for pushing reforms, which is why the Forum for the Future, which brings human rights groups and women's groups and business groups into contact with human rights and business and environmental groups on the outside, brings a different kind of pressure on those governments to respond.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) conference in London Saturday. Obviously, reform (inaudible) not your priority. What you can say for this (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, there is a big continuum, big variation, in the region as to the state of reform, everything from very reformist, forward-leaning states who have been doing this for a number of years, out to some that haven't even taken small steps on reform. And we have to recognize that that is the case and then try to take the most effective course with these states.
Now, with Libya, it was a major outcome for Libya to give up its weapons of mass destruction. But you'll notice that Libya is still not off the terrorism list because we still have concerns about terrorism. And we are introducing into our dialogue -- David's not here, I guess; David Welch was just (inaudible) here -- issues about reform and issues about human rights.
And so with every state this is an issue. Now, we don't expect that it will look the same in Libya as it can in Jordan -- the outcomes of our discussions right now. But as long as the United States makes this an issue with every state, I think you will start to see each state start to make some progress.
It's one of the reasons that Iran is troubling, because Iran is going the other way. If the trend lines are moving positively forward, that in itself is a victory. If states are starting to turn around and go the other way, then you have even more reason for concern because I think the Iranian elections this time were far less free than the Iranian elections the last time.
But I would just mention one other thing. I note that in some of the most closed societies the ability of people to travel, exchanges of students, people studying in Britain or in the United States, can sometimes in an of itself be an important opening. And if I heard one message loud and clear across the region, it was that the United States needs to find a way, given our security concerns, but find a way for more students to come and more business people to come and to increase exchange that way. And that may ultimately be one of the levers with some of the most closed societies.
QUESTION: Can I just ask about Iraq? I know you like to talk about success strategy rather than an exit strategy in Iraq, but with voices rising in the Congress and the opinion polls (inaudible), are you taking any steps to hasten your exit from Iraq? And also, do you have any information about Iranian interference in Iran, and what steps are you taking in that regard?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, on Iran, I think the Iranians are trying to ply their influence in Iraq and from time to time there is information that the Iranians are contributing to some of the instability. But I think for the most part, the Iraqis believe that their relationship with the Iranians is proceeding in a reasonable fashion. And so, you know, whatever our problems with Iran, we want the Iraqis to have a good relationship with their neighbor and we're just going to continue to encourage the Iraqis to encourage the Iranians to be a positive force.
For Iran, the emergence of a free and democratic Iraq that is multireligious, multiethnic and that unites Shia and Sunni Arabs is a bit of a challenge to its own kind of theocratic model, which is very different. And I did wonder what it was like for Iran to watch Iraqis who were in exile in Iran vote for a president democratically, Afghans who were in Iran in exile vote for an Afghan president democratically, and yet you have an Iranian election where the Guardian Council is telling people -- I think I heard today you had a 1,014 candidates, a 1,008 of whom were disqualified by the Guardian Council.
So one has to wonder the effect on Iran of being on the neighbor to one side and the neighbor to the other moving toward democracy while Iran moves in the other direction. So that's an interesting dynamic to watch.
But the neighbor that the Iraqis are most worried about, of course, are the Syrians at this point, where there's a direct relationship between what's going on in their territory.
I'm sorry, you asked -- the other question was?
QUESTION: Of the exiting strategy.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh yes, yes. We're trying as quickly as we can to get to the place that Iraqis are able to secure themselves. The security training is proceeding. By all accounts, it's going far better than it was. The Iraqis were able to secure their own elections, essentially, without the help of the coalition. They are continuing to recruit people despite the violence against those who are going into the security services and into the army. And they will need a multinational presence until they can do this. I don't know precisely how long that will be, but I would assume and I think it's very well to assume that both the nature and the responsibilities of a coalition will start to come down as Iraqi responsibility goes up. And that process is under way already now.
I would hope that everybody would look to that as a guide that this does have a glide path in the right direction from our point of view without having to have a firm timetable. We do have a glide path that I think makes sense.
And let me just make one point about the insurgency and I can -- and I think it's a good place to -- and to close on the Iraq issue. Insurgencies are defeated not just militarily but politically as well because when -- I'm now not talking about the foreign terrorists, the Zarqawi network who just decided that they're going to make Iraq a -- I think almost a final stand for territory in the war on terrorism. And the Defense Minister yesterday said something that I agreed with completely. He said, "Terrorism is defeated in Iraq, it will be the beginning of the end of terrorism." Because and I think he means the Islamic extremism because of the centrality of Iraq to the world. So foreign terrorists have to be defeated in a different way.
But increasingly, those who associated themselves with the insurgency because either they thought we were a foreign presence or more likely because they were associated with the old regime, on losing the Iraqi people and you can see now that all they can do -- they have no political program and as the Sunnis begin to be more and more part of the political process through the writing of the constitution, at each step, the Iraqi people are moving toward a political future together. And as that political future moves forward and Iraqis associate with that, all that the insurgents have left is to kill innocent people. That's all they have left. They have no political program, they have nothing to attract people to -- it's just to kill innocent people.
And as they kill more and more innocent people, because that's all they have left, they're losing the population. An insurgency cannot survive if the population around it decides that it should not survive. That's why you're getting more intelligence tips from Iraqis. That's why we're catching more and more of these people every day. We caught a Saudi, I think today or yesterday, who was a Zarqawi lieutenant, because the Iraqis see now the face of who these people are. This is not some national liberation movement, this is an insurgency that just wants to kill innocent Iraqis so that the political process doesn't continue.
The more inclusive the political process, the more they get to complete this constitution, the more they have that vote in December, the more this insurgency can't survive because the Iraqi people will turn them in. They won't let it survive.
QUESTION: Sorry, if you could -- just one question.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Palestine. If we may because --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, sure, right, sure.
QUESTION: It's important --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, the talk.
QUESTION: Have you had any contact with the Baathists, because we heard --
SECRETARY RICE: With the Baathists? Well, there are different levels of Baathists, right? There are some who join the party, the Baathist party, because that was the only way for promotion and for, you know, education and all of that. And the Iraqis have determined that there are some levels of Baathists that should certainly not be excluded from further political life.
The party, as a whole, is no more. This is an issue of what happens to individuals who might have been members of the Baathist party. There are people in the insurgency who have made contact principally with Iraqis to say that they want to give up.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) how good is (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: Out in the, out in, you know, places like Fallujah and places like that, I don't know who we run into and talk to. The Iraqis are running a process by which they want to reintegrate people into the political process, much like Karzai is running a process of which he wants to reintegrate people who might have been part of the Taliban -- into the political life.
But the high ranking Baathists to Saddam's henchmen, nobody wants. And those who have blood on their hands have to be dealt with because justice is also part of this. But we are trying to be sensitive to the way that the Iraqis see the reintegration of people.
Final question. (Inaudible).
QUESTION: The United States refused to condemn the Israeli Government resuming the targeted assassination of Palestinians and also that although the President spoke out more than once against expanding the settlement, actually this activity is illegal activity as far as everybody is concerned is still going on. Will Arab world be right to expect kind of firm stand by the United States and by the President, maybe like his father did with Israel at one point, to stop the settlement, to stop the killing against Palestinians so there can be a meaningful peace process?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we are, first of all, our policies on both targeted killing and settlements are clear and have never -- have not changed. We are not where we were in 1989 or 1990. We have, first of all, a President who has made, as a matter of policy, that there should be a Palestinian state. So we know where we're going. We're going to a two-state solution.
Secondly, the Israelis know that we are very firm that they cannot prejudge a final status agreement, so whatever they do between now and final status negotiations does not prejudge the outcome from the point of view of the United States. That means that they can't expect that activities that they're engaged in would be sanctioned at the time of final status by the United States.
There are certain realities that have happened since '67 that will have to be taken into account. But to solve any changes to those borders are going to have to be negotiated between the parties and mutually acceptable to the parties.
As to the situation in the territories, the problem is that we've got ahead of us a disengagement process that if it is successful -- again peaceful and orderly -- will accelerate our ability to get toward that two-state solution. We're trying to concentrate everything right now on making that work. But one of the greatest threats to that is what my colleague Jack Straw just said a few minutes ago, is terrorism.
And there's several ways that the Palestinians are trying to deal with terrorism. On the one hand, they've tried to arrange a calm between the Palestinian factions. Islamic Jihad has said they're not a part of that calm. Well, people need to lean on Islamic Jihad to be a part of that calm and not to try to be outside the consensus.
Secondly, the Palestinians -- we're trying to help them to build their security forces to deal with the disengagement. They won't be able to reform completely their security forces in time for the disengagement. But they do have forces that they can contribute to dealing with the Qassam rocket problem or dealing with the tunnels or whatever specific things they could to do.
Third, the Egyptians are going to play a role in Gaza.
And fourth, the international community has to pressure the states that are supporting terrorists, like Iran or, in particular, when Islamic Jihad is concerned, Syria, to stop supporting those activities. And this is our best chance in a very, very long time to get progress for peace.
And so it's time for everybody to speak with one voice and I would note that in the G-8 statements today, this point was made.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. I've got to fly back to the United States. Thank you. It was good to see you again and thank you.
Released on June 24, 2005