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Condoleezza Rice Interview on NBC's Today Show

Interview on NBC's Today Show

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
New York, New York
June 28, 2005

(7:00 a.m. EDT)


MS. COURIC: Condoleezza Rice was a key player in the decision to go to war in Iraq. She is now the U.S. Secretary of State.

Condoleezza Rice, Madame Secretary, good morning. So nice to have you here.

SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. Nice to be with you.

MS. COURIC: We're really honored to have you in our studio. So let's talk about the situation in Iraq. As you know, Madame Secretary, every morning it seems we're reporting bad news from that part of the world. Over 1,700 U.S. military forces have been killed so far, 484 car bombings in the last year alone. Public support for this war is declining. There's no question about it. Almost every poll indicates that's the case. What must President Bush do tonight to convince Americans that this war will not go on indefinitely?

SECRETARY RICE: The President tonight will have an opportunity to say to the American people that it has been one year since the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis. That really is not very long. And they have in that time had elections, they formed a new government. They are now about to write a constitution and then they will have elections for a permanent government. And I know that when you see on your screens every morning, suicide bombers, car bombers and, of course, the loss of American life, which we mourn every single life.

MS. COURIC: Not to mention the loss of the Iraqi lives.

SECRETARY RICE: And the loss of Iraqi lives at the hands of these terrorists who have no political program, but simply want to destroy innocent life. I know that it's hard to focus on the quiet process that is going on in Iraq of building a political consensus toward a stable and democratic Iraq. And that, Katie, for the United States means an Iraq in the center of the world's most volatile region, the Middle East, the region that came home to us on September 11th with its extremism. It means a different kind of Middle East. And I know it's difficult and the president will acknowledge that. But the United States has gone through difficult times before to come out on the other side with a more stable world and that is what we -- those are the stakes that you have.

MS. COURIC: But your predecessor Colin Powell, as you well know, had a philosophy, called "The Powell Doctrine" which was overwhelming force and an exit strategy. It seems to most Americans that there is absolutely no exit strategy here. Do you believe in the Powell doctrine and, if so, why aren't things, at least steps, being laid out so a withdrawal of U.S. troops can begin?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly believe that there will come a time when American forces and coalition forces are able to turn over to Iraqis responsibility for their security. And it has to be understood as both a military process and political process. That is why we keep emphasizing the steps that the Iraqis are taking on the political side to take control of their own future. The insurgents are very tough and they're very bloody and they can grab the headlines on any given day.

MS. COURIC: And it seems to me they're quite tenacious. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the insurgency could last another 12 years. We heard Richard Myers say four to seven years.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

MS. COURIC: When you hear those numbers and that period of time, I think most Americans say, "Oh, my goodness," and they gasp because that seems like such an extended period of time for these very powerful, very tenacious insurgents to have control of the situation.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't think that they will have control of the situation for those numbers of years. I think that what was being noted there is you can always have, as we saw in New York or as we saw in Madrid, someone who can get off a car bomb or someone who can wreak havoc against innocent civilians.

MS. COURIC: To this degree and to the degree we've seen?

SECRETARY RICE: I think, Katie, that what you're seeing right now is that the insurgents know that as the political process goes forward, they begin to lose the support of the Iraqi people and so they have intensified their efforts to try and stop that process of political reconciliation. But when that process of political reconciliation reaches its zenith in December with elections, you will see that the Iraqi people are not supportive of this insurgency. And an insurgency cannot last without the support of the population.

MS. COURIC: At the same time, do you think the Bush Administration should take any responsibility for not fully comprehending or predicting the strength this insurgency would continue to display?

SECRETARY RICE: Katie, I don't think that prediction is really very easy in big historical circumstances like this. And the fact is that Iraq is coming out of a period of tyranny, more than decades of tyranny, and it's hard. But we understood that there was nothing easy about overthrowing Saddam Hussein and then having the Iraqi people find reconciliation.

MS. COURIC: And do you think there was enough postwar planning?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, there was a lot of postwar planning.

MS. COURIC: Because that, of course, as you well know, has been a big --

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Yes. And there was a lot of postwar planning. The problem with any plan, of course, is with the minute that it hits the reality on the ground new circumstances emerge. But we have to keep focused and I think the American people will. Our men and women in uniform are doing the hardest work every day and to the families and to those men and women, we know they're doing the hardest work. But nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice. And when there is an Iraq that is a different Iraq -- in the-- different-- in the middle of the Middle East, we are going to be a more secure nation.

MS. COURIC: Not only are Americans questioning the U.S. role currently in Iraq, but they're questioning the decision to go there in the first place. According to an Associated Press poll: 42 percent of respondents believe the right decision was made in going to war; 53 said it was a mistake. In retrospect, with the benefit of hindsight being 20/20, is there anything you believe now, sitting where you're sitting, that the Administration should have done differently?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I'm certain, Katie, that when you look back over it, there will have been many things that we could have done differently. It's the nature of big changes like this.

MS. COURIC: What is -- specifically, what is the biggest thing?

SECRETARY RICE: Katie, I will leave that to the people who will write dissertations about things that could have been done differently -- some of which I'll probably supervise when I go back to Stanford. But we are in a huge historic change here. The President made a difficult decision after September 11th to deal with the threats, as we saw them. We have a chance for a different kind of Middle East where terrorism and extremism will not be the course of the day.

MS. COURIC: Let me ask you this --

SECRETARY RICE: That is what we need to stay focused on.

MS. COURIC: -- let me ask you, if I could, about the Times of London report on Sunday that said Secretary -- and by the way, Secretary Rumsfeld confirmed it, that meetings had been taking place between U.S. officials and members of the insurgency.

SECRETARY RICE: Katie -- MS. COURIC: Is this true?

SECRETARY RICE: This is in the context of a Sunni outreach -- outreach to the Sunnis to bring them into the political process. I believe that if you look at the way this is done, we rely very much on Iraqis to help us understand who's influential in the process. I can't tell you that there aren't some people who have had contacts with the insurgency, or might even have been involved in some way. But the United States --

MS. COURIC: At the same time --

SECRETARY RICE: -- but the United States does not deal with terrorists and we're not going to deal with terrorists.

MS. COURIC: Do you believe, though, that there's a chance that some members of the insurgency might become part of the political process?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly, the Iraqis are going to have to go through a process of political reconciliation. I think the Iraqis understand the principle of justice, that people who have murdered and killed innocent people don't really belong in a political process. But this is an Iraqi process and it goes to the larger point. They are coming to terms with their own politics. They are coming to terms with the poisonous atmosphere that was left among them by Saddam Hussein. And they will build a new Iraq. We're seeing that with the new Iraqi Government. I was with 80 countries just the other day in Brussels to lend support to that political process. This is moving forward. Yes, there are violent people who are determined to stop it, but the Iraqis are more determined to make it work.

MS. COURIC: Is there a danger that the United States is so preoccupied with Iraq, in your estimation, that they're not paying enough attention to two potential nuclear threats in both Iran and North Korea?

SECRETARY RICE: We pay a lot of attention to both. With North Korea we have the support of all of North Korea's neighbors to say that they must get rid of their nuclear weapons and --

MS. COURIC: North Korea is not cooperating.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the North Koreans will understand that they have no other entry into the international system than through giving up their nuclear weapons. And the Iranians, there we've been working with the European 3 and we're determined to back their negotiations with the Iranians so that the Iranians can live up to their international obligations not to seek a nuclear weapon.

MS. COURIC: Finally, let me ask you a completely off-the-wall question. Well, it's not so off-the-wall. But some people have speculated in 2008 a great political contest with the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice versus New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

SECRETARY RICE: I have never wanted to run for anything, Katie. I don't think I ran for high school president. I never wanted to run for anything.

MS. COURIC: You weren't in your student council even?

SECRETARY RICE: I wasn't even in my student council. I'm very fortunate to be Secretary of State at a time --

MS. COURIC: Would you ever entertain this? No, seriously.

SECRETARY RICE: Katie, I don't want to run for anything. I really don't. And I'm lucky. I am trying to help this President at a time of real consequence.

MS. COURIC: It must be very frustrating at times to see things unraveling so.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think they're unraveling. I think we're seeing a great historic sweep where freedom is on the march, if you look at Lebanon or you look at Ukraine. I was just in the Middle East. People are hungry for freedom. And I know as a student of history that when freedom is on the march, America is more secure; and that when freedom is in retreat, America experiences the kind of experience that we had on September 11th.

So I find this a time of, yes, challenge and testing and difficulty, but also a time of great opportunity. And I'm just very proud to be serving the President and the American people at this time.

MS. COURIC: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, again, thanks so much for coming in this morning. It was a real pleasure to talk to you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

MS. COURIC: And to ask you some of the questions that the American people have as well.

SECRETARY RICE: Good to be with you. Thank you. 2005/ 652

Released on June 28, 2005

ENDS

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