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Rice On-the-Record Briefing, London, England

On-the-Record Briefing, London, England


Secretary Condoleezza Rice
London, England
October 16, 2005


SECRETARY RICE: Let me just open with a couple of words about the referendum. I spoke with Ambassador Khalilzad this morning. Obviously, these numbers will move around as they get more information in, but it appears that the participation was someplace around 63 or 64 percent. The participation is about a million more than in January. Obviously, the most dramatic increase is in the Sunni areas, where in some provinces you've gone from 29 percent to more than 60 percent. In others -- there apparently was an increase in Baghdad. There appears to be in some places a slight decrease in Kurdish participation, which is interesting. But overall, the participation numbers are much higher than in January and the important point is that it's a much broadened base because Sunni participation is significant at this time.

The referendum, of course, is just a step. We do not have a readout on what the fate of the referendum actually is. It's probably going to take some time to get that. But as a matter of political process for the Iraqi people, this is another really important step forward. They just keep moving inexorably toward permanent elections in December, when they'll have a permanent government.

And I should also note that, apparently, the violence was down from January this time, fewer attacks, certainly fewer lethal attacks. And a lot of credit is being given to the Iraqi army and police for their role in securing the elections this time.

So with that, I'd be happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: In the past when there have been these political milestone, U.S. officials have generally said before that it could well help sap the insurgency of its energy. Do you think these results today will help diminish the insurgency?

SECRETARY RICE: What it will certainly help to do is to broaden the base of the political process, those who are casting their lot with the political process, which means that those who are either sitting on the fence or are supportive somehow of the violence will diminish. And ultimately, insurgencies have to be defeated politically. You defeat them by sapping them of their political support and increasingly Iraqis are throwing their support behind the political process, not behind violence. So yes, I think over time it will.

But I just want to warn, of course, it doesn't take a lot of people to attack schoolchildren or to blow up a police station. Over time, as people get better intelligence and can act more quickly and there are Iraqi forces that can react, they'll also be able to diminish the violence. But it's not as if the violence is being committed by a broad swath of Iraqi society; it's being committed by a few people.

QUESTION: Is there no danger that this will be a one-off thing, that once the Sunnis see if the constitution is accepted that they will feel that their interests are not protected and might not feel as much of the part of the political process? And secondly, do you anticipate that the violence will remain or increase in the run-up to that next election?

SECRETARY RICE: I have no doubt that the terrorists are going to continue to try to derail the political process, but they've failed every time they've tried to derail it. And I'm sure that they'll try to increase the violence. You know, they attacked the offices of the Islamic Party because the Iraqi Islamic Party is a Sunni party that agreed to support the constitution. So they clearly are going to try to continue to derail the process, but they haven't been able to do it. And that's a defeat for them.

As to how the Sunnis will feel about this outcome -- and again, we don't know the outcome -- but all indications are that they are preparing to go the next round, in other words, to try to elect representatives who will have a strong say in the next assembly. Because given the way that the constitutional process has played out, many of the decisions about how federalism will be implemented for regions other than the Kurdish regions, decisions about how to think about reconciliation of the population, have been left to the next assembly. So election to the next assembly becomes a really critical issue of how all of this is going to play out. The constitutional is a foundational document, but a lot is still to be filled in by the next national assembly, and that's why I think you'll see people very concentrated on who gets elected.

QUESTION: Although you've said you don't have outcome figures yet, are you fairly confident at this point that the constitution will actually pass?

SECRETARY RICE: I think that the assessment of people on the ground who are trying to do the numbers and trying to look at where the votes are coming from and so forth, there's a belief that it has probably passed. But again, we'll see. That's the general assessment it has probably passed.

QUESTION: How big a setback would it be in the political development if it doesn't pass?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's just see where it comes out. At this point, I think people believe it has probably passed. But I think we can't keep moving the bar for the Iraqis. They had a process under the TAL that told them write a constitution and then have a referendum. And it's not a setback for the process if they exercise that right one way or another. It is a process that is alive and well. That would be as if saying in the United States if you put something up for referendum and people don't vote for it, well, that's a setback for democracy. No, that is democracy. But I think that said, I think most people assume on the ground that it probably has passed.

QUESTION: I want to drag you back to Iran for a second because those of us who have had no newspapers for two days have to write about it. How does Iranian behavior in other areas, for example Iraq, affect your calculations on the nuclear issue? And if the Iranians were willing to engage with the United States, if the Europeans asked the United States to participate in these talks more directly to make it a kind of other six-party process, how would the United States feel about that? Is that an option?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I think we are making headway on the Iranian nuclear issue because the European Union and the United States are now unified. And I read a number of your stories this morning and they're the same stories you wrote before the last Board of Governors meeting, that Iran was going to get away, there wasn't going to be -- and then the Iranians got a vote that stunned them because, on the one hand, they expected people to stick with them and they got Venezuela. They got nobody else. This is a long process of diplomacy, but I think that the Iranians are in a position where they are going to have to move toward an acceptable solution on their nuclear program in order to hold any hope of maintaining integration into the international system. And as I've said time and time again, Iran is not North Korea in terms of its ability to remain isolated.

Now, as to the role of the United States, we've been supporting the negotiations. I think that's the proper role for us. We have, if you remember, when our European allies wanted us to make some steps so that they had, you know, greater negotiating tools, we did that. And we're listening to them. But as far as the broad-scale U.S. involvement in these -- in talks, I don't at this point see that that would be productive. And the -- we have a lot of issues with Iran, as you noted. Well, they're not just what they're doing with Iraq, but human rights issues in terms of their own domestic developments and of course terrorism more broadly, their support for terrorists and the Palestinian rejectionists and so forth.

And the Iranians, I think, know what it is that they need to do. They're on the wrong side of so many issues in the Middle East that it would not be hard for them to come back -- or would not be hard for them to understand what they need to do to come back.

We have -- let me emphasize, you know, we have had limited contacts with the Iranians when it is necessary. We have tried to deliver messages to them about this issue of IEDs in southern Iraq.

QUESTION: How?

SECRETARY RICE: We have channels through which to do it. You know we have a Swiss channel, we have a New York channel. We have multiple channels. But we use them sparingly and we use them pretty specifically for -- to deliver messages.

We have under the auspices of the 6+2 in Afghanistan, Zal Khalilzad used to have discussions with the Iranians, and I suspect Ron Neumann will do the same.

So it is not as if we aren't able to have contacts with the Iranians when we need to communicate, but the question of broad-scale engagement with the Iranians I think just doesn't make sense for us at this time.

QUESTION: You say that we are writing the same story, but actually this morning the Iranians again said that they are not going to stop the fuel cycle. So we didn't move actually from the last time. What do you expect to ask the British this morning to help to go farther?

SECRETARY RICE: The British are doing everything that they can. The British, the French. You heard the French. The EU-3 absolutely are clear that the IAEA Board of Governors vote was an opportunity -- last time was an opportunity for the Iranians to get back into negotiations, which, by the way, the Iranians walked out of, back into negotiations to find an acceptable solution that allows them to have civil nuclear power that does not raise questions of the breakout for a nuclear weapons program. That's really the crux of the matter.

And we'll see where this comes out. We're still, what, almost six weeks from the November 24th meeting. It's also the case that, as I said, we're not -- I'm not one, and Jack Straw and I talked about this last night, to set deadlines because that's not the way that diplomacy works. You look for movement, you look to see whether or not there are promising solutions and ideas, you look to see whether there are contacts that seem to be bearing fruit. And at a time of our choosing, we'll push for referral.

QUESTION: You said last night -- yesterday that you would have an indication between now and then, November 24th. You seemed to give that framework for action, yet at the end you backed away from that time frame.

SECRETARY RICE: No, Robin, what I said is --

QUESTION: Is this open-ended?

SECRETARY RICE: No, Robin, what I said is we'll have another meeting on the 24th and that's a sort of natural time to assess where we are. But there is a lot going on. Intensive discussions are going on not just between us and our partners, but people are talking to the Iranians, people are talking to the IAEA. There's a lot of discussion among members of the IAEA. Let's see what emerges over this next period of time. And I'm just not going to tell people, gee, on the 24th we all turn into pumpkins, we can't do anything more.

But I do think it's important to recognize that that's going to be a time -- don't you have that expression --

QUESTION: 31st, I was thinking, because of October.

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I see, I see. Okay. Well, it's also for Thanksgiving.

We're not in a position -- we're in a position where we've got a lot of consensus about what needs to be done and we just need to keep pressing to get it done.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you a question about the timing again?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: The November 24th meeting you've described as crucial.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: In what sense is it crucial if it's not going to be a sort of --

SECRETARY RICE: Because it's the next time that we will have an opportunity to have assessed what the impact and what the outcome has been of the last meeting. But I think we'll have a sense of whether or not anything is moving forward, whether there are ideas that are being pursued, whether contacts are bearing fruit, whether it makes sense to continue to push diplomacy or whether it makes sense to go to referral.

QUESTION: But the French said they wanted it to be a credible option at the Security Council and it seems less credible after what the Russians said, at least in public.

SECRETARY RICE: What the Russians said is that they still believe this should be resolved within the IAEA framework. They said that at the time of their vote. Nothing has changed. But again, the Russians abstained in that vote and that abstention was a signal to everybody, including perhaps most importantly to the Iranians, that this is a wait and see. And so everybody is engaged and active in this period. I wanted to have discussions with the French and with the British and with the Russians. But you know, Iran was important to our discussions but we had equally extensive discussions on Syria and Lebanon. In fact, that was the reason for the extended discussion with Lavrov. So we had a lot to talk about.

Last question. Warren.

QUESTION: I'm pretty sure my readers out there in the heartland as far as the referendum, their first question is going to be, "Can we bring the troops home now?" Obviously, there's not going to be an immediate withdrawal of all American troops, but do you see at least a review underway now after the referendum, assuming the constitution passes, a start of the process?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, if you remember, we have a joint commission with the Iraqis to continually review the state of the Iraqi forces, the state of the coalition forces, what's needed on the coalition side, what's needed on the Iraqi side. And so that review is going to continue and it, of course, has a kind of military training aspects. But it also has to look at the political conditions and where you are in the political process, so I think that will continue. But that's been underway, Warren. It's not going to suddenly start because the referendum is over.

I just want to emphasize again the President's point is that when the Iraqis are ready, they'll be ready. Our goal is to provide the kind of support for Iraq that this process plays out with a stable -- a foundation for a stable and democratic Iraq. Because if we leave prematurely, we will have failed in our -- what our goal is here, which is to have a different kind of Middle East so that we do not have a terrorist base in the Middle East of the kind that's been producing these extremists.

I've got to run. Great, okay. See you on the plane.

2005/T15-19

Released on October 16, 2005

ENDS


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