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Condoleezza Rice on The Tony Snow Radio Show

Interview on The Tony Snow Radio Show

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
December 16, 2005

QUESTION: Secretary, great to have you here.

SECRETARY RICE: Nice to be with you, Tony.

QUESTION: So we had an election in Iraq. I think it's safe to say that it exceeded the expectations of many. You've just spent a week in Europe and many of our allies there had opposed the United States going into Iraq nearly three years ago. Should the election provide some reason for them to reconsider?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think the elections, starting in January, made people start to consider what really has happened here. You know, there were differences about whether it was time to deal with the threat from Saddam Hussein, but when the Iraqi people take hold of their future this way and demonstrate their deep commitment to democracy and to a peaceful path, I think every state that's -- every country that's lucky enough to enjoy freedom has a responsibility and an obligation to the Iraqis to support them. And when I was in Europe, I have to say, people are starting to talk that way.

QUESTION: Are they going to pony up and help?

SECRETARY RICE: I think people will help. Some people have been helping a lot anyway. NATO has a training mission in Iraq. There have been some very generous donations from a number of countries. But the point that I made was that we are really at a historic moment, not just for Iraq but for the entire Middle East, where we might be able to imagine a Middle East where these ideologies of hatred are finally defeated. And that's a strategic moment that people are going to want to and -- are going to need to and I hope want to invest in.

QUESTION: I want to explore that in a minute, but one other question on the Iraqi elections. Is there any possibility that there would be a Shia-dominated religious fundamentalist government, or are you confident that even though there will be Shia representation and Sunni and Kurd and many others that this will be largely a secular government?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think the first point is that the Iraqis now have a constitution, which will govern their political affairs and there are certain rights that are enshrined in that constitution that any government is going to have to uphold, and that includes the right to religious practice. It's also the case that when you look at the political landscape in Iraq there are indeed Shia and others who are religious parties, but there are an awful lot of parties that favor the separation of mosque and the state. And I think you're going to find that the likelihood is a government that has to take all of those ideas into account and some kind of coalition that will have to form because it doesn't appear when you just look at the lay of the land that any one group is going to dominate. And that's good for democracy.

QUESTION: Do any of the leaders there impress you particularly?

SECRETARY RICE: I think they have several impressive leaders. You know, I think that there are many ministers there who are very I impressive.

QUESTION: Got some names?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that was a very interesting piece in the newspaper the other day about the three who many believe are leading candidates -- Abdul Mahdi, Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi -- who actually went to the same school, which is kind of an interesting story. But they've all had very good experience, have demonstrated a lot of competence. But I'm sure that the Iraqi people are going to ask the right questions.

You know, one thing we are not going to do is to try to choose their leaders. First of all, it would be wrong for the United States to do that. What we believe in is the principle of democracy and we believe that Iraq is going to be best served by a government that is representative of all Iraqis.

But secondly, Tony, I don't think we understand Iraqi politics well enough to try to pick people. The Iraqis understand their politics. And so I'm excited for them and I think they're going to have a process now. We're going to have to recognize that it's a parliamentary system so they actually have to go through a period of government formation. We hope they'll do it as quickly as possible, but it's also important that they get a chance to debate what is a really tremendous historic turning point for the people of Iraq.

QUESTION: And you know, they'll elect their share of creeps, curs and scoundrels. That's always happens. It's part of democracy.

SECRETARY RICE: It's been known to happen in democracies and I'm sure it will happen there. But they also have an awful lot of courageous, patriotic people who are ready and willing to serve that country. And they have a framework in which they have decided -- a great majority of Iraqis, clearly all of those who turned out -- that their future is in a political process, not in violence.

QUESTION: Yeah. I keep saying I'm going to move on, but one last thing. Do you think the success of the elections, especially in places like Ramadi, is going to serve not merely as a positive discouragement to terrorists, but also sending a pretty strong message that, you know, you guys may want to blow yourselves up, but we just don't care, we're going to beat you?

SECRETARY RICE: I think that that's really the message that was there, which is that --

QUESTION: Have the Iraqi people turned the corner psychologically?

SECRETARY RICE: I believe that they've been turning the corner psychologically for some time, but yesterday is just a huge affirmation of that. Because when you saw these parents with their little kids dipping their fingers in the inkwell, you know that these are parents who don't want their children to be suicide bombers. They want their children to go to university and grow up and become doctors and lawyers and maybe go into politics, some of them. And that really is what this said to me is so many people brought their children to the polls that it said that I think they understand that the future is better. And I want to tell you, too, Tony, there were any number of people, including one, the election worker in Baquba, which has been a very difficult place, who said thank you to America for the role that America had played in helping to liberate Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, somebody needs to tell The Washington Post. Let me turn to Iran. It seems pretty obvious at this point that Iran is not going to negotiate its nuclear program, correct?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I haven't seen any evidence yet that the Iranians understand that the world is determined to have them come to an agreement that will show that they can't have a nuclear weapons program. Nobody wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon and they're going to have to come to terms with that.

QUESTION: If they do not negotiate and proceed with a nuclear program, would it be justifiable, at least theoretically, to take preemptive action to make sure that they cannot deploy it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that, you know, it's probable best not to speculate about what happens, except to say that we have an international consensus that it's not acceptable for them to have a nuclear weapons program. And I think, Tony, that if they can't come to terms with what the world is demanding of them, it's only a matter of time until we go to the Security Council. And it will be at a time of our choosing, but people are not going to accept an Iranian nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Okay. And again, I will simply -- let me try one more time, though. I don't think, based on what we've seen from Ahmadi-Nejad, the new maximum leader in Ira[n], I don't see his caring what the Security Council thinks. And again, if they go ahead and build and deploy, somebody's going to have to stop them.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would note that Iran is not a country that is accustomed to isolation, in the way that, say, North Korea is accustomed to isolation. And I don't know how well a President of Iran will do if it is clear that his policies have driven Iran into national -- into international isolation.

QUESTION: Which leads me to say that, you know, just because one talks about preemption, it doesn't mean it has to be foreign preemption. The polls for years have indicated that a huge percentage of Iranians, especially younger Iranians, really don't like the fundamentalist government, they don't like the mullahs, they don't like the new President and is it not conceivable that at some point, some people within Iran may, in fact, take some measures to make sure that they don't get isolated by the international community.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is very clear that this is not a population that wants to be isolated. And it's also very clear that Iran, which depends a lot on interaction with the international economy, can't afford to be isolated. So I think there are a lot of tools. But let me say something about the Iranian people. They deserve better than this. They don't deserve to be isolated and their government should not take them there. They also deserve as a great culture and a great people to have a future that allows them access to the best universities and to interaction with the international community. So we don't want to isolate the Iranian people. And I think the message the President has been sending is that we believe that they have the same desires for and, indeed, right to liberty that people worldwide have.

QUESTION: But we support the democracy forces in Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Of course. Yes.

QUESTION: Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, again, the President of Iran, has recommended expelling Israel from the Middle East. Why shouldn't there be a Security Council resolution right now saying, wait a minute.

SECRETARY RICE: Right.

QUESTION: Why don't they do that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there have been presidential statements in this regard but every time he says something like this he deepens his own isolation. I won't even speak to the Iranian regime. Of course, he speaks for the Iranian regime, apparently, I assume. But no president of a country, a UN member, should speak this way about any other member of the UN. And I remember just recently, I was looking at a piece about how the things he's saying about the Holocaust have only been said by really kind of marginal groups, skinheads and the like. No sitting leader has denied the existence of the Holocaust.

QUESTION: So if the Security Council can't even condemn this, why should we have confidence that they're going to take sterner measures?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I think it would -- everybody does condemn it. You're getting very strong international condemnation of what he said. I think the point is to focus also on Iranian policies. You know, in addition to the nuclear issue that everybody's concerned about and their own human rights and democracy problem where an unelected few are unable to or unwilling to allow the Iranian people to seek democracy. They also, of course, are the largest state sponsor of terrorism. And if you're -- you know, if you're the Palestinian people and you're watching Palestinian rejectionists or the Lebanese people who are watching violent acts by Hezbollah. You know that that's Iranian inspired and Iranian funded. And so they are just 180 degrees out of step with everything that's going on in the Middle East. And they're doing the same thing to the Iraqi people in stirring difficulty in the south of Iraq. So it's going to have to be -- we're going to have to find a way to deal with Iranian policy.

QUESTION: We have a couple more questions on that. Ahmadi-Nejad, the President that we've talking about, believes that within two years there's going to be an apocalypse that leads to the 12th Imam. This is -- now, is he saying stuff like this for effect or do you think he actually believes it? In other words, is this guy grandstanding for the radical Arab community -- the radical Muslim community around the world, because again, Iran is the number one global sponsor of terror or does he actually believe this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, far be it from me to try to get inside his head. All that I know is that he's saying things that are more outrageous than I've, frankly, heard in the modern era from any leader.

QUESTION: So he's an embarrassment?

SECRETARY RICE: I think it is to a great culture like this and a great people like this and a country that should be a responsible member of the international system. Yes, it's an embarrassment that he says these things. I hope the Iranians will start to speak out about it.

QUESTION: A few years ago, and I forget how recently, it was State Department policy or State Department proclamation that Iran is a democracy. We no longer characterize it as--

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think there's any doubt that when you've selected the candidates for whom people can vote by some Guardian Council selected -- that would be a perversion to call that democratic. I do think the Iranians, because they want to have some voice, continue to try to go out and vote. They show that, I think, they would be ready for a true democracy and it must be at some level appalling to this great people and this great culture that you've had free and fair elections in Afghanistan on one border, a country that in many ways is much, much less developed than Iran. And now free and fair elections in Iraq, another neighbor where people are truly exercising democracy.

QUESTION: The White House has reached an agreement of sorts with Senator John McCain about torture. You spent some time in Europe fielding about 50 bazillion questions on the topic.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you help me out here? As far as I can tell there is nothing under the McCain bill that would become illegal that is not illegal already.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we will, as Al Gonzales Attorney General has said, you know, they'll look at the law and, as with any law, they will make sure that any American activities are legal and are covered by the law.

The point that I tried to make in Europe is that the United States doesn't condone torture. The President doesn't condone torture. He's been very clear about that and that we don't expect American citizens to engage in it. It's a tough war on terrorism that we're fighting. If somebody goes ahead and commits their crime, then thousands of people can die. And so you have to use whatever legal means you can to get intelligence so that you can stop an attack because intelligence is the only thing that warns you of an attack.

But I do want to say that I think it's a perfectly logical evolution after 9/11 that the American Congress would take up this issue, that we would work between the Executive and the Legislative branch to come to a bill of this kind. And I think Senator McCain has done good work.

QUESTION: But is there not provision that, you know, suppose you find out that somebody -- Charles Krauthammer, is a good example. Somebody's got a nuke; they're going to set it off in an hour. He can use just about whatever means necessary to get information such as this.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there are all kinds of theoretical possibilities that people think about, but I think what you want your interrogators and people who have to do this work for the United States to know is what the law says, you want them to know that the President does not condone torture and you want them to be well trained. And so I think that's what people are focusing on.

QUESTION: We've got about thirty seconds. First, as a resident of Cincinnati, I just want to say sorry about last Sunday.

SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) I used to be a Bengal fan and now I may start claiming it again. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You're right with the "Queen City." The second thing is Tiki Barber on the show last week said if he could interview anybody, he would interview you.

SECRETARY RICE: Maybe we'll make a date.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I'll tell you --

SECRETARY RICE: I'm a big admirer or Tiki Barber and of his brother, Ronde.

QUESTION: He's a great guy. Well, we'll get that together, but we'll put it on this show, okay?

SECRETARY RICE: You've got it.

QUESTION: All right. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. A pleasure, as always. God bless you. Have a merry Christmas and keep up the great work.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Merry Christmas to you, Tony, and to your listeners also.

QUESTION: Thanks.

SECRETARY RICE: Bye-bye. 2005/1178

# # #

Released on December 16, 2005

ENDS


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