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Rice on NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert

Interview on NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
March 26, 2006

(10:30 a.m. EST)


QUESTION: But first, as we begin the fourth year of the war in Iraq, we are joined by the Secretary State. Welcome back, Madame Secretary.

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

QUESTION: Very disturbing headlines in the papers yesterday: "The Russians Helping Iraq" and this is how it was captured in the paper.

"Russian officials collected intelligence on U.S. troop movements and attack plans from inside the American military command, leading the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and passed that information on to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, according to a U.S. military study. The intelligence report which the studies that were provided to Hussein through the Russian Ambassador in Baghdad at the height of the U.S. assault, warned accurately that American formations intended to bypass Iraqi Sunnis under a thrust toward Baghdad. The reports provided some specific numbers on U.S. troop units, locations, according to Iraqi documents dated March and April '03 and later captured by the United States."

Have you told the Russians what is going on?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're trying first to make sure we understand fully what the documents say. These are documents that were found in Iraqi stores. And obviously, Tim, we would take very seriously any suggestion that this may have been done maybe to the detriment of American forces and so we will certainly raise it with the Russian Government. We want to take a real hard look at the documents and then raise it with the Russian Government.

QUESTION: But these are U.S. documents --

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- U.S. reports. You believe the report.

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I certainly think there is a lot to this report, but we really haven't much had a chance to look at the documents in detail, intend to do that and then to raise it with the Russian Government. I would hope the Russian Government would take it seriously.

QUESTION: Will there be an investigation as to who leaked the information to the Russians?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we'll just have to see. I don't want to get ahead of us, but obviously we take very seriously any suggestion that this may have been done at the beginning of the war. That would be a quite serious charge.

QUESTION: Could it have been deliberate misinformation?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't know. I think we really have to take a look at the documents. We're finding thousands and thousands and thousands of documents and we're going to find some important and surprising things in these documents. I think we have to step back, take a hard look at the documents. But I -- definitely, we will raise it with the Russian Government.

QUESTION: When we first went into Iraq we had some unexpected encounters with Fedayeen and we lost dozens of American men, that the Russians may have been responsible for American deaths.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't want to try hypothetically to know what impact this might have had. I think the first thing we need to do is take a good hard look at the documents and then we definitely want to raise it with the Russian Government. And again, I would hope that the Russian Government would take it seriously and give us a serious answer on what they find.

QUESTION: Back in June of 2001, the President said he looked Vladimir Putin in the eye, he got a sense of his soul, found him to be very straightforward and very trustworthy. Does the President still believe that President Putin is straightforward and trustworthy?

SECRETARY RICE: I really do think that the Russians have generally done what they said they would do. They said they were going to oppose the Iraq war and they did and they told us that from the very beginning. So I don't have an argument there. And I don't want to jump to the conclusion that this was something that was ordered out of the Kremlin. We have to look at the documents. We have to go to the Russian Government. But I would hope that the Russian Government would take seriously any suggestion now that they may have passed data to the Iraqis at the advent of the war.

QUESTION: But the Russian Ambassador is the source. How could Putin not have known and how could it be straightforward and honest for the Russians to help Saddam Hussein?

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, we have to get to the bottom of the facts of this. We will most certainly raise it with the Russian Government. I have said several times, it's a serious matter. But I don't want to jump out ahead and start making accusations about what the Russians may or may not have known. This is something in a relationship that we have with the Russians that really is candid and where we do talk about difficult things all the time, where I think we'll be able to talk about this and talk about it honestly.

QUESTION: Why won't the Russians help us get sanctions in the United Nations against Iran and try to stop them from developing nuclear weapons?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're not yet at the stage where we're seeking sanctions. What we're doing now is we're seeking a presidential statement that would make clear to Iran the international community's determination that it live up to the obligations that everyone thinks that Iran has. We're working through it. We have the same strategy here. We have the same view of the problem.

The Russians do not want a nuclear weapon in Iran either. It's been very clear in everything that they have tried to do, in the way that they set up the civil nuclear cooperation with Bushehr, in what they offered the Iranians that the Russians also do not believe that there should be enrichment and reprocessing capability on Iranian soil. And enrichment and reprocessing capability is the core here. If you're able to enrich and reprocess, then the ability to build a bomb is there. And so we and the Russians, the Chinese and certainly the Europeans have the same view of what is to be prevented.

Yes, we've had some tactical differences on how to get there. But I talked with my Russian counterpart on Friday. We agreed that our people would go back and work very hard this weekend and we'll see where we are on Monday. We are considering whether it might be a good idea to get -- after we have a presidential statement -- get ministers together again with the P-5, the permanent five of the Security Council plus Germany, to talk about charting a course forward because everybody takes very seriously Iran's intransigence and Iran's unwillingness to do what the international community is determined that it will do.

QUESTION: It is the policy of our government that Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. That is the view of the international community, not just the United States.

QUESTION: This article was in The New York Times.

"The reality is that most of us think the Iranians are probably going to get a weapon or the technology to make one sooner or later. An Administration official acknowledged a few weeks ago, refusing to talk on the record because such an admission amounts to a concession that dragging Iran in front of the United Nations Security Council may prove an exercise in futility. The optimists around here" -- about the White House -- "just hope we can delay the day by 10 or 20 years and that by that time we'll have a different relationship with a different Iranian Government."

That seems like a much different policy.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, since I don't know who this anonymous person is, I can't tell you what relationship they may have to the policy. I'll tell you who doesn't think that. I don't believe that. I don't believe that the President believes that because we're doing everything that we can to send a strong signal to the Iranians that they have no choice. If they wish to be a part of the international community, they have no choice but to give up ambitions that could lead to the technologies that would lead to a nuclear weapon. If the international community stays really solid here, Iran cannot stand the kind of isolation from the international community that, for instance, North Korea endures almost by choice. We really do have a chance to solve this diplomatically but, Tim, I would be the first to say we can't afford to waste time. That's why we need our people in New York to really work toward this first phase. We need to see if that has an effect on the Iranians. And if it does not have an effect on the Iranians, we need to move to the next phase.

QUESTION: Which is?

SECRETARY RICE: The next phase is to look to further options in the Security Council, for instance, perhaps the Chapter VII resolution.

QUESTION: Which is?

SECRETARY RICE: Chapter VII resolution essentially gives the UN or the Security Council the ability to compel a state to act. It can say that there would be consequences if actions are not taken.

QUESTION: Including military?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, no one ever takes anything off the table, but I believe we're a long way from that. We have the possibilities of financial measures that could be taken, bans against travel. There are a lot of options once you're in the Security Council. That's why it was very important to get this dossier, Iranian dossier, to the Security Council and why the diplomacy that we've been working over the last couple of years to get the Europeans and the United States on the same page and to now bring the Russians and the Chinese along has been so important.

QUESTION: Do you believe if the President chose to embark on military action with Iran, he would go to Congress for authorization first?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm not going to speculate on that. The President is clear that he keeps all of his options on the table. But, Tim, I think speculating about how we might set up military action isn't helpful at a time when we really are concentrating on the diplomacy. But I want to be very clear --

QUESTION: But you wouldn't go to Congress?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Tim, of course the Administration went to Congress the last time. And I would just ask people to look at the history of how this President has acted. He has taken Congress as a full partner in these matters. But I'm not going to get into a discussion of what the President may or may not do constitutionally.

QUESTION: Let me turn back to Iraq. The war now in its fourth year and these are the grim statistics: U.S. troops killed, 2,316; wounded, injured, 17,271; Iraqis killed, an estimated number of 30,000; 130,000 American troops on the ground. When you were planning the war, some three and a half years ago, did you have any idea that three years into the war, those are the numbers that you would be confronting?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly thought that it would be difficult. I don't think anyone knew precisely what we would be facing in terms of numbers. And, look, everyone of those deaths is mourned by people in the Administration because these are families that have lost husbands and wives and daughters and sons. But we also know that nothing of value is ever won without sacrifices.

We're in Iraq because the United States of America faces a different kind of enemy and a different kind of war and we have to have a different kind of Middle East if we're ever going to resolve the problems of an ideology of hatred that was so great that people flew airplanes into buildings. Iraq was -- Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a threat. Now that --

QUESTION: But Saddam was not related to flying airplanes into buildings.

SECRETARY RICE: No. And we have never said that Saddam -- Saddam was not related to the events of September 11th. But if you really believe that the only thing that happened on September 11th was people flew airplanes into buildings, I think you have a very narrow view of what we faced on September 11th. We faced the outcome of an ideology of hatred throughout the Middle East that had to be dealt with. Saddam Hussein was a part of that old Middle East. The new Iraq will be a part of a new Middle East and we will all be safer.

QUESTION: But Madame Secretary, weapons of mass destruction was the primary rationale given to go into Iraq. Lisa Myers of NBC News broke a story last week that the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mr. Sabri, became a spy for the French and the CIA. And this is how it was reported:

"Saddam Hussein's last Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, paid spy for (inaudible) intelligence, later turned him over to CIA to supply information about Iraq, its chemical, biological and nuclear program, more than six months before the war began in March of '03, according to former intelligence officials. The sources said he provided information. The Iraqi dictator had ambitions for a nuclear program but was not active and that no biological weapons were being produced or stockpiled, although research was underway."

That's a far cry from what the American people were told.

SECRETARY RICE: Of course, Tim, this was a single source among multiple sources. And the problem was that Saddam Hussein was unwilling after multiple resolutions in the Security Council to account for his weapons programs. We all remember that the accounting of the UN mission that was suppose to have a weapons inspection mission -- that was suppose to look into its weapons programs, could not account for large stockpiles. We all thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He certainly had a very healthy appetite for them and he had used them before, both against his own people and against his neighbors. He was a threat. This was someone flying against our aircraft or shooting at our aircraft as they flew the no-fly zones. He'd invaded his neighbors.

But the point is that now that he is gone, Iraq has an opportunity to be a different Iraq and a different kind of Middle East. I know it's hard and I know that the numbers that you've put up are difficult to see and I know that the violence on TV is difficult. But I would ask people to look at the prospective here of what is really going on in Iraq.

Under the violence, under the specter of this violence, you have Iraqis now, Sunni, Shia, Kurds and others, determined to form a government of national unity. That's extraordinary in Iraq's history where they've always settled their differences by violence, not by politics. And when they succeed in that, they are going to have the basis for a very different kind of Iraq and I think they're going to succeed.

QUESTION: But people are being asked to take your judgment on this, as we sit here this morning, and refer to previous judgments the Administration made: Weapons of mass destruction -- there were none. We would be greeted as liberators. This is three years later. That it would not take hundreds of thousands of American troops to occupy Iraq. Tommy Franks, according to his book "Cobra II," said we'd be down to 30,000 troops in November of '03. Cost of the war -- the budget director of the White House said it'd be $50 billion. It's now over $350 billion. Each judgment has proven to be wrong.

SECRETARY RICE: The judgment that has not proven to be wrong, Tim, is that the region is changing in fundamental ways and the region is better without Saddam Hussein. Yes, it is true that everyone thought he had weapons of mass destruction. He did not. It is, by the way, the case that the Iraqis are delighted to be rid of him. And some Iraqis, most Iraqis, in fact, are willing and want to keep coalition forces there until they can take care of this themselves. But we do have to keep things in historical perspective. These people are doing something that is quite unknown in the Middle East and one has to ask what was the alternative. Was the alternative to leave Saddam Hussein in power, continuing to threaten his neighbors, continuing with his windfall profits from the oil-for-food scandal, continuing to repress his people and build mass graves, continuing to use those oil-for-food profits to again build the infrastructure for his weapons of mass destruction?

QUESTION: But many will say he was contained by the no-fly zone.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think that there is anyone.

QUESTION: He was in a box.

SECRETARY RICE: I do not think that he was in a box. The oil-for-food program alone shows that the billions of dollars that he was collecting, he was not just going to build palaces. This was someone who had an insatiable appetite to dominate his region. Now, without Saddam Hussein, you can look across the region and see that a lot is changing, thanks to the President's democracy promotion and the hard work of people in those countries. You have Syrian forces out of Lebanon. You have Saddam Hussein out of Iraq. The people of the Middle East are taking on authoritarian governments across the Middle East. Kuwait has given women the right to vote.

I'd be the first to say that these big historical changes are turbulent and they're difficult. But the notion that somehow there was a placid Middle East, that if we just left it alone, if we'd just not invaded Iraq, if we had just not overthrown dictators, if we'd just not challenged Syrian power in Lebanon, everything would be just fine is simply not true. It was that Middle East, the malignancy of the Middle East that we "disturbed" that lead directly to the September 11th events.

QUESTION: The President said this week that whether there'll be troops in Iraq for the unforeseeable future will be determined by the next President, meaning we're going to have troops in Iraq at least through January of '09.

SECRETARY RICE: The President was asked this question in a particular way, and he answered that some American troops may well be there for the next president. But I would just point to what the President has said continually, which is that American forces are going to come down commencement with the need as Iraqi forces stand up, and they are indeed standing up.

General Casey has talked about a significant reduction of American forces over the next year. And that significant reduction is because Iraqi forces are taking and holding territory now, because during this most recent uptake in sectarian violence the Iraqi army behaved very, very well, so Iraqi forces are getting better. American forces are ceding territory and I think it's entirely probable that we will see a significant drawdown of American forces over the next year. That's what General Casey believes.

QUESTION: This year?

SECRETARY RICE: It's all dependent on the ground -- on events on the ground. But as General Casey said, we see the progress of Iraqi forces. We see the progress of the political process and there's every reason to believe that American forces can start to drawdown.

QUESTION: And is the insurgency in its last throes?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the insurgency politically is certainly in danger, because the Sunnis who stood outside of the political process --

QUESTION: But in terms of violence, is it in its last throes?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the insurgency is still able to pull off violence and kill innocent children or kill an innocent schoolteacher, yes, they're able to do that and they might be able to do that for some time. But what they've not been able to do is to disrupt the political process. What they've not been able to do is to set Iraqis one against another in the political process. They've not been able to stop free elections. They're not able to stop the formation of the government. A few violent people can always grab headlines and can always kill innocent people.

QUESTION: But it's more than a few.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's a few in terms of the population of Iraqis.

QUESTION: But it could not exist without being enabled by the population.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the population is less and less enabling. Every day there are reports that Zarqawi and al-Qaida meet stiff resistance, indeed, violent resistance from Iraqi tribes. Sunnis are now a part of the political process. And I know that people wonder when will the government formation finish. It seems to be dragging on after the elections. But I would just note, I read the other day, someone said, well, they're dividing up the spoils of the offices. That's not what they're doing in this process. They are writing a government program on which the national unity will govern. They are writing the rules by which they will govern and they're determining who will take key positions.

So this is an extraordinary matter, an extraordinary scene with Iraqi Sunni and Shia and Kurds all working together toward a unity government.

QUESTION: Let me turn to Afghanistan. There's a story moving on the wires that the Afghan court has just dismissed the charges against this gentleman who had converted to Christianity. Are you aware that was going to happen?

SECRETARY RICE: I can't confirm that particular report, Tim. I know that the Afghans are working on it. They've been very aware of the issue and of the concerns about the issue. This is a young democracy that is working with a constitution that, like many constitutions when they're first born, that the conflicts have to be worked out. We have our own history of conflicts that had to be worked out after a new constitution. And so the Afghans are working on it, but America has stood solidly for religious freedom, as a bedrock --the bedrock of democracy and we'll see. But I can't confirm that (inaudible).

QUESTION: Should American Christian missionaries by encouraged to go to Afghanistan?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that Afghans are pleased to get the help that they can get. We need to be respectful of Afghan sovereignty.

QUESTION: Including Christian missionaries?

SECRETARY RICE: We have to be respectful of Afghan sovereignty. And, Tim, respectful of the fact that this is a country that is coming out of 25 years of civil war, a country that's going to have to find its own way and a country that is going through one of the most difficult debates that any society goes through, and that is the proper role of religion in the politics of the state. It's a debate, by the way, that all of us went through at some point in our history.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, we talk all the time about spreading democracy. In your own State Department Report on Human Rights Abuses, said Afghanistan says that Christianity is punishable by death, that a missionary -- Christian missionaries are not welcome, that women cannot get a passport or leave the country without permission of a man. This is a far cry from the responsibilities and rights given to most people who live in a democracy.

SECRETARY RICE: And it's also a far cry from the Taliban. This is a country that has come an enormous way in four years. So, yes, the issues of the constitution are going to be debated in this very traditional society that is trying now to move to a modern political system. I would just ask people to remember how hard this was for us.

Tim, I am, I hate to say, 51-years-old, but it's in my lifetime that black Americans were guaranteed the right to vote. Who are we to be so insistent that people must do this overnight? We're working with the Afghan Government. They're moving in a democratic fashion. It's going to be hard. But when something arises, as with Mr. Rahman, it is the obligation of the international community and of the United States, and there has been support across Europe for this, that the Afghans be reminded that in their own constitution they have enshrined the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which guarantees certain religious freedoms. We didn't have that constitution with the Taliban to work with.

QUESTION: So Christians should be able to worship, people should be able to convert to Christianity in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY RICE: Of course, Tim. Our -- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear on this. But I would be the first to say that Afghans are going to have to work through some of the difficulties and contradictions.

QUESTION: But it can't be done on a case-by-case basis. It has to be ensured.

SECRETARY RICE: They will have to work through court cases, as we have, to interpret the constitution. They will have to work through individual cases. And I'm quite certain that the evolution of Afghan democracy is going in the right direction, but I would just remind people, that four years ago the Taliban was executing people wantonly in stadiums for playing music. This is a country that has come a very, very long way and women were not being educated at all. It was punishable to educate women. This is a place that has come a long, long way.

Let's support them in their quest to become a modern democracy.

QUESTION: You mentioned you're 51 and I'm curious if it's time for a career change. We discussed future options for you on this program. Here was the headline all across the paper: "NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue Stepped Down in July." And here's our conversations in 2001, '02,'03, and '04 on this subject.

"In your next life, you want to be commissioner of the NFL.

SECRETARY RICE: Right. I think the NFL is really a different institution and I'd love to be associated with it someday.

QUESTION: Another first.

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, I'm really not to be commissioner of NFL, remember?

I think Paul Tagliabue is doing a fine job as NFL Commissioner, but I look forward to the day that he decides to retire and I very much think that the best job in America has got to be NFL Commissioner.

QUESTION: You just announced your candidacy.

SECRETARY RICE: I still think the best job in America may be NFL Commissioner. It's a little too soon for me. I've got lots to do as Secretary of State and I think my ship came in. It's going to have to leave the port without me.

QUESTION: So you're not interested?

SECRETARY RICE: No, not interested.

QUESTION: Now Fred Barnes, a reporter, has close ties to the -- sources to the White House wrote this in the Wall Street Journal the other day.

"A third term for Bush. The President's most spectacular move would be to anoint a presidential successor. This would require Vice President Cheney to resign; his replacement, Condoleezza Rice, who Mr. Bush regards highly."

SECRETARY RICE: We've got a great Vice President of the United States in Vice President Cheney. He is doing a fantastic job for the President and for the country. He is really one of the strongest supporters that I've drawn on from time to time and he's doing a great job. I think I'd better try to be Secretary. You just gave a whole list of things left to work on as Secretary of State.

QUESTION: But if the President came to you and said, "Dick Cheney's going to resign. I want you to be my Vice President because I want you to run in 2008, you wouldn't say no."

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, I think we've been through this conversation about 2008. I'm not going to do that. That's not what I want to do with my life.

QUESTION: Laura Bush said you'd make an excellent President and I don't think we can talk her into running.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that's -- I really appreciate that the First Lady who I admire very much thinks that. But the last part of that's right.

QUESTION: Will not happen?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think it's going to happen.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, as always, we thank you for sharing your views.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.

2006/313

ENDS

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