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Rice & Jack Straw: Lancashire Evening Telegraph IV

Interview With British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw by David Higgerson of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Blackburn, England
March 31, 2006

QUESTION: We'll start with an easy one. How have you found Blackburn so far?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm having a wonderful time in Blackburn. First of all, it's really a very beautiful place. I mean, I had no idea what Northwest England looks like and it's really quite beautiful. The people have been warm and wonderful. I enjoyed the chance to exchange views with the audience and I especially loved the opportunity to meet some of the members of the Blackburn Rovers. And they said to me that they're very excited on the prospect of getting into Europe, so I wish them all the best in doing that and maybe Jack can inform me when they do.


QUESTION: The visit to the school, the youngsters were certainly quick off the mark with the questions, weren't they?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, they were. They weren't shy in the least. First of all, it's great to be with the students and, obviously, these are very dedicated teachers and a very dedicated head teacher. I was really impressed with the work that the students were doing. I was very impressed with how articulate they were, how self-confident they were. And I was also very impressed, these student councils that seem to have a lot more power than when I was doing student council back in school.

QUESTION: One of the things you mentioned in your talks here, Ms. Rice was how you were in the 10th grade before you had a white classmate.


QUESTION: How did it make you feel to see so many various groups, a mix you don't normally have?

SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, I think it's wonderful. It would, in many parts of the United States, now be true too. We often talk about cultures and clash of cultures. And when you see kids together, you realize that this is just humanity and if you give children a chance to get to know each other early, then it's not the other or the different one; it's your classmate or the person that you're on student council with. And I thought they were quite wonderful and, clearly, it's a school that is multiethnic, which all of our societies are more multi-religious and it's great.

QUESTION: When you were talking about the people's right to protest, and I think there was a question from BBC about whether your trip and yourself have divided the community, is there a danger that the foreign policy that, say, Britain or America follows could be divisive within communities such as Blackburn, to the detriment of the good race relations, which, relatively, Blackburn has?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Jack's probably better to answer this question, but obviously, there are strong views on all sides. But it seems to me that the democratic fabric of Blackburn and of this country is strong enough to have differences about policy and to engage those differences in a respectful way to -- if you -- if, in a democracy, people can't have differences and really air them, then you've lost something really very important about democracy. And it seems to me that the fabric of this community is plenty strong enough to have differences accommodated.

QUESTION: Is one of the key things in a strong democracy the ability to have, say for example, strong faiths within a community; for example, the ability to have faith schools, while at the same time having a strong community?

SECRETARY RICE: It seems to me that the role of faith schools in democracies is quite important and you see that -- you see them in the United States. And we have a somewhat different history about the relationship of the church to the state, but obviously, the most important thing is that individual rights be respected, but that also means respect for religious freedom. It means respect for parents' ability to bring their children up in whatever religious faith and traditions they wish. And so it seemed to be quite, to me here, in quite good shape.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: We've already got -- we've got two Catholic high schools in town and one Anglican and there is a Muslim girls school which is about to become state-funded, also a faith school like the other three, which is good.

I think actually, it gives greater degree of moderation by the state if they are state-funded. So, I'm sorry about that.

QUESTION: Not at all. With the protestors, Madame Secretary said several times today that it's the people's right to protest. Some of the leaflets that get put out ahead of protests talk about you both and they refer to you as child killers and things like that. Now is it hard -- is it hard when people try and personalize your actions? Because both of you, I think, would not say you went to war with the intention of killing people, but that always seems to be what people try to tell other people. Is that hard?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, people can say whatever they wish. I think -- I know where I stand. We made the right decision in my view. The President and the Prime Minister had to take a difficult decision. I was fully supportive of that decision. And I know that it's controversial and I know that there are people who disagree. But one thing that I would ask people to think about is: Do they really think Iraqis were better off with Saddam Hussein and without any prospect of having the kinds of freedoms that all of us enjoy?

We talk a lot about human rights and there were few human rights abusers as bad as Saddam Hussein. So the only thing in polite debate, I think, is to actually talk about alternatives, so -- but people can say whatever. And look, I'm accustomed to protestors. They're not the first protesters I've seen, they're not the last that I will see, and that's what happens in democracies.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: And you'll remember, David, the last election, people were saying much worse about me. We had a band traveling around everywhere, where Jack Straw has killed 100,000 Iraqis.

SECRETARY RICE: Is that right?


QUESTION: Not to mention the Green Goddess. (Laughter.)

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: This former ambassador, renegade ambassador of the Foreign Office called Craig Murray, who came up here to stand against me -- and he had bought as his campaign vehicle a former military (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: I also think that sometimes personalization like that loses people who might otherwise be willing to listen.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: I'll also just say that I don't know whether you drove up and down Pleckgate Road and Ramsgreave Drive. The reception down there, down to the Knowles Arms was absolutely terrific.

QUESTION: And there were a lot of American flags, people with American flags. Did you see that?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, and ladies coming, you know, out of their houses and people who came out of the stores along the way, so it was really very nice. I appreciated it.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: I bet if you did an opinion poll, you'd find the vast majority of people in Blackburn like this trip, and some are opposed to it.

QUESTION: Let's just move onto football. I've just finished reading a book -- there's a throwaway line in there on how you talk about the NFL when you retire from politics.


QUESTION: Will you be promoting the Blackburn Rovers to people maybe to watch on Fox Sports (inaudible)? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm certainly going to try to catch a game or two, now that I had the great pleasure of meeting some Rovers. And you know, actually, soccer is quite popular among kids particularly in the United States, and children -- a lot of children play it all the way up through -- to college.

I don't know why it hasn't had the appeal in the United States that it's has worldwide. I think some of it is that if you don't really understand, it's a little difficult to watch on television and we're very much a television sports culture in the United States.

QUESTION: I believe you now own two Blackburn Rovers shirts, is that right?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. One that Jack gave me and then one that the team gave me. But having one that, you know, that Brad and team gave me was pretty special, Jack. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The next question is going to be, what does the Secretary of State do with two Blackburn Rovers football shirts?

SECRETARY RICE: Wears them to work out. Yes, I mean, I can always use more exercise clothes, you know. And when I put on one, I feel like, you know, kind of like a professional, like maybe I really know what I'm doing. And if you were to go into my office at the State Department, you would see that there are many memorabilia from sports, which -- I'm such a great sports fan, I've got footballs and helmets and all kinds of things. So you can be sure they'll be well used.

QUESTION: Just on the subject of food. I was reading when you were talking about the trip over here that you -- and I'm sure Jack ate some of the local cuisine from where you're from. Has Jack forced any proper --

SECRETARY RICE: We just had hot sausage. It was delicious. It was really good and --

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: And Morecombe Bay shrimps.

SECRETARY RICE: That's right. It was fantastic.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: And with cheese actually, which is great.

SECRETARY RICE: And I think a fair bit healthier than some of the things inflicted on Jack in Alabama.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Some of our things are pretty fatty (inaudible).

QUESTION: And finally, what's the -- if one thing was to come out of this trip, obviously, it's evident whenever you speak you have a very solid working relationship. What is it you would like to see to come out of this trip?

SECRETARY RICE: Do you want to go first?

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Oh, you ask good questions. Well, obviously, apart from getting somebody else to promote Rovers, I mean, greater international understanding about the texture of Britain. Also, a sort of return trip, the texture of the United States, because I learned so much when I went to Birmingham. I would love Condi to learn more about the UK and Condi turning out to be an ambassador for black women and putting it, or helping to put it further on the map.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, when I asked Jack to come to Birmingham, I had in mind exactly that. But too often -- well, almost always, when people come to the United States, they go to Washington, New York, maybe to Los Angeles. And there's a whole vast country in between that no one ever sees. And my hometown, Birmingham, which rightly had a terrible reputation in the '50s and in the early '60s, it was actually called "Bombingham" because of the bombings during the Civil Rights movement. And so it rightly had a bad reputation.

But like many places, it has really worked to overcome that. It's a place now where the police chief is a black woman, replacing the most notorious figure of the Civil Rights era, a man named Bull Connor who was the one who unleashed the police dogs on Martin Luther King and the demonstrators. And I wanted both to show Birmingham, but to show also that your history and your past are not necessarily a prediction of your future. I think around the world, we're seeing places that are having to overcome terrible pasts -- Afghanistan, Iraq -- but they're not stuck there. They don't have to be stuck there. It's quite possible to overcome it. And I think Birmingham's a story like that. And in many ways, Blackburn is a story like that.

QUESTION: That's a story -- Blackburn's story is one you will tell and maybe Liverpool's as well to people?

SECRETARY RICE: I'll say that it's not what I thought what northwest England would look like. It's not the rust belt. It is a place of clean factories and tidy and wonderful homes and great school kids. And I know it has a lot of challenges like every community, but it's overcome some very difficult times when a lot of people counted it out. And we just have to remember when we're counting others out around the world, that there were times when people counted us out, too. So places like Birmingham and Blackburn are a reminder not to ever count people out.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks, Secretary Rice.



Released on April 1, 2006


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