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Rice Roundtable with Travelling Press Baghdad Iraq

Rice Roundtable with Travelling Press Baghdad, Iraq

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Baghdad, Iraq
April 2, 2006

SECRETARY RICE: Okay. Who wants to start?

QUESTION: If you could give us a little briefing about your day.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Let's see, you have the schedule of who I met with, but the message is the same in every meeting. But it really is each of you has to decide what you have to do personally to move this process along; and people will have different roles to play, but whatever that role is, it's time to play it because the Iraqi people are losing patience and that's showing up in polling, it's showing up, I'm told, in cartoons, it's showing up in the news coverage here; and what is more, your international allies want to see this get done because you can't continue to leave a political vacuum.

Now let me say something in fairness to the people we've been meeting with. They rightly say not only is this hard, but you are underestimating the things we've been doing in this period. And they have been very actively engaged in putting together a program, in putting together structures that will help them govern. The constitution told them that they ought to have structures to govern, but it didn't -- they ought to have by-laws. So, in effect, they've been trying to write those by-laws.

And you recognize that from any process of government coalition formation, which we don't do in the United States but Europeans do all the time, if you're going to form a coalition you have to have a program on which to govern, you have to have rules by which to govern, or the whole thing would fall apart even if you had a prime minister. So that's what they've been doing. It's not as if they've just been focusing on who's going to be prime minister. So that was the nature of the discussions today.

QUESTION: Did they give you any hope that as a result of your and Mr. Straw's discussions that they could move any faster?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't -- I mean, we're not going to leave here with a government tomorrow. That's not the purpose of the trip. And but I think they recognize and probably it was good for all of them to hear it from each of us, from both of us, that people have a sense of drift in the process both in Iraq and outside of Iraq, and I think they want to correct that perception. But of course, the only way that you correct that perception is that they've got to move forward on getting a prime minister and moving on.

QUESTION: I noticed one of your dinner guests tonight is Saleh Mutlak. Do you think meeting with Sunni politicians such as Mutlak is a way to make (inaudible) the insurgency? Do you think (inaudible) represent in any way some of the Sunni armed groups?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I just met also with some other Sunni leaders just before I came over here, and what strikes me is that there's a considerable maturing of the Sunni political leadership. When I was here in November, it was sort of hard to imagine that they were going to be a voice for the Sunni people. It didn't seem that they really had the kind of connections that you see in the Shia political leadership or the Kurdish political leadership.

But they've clearly done a lot of work and they're very articulate now about their interests. And I think the most useful thing, and this speaks to your point about Saleh Mutlaq, is that you get a sense that the Shia have come to understood that the United States is trying to protect their interests as well as the interests of the others; in other words, that we're not playing sectarian politics but rather are trying to provide a framework and a constructive environment in which everybody's interests can be represented.

And I think the turning point was really the constitution when the United States through Zal -- pushed very hard not to leave the Sunnis out of the process despite the fact that they really didn't have enough votes to even get on to the commission to write the constitution. So I think that started to change their attitudes about the United States.

And so yes, I do think it's a way -- I don't know about connections to what parts of the insurgency, but I know that one of the lifebloods of insurgency is to have a political base, and if that political base erodes so that all you have is a bunch of violent people, not a bunch of violent people who people think are representing their political interests, then an insurgency is going to die under those circumstances.

QUESTION: What was your message to Jafari, and how did he, if in any way at all, react to yesterday's call from some of the Shiites for him to step down?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, he is quite focused on the -- as you see what he said, on the fact that, you know, he was nominated by the United Iraqi Alliance. And that's right, he was. And the one thing that we've been emphasizing with the Shia is that we don't have any desire to try to interfere with or reverse somehow the result by which the Shia get to nominate the prime minister because obviously the UIA is the largest bloc; they get to nominate the prime minister.

But the message to all of the parties, but the Shia, is that there are two parts to this process: One is you nominate; the other is that person has to be able to form a government of national unity. And thus far, Jafari has not been able to do that. Now, maybe he will be able to do it, but the urgency is that whoever is going to be the prime minister candidate is actually able to bring enough of the other votes on board to have a government of national unity.

And so it's rather ironic because but for the overhang of the violence, this is a process that goes on all around the world as coalition governments are formed. But the Iraqis have to realize that there's particular urgency to their case because they are trying to use a government of national unity to disable those who are trying to stoke sectarian violence.

QUESTION: Does what you've said about Jafari mean that you think it's possible to break this logjam with him maintaining his current position or did you hear anything else today that tells you that that logjam is breaking up?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't know who the prime minister is going to be and it's not our role to try and determine who the prime minister is going to be. I do know that in the time since his nomination on February 11th he's not been able to do it. And the Iraqis need to do that. That's the one thing they've got to do. They've got to get a prime minister who can actually form the government. Whoever that person is we're going to support because this is a sovereign government and it has to choose its own leaders.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, five weeks. I think Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was here five weeks ago. He thought it was going to happen five weeks ago. It didn't happen and now he came back here to try to make it happen. Given your experience today, do you have any more hope (a) that it's going to happen and (b) what are you going to do if another five weeks passes and it doesn't happen?

SECRETARY RICE: Peter, I sense that pieces are kind of falling into place for them. For instance, I do think the Sunni leadership is much more active. Through our facilitation and British facilitation, they've been meeting more or less around the clock to try to resolve some of these problems. I think that was not the case several weeks ago. So if you really kind of look at the calendar, they had the elections but then it took almost two months for the elections to be certified, and then they started the process of government formation. So, in fact, the length of time is not from December 15th. It's from whatever that would be -- February 15th.

But nonetheless, the reality of the Iraqi situation is whatever the reasons for how hard the process of government formation is, they've got to get it done. I sensed that they understand that and that they are working a number of different possibilities to try to get it done.

QUESTION: And if five weeks down the road you don't see anything there, what happens?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's see where we are five weeks down the road. But you know, I'll check in more than from five weeks from now, I can assure you that. (Laughter.) I'm not going to wait for five weeks.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the danger is to Iraq if this goes on and on and on? Is Iraq sort of at a tipping point now?

SECRETARY RICE: I wouldn't say that. Iraq has been at a tipping point so many times, if I read the analysis, that it should have tipped by now, right? But it's --

QUESTION: A thousand times.

SECRETARY RICE: A thousand times. It should have tipped thousands of times by now. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Speaking figuratively. Although I'm never speaking figuratively again with this group. (Laughter.) And by the way, one of the Iraqis said, "I read what you said," and I thought, yeah, read the follow-on interviews. (Laughter.)

But anyway, you know, I did say to the Iraqis today that at the time of the Samarra bombing terrorist incident, I was very concerned as to whether or not they had the kind of internal strength and internal cohesion to overcome that. And there was about 24 hours that was pretty bad where it wasn't clear that they had the internal cohesion to overcome it. But they did. And not only did they overcome it, but they overcame it in some pretty creative ways. You know, you had Shia going to Sunni services and Sunnis going to Shia prayer services and so forth.

And so what I've been really amazed at is the resilience of this political process against a lot of very tough odds. But I did say to them, you know, how many more times you can be resilient, so don't take the chance that you have to be resilient again because a government of national unity will clearly be more resilient than an interim government that is just, you know, trying to wait until a new government is formed.

QUESTION: Did you have a chance to discuss in any detail the problems that will face the future -- current and future governments (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: I didn't. We've been talking really government formation, government formation. But those conversations go on all the time and one of the good things about they're working on a program and so forth is that they start to think about how their ministries are going to run. I think they understand that the corruption factor is a major concern. By the way, they're not the only ones in the region who have a corruption problem and not the only ones in the world who have a corruption problem. But one of the advantages to the work that they have done is I think they're trying to sketch out a program to deal with some of these problems.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, should we be making a connection between President Bush's increasingly blunt statements in recent weeks about the need for them to get going and this very high-profile visit by you and Jack Straw? I mean, particularly since, as you say, you've been talking about government formation, the key pieces of the logjam have been well known for some time now. In the past, you know, you've made a difference in places like Rafah and I'm wondering whether, in fact, you had a talk with the President and he said, look, you know, go try to see what you can do to help them -- not negotiate but to, you know --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President knows I'm here, certainly. No, of course, the importance that the United States attaches to getting an outcome to this has been evident in what the President has been saying and it's meant to be evident in my being here. But I also thought, and Jack thought too, that sometimes it helps -- you know, our ambassadors have been here and working through this hour upon hour upon hour with the Iraqis trying to facilitate, and sometimes it helps a little bit to have somebody come in from the outside, a little bit fresh, and say here's how it looks from another venue, another viewpoint. And so that's really what we're doing here. But again, it's not to negotiate with them what the outcome is going to be. But yes, the President wants to get this -- get them -- wants them to get this done and we thought we'd take advantage of the fact that Jack and I were together in Europe and that this would be a good time to come.

It also -- after the last incidents and then, you know, some people didn't go to the meetings for a day and so forth, you need to send a message, I think, that boycotting meetings that are really about your future is actually not a signal to us; it's a signal to your own people. And so the continuity of this process is really important.

QUESTION: But did the President actually ask you to make this trip?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we talked about it and he thought it would be a good idea.

QUESTION: I'm a bit curious here. Since Jack Straw is a member of parliament from a parliamentary system, did he bring that in these discussions?

SECRETARY RICE: The answer to your question is yes, he did. (Laughter.) Yes.

QUESTION: In these meetings, did Jack Straw talk about what it's like to try to create coalitions with parliamentary governments?

SECRETARY RICE: He did. He did. And it was actually very interesting. I learned a lot about several British prime ministerships and how they had come into being. And it's helpful because we don't have any experience in what this is actually like. But Jack was able to talk about, you know, how you read the signals and what kinds of things you have to look for and what kinds of signals you have to send to the public as it's being done, because any public will get frustrated and start to wonder what's going on. And so yeah, he did talk quite a bit about it.

QUESTION: How strongly did you express the international community and the U.S. concern about the delays in this process? Did you evoke the sacrifices and the resources and the lives that are being spent? I mean, were you very blunt with them?

SECRETARY RICE: I was very direct that the United States and indeed Great Britain and a number of others, but most especially the United States and Great Britain, have put a lot of treasure -- and I mean human treasure -- on the line to try to give Iraq an opportunity for a democratic government. I said that we were very proud of what they had achieved to now and, you know, I was, I hope, supportive in the kind of process that they've gone through because it is pretty remarkable to go from where they were after the fall of Saddam Hussein to now having a democratically elected government. But I did explain that given the sacrifice, people expect that process to continue and it can't now get stuck at the most important stage, which is to deliver on the Iraqi people's sacrifice also to go out and have elections and face down terrorist threats and, you know, 11 million of them standing in line to vote. They also can't ignore the sacrifice of their own people. So that was the message.

QUESTION: Did you evoke, like we discussed the other night, the fact that this isn't unlimited, that this is not an open -- a blank check, that the U.S. commitment cannot go on much further, much further --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I did say that, you know, democracies have to support the policies of a democratically elected government, and the United States is a democracy. And the American people want to see Iraq succeed, but they want to see Iraq progress towards success, and that's important to the American people as they continue to support this effort.

I've got a couple more. Yes, yes.

QUESTION: The last time when you were in Iraq you flew in on a helicopter and today -- and at that time you said that you were really looking forward to the moment when you would be able to drive, take the airport road --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the rain was a little daunting, actually. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Did it meet all your expectations that you had expressed (inaudible) in going that route? And (inaudible) first of all, were you a little disappointed that it took so long? It seemed a little chaotic, quite frankly.

SECRETARY RICE: What seemed chaotic?

QUESTION: The ride.

QUESTION: There was a lot of --


QUESTION: -- the traffic was very --

SECRETARY RICE: Oh yeah. Well, yeah. (Laughter.) I didn't worry about it. I mean, I was busily talking to Zal and William, who is the British Ambassador, and Jack Straw in the car about, you know, what we were going to do and what we were going to see, and I didn't think much about it. I think they did a great job. You know, we would normally chopper in. The weather was terrible. We had to drive in.

But I was saying earlier, I look forward to the day when, you know, I can drive all over Iraq. And I'm absolutely confident that it's coming because, you know, you sort of look at all the extraordinary effort that has to be put into security and you recognize that it's a place that still has significant security challenges, but then you go and you sit with Iraqi leaders and you talk about their government formation process and the things that they want to do, and I think you recognize that once they've done that and once they've got now a ministry of defense and a ministry of interior that are really going to be nonsectarian and work on the security issues, there is a lot of desire -- I think that's what really comes through. There's a lot of desire in this country to make it work. You know, the people want to make it work.

That's why they're in their newly free press apparently doing almost daily cartoons about the lack of a government formation. Imagine that in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. You would not have been doing cartoons about whatever Saddam Hussein was doing -- and live to tell about it. And here you have in their free press people apparently just lampooning their government for not getting formed.

That shows a desire to have this democratic process work and it shows the kind of political maturity that's pretty extraordinary. Sitting, as you said, with the Sunni leaders today and watching how far they've come in really a very short period of time in putting together an articulate set of leaders who I think really are connected now to the Sunni population in ways that perhaps some of the earlier representatives, as we called them, of the Sunni community were not. You know, they were very good people but you didn't have the deep roots.

And then when you look at these leaders who literally are working all the time, and they were rightly proud today of the work that they have done on the rules of governing and on their program, and proudly showed it to us, you know, there is a lot of desire in this country to make it work. There are those who desire not to make it work and those are the people who set off roadside bombs and, you know, blow up innocent kids. But I really do believe that when you've got this much desire to make it work, this much resilience at overcoming sectarian differences, they're going to make it work.

QUESTION: Did any of these leaders raise with you the rise in sectarian violence or in any way --


QUESTION: -- discuss the specter of civil war, the (inaudible) to them?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that they themselves, fortunately, seem to avoid this notion that they're all at the brink of civil war. They are very -- what's interesting is they are very focused this way on getting things done and the -- they do talk about the sectarian violence. They talk about the militias. They talk about the fear that the power of the militias is not being checked by the police. But when they say those things, I think it's important to go back to them and say, look, these are not the kinds of things that the multinational forces are going to be able to solve for you because they have deeply political roots. And that's why we're pressing so hard for a government of national unity because that government of national unity can then, through its ministry of defense and ministry of interior, insist on nonsectarian behavior by the police and the militias. It will not happen overnight.

You know, if you go to any place where there have been deep ethnic tensions, you'll find that in a police force, for instance, those ethnic tensions show up. I think you would have found that at times in the United States in strongly ethnic communities where you had police tensions if you brought in police from another ethnic community. So it's not unknown that this happens, but you have to have a government that's committed to rooting it out and creating truly national institutions in order to be able to take on some of these issues.

QUESTION: Did you discuss the troop withdrawals at all and (inaudible) foreign troops (inaudible) how much longer they should stay?

SECRETARY RICE: No, no. That didn't come up.


# # #

Released on April 2, 2006


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