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Rice & Jack Straw En Route to Baghdad, Iraq

Remarks With British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw En Route to Baghdad, Iraq

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
En Route to Baghdad, Iraq
April 2, 2006

SECRETARY RICE: We are obviously on our way to Baghdad at what is an important time for Iraq. And I'm going to ask Jack to lead off and then I'll have a few words and then we'll take your questions.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Thanks very much. I just wanted to say this. Apart from admiring your readiness to take surprises, I'm not sure that the British press pack would be as benign about this. But for (inaudible) it's easier for me to get out to Baghdad. This will be the third visit to Baghdad since the near year. I went in early January and went again towards the end of February and now here we are again five weeks later.

And on the last visit I made, I was given fairly clear indications of the determination by all the leaders I met that they would get on pretty fast with the formation of a national unity government.

SECRETARY RICE: I just want to establish, we are on the record; is that right?

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: All right, thanks. So I was -- they would go on pretty fast with the formation of a national unity government. Sadly, and this doesn't only happen in Iraq, this coalition formation has taken much longer. But the message that the Secretary and I are going to give the Iraqis tomorrow against that background is this: number one, that this is a sovereign government of Iraq that the elections were held freely by the Iraqi people and we obviously, as the international community does, respect the outcome, and the formation of a government is a matter for them; but there is significant international concern about the time the formation of this government is taking. And therefore, we believe and we will be urging the Iraqi leaders that we see to press ahead more quickly with the formation of a government of national unity then able to take leadership of the security situation and the rebuilding of the country.

Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: I would only underscore that the Iraqi people are facing a lot of very difficult challenges. This is in many ways a time of testing for the Iraqi nation and for the Iraqi people, and they need a government that can act on their behalf in this time of testing. That means that they need a government that is broadly based, a government in which people will have confidence and that can show strong leadership. But they do need that government and so we're going to urge that the negotiations be wrapped up and a government formed.

So we'll take a few questions. Sue.

QUESTION: Are you going to set down any deadlines for the Iraqis and tell them that they have to meet certain milestones now, otherwise you may take certain actions such as withdraw troops or do something else?

SECRETARY RICE: You know by now that I don't believe in deadlines and timelines. That's not the way this business works. But it should be very clear to everyone that the time has come for these negotiations to produce a government of national unity, and that will be the message. Not a timeline or a deadline. I think we both understand how hard it is. But the Iraqi people need their government and they need their leaders.

QUESTION: Why did you decide at this particular time to visit Iraq? Who are you going to meet when we get there? Are you going to try to sort of counter the perception that Ambassador Khalilzad has been involved perhaps too deeply and that he's been siding with one side against the other?

And Mr. Secretary, when was it decided that you would go with the Secretary of State and how is that different from just going alone?

SECRETARY RICE: Ambassador Khalilzad has been doing nothing but trying to help the Iraqis come together around a government. He's been trying to facilitate that. He's working with all parties and working with all parties so that this can truly be a government of national unity. It is useful from time to time to have a visit by Jack or by myself. He was out, as he said, a couple of times already this year. I was out, I guess, just at the end of last year. When was it? November. Yeah, in November. And so obviously we've wanted to be out there at times that we thought we could help move the process forward, and of course it's important to have fresh messages from time to time from Washington and from London about the concern that a government be formed.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: On the issue of the timing, the Secretary and I have been talking about this for a couple of weeks. It transpired that she was intending to go again and I was intending to go again, so it was quite independently that we were able to schedule it so we went together.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: What?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Yeah. Well, funny, I mean, we had a plane lined up for me to fly separately. But anyway, so away we go. But I'm delighted to see you guys.

SECRETARY RICE: We'll take a couple more.

QUESTION: Can you walk us through the meetings, who you're going to see and what --

MR. MCCORMACK: (Off-mike.) We'll give you the schedule (inaudible).

QUESTION: Well, are you going to see Jafari, and what will you say to him if you do?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, we will see Prime Minister Jafari. We'll see all of the leaders. I think we've seen most of these people on most of our trips and we'll see the entire leadership, and Talabani and Jafari and Hakim and, you know, the list -- they'll give you the list, but it's a predictable list.

In terms of the message, the message is going to be the same to everybody, that there really needs to be a government that is strong and a unifying force for the country and that can act on the challenges that the Iraqi people face and act on those challenges expeditiously. And that message is not going to change, whoever we're seeing.

QUESTION: Could I ask you both whether it's the view of the United States and Britain that Prime Minister Jafari is now a part of the problem and he'd best serve his country by stepping aside?

And, Madame Secretary, can I ask you about the U.S. message that was sent to Ayatollah Sistani recently?

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Look, as far as any individual candidates are concerned, that's a matter for the Iraqi people, in this case the Iraqi council of representatives. And speaking for the United Kingdom and I think the United States, we will recognize and respect whoever emerges as a leader through this system. Our concern, however, is that they have to make swift progress to secure a leader, and that's all. But it's fundamental.

SECRETARY RICE: And I'm not going to talk about confidential communications one way or another, if we did or we didn't. We have from time to time shared views with different leaders in the country, all leaders in the country. I just want to say a word about Ayatollah Sistani. I don't think there's anyone for whom we have greater respect than Ayatollah Sistani. He's been a voice of reason at difficult times for the Iraqi people. He's been someone who has urged unity for the country, who has used his position of considerable authority in the Shia community to urge an Iraq that would be tolerant and inclusive of all Iraqis. And so we have enormous respect for him.

QUESTION: Thanks, Madame Secretary. For both of you, do you get the impression from all of the different ethnic groups that they're still committed to a unity government? And it seems as if part of the jockeying right now is really between the ethnic groups themselves, particularly within the Shia community. Are you thinking of reaching out to some of the more hardline clerics like al-Sadr to see if perhaps they can play a more productive role than they're playing right now? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's certainly our view that all of the leaders with whom we will be speaking are still very committed to a national unity government. That's what they're saying. That's the way they're behaving when they meet with our ambassadors. I don't think there's any doubt that they're committed to a national unity government; it's just that this process is very difficult in getting there.

I don't see at this point -- we're not going to meet with Muqtada al-Sadr. Let me make that clear. But the process is one that can be inclusive of all Iraqis who are devoted to a unity government and who do not intend to use violence to back up their claims. And that's really the issue about Muqtada al-Sadr and the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia, where I think it would be hard to claim that violence is not still in his arsenal.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: No, I'm sorry, I agree with what the Secretary has said on that.

QUESTION: Yes, for both of you. There are reports that Shia are leaving Sunni communities, in the mixed communities where both Shia and Sunni have lived together, that there are mass movements of Shia leaving Sunni communities and Sunni leaving Shia communities. Does that -- do those kind of reports add urgency to trying to bring this unity government together and how concerned are you about those reports?

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: I don't know the exact accuracy of the reports, but to the extent that a shift is taking place, it's an indication of the problems you have without a national unity government. I think that confidence in government with a small "g" will significantly rise as soon as you get a government of national unity with a time span of up to four years, actually, formed. And that's what we wish to see.

SECRETARY RICE: Peter.

QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary, Madame Secretary, just to come back on something that Sue asked earlier. Without putting a timeline on it, are you going to be communicating in any way that the U.S. and the British commitment cannot be indefinite to this process as long as the Iraqis are not fulfilling their part of the job in coming up with a government and that, as Ambassador Khalilzad suggested, I think a couple of weeks ago, that at some point you're going to have to figure, you know, what you do if they don't come up with their part of the bargain?

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Look, the United States has invested an astonishing amount in Iraq, not least in service personnel and the loss of well over 2,000 brave service men and women. We from the United Kingdom have invested very, very large sums and we've lost over a hundred service personnel. Many fewer than you have, but still a hundred too many. We're committed to Iraq, very committed, but we need to see progress and that is in everybody's interest.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. And as to deadlines, I would assume that the fact that we are going out to have these discussions with the leadership is a sign of the urgency to which we attach -- that we attach to the need for a government of national unity.

2006/T20-13

Released on April 2, 2006

ENDS


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