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Rice Interview With Kimberly Dozier of CBS News

Interview With Kimberly Dozier of CBS News

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Baghdad, Iraq
April 2, 2006

QUESTION: So you've come in along with the British Foreign Secretary. Have you had some success gently knocking some heads together?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're here to deliver a message to the Iraqi leaders, a message, by the way, that I find that they largely already understand, which is that the patience of the Iraqi people is not endless for the government formation process and indeed they face a very difficult situation in which, if this vacuum of power continues, then the prospect of violence really causing great difficulty for the country is very real.

That was the message and therefore the process of government formation needs to proceed quickly. They need to find a prime minister that can govern, a government of national unity that can provide strong leadership. It's up to them who that person is. But they need to get these key steps taken so that they can give some confidence to the Iraqi people and indeed to the international community that this process is moving forward.

QUESTION: Now the leading political party would argue it has chosen a prime ministerial candidate. There was a report that President Bush delivered a letter or had a letter delivered to Ayatollah Sistani asking that Ibrahim Jafari step out of this process.

SECRETARY RICE: The United States is not going to choose the Iraqi prime minister. Let me just make a point, though. There are two parts to the democratic process here. One is that, yes, the largest alliance has chosen its candidate. That candidate then, of course, has to form a coalition government because the largest alliance, the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia alliance, does not have enough votes to form the government on its own. So it's like any other process of government formation; if you don't have enough votes, you have to find coalition partners. And thus far, this candidate has not been able to do that. Perhaps it will be possible.

We fundamentally recognize and celebrate and accept the outcome of the elections in which the Shia in a very organized fashion got a very large share of the votes, but still not enough to form a government and so they need to find other partners. We think that's a good thing that they need to look for other partners because that's the basis then for a national unity government which can bring all voices from Iraq and all communities into the process.

QUESTION: Now, there was a SCIRI politician who spoke out today saying that he also thinks Jafari should step down. Are the cracks in the dam beginning to form and can I ask again, was any sort of direct communication made to Ayatollah Sistani from our government?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, our government is communicating with all kinds of people. I'm not going to talk about various communications or specific communications. But what we're saying to everybody is the same: It is an Iraqi decision to choose their leaders. That's what democracy is all about. But the international community has an obligation and indeed a right to believe that there is going to be a leader, that the process of government formation can't go on endlessly because we all have a lot of faith, most especially the Iraqi people have a lot of faith, in the formation of a national government that can give a sense of unity and a sense of purpose and direction to the country.

QUESTION: You spoke of Iraqi patience wearing thin. How about American patience?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Americans want this to get done and that's one of the messages that I brought from the President, that it is time to wrap up these negotiations, to find who's going to be the leader of this new government -- that means a prime minister -- and then to put the other pieces in place so that this government can begin to govern.

QUESTION: Last larger question. I meet with many U.S. senior commanders and diplomats who are frustrated, saying it's as if we just figured out the solution for this place; if only we'd known it the first year. And they seem genuinely worried -- they say they're worried -- that it may be too late to apply to the solution to the problem.

SECRETARY RICE: Look, it seems to me that this is the natural evolution of what has been going on in this country for the last three years. When we started in this country after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, you didn't have the kind of working leadership cadre really that you have now. You had a governing council. They had a new president every month.

But it gave them a chance to work together and indeed one of the leaders was saying today that those experiences as they went through the creation of a Transitional Administrative Law on which then they could base elections, on which then they could base a constitution and then have permanent elections. It was a process that they had to go through here. And I really don't see how you could have just come down in a country that had been under tyranny for as long as Iraq had with all of the strains in the country and the recent memory of repression, simply plop down and have elections. I don't think there's any place in the world that we've been able to do this. Transitions in Afghanistan, transitional government in Liberia, finally leading to elections.

And so they've been through now a very defined and systematic process getting to the point that they're at now. I know too that three years ago you had virtually no Sunni participation in the political process. In fact, it was hard to identify Sunni leaders in Iraq. We've just met with Sunni leaders and the extraordinary maturity of Sunni political leadership in forming parties, in forming a coalition of their own, is one of the most extraordinary developments and that was simply not available to the Iraqi people earlier.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank for talking with CBS.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.

Released on April 2, 2006

ENDS


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