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Condoleezza Rice Briefing En Route Athens, Greece

Briefing En Route Athens, Greece

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
En Route Athens, Greece
April 24, 2006

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're off to Greece and Turkey and then to a NATO ministerial in Bulgaria. The trips to Greece and Turkey are important to allow more consultations with two of the United States' most important allies, NATO allies.

In the case of Greece, we have a good deal of work to do concerning the Balkans. For instance, when I was with the Foreign Minister just a few weeks ago, we talked about the importance of the Balkans and getting that effort right, and I'm certain that we'll have a chance to talk more about that.

We also want to have discussions about how to move forward on Cyprus. Obviously, we had an effort under Kofi Annan's leadership a couple of years ago that we had hoped would result in a resolution of the issue in Cyprus. It did not. I think everybody would like to see that effort get back on track.

We also have had very good discussions with Greece about broader issues. Greece, of course, is an important NATO ally, and issues like our relations concerning Afghanistan. The contributions the Greeks are making to NATO efforts both in Afghanistan and in Iraq will also be on the agenda.

This will be my first opportunity to go to Greece as Secretary of State and so I look forward to a whole range of issues there.

And then in Turkey, similarly an important NATO ally where we have important work to do on the broader Middle East. Turkey has really been one of the most important supporters of the Broader Middle East Initiative because the Turks make very clear that they see absolutely no conflict between Islam and the practice of Islam and democracy, and Turkey itself is a very good example of that. And so Turkey has been a founding partner of the democracy dialogues and I intend to talk to them about those broader Middle East issues as well as issues in the Middle East peace process.

Turkey also has been a good partner for NATO, at one point leading the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and contributing very much to the efforts that we very much share toward an Iraq that is unified and at peace and that is democratic.

I want especially to note for Turkey that we recognize the importance that Turkey attaches to the PKK issue and the United States, of course, designates the PKK as a terrorist organization and we will want to redouble our efforts once there's a new Iraqi Government to revitalize the trilateral mechanism that we use to deal with issues concerning the trilateral issues between Turkey, Iraq, and the United States. But I want to emphasize how important we view this issue and to talk to the Turks about the fact that no one, especially the Iraqi Government, wants to see Iraqi territory used for terrorist activities against Turkey. And I know that that's of considerable concern to Turkey.

And of course, to continue our discussions about Turkey's road to accession to the EU.

So it's a very broad and full agenda and I look forward to having those discussions with both the Greeks and with the Turks.

QUESTION: Good morning. There are some analysts that say that for the first time since World War II that Turkey is not looking to the United States or to the EU for its political and economic cues, but it's looking more to the Middle East. And again, you kind of see that also where they invited Hamas to visit. How concerned are you about that trend in Turkish society and what do you hope to do about it on this trip?

SECRETARY RICE: I see Turkey as a very strong ally with a very strong orientation toward NATO and toward the European Union. I mean, that has been -- Turkey has been very active in pursuing its European accession and Europe has been active in pursuing that as well. It's not easy because the Turks are making a lot of changes at home. We have to remember that it's not just the rise of an Islamic party in Turkey, but in fact this has been a process of the evolution of democracy in Turkey with a much stronger democratic core than in the past. So there's an important evolution going inside of Turkey. There's an important evolution going on terms of Turkey's movement toward the European Union. It has always been a key anchor in NATO.

But I think it's a very good thing that Turkey is being active in the Middle East. As I said, we have had no stronger supporter and ally in the Broader Middle East Initiative than Turkey, which sees the importance of not allowing people to even think about a clash of civilizations but rather to see these civilizations at unified by their democratic traditions and by their democratic future.

As to Turkey meeting with Hamas, we talked to the Turks. The Turks made very clear that while they wanted to meet with Hamas, they wanted to send a very strong message to Hamas that Hamas needed to accede to the Quartet requirements and that's the message that Turkey sent.

So I think Turkey sees itself very much, and we see Turkey, as having a strong anchor in democracy, a strong anchor in European traditions, but also having a great deal to say to the future of the Middle East and to be a part of that future as well. And I see those as completely consistent.

QUESTION: Hi. If I could just ask you to follow up on something that you said on Saturday. You were talking about the importance of quelling militias or bringing militias under the government authority in Iraq. Do you see the rise of militias now as a greater threat to the long-term stability of Iraq than the insurgency?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't think we have to choose between them. They are both concerns for the security environment. Let me be clear. Militias have been around for a while. It's not that they suddenly sprung anew. And the need to do something about the militias was talked about all the way back in the time of the Transitional Administrative Law period when they were trying to decide how they would ultimately deal with militias.

I think now that you're getting to the point of a permanent Iraqi Government and that you're getting security forces, armed forces and police forces that are more capable, the framework now for dealing with the militias is there, and there's no doubt that as there has been some increase in sectarian activity and sectarian violence, the potential for those militias to be an even bigger problem is there. But while the problem of the militias is there and perhaps more urgent, it is also true that for the first time the Iraqis actually have a framework in which to deal with those militias; that is, a permanent government, permanent armed forces and police forces, and opportunity to get a ministry of interior that will not be sectarian in its orientation but national in its orientation.

So the mechanisms are there to deal with the militias. But as is the case in any case where you've had militias attached to political parties, it's not going to be an easy job but they do have -- they do, I think now, have the mechanisms and the framework with which to deal with it. So that's why we are emphasizing it so much right now. It's going to be an important element of establishing trust between the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people as a whole.

QUESTION: If you don't mind, just following up on that. What makes you so convinced that the United States can actually influence events now when, given the legacy of past decisions that some people say have aggravated the militia problem, this new prime minister is weak, a weaker figure, a less known figure? Why do we think that he'll be any better at tackling this problem?

And can you be more specific about what the United States can do to integrate the militias or reduce their influence in the security forces? What specific things can we bring to bear on that problem?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, in terms of the Prime Minister and his political strength, he is going to be the first permanent prime minister with the full backing of the Iraqi people and all elements of the elected leadership of the Iraqi Government. I think that's a position of considerable strength. And in many ways, the fact that he came to this having the Sunnis and Kurds supportive of his prime ministership I think is extremely important. So I would not -- I just wouldn't agree with the notion that he comes to this as a weaker figure. I think he comes to this as the strongest political figure really ever now under this Iraqi -- since the liberation of Iraq because he comes with both the imprimatur of the Iraqi people and the unified leadership and a mandate to form a unified national unity government.

As to the militias, the militias have been there. There has been for some time the knowledge that you're going to have to deal with militias. And what the United States can do is to continue to provide the security framework in which that can take place and to continue aggressively training the national institutions that make militias unnecessary and that can then provide a framework for the demobilization and integration of people who have been carrying arms. I mean, I thought that Mr. Maliki's point that there can be only one authority, the government, with arms is exactly the right point, and we'll be there to support the Iraqi Government and the Ministry of Interior as they do this. But the best thing we can do is to make sure that our training helps them to create truly national military forces and truly national police forces because that then takes away any sense that one needs militias to provide security. And I think that will be our principal role.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Turkey asked a chief Iranian official who deals with the nuclear program to postpone his trip to Turkey because it was going to be just a day before you arrived. Are you going to be looking from Turkey for some specific statements of support on the U.S. policy towards Iran?

And also, when you said the U.S. understands the concerns about the PKK, will you say that the U.S. is ready and willing to act against the PKK enclave in northern Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: The principal context in which we have to deal with the PKK problem at this point is to make certain that there is a stable security situation in the north and to enlist the new Iraqi Government to work with the Turks and with the United States in dealing with the -- and the coalition in dealing with the PKK. And that's going to be the message to the Turks.

But we have had mechanisms that have worked from time to time. With the absence of an Iraqi Government, it has been harder to get those trilateral mechanisms to work, and so I think we need to reinvigorate those trilateral mechanisms and we need to work with the Turks and with the coalition to do what we can to deal with the PKK problem. But we want to do it in a way that does not cause greater instability in the North, and I think that the Turks would agree with that.

To the question of Iran, yeah, first let me just be very clear. This isn't U.S. policy toward Iran, all right? This is the policy of the Security Council of the United Nations toward Iran. There is a presidential statement which states very clearly what the Iranians have to do. And so to the degree that we are seeking any support for this policy, it is to support the efforts of the United Nations Security Council to get Iran to turn away from the processes that it's been involved in, the activities it's been involved in, and to go back to negotiation.

I am quite certain that the Turks are in support of the Security Council action that was taken and that they are sending a similar message to the Iranians. We will see what the Iranians do at the end of the week. So far, they've not demonstrated any desire to come into -- to come back into adherence with the international norm that has been set here and I do think that it's going to be important for the Security Council to speak to that once the 30-day deadline has passed. But again, the United States has a policy that is coherent and consistent with the policies of our European allies and that is drawing now on the Security Council as the mechanism for trying to get compliance with IAEA efforts to bring the Iranians back into compliance.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you spoke about Cyprus. Do you have any new proposal to offer to Greece about Cyprus, because it doesn't move very -- doesn't move at all on this question?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, everyone was disappointed that the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan. I think there is recognition that the resolution of Cyprus is very important, particularly given the complexities that exist because of Cyprus's membership in the European Union. We don't have a specific proposal but there are, of course, discussions going on that I will look forward to talking to the Greeks about and with the Turks about to see what might provide a basis for a proposal going forward.

Understandably, I think Secretary General Annan would want to know that there is a basis for moving forward before a new proposal went forward and I think everybody is in the mode right now of trying to ascertain whether or not that basis might exist.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there's obviously clear relief that the Iraqis were able to form a new government and in the previous -- in the weeks leading up to it, there have been a lot of talk about how that absence had been a huge problem. But I wonder now, with all that talk about how much of a problem the absence has been, if this new government doesn't have maybe higher expectations built up around it than it'll be able to actually deliver on given that even though it's the first permanent government it's still really not that much more powerful from the start than the previous one? So is that an element of concern that they're not going to be able to live up to that billing?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the expectations are there for this government and would have been there in any case because it is a permanent government. But I think it's a good point. It, first of all, has to be formed. It hasn't yet been formed. What we have is the top seven leadership positions, the Prime Minister as a nominee designate, and now they actually do have to form a government, and the next big hurdle is going to be to get ministers who -- in whom people will have confidence, particularly in the ministries of interior and defense.

And the point is well taken because this government will need some time to really be able to take hold of the reins of governing and to make a difference. I said the other day in a speech that I made that I would hope that people understood that it's likely that you're going to have continued violence, that it was likely that the Iraqi Government would have to take some time to get a hold of the reins of governing, and that the progress is going to be the kind of progress that is political progress, which doesn't come in great flashes, it doesn't come in great outbursts of another election or purple fingers or any of that. This is now going to have to be steady progress toward building the infrastructure of governing and then governing.

But I think you have committed leaders in Iraq. I think you have greater unity of the various elements of Iraqi society than you've ever had. You have a much more active and integrated Sunni leadership that is a Sunni leadership with clear indigenous roots which should help with the movement of Sunnis away from violence to the political process. So this government has a great deal going for it, but the expectations are going to be there. I just hope that people understand and keep those expectations in check because it does take some time for any new government, let alone one that is governing permanently for the first time, to get hold of the reins and to start making a difference in people's lives. But this is a very committed government.

QUESTION: Thanks. I wanted to go back to Iran, although it's a slightly different issue. But DHS has now confirmed that an Iranian official has been and perhaps still is in the country. I know that they're working the case and I've spoken to them several times. But it's a really policy issue here because even though this gentleman's green card is perfectly legal and fine, the question arises whether someone who isn't a U.S. permanent resident should actually be able to take a job with a government that is a state sponsor of terrorism. So I wonder whether the State Department and you, as Secretary of State, are involved in any policy deliberations that might lead to a policy change or in the eventual taking away of Mr. Nahavandian's green card. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is a rather anomalous situation and it has taken a little time to actually ascertain the facts. And so it is currently, principally, in the hands of DHS to try to determine what the -- both the legal, I guess really the legal elements are here of having someone in this position. And frankly it's not the kind of thing that I think that anybody foresaw. And so we have to be true to both the requirements of what it means to be a green card status and to be true to the policy considerations of this rather anomalous condition in which you have someone with which the United States does not actually have diplomatic relations but is a diplomat, a very high ranking diplomat, in fact, inside the United States. It's going to take a little time to sort it out. I don't want to try and make a blanket policy statement, but, yeah, it's concerning. And I think we were very concerned when we learned about it. We're going to try to make certain that we understand the facts, understand the legal basis and then we'll take appropriate action.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I want to ask about Nicholas's green card status. I'm just kidding. We are going to Bulgaria, though.

On Iran, there was indication from the Russian Government last week that they would regard that the threshold for strong steps at the Security Council should be concrete facts confirming -- I think that was their exact language -- concrete facts confirming that Iran is engaged in something other than exclusively peaceful nuclear activity. Is that a threshold that the United States thinks it can meet to the satisfaction of the Russians? Should that be the threshold or should it be mere noncompliance? Keeping in mind, too, that Andrey Dedisov about three weeks ago said that there wasn't even any evidence of noncompliance by the Iranians.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I wouldn't jump to any conclusions because I didn't see a definition of what "strong steps" meant in that discussion. And obviously, and we've said it several times, we hold the view, and I think it's a view that's held similarly by others, that the Iranians have done plenty to demonstrate that they are not prepared to accede to the international community's standards and requirements. There is a presidential statement that says: Here are the things the IAEA asked you to do; you should do them. The Iranians are showing no evidence that they plan to do that. In fact, what they're doing is quite the opposite. They confronted, for instance, the Director General of the IAEA with a welcoming present of having announced the day before that they were enriching -- that they had successfully enriched. So I don't think they are -- that the spirit is particularly good here in terms of accession to the requirements of the international community.

As I said the other day, that means that when the international community reconvenes after the 30 days, there has to be some message, clear message, that this kind of behavior is not acceptable or you will start to call into question the credibility of what the Security Council says when it says it. So we'll continue to discuss this with the Russians and with others, but I expect that we're going to have to have some kind of action by the Security Council that demonstrates that this is a serious matter and we'll see what the Russians do. I'm not going to try to second-guess what was meant by that statement at this point.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what kind of sense does the U.S. Government have so far from the new prime minister -- or the new Iraqi prime minister of how he sees Iraq's role with the U.S. from now on? Obviously there's been some friction with the UIA in recent months because it sounds like he wants the same kind of close advisory role, the same relation with the U.S. military that Iraq has had.

SECRETARY RICE: Let me just say that everyone who's spoken with him to now found somebody who really wanted a partner to assure success for this new Iraqi Government and that's how we see this. This has moved a long way from the days when we had an appointed governing council with a change in the presidency every month, through interim governments, through interim elected governments to now a permanent Iraqi Government. And of course that means that the lead in this is the Iraqi Government. They are the representatives of the Iraqi people. But we recognize that there are elements that the Iraqi Government does not yet have at its disposal, including some of the infrastructure of governance, that the United States can still offer to help them build and that really is going to be the offer. But there is no doubt that this is the time for the Iraqi Government to step forward and for the Iraqi Government to take principal responsibility in its own success. And that's what we've heard from the people who have been tapped for that.

I just don't agree that there has been friction. What there has been is a very strong effort by the United States and by others to help the Iraqis come to this point, because the pressures were building not just from the coalition but also from the Iraqi people for them to get to this point. But everybody who has talked to Mr. Maliki to this point finds somebody who is very committed, who is very clear on the difficult task ahead of him, and who wants our partnership in helping them to fulfill what I think are going to be expectations that they'll begin to deliver for the Iraqi people and we'll be there to try to do that.

QUESTION: On the bin Laden tape, what do you make of it? What's your reaction? Is he still trying to seem relevant? Does the U.S. still think that he is relevant and also what do you say to critics that said our efforts in Iraq are taking away from actually capturing him?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, there is -- all the time, every day, all the time, an effort to continue to degrade and round up the al-Qaida network, including efforts against Osama bin Laden. But the effort is more than one man. This is about disabling the al-Qaida network. It is the scores of important field generals of al-Qaida that have been put out of commission one way or another in the last three and a half years, and that's the real story of dealing with al-Qaida.

I don't know what to make of the tape, except that he continues to say things that he's always said. You know, what it is a reminder of is that we have a determined enemy that we need to fight, but I don't give it any credence beyond that. And the effort in Iraq to help bring about an ally in the middle of the -- in the center of the Middle East that will be a stalwart fighter against terrorism, that will be a state that speaks to the ideology of hatred that has produced the al-Qaidas of the world, I think is a very short-sighted view to say that somehow because you are engaged in the efforts to build a different kind of Iraq and a different kind of Middle East, that you're somehow not focused on the efforts of al-Qaida; it's both shortsighted and a very narrow definition of what actually produced al-Qaida.

QUESTION: Thank you. 2006/T12-1

Released on April 24, 2006

ENDS


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