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Rice IV on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
September 10, 2006

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, thanks very much for coming in.

SECRETARY RICE: Nice to be with you, Wolf.

QUESTION: On this fifth anniversary of 9/11, there's a story on the front page of The Washington Post that says that the hunt for Usama bin Laden, quoting one U.S. source, has gone "stone cold." "The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Usama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world -- no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image -- has led them anywhere near the al-Qaida leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials." Is that true?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I can't speak to the specifics of that, Wolf. I can tell you that the United States and its Pakistani allies, its Afghan allies, are on the hunt for him and will continue to be on the hunt for him. But in part it is because he is in apparently very remote areas. He doesn't communicate apparently very much and it is not easy to track someone who is determined to hide in very remote areas.

But al-Qaida is not just Usama bin Laden and so despite the fact that we will continue to press for his capture to bring him to justice, the bringing down of al-Qaida's field generals like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, this has been critical to the fact that we've been able to prevent attacks on the American homeland. And of course that's the most important issue here.

QUESTION: Do you have a sense though, is he in Afghanistan or Pakistan?

SECRETARY RICE: I think that there are multiple reports about where he might be, but there are fewer and fewer places for him to hide. What we do know is that he does not have the kind of safe haven that he had in Afghanistan before the Taliban was overthrown. What we do know is that the Pakistanis operate now in areas of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan that they did not before. And so his world has gotten smaller. I don't know precisely where he is, but I do know that we'll continue on the hunt for him. But we're also going to continue to remember that this is not about one man; this is about disabling the al-Qaida organization and its capacity to hurt us.

QUESTION: This new videotape, old video actually, that was released the other day on Al Jazeera showing Usama bin Laden with some of the al-Qaida hijackers, what do you make? What's your interpretation of this videotape?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's a little hard to interpret. I do know that one of the people the President mentioned, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, was there apparently either after the fact talking about 9/11 or prior to 9/11, filling Usama bin Laden in on the details. It just shows that these lieutenants who were very important to the plotting and planning of September 11th are being brought to justice. But I can't speak to al-Qaida's motivation for releasing a five-year-old tape at this point in time.

QUESTION: Let me read to you from the Senate Intelligence Committee report that came out this week, which I'm sure you've looked through. Among other things it says this: "Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted unsuccessfully to locate and capture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi." The report goes on to say: "According to debriefs of multiple detainees, including Saddam Hussein and former Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz and captured documents, Saddam did not trust al-Qaida or any other radical Islamist group and did not want to cooperate with them." This is in stark contrast to some of your statements and presidential statements in recent weeks, months and years.

SECRETARY RICE: You started out with a very important modifier: postwar intelligence says. Do we have better access now to understand what Saddam Hussein may have been doing so we can question Saddam Hussein, question Tareq Aziz, question his intelligence officers? Of course. But did we have the ability to get that kind of information before he was brought down?

The fact is, nonetheless, before he was brought down, Iraq had been designated a state sponsor of terror going back into the '90s. The Abu Nidal organization operated out of there. We know that Zarqawi ran a poisons network in Iraq. We know too that he ordered the killing of an American diplomat from Iraq. And we know that in testimony of the Director of Central Intelligence at the time, and as a matter of fact even in the 9/11 report, that contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq had been going on going back for more than a decade.

So was Iraq involved with terror? Absolutely Iraq was involved with terror. Were they a danger to make alliances with people who wanted to hurt us? Absolutely. We are learning more about the nature of those terrorist ties now that we have access to people who we couldn't have possibly had access to before the invasion of Iraq.

QUESTION: Because specifically on the connection between Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by U.S. forces earlier in the summer, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, I want to play what you told Larry King on February 5th, 2003 and more recently what the President himself said only last month. Listen to these two clips: "There is no question in my mind about the al-Qaida connection. It is a connection that has unfolded, that we're learning more about as we are able to take the testimony of detainees, people who were high up in the al-Qaida organization."

"There is evidence of a connection to al-Qaida affiliates and al-Qaida." That was what the President said in 2004. I want to play more recently what he said on August 21st, only a couple of weeks ago at his news conference. Listen to this: "I square it because imagine a world in which you had a Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who is paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who would -- who had relations with Zarqawi."

All right, now that's the sensitive point. The Senate Intelligence Committee report says flatly he had no relations with Zarqawi; in fact, he saw Zarqawi as an enemy of the Iraqi regime.

SECRETARY RICE: The information on which -- about what the President is talking, about which the President is talking, is that Iraq was a state sponsor of terror, that we know; that Zarqawi operated a poisons network in Iraq, that we know; that he ordered the killing of an American diplomat from Iraq and indeed had money come to him in order to do that, that we know. We get in --

QUESTION: That was Zarqawi you're talking about?

SECRETARY RICE: This was Zarqawi that we're talking about.

QUESTION: But Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein were in a battle.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think -- first of all, let's take for a grain of salt the notion -- with a grain of salt the notion that somehow Zarqawi and Saddam were in some kind of pitched battle.

QUESTION: That's what the report says.

SECRETARY RICE: No, what the report concludes is that some have testified that Saddam Hussein did not trust Zarqawi and that he was trying to find him. As I said, we are learning more as we have access to these people. But the fact is that Iraq was a state sponsor of terror and what the President is talking about and what we've all been concerned about, were all concerned about, was this nexus between one of the most dangerous figures in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein, who had taken that region to war twice in a very short period of time, causing more than a million lives in the Iran-Iraq War and putting 300,000 of his own people in mass graves. That link, his love of weapons of mass destruction, someone who had actually used them against his own people, the link between Saddam Hussein, a dangerous figure, terrorists who he clearly harbored like Abu Nidal and his animosity for the United States (inaudible) in a post-September 11th world, letting that nexus remain in the middle of the world's most volatile region was not in the U.S. interest and the world is better off without him.

QUESTION: Up next, more of my interview with the Secretary of State.

(Commercial break.)

QUESTION: Welcome back to Late Edition. Let's get to part two of my interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is strongly defending the Bush Administration's case for war with Iraq.

There are several other countries on the State Department list of state sponsors of terror, including Syria and Cuba and Iran, North Korea, and the United States has not gone to war and to depose their leaders.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, but Saddam Hussein was special in this case. This is somebody against whom we went to war in 1991.

QUESTION: But wasn't he contained, with hindsight?

SECRETARY RICE: No, I simply don't buy this argument, no.

QUESTION: Contained in that box?

SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely not. This is somebody who was with high prices of oil, by the way not as high as they are now, was continuing to build his arsenal, somebody against whom the sanctions regime had clearly broken down. You can't read the reports of the Oil-for-Food scandal and think that the Oil-for-Food sanctions were somehow constraining Saddam Hussein, somebody who continued to fly -- continued to shoot at our pilots as they tried to fly no-fly zones to keep him from attacking his own people or attacking his neighbors, someone who was paying money to suicide bombers to launch attacks on Israel.

QUESTION: So let me interrupt, Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY RICE: This is a dangerous man and it was time to get rid of him.

QUESTION: So looking back with hindsight -- obviously all of us are smarter with hindsight -- no weapons of mass destruction, absolutely no connection to the 9/11 plot from Saddam Hussein; is that right?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it depends on how you think about 9/11. I think we've all said Saddam Hussein, as far as we know, had no knowledge of, no role in, the 9/11 plot itself. But if you think that 9/11 was just about al-Qaida and the hijackers, then there is no connection to Iraq. But if you believe, as the President does and as I believe, that the problem is this ideology of hatred that has taken root, extremist ideology that has taken root in the Middle East, and that you have to go to the source and do something about the politics of that region, it is unimaginable that you could do something about the Middle East with Saddam Hussein sitting in the center of it threatening his neighbors, threatening our allies, tying down American forces in Saudi Arabia. We are in much better shape to build a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein gone.

QUESTION: So you have no regrets about going to war against Saddam Hussein?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh no, absolutely not. I think it is one of the most important historical decisions that an American President has taken in decades and it is the right decision because when there are threats like that in a volatile region you should take care of them and give yourself a chance for a better future.

QUESTION: The same Senate Intelligence Committee report says that the intelligence that you were getting, your Administration, the U.S. Government, from Ahmed Chalabi, one of the Iraqi exile leaders, and his Iraqi National Congress, much of that was fabricated and phony involving the weapons of mass destruction.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the same intelligence report says that it seems to have had, whatever fabricated evidence there was, seems to have had relatively little effect on the Central Intelligence documents that the President was relying on, the National Intelligence Estimate, the work that he got from the Director of Central Intelligence. Let's remember. You know, people have short memories. There were very tough sanctions on Saddam Hussein. Why? Because the entire world worried about his weapons of mass destruction, because he continued to lie to weapons inspectors, because he created conditions in which they had to leave in 1998. President Clinton ordered in 1998 strikes against Iran because -- or Iraq because of these --

QUESTION: But we now know, and correct me if I'm wrong, that he was telling the truth when he said he didn't have weapons of mass destruction.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, what we do know also from other reports is that he was retaining certain kinds of capabilities, that he never lost his intention to build these weapons of mass destruction. And I think this will unfold over time, but when you ask, given what we knew at the time, was it right to take him down? Absolutely. Given what we know now, was it right to take him down? Absolutely.

QUESTION: So you're still saying that. I want you to listen to what Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat from West Virginia, said in releasing this Senate report on Friday: "The Administration, in its zeal to promote public opinion in the United States for toppling Saddam Hussein, pursued a deceptive strategy prior to the war of using intelligence reporting that the community -- intelligence community warned was uncorroborated, unreliable, and in critical instances fabricated."

SECRETARY RICE: It's simply untrue. I have a lot of respect for Senator Rockefeller, but let's just review where we were before this war. We had in 1998 a vote by the United States Senate, I believe unanimously, that Saddam Hussein's regime was so dangerous that we needed to change the regime. It was called the Iraq Liberation Act. We had at the time of the war a vote in which speeches were given on the floor about how the intelligence was unequivocal that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The entire world through Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And whatever information turns out to have been in error was simply an error. The Administration was going on the basis of intelligence reports from the entire intelligence community that, for instance, said that he had reconstituted his biological and chemical programs and unchecked would build a nuclear weapon again.

When you have that kind of information, you have a dangerous dictator in the world's most volatile region who has gone to war twice and used weapons of mass destruction, it would indeed be shirking the responsibility of the President not to take him out.

QUESTION: But that information about reconstituting biological, that was wrong?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Wolf, again, prewar intelligence and postwar intelligence, once you're in Iraq you can learn things that you could not possibly know before you were in Iraq. But the fact is that the intelligence committee itself, many of the people who had the same access that the Administration had, believed that he had weapons of mass destruction. It was on that basis and his danger to the region and to American interests that in a post-September 11th world it was time to take Saddam Hussein down.

(Commercial break.)

QUESTION: Welcome back to Late Edition. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We return now to my interview with the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, John Kerry, who is going to be on this program later, he made a very, very stark statement yesterday. Listen to what he said: "Be forewarned, don't be surprised if they hype the Iranian nuclear crisis come October if all other appeals to fear are failing as the midterm election approaches."

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm not going to try to speak to the politics, but I think it's really quite remarkable when you have a statement like that when you've had the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors register severe concerns about the Iranian nuclear activities, when you've had the UN Security Council vote just a little over a month and a half ago that Iran must mandatorily suspend its enrichment activities, when you have the IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei saying he's not getting full cooperation from Iran. This isn't the United States hyping a threat. This is the United States trying to build a coalition of states, all of whom know that Iranian nuclear activities are unexplained and troubling.

QUESTION: Do you have the support from Russia and China and even France for tough sanctions against Iran right now?

SECRETARY RICE: I think you will see that the world knows that Iran has not lived up to the promise, the promising opportunity that was given to it when the six powers got together to put forward a package of incentives and said clearly to Iran it was possible for Iran to have civil nuclear power and civil nuclear cooperation. Iran has not taken that opportunity. And I'm quite certain, having not taken that opportunity, that the world will respond as the Security Council resolution demands.

QUESTION: With tough sanctions?

SECRETARY RICE: There will be, I am quite, quite certain, sanctions that demonstrate to Iran that it can't continue on this course. Now, Wolf, it is true that people want to leave open the path of negotiation, that talks are continuing. But Iran also needs to understand and I think will understand that the world is prepared to act on the resolution that it passed just six weeks ago.

QUESTION: Most of Iran's revenue comes from the export of oil. It's a major oil exporting country. Should the United States propose sanctions on Iraqi oil exports?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, on Iranian exports.

QUESTION: Excuse me, on Iranian oil exports.

SECRETARY RICE: The issue here is not Iranian oil exports.

QUESTION: Why not get them where it would be most painful?

SECRETARY RICE: Because we believe that the key here is perhaps on the financial side. There are things that you can do to cut off financing to Iran's programs, to make clear to Iran that it will not be able to take advantage of the international financial system in the way that it needs to to be able to use those proceeds from oil.

Everybody jumps to the notion that oil and gas sanctions are the next best thing. We have developed with our partners a list of potential sanctions. I think we will want to match those to Iranian activities and to Iranian behavior at any point in time. But that there will be an international community, an international coalition that will make it clear to Iran that it can't continue on the course that it's on, I'm quite certain of that.

QUESTION: How concerned are you about Iranian influence in Iraq right now? The Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is scheduled to go to Iran this week. Your Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad saying only a few weeks ago that Iran is fomenting a lot of the insurgency against the Iraqi Government right now and urging attacks on U.S. military forces.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think there's any doubt that Iran is a negative force, particularly in the south of the country, and encouraging some of these militia activities. But I don't see a problem with Prime Minister Maliki going to Iran. It's a neighbor of Iraq. They do have diplomatic relations. I think the Iranians -- the Iraqis will carry very strong messages that they expect Iran to behave like a good neighbor, not a neighbor that is trying to destabilize the country.

QUESTION: You're not concerned that Iran -- Iran right now -- is effectively winning in terms of influence, influencing the shape of a future Iraq.

SECRETARY RICE: I have no doubt that the Iraqis, having thrown off the yoke of Saddam Hussein, do not wish to replace it with the yoke of Ayatollah Khamenei. And they are a fiercely independent people. They want good relations with their neighbors but they also want the capacity and the ability to chart their own future.

QUESTION: Is there a civil war in Iraq right now? I say it in this context and I'll read to you what Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on August 6th. He said, "Are we going to put our troops in the middle of a civil war? Who are they going to fight? This will be slaughter of immense proportions. The American people will not put up with it, the leadership in Congress will not put up with it. We cannot put American troops and ask them to do the things that we're asking them to do in the middle of a civil war and that's where it's headed."

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there is sectarian violence, a lot of it by the way set off because al-Qaida in Iraq under Zarqawi had a plan to try to set Shia against Sunni and vice versa, and to a certain extent some of that has taken place. But the idea that somehow they've fallen to civil war because there is sectarian violence, I think is simply not right. The Iraqis continue to try to build a government of national unity in which Kurds and Sunni and Shia are trying to work out the political bargain that will finally allow Iraqis to use political institutions, not violence and repression, to work out their differences. They are building a national army. They've done well in building their national army. It's respected across Iraq. I think they've had more trouble building police that are nonsectarian, and there the change in the Ministry of Interior is believed to be having an effect. It's a Minister of Interior who is indeed dedicated to police who --

QUESTION: Because the violence in Iraq today is bad, if not worse, than it's been in the past three and a half years.

SECRETARY RICE: And it will take some time for this young government to get its hands around this, to get security forces. The Baghdad security plan we believe is having some effect. But of course violent people can always engage in kidnappings or killings or suicide bombings. What's harder to show is the commitment of many, many Iraqis, most Iraqis, including most Iraqi leaders, to finding a political bargain that will allow them to exist as one country. That's what they want, that's what they're working toward, and we are expressing confidence in them as they seek that future.

QUESTION: We're almost out of time. A quick question on the Israeli-Lebanese issue. The UN Security Council Resolution 1701 called for the unconditional release of those two Israeli soldiers that sparked the most recent war between Israel and Hezbollah, also for the disarming of Hezbollah. That's an old resolution as well going back to the year 2004. Is there any progress being made on either of those fronts, the unconditional release of the soldiers and the disarming of Hezbollah?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly on the unconditional release of the soldiers it has to happen and I note that Secretary General Annan has said that he will use his good offices to try to bring that about.

What has happened in Lebanon? You have Lebanese authority for the first time, central Lebanese authority, spread throughout the country, including the Lebanese army into the south. You have an international arms embargo against the rearming of organizations like Hezbollah at the expense of the Lebanese Government. You have German help for the Lebanese at their airport and an international naval force helping with patrolling the shores. And you have a political process in which the Lebanese understand that they have obligations not to have armed militias running in the country because they want central authority to be in the hands of the Lebanese Government.

Now, Wolf, it's going to take some time. Lebanon didn't get into this mess overnight and it's not going to become a stable, fully functioning democracy overnight (inaudible) big strides forward. I know that there are those who want to say that Hezbollah somehow gained from this latest round. But you know, with Nasrallah saying that maybe if he had known that the Israelis were going to do what they did he might not have launched this attack, it makes you wonder what is he hearing about how people are seeing Hezbollah.

As this settles down, the winners here will be a moderate, democratic Lebanese government with enormous international support financially, in terms of reconstruction and in terms of security, and that will mean that the region will win because the kind of extremism outside of normal Lebanese political channels which allowed Hezbollah to attack Israel unbeknownst to the Lebanese Government and to sink the country into destruction, I think that you are beginning to see the creation of conditions in the south which will not allow that to happen.

QUESTION: On that note we'll leave it, Madame Secretary. Thanks very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

2006/802

ENDS

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