Rice IV With the New York Times Editorial Board
Interview With the New York Times Editorial Board
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
New York City
September 25, 2006
SECRETARY RICE: I think we can go right to questions. I might just make one point, which is that I think that this summer in the Middle East with the events in Lebanon actually sharpened, in some ways, what really is going on in the Middle East, the kind of sharpening between extremist forces and moderate forces. And what will be interesting and important is how that plays out over the next, now, probably several years. But on the one side, clearly, the moderate Arab states, Saudi, Egypt, Jordan, the weak but democratizing moderates in Iraq, Lebanon – and by that, I mean Maliki, Siniora, Abu Mazen in the Palestinian Territories; and then on the other side, Hezbollah, Hamas, and really supported by Iranian influence and sort of Syrian transit.
I think it really did lead to a kind of sharpening of this contradiction, if you will, between the extremist forces and the moderate forces and I think that's going to play out in very interesting ways over the next several years. But I just wanted to make that point.
QUESTION: How does that translate into a policy in terms of --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's --
QUESTION: With the understanding that the forces are – how they're aligned.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it does mean that you're going to – I hope that it means that you're going to see much stronger support for some of these moderate, young, relatively still weak democratic forces. I thought that the meeting that we had on the Iraqi Compact was a sort of sign of that, the fact that the Saudis put up a billion-and-a-half dollars in no time for the Lebanese Government, I think, to counter Iranian influence.
I think that if the Palestinians can find a way to arrange their internal affairs, you might have the kind of international support, particularly from the region that really has been lacking for them, and I mean political support, economic support. That could be quite important because for the first time, I think that you see these moderate forces seeing their own interests threatened in very important ways. It explains, of course, why Saudi, with Jordan and Egypt, said what they did when Hezbollah made the attack, despite the fact that it was difficult for them to sustain that position.
So it's just an interjectory comment to say that, as very often happens out of something as dramatic as the events in Lebanon, forces start rearranging themselves in international politics and I think one of the things that will be incumbent on us is to try and strengthen those forces and transport moderation with a coalition of states that might be – might have great interest in doing that.
QUESTION: At the risk of sounding like Tim Russert or something, I have to ask about the April NIE, which, as you know, concluded that on balance, the war in Iraq has made the threat of terrorism worse rather than ameliorated it. And two things; first of all, do you think that that is true? And second of all, if it's not true, what's wrong with the NIE?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I think both John Negroponte and the White House make clear that this is a bigger and broader NIE than the selective quotation from it would suggest. There are other things in the NIE too which give a somewhat more complex picture of what's going on in the war on terror. Let me put it that way.
And the unfortunate thing about dealing with leaks of classified information is that you're confronted with either deciding that you're going to try and declassify everything from which something is selectively leaked, in which case, you'll have nothing that's classified, or trying to simply deal with the argument. So let me, instead of talking about what is or is not in the NIE, talk about the argument, which is not the first time that this argument has been heard. It's not an argument that is unique to this specific leak from the NIE. We've heard this argument from any number of experts and scholars and so forth.
The first point that I would make is that it should be no surprise to anyone that as you choose to confront terrorists in a pretty aggressive and offensive way, that they will do everything that they can to fight back, including finding new sources and new excuses for recruitment. That should surprise no one. So at one point, the excuse for recruitment was our forces in Saudi Arabia. You need to know that of course, al-Qaida makes no distinction between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq in their recruiting. They have even tried to latch on to what may be attitudes about Sudan.
So there are plenty of excuses and plenty of arguments as to why people ought to go and fight these so-called Western forces. They didn't need Iraq to do that. They attacked us on September 11th before anybody had even thought of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. And they have attacked in places where the countries were involved in Afghanistan, they've attacked in places where the countries aren't involved anywhere. They've attacked without regard to what your policies happen to be.
Now let me speak to the Iraq issue specifically. It is also true that Zarqawi, when he reemerged in Iraq, and let me say reemerged because he was there before the war, had a strategy of trying to make Iraq a focal point for al-Qaida and a focal point for a new Jihad in Iraq. There's no doubt about that. In fact, we've revealed all kinds of things about his communications between – the communications between him and the al-Qaida leadership, things that were found on his computer about trying to recruit Iraqis to his al-Qaida fold.
His second plan was to create tension, indeed, conflict between Sunnis and Shia and to, in effect, unleash sectarian violence. So to a certain extent, he had some success with both of those strategies. But the first of those, that is, trying to bring Iraq into the al-Qaida struggle and make it a central focal point, because after all, Iraq is a great center of civilization and therefore, symbolic as well as an actual haven – would be symbolic as well as an actual haven from his point of view; it's produced a backlash. It's produced a serious backlash among Sunnis, among Sunni tribes.
That's one reason we've been able to fight effectively in places like Fallujah. Zarqawi didn't walk in one day and give himself up. People helped us get him, which was part of this backlash. And so to the degree that there was an effort to make Iraq a central part of this, I think it has produced a backlash.
Now the final point; yes, you're confronting them and they will recruit and they will do everything that they can to bring new people to the cause. And it may well be that in the short term, more people will come to the cause; not because of Iraq, but because of the broadening of the war on terror and the kind of very aggressive way in which we're fighting it.
But the question I would have is, then what's the alternative? Do you not do things that you think will help you in the war on terror because it may recruit a few more people to a Jihad that has already plenty of people to begin with? I don't see the argument that Iraq, in and of itself, is the reason that you have a radicalization of some places. There are many arguments for that. And what you have to have is policies which fight that radicalization, so that's a longwinded way of saying that I think this is a very complex set of arguments and a kind of bumper sticker, "Iraq has made it harder to fight the war on terror," I think is simply not true.
QUESTION: Well, then how do you think the democratization of Iraq is going? I mean, without the sort of – I think all of us know the litany of the number of elections they've had and how many people have got to vote and that's not a small thing.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, right.
QUESTION: But also I think everybody, several people here have been there within the last six months or so and I don't think any of us who have came away with a great uplifting sense of optimism about the situation on the ground.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, look. It's very difficult because this very new political system, which by the way, is something of a miracle in itself that they actually have this political system in place, a constitution, a legislature that functions, a presidency that functions, a government that functions. But this very young system is under a lot of pressure, particularly from terrorists and from sectarian violence. There's no doubt about that.
But I think that they have a way forward that, if they follow it and if they accelerate it and do it more quickly, will allow that political system to actually begin to overcome those challenges. What do they have to do? They really do have to follow this national reconciliation plan and get moving on it. They have some very key issues like federalism, like debaathification, like how oil revenues are going to be shared, that are at the political root of the disagreement. And when they come to the bargain, their grand bargain about how the various interests of the various parties are going to be represented on those big issues, I think they'll have the political framework, then, from which to separate those who are engaged in sectarianism purely for the purpose of sectarianism.
Secondly, I think they do have to continue to increase their security force strength and they are currently looking at enhancing the strength of the army, vis-Ã -vis the police, because the army is accepted as a national institution. And that's one of those adjustments that I think is going to actually turn out to be very important. And third, they do have to do something about the militias and the death squads and by all reports, the interior ministry is a much better and stronger and more integrous interior ministry, but it needs stronger political support from the factions, which goes back to the first point. I think when the factions are satisfied with the political bargain, you're going to see more support for doing the kinds of things that they need to do.
So yeah, it's very, very tough going, but I think in time, you will see the political system which is, in place, able to absorb some of those challenges. They're going to have violence for a long time, but the question is, is it violence that threatens the stability of the government or not? And I think they're going to be able to move to a place where they continue to have violence, but it doesn't threaten the stability of the government.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, you know, from what our reporting on the ground sees, there have been two sets of issues. You're talking about national reconciliation in terms of Sunni and Shia, but yet the Shia internal division also appears to be a huge block to actually cracking down the militia. So we hear that Maliki doesn't mean – you know, half of the community isn't on block to take politically difficult and potentially damaging measures because the Shia are our big – you know, thumb in the militia and the security forces.
It just feels like it's a kind of weak and divided government. And while we all understand that the institutions are new, we're not seeing those hopeful signs that – that's coming down in a way that would allow admittedly difficult measures.
SECRETARY RICE: You know, I – no, I don't disagree that the divisions among the Shia are problematic in this regard, but in some ways, it's preferable to such a strong Shia block that you have a Shia-Kurd, Shia-Sunni, Sunni-Kurd problem. So it is, in a strange way, showing itself to be a little bit self-regulating, though, so that when you get this big push by the – it's scary for the federalization and people aren't quite ready for it, it gets pulled back, they get an agreement on how to move forward on constitutional reform over an extended period of time. The Kurdish flag incident ends up making – having the Kurds pull back; there is some kind of self-regulating mechanism between these parties that is operating.
The Iraqis believe and our people on the ground believe that one of the answers to getting to the place that the Prime Minister can take some of these more difficult decisions is that he can't be in a position of, on the one hand, having divisions in the Sunni – Shia community and on the other hand, not having figured out what the bargain is going to be with the others. That's why he's putting so much time into trying to resolve these big problems.
If you think about it, when you resolve something like the oil question, a lot of the questions about federalism become less salient. And with that becomes less salient the need to be able to "defend," by force of arms, certain political positions. And so I recognize that it's not a panacea, but I think one thing at a time for them and the first thing is to do something about this political bargain.
They are having some success in Baghdad with the Baghdad security program. There's no doubt about that. And the great bulk of the country is actually operating pretty well. I think everybody was very concerned that Baghdad could not be a place of great violence and couldn't become the center of a kind of violent political struggle because it's the capital and there's so much at stake there. And so changing the environment in Baghdad is extremely important. It's why we put so much effort into this Baghdad Security Plan with them.
QUESTION: I'm having trouble making the link between the Shiite militias – you know, the Badr Brigades and the Mahdi Army and any kind of – I mean, it dignifies them to say that they're fighting over the terms of federalism or – you know, they seem to be conducting --
QUESTION: Thugs --
QUESTION: -- a pattern of – thugs.
SECRETARY RICE: No, there are a lot of thugs. There are a lot of thugs.
QUESTION: And yet, they are directly linked to the two largest parties in the Shiite block. And so what is the mechanism by which the Shiite block can marginalize them?
SECRETARY RICE: But there are – by the way, there are also a lot of thugs who are being taken down. I mean, there's a heavy criminal element as well that's being taken down in a lot of these security operations. They're the kind of militias that belong to the parties, including Badr's militia. And the reason that the political bargain is important and that all of these issues get – need to get resolved and put into a package is that it's on that basis that you're also going to have to have agreement that you're going to have to begin to really disarm some of these militias.
So it's part – that issue is, I think, a part of this political bargain. It's not separate from it. It's a part of the political bargain. But as long as people have not come to agreement on, kind of, what the central political deal looks like, you're going to continue to have lots of reasons, some of it just making excuses, some of it real, for the impulse to be to separate into well-guarded, well-defended political corners. And you've got to bring people out of those political corners into a center and I think that's what Maliki has understood and why he's putting so much effort in that direction.
QUESTION: You spoke about the Lebanon War as a kind of clarifying moment and I was wondering if you also thought it was some kind of a miscalculation on the part of Israel, in the sense that it didn't go as well as had hoped, it seems to be endangering Olmert's government, it seems to be endangering Siniora's government. And while on some level, I think you're right, that it sort of forces you to look at the world in a particular way, it also created circumstances which are not all that favorable to what we're trying to do. Am I wrong?
SECRETARY RICE: I'll tell you something. Lebanon had come to a standstill politically well before the Hezbollah attack. I think you could make an argument that after the war, things had begun to move, some of them sideways, some of them forward, but they have begun to move.
QUESTION: To move backwards?
SECRETARY RICE: I'm not sure that anything has begun to move backwards. I'll give you just an example. Lebanon had to have – the Lebanese Government had to have two votes about UNIFIL forces and so forth. The first time Amal had split from Hezbollah, if you remember six months ago when the Shia ministers walked out and they couldn't even hold a meeting, this is a fairly remarkable thing, that you actually now have a split in that Shia block, which I think may allow for a new governing consensus, which is why I think you see Nasrallah out in the streets first saying, "Well, if I had known, I wouldn't have done what I did and if I had known there were going to be one percent, I wouldn't have" – and then saying, "No, no, I would have done it," and then trying to get people into the streets.
I actually think they're a little bit off balance as to what the new political configuration is going to do. It is very fragile and one thing that we really have to keep an eye on is intimidation and possibly even attempts at assassination of figures associated with March 14th and the moderate consensus. And it's one reason that it's important that the Brammertz investigation get moving. Most people believe they ought to try to do something by the end of the year. It's obviously in an investigation, so you don't want to appear to be interfering, but that also will help, I think, the process move forward.
The other thing is despite ups and downs and fits and starts, the fact that the Lebanese Government is – and the Lebanese army is extended throughout the country is a major achievement. The state within a state is not of the same character. Now I would be the first to say that – you know, Hezbollah is by no means disabled in the south, but their circumstances are different in the south than they were prior to this war.
So you have to kind of – it's a little hard to do, but you have to kind of remember what Lebanon – the standstill to which Lebanon had come prior to this war and you do see movement; some of it, as I said, sideways, I think quite a bit of it positive. And maybe there are some things that are problematic, but I think the movement has been a good thing.
QUESTION: But don't you think (inaudible) may lead to the decline of the Olmert government, the likelihood that he will not do any further withdrawal from the West Bank? I mean, in other words, it doesn't feel like there's a net gain from this war the way you describe it.
The second question I have is, today we had a front-page story by Slackman from Lebanon saying that UNIFIL forces feel that, under 1701, they don't have the power to set up roadblocks or checkpoints or anything. Is that your interpretation of it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, they've certainly got the authority to do whatever they need to do to do their job. That's very clear and it says so. And I would --
QUESTION: I don't think so.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that there probably ought to be a conversation with UNIFIL about how it sees its responsibilities, because the language says that anything and anyone which keeps them from fulfilling their responsibilities is to be challenged on that and they even have the right to use force if they need to, if somebody tries to forcibly keep them from doing what they need to do. That mandate was written in a very robust fashion.
QUESTION: How it's interpreted --
SECRETARY RICE: And so it's always a matter of how it's interpreted. Part of it is it's a new mission, part of it it's not fully up to strength yet and so forth. But I would hope that UNIFIL would interpret its mission in a way that allows it to really do what it is supposed to do, which is not to allow a return to the status quo ante in the south. And yeah, it's something we'll follow up on, given some of the comments that were in that story.
QUESTION: Has the Israel side approached (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: The Israelis had an extremely difficult situation. You know, Hezbollah attacks across the blue line. Israel then responds and as is very often the case in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism war, you have two big problems. Hezbollah lives among the population and can easily human shield anything that you go after. So very early on, you start to get the civilian casualties.
The second is they didn't want to go to war against the Lebanese Government, but Hezbollah, of course, is sort of embedded in the infrastructure and so forth of the Lebanese Government. And I think what really happened was that there was a period of time in which they were degrading Hezbollah, but there came a crossover point at which the cost to the Lebanese Government and the potential destabilization of the Lebanese Government meant that you were going to have to move to some other option. And that's where the ceasefire, the timing of the ceasefire came.
But I'm sympathetic. This is a very hard kind of war to fight. And to do it, you need indigenous partners, which is why I think ultimately, the solution for Israel and Lebanon is to find a moderate Lebanon that can be a partner. And I think that's where I'd like to try to hit, but I don't fault them for having difficulty in fighting what is the most difficult kind of war to fight.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, six months of cutting off support to the Palestinian Governments seems to have had an impact on Hamas. Looked somewhat hopeful there for a while that Abu Mazen and Hania could form some sort of a government that would perhaps say the right thing and even more important, do the right thing. Now they seem to be in a stalemate.
There are a lot of people who say you need to get on a plane and you need to try to back Abu Mazen up and try to get over this hump, because this is a moment that you pushed for, a moment of weakness for Hamas. And it looks like it has a possibility of just leeching away.
SECRETARY RICE: I don't think that it is yet – what did you use, leeching?
SECRETARY RICE: Leeching. Leeching away -- they didn't teach me that word at Denver. What is leeching? Kind of --
QUESTION: Geologic erosion.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, geologic erosion, all right. It's because I was a music major; I understand, okay.
QUESTION: It'll be on your geology test.
SECRETARY RICE: Geology test, right. Because what happened – you are absolutely right that the six months and the international pressure has had an effect, because Hamas has learned that they can't actually govern and be internationally illegitimate. And all the promised resources from Iran and they were going to completely fund the Palestinian Authority didn't materialize. And now, they have people striking and they can't govern.
I do think that led to Hania's impulse to try to accept a national unity government of some kind, but of course, you've got a problem that there's Damascus and there's the territories. And it's not clear to me how much leeway the Hamas in the territories has, vis-Ã -vis Hamas in Damascus. And I think the evidence is accumulating that it's not much.
Now, Abu Mazen has called off talks, as I understand it, today, because he says he thought he had a deal and Hamas walked away from it. So I think that it – we should have a little time for Abu Mazen to sort through what he wants to do. But when he comes to a strategy that can lead to a Palestinian Government that can do what he said he believes the Palestinian Government must do, in his speech to the UN Security Council, he's going to have enormous support for that government.
In the meantime, everybody's going to try to support him in any way possible to keep alive that part of the Palestinian Authority which has accepted the terms of a peace. And I do think that while nobody is prepared to begin weakening the Quartet conditions, and we cannot because it's working, there is concern about what's happening to the population, particularly in Gaza, which is why this agreement in the Quartet to look at what you might be able to do with the temporary international mechanism to deal with some of the quite dire circumstances are starting to emerge in the Gaza.
So I think it's a kind of three-prong strategy right now: try to help Abu Mazen in any way that you can, including to build his security forces through the Presidential Guard. Secondly, try to alleviate some of the most severe problems in the territories, particularly in the Gaza, through this temporary mechanism. And then third, give Abu Mazen some space to determine himself how he wants to break the political deadlock. He tried one direction, we welcomed his efforts, and Hamas walked away. And so I do think it's – we've got to let that play out a little bit.
QUESTION: Unfortunately, I mean, he is a good man who wants to do the right thing. He is also a very weak leader and just personally, a weak person. He has not shown great leadership skills. Looking at it from the distance that we have, it looks like this could just – you know, time could go by and it could all just get worse and we could have civil war between Fattah and Hamas and --
SECRETARY RICE: Look, I don't think we can afford to just let time go by. I don't think we can afford to not engage on the Palestinian issues and engage quite actively. My only point is that we've just come out of this national unity government problem, failure. Let's see what Abu Mazen – how he reads that. But no, we're not going to just stand back and let it happen. I don't think we can afford to do --
QUESTION: So how do you strengthen him? I mean, it hasn't happened in the last six months. What's going to be new now?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, actually, you know, I do think first and foremost, you've got to do something about his security forces. And one of the benefits of this sharpening of contradictions, if you will, is that I think you have states more willing to actually back him with resources in the Gulf than you've had. It's been kind of spotty and sporadic and I think you may now have real resources to back him.
Secondly, Prime Minister Blair has talked about trying to do some work on some of the – building of some of the institutions, which I think is very important as well. But the main thing is that if the Israeli prisoner can be resolved, I do think you'll have, fairly soon – you know, meetings between Olmert and Abbas and I think that would be enormously helpful. And we've been very supportive of that. You know that Livni and Abbas met during the UNGA. And I think we really have to hope that the two of them will be able to get together relatively soon.
QUESTION: Okay, looking at a different subject, when the President met with Musharraf last week, the President said he asked him about this Waziristan truce (inaudible) and Musharraf assured him that this would allow him to fight more strongly. And the President sort of lifted his eye and said, "I've known this man for five years. I've got to (inaudible)." We get very different statements out of Karzai and I think maybe there's some meeting where they're all coming together next week.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, they are.
QUESTION: Outside of the proximity of Musharraf, what's really gotten them --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they do have a problem with this federally administered tribal area. They brought along the governor, who gave us all a little history lesson about – you know, the last time somebody tried to go in there was the British and before that, it was the Mongols. It was sort of an interesting perspective.
You know, these very traditional, pretty remote areas where outside authority is not welcomed, I think they're trying to deal with that reality. And they tell us that they intend to deal with that reality in the following way. They intend to make very clear that the Taliban – to have the elders make clear that the Taliban is neither welcome there nor will be tolerated there. Secondly, that Tablianization of that area will not be and third, no al-Qaida.
In order to make that possible, the reconstruction of the area, or I should say, the development of the area needs to take place. Because until the earthquake, this was a part of the country that was really completely remote from – just the kind of connectivity between the country and the tribal areas was very, very weak. And so they're trying to enhance that connectivity.
Now they believe those two strategies, very clear, no safe haven, and very clear there'll be a good outcome from that is the way to handle these areas. They told us that they retain the option for the use of military force to do whatever they need to do, but that they believe that, as with very many counterinsurgency problems, the military part of it is a small percentage and the political part is a large percentage.
I think our view is that that strategy has to be given the chance to work. Now it doesn't mean that you don't – that you stop aggressive efforts to, based on intelligence, root out cells and the like when you see them. I think there's an understanding about that. But it is not unlike what we're trying to do in places like Ramadi and what we did in Fallujah and did in Mosul, where you used the local political structure to try to get by into a counterinsurgency strategy rather than fighting the local structure at the same time that you're trying to deal with the insurgents.
And so that's how I read it. I don't know that it will work. We've asked lots of questions about it. I think we'll continue to ask lots of questions about it; but that it may be the way to deal with the federally administered areas. I think we have to give that a chance to work if that's what the Pakistanis think. But I think you have to reserve that if there are people who are there who are plotting and planning, that – you know, they have to be rooted out. I think that's a different matter.
QUESTION: Changing the subject again, what did you – what was your reaction to Colin Powell's criticism of the interrogation and detention policies and such? Did you think what he said was disloyal for a former Secretary of State?
SECRETARY RICE: No. He's a private citizen. I think he can – I think he felt strongly about it. He's a private citizen. I don't happen to agree with him and – you know, I am the one who's out defending the United States at this point in time. And I can tell you I just spent a whole lot of time with Europeans. I think we spent about half a minute on this issue. You know, so I think you can overstate – oh yeah, about – well, maybe a minute-and-a-half at the meeting with the Europeans.
I think they understand several things. The first is that you have got to have – that information is the long pole in the tent in the war on terror. Whatever you want to say about prior to September 11th, we were totally in the dark as to what was happening in this country and the connections between people outside this country and inside this country, in the dark. And so nobody is going to want to be in that position again.
It's why surveillance is important. It's why interrogation within our treaty obligations and within our laws, but against hardened criminals who have been – hardened terrorists who have been trained to withstand interrogation techniques. It's why you need to use legal treaty compliance, but tough methods to get information. Because if you don't, you are inviting another attack.
Now I believe very strongly that that can all be done in a way that people understand that the United States is both a rule of law country and following those laws. And in this case, I thought it got rather misrepresented. Nobody was trying to rewrite the Geneva Conventions. The point was Common Article 3 is extremely vague, extremely vague. And when you have a vague statute, you need to be able to interpret it through something.
And it is not unusual that countries, particularly the United States, choose to interpret their international obligations through their own laws. So that was the point of this. If you're going to have a statute, then how do you interpret it? You interpret it through U.S. law.
QUESTION: But it's been interpreted through U.S. law for 50 years.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, and the problem is that not until now have we encountered the specific kinds of problems that we have with enemy noncombatants that are trained to withstand interrogation techniques and who have real time, immediate information that will result in the deaths of thousands of innocents if you don't get that information.
And so the professionals who run these programs asked only one thing. Don't tell us you'll give us a get-out-of-jail free card if we do something illegal. That's not how we want to operate. We want to know what is legal and --
QUESTION: But why didn't you do that in the first place?
SECRETARY RICE: Well --
QUESTION: You say nobody – I have never heard anyone say that we shouldn't conduct surveillance of terrorists. I've never – people like to say that in political circles that although people don't want us to conduct surveillance – but that's just nonsense. Nobody's actually saying that. Nobody's saying you shouldn't arrest terrorists, nobody's saying you shouldn't interrogate them. And you were saying that you can do that within the frame under the law. But why didn't you do that in the first place?
SECRETARY RICE: We did. Well, we did do it within the frame under the law.
QUESTION: But Congress offered to do a lot of things that the Administration turned down, with Syria and including (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Congress was also briefed on all of these programs as well. But the --
QUESTION: Some members of Congress.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, members of Congress, relevant members of Congress. But the point is when we got to the point – look, in the immediate days after September 11th, it frankly was not the immediate concern of the Administration to go and start trying to get a whole new body of law and a whole new – it was to do what you could with existing authorities and existing law to protect the country. And you know --
QUESTION: But that was five years ago.
SECRETARY RICE: No, just give me a moment. At that time, you were talking about concerns about really near-term immediate attacks on the country. People forget that three weeks after September 11th, the anthrax attacks started. And so you were really talking about trying to prevent near-term attacks.
After a period of time, everybody started to think about how you might institutionalize these efforts. And the Hamdan decision, I think, gave you an opportunity, gave us an opportunity with Congress – that's what the Supreme Court invited – to go and write laws that were more appropriate and spoke directly to the current circumstances rather than circumstances of 50 years ago.
Now if then, the question was, what do those laws need to say – and that's the debate that we've just been having. And you asked, did I – you know, how did I feel about what Colin said. Colin had one view of that, I have another, but I can tell you that I think that our allies perfectly well understand the moral basis of the war on terror. And any sense that we somehow eroded the moral basis of the war on terror because we've been determined to use whatever means, legal and treaty-compliant, that we can to get information, I think, is just not right. And I think we've – I've seen an evolution in the thinking of the allies on exactly that.
QUESTION: Hamdan is one reason you're having this debate now, which – it sort of provides a healthy conversation. The other reason you're having it is because a bunch of newspapers have laid some of these things out for – public discussion, the eavesdropping, the CIA detentions and so on.
At the risk of being too self-referential, I'm curious to know whether you genuinely think that those stories have, in any significant way, weakened the Administration's ability to fight the war on terror.
SECRETARY RICE: I think that it has made other countries and, in some cases, other entities which have dealt with us, wonder about our reliability in keeping information confidential. I do. You know, it's fine to say we ought to have an open debate about these things. You know, there are things that you keep confidential at the New York Times. There are.
QUESTION: There are?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I would hope so. I would --
QUESTION: We try. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: I would assume – no, I assume so.
QUESTION: What are they? Our ability to keep a secret is considerably --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, but I assume in your board rooms that there are things that you keep confidential, right?
QUESTION: I don't get to go to the board room.
SECRETARY RICE: I assume that there are – there is information that corporations keep confidential; it's in their boardrooms. But somehow, when it's the United States Government that is dealing with life and death, war and peace matters, allies who are putting their lives on the line, allies who have different political structures than we do and different obligations than we do, we're not supposed to keep anything confidential. And so I --
QUESTION: Well, that's taking it to extremes.
SECRETARY RICE: No.
QUESTION: And we – this paper has kept some of your secrets for you, too.
SECRETARY RICE: I understand that and I appreciate that. But I think that when it comes to – you know, I'm speaking to the leaks problem. I know this is a major, major issue in the journalistic community. But I can tell you from the point of view of somebody who has to (inaudible) security (inaudible), it's a problem.
I can't tell you how many times people will say to me, my counterparts or, you know, other counterparts, "Well, you know, I really don't know if we should have this conversation because I don't know when it's going to be exposed." That's a problem. So you asked me if it was a problem and yeah, it's a problem.
QUESTION: But I asked you if it has tangibly diminished your ability to fight the war on terror.
SECRETARY RICE: I think it has tangibly made it harder to have full-scale cooperation and I think the jury is still not out about how willing others will be to cooperate with us on sensitive and difficult issues. I do think that the jury's still out on that and in some cases, I think it's made it more difficult.
QUESTION: On Iran.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: A deadline, whether it's a specific date or a threat of weeks, not months, has now passed. How can we interpret it as anything but fragility of the P-5+1 alliance and rewarding Iranian intransigents?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, we do have, under, I'm now having trouble keeping all the numbers straight, 1696, agreement which remains firm that if Iran refuses to suspend, we will go for Article 41, Chapter 7. We reconfirmed that this week.
What we are doing is to give a little bit more scope to Javier Solana to see if he can find a formula by which the Iranians can agree to suspension, allowing, therefore, negotiations to begin. I frankly don't know if it will work. Apparently, there is going to be a meeting. I hope it will work because obviously, the best outcome here would be that the discussions with Solana allow the Iranians to suspend and then we can have comprehensive negotiations on their program and anything else that they'd like to bring up.
You know, they have, several times, said that they – or people have said, "Why don't you talk to the Iranians?" Well, here is a mechanism by which that could be done, because just as in the six-party talks, there have been discussions within the context of the six-party talks. I would suspect or expect that if we ever get to negotiations with the Iranians, there would be similar opportunities there.
So there's a lot at stake here. And it seems to us not to be too much of a stretch if our European colleagues, and particularly, Javier Solana, want to press this a little bit longer. Now I don't think you can press it very much longer because at some point, and we're getting close to that point, the credibility of a UN Security Council resolution becomes an issue. But we are continuing to work on what that resolution would say. We've had discussions. Nick Burns and his counterparts have had discussions about what that resolution might look like.
But to allow this to play out, I think, is worth it. Because if it did produce Iranian suspension and negotiations, then I think we would be glad that we gave it a little extra time.
QUESTION: If the sanctions question comes back to the Security Council, how wobbly are the Chinese, how wobbly are the Russians?
QUESTION: And the French? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, the French are pretty strong. No, look, I think that the Europeans – we and the Europeans have been completely tied up on this and I don't think that's going to change.
The Russians have had a view which I don't happen to agree with, but which I think is a serious view, which is that the road of sanctions may lead to the Iranians withdrawing from the NPT and then you're worse off because you have no eyes and ears and so forth. But I think they also have come to realize that you come to the end of the road if the Iranians refuse to suspend. And so we all reaffirmed our commitment to the logic of 1696 and that's where we are.
QUESTION: Can I ask you what – just on this, can I ask you how you – you said you have a view, the Russians have a view of the road of sanctions leading to Iranian withdrawal from the NPT.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: What's your view of where sanctions take us? If we do end up with sanctions, how do you see that eventually playing out?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I do think what you're trying to do is to bring enough pressure to get to negotiations. I don't – in the first instance, what you'd like to do is to have the Iranians understand that the cost of isolation is not worth the cost of suspending and going to negotiations. Obviously, it would be better to do that without sanctions ever coming, but if you have to go to sanctions in order to get that response, then that's worth doing.
I think you should not underestimate the collateral effects of Security Council resolutions. And by collateral effects, I mean that Iran is quite integrated into the international economic structures. And if people are having to make decisions about whether to invest, if they're having to make decisions about whether to handle assets, then when you're dealing with a country that is under a Chapter 7 resolution, the people tend to start making difficult – different decisions. We've already seen some major banks leave Iran for exactly that purpose.
And so I wouldn't concentrate just on the language of the Security Council resolution and what it mandates, but rather, the collateral and secondary effects on Iran's standing in the international community and the choices that people start making both in the private sector and in governments about how to deal with that.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Helene and Tom, which is, beyond the question of the legitimacy of Security Council resolution, the difference between now and again with Iran in 2003 and 2004, they actually have centrifuges suspending right now. How long before – not before they have enough LEU or HEU for a weapon, but before they get to the point of intellectual no return in which their scientists have mastered this? This has been going on for a very long time. How long can you hope that the collateral effect of a threat of sanctions or actual sanctions do this as the scientists continue to master the skill? I mean, do you have three months, six months, a year, a year and a half? How long do you think you have?
SECRETARY RICE: Look, the truthful answer is that I don't think we know. But we have had – you know, one advantage to the IAEA being there is that there is some access to what is going on inside the Iranian program and I feel comfortable giving this some time to see if we can't bring about a change in Iranian behavior.
But it was one reason, Carla, that it was important to launch the initiative when we did rather than saying – waiting until now to say, all right, if Iran does this then we have – because you see how long the diplomacy has taken even after our May announcement and we did feel that we had to get to a point where we were getting a clear picture as to whether or not there really is a negotiated path available or not. I think we're about to get the answer to that.
And when you know whether or not there really is a negotiated path available, then I think you have more scope with allies to talk about what kinds of measures you really need to start to really have an effect on the Iranian program. But until it's clear that you have or have not exhausted the diplomatic – not the diplomatic path – there's different kinds of – the negotiation track, then I think it's hard to make that argument.
QUESTION: There have been a couple of reports about Usama bin Laden in the last few days. One is that he died of natural causes. The other was – Karzai was on CBS yesterday saying that he's in Pakistan. I wonder if you think he's alive and if he's in Pakistan and what do you know about that.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have no reason to believe he's not alive. Let me put it that way. I don't know where he is. I do know that there are people who spend every waking hour worrying about where he is and trying to track and trying to follow the intelligence. And it's the kind of thing – you saw it with Zarqawi. You know, all of a sudden it comes together and it happens. And I think you just – until then close isn't good enough. You just have to keep pursuing it.
But it brings me to a larger point and a little bit goes back to where we started. You know, there are two ways to look at what happened or what our strategy had to be after September 11th. And I think what is at the root of what is the relationship of Iraq to the war on terror is that debate is at the core of it.
On the one hand, I think there is – everybody agrees that you have to take al-Qaida down as an organization -- the people who did 9/11. And while Usama bin Laden is very important and we're pursuing it, taking down their field generals is awfully important. I mean, the Khaled Sheikh Mohammeds, the Ramzi bin Al-Shibs. And you see that by taking down the operational field generals you actually stop attacks. And you have to keep doing that because they regenerate, but they regenerate with less experience and less, you know, battle-worn veterans with each generation that you take down.
Secondly, you obviously have to deal with their safe haven and so overthrowing the Taliban and stabilizing Afghanistan I think there's a general understanding that that's very important to the war on terror.
The third question though is: Is that all that you need to do to win the war on terror? And some people – I should add of course homeland security issues and what you can do to protect yourself on the defense, which is where the intelligence is important and the information and surveillance and so forth. All of that is an important part of the war on terror, but is that enough?
And for me, I think I know for the President and others, it's not. Because there will be future al-Qaidas and there will be future jihadist movements unless you go and begin to change the very nature of the place from which they came, what spawned them to begin with. And that's where the strategy on the broader Middle East and democratization and in fact Iraq as the kind of linchpin of that different Middle East, because nobody can imagine a different Middle East with Saddam Hussein in it. Whatever you think about the war, I doubt you'd find very many people who say, oh yeah, you can have a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein still sitting there firing at your airplanes and threatening Kuwait and making weapons of mass destruction as we thought because you don't have transparency into what he's doing. That Middle East is always going to be one that is malignant and difficult as long as Saddam is there.
Now, for us, a Middle East in which Iraq transforms and becomes an example of a national unity government in which Shia are not oppressed but in fact even though they are the majority are able to live in harmony with others in their region is also a very important model for how Sunni and Shia deal with each other in the Middle East.
So it comes to whether or not you think you really have to go at the basic character of the Middle East. And I happen to think that that's right. And so even if there's a short-term effect of Iraq as mobilizing, as it did for Zarqawi, people to fight the jihad there, I think there's a reason that they mobilized to fight it there. They get it. They understand that an Iraq that is transformed is the end of their particular ideology in the Middle East, in the center of the Middle East, and that the Middle East is going to go in a quite different direction.
If I could just say one thing kind of historically because – and please, I don't mean to try to make an exact analogy here. But Europe fought for more than a hundred years in wars from the Napoleonic wars all the way through to World War I, drew us into their balance of power war. We left. They rearranged the deck chairs in their balance of power war, and 30 years later we were back fighting again.
At the end of World War II though, they didn't rearrange the deck chairs in a balance of power. What they did was to change the basic structure and you got a democratic Germany, you got NATO, Germany and France never fought again and Europe was at peace, and we haven't been back to war in Europe – the Balkans notwithstanding – since.
In a sense, I think that's how you have to think about the Middle East. You've got to now change the structure there so that you create an environment in which you're not going to have these extremist forces, these jihadist forces, the financing of terrorism, the madrasas that are running wild, the authoritarian governments that don't permit political space for moderate forces so that all of the politics takes place in the radical mosques. Unless you deal with that problem, you're going to continue to have a very formidable jihadist movement, whether it calls itself al-Qaida or something else. And it will take time to transform that, but you'd better get about doing it. And I think that's really the debate that we're seeing.
QUESTION: And Iraq was the center – epicenter of that, in your view?
SECRETARY RICE: Iraq --
QUESTION: None of what you said really had anything to do with Iraq.
SECRETARY RICE: No, it has a great deal to do with Iraq.
QUESTION: But you could say – you said – I mean, you described Saddam. You could use that same description to describe half a dozen Middle Eastern – Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran --
SECRETARY RICE: No, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran have not – did not draw the United States into two wars in the Gulf within a period of 12 years. Saddam Hussein had ambitions for the region, married to a lot of wealth, married to a penchant for the development of weapons of mass destruction which he once used, and a willingness to use his power to annex his neighbors, which you would not associate with either Syria or Saudi Arabia, and not even with Iran.
You know, but memories are short but there's a reason that we went to war in 1991 against Saddam Hussein. It was his ambitions in the region starting with Kuwait and moving forward. The other – so you overthrow this particular threat in the region and you create space for a different kind of Iraq, much like you overthrew Germany's Hitler and created space for a different kind of Germany. That's the point.
QUESTION: Couldn't however – could you not make the argument that (inaudible) right now Iraq and Afghanistan are both failed states and that in a divided and politically weak Iraq, Iran has an enormous amount of power both indirectly and also directly in terms of the incredible ties and infiltrations going on in the south of Iraq, that there's Iranian presence in Afghanistan too (inaudible) that the Lebanon war arguably gives Iran an enormous stake in politics and the argument on the left (inaudible) and that, you know, willy-nilly going to war in some of these places may have strengthened the Iranian hand in the region?
SECRETARY RICE: I don't doubt that if we fail to challenge the trends that you have just outlined, that Iranian – you will have an ascendance of Iranian power in the region. But you have to look at also from the Iranian point of view they have a new neighbor in Afghanistan and they have a new neighbor in Iraq with American forces in both. They have a counter model developing in Iraq to the legitimacy of the Iranian revolution and the Iranian regime which, if it succeeds, will be a Shia-majority, non-theocratic with Najaf as its center with a claim to leadership of the Shia world that Iran could only hope for.
You have an Iran that if it is not careful will be under Security Council sanctions making the price of its nuclear ambitions and potentially its imperial overreach much less affordable as it feels pressures within the international financial system. Iran's economy is actually quite vulnerable, and so stirring up trouble for other people has a consequence. And perhaps most importantly, I think you have seen the beginnings of a coalescence of those who see Iran's ambitions as counter to their own interests and if you indeed do start then to get the mobilization of states that wish to resist that, like the Gulf states, like the moderate Arab states, now you have an Iran that also has very few – has even fewer friends than it has now.
So you know, yes, you can always describe a path by which Iran benefits from the current environment. You can also describe a path by which Iran's efforts to benefit from that environment create a backlash against it which I think you're beginning to see some elements of.
Now, is Iran going to negotiate? We will see. Because you also hear from the Iranians, well, we really don't want to go down that path that you describe. We'd really like to be seen as a responsible major actor in international politics. I don't see it in their behavior. But that that refrain keeps coming out makes me wonder whether they think the course that you described is actually available to them without significant cost.
I have to go. Oh, one more question? Okay.
QUESTION: I'll try one (inaudible). If changing the basic character of the Middle East is the sort of bedrock rationale for getting rid of Saddam and for the war, looking back, do you wish that that case had been made more publicly in real time? Do you think the American people would have been for a war waged on that rationale? And do you have any, you know, second thoughts or regrets that Saddam's WMD issue was sold so heavily rather than this more measured explanation that you put forward today?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, let me not confuse the sequence and I probably have in the way I've just talked about this. We went to war against Saddam Hussein because of the threat that he posed to the region, the repeated refusal to deal with the Security Council resolutions and the threat that he was developing with his great wealth WMD that he could then use in support of his ambitions. So that was the reason. That was the rationale. That was the rationale that we gave to the American people.
By the way, it was never just WMD. I can remember saying to people, you know, the Russians have 25,000 times more WMD than Saddam Hussein, but I'm a lot more worried about a rudimentary nuclear weapon with Saddam Hussein than all the SS-18s that the Russians can --
So it was a combination of his ambitions and his volatility with his WMD. So it was the threat of Saddam Hussein. Now, you have to look beyond, though, once you've removed that threat. What do you intend to champion in its place.
And, there were those who said to us, "just replace a strong man with a strong man." Just a strong man without Saddam's ambitions. A strong man who'll agree, "I'll never build weapons of mass destructions, and I won't invade Kuwait, and I'll take the star off my flag that says Kuwait is part of Iraq," and be satisfied with that.
But we took a different course, which was that from the very beginning, to insist that once the United States and the coalition won the war that we would work for democratic national unity government in Iraq and lay in place a process to do that. That's the core of the argument about what a changed Iraq could mean to a changed Middle East.
And in that sense, it's why I do refer to the German case because we didn't go to war against Hitler to democratize Germany. That wasn't the cause. It was to remove the German threat. But it was only the United States after World War II that insisted that the internal composition of Germany needed to look a particular way for peace to be permanent in Europe. And so that's really the analogy.
Do I wish, though, it's still the question. Do I wish that we had had a better and broader articulation of the supporting rationale, yes, in retrospect, absolutely. Because, I think it was sort of the nature of the UN process, where we were going for the Hans Blix updates every day and everybody was focused on where was the VX gas and where was the mustard gas and why wouldn't he answer the questions and what was on his declaration that the WMD issue got separated from the broader issue of who was Saddam Hussein and what did he mean to the region and what would his continued presence in the region refusing to deal with all of these obligations that he had undertaken in 1991, what would that mean to the region.
And, yes, I think we probably fell into fact witnessing on what happened to this vile of that and probably set expectations about what would be found that then wouldn't be met.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Can you tell us what Andrew Natsios is going to do now about Darfur? The President has expressed considerable frustration and said yesterday that if Sudan wouldn't agree that perhaps the Security Council should force him. Of course, the United States is the most powerful member of the Security Council, so what's Andrew Natsios going to do?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, he's going to do a couple of things. First of all, I do think that there is great desire to see if he can breathe more life into the peace accord and try to bring other people back on board. And, Andrew especially has excellent relations in the south and the southern Sudanese have been a very good factor in trying to help that happen. So I think he'll spend some time on the political side.
Also, you know, there's really kind of the day to day worrying about the humanitarian thing. Working with the Libyans on separate quarters and so forth. And then finally, continuing the diplomacy of trying to keep people from shielding Sudan.
We had this meeting on Darfur, and, you know, there were a lot of very good speeches given about how we couldn't let this happen again. You know, let Rwanda happen again. We all had an obligation and responsibility to protect. But, in the end of the day, you know, there was agreement to meet again in October. That's not going to get it done.
So I think we're going to have to do some pretty intensive diplomacy of our own to try to convince the Sudanese government, first of all, that nobody's trying to question the sovereignty, that's not the issue, that's a red herring. And secondly, that, if they can't, if they won't do this, nonetheless, that they bare full responsibility for what happens.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Will they change their mind as long as the Chinese protect them. And shouldn't he be on his way or you be on the way to Beijing to tell the Chinese how important this is?
SECRETARY RICE: I just spent some time with Minister Li talking exactly about that.
QUESTION: Did you make any progress?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Chinese did have a meeting with the Sudanese, but you know, the Chinese are only one part of the issue. There also needs to be pressure from the Arab League to understand that this argument about, you know, an "imperial force" or whatever it is called, in another Arab country is just not an acceptable argument. So yes, there is a lot of diplomacy to do and I plan to try to keep raising the profile of the issue which is why we had the meeting here and we just have to keep hammering at it. But that's what Andrew's going to do.
Released on September 25, 2006