Rice Briefing En Route Shannon, Ireland
Briefing En Route Shannon, Ireland
En Route Shannon, Ireland
October 1, 2006
SECRETARY RICE: We are on our way back to the Middle East. Barbara, hello. When did you come back? Okay, we are on our way to the Middle East. We're going to start in Saudi Arabia and meet with King Abdallah and then go on to Cairo for meetings with the GCC+2, which means the GCC plus Jordan and Egypt, and then on of course to the Palestinian territories and to Israel.
But I think the way to think about this trip is that the President said in his remarks at the UNGA that it was necessary to consult with, and in effect rally, moderate forces and moderate voices in the Middle East. When Lebanon happened I think we got in very stark relief a clear indication that there are extremist forces and moderate forces. The people -- the countries that we're meeting with particularly in the GCC+2 is a group that you would expect to support the emerging moderate forces in Lebanon, in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories. And so I look forward to consulting with them on how we strengthen these forces and what needs to be done.
I should note too that it's possible, though not yet certain, that we may have a P5+1 on Iran toward the end of the week, but I'll get back to you on whether or not we decide to do that.
QUESTION: A bit off topic, but in the Bob Woodward book there is a meeting detailed in July of 2001 at which you and then CIA chief Tenet were present. Did that meeting happen the way he describes it? Did Tenet at that point express to you a real feeling that there was an attack coming, and if so what did you do about it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'll have to -- we'll have to go back to the records to see if there was a meeting on July 10th. I met with George Tenet repeatedly, including every morning during that period of time. What I am quite certain of, however, is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States; and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible, especially given that in July when we were getting a very steady stream of quite alarmist reports of potential attacks -- by the way, all of the information was about potential attacks abroad. There was supposed to be -- the countries that were assumed to be targets -- Saudi Arabia, Yemen, I think there was one about Israel, maybe Jordan. Nothing about the United States. And we were in very active disruption operations abroad, including redoubling efforts to try to capture Abu Zubaida, who people thought might know something about this.
We were in -- George Tenet was working with the security officials from 20 countries. The Vice President called the Saudis to enlist their help. We were taking protective measures abroad; for instance, the Fifth Fleet was redeployed out of harm's way, military forces were put on alert in half a dozen countries, travel alerts were issued for Americans traveling abroad.
It was an extremely active period in terms of responding to what was a steady stream of chatter about potential attacks. And we were getting briefed on them every morning with the President's daily briefing and I was indeed talking to George about them all the time. So it comes as no surprise that in fact the threat level, or the level of threat reporting, was very high during this period.
Now, there was nothing that related to an attack in the United States. Nonetheless, because no one could rule out the potential of an attack in the United States, we took several measures in the United States to protect the United States as well. For instance, the counterterrorism strategy group which was meeting every day during this period of time -- that's the kind of nerve center; it still is, by the way; now it's reformulated into the NCTC.
But the counterterrorism strategy group that was meeting every day, Dick Clarke was reporting on what they were doing. And I believe the date is July 5th when, because I was concerned that even though there was no threat reporting about the United States we couldn't rule out an attack, I called Andy Card and asked him to join me with Dick Clarke because I didn't have authority over the domestic agencies, I thought having the Chief of Staff there might give us some potency if we needed that with the domestic agencies, and asked Dick to convene a meeting, which he did, with agencies like the FAA and other domestic agencies.
I understand too that the CIA briefing was then given to security officials from domestic agencies. I also asked that John Ashcroft be shown the threat reporting because the Attorney General of course oversees the FBI. The FBI held several briefings, including with their special agents-in-charge, one of which they told their special agents-in-charge that even though there was no credible threat reporting about the United States, that could not be ruled out.
So this was an extremely active period of time in terms of responding to what were admittedly vague but repeated and indeed steady reports of impending attack. So I just don't know how -- first of all, I don't know that this meeting took place, but what I really don't know, what I'm quite certain of, is that it was not a meeting in which I was told that there was an impending attack and I refused to respond.
QUESTION: On Iran, how did the conversation go over the weekend among the P5+1? Did Mr. Solana hear anything from Mr. Larijani that gives you hope Iran will suspend? And if not, what would the purpose of a P5+1 at the end of the week be?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, we did have a conference call over the weekend. I think it's fair to say that we've not yet heard anything that suggests that the Iranians are going to suspend. In fact, you probably have seen the statements to the contrary from the Iranian President. I believe that Javier Solana will probably check his sources one more time to see if there's anything more there.
But we did have a discussion of the importance of remaining firm on Resolution 1696, which means that if the Iranians don't suspend then we'll go to the Security Council for sanctions. And I am not certain that we will meet, but if we are all -- and since I'm coming back from the Middle East going to Europe would not be difficult -- that might provide an opportunity to have one more round among ourselves about how to press forward. So -- but we haven't heard anything yet that would suggest the Iranians are going to suspend.
SECRETARY RICE: I think we have to wait and see what we -- where we are in the next couple of days.
If I could just add one final thing on Anne's question, I think if you look at the 9/11 Commission report you will not see anything that characterizes a meeting and response of the kind that is described.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, one more thing about that. The Woodward book says there was something quite unusual about this meeting; it was arranged abruptly, that Tenet called from his car to arrange the meeting with the idea, he says, of shaking you to act; and that it was you and Tenet and Cofer Black. Does any of that ring a bell?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I saw George Tenet a lot. I also saw Cofer Black on occasion. The idea of a kind of emergency meeting in which there was a need to shock me that there were lots of threats out there and lots of threat reporting, given that every day we were sitting in the Oval Office going over the threat reporting, every day Dick Clarke was meeting with the CSG to go over the threat reporting and reporting back to me, five days before this supposed meeting I had asked that the domestic agencies be called together because we couldn't rule out an attack in the United States, we were running disruption operations abroad at a very high level, I really just don't understand the context here. It just doesn't make sense to me.
SECRETARY RICE: I don't remember a so-called emergency meeting. Look, it was not unusual that George and I would meet, in a sense, unscheduled, you know, after a meeting in the Oval or whatever. But we turned over to -- we made available to the 9/11 Commission all the documentary records of my meetings with George Tenet on this subject and -- on this subject and on terrorism more broadly.
SECRETARY RICE: George was -- I remember that George was very worried and he expressed that. We were all very worried because the threat reporting was quite intense. The problem was that it was also very nebulous, and I think that's the word that's used in the 9/11 report. And so when you're dealing with nebulous information that doesn't really direct you toward a particular attack at a particular place at a particular time, you have to try broad efforts to deal with the threat reporting. That's why disruption operations abroad were very important. That's why people were trying to capture Abu Zubaida, figuring that perhaps he could tell us more. That's why we were alerting the FBI and they were alerting their agents.
But we were all very concerned that the threat reporting was -- levels were very high. There was also some threat reporting relating to the Genoa G-8 summit and there was a great deal of worry about that, and in fact we changed a number of the security arrangements concerning the G-8.
So my point to you is this is an extremely intense period in which we're getting the threat reporting, we're constantly acting on the threat reporting, we're having -- Dick's having these meetings every day, and you know, it just kind of doesn't ring true that you'd have to shock me into something that I was very involved in.
SECRETARY RICE: I don't.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I have a question about the Middle East. I wanted to know what is new about this initiative, what is different from before? Because you see the same people, the same moderate people, the same Jordan. So what is really different this time?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the same people are there, Sylvie, and they're still the important actors. Look, I do think that the GCC+2 effort is new and it gives us an opportunity in a new configuration to work with the moderate states and the moderate voices in the region both to support these new moderate forces like Siniora's government in Lebanon, the government of -- I mean the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas and the government of Iraq. And that configuration I think can be quite powerful in resisting extremist forces as well.
But it's important to consult with people. It's important to get together and look at what we face and, you know, also be working with the Palestinians and the Israelis to see how we might move that forward. But I think the main -- the GCC+2 I consider an important new dimension to the effort.
QUESTION: Back on the Woodward book. There are reports in this book that you had trouble getting return calls from the Secretary of Defense. There were sort of reports also that you supported possibly replacing him with James Baker or someone else. Is any of that true?
And secondly, is Phil Zelikow on the trip? Is he back in the U.S. dealing with this issue, trying to reconstruct what happened?
SECRETARY RICE: Phil is not on the trip and I think that he does want to be able to help reconstruct from the commission side what happened. So yes, he's not on the trip.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, for a lot of reasons. There are other things that Philip is dealing with as well. But you may see him later. Let me just put it that way.
First of all, Secretary Rumsfeld has never refused to return my phone calls. This is ludicrous. Not to mention that I talked to him on principals calls for a while every day and then we went to three days a week. So the idea that he wasn't returning my phone calls is simply ludicrous.
I also did not try to get the President to somehow change his Secretary of Defense. I did tell the President at one point that I thought maybe all of us should go because we'd fought two wars and we had fought the -- we had the largest terrorist attack in American history. And when he asked me to be Secretary of State, I said I think maybe you need new people. So I don't know if that somehow was interpreted, but I was actually talking about me.
QUESTION: You're hoping to build support on this trip from the moderate states for Iraq among others, but are you concerned at all that there are signs that the Iraqis themselves are pretty nervous these days about their neighbors? President Talabani the other day talked directly about his anger with the Turks. He said in an interview with, I guess, NPR that all the neighbors with the exception of Kuwait were meddling in their affairs, went on to say that if they do that to the Iraqis maybe the Iraqis will do that back. It doesn't seem like a pretty positive attitude at the moment.
SECRETARY RICE: Look, it's always been a difficult neighborhood. That should be a surprise to no one. But I think if you had been at the international compact meeting on Iraq you would have seen a quite different story, which is that these states recognized, Iraq's neighborhood recognizes, that a stable Iraq is going to be in their interest and an unstable Iraq is most certainly going to be counter to their interests.
And I think you will see as the Iraqis go to their national compact support for them among their neighbors. I can tell you that some of their neighbors played very important roles in trying to encourage Sunni involvement and encourage the tribes to be involved. They've already played positive roles, but I think you will see that grow over time as the Iraqis come to their national compact and the international system mobilizes to help them.
QUESTION: Thanks. A question on this whole notion of moderates versus extremists. How hopeful are you that you can manage to bring off a change in policy to stabilize Lebanon when you continue to avoid Damascus and you're not talking to at least the Syrians? I mean, obviously you want to try to talk to the Iranians about the nuclear issue. Given the Syrian background as a spoiler, how can this work?
And then one other on this whole tell-all book, and that is do you feel that Colin Powell was treated unfairly in the first term of this Administration and that he was pushed out in a rather abrupt manner? And how do you feel about that as someone who has been a friend of Colin Powell's? Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm going to let Secretary Powell speak for himself. You know, it's not for me to say how he felt. I do know that he was respected in the Administration, that the President listened to him. I myself attended several dinners that were just Colin and the President and me, and I said virtually nothing in those meetings. I know that the President had an open door for Colin Powell and that he won an awful lot of the arguments that he made. So I think he was not only treated with respect in the Administration, but with admiration because I know that that's the way the President feels about him.
As to the Syrians, it took 30 years to get them out of Lebanon and the notion that somehow they can be a stabilizing force in Lebanon, I just -- I don't see. If they wish to be a stabilizing force, they can certainly do it. They know what to do. They know to stop transshipment of weapons from perhaps Iran to Hezbollah. They know to cooperate fully with the Hariri assassination investigation. They know to stop intimidation campaigns against others, other Lebanese leaders. So I don't think they have to be told what they can do to help Lebanon be more stable.
QUESTION: My question is about the forces of moderation. A year ago you gave a very important speech in Cairo talking about the need for democracy, that you were jettisoning 60 years of U.S. foreign policy. The emphasis now though is on forces of moderation, not on democracy. Would you acknowledge there has been a change?
SECRETARY RICE: No. I'm also going to talk about democracy because the forces of moderation ultimately have to transition into moderate democratic forces or the Middle East I think is not going to be stable. We have with the Saudis these discussions. We have with the Egyptians these discussions. Look, it's not -- Jordan is making really great strides in its political evolution. These countries are not moving at the same speed and they're not going to move at the same speed, but the President isn't going to stop pressing for democracy because he believes that ultimately it's the force that will stabilize the Middle East most.
But it does not mean that even if states are in some state not yet transformed to democracy that we're not going to have relations with them and that we're not going to work together to resist extremist forces in the region that are threatening the very young democracies that are already there like Lebanon and Iraq and to a certain extent the Palestinian presidency.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, you're not going to see me? You're going to see me at the press conference, right?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh. Well, look, I'm going to have consultations with King Abdallah. I think that the Saudis have demonstrated their desire to help, for instance, Abu Mazen and I think we can talk about how we might do more to help Abu Mazen, and particularly to help Lebanon. The Saudis I think contributed $1.5 billion to help Lebanon. They've been very involved in countering the behavior of the Syrians, for instance. And so we'll have the discussions -- I'll have the discussions with the Saudis that I'll also have with the GCC.
SECRETARY RICE: I want Saudi's involvement in the stabilization of Iraq, I want Saudi's involvement in the stabilization of Lebanon, through resources and political support. Saudi Arabia has a lot of standing with a number of the forces in Iraq and they've actually been very helpful in trying to get Sunnis involved in the elections. I think it would be very helpful if they were supportive of and working toward helping Prime Minister Maliki's national reconciliation plan, for instance. 2006/T23-1
Released on October 2, 2006