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Rice Interview With Brian Williams of NBC News

Interview With Brian Williams of NBC News

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Dead Sea, Jordan
November 30, 2006

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you on a busy day for making time for us.

SECRETARY RICE: It's my pleasure.

QUESTION: When the President of the United States travels such a great distance to meet with the Iraqi Prime Minister and the first meeting between the two men is canceled, how is that not seen as a snub to the Iraqis?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, come now. The Prime Minister met with the King of Jordan, who was his host, in a very successful bilateral, went on to a meeting with the Jordanian Prime Minister and his government, and they decided they really didn't need a trilateral, they would wait and the President would meet with Prime Minister Maliki this morning. And that's what happened and they had a wonderful meeting this morning. I think you could see that the chemistry between the two men is very, very good.

And so this is a matter of simply deciding they didn't need a trilateral. In fact, the Iraqis had thought all along they probably didn't need a trilateral and it turned out that they didn't.

QUESTION: What could the President have said to the Prime Minister this morning that hasn't been said, and what hasn't been tried?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, in fact, they had a very extensive discussion this morning of a report from the joint committee that's been working on questions of how to accelerate the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqis as well as how to accelerate, and if necessary, adjust the kinds of capabilities that the Iraqi forces have to deal with what is essentially a situation that has emerged since the Samara bombing in February which has spurred the sectarian violence in Baghdad. And so this is an opportunity to hear from that committee and it turned out that they didn't.

QUESTION: What could the President have said to the Prime Minister this morning that hasn't been said, and what hasn't been tried?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, in fact, they had a very extensive discussion this morning of a report from the joint committee that's been working on questions of how to accelerate the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqis as well as how to accelerate, and if necessary, adjust the kinds of capabilities that the Iraqi forces have to deal with what is essentially a situation that has emerged since the Samara bombing in February which has spurred the sectarian violence in Baghdad. And so this is an opportunity to hear from that committee. It's a committee that General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad and the National Security Advisor of Iraq Mr. Rubaie, Dr. Rubaie, has been working on. And so it was a chance to see that.

It's a good thing, I think, for the Prime Minister to hear directly from the President what the President has been saying to the Iraqi people: that we are committed to Iraq, that we are committed to its future and that the United States sees its own security as inextricably linked to the success of this Iraq Government. And that's something that -- it's a good thing to be able to say in person.

QUESTION: A preliminary report today about this so-called Baker group, the Iraq Study Group, has them recommending what could be called a graceful exit of U.S. Army brigades over time from Iraq, and yet the President's position today appears to be in collision with that. Do you worry about that? And I know the (inaudible) report has yet to be (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's wait and see what the report says. But obviously, from the point of view of the United States, the transfer of security responsibility to Iraqis over time as they are ready to receive it has been the focal point of our policy from the very beginning. And what we have in this Iraqi leadership is a leadership that is anxious to take responsibility and that wants to accelerate that process. At some point, obviously that will require less American involvement.

But the American involvement has to be gauged to what needs to be done on the ground, what the Iraqis themselves are capable of doing. And that's the discussion that the President and Prime Minister Maliki had today. And it is, by the way, I think, the President's view that he looks forward, and I know I look forward, to receiving the outcome of the Baker-Hamilton report, a very eminent group of Americans who have given a lot of time to this effort, and to other discussions that are going on within the Administration and I think will also go on with Congress.

QUESTION: You are back here and today's topic was Israel and the Palestinians. In your absence, while the United States has been worried about other matters, are you at all concerned the United States has lost any authority in the Middle East?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that everybody looks to the United States, and sometimes perhaps too much. One of the things that I said to, for instance, the group of countries with which I just met, a group of states with whom we meet, the GCC plus -- Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt and Jordan, is that we all have to work this issue. This is not something that just the United States can do.

And so people look very much to the United States for leadership on this issue. We are helping on this issue. I think we have an opening now because of the ceasefire, which we hope will hold, consolidate and be extended; the opening given by Prime Minister Olmert's positive speech; and by conversations with both Abu Mazen and with Prime Minister Olmert were conversations that said to them both that the United States is prepared to try and use this opening to accelerate progress toward the two-state solution. So there's no doubt in my mind that American leadership is both valued and desired in the region.

QUESTION: Does it worry you that Iran has been trying very hard to work the situation here on the ground and form alliances and relationships? And is there any construct whatever in which the United States would sit across from any table from (inaudible) Iran and Syria?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Iran has unfortunately not been a very positive force for the region, as we're seeing in Lebanon. One of the things that I think we're very concerned about is this attack on the duly elected Siniora government that is being led by Iran and its allies, by Hezbollah, really with outside influences very much in evidence. Syria very much in evidence. Syria having left Lebanon under international pressure after 30 years of occupation, seems determined to continue to try to be a negative factor in Lebanon's politics.

So these are not stabilizing factors -- Iran and Syria -- and I think we have to recognize that. Now, it's not as if we haven't tried to talk to Syria before. The problem is the Syrians don't seem ever to listen. And so it's not a matter of contact; it's a matter of whether or not we can get cooperation.

And as to Iran, I will just remind everyone that last May we said that we were prepared to sit across from the Iranians as a part of the six powers that are making an offer to the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions and that anything could be on the table. The Iranians have not taken up that offer, I suspect that because they do not want to give up their nuclear ambitions.

So there are opportunities here. The Iranians and the Syrians have not taken them, and most especially neither state has shown any inclination to change behavior in a way that would make them stabilizing factors in this region, not destabilizing factors.

QUESTION: Well, the analysts -- if you believe all the analysts back home who say there was a message in the midterm elections about U.S. Iraq policy, how has your U.S. Iraq policy changed?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I think there were many messages in the elections, including the fact that it was the sixth year, which seems to be a not very favorable year for sitting presidents in terms of what happens in Congress. You can go back in history and look at the number of times that sitting presidents have lost the Senate, have lost multiple seats in the House. So there seems to be a trend in American politics.

But we also understand that Iraq was a factor. The President recognizes too that we are at a stage in the policy toward Iraq where we do need to evaluate what adjustments we need to make in the policy. That's why he's looking forward to the report of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. It's why he has asked or told all of us -- State, Defense, the Chiefs, the Joint Chiefs -- to review our policies. It's why we've been meeting as a National Security Council to look at that. And it's why he looks forward to hearing from others. Because we are in a stage where the situation on the ground is not what we want it to be. We are in a stage in which sectarian violence has become a more important and destabilizing factor in Iraq.

But we're also in a stage where we have an Iraqi Government, an elected Iraqi Government, the most -- in many ways the most legitimate government in the whole region given the election, that is telling us it's time for us, we the Iraqis, to take more responsibility, give us the tools to do that and let us take that responsibility. And so a very fundamental part of this review has to be how to answer that call from the Iraqis to take more responsibility. It's a government that's been in power now for about six months and I think it knows what it needs to do and what it wants to do.

QUESTION: Final question. How would you describe the situation, I guess mostly where it pertains to Iraq, right now? A lot of people believe the world is in quite a fix when you look at where we are. Is this a moment of crisis? Is this just an important moment in the scope of history?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it's a moment of challenge, it's a moment of testing and it's a moment also of enormous opportunity -- big historical changes like the ones that are happening now, particularly in this region. And if you just enumerate a couple of things: Syrian forces out of Lebanon, for the first time Lebanon not occupied by Syrian forces in decades; if you look at the situation in the Palestinian territories where, yes, an election brought to power Hamas, but Hamas has been unable to govern and the world is turning again to a democratically elected President of the Palestinian Authority who wants to make peace with Israel and the two-state solution -- to pursue a two-state solution; and perhaps most importantly an Iraq that has been liberated from a terrible tyrant dictator who invaded his neighbors twice, he used weapons of mass destruction on his own people and on his neighbors, he's now gone, he sits in the dock awaiting sentences.

Look, these are huge changes in a region that's -- that the very stagnation in this region -- people call it stability, I call it stagnation -- the stagnation in this region had produced a circumstance in which the -- an al-Qaida and extremist forces were growing and growing and growing unchallenged really by healthy moderate political forces in places like Iraq and like the Palestinian territories. Those forces are now coming into their own. Yes, they have determined enemies. Yes, we are seeing a clarifying moment between extremism and moderation. That is bound to be difficult.

But if we do our work well, the opportunity to have a Middle East that is very different, with a Palestinian state that can live side by side with the Israelis, with an Iraq, a democratic Iraq in which Iraq can be a stabilizing force in this region, a Lebanon that can be a democratic and stabilizing force, I know that at this particular moment in time it appears to be a period of great challenge. But it's always out of periods of great challenge that opportunity comes. And that's how this President sees it. And I'll tell you something, Brian, I've just sat with Abu Mazen, just sat with Ehud Olmert, just sat with Nouri al-Maliki. That's how they see it, too. And we as the United States have to support those moderate forces in making that Middle East come true.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.

2006/T26-7

Released on November 30, 2006

ENDs


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