Rice Interview With Lukman Ahmed of Al Arabiya
Interview With Lukman Ahmed of Al Arabiya
December 18, 2006
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, welcome --
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: -- to Al Arabiya. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I'd like us to start right now with what's happening in the Palestine. The situation is so -- or the tension is very high between Hamas and how do you feel about it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I think that President Abbas has been trying very hard to find a resolution to the crisis. The problem here is that the Hamas Government has been unwilling to accept terms that would make it internationally acceptable. I know President Abbas has tried to form a national unity government. The violence needs to stop. We hope that there will, in fact, be a ceasefire between the parties. That's very important.
But the political crisis also has to be resolved and it needs to be resolved with the Palestinian people getting a government that can be acceptable internationally so that the difficulties that have been there in terms of resources for the Palestinians can be resolved. But I've found that President Abbas is very committed to trying to find a way forward.
QUESTION: He's calling right now for an early election. Are you endorsing that idea? >
SECRETARY RICE: Well, this is something that I think Palestinians will decide, but he is the Palestinian leader elected by his people as President. He has the will and the desire and, in fact, the obligation to help the Palestinian people find a way out of the crisis. And so we will support him as he tries to do that.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Tony Blair is here and he announced that soon, he's going to announce some new initiative and I think last week he was here with the President and he was endorsed -- his trip by the President. Are you able to tell us about some details about those initiatives that are going to be announced by --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I talked with Prime Minister Blair and he is, in fact, in the Middle East and I've talked with him very recently. I know that he believes strongly that the Palestinian political system needs to find a way to be representative of the Palestinians; that economic progress and security progress needs to be made.
I won't announce his initiatives, but I know that he is there to work with the parties to see if we can make progress on the roadmap and particularly make progress in strengthening the Palestinian political institutions so that they can represent the Palestinian people and deal with the very, very difficult circumstances in which the Palestinian people find themselves. No one wants to see the continued violence. No one wants to see the continued deprivation of the Palestinian people and I know that Prime Minister Blair also feels very strongly that the political system needs to be able to support Palestinian needs and desires.
QUESTION: Talking about that political system, some people might suggest is that your problem is right now because of the lack of engagement from (inaudible), it is not maybe from you, but are we going to see you in the future, in the near future, more engaging on this so you're trying to provide some political assistance to the system -- it could work?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've been very engaged and I've personally been very engaged. In fact, we were very engaged to help to bring about the Gaza disengagement. I myself negotiated the agreement on movement and access. I talk frequently with President Abbas. As a matter of fact, I talked with him yesterday about how we can move forward.
We're working through General Dayton to have a security plan that can help the Palestinian security forces to protect the security of the Palestinian people, first and foremost, as well as to deal with their responsibilities concerning the territories and the roadmap. And you'll continue to see that engagement.
But I do believe that there may be an opening because of the ceasefire, because of Prime Minister Olmert's rather welcoming speech a couple of weeks ago, and because I know of President Abbas' deep desire to have a resolution to the conflict. We may have some opening and I will be absolutely willing and ready to work to try and pursue that opening.
QUESTION: So we might see you heading to the region soon or having Abbas coming here soon?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I want to go back to the region sometime shortly after the first of the year. I think we are doing some work here now in our own government. As you know, the President is putting forward a new way on Iraq and so I've been a part of those deliberations. But fairly shortly after the first of the year, I would hope to go back to the region.
QUESTION: And one of the interesting word came out from Prime Minister appears today in the area of two-state solution by President Bush are we're still hoping that before the end of his presidency, something tangible and moving forward for that idea of two states will happen.
SECRETARY RICE: There would be nothing better from the point of view of the President and from me than to make progress on a two-state solution. The Palestinian people have been without their own state for too long. This President recognized that. President Bush recognized that and he said in no uncertain terms there needs to be a state for the Palestinians and it needs to be called Palestine. And that was a terrific step forward. No American President had ever even been willing to state that as a matter of policy.
So of course, this President is absolutely devoted to finding a way to move forward on that vision. It is something that would finally give to the Palestinian people the kind of dignity that they deserve because they are a people who have shown that they have entrepreneurship and they are a people who are very wise. And so this President very much wants to see the Palestinians have their own state and we'll do everything we can to deliver as quickly as possible, but we need, of course, the parties themselves to be both committed and to be effective in moving forward on their obligations.
QUESTION: Let us move to Iraq and let's start with the idea of (inaudible), that everybody's talking about today. Do you think situation could be solved militarily?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the situation cannot be resolved militarily in Iraq. It is, first and foremost, a political circumstance and the Iraqis, as Prime Minister Maliki said two days ago, really must take responsibility for using their new democratic political institutions to find a way to live together. That is absolutely the case. And that's political.
But it has a very important security and military aspect, because the political leaders in Iraq are facing very determined enemies who use violence against innocent people, who use violence to try and prevent Iraqis from finding that secure future. And so we have been working with Prime Minister Maliki to accelerate the building of Iraqi security forces, which, after all, are really the forces that are going to be best able to deal with this.
Now, the President is examining questions about the American military posture. He will make some determinations. He's heard lots of briefings, lots of discussions from his field commanders as well as from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But we recognize that we have responsibilities to help the Iraqis deal with their security situation, but ultimately, this has to be resolved politically.
QUESTION: So to have this clear as I am reading Mr. President's words last week, that he had some ideas that we need to defeat and he will take -- he will not take them, this President will not leave Iraq till the job is done.
SECRETARY RICE: This President is absolutely committed to Iraq, absolutely committed to Iraq's democratic future, absolutely committed to a unified Iraq for all Iraqis, which is a part of the obligation to the region as well. This is an Iraq that needs to be an Iraq in which all Iraqis -- Sunni, Shia, Kurds -- can find their interests represented. And the President is committed to all of that, so you will not see this President desert Iraq. You will see this President remain strongly committed until Iraqis can govern themselves and secure themselves and sustain themselves.
QUESTION: My last question before I go into the issue of the (inaudible), your predecessor, Secretary Powell, this week he described the situation as a civil war and he believed that increasing the military here and there doesn't work. Do you believe that what's going on in Iraq is a civil war?
SECRETARY RICE: Most importantly, I think Iraqis rarely use that term. If you talk to Iraqi leaders, you are talking to people who have not abandoned a moderate center for their country. These are people who get up every day and work in the democratic institutions to try to find answers to some of the hardest questions.
How are they going to share the oil wealth of the country? How are they going to deal with past issues of the role of the Baath Party? How many people can be brought back into the political system? How are they going to deal with the problems that come from the fact that this is a federal system?
They get up every day and those are the issues that they work on. These are all people who have very much paid personal prices. We just had the Sunni leader here, the Vice President of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashimi. He's lost two brothers and a sister and he speaks only of a unified Iraq. So many of these Iraqi leaders have experienced personal loss, so we don't really add anything to this debate, we don't add anything to the possibility of Iraq's future by labeling this something that Iraqis themselves do not say.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.) Madame Secretary, welcome you again. Iraq's neighbors are very important part of this. We have Syria and we have Iran as you might realize (inaudible) their role on this. What are the conditions for them to help?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, all of Iraq's neighbors should help because all of Iraq's neighbors will have to deal with the situation if it does not resolve in Iraq. If I were a neighbor, I would be especially interested to help bring stability in Iraq because those are borders that will have an effect on these countries and indeed, we're working very closely with a number of Iraq's neighbors and Iraq is working with its own neighbors. Iraq has established diplomatic relations with Syria. Iraq has sent their President to Iran. The neighbors ought to help Iraq because they should help Iraq, not because we ask them, not because we talk to them, but because they recognize that a stable and secure Iraq is in their interest.
QUESTION: So are you considering engaging in a direct talk between them?
SECRETARY RICE: We have talked to Syria and talked to Syria and talked to Syria. The problem isn't that we haven't talked to Syria. It's that they haven't acted. If Syria is interested in a stable and secure Iraq, then let them act to help build one rather than destabilizing the country.
With Iran, we offered to overturn 27 years of American policy and enter into negotiations. I said I would be personally there to meet my counterpart anyplace, anywhere, anytime. We only ask one thing: that Iran show seriously that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon, which means that it needs to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.
So we need, now, Iraq's neighbors to act in what is their own self-interest and that is to help stabilize Iraq.
QUESTION: And that national reconciliation is very important in Iraq. Obviously, some countries have contributed on this, such as Saudi Arabia. Are you expecting a wider role from Saudi Arabia in the future to help on this regard?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Saudi Arabia has been active in helping on Iraq. They've been very active on the Sunni outreach side, working with tribes and others to try to bring Sunnis into the process. Iraqi leaders have gone there to visit, including Prime Minister Maliki. I hope Saudi Arabia will also do more to help stabilize Iraq.
Again, all of Iraq's neighbors should come to the table ready to help Iraq in any way that they can because the consequences of an Iraq that is not stable, the consequences of an Iraq that cannot defeat its enemies, those consequences are going to be felt first and foremost in the neighborhood. And so it is really in the interest of the neighbors to be as supportive as possible of Iraq.
QUESTION: Another area in the Middle East in a very tough situation, Lebanon; Siniora government being labeled by President Bush as the best example for democracy in the Middle East. That government right now, it's under threat and the opposition, they are calling for an early election. Are there any plan from -- or is there any plan from U.S. to move quickly to protect this government from being collapsed?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Government of Lebanon is a democratically elected government. It has the support of the Lebanese people. It is a government that has all voices represented in it. And it is a government that, after the very difficult war of the summer, has been rebuilding its authority throughout the country. The Lebanese army is moving throughout the country now. And one of the things that the United States will do is to support the rebuilding and re-equipping of the Lebanese army so that the -- Lebanon can be protected by Lebanese. That's the very best outcome.
We also are participating in the reconstruction of Lebanon and will, in fact, be very pleased to join in the international reconstruction conference, donor conference that will take place next year, early next year. And we are looking forward to continuing work to make sure that the tribunal which will try those that are responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri goes forward.
Now what Lebanon needs most is that it needs its neighbor, Syria, which occupied the country for 30 years, to leave it alone and let the Lebanese resolve these issues. It needs Iran not to back Hezbollah in its efforts to destabilize. This summer, Hezbollah acted as a state within a state and started a war across an international line without the knowledge, even, of the Lebanese Government.
That plunged Lebanon into a costly and brutal war and the Lebanese are still suffering as a result of what Hezbollah did. So it's really important that Lebanese be able to resolve their differences and Prime Minister Siniora, who is a strong person and a strong leader, needs to be supported by the international community. It's also the case that the Secretary General of the UN has some work to do on the delineation and demarcation of the border so that the Shebaa Farms issue can be resolved and we are pressing the UN Security -- the UN Secretary General to move that work forward.
QUESTION: Is there any measures that would be taken from the UN to protect Siniora's government from the foreign influence as you see right now, if it isn't?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is the responsibility of the entire national community to just say that it's unacceptable -- for instance, particularly Syria, which, by UN Security Council Resolution 1559, was required to leave Lebanon, to take its military forces out, to take out its intelligence forces. That has to be honored and Syria cannot be let back in.
QUESTION: We are having one minute warning. We are going to Darfur. The situation there is very bad, people are dying. Khartoum Government is still insisting on not agreeing on a UN-led mission. And the question that came out from so many people, for how long the international community will witness people suffering in Darfur?
SECRETARY RICE: That's a very good question. And the United States has been on the front lines of asking that question of the international community and pressing the international community to do more. We were the strongest sponsor of the resolution leading to a requirement for a UN peacekeeping mission. We were a strong supporter of Kofi Annan's efforts to find a compromised solution in which AU and UN would cooperate to put a force on the ground that can protect these innocent civilians. We have a special envoy who has just gotten back from the region. I'll meet with him shortly to talk with him about what we do. We have -- we led the effort to get sanctions and the possibility of sanctions against those who do not act responsibly.
The United States is also the leading -- by far, the leading donor of food aid and humanitarian assistance to Sudan. But we need the international community to do more. We need the international community to say, in no uncertain terms, to the Government of Khartoum that it's time to act. The Government of Khartoum need not worry about its sovereignty. That's not the issue in this resolution. It need not worry about the mandate of this resolution. The mandate is to protect innocent civilians and make it possible for aid workers to reach people who now are cut off from international aid.
But the Government of Khartoum will, of course, be held responsible -- the people in the Government of Khartoum -- if harm continues to come to these innocent people. Now we also have been very active in the peace negotiations. We want there to be a strengthening of the Darfur Peace Accord, which my then-Deputy, Robert Zoellick, was very actively engaged in getting that peace accord.
We also want to see the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for North and South fully implemented so that Sudan can be a place in which all Sudanese are represented. But the time has come for the Khartoum Government to accept the help that the international community is trying to give it. And the United States has been on the front lines of that effort.
QUESTION: But Secretary Rice, that seems not to happen without some tangible measure being taken from the international community, perhaps?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the international community is going to need to enforce its own requirements. It's going to need to enforce its own Security Council resolutions. It's going to need to find a way to say to the Sudanese that this is simply unacceptable. They can't continue to be outside the law, so to speak, when their Security Council Resolution is passed, to continue to ignore them. It's just not acceptable, particularly when innocent people are dying.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, we always appreciate you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.
Released on December 19, 2006