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Rice Interview Roundtable With Radio, TV & Wires

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
November 21, 2007
(10:30 a.m. EST)

Interview Roundtable with Radio, Television and Wires

SECRETARY RICE: Given the large number of you here, I think I will not make any comments; we'll just go directly to questions. Okay? So let's see. Yes.

QUESTION: Two quick things. One, looking at Annapolis, how do you -- just simply stated, how would you define success? And secondly, do you have any indication from either the Syrians or the Saudis that they are likely to come; and if so, at what level of representation?

SECRETARY RICE: On the last question, I'll let people respond on their own. I was just saying that when the United States is invited to something, we expect to answer the question ourselves, not to have others answer it for us. And so I think we'll have -- countries will respond.

I think that the success of this meeting is really in the launch of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the establishment of a Palestinian state and therefore a two-state solution. I do not think that several months ago, maybe even several weeks ago, it would have been predictable that we would be at this point. We've been through an awful long period of time over the last seven years where there always seem to be conditions for the launch of negotiations, including that the first phase of the roadmap had to be completely implemented before you could even talk about the third phase, which was the Palestinian state, and certainly before you could negotiate. And as Prime Minister Olmert said to the Knesset last week, Israel has changed its traditional view.

Now, I want to be very clear. The obligations of the roadmap are going to have to be fulfilled before you can implement an agreement. I think if you just read the obligations of the roadmap, you would see that it wouldn't be possible to establish a state unless you had actually implemented the obligations.

But it's a very big step forward to launch these negotiations, to launch them with international support, and to make sure that they're continuous and ongoing, and I hope very intensive. And so that's really the purpose of Annapolis.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, how do you kind of get past the criticism that, ah, this is just, you know, crass politics on the part of the United States or it's all about Iran and that, you know, Iran is the organizing principle here? That's something we hear quite a bit.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I know, and it's a strange argument. It is, in fact, the case that there is a regional context here, I think, in which one of the things that has moved maybe all of the parties, but certainly the regional states, to recognize that the Israeli-Arab confrontation/conflict needs to be ended is that I think they understand the broader threat of extremism in the region, and that extremists use this conflict in that way.

But this is a conflict that needs to be resolved on its own terms. I mean, it's because Israelis need a two-state solution, and it was Ariel Sharon who really broadened the base in Israel itself. And it's because the Palestinians certainly need an independent state in order to have normal development of their lives and to have hopes so that Palestinian kids are not attracted to extremist causes. So this conflict needs to be resolved on its own.

And in terms of the United States doing this for politics, you know, there are a lot easier things to do to get a photo op than try to get Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate seriously for the first time in seven years.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can you talk about your upbringing a bit? I mean, we were talking about with the Palestinians how your upbringing has informed you as a negotiator.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I keep telling you I'm just really not that self-reflective to do it. It's really not so much my upbringing in terms of how to negotiate. I've spent a lot of my life negotiating. You may not think that you have to negotiate much as provost of Stanford; let me assure you, you do. You have to persuade and cajole and do all kinds of things to get things done. And I've, of course, been National Security Advisor, I've been Secretary of State for three years, and I think those are the things that have informed how to get these things done.

But I will say that I have been undoubtedly influenced by a sense that when people don't have a hopeful vision before them or the possible resolution of their difficulties by peaceful means, then they can be attracted to violence and to separatism. And that does come out of my own background.

On the other side, I have to say that -- and I said this once in a speech in Israel a few years ago -- I also know what it's like to live in a neighborhood where you don't feel safe, where bombs go off or where homegrown terrorists decide that they're going to ride through neighborhoods. And so I understand a little bit of the fear that terrorism of the kind that Israelis have experienced is also there. And I think that it's a good reason for Israelis and Palestinians to finally put this behind them.

QUESTION: Can you respond to criticism, Madame Secretary, that the weakness, political weakness, of both sides in this dispute is so profound right now that, absent American bridging proposals on the table, very little can be accomplished? And are you prepared to come up with an American initiative to get past these deadlocks?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's see what they produce first. I really don't want to try to judge in advance what the United States may need to do. The United States has very strong investment in getting this done, and I'm quite sure that the President and I will do what we need to do to try and help the parties get there.

But I will just remind, there's a lot of talk about, you know, the weakness of these two leaders. Well, it hasn't been done before, so is the corollary that strong leaders can't do it? I just -- I think we have to recognize that in a situation in which there have been many, many attempts to solve this conflict, and they haven't worked, that perhaps you have to go back and look at some of the fundamentals, which is really what this President did with his 2002 speech and, frankly, what happened with Sharon's broadening of the political base in Israel to divide the land, and I think most importantly the change in the Palestinian leadership. Whatever you want to say about Abu Mazen and his strength or weakness, he brings to this a bedrock commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state not born of violence and terrorism. And no one questions that he is someone who believes in a nonviolent, negotiated solution. And I, frankly, don't think that that was ever true of Yasser Arafat. He was somebody who had one foot in politics and one foot in terror. And it really -- in the final analysis, it didn't work.

The other piece that I think is extremely important is that this time we've tried to have Arab engagement and involvement all along the way. Yes, Prime Minister Olmert was on the phone with me yesterday and he was on the phone with the President this morning, but he was in Egypt yesterday. And that's important because the Arabs -- and I think Abu Mazen is Amman today. The Arabs are going to need to support this process and support it fully.

QUESTION: Can I ask you why you went for this kind of conference, this sort of launch pad conference, rather than a deal-making conference like the attempt at Camp David? And also, I mean, a lot -- because you've gone for the launch pad conference, a lot's going to depend on your follow-up. How exactly do you plan to follow up these talks at Annapolis?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Camp David was a negotiating summit and it was at the end of a process. This is not exactly at the beginning of a process because I think that these discussions that Olmert and Abbas have been having for the last couple of months have helped them to lay a foundation in knowing each other somewhat better and knowing what the -- the problems they will confront in resolving this and the opportunities that they will confront.

But we did think it was important to bring the international community together in order to support what has to be a bilateral process and to, in effect, launch these negotiations. Now, it was not absolutely clear that Annapolis would launch negotiations until a couple weeks ago because the point was always to lend support to where the parties were. That they have gotten to the place that they've decided that they are really ready to go and negotiate the details of an agreement for the establishment of a Palestinian state, I think was not a foregone conclusion even a month ago, and it certainly wasn't a foregone conclusion several months ago.

QUESTION: Sorry, and the follow-up. What are you going to do?

SECRETARY RICE: We're also working with the parties on what bilateral -- how they're going to structure their bilateral follow-up, and we're continuing to discuss what continuing role the international community needs to take to support them. But those are discussions that are ongoing and I don't --

QUESTION: Does that mean you're going to have less influence after Annapolis in the sense that --

SECRETARY RICE: No, I don't think so. In fact, I think that if the international community gives what I expect, which is a very strong voicing of support, urgency, need for these negotiations to succeed, that the parties will go out of here ready to take this on. Now, it's going to be a complex agreement; there are a lot of issues that have to be resolved. And I suspect that they're going to have to have negotiating teams that will break into committees and the like.

But I'm prepared and the President is prepared and I know members of the international community and the Quartet are prepared to try to help them along that path. But Annapolis is important for them to launch it here and to get that support.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the Palestinians and the Israelis didn't reach yet -- till now an agreement on the document, the joint document.

SECRETARY RICE: But the point of the document is simply to show that -- show how they intend to move forward, kind of what is the work plan ahead of them. There was a time when I think there was some discussion of, would it be appropriate to write down understandings that Olmert and Abbas were coming to in their work. But it maybe isn't so surprising that when they decided that really they should just go for the negotiations, right? -- not try to get some kind of interim document, not try to get some kind of statement of principles, go for the agreement -- that the weight shifted to getting themselves ready to negotiate the agreement rather than talking about principles that might either prejudice somebody's negotiating position or force people to try and say something early that might make it harder to negotiate later.

I think that what really happened here is that what looked like it was going to be a document that was almost a holding pattern to come to Annapolis and say, look, we really do think we can move forward, in their discussions as they moved and moved and moved, they really decided what they wanted to do was launch negotiations. And that made the nature of the document very different, and I think that's actually a healthy development because they now -- my own view of this is that it's hard with something this complex to just have principles because the devil, in a sense, is in the detail. Might as well get to the detail. And that's what they're going to do.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary --

QUESTION: Madame Secretary --


QUESTION: What's the single most difficult point you had to breach to get to this point? Was it with the Israelis and the Palestinians? Was it with Arab support? I mean, what was the thing that's --

SECRETARY RICE: I think we had -- and it happened a few weeks ago -- breaking this psychology of having to fulfill the roadmap phase one obligations before you could get to discussions of these issues. I think you'll remember that there were several times that you heard from the Israelis, we won't even talk about those until this is done, we won't talk about those until this is done.

And then ultimately, the next step turned out, frankly, to be somewhat easier than I thought it would be. Once it was clear that you would talk about these issues, then it became clear, just negotiate about them, right? It makes sense to negotiate about them. But it was breaking that link between the first phase and the third phase which -- breaking it prior to discussions.

Now, the link is still there. I want to be very clear. You could never establish a Palestinian state unless you've implemented the roadmap because if you just look at the things that the roadmap insists upon, you're going to need to do those to establish a state. But I think that was really the key issue.

And for me, the movement and access agreement was telling because it was, I think, a good agreement. But in the absence of a political context, it turns out that it's very hard for people to do hard things. And now, with a political context, I think it will be not easy, but it will be -- they'll have more incentive to do some of the hard things.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary --

SECRETARY RICE: Go ahead, Jonathan.

QUESTION: What's the significance, importance, of Saudi involvement in this? And also, what about Syria if Syria ends up coming, and what's the significance there? And if I can also just ask what kind of a timeline we're looking at. I mean --

SECRETARY RICE: Timeline for?

QUESTION: Timeline. How much we're -- how long -- this is the beginning of the process -- how long, realistically, do we think this is going to happen? Is this something that is simply almost certainly going to have to go into the term of the next President?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the parties have said that they are going to make efforts to conclude it in this President's term. And you know, it's no secret that means about a year, right? So -- that's one thing about the American system, we know how long the President will be in office. (Laughter.) So you know, that's what we'll try and do. Nobody can guarantee that. All you can do is make the best effort.

Now, in terms of participation, we'd obviously like to have as broad an Arab participation as possible. I think that's important to empowering the Palestinian leadership in particular, but it's also important to the Israelis that they know that once all of this is done that the conflict is really going to end and it's going to end with all the Arabs, which is why the question of the other tracks arises.

There is very clear understanding among everybody that this is a meeting about the Palestinians and the Israelis. That's the track that's most mature. That's the track that's ready to go. But nobody denies that you will eventually have to resolve the Syria-Israeli track, the Lebanon-Israeli track, and ultimately that there has to be normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world. Nobody denies that and it obviously ought to take place whenever it can.

So this is not a meeting to talk about those tracks, but it is a meeting that recognizes and, in fact, underscores the importance ultimately of a comprehensive peace. If Syria chooses to come and wants to speak to its issues, since its issues are detailed in the roadmap and are a part of a comprehensive peace, certainly nobody is going to rule it out of order.


SECRETARY RICE: I'm sorry. Yeah. Yes, you were next.

QUESTION: Please, Samir, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to talk about an issue related to Annapolis, which is the elections in Lebanon -- president. Yesterday, the Syrian Foreign Minister went to Iran, which was a very sensitive issue. What's your expectation will happen in Lebanon?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm paying a lot of attention to Lebanon. I was just on the phone with the French Foreign Minister and with Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa, and we're working and watching Lebanon very, very closely.

The Lebanese need to be able to carry out their constitutional processes here. Now, I know that there are discussions going on about whether they can come to a candidate that would be satisfactory to all parties, and that's good. And I think those discussions should go on.

But in the final analysis, there's a majority in Lebanon, a legitimately elected majority, and in the final analysis this needs to go to parliament and be decided. And that is the point that we're making. And it really ought to be decided without foreign interference and certainly without any foreign intimidation. So those messages have been very clearly sent.

I had a chance to talk to the Syrian Foreign Minister when we were in Istanbul about precisely that. And you hear all the time that Syria says that it wants to improve relations with the Arab world, wants to improve relations with the United States. Well, stepping back and letting the Lebanese choose a president for Lebanon would be an awfully good start.

QUESTION: Do you see any improvement in Syria's position lately?


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I want to ask you about two important actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first I'd like to ask you about is not coming to this meeting in Annapolis, and that is Hamas. And I wonder if there is not an element of wishful thinking involved in organizing a conference of this kind and listening to a lot of speeches about it, when, in fact, you have from the American and Israeli point of view, perhaps from some Palestinian points of view, a cancer in the Palestinian body, in the Palestinian territories, in the form of Hamas controlling 5 percent of the land and 40 percent the population, the weapons, the infrastructure, the archives -- all of it in Gaza.

So is not the Palestinian -- are not the Palestinians crippled in some sense in their ability to negotiate final status issues or do anything else constructive as long as that cancer is present in Gaza?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there is no doubt that Hamas is a very negative factor for the Palestinian people, particularly given their behavior in Gaza -- which, by the way, I don't think is endearing them to the Palestinian population or to the Arab world.

Now, the Palestinian PLO Chairman, who is Abu Mazen, has the authority to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians. Nobody denies that. And the goal here is to get to a clear agreement of what the Palestinian state will be -- one that people can see, touch, feel -- and to see, once that is presented to the Palestinian people as real -- not something that is talked about as a vision, not even something that's talked about on the political horizon, but something that is actually real, an agreement to do it -- that that would be a unifying force, a unifying element, for Palestinians who are prepared to go to that state and to put aside their conflict, end their conflict with Israel, and to start to deliver for their people. And at that point, you'll have to see who's a part of that consensus and who isn't.

But it isn't the first time in either international politics or human history that a government, a legitimate government, has not controlled all of its territory and had to find a way to reestablish authority and control over territory that they did not yet hold. But I think that the moderate forces, the forces that believe in a two-state solution born of negotiation, not violence, are going to be in a stronger position to stake that claim when it is clear that there really is the prospect of a Palestinian state.

QUESTION: And the other actor that I wanted to ask you about, who is coming to the conference, is Tony Blair. And obviously, when you're talking about fulfilling statehood and elements of the roadmap, et cetera, his role is crucial.


QUESTION: I saw that he has these four projects that he's talking about, but what can you tell us about what he is bringing to this conference in order to make this not a vision, not a horizon, but statehood more palpable for those moderate elements?

SECRETARY RICE: We talk frequently, and he is working with Defense Minister Barak and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and a number of economic interests. And it's not -- these are very important projects, economic projects. But that's just the tip of the iceberg of what he's doing. He's also working with them on reform of Palestinian institutions, working with them on what will be a national agenda plan by the Palestinians, which they will then present to the donor community in Paris on the 17th of December. It'll be an opportunity to preview a little bit of what the Palestinians have in mind in terms of capacity building, institution building here at Annapolis. But it -- the real plan is to have the Palestinians have a plan and to then have a kind of compact with the international community where the international community supports and funds that plan.

QUESTION: So that's a product of this meeting, do you think?

SECRETARY RICE: No. No. The Palestinian national agenda I think will be ready for the donors conference which will take place in Paris, but --

QUESTION: You don't expect any pledges to be made then at this meeting?

SECRETARY RICE: No. This is not -- this meeting is about -- there will be a presentation about what is going on and about the work that the Prime Minister -- former Prime Minister is doing and about the projects that they're doing. But the real commitment of the international community to the Palestinians' national agenda plan comes in Paris.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can you speak about the confidence-building measures? Prime Minister Olmert has been promising to freeze the settlements, but it's a promise that has been made by all previous prime ministers during all previous negotiations and it has never been kept. So what -- do you think it's -- it can build more confidence, and what else can else can we expect from the Israelis and the Palestinians?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, these are more than confidence-building measures; they're roadmap obligations. And so we expect everybody to live up to the roadmap obligations. The United States is obviously going to play a role and the parties will want us to play a role in judging that implementation and in telling the parties what needs to be done, and we're prepared to help with that.

Now, in terms of the settlement freeze itself, I thought the important element of that was the promise of no confiscation and seizure of land and no new settlements. And we also expect that everyone understands that the United States holds the very strong view that there shouldn't be steps that prejudice final status negotiations. That should be at any time, but particularly as you're in the process of negotiations. I know that it's sometimes said, well, no confiscation of land. Well, you will remember -- and Sylvie, you were with me -- that just a few weeks ago, we were there and the big story was about confiscation of land for a road. So you can't have it both ways. You can't say on the one hand, well, no confiscation -- that doesn't matter very much -- and then have a huge outcry when there's a confiscation order. So I think this is an actually very important step and we'll see how it's implemented, and that'll be part of the phase one roadmap obligations.

MODERATOR: We have time for one more question.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. You didn't have one. Yes.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, how do you counter your critics that say all this creativity and energy and focus would be better spent on Iraq, rather than the Mideast?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, they don't see very much of my day on Iraq. (Laughter.) I spend a lot of time on Iraq. And in fact, we meet frequently on Iraq not just at the level of principals, but with the President on Iraq, on the videoconference, with the Ambassador. I'm on the videoconference an additional time with the Ambassador and I'm on the phone with the Ambassador three, four, sometimes five times a week because we are determined to try and help the Iraqis take advantage of the improved security situation to solidify several political trends that are taking place.

Now, there are really four elements in -- political elements in Iraq that are emerging as important trends. Three, I would say, are very positive. One continues to be difficult.

First of all, there is the emergence of local and provincial leadership in a very rapid fashion -- provincial governors, local councils, provincial councils -- that are doing provincial budgets, that are receiving resources from the central government as a result of the budget that they actually have passed -- they actually passed the budget in '07 and they're actually working on passing a budget in '08. Even mature democracies sometimes don't actually manage to do that. So they've achieved something. And those budgets then have allocations for the provinces, which our Provincial Reconstruction Teams have been very active in helping those provinces develop budgets, develop projects, secure the resources from the central government and allocate them to projects, so that you're getting local governments and provincial governments closer to people and more capable of meeting the needs of people. So that's a very positive trend.

And by the way, it was something that we deliberately set out to do. When I testified back in January, I said we were going to try to have multiple points of success, not just in the center. And that's why we created Provincial Reconstruction Teams to go out and really help provincial and local government development, develop.

Secondly, there is the spread of the citizens movement of the kind of which the most famous is sheikhs of Anbar, who through security efforts of their own, the sheikhs of Anbar raised some 12,000 of their own people to fight al-Qaida. With our help, they were very successful. But that's a movement, these local citizens committees, that are spreading all over the country and it's part of the reason that Baghdad is more secure. It is also the case that that awakening movement, which they called it, is reaching out to other parts of the country to help them do the same thing. So the awakening movement has developed an office in Karbala to help the sheikhs in that region. So that's a second very important trend that is happening.

The third is, it goes to the budget issue. The Iraqi Government and Council of Representatives actually has been able to pass some important legislation, including an investment mall, including an accountability -- they are about to have a reading of their accountability law, which is a de-Baathification law. They are -- as I said, they've passed budgets and they're getting them out to the provinces. And so governance is going on.

Now, the one that we are continuing to press on are the kind of big national reconciliation issues -- de-Baathification, oil law, provincial powers -- where these are really very hard kind of existential efforts. And they are really hard politically. We were discussing the other day how in some ways the provincial powers law is really a replay of our kind of states' rights debate at the beginning of the United States in 1789. I said only partially in jest that I hope they didn't make a compromise that was as bad as the one that we made, since it kept my relatives enslaved for -- my ancestors for, you know, several decades.

But I think when you think about it in those terms -- provincial powers, national oil law -- you're talking about really very existential things. So we're working on that every day. And I've in fact had David Satterfield out there to work with them on these provincial powers issues and Rueben Jeffery, my Under Secretary for Economics, out there to work with them on their oil law. They will both return in -- about this week, I think, at the end of this week.

So a lot of time on Iraq. A lot of effort to try and make the Provincial Reconstruction Teams and the work that we're doing at the local level now connect up with the national level.

But I just think it's awfully important that people recognize that what's really happening here is the maturing of a political system from the bottom up and that that in itself is bringing new pressures on the central government to respond in different ways to the population. That's what I've spent an awful lot of time working on. It doesn't lend itself to kind of going in and trying to make a deal. It lends itself to really, really hard work. You know, I talk to Bob Kimmitt all the time about this. He's got the Treasury account. And when you're talking about a country that essentially didn't have a banking system and trying to make sure that they can receive the funds from the central government and spend them effectively in budget execution, it's -- you know, it's a ground game, not an air game. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Janine was the only one that didn't --


MR. MCCORMACK: Do you have one?

QUESTION: I have so many. I want to ask about Bush's speech, if you can preview that, but I also want to ask you about Pakistan. Did Deputy Secretary Negroponte achieve anything, in your view, on his trip there?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, yes, I think that he went out to, first of all, talk about how Pakistan -- which really has been on a road, and not perfect road, but on a road to greater realization and democratic development, the freeing of the press, the development of civil society, economic reform -- how important it was for Pakistan to get back on that road. And look, a lot of that was done by Musharraf himself. And so for him at this point to help put his country back on the road to democratic reform is important. It's very clear what we're looking for. We're looking for him to take off his uniform. We're looking for the lifting of the state of emergency so that elections can be held in a free and open atmosphere. John had a chance to talk about all of that. And we'll see. But I think it was extremely important that he go out and talk to the parties.

We obviously also still believe that moderate forces ought to try to come together to present a unified front against extremism, because extremism is a problem in Pakistan. We can't deny that there are violent people. Some of them acted when Benazir Bhutto returned. Some of them have acted several times to try to kill Musharraf. And so it was an important trip. And you know, we're continuing. Anne Patterson, who's just an outstanding ambassador, is out there every day trying to help use American influence to get Pakistan back on a road to democracy because that's what the Pakistanis deserve.

QUESTION: Well, do you think it's fair in the last couple of days? Do you see improvement -- do you see Musharraf --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I do see that a number of figures, opposition figures, have been released. But that's a good step. But it's only one step of what's needed.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right.

SECRETARY RICE: All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: And the President's speech?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, let's let the President speak.

Released on November 21, 2007


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