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Secretary Rice With Jonathan Beale of BBC News


Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
December 20, 2007

Secretary Rice With Jonathan Beale of BBC News

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you've invested a lot of time and effort in the last year in the Middle East. Has this now become your number one foreign policy objective, trying to break the deadlock between the Israelis and Palestinians?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is clearly an important objective, one of the most important objectives. I don't have the luxury of just doing one thing. As Secretary of State of the United States, I'm working very hard on Iraq, on Afghanistan, of course, Lebanon, Northeast Asia and North Korea. But clearly, for all of us to be able to help the Palestinians and the Israelis move forward on the momentum that they are building in their bilateral relationship, their bilateral negotiations, it would be extremely important to do it.

QUESTION: Which didn't go that well, though, did they, initially --

SECRETARY RICE: Well -- it's a first time. I have never myself been a part of a negotiation nor have I ever studied, as a professor, a negotiation that didn't start out a little slowly. But I really do sense that these two leaders are committed to trying to end their conflict. They know what it will take. They seem to be committed to taking the difficult choices that they will have to take, but I'm pleased that at the end of, you're right, nearly a year of working at this, that we were able to launch permanent status negotiations.

QUESTION: And yet, the clock is ticking and what do you think you're going to be able to achieve in that remaining year you have left?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the parties have said that they believe that they can reach an agreement by 2008, the end of 2008, that that's what they want to try to do. We'll try to help them to do it. We have other elements of this, of course, to try and build Palestinian capacity, institutions, financial stability. That's why the Paris conference was very important, to try and help bring about changes on the ground through the implementation of roadmap obligations. So there's a lot to do, but with will, this is a concept that -- whose time has come. It's time to try to end it.

QUESTION: Realistically, though, what do you think you can achieve in a year? It's going to be laying the ground for another administration to pick up, isn't it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly, I believe that within a year, the parties may be able to come to terms about what will constitute a Palestinian state. Now obviously, even if they do that, the implementation is going to take a while and they do have to fulfill their roadmap obligations before that agreement could go into being. It's not at all a problem to pass from one administration to another a foundation to continue moving forward. That's really what the history of foreign policy is about. If we can leave this -- if we can leave the Middle East peace process as a viable one, in which the Palestinians and the Israelis are solving the problems that will end their conflict, that will have been worth it.

QUESTION: Well, it must be frustrating for you, then, having spent so much time and effort that essentially, you won't see the fruits borne from this.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's see what happens by the end of 2008, but I am already very pleased that after what was a very difficult year with the national unity government, with all of the complications that came with that, with the first beginnings that were not so fruitful when I was in the Middle East in February, to come through a period where the Israelis said that they didn't even want to talk about the core issues, to come from several years where we were unable to move past the first phase of the roadmap and now to actually have them in permanent status negotiations, I consider that a very good turn of events.

QUESTION: Just a quick question on Syria, I mean, you've talked about the need for a comprehensive peace in the region which obviously must include Syria, yet the President has just said, he has no plans to talk to President Assad, that he's lost his patience essentially. How can you have a comprehensive peace, when you're not even dealing with Syria's leaders?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, ultimately, you will have a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. But it is the Palestinian and Israeli track that is mature and that is moving forward. We haven't hidden the fact that we know that ultimately, there'll have to be a comprehensive peace. That's why at Annapolis, there was a whole section of the agenda on the comprehensive peace. But right now the problem with Syria is that Lebanon -- which ought to be able to move forward to presidential elections, ought to be able to open its parliament, ought to be able to elect a person who is clearly a consensus candidate among all Lebanese -- they haven't been able to do that. And outside influences -- in particular, Syria -- are part of the problem. Syria should try to be a part of the solution in Lebanon instead.

QUESTION: Looking at Iran, I suppose that's the less pressing problem, given your own intelligence assessment that they do not have a nuclear weapons program at the moment.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Iranian problem continues to be a pressing one, because what the National Intelligence Estimate talked about was their efforts in weaponization and those apparently have been halted. But there are two other very important parts to a nuclear weapons program. One is to get the fissile material that one uses in a bomb. And that's why enrichment and reprocessing, perfecting the process of enrichment and reprocessing, has to be stopped in Iran.

Once you solve that engineering problem, you can go to fissile material that is pure enough to be able to build a nuclear weapon. And of course, there's the missile program, which continues unabated. And so there is still great urgency concerning Iran and we have the right strategy. We have a diplomatic strategy that provides one path if Iran is prepared to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing and that's a path of negotiation. It's a path, Jonathan, where I've said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do. The other path, though, if they're unwilling to accede to the demands of the international community will be to continue to have isolation.

QUESTION: Well, they're not having any isolation because Russia has just shipped nuclear fuel to Iran.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Russians --

QUESTION: -- is essentially rewarding what you'd consider bad behavior.

SECRETARY RICE: The Russians are shipping fuel for a civil nuclear plant, which is the way that Iran should get its civil nuclear power.

QUESTION: And it's rewarding their behavior in your view.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, in my view, and I've been very clear on this -- in our view, the Russians say that the contractual reasons they need to deliver the fuel. They say that they -- and we know that they have a very strict fuel take-back provision for that fuel. That's the way that Iran should get its civil nuclear power. And if, in fact, now Russia is ready and willing to go forward, Iran should take this opportunity to forgo enrichment and reprocessing, get their --

QUESTION: Why are they going to do that then? Why are they going to do that, because the Russians are already giving them nuclear fuel? They can carry on their enrichment process.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the way that they're -- the reason that they should do that is at the same time, they are experiencing difficulties in the international financial system. We're going to continue to sanction their banks that are engaged in illicit activities in international financial institutions. We're going to continue to seek sanctions through the Security Council.

QUESTION: Well, it doesn't look like Russia's going to be onboard, does it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, no, we and Russia have had for some time - at every turn when we've done one of the Security Council resolutions, we've had tactical differences about the timing and about the content. We've always overcome those tactical differences to pass a Security Council resolution. I don't think it will be any different this time. We'll negotiate a Security Council resolution. It may not be the Security Council resolution that we, the United States, would do if we were not negotiating one, but it will be one that, again, shows to the Iranians that they're in a class, in a club, that nobody should want to be in; that's a Chapter 7 club. And when you're in that club of Chapter 7 states, financial institutions don't really want to deal with you, companies are concerned about investment. And Iran is experiencing trouble in the international financial system. It's experiencing a decline in export credits. It's experiencing problems getting investment in its refining capability and that's only going to get worse because the reputational and investment risk of dealing with Iran are going up.

QUESTION: You essentially are saying there is going to be no change in U.S. policy on Iran, even though we've had this report by your own intelligence assessment that they're -- they haven't gotten a nuclear weapons program, even though Russia's continuing to supply them with nuclear fuel there's no change at all, no movement.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, what we've been concerned about all along is the enrichment and reprocessing activity, because that would allow them to get the fissile material for a bomb. That's the long pole in the tent. And by the way, I would say that what the National Intelligence Estimate raises as a question is what were they doing before 2003? The Iranians have always said, no, they didn't have a covert program. But the way that they've embraced the NIE, I assume they're embracing all of it, which means they must have had a program. So we need to know about that program. Did it -- when did it -- what was it doing when it ended or when it was suspended? How far had they gotten in progress toward weaponization? How readily restarted can it be?

It suggests to me that there are a whole 'nother set of issues now and questions that need to be asked of the Iranians and they need to come clean.

QUESTION: Talking about issues unresolved, and there are many, you have said and the President's said that you want to close down Guantanamo Bay. I was there last week. They're building a new courthouse. It doesn't look like a place about to close down.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, one reason that we are doing that is that we'd like to be able to make certain people have access to review, access to resolution of their cases. But of course, we'd like to see Guantanamo closed. There's only one problem: What are you going to do with the bad people who are there? These were people who were caught on the battlefields of Afghanistan, who have been caught plotting not just against the United States but against European capitals, against Southeast Asian capitals. What are we going to do with them? Release them again on an unsuspecting population? I don't think so.

One of the things that would help a lot is in the discussions that we have with the states that -- where the states (inaudible) nationals, if we could get some of those countries to take them back

--

QUESTION: Nobody putting up their hands, right?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, and take them back with constraints and make sure that they're not going to be a danger to society again. So we need some help in closing Guantanamo. But of course, we'd like to do it, but we're not going to do it at the expense of the safety of Americans and other citizens.

QUESTION: But this looks to me like another objective that you're not going to achieve.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that we will do everything that we can to thin the population. A lot of changes have been made at Guantanamo. But this is a long war and these people can simply not be put out on the streets.

QUESTION: Can we just quickly move on to Somalia? The UN is saying that this is not just a growing humanitarian crisis, but one that could be even bigger than Darfur. You've just been to the region. Would you agree with that assessment?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly think that Somalia is an urgent task and it is a dangerous place. After last Christmas -- when the Ethiopians pushed the Courts out, it gave a new opportunity to the Transitional Federal -- Transitional Government to try and broaden its base. I met the Prime Minister when I was in Addis Ababa and he says that he's going to try to do that. There, therefore, is a political track that needs to be pursued.

But frankly, we also need to do something about peacekeeping forces for Somalia. AMISOM needs to be -- the UN peacekeeping mission there -- needs to be strengthened. Right now, the Ugandans are really the only ones on the ground. We're trying to help other states, perhaps Burundi and others, get in because the Ethiopians rightly say that they need to be able to pull back, particularly from Mogadishu, so that they're not a lightning rod for terrorist activity.

But we have to remember that Somalia is not only a place where we have to be worried about the humanitarian situation; we also have to be worried about the considerable safe haven that Somalia has been for terrorists.

QUESTION: So what can the U.S. do?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the United States is doing a lot. We're pressing the UN for -- and trying to help raise troop contributors. I also talked to the AU, the African Union, when I was in Addis. We've provided significant humanitarian assistance to Somalia. We're providing political support and direction with the Transitional Government there. We're working very hard. But it's an international effort and it has to be an international effort. Despite the fact that sometimes people say, well, the United States is being unilateralist, in fact, we're trying to be quite multilateral in most of these circumstances. But the international community needs to act. And I have talked several times with UN counterparts about the importance of getting peacekeeping forces there so that the Ethiopians can pull back.

QUESTION: If I could just ask you a personal question, I mean, you've been portrayed in the past as somebody who is an ideologue, one of the (inaudible), yet you now have people like John Bolton saying that your mind's being poisoned by liberals in the U.S. State Department. Have you changed? Has your global view, your view of foreign policy and how it should proceed changed since you've been doing this job?

SECRETARY RICE: No. My role has changed. I'm the chief diplomat for the country, but I've always believed that there is a very important role for diplomatic multilateral engagement, but it comes at the right time. So for instance, on the Middle East peace process, I don't think in 2001, with the intifada having just been launched and frankly, Ariel Sharon, the father of the settlement movement having just been elected Prime Minister of Israel that there was much prospect for a final status negotiation. And so we've worked progressively over the years to help build a new foundation, new circumstances and we've now gotten to a place where we can do that.

When we came, the North Korean problem was not ripe for resolution. Everybody said, well, you should just do it bilaterally. Well, we found that by carefully building a multilateral forum of all of the interested states in the region that have the right combination of incentives and disincentives, that we've actually made progress on the North Korean issue. And issue after issue after issue, it takes time sometimes to lay the groundwork for diplomacy. It's also true that diplomacy is not just talking. It's a matter of bringing the right leverage to the table, both positive and negative.

And so I think we're doing that effectively in a number of places and we'll see what can come out of the next year, but I haven't changed in my view of how diplomacy proceeds. I think on Iran, we've been pretty effective with our allies in building this coalition. But now it's going to take a certain toughness, it's going to take a certain sense of urgency to create the conditions in which perhaps those who are more responsible in Iran might choose to take a different course.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much indeed.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

2007/1150

ENDS

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