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Interview With Lukman Ahmed of BBC Arabic TV

Interview With Lukman Ahmed of BBC Arabic Television

Secretary Condoleezza Rice

Washington, DC

October 20, 2008

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, thank you so much for all the opportunities that you have been giving us. Really, we appreciate it. And we don’t know whether we are going to conclude all the series of interviews or not, but we are talking about a legacy. And if we are talking about a legacy, I’m bringing to you that perception here with almost three months for this Administration to have it finished.

There is a perception in the Middle East that says Iraq has now been destroyed, Afghanistan in a civil war, Israel-Palestinian conflict is still in limbo, Pakistan is on the edge of civil war, Usama bin Ladin is still at large, and the U.S. world economy is in chaos. Looking at this, how do you think the history will judge this period, first, whether you agree or disagree with that? And do you think that all happened because the Bush Administration following ideology instead of policy?

SECRETARY RICE: I believe the Middle East is a very different place today, but I think it’s a different place for the better. I can give you a long list of changes in the Middle East: Saddam Hussein is no longer in power; and quite to the contrary, Iraq is not actually destroyed. Iraq is emerging as a multiethnic, multiconfessional, democratic state, whose security forces are increasingly able to carry out the security responsibilities of the country. It is a country that, under its new democratic leadership, is being fully reintegrated into the Arab world. And instead of Saddam Hussein, who threatened his neighbors, started two wars, sought weapons of mass destruction, and put 300,000 of his own people in mass graves, you have a leadership that is actually responsive to its people. So I think Iraq has now reached a different stage, where it’s going to be a net-plus for the Middle East. And you can see that in the many Arab leaders that are now going to Iraq, the Arab ambassadors that are there, the Arab League establishing itself there Iraq has improved a great deal.

If you look at Lebanon, Syrian forces are out and you have an elected President in Lebanon. Syria has now established proper diplomatic relations with Lebanon.

If you look at the Palestinian-Israeli issue, when this Administration came to power, there was a raging intifada and the peace process had collapsed. You now have a peace process that is the most serious peace process that the Israelis and Palestinians have had in many, many years.

And if you look across the way at Afghanistan, yes, it’s a difficult situation in Afghanistan, but it’s a country that’s no longer ruled by the Taliban. It is a country that faces challenges. But it is a country that is no longer the safe haven for terrorism that it was in 2001, which the attack against the United States took place from Afghanistan.

And I could go on and on: women voting in Kuwait, what a change; leaders throughout the region who are trying to find ways to have popular will expressed. No, I think, actually, the Middle East is a different place and a better place.

QUESTION: So you are saying the contrary, and the democracy is being flourished, and you think the next administration should carry on those things you have just described as sexist?

SECRETARY RICE: Well – well, actually, I think that democracy is now finally in the vocabulary of the Middle East in a way that it had not been before. And you know, it’s not going to be up to the next American president whether or not popular will is expressed in the Middle East. The reason that the next American president will carry through is because the people of the Middle East are demanding that their leaders listen to them. Civil society is growing. Women are demanding their appropriate place in the political and economic lives of the countries. And so that’s why there will be a continuation of the democracy agenda, the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

QUESTION: You have been a strong advocate for women empowerment and also opportunities in the people – especially in the Middle East and other areas. Now, with this financial crisis, how do you think this will impact the U.S. status in, you know, among those world in the future, especially in increasing economic power, countries such as China and Russia?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you still have to look at the fact that the United States is, by far, the largest economic power in the world, more than 20 percent of the gross national product of the world, and that, frankly, isn’t going to change because of the financial crisis. The financial crisis is a very serious one. And Secretary Paulson and the President and our Treasury people are working very hard to improve the possibility for the lifeblood of the financial system -- that is, the flow of credit -- to begin again. But while the U.S. economy has slowed, it is still an innovative economy, a creative economy, the economy in which still more than one in every 10 patents in the world are done in a very small area in California. This is a big and strong economy. And I doubt very seriously that it’s going to be supplanted by any other economy in the world for a long, long time to come.

QUESTION: We are going to this security arrangement or agreement that you are hoping to conclude between the United States and Iraq. And with the strong commitment that you are going to have on Afghanistan, many analysts in the Middle East, they are suggesting that you are not going to leave any maneuvering room, you know, for the next administration to have its say on Iraq and Afghanistan. What do you think about that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the next administration will because there will be a new president and that president can set the direction. But I think that we have to recognize that in – particularly in Iraq, the security situation has improved and it’s improved by the joint efforts of coalition forces and Iraqi forces. The Iraqi people have a new opportunity to build a more stable, democratic foundation.

And the Iraqi leadership is negotiating with us for an agreement that would allow American forces to continue to operate on a legal basis in Iraq. Now, it is a difficult negotiation because the sovereign Iraq is insisting on its sovereignty – something that we believe is a good sign for Iraq. The United States is not seeking permanent bases in Iraq. We’re not seeking a permanent presence in Iraq. We’re seeking to work with the Iraqi Government to keep forces there until Iraqi forces can carry out their own security obligations. And that day is approaching more and more. And so yes, the next American president will have a lot of flexibility. What this agreement does is to give a legal basis for American forces to be there for the time that they are needed.

QUESTION: Have you settled the issue of the immunity and – for the American contractors and military over there?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, for most classes of people, this is settled. In fact, I think we’ve come to an agreement that both recognizes Iraqi sovereignty and gives adequate protections to American forces operating there. But no one is going to question Iraqi sovereignty. I think this is a good agreement for both sides.

QUESTION: Any idea about when this agreement might be concluded and be signed?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’ll be concluded when it’s concluded. It is working its way through the Iraqi process at this point. Iraqis have strong views. It’s a good thing that they finally have an opportunity to express those strong views. They wouldn't have been expressing them had Saddam Hussein still been in power, I can assure you that.

And we’re encouraged by the fact that this democratically elected Iraqi Government can represent the views of its people. But I believe we’ll conclude it soon. We’ve concluded the text. It’s a matter of now working this through the system.

QUESTION: There is some opposition among the Iraqi parliament. There are people there against this agreement, and they suppose that Iran is involving in and influencing those parliament members not to ratify this agreement. Do you think there’s enough support from Iraqis to ratify this agreement and conclude it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that is a matter for Iraqis to decide. But I can say this: Without coalition forces in Iraq, it’s going to be a very hard road for Iraqis to secure themselves in the current circumstances. Their forces are good and getting better, but I don’t believe that anyone believes that the Iraqi forces can both crush the remaining remnants of al-Qaida, deal with special groups like those that Iran trained, and protect Iraqi sovereignty until those forces are a little bit stronger. And so this agreement would allow American forces to remain, have a legal framework to remain. But you know, without a legal framework, American forces are not going to be able to remain.

QUESTION: But without ratification from the Iraqi parliament, this agreement might not fly. Are you planning to twist some arms if it gets to that point?

SECRETARY RICE: Look, I think it’s up to the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi parliament. But I would hope that the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi parliament are cognizant of and that their people are cognizant of the work that still remains to be done in Iraq. We’ve come a long way. Iraqi citizens are safer, but they are not yet safe.

QUESTION: Let’s move to Iran. The Democratic candidate, Senator Barack Obama, mentioned his willingness to talk to Iran if it’s going to produce any result. Why your position was the opposite? Was your policy toward Iran based on ideological stand or political strategy, and can you explain?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let’s remember that the policy toward Iran is a policy not just of the United States but also of the European 3 – Germany, Britain and France – and Russia and China, which is to say that there are two tracks. If Iran is willing to negotiate and to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing, and accept the very generous offer that the six have put on the table, including, by the way, an offer for civil nuclear power, then there’s an open path to not just negotiation about the nuclear program but negotiation about anything that Iran wishes to talk about.

I hardly think that that’s saying that we won’t talk to Iran. We’re perfectly ready to talk to Iran. But what we don’t want to do is to give Iran cover to continue improving its nuclear programs that could lead to a nuclear weapon, which, by the way, no one in the international community wants to see Iran with a nuclear weapon. So my question has always been not why won’t the United States talk to Tehran, why won’t Tehran talk to the United States.

QUESTION: But you haven’t had a visit at a higher level, you know, in talking with Iran till now, only with strong conditions.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, those conditions are set by four Security Council resolutions, not just by the United States. But we’re prepared to talk to Iran at anytime. But suspend the program, even for a while, and demonstrate that there is not a desire to have a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: And that will lead me to this following question about Israel, that a lot of Arab analysts say that you follow double-standard policy. Israel is believed to have nuclear weapon. It’s not a member in the (inaudible). And Israel, the clear policy said that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Now, what is your understanding to introduce? Do you understand that Israel is not the first use, or not to acquire or not to develop?

SECRETARY RICE: Look, I’ll leave it to Israel to talk about Israeli security doctrine. But there is going to come a day when the Middle East does not even need to talk about nuclear-free zones, because it will be a region of peace. And that is what this Administration has been seeking. And in that regard, I don’t think that you have had an administration that has been more actively seeking a Palestinian state, something the President declared to be in the interest not just of Palestinians and of Israelis, but in the interest of the United States as well.

And with that now growing consensus with the Arab states, with Israel, with Israelis of many different political stripes, with Palestinians, with the international community, that the only real option is a two-state solution, I think this President has moved the debate in the Middle East quite far forward and launched the most active and robust negotiations toward a two-state solution, perhaps that the region has ever seen.

QUESTION: And we have one or two minutes left and we’re going to go to a two-state solution. After Annapolis, there was high hope from you and from this Administration that something would be concluded by the end of this Administration, even could be something like the creation of the Palestinian state. Right now, three months before the Administration will go, is this process dead?

SECRETARY RICE: The process is very much alive. I think it speaks worlds that the day after Tzipi Livni was asked to form a government by the President of Israel, she sat down with Abu Ala. And indeed, these parties continue to negotiate. Now it is true that there has been a transition going on in Israeli politics and that undoubtedly has made things more complicated, but this is a Israeli leadership and a Israeli Government that is committed to the Annapolis process, a Palestinian leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas that is committed to a process of negotiations.

And I believe that they still have a chance to get to agreement by the end of the year. One thing is very clear. They have been in the most robust discussions. Of all the issues of final status, of all of the problems of getting to final status, this is the most robust negotiating process they’ve ever had. I don’t think anyone’s going to walk away from that. I don’t think the parties are going to walk away from that. I don’t think the Arabs are going to walk away from that. And that is a far cry from where the President found this problem, when the second intifada had been launched by Yasser Arafat, when Ariel Sharon had come to power in Israel not talking about peace but in talking about breaking the back of the intifada, and where for years there was no process of negotiation because neither side believed in a negotiated solution to the conflict. We are a long way from that now, and President Bush deserves a lot of credit for that.

QUESTION: My time is up and this is going to be the last question for you. Still, you think – you are hoping that something might be concluded by the end of this year. And you must be having something that you would be proud of achieving during those eight years. What are the things that you are proud of achieving and what is the thing that you regret during this eight years?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m actually very proud of Annapolis because I do think that it launched a very robust process between Israelis and the Palestinians, and not just the negotiations. But if you look at a place like Jenin, where the security forces of the Palestinians have taken over and where they’re extending their presence throughout parts of the West Bank, I think that’s in large part because of efforts that we’ve made.

I’m proud that we are – the United States – giving direct budget support to the Palestinian Authority for the first time. I’m very proud that Syrian forces are out of Lebanon and that Lebanese armed forces are throughout the country now, and that Lebanon has an elected president who can defend Lebanese sovereignty and Lebanese interests, and very pleased that the freedom agenda is actually the topic in the Middle East now, and that the people, particularly women, are finding their voice in Middle Eastern politics.

And perhaps most importantly, I’m really proud that Saddam Hussein is out of power and that he won’t threaten his neighbors again the way that he did for decades, that he won’t arbitrarily and cruelly execute his own people, that he won’t seek weapons of mass destruction and that he won’t drag the region into war, as he did in the past, and that the United States will have a good friend in a strong, proud Arab state like Iraq, fully and completely integrated into its Arab identity, able to defend Iraqi sovereignty from all of its neighbors.

QUESTION: And what do you regret?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we’ll look back and there will be many things. I would hope that the Palestinian and Israelis take advantage of this opportunity. I’m sorry they don’t have more – that we don’t have more time. We’ll do everything that we can to help them come to a solution before we leave. But I think we leave a good and broad process that others can pick up should it not conclude by the end of the year.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Secretary Rice.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

ENDS

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