Interview With the Financial Times
Interview With the Financial Times
December 19, 2008
QUESTION: Secretary, thanks so much for the interview. I wonder if we could begin just asking what do you make of the people who say that in your second term you really made a valiant effort to rebuild the international ties which frayed in the first?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, obviously, in the first term, we had to do some difficult things, not all of which were well received in all quarters. I might note, I think that the relationships with our Asian friends and allies, China, Japan, South Korea, the deepening relationship with India, was never subject to those sorts of strains. But I don’t think it’s anybody – any secret that there were strains with some of our NATO allies – not all, but some. And the proximate reason for that was Iraq and disagreements about Iraq.
But by the time I became Secretary, people had moved on to be concerned about stabilizing Iraq, because whether you agreed with the war or not, everyone understood that a stable Iraq was going to be essential to everyone’s interest.
Similarly, I think that we were in a postwar phase in a number of circumstances and trying to then reassure that we were going to turn to diplomacy to stabilize various situations around the world. And I felt – I really did think that it was my responsibility to try to do that. And frankly, it’s why I spend so much time on airplanes. You can’t really work on relationships by telephone. You can’t work on relationships by video. You have to go.
The one area in which I really did, with the President’s very strong support, take a conscious decision to change course was on Iran, where I went to Europe in February of 2005. And it was my first trip as Secretary, and I was stunned at the degree to which there was a split with our allies, our closest allies. And I expected – I remember it was an interview – a press conference with Jack Straw, and I thought all the questions would be about Iraq, and 75 percent of them were about Iran. And we’d somehow gotten ourselves into a situation where we were the problem and Europe felt that it needed to mediate between the United States and Iran. Well, this is no place to be, and so we designed a strategy which culminated in the May 2006 decision and we made some tentative first steps to support the negotiations and decided to join the negotiations, creating then the P-5+1 as Russia and China also came on board. So that was a conscious decision to change course because I felt we were in the wrong place with our best allies.
QUESTION: Seemingly, you take it as a compliment that you probably can’t sort of divulge – as taking as a compliment that the first term is seen as non-diplomacy, the second as diplomacy, and you happen to be the diplomat of the second term. That’s how – that’s the shorthand --
SECRETARY RICE: I know, but you know, I was National Security Advisor in the first term and I don’t think of it as a period in which we didn’t have diplomacy. Colin Powell did extraordinary work on Iraq, for instance, with 1441 passed unanimously and then putting together a strong coalition on Sudan, where we got the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. I mean, there are lots of examples of diplomacy.
But there’s no doubt that the first term, both because of the attack in – on September 11th, then the war in Afghanistan, then the war in Iraq, was less a time of solidifying gains and building relationships, and more a time of, you know, a different kind of engagement.
QUESTION: Looking forward, Secretary, when you talk about things like Iran, is it right that there seem to be very strong elements of continuity with the Obama approach? You sent Bill Burns. He talks about a carrot and a stick. And just in the principles that he’s set out so far, even as President-elect, what measure of continuity do you see?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m certain – and I don’t want to speak for the new administration – they will do things in their own way. But I think that we’ve left in place some diplomatic structures that are ways of managing, and I think ultimately resolving, these really difficult issues, whether it’s the P-5+1 on Iran, where we still as a group have an offer on the table, where I signed the letter, where Bill Burns received the answer. And I – when I talk to our allies, they believe that that is the structure in which this is ultimately going to be resolved.
Similarly, even if the – if you look at the Six-Party Talks, even though we’ve had a recent set of difficulties, we managed to get an agreement with the North Koreans that they will denuclearize, shut down the reactors so that they haven’t made any plutonium since 2005. They’ve begun or have significantly disabled those complexes, and they agreed to a verification protocol. What they didn’t agree to were some of the writing down some of the verbal assurances that they made about closing certain loopholes in it. So again – but a multilateral setting with the parties that can really help. And I don’t hear anyone saying that you shouldn’t continue in that vein.
Annapolis was just affirmed by the Security Council as the basis going forward for Palestinian-Israeli negotiation. And some lesser known structures like the Gulf Cooperation Council countries that meet regularly, have met regularly with me, and Egypt, Jordan and now Iraq, gives you a kind of regional structure in which to deal with these issues.
So I think the reason that perhaps there’s some – might be some elements of continuity is that what we’ve tried to do is to arrange or to organize international groupings that can first manage and then resolve these very difficult problems in a multilateral way.
QUESTION: Is there any sign (inaudible) on Iran that it’s working? People talk an awful lot about the process, and yet Iran continues enriching and is getting close to nuclear capacity.
SECRETARY RICE: I think that that’s a fair argument on Iran. You know, on North Korea, I think in real outcomes. I think on Iran we’ve managed to levy great costs to Iran for what they’re doing. They’re very isolated. They can’t use the international financial system because of sanctions and our national sanctions and increasingly European sanctions and Australian and Japanese and so forth. Investment credits have dried up. All of the major Western companies, Western oil companies are out. Total was the last one to go.
And so we are imposing costs. I suspect those costs will be amplified by the lower price of oil. And then we’ll see whether the ferment that you’re hearing inside of Iran, which does question whether Iran’s president is on the right course with the international community, begins to produce a change in behavior. I think it probably will. There’s also an election coming up in Iran.
QUESTION: Will it in time, given how close they’ve come?
SECRETARY RICE: That’s the question. And that’s why it’s important to, if anything, tighten even further the constraints on Iran so that it has to make those choices sooner.
But the President has remained and continues to believe to this day that this is something that has to be and can be solved by diplomacy. It’s not that it takes options off the table. Nobody wants the American President to do that. But this is a situation where you’re just going to have to keep pressing the diplomacy and make it work.
And by the way, there are other elements to this. Iran’s allies lost in the south of Iraq, in Basra. The Iraqi security forces – the people they defeated were Iran’s allies, those special groups that Iran had trained. Iran did everything that it could to stop the SOFA with the United States, and they couldn't do it. Iraq is emerging again as an independent Arab state that is a bulwark against Iranian influence into the region. The United States has strengthened its security cooperation with all of the Gulf and Israel, and we have strengthened our own security posture in the region.
So from a sort of geostrategic point of view, I think the Iranian position is not very strong. They keep an option on their tentacles, like Hezbollah and Gaza-based Hamas, and they are a dangerous power and they can cause a lot of trouble. But the – I think we’ve succeeded, and I think in large part because we’ve done it with friends. We haven’t done it unilaterally. We’ve succeeded in large part in making life very difficult for the Iranians. When that will have an effect on their decisions about enrichment and reprocessing, I can’t tell you.
QUESTION: You --
QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: What do you think the – unless you’re asking an Iran question, I want to ask on Afghanistan. What do you think is the best sort of realistic scenario of stabilizing Afghanistan, and how do we get there?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, while the situation in Afghanistan is not by any means ideal, it’s also not as dire as I sometimes read. The Taliban tend to hit and run, and they tend to hit and run in the south. And so it’s a matter of extending government control and increasing probably the counterinsurgency capacity in that region, which means it’s one reason I think you’ll see more forces that can clear and help the Afghans hold the territory and then bring in civilian reconstruction and governance.
The irony is the Provincial Reconstruction Teams started in Afghanistan. I think they’ve been perfected in Iraq. And now, some of the things that we’re learning in Iraq we need to take back to Afghanistan. Because counterinsurgency really – people say win the hearts and minds of the people. First you have to help them secure the bodies, and then you can work on their hearts and minds. And I think we just have not been attentive enough to population security.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s right to get the – sorry, I mean, the PRT point is very well taken. Do you think it’s right to have two, three more brigades going in there?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, I think it’s – the U.S. is going to send in more military forces. I don’t think you want to get into the idea that, you know, you just want to keep – it’s just more military force and military force. There is in Afghanistan always a footprint issue; you don’t want to be overbearing. Ultimately, the training of Afghan forces – one of the more important things that I think we’ve done is increase the expectations on how many Afghan forces we will train. The Afghan army is clearly a national institution, clearly effective and well respected; it’s just not big enough.
Afghanistan has two problems that Iraq does not, and one is that it’s desperately poor. It’s probably the fourth or fifth, depending on what statistics you use, fourth or fifth poorest country in the world. A lot has been done to improve health and education and infrastructure, huge road projects and the like. But it’s still a very poor country that has trouble putting its own resources into the fight.
The other problem is the safe haven across the border. And there, the stability and activity of Pakistan becomes key.
QUESTION: Do you want to pick up on that point? Because I mean – sorry for another retrospective question --
SECRETARY RICE: No, that’s all right.
QUESTION: -- because I know you’ve been inundated with them. But do you think you misjudged Musharraf? Do you think you could have handled him differently?
SECRETARY RICE: No. In fact, I’ve made just the opposite argument. I think that Musharraf, after 2001, did a lot to try and rid Pakistan of extremism. But it’s very deeply buried in that country. It goes all the way back to Zia-ul-Haq. So I do think that he was – that the restraints – constraints were loosened and you have a burgeoning civil society in Pakistan. And ultimately, he kept his word. He stepped down. Civilian power was transferred to civilians. The army has not intervened. But it’s a very fragile circumstance.
But I have to say, I’ve been impressed with the way that the civilian government has dealt with certain circumstances – the economic circumstances. They’ve managed to get an IMF program. That was not easy. They are, however, really going to have to take on this issue of terrorism and extremism. I think they now know it will consume them if they don’t, but this is a very tough problem for a new civilian government.
QUESTION: You – if you were an incoming – I’m not asking you to advise the incoming, but if you were an incoming Secretary of State, would you appoint a South Asia envoy? Would you have somebody like Dick Holbrooke kind of knocking heads together and --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, different schemes, measures work for different people. I do think we’ve got one of the strongest ambassadors in the Foreign Service, maybe one of the strongest Foreign Service officers I’ve ever met, in Anne Patterson, who is our Ambassador in Pakistan.
SECRETARY RICE: And David Mulford is a political, so he’ll be coming out. I don’t mind the idea of envoys. We’ve had them. But you also have to really support your ambassadors, because they are the people that are there every day, and they have to be able to go in to the chief of staff of the army or the national security advisor and represent the United States on a daily basis. And so the trick is, if you’re going to use someone as an envoy, is to make sure that your ambassadors still have the authority of the President.
QUESTION: Make sure they get on with their --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, or that they just – that they just have – that they have the authority. You know, Anne Patterson knows the President of the United States, and he knows her. And she can walk in and say, “I heard the President say...” You just have to preserve that
QUESTION: In the light of Mumbai, how worried are you about the recrudescence of India-Pakistan tensions when this whole argument has been precisely for Pakistan to focus on its internal extremists?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is a far different and better circumstance than we had in 2001 and 2002. You want me to --
QUESTION: But that’s not a great basis –
SECRETARY RICE: No, no, but it – but it’s important because, look, I’ll give you a retrospective. In 2001, Christmas day, with my family downstairs, I was on the phone with Jack Straw, David Manning, and Colin Powell, trying to figure out which foreigner could go and visit so they didn’t go to war. It was pretty dire. They had no relationship between them. We had not terribly deep relations with India or with Pakistan because it was just post-September 11th. Now, we have very strong relations with India, really deep relations with India, very good relations with Pakistan. I felt that when I went there I was drawing on a reservoir of trust with the Indians that was quite deep. But – and they have tried to have good relations with one another, and I think they’ve – in the – they want to preserve that.
But this really comes down to dealing with the problem, and that means that Pakistan has got to do everything that it can to help bring the perpetrators to justice, and then also make sure they know as much as they possibly as they can so that you don’t have a follow-on attack of some kind.
QUESTION: On Russia, you gave a set piece speech earlier this year, a few months ago --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- where you talked about its paranoid aggressive impulse. You talked about it as authoritarian at home, aggressive abroad.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: What kind of relationship can or should the U.S. have with such a partner?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we will have a relationship where we have common interests. We have to. If you’re a believer, as I am, in the Security Council – I just sat there for a day and a half at the Security Council because I’m a believer in the Security Council – Russia and the United States have to cooperate. And we did, on piracy, on the Middle East. We have excellent cooperation on North Korea and the Six-Party Talks. We have excellent cooperation on – we actually have really good cooperation on Iran.
QUESTION: But they aren’t signing any substantive Security Council sanctions anymore.
SECRETARY RICE: No, but the Security Council sanctions that we’ve gotten, we’ve gotten because we’ve cooperated on them. And they have been faithful to the two tracks. They have. We’ve had really good cooperation on terrorism, really good cooperation on proliferation issues.
Where we part company is on the periphery of Russia, where they have a view that Russia has a special place and special influence and therefore special rights concerning their neighbors. And we believe their neighbors are independent states that ought to be able to choose their own course. And that’s caused a clash – the most – of course, the most heated over Georgia.
But what’s remarkable to me about the way the Georgian circumstance has come out, you know, if you had told me in August or September that it would come out this way, I would have given it very little chance. And I frankly think that the unity of the United States and Europe on this issue, with the EU in the lead – and by the way, we deliberately stood beside the EU, not in front of them on this issue, because we did not want Russia to make this a U.S.-Russia issue. And that unity has frustrated Russian strategic objectives on Georgia. The Georgian president and his government are still there. The Georgian economy was not destroyed. Quite the contrary, the Georgians, I think, got more money in the donor conference than perhaps they even need.
QUESTION: Well, there is that problem.
SECRETARY RICE: They – the Georgians are able to – yes, the Russians are in Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the resounding support of Hamas and Nicaragua. Their recognition decision, I think, was a disaster for them. And the question is that is on everybody’s mind is: Is Russia a good partner?
So I believe we will continue to have a relationship based on interests. I think what we had hoped for and tried to give an opening for was a relationship that was based not just on interests, but on interests and values. And there have been times since the collapse of the Soviet Union that Russia looked as if it was going in that direction toward rule of law, toward multi – a more pluralistic political system, toward de-statization of the economy and encouragement of foreign investment and all of those things. And it hasn’t turned out that way.
Now, I don’t think it’s lost forever, because it’s not the Soviet Union. This is not a big ideological conflict in which the Soviet Union had one narrative about how human history ought to develop and we had another. Nobody is talking about alternative systems here, so there isn’t that big ideological overhang. We really are not in the situation that we were where the only thing that seemed to – we seemed to agree on was that we didn’t want to annihilate each other. I don’t think anybody really worries very much that the United States or the Soviet Union are going to come to blow – Russia – are going to come to blows.
So we’ve got a different set of circumstances. And Russia is different. Look, Russia is not the Soviet Union. I went to Russia as a graduate student in 1979. This is not the Soviet Union. I mean I went to the Soviet Union in 1979. People have greater personal freedoms. They expect their government to deliver a better life for them. They enjoy the relationship to the outside world. They enjoy travel and so forth. And I don’t think that is going back.
QUESTION: How stable --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think we have time for one more question. I got the high sign from Liz out there.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Well --
SECRETARY RICE: All right. You each get one. How’s that? All right.
QUESTION: Very good. How stable a partner is it, given the Putin narrative is now under such stress – the narrative of stability and security? There was that Medvedev speech in November the 5th which made no strategic sense to a lot of people.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it’s stable. I don’t worry about the stability of Russia. But I think there is a question of going forward on what is Russia going to base its legitimacy. If it’s not a set of values that’s – if it’s not the ability to deliver a better life, if it’s not modernity, and if it’s not both domestically and internationally, I don’t know quite where that leaves Russia. And I think that’s probably the debate that’s going on internally in Russia.
I thought that when President Medvedev made his speech about the I’s – you know, investment and innovation and so forth – that that was where Russia wanted to go. Maybe it still is. Maybe it still is.
QUESTION: So you see it in a state of flux, rather than unstable?
SECRETARY RICE: I see it as a state of flux. I don’t think – I don’t think stability is quite the right word for it. But it’s definitely this great transformation or transition. This post-Soviet transformation isn’t over, and that’s very clear.
QUESTION: And this is probably not a question you can answer quickly, but I guess you’ll have to. How, without characterizing it – couching it as advice to your successors, how should the relationship between the National Security Advisor and the Pentagon chief and the Secretary of State work? What’s the ideal way, based on your experience?
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, the first thing is to realize that the National Security Advisor has a lot of responsibility and very little authority. Because the National Security Advisor – I used to tell the President it was like trying to get things done by remote control, because you don’t have diplomats that report to you, you don’t have armies that report to you, you don’t control the money supply, you don’t print the money, you know, like the Treasury. And so you have to try to bring people together around the President’s priorities, and so in a sense you’re a very, very high-ranking staff member. And it’s a tough job. It is not an easy job.
The most important thing is to have the secretaries do as much of it as they can. I think – I actually don’t think that the interagency should try to do every issue. Very often now, and it works very well for us, Bob Gates and I will solve issues together, or Hank Paulson and I will solve issues together. We don’t go to the interagency to do it. And I think that’s when it works best.
But I told Steve Hadley once, I said, “You know, I really much prefer being coordinated than coordinating.” And it’s not easy. But it is a job that also depends a lot on personal chemistry, because you really just have to be able to get people to work together.
QUESTION: There’s no textbook. I mean, it really varies from --
SECRETARY RICE: It varies from case to case.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right, gents. That’s it.
QUESTION: What’s the reason why you, as Secretary of State, you are unable to say how you voted? I mean, is that --
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, it’s a tradition, actually, that the Secretary – because Treasury, State, Defense, and Attorney General are, in effect, nonpartisan, nonpolitical positions. And so if you’re out there during a campaign talking about who you’re voting for, or even after who you voted for, it just crosses a line that I think is –
QUESTION: You’re breaking that precedent.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, you’re kind of breaking that tradition.
QUESTION: But you can cross that line, perhaps, on January 21st? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: That’s a wrap, guys.
QUESTION: Or off the record now? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
SECRETARY RICE: It’s a pleasure. It was great, always great to work with you.
QUESTION: Thank you.