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Rice Interview on Meet the Press With Tim Russert

Interview on Meet the Press With Tim Russert

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
London, England
October 16, 2005

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, welcome. Are you confident the Iraqi people adopted a new constitution yesterday?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm confident, Tim, that the Iraqi people went to the polls in large numbers, apparently perhaps as much as a million more than they did in January. I'm confident that Sunnis participated in large numbers, which means that the base of politics has expanded in Iraq.

I think we have to wait to see what the results of the referendum will be, but the fact of the matter is that they had a democratic process. They were told that they had a chance to vote yes or no, and they went to the polls in large numbers.

And by the way, the Iraqi forces performed very well in protecting the election process and we think there may have been fewer attacks this time, too, than in January.

QUESTION: But you said a few hours ago you thought it probably passed.

SECRETARY RICE: There were some early reports from the ground that the numbers looked that way, but I think -- I underscored when I made that statement that we would not know until we know. And I just want to be very clear. The key here is that the Iraqi people have expressed their views and we'll wait to see what their views are.

QUESTION: If it did go down, it would set the political process back significantly.

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, it's an argument I don't understand. If it passes, then democracy has been served. If, for some reason it does not, then democracy has been served. It would be like saying that a referendum in the United States, because it didn't pass, that it somehow was against the democratic process.

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The key here is the Sunnis have voted in large numbers. That means they're casting their lot now with the democratic process. And one way or another, the Iraqis are going to be in a position to move forward. They'll have elections in December, one way or another.

QUESTION: Let me share an article from the Los Angeles Times with you and get your reaction. The headline: "A Central Pillar of Iraq Policy Crumbling." It goes on:

"Senior U.S. officials have begun to question a key presumption of American strategy in Iraq that establishing democracy there can erode and ultimately eradicate the insurgency gripping the country. The expectation the political process would bring stability has been fundamental to the Bush Administration's approach to rebuilding Iraq as well as a central theme of White House rhetoric to convince the American public that its policy in Iraq remains on course.

"But within the last two months, U.S. analysts with access to classified information and intelligence have started to challenge this precept, noting a significant and disturbing disconnect between apparent advances on the political front and efforts to reduce insurgent attacks."

Do you agree with that?

SECRETARY RICE: No, I don't agree with that because you defeat an insurgency politically as well as militarily. And of course there are a few, and they are not the majority of the Iraqi population by any stretch of the imagination, indeed some of them are foreigners like those who work for Zarqawi.

You are looking at a situation in which a few people can pull off spectacular attacks, can make life miserable for Iraqis, can cowardly -- in a cowardly fashion -- kill school teachers and Iraqi children and attack police stations or attack, as was the case a few days ago, the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Part, which is a Sunni party that came out in favor of the constitution, but where they have not been able to derail the political process and where Iraqis still have gone out in huge numbers to vote despite the threats. And in fact, Tim, one of the facts that we're getting from the ground is that the number of attacks surrounding this referendum process were fewer than in the January 30th elections, so that's good news.

You defeat an insurgency politically as well as militarily. It will take time. As the Iraqi security forces are better, they will have a role. But the Iraqi people are casting their lot with the political process and that will sap the energy from this insurgency because an insurgency cannot ultimately survive without a political base.

QUESTION: Let me share with you some attitudes of Americans towards the war in Iraq, and here's our latest Wall Street Journal-NBC poll: 51 percent say removing Saddam Hussein was not worth it; 58 percent said we should reduce the number of U.S. troops; 56 percent feel less confident the war will be successful. Majorities now raising huge anxieties, expressing huge anxieties, over the war in Iraq.

SECRETARY RICE: I'm quite certain, Tim, that when the American people see every day what they see on their screens, which is violence and of course the deaths of Americans and coalition forces, it's very difficult to take. We mourn every sacrifice.

But the fact of the matter is that when we were attacked on September 11th we had a choice to make: We could decide that the proximate cause was al-Qaida and the people who flew those planes into buildings and therefore we would go after al-Qaida and perhaps after the Taliban, and then our work would be done and we would try to defend ourselves; or we could take a bolder approach, which was to say that we had to go after the root causes of the kind of terrorism that was produced there, and that meant a different kind of Middle East. And there is no one who could have imagined a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein still in power.

I know it's difficult, but we have ahead of us the prospect, and I think the very good prospect, of a foundation for a democratic and prosperous Iraq that can solve its differences by politics and compromise, that becomes an anchor for a Middle East that is changing. If you look at Lebanon and you look at the Palestinian territories and you look at what is going on in Egypt, this is a Middle East that is in transformation to something far better than we have experienced for the last 60 years, when we thought that we could ignore democracy and get stability, and in fact we got neither.

So yes, it's long and yes, it's hard. But if we quit now, we are not only going to condemn generations of people of the Middle East to despair, we are going to condemn generations of Americans to continued fear and insecurity.

QUESTION: Syria. There are reports of increased activity on the borders of Syria between U.S. troops and Syrian troops, covert options of U.S. operatives in Syria. Would you like to see a regime change in Syria and will we help bring that about?

SECRETARY RICE: What we have focused on is getting a Syrian -- getting the Syrian regime to change its behavior. The Syrian regime is out of step with what is going on in the region. And, Tim, this is not a problem between the United States and Syria; this is a problem in which the Syrians have caused destabilization in Lebanon through their presence there for 30 years, and they finally now are out. But the question is: Are they fully living up to their obligations under Resolution 1559, which we co-sponsored with the French, to not destabilize Lebanon, to not sanction assassinations in that region?

They are stirring up difficulties in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, which is a problem for the Palestinian territories and the work that Mahmoud Abbas is trying to do in bringing a Palestinian state to bear.

And yes, they are permitting the use of Syrian territory for terrorists to cross Syrian territory. And by the way, in many cases they're coming through Damascus airport. This isn't crawling across the border, as they do in Pakistan or Afghanistan. And so yes, they're using -- that territory is being used to kill innocent Iraqis, innocent men, women and children, because suicide bombers are coming through there.

So this is about Syrian behavior. I think we will see over the next couple of weeks that we will have to address these issues in a multilateral fashion because the reports that are coming out on UN resolutions about Lebanon are going to have to be dealt with, and we will see what that means for Syrian behavior.

QUESTION: The recent earthquake in Pakistan. Do you have any information that Usama bin Laden may have been killed or injured?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't, Tim, have any information about that. We've been concentrating on trying to help the Pakistanis deal with the immediate rescue and relief efforts.

QUESTION: But it wouldn't make you unhappy if Usama bin Laden met his demise in that earthquake?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't know whether or not Usama bin Laden was even in the area. But hopefully, the Pakistanis will be able to rebuild those areas in a way that connects them more to modern Pakistan, and I think that is a possibility.

QUESTION: Let me ask you a couple of questions, domestic questions. Have you testified under oath in the CIA leak investigation?

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, I'm not going to talk about an ongoing investigation. I've cooperated in any way that I've been asked to cooperate.

QUESTION: Including testifying under oath?

SECRETARY RICE: I've cooperated in any and every way that I've been asked to cooperate.

QUESTION: We have asked the American people about the approval of George Bush as President of the United States. His overall approval is 39 percent. But here's a number I would like to share with you as the ranking African American in the cabinet, Madame Secretary: Approve, 2 percent; disapprove, 84 percent. How troubling is that to you that only 2 percent of African Americans say that George Bush is doing a good job as President?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Tim, I don't know what to make of the polls and I'm not myself one who tends to put much faith in polls and what questions are asked and how they're asked. What I do know is that this has been a President who has gone out of his way to be inclusive, not just in his cabinet and not just in everything that he has done, but who has cared deeply about the progress of African Americans.

QUESTION: Why do only 2 percent of African Americans agree with you?

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, I'm a social scientist, and until I see a poll and how its questions are asked and what the assumptions are, I'm not going to comment on a poll of that kind. I am simply telling you that this President has an extraordinary record with African Americans. After all, when you look -- when I come, as I am here now in London, and I've been in Moscow and I've been in Paris and I've been in Central Asia -- I represent the United States Government, but I represent something else. I represent the fact that the United States of America is a multicultural and multiethnic society in which we are finally coming to terms with a history in which not all Americans were always represented. And so I think as an African American Secretary of State that's special. And by the way, the last Secretary of State was also African American, both appointed by this President. This President's cabinet is more representative, looks more like America, than any cabinet really in our history.

So this President should -- holds a candle to anyone in his devotion to issues about minorities and to his ability to, without even a hint of tokenism, to fully take advantage of the talents of all Americans regardless of race or ethnicity.

QUESTION: Before you go, I'd like to read something from the Washington Times. Headline:

"Americans for Rice, a group that hopes to draft Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a presidential candidate for 2008, has paid for a 60-second ad to run in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday night during ABC's Commander-in-Chief, a new show about a female President of the United States. Iowa, of course, traditionally holds the first presidential contest, the caucus system. The same ad appeared in New Hampshire during the September 27th broadcast of Commander-in-Chief, New Hampshire, of course, traditionally holds the first presidential primary."

Would you accept a position on the Republican ticket in 2008?

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, I'm flattered that people think of me in that way, but I think it was on your show that I said I don't know how many ways to say no. I really am -- I'm not somebody who wants to run for office, haven't ever run for anything. I don't think I ever ran for high school president. And I think I'm doing what I need to do, which is to try and promote American foreign policy, American interests, the President's democracy agenda, at an extraordinary time. And to the degree that I can do that across the world, that's what I've got to keep doing.

QUESTION: So you absolutely will not accept a position on the ticket of 2008?

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, I don't see -- I don't know how many ways to say no.


SECRETARY RICE: Tim, I don't know how many ways to tell people that this -- I have no interest in being a candidate for anything.

QUESTION: Well, but no interest is different than no, absolutely no.


QUESTION: Should they stop running that ad?

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, again, I appreciate and I'm flattered that people think of me in those terms, but it's not what I want to do with my life, it's not what I'm going to do with my life.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, thanks very much.


Released on October 16, 2005


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