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Rice IV With Slavin & Locker of USA Today

Interview With Barbara Slavin and Ray Locker of USA Today

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
November 28, 2005

(3:25 p.m. EST)

MS. SLAVIN: Let's begin, I guess, with Iraq. You said last week you thought you'd need fewer troops there next year than there are this year. If the next Iraqi government comes in and requests a timetable for us to leave, would we provide a timetable?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we are clearly going to work with the new Iraqi government when it is in place, but I would just note that Iraqi governments to this point have felt the need for a multinational force. That's why they requested the UN to provide a mandate for that force and then that mandate was rolled over just very recently. So of course we're working with the Iraqis.

But the point that I was making was simply that Iraqi security forces are getting better. And the President has always said that when Iraqis can stand up, we'll be ready to stand down.

MS. SLAVIN: But there's a bit more pressure, it seems, coming certainly from popular opinion in this country and also from the Iraqis in Cairo.

SECRETARY RICE: But clearly everybody wants this mission to succeed and so you have to have an effects-based or results-based approach to any discussion of how security is going to be provided. And it is increasingly provided by more Iraqi forces in the lead, more Iraqi forces able to hold territory, Iraqi forces securing the airport highway, for instance. And so they are taking more and more of the functions.

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MS. SLAVIN: But you do anticipate that there is going to be a drawdown next year?


MS. SLAVIN: I mean, the Pentagon has said that, you know, it'll go back down to 138,000 certainly after the elections and then the hope is to get it down to about 100,000 by the end of the year?

SECRETARY RICE: The President will take from his commanders their assessment of what the conditions permit, what Iraqi security forces are capable of doing, and then determine troop levels.

MR. LOCKER: I'd like to ask you about the EU developments today. There was one of -- an EU minister saying there may be sanctions on some of the member nations for hosting what they call the secret CIA prisons there. How has this situation in the last couple weeks complicated your job in dealing with some of the European countries?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I've been very clear, as have other members of the Administration, that we are fighting a war on terror, that there are demands of that that we have to meet, that we have to meet in order to protect not just ourselves but to protect others. Unfortunately, Europe has had its share now of terrorist incidents, in Spain and in Great Britain. And so we are all working together through law enforcement cooperations, intelligence cooperation, to try and produce the very best outcome to protect innocent citizens. And I think that is what we have to keep our eye on.

MS. SLAVIN: But these are prisons where terrible things have happened, according to a number of accounts.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I think we have to be careful in assessing what is going on in detention. When you come to Abu Ghraib, nobody would by any stretch of the imagination condone what happened at Abu Ghraib. People were punished for it. People should have been punished for it. It was -- I don't care whether you were operating under the Geneva Conventions or the President's dictate; it was wrong. And so that was very, very clear.

There have been other cases where there have been reports of abuse. Those have been investigated and will be investigated whenever those reports come up. And I would just note that one of the really important differences that the world is learning about how democracies deal with this, as opposed to how dictatorships deal with it, is that in open societies where you have an open press, where you have young soldiers who will go to their commanders and say something wrong is happening there, as was the case in Abu Ghraib, that you have checks and balances and you have protections against that kind of thing.



MS. SLAVIN: If I can interrupt, because time is short.


MS. SLAVIN: Do you agree with Vice President Cheney then that there should be an exception for the CIA from certain international and -- international norms?

SECRETARY RICE: The President is --

MS. SLAVIN: And doesn't -- what does that do for our public diplomacy?

SECRETARY RICE: The President is going to, within our laws and within our international obligations, do everything that he can to protect American citizens -- and by the way, since the war on terrorism has no borders, when you are acting against terrorists to protect Americans, you are very often acting against terrorists to protect others as well. And so the President has been very clear that that's not going to include torture. He's been very clear that it is going to be within the limits of our laws and it's going to be within the limits --

MS. SLAVIN: Then why the objection to the McCain --

SECRETARY RICE: We are working with Congress. As you know, Senator Graham has also had legislation. I believe we need the Congress in this fight because this is our joint responsibility to protect the American people and these are hard issues. We haven't ever fought a war like this before. We've never fought a war before where you are -- or certainly we don't, when we pick law enforcement actions, where you can't allow somebody to commit the crime before you detain them because if they commit the crime, then thousands of innocent people die.

MS. SLAVIN: You know, though, what this has done for public diplomacy efforts and the way people are using this issue. Does that -- that has to concern you.

SECRETARY RICE: I do know how people are using the issue and I constantly remind people that, first of all, we are in a difficult war against a new kind of enemy and that we do have an obligation to protect our citizens as well as protect other citizens; secondly, that the President has been very clear that he will not countenance behavior and activities that are outside our laws and outside our international obligations. And when something goes wrong, as it has on occasion, as it did at Abu Ghraib, that's something that sickened all of us, that we're going to be absolutely forthright about it and punish people who engaged in it.

MS. SLAVIN: Let me ask you a couple other questions about Iraq and al-Qaida and so on. As a result of the war and occupation, Iraq now has become a base for al-Qaida, and Iran has also been strengthened in some ways. How does the United States draw down forces and extricate itself from Iraq without further strengthening al-Qaida and Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Barbara, I don't actually agree with the premise, so let me go back to the premise of the question.

First of all, on Iran, Iran is a state with whom we -- with which we have numerous problems: terrorism, democracy in Iran, a nuclear program that everybody's concerned about. But I am not at all certain that the geo-strategic circumstances of Iran have improved with a democratizing, pro-Western Afghanistan on one border and a democratizing, non-theocratic but Shia-majority Iraq on another border. So I question the premise that somehow Iran has been strengthened.

Secondly --

MS. SLAVIN: Well, Al-Qaida certainly is doing a booming business lately.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, al-Qaida was doing a booming business since the mid-1990s and finally al-Qaida is actually being challenged. And al-Qaida is being challenged and of course they are recruiting and coming out and fighting, but they are at least now being challenged. And if you want to talk about how you deal with a specific al-Qaida cell on Monday of next week, that's one thing; but if you want to talk about how you eliminate the ideology of hatred that produced al-Qaida and will produce more al-Qaidas unless you eliminate it -- how you get, in other words, to a permanent peace -- then you have to have a different kind of Middle East than the one that produced the ideology of hatred that made those people fly airplanes into buildings.

So an Iraq that is a fundamental pillar of a different kind of Middle East may indeed go through a period of time in which al-Qaida is a presence in Iraq. But if you read Zawahiri, if you read Zarqawi, they know that the political process that is underway in Iraq is, in fact, their worst nightmare. That's why they threatened Iraqi citizens and then 8.5 million of them went out and voted in January. That's why they threatened Iraqi citizens and 10 million went out and voted for the referendum. And that's why they're still threatening Iraqi citizens. Because they know that the political process is ultimately going to be the death knell for their activities there.

MS. SLAVIN: Let me ask you a couple questions about internal things in the State Department. There have been several reports by the -- your Office of Inspector General, GAO and so on, talking about staffing problems abroad. The number of hardship posts has more than doubled since before September 11th -- positions where people can't bring their families. Are you concerned that this is creating battle fatigue at the State Department; it's going to be harder and harder to fill these types of jobs? Six hundred of them, apparently.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm certainly concerned about the well-being of our people. I'm certainly concerned about hardship that our officers face. But I recognize that we are at war and I recognize that the war on terrorism requires us to be in places that are dangerous, that are not appropriate for families. But the calling of the Foreign Service and the State Department is to serve the interests of the country and to protect the interests of the country, and that means sometimes being in very difficult places.

But I'm going to tell you something. I've been out to all those difficult posts. I've been in Pakistan. I've been in Afghanistan twice. I've been in Iraq twice -- well, three times in Iraq, but twice as Secretary. And there is no higher morale in the posts around the world than when you go out to these places where people know that, yes, they're on the front line in the war on terrorism but they're also on the front line of history. And they feel it and they see it and they understand it and they're committed to it.

And so yes, I worry a great deal about the well-being. We spend a lot of time and money and effort on security for our people, but this is what we're called to do.

MS. SLAVIN: There have also been some complaints from the union, from AFSA, that the junior people are being brought into positions that normally have more senior Foreign Service people and they say this is hurting morale. Is this something that they've raised with you? Is this something --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I said --

MS. SLAVIN: And then there's sort of a rap that you're kind of returning to the Albright-Baker mode where you have a small circle of advisors and you're not sort of reaching deep into the building like Colin Powell used to.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's -- you know, I have an open door policy. I think my Assistant Secretaries are up here more than my own staff. You know, I see everybody and when we're at staff meeting, if somebody needs to get in they can come in.

As to the ability to -- the need to recruit people for positions, I've never thought that time in rank was the only qualification for doing a good job. Now, I think you will find that the great majority of positions are being filled in the way that people would have expected if you were looking at people going through the ladder. But yes, on occasion, I do reach out or Assistant Secretaries reach out and go for -- to look for fast-rising officers who have different experiences.

I will note that being in places like Baghdad or Kabul tends to give people different skill sets and very often they come back and they serve, and they serve at a slightly more elevated position than they might otherwise. That also happens in time of war.

MS. SLAVIN: Let me ask you a little bit about your relationship with President Bush and how it affects how you do your job. Hanan Ashrawi, you know, the former education minister in Palestine, said that she had more faith in your delivering on the Middle East because she said -- there's an expression in Arabic -- she said, "Powell was a bird chirping outside the flock," is the way she put it.

Do you feel that this position that you have, the closeness to the President, gives you greater leverage? How would you compare your role in formulating foreign policy to that of Dick Cheney or Rumsfeld or Colin Powell?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, Colin Powell was a great Secretary of State. He had a wonderful relationship with the President. I got to see it up close and personal, which many people didn't, and it was one of respect and one where the President listened to him and where, as a result, he did a superb job.

And you know my relationship with the President is a very good one. We've been together a long time. I have enormous admiration for the willingness of this President to take difficult and bold steps at a time when I think the world requires difficult and bold steps. And I'm just grateful that I have an opportunity to try and help implement these policies. This is a good team.

And are there debates? Yes. Are there disagreements? Yes. But there's one thing that people all understand, which is the President is the President and he is, after all, the only one who was really elected to this position.

MS. SLAVIN: You seem to have more leverage, though, on some issues. I don't know if this is just because it's second term. Chuck Hagel said at the Council on Foreign Relations the other week that Colin Powell was succeeding in abstentia and he pointed to some of the changes he'd made on policy toward North Korean, Iran in particular.

SECRETARY RICE: I think that the changes are overstated. The six-party talks come out of policies that the President and Colin Powell pursued and that six-party framework was really solidified in that period. We've been able to press it forward and perhaps to do some things with it that were not done before, but that structure has been in place and was working well before -- when I was National Security Advisor, well before I became Secretary.

MS. SLAVIN: Right. But certainly if you look at positions on civilian nuclear power, there's an acknowledgement that North Korea can have it at some point, and Iran there's been quite a substantial shift. I recall talking to you just on the trip a month or so ago, where you were very leery of the notion that Iran could continue converting uranium into uranium hexaflouride. Now, my understanding is the U.S. is supporting a Russian proposal that would allow Iran to continue to convert.

SECRETARY RICE: I think, Barbara, on that trip I remember precisely what I said. I think I said that the fuel cycle, in total, is a difficult -- is a problem, but that everybody recognizes that the real problem is uranium -- enrichment and --

MS. SLAVIN: You talked about stockpiles of UF6.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, I said that if there were a proposal that would allow the Iranians access to large stockpiles of UF6, that that would be a problem, on their territory, that that would be a problem. So we'll see where the Russian proposal comes out. We're prepared to see if the Russians can explore something that may bring the Iranians around to the recognition that they cannot enrich and reprocess on their territory, that they have a credibility problem with the international community as to the fuel cycle. We'll see whether it works. But we do have the votes for a referral to the Security Council at a time of our choosing.

MS. SLAVIN: It wasn't of our choosing last week.

SECRETARY RICE: No, we decided there was time for the -- that there should be time for the Russians, who wanted the opportunity to explore this, to have a chance to explore it. So "at a time of our choosing" means at a time of our choosing.

MS. SLAVIN: On Iran, your old colleague Abbas Milani has suggested, others have suggested, that we should really change our whole policy toward that country if we want to promote democracy there, that we should have targeted sanctions instead of blanket sanctions. There have been suggestions, I believe, for opening a U.S. visa office, putting Americans there, not making Iranians go all the way to Dubai; let Americans, Iranian Americans, send money, NGOs operate there. Are these some of the proposals that you're considering and how far along are they?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, obviously nobody has a desire to isolate the Iranian people. That's not the point. The problem is that the Iranian Government is one that pursues policies that are antithetical to the interests of the United States and interests of a stable Middle East.

If you look at Iranian policies, you look at a country -- we've just talked about the nuclear issue -- where nobody trusts them in terms of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and therefore people are trying to design a way that they cannot have a fuel cycle. You have a state that is supporting Palestinian rejectionists at a time when the --

MS. SLAVIN: But --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, now you'll just have to let me finish. The Palestinian rejectionists at a time when they are -- when Abu Mazen is trying to do quite the opposite, Hezbollah at a time when Lebanon is trying to emerge from Syrian occupation, not to mention an Iranian President that talks about wiping other countries off the map and an Iranian population that's trapped in a political system that going backwards, not forwards.

MS. SLAVIN: So how do you help them going forwards? Isn't it through some kind of targeted engagement, the sort that we have not used with the Iranians?

SECRETARY RICE: I find it hard to see what engagement at -- broad engagement would accomplish with the Iranians because it's very clear that Iran is on a path that is different and contrary to the path that most people want to see the Middle East take at this point.

MS. SLAVIN: You've given Zalmay Khalilzad permission to discuss with his Iranian counterpart the Iraq situation. What about having a contact group, a formal contact group in which the Iranians could participate, and perhaps broadening those discussions to other issues, as has been suggested by a number of people?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Iranian contact with Zal Khalilzad in Afghanistan through the 6+2 process was actually very useful on some very limited grounds and it was useful. We think it could be useful in Iraq on some limited grounds. But again, this is on quite narrow issues that are definable and that do not, I think, run the risk of granting legitimacy to a government that doesn't deserve legitimacy.

QUESTION: Have these talks or contacts begun between Zal and Iranians?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't -- yeah, I'm not sure. Zal has the guidance to do it when it makes sense. So I haven't checked in.

QUESTION: Can we turn to North Korea, if I could, just quickly? There was a short round. Things don't seem to be going very quickly. I mean, while the Bush Administration has been in office, the North Koreans may have developed enough plutonium for another six bombs.

How long does it go on like this? Is there any other option that we can use to influence the North Koreans or concern that this process just doesn't seem to be going anywhere fast?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we are making -- we are doing other things. For instance, we are working with others in the Proliferation Security Initiative to deal with the potential for shipments of WMD-related materials, and on at least one very highly publicized occasion we made a very good hit leading ultimately to the -- I think to reinforcing the Libyan decision. That was a North Korean shipment. We have, of course, made very clear that we intend to deal with banks that are dealing in illicit proceeds for North Korea. So we're not sitting still while the six-party talks continue.

But I think the six-party talks themselves, first of all, have solidified a consensus at least among the five about North Korea's -- about the only path ahead for North Korea, which is to have -- to abandon its nuclear weapons programs if it wishes to fully access the international system. And there is now a statement of principles to which the parties are agreed, and when the North Koreans have tried to veer off those principles, others have brought them back to those principles. So I think you have a starting place with those principles for negotiation. But it will have to make more progress --

QUESTION: Are you going to invite a couple of the North Korean negotiators to New York to discuss the sanctions, the bank issue? I understand that there's a proposal to have them come to New York to continue talks and --

SECRETARY RICE: I think that we are prepared to tell the North Koreans what are laws are, but they know what they're doing. They don't need to have a bilateral on how to stop counterfeiting other people's money. Just stop doing it.

QUESTION: Let me ask you, on the political front, I've been told that some Republican strategists are approaching you or would love for you to acknowledge that you might want to run for some sort of office in 2008. You're the --

SECRETARY RICE: Let's go back to North Korea. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You're the only senior member of the Administration who has positive -- who has, you know, positive -- above 50 percent favorable ratings in the polls at this point. And they see you as, if not a Presidential candidate, then as a Vice Presidential candidate. If these people come to you -- are they coming to you?

SECRETARY RICE: Barbara, I am very busy trying to be Secretary of State. You've traveled with me. You know I don't have time for such things. No, I -- it's not my calling in life.

QUESTION: I've got to ask you this. I've got to put this on the record. And that is you are a size 6 in designer clothes. Yes?

SECRETARY RICE: Some secrets cannot be disclosed. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And American women want to know where you get your clothes, what your favorite designers are. I've sized you up and figure Akris Punto and some Armani and I'm not sure of the others. This is a really significant question for the women of America --

SECRETARY RICE: I cannot confirm --

QUESTION: Struggling to be -- (laughter) --

SECRETARY RICE: I cannot confirm or deny. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Struggling to be a size 6 after the age of -- yes.

SECRETARY RICE: What age is that? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Fifty. I think those of us who are above the age of 50 should be proud of it.

There was one other thing I have to sneak in. This has been driving me crazy and I just need an answer. I wanted to ask you this three years ago. Please.

The NSC did a study in 2002, February 2002, that showed that the most successful post-war stabilization programs, occupations, were when you had a high ratio of troops to locals. Kosovo, Bosnia, were the successes; places where you didn't have that were failures. Why did you disregard your own study?

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, there was no study. There was an effort to look back over various metrics to see how different missions had been carried out in the past. And all of that information was available to decision makers and --

QUESTION: Did President Bush --

SECRETARY RICE: All of that information was fed into the process. But, Barbara, when you go into a situation like Iraq, you take Iraq on its own terms. And General Franks would come in and he would brief the plan, and I can't tell you how many times the President asked, are the forces adequate to -- or appropriate to the plan that you are drawing up? And he was told yes, it--

QUESTION: Do you think in hindsight that was such a great decision?


QUESTION: And do you regret some of the chaos that occurred?

SECRETARY RICE: Barbara, I'm a very big believer that big historical circumstances are difficult by their very nature. I would be the first to say I am sure that there are many things that could have been done better. There are many things that were not done well. There will be things that turn out to have looked like mistakes that will turn out to have been great successes, and things that looked like great successes but will turn out to have been mistakes. I am enough of an historian to know that those are judgments that can only be made well after the fact when you know how things turned out.

Ultimately, what we have to focus on is the strategic path. And that strategic path is to have nothing that throws the Iraqis off the political path that they're on toward a permanent government, and so far they've marched along it really quite smartly; to do nothing that causes the Iraqis to be incapable of resolving their differences within political institutions, and so far they seem capable of doing that; and finally, that leaves Iraqis in charge of their own security and their own political future, and they are getting there.

But I've said many times -- look, I am quite certain that when the history is written a lot of wrongs are going to have been done and probably I'll even, when I go back to Stanford in three and a half years --

QUESTION: You're pretty conclusive about that.

SECRETARY RICE: I can guarantee you I will probably oversee dissertations that look at that. But, you know, the key now is that I think we have a way forward that the Iraqis have confidence in, and that's probably the most important thing is that the Iraqis have confidence in this way forward.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you. Great to see you.

Released on November 29, 2005


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