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Condoleezza Rice NBC Today Show With Katie Couric

Interview on NBC Today Show With Katie Couric

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
December 16, 2005

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, good to see you. Thanks for joining us this morning.

SECRETARY RICE: Nice to be with you.

QUESTION: Let me ask you first of all about that New York Times story. Let me read the first paragraph so that people listening will understand this: "Months after the September 11th attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the U.S. to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials."

Why did the Bush Administration feel this step was necessary?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Katie, I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters and certainly not on a newspaper story about intelligence matters. I can tell you that the President has always lived within the law. He has always said that he will do everything that he can to protect the American people from the kind of attack that we experienced on September 11th, but within the law and with due regard for the civil liberties of Americans. Because he takes absolutely seriously his constitutional responsibility both to defend Americans and to do it within the law.

QUESTION: And I think most people realize that that is a fine line, but The Washington Post quotes a woman named Kate Martin. She's Director of the Center for National Security Studies at George Washington University. She said the secret order may amount to the President authorizing criminal activity. She says: "'This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush Administration,' said Martin, who has been sharply critical of the Administration's surveillance and detention policies. 'It is, I believe, the first time a President has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans.'"

Can you comment on that?

SECRETARY RICE: I can only comment to say that the President has been very clear that he would not order people to do things that are illegal. The President has a constitutional responsibility. His constitutional responsibility is to protect and defend the Constitution. That is an Oath of Office that he took and it's one that he takes absolutely seriously. That means to protect and defend Americans' civil liberties. It also means to protect and defend Americans. And the kind of attack that we experienced on September 11th, that means that the President has a heavy responsibility to do that. But he did it always -- anything that he did -- legally and within his constitutional responsibility.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the New York Times says it waited a year to report this because it was asked by the White House not to publish this article because it would be a threat to national security. How would it be a threat, and can you confirm that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm, again, not going to comment on intelligence activities because intelligence activities, by their very nature, are activities that are sensitive and that should not be compromised.

Katie, I just want to reassure the American people that whatever is written here, that the President of the United States acted lawfully in every step that he has taken to defend the American people and to defend them within his constitutional responsibility. But he absolutely wants to defend the American people.

QUESTION: All right. Let's move on to the elections in Iraq. As you well know, millions of Iraqis turned out. Election officials believe at least 67 percent of Iraqis voted. It was mostly peaceful. In your opinion, does yesterday's election set the stage for a more independent Iraq that will allow U.S. troops to come home soon?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's an extraordinary victory for the Iraqi people -- what they did yesterday -- to go out in huge numbers. And I want to just draw attention especially to the large turnout in Sunni areas. The Sunnis boycotted the January election. Many Sunnis were not favorably disposed to the constitution that was passed in October, but they went out in ever larger numbers because they see their future as with the political process. They don't see their future with the violent people who are blowing up innocent people.

And that means that they are taking responsibility for their future. If you looked also, you saw a lot of pictures of their security forces protecting polling sites, protecting people. That means that the security forces are taking greater responsibility. And as the President has said, we have no intention of being there longer than we are needed. Right now, the coalition forces are needed. But our principal goal is to prepare Iraqis to defend their future, and yesterday they showed that they're going to have a future that's well worth defending.

QUESTION: What if this new coalition government asks for U.S. troops to leave Iraq or a timetable? You have to balance respecting the sovereignty of an independent Iraq and yet not leaving that country in more disarray.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, all of the evidence thus far, Katie, is that most of the leaders in Iraq understand the importance of a coalition presence to help them against the terrorist threat that they face. They don't want to leave their people undefended. That's why Iraqi governments have gone to the United Nations to ask for a mandate for coalition forces. And I have to, I should remind people we are there under a UN mandate.

Now, in time, they will be capable of doing this on their own and that will be a very happy day for everyone. But I think they have no desire to have their people undefended. They know too the weaknesses thus far of their security forces but that they're getting better.

QUESTION: And finally, Secretary Rice, on a different subject, after months of negotiations, the Bush Administration has dropped its objections of Senator John McCain's ban on torture. I know that you and President Bush have both said repeatedly the United States does not torture either here or overseas, but what took so long for the White House to basically put its stamp on this legislation?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, this is an important law and it is a law -- one of the -- really one of the new laws of the post-September 11th era, and so it was important to get it right. It was important to work with Senator McCain to make certain that the President felt that he could both defend the American people and live within his international and American legal obligations.

I want to be very clear that the President has always told everyone that he will not allow torture, he will not condone torture, that it is U.S. policy to respect our international obligations. We take them very, very seriously. This is a further example and a further indication for the world that the United States takes these obligations very, very seriously and I think that Senator McCain has done a service in helping us to get there.

QUESTION: Well, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, again, thanks so much for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.


QUESTION: And if we don't see you, happy holidays.

SECRETARY RICE: Happy holidays to you and to your viewers. 2005/1175

Released on December 16, 2005


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