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Remarks on the NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
November 26, 2008

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SECRETARY RICE: All right. I wanted to come down before the Thanksgiving holiday and before some significant meetings that I’ll participate in next week, just to give you a little bit of an update on where we are on a couple of issues and then I’m happy to take your questions.

As you know, I’m going to travel to Brussels to attend the NATO foreign ministers meeting that takes place on December 2nd and 3rd. I’ll have a number of meetings during those days. As usually happens, we’ll talk about the international agenda more broadly, as well perhaps, in some bilaterals with my colleagues. But the primary focus will be on NATO’s work, on the work that we’re doing together in Afghanistan, and on making certain we’re doing everything that we can within the NATO-Georgia Commission and the NATO-Ukraine mission to support those states.

I expect a good discussion on the important topics. I just want to say a word about the question of Georgia and Ukraine because there have been some stories about what it is that is being discussed there. There is a British idea – and I want to emphasize not an American idea, a British idea – that we look at different ways to fulfill the terms of the Bucharest Declaration. As you remember the Bucharest Declaration says that at some point in time, Georgia and Ukraine will be members of NATO. It does not anticipate or suggest there would be lower standards for entry into NATO. It does not suggest that there needs to be an accelerated time table. It is the same open-door policy that we’ve had about meeting standards, but it does say that Georgia and Ukraine will be members of NATO.

How they get there, what mechanisms are used – we believe that the NATO-Georgia Commission and the NATO-Ukraine Commission can be the bodies with which we intensify our dialogue and our activities with Georgia and NATO. And therefore, there does not need at this point in time to be any discussion of MAP. And so this is the nature of this. It really is just a question of how we would execute the Bucharest decision. It is not a change in policy.

I want to say just a couple of other things that are not, of course, concerned with my trip to Europe. But next week we will also have in Beijing a meeting of the Six-Parties heads of delegation. Chris Hill will lead our delegation. And the focus on that meeting will be for the Six-Parties to sign on to the Verification Protocol that has been initialed by the United States and North Korea on behalf of the parties. And again, how does this work? The United States has been the chair of the subgroup on verification of the denuclearization working group, which the Chinese chair. And we have a document; we also have a number of assurances and a number of understandings that now will need to be codified by the Six Parties.

Let me just say one final thing, which is to just note that we have a lot of men and women from the Foreign Service, from the Civil Service, from other government agencies, but a lot of State Department people serving very far away from home as we come upon the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving is, frankly, my favorite holiday because it’s a time for reflection, it’s a time for gratefulness, it’s a time to be with family and friends. I know that in places like Kabul and Baghdad and across the world, while our officers will not be able to be with families, that they will be with friends.

And I just want to underscore that one of the things that I will give thanks for this Thanksgiving, and that I’m immensely grateful for, is the extraordinary service of our people around the world, for their tremendous dedication and commitment, and for the personal joy and honor that it has been as Secretary of State to serve with them. And so my very special Thanksgiving prayer will be for our men and women in uniform, for our diplomats abroad, for all of the Americans who are serving abroad in the service of U.S. interests and values.

And let me close with a very happy Thanksgiving to all of you as well.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, can you --

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Today, the Iraqi parliament has decided to delay the vote on the SOFA deal until tomorrow. And there is also a discussion now about a referendum that might take – that might happen which could crater the entire deal even if the parliament approves it. I’m wondering what you think of, first, the delay and also the possibility of a referendum.

And then if I might, also just wondering what your thoughts are on the Venezuelan election.

SECRETARY RICE: In terms of delay, it’s a democratic process and it is taking some time. But I expect that they’re going to continue to work on it and that they will – that it is in the COR and that it’s being discussed. And I don’t know precisely when they’ll take a vote, but I do know that Prime Minister Maliki and Speaker Mashhadani are committed to having a vote and having a vote very soon.

As to the referendum, it’s my understanding that such a referendum would, of course, be subject also to a new law to organize a referendum, but that in any case, it would not delay the going into force of the SOFA and the Strategic Forces – the Strategic Framework Agreement as of the 1st of the year.

QUESTION: So you have no concerns about the whole idea?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, I haven’t seen the language. I have not had – I talked to Ambassador Crocker, but of course, this is going on in Iraqi politics. But my understanding is that nothing here delays the entry into force of the agreement, and that’s really the important point.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Venezuela?

SECRETARY RICE: What? Oh, Venezuela, sorry. Well, it means that opposition is alive and well in Venezuela. It means that some of the policies of the government which have, frankly, not been in the interest of the Venezuelan people, are being opposed by Venezuelans. I think it is important to note that at least the opposition has been able to express itself, and the United States has stood firmly for the democratic process in Venezuela.

But I also want to note that the United States has stood as firmly for the view that it is our work to have a positive agenda for our engagement with the people of Latin America; not to get involved in their internal politics, not to have litmus tests of left or right, but to stand for the things that we believe that democratically elected governments that are governing wisely stand for, which is economic growth and trade and the ability to deliver for their people in terms of social justice. And so we’re going to continue to pursue that. But obviously, the opposition in Venezuela has made its voice known and that’s important.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, a follow-up on Venezuela?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, yeah. Pardon me?

QUESTION: A follow-up on Venezuela?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Russian ships are now in the waters off Venezuela. What do you make of this? What should – do you take this as a threat, these joint exercises?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don’t think there’s any confusion about the balance of power in the Western Hemisphere. And so just as the United States believes that we can have good relations and can engage to military-to-military contacts wherever there are countries that wish to have us do so, I assume that we can say the same about Latin America. But I just don’t think there’s any question about who has the preponderance of power in the Western Hemisphere.

Secondly, I would note that the – Venezuela, as a regional actor, has a number of conflicts and has had some destabilizing behavior toward some of its – towards some of the states in the region. And so it is important that that be taken note of and that anything that is done in this hemisphere does not further exacerbate the effect of Venezuelan policies on neighbors like Colombia. But you know, a few Russian ships is not going to change the balance of power.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, on – on Iran.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: There’s a report today quoting a senior Iranian official as saying that the Iranians now have 5,000 working centrifuges spinning. One, do you have any reason to believe that that report is true, or do you view it as an exaggeration?

Two, the Obama – President-elect Obama has, during the course of the campaign, signaled a willingness to talk or to engage more with the Iranians and with fewer conditions than the Bush Administration has. Do you see any particular danger in such engagement ahead of the Iranian elections and the possibility that Iranian particular actors could use it for their own electoral or political gain?

And lastly, on an interests section, can you rule out the possibility of an interests section being opened in Tehran by the U.S. Government during this Administration? And if so, can you give us some kind of a feel for what are – what is your hesitance about this? It would give you eyes and ears on the ground for the first time in a very, very long time and would allow you to reach out to the people in a way that is much harder when you don’t have people on the ground.

SECRETARY RICE: All right, the three questions that Arshad has asked. First of all, I have actually myself not seen the report that you referenced, but we tend to rely on the IAEA because it’s not clear that one gets a clearer picture from – it is clear that one does not get a clear picture from the Iranians on these issues. So we rely on the IAEA.

The point is that they are continuing to pursue enrichment and reprocessing capability. They are continuing to try to perfect the technologies that could lead to a nuclear weapons technology. And that is what the international coalition that we have put together, the P-5+1, is trying to stop. And of course, it’s produced Security Council resolutions. It has produced national measures that are putting pressures on the Iranians. It is a country that is more and more isolated, whose economy is in very tough shape, and where there’s actually a lot of criticism of the policies of the government in advance of this election. And so I do think that there is considerable pressure on the Iranian Government, and one has to hope that the Iranians will start to – that Iranians will start to emerge who wish to reverse this isolation.

In terms of what the President-elect may choose to do, I’m not going to comment. I will give my advice and analysis to my successor when that person is named, and I’ll do so privately, and then you won’t hear from me again on it.

When it comes to the interests section, the President took an in-principle decision based on his belief and our belief that in the context of a policy that is firm – and I want to emphasize firm – in the face of Iranian nuclear ambitions, Iranian aggression in the Middle East, and Iran’s oppression of its own people, that a presence, an increased presence for the United States that would focus on the Iranian people – that is, the ability to facilitate visas, the ability to be a place to which Iranians could come, much as the interests section acts in Havana – that in the context of a firm policy, this is something that the United States might want to pursue. We have continued to pursue how that might go forward.

But frankly, the point at which we most likely would have done it, we were right in the middle of the Georgia-Russia conflict, and then a number of other international events I think just made it difficult to do. And so I think that within the context of a firm policy toward Iran, something that reaches out to the Iranian people is very important. And you rightly say that eyes on the ground is also very valuable. But it is awfully important that it be understood that the constituency here is not the Iranian regime, but the Iranian people. At this late moment, I think it is probably better that this decision be left to the next administration.

QUESTION: And just so that I’m clear, you began by saying that the President had taken a firm decision in the context of --

SECRETARY RICE: I said an in-principle decision in the context of a firm policy toward Iran.

QUESTION: Okay, just so we’re clear, the in-principle decision was conditional that this was something the U.S. Government perhaps should pursue or was that this was something the U.S. Government should do?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we were – on the basis of his decision, we were actually doing the work that would be needed to do to see how it could be implemented and what it could do. Because the one thing we wanted to be very clear was that it would have to have the capability actually to issue visas.

QUESTION: Right.

SECRETARY RICE: Now, there were intervening events that I think made it not a good time to raise this with the Iranian regime, because obviously we would have had to raise it with the Iranian regime. But in the context of a policy that resists Iranian aggression and that clearly does that so that there are no mixed messages, particularly to regional allies who have great concerns about Iran’s hegemonistic ambitions, it’s something that one could do.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: About NATO?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: You said that there is not going to be any need for discussion on MAP. Does it mean that you agree with the arguments of the Europeans that Georgia and Ukraine are not ready for MAP?

SECRETARY RICE: Georgia and --

QUESTION: And what exactly do you want these commissions --

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- NATO-Georgia and NATO-Ukraine to do effectively?

SECRETARY RICE: Georgia and Ukraine are not ready for membership. That is very clear. The point of view of the United States was stated at Bucharest that we think – thought that MAP is a way to prepare countries for membership. But there are other ways to prepare countries for membership. I would note that Poland the Czech Republic never had MAPs, for instance. And so we do have the Georgia-Ukraine – the Georgia-NATO and the Ukraine-NATO Commissions. Intensifying our work within them, intensifying our contacts within them is, we believe, a good alternative and will send a very strong signal that, while these countries are not ready for membership and still have many, many standards that they would have to meet, that we will remain true to the Bucharest Declaration that they will, at some point in the future, be members of NATO.

Yes.

QUESTION: I want to follow up on Arshad, actually.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, The U.S. did not raise this idea with the Iranians?

SECRETARY RICE: No. With the Iranians, no.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense of whether they are supportive of the idea of having American diplomats in Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: I do not know whether they are. You know, we’ve seen public statements both ways. But for us, the issue was and always was – and the reason that it took some time to try and figure out how we would implement such a decision – that this would have to be a platform for serving the Iranian people, facilitating their contact with the United States, facilitating the kinds of exchanges that we have done. We’ve had Iranian basketball teams and artists and disaster relief workers. They have hosted the American wresting team. And this has to be about the Iranian people. And it is not – it’s not an uncomplicated matter. And let me not use a double negative. But it is a complicated matter as to how one arranges such an interests section under the conditions that (inaudible) in Iran.

Yes.

QUESTION: I wonder, given the fact that there has been cooperation between the Administration and the transition team on the economy, on issues like North Korea, Iran, Iraq, the Middle East peace process, have you consulted with anyone in the transition team when you make those decisions to leave the interests section decision for later, to go to the Six-Party Talks in North Korea?

SECRETARY RICE: No, we’re not at that level of detail. But when we have had a transition team working here, they’ve had, I think, very good discussions. I met with some of them yesterday. We’ve talked about various issues, both in terms of management of the Department and in terms of policy issues and where we’re leaving them. When I have a successor named and John Negroponte has a successor named, I expect that we’ll have more intensive discussions about those matters, because we would want – I would want my successor to be fully informed and ready to hit the ground running on day one. And so we will have those discussions, and we’ve been doing them at the level of the transition teams, but obviously, when there are actual successors that will facilitate it.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to SOFA for a moment.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: You’ve mentioned that you believe there will eventually be a vote, but are you aware of some of the issues that have come out in press reports and there have been source reports about bartering issues and possible secret language, and also the possibility that there are massive differences in interpretation and in translation?

SECRETARY RICE: We believe that these are conforming texts. I don’t speak Arabic, but one of the things that we do with the Iraqis is that we go line by line to conform the text and to make sure that there is common understanding of what is meant here. And of course, there are – first of all, there isn’t any secret language. Of course, there are issues that are opposed by some in the Iraqi political system and supported by others. It’s a democracy, and people are going to have their views and their says.

But I want to underscore a couple of things about the agreements. First, the SOFA and the Strategic Framework Agreement allow the United States to continue to be a partner for Iraq on the military side through the SOFA with a legal basis for our forces that allows us to help the Iraqis fully secure the gains that have been made, and does so with respect for Iraqi sovereignty. And that’s the reason that the SOFA has been negotiated in the way that it has.

The Strategic Framework Agreement is a broader document that talks about the broader relationship and the continuity over time of our efforts on the economic and social and cultural sides.

But what we should not lose sight of here is that this is an agreement with a major Arab state that is being publicly debated in a democratic environment in the center of the Middle East. And that is an enormous achievement. And when the vote takes place, as Prime Minister Maliki and others have intended it to, we will move forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: Also, to follow up on Iran --

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Short of opening an interests section, are there interim measures that you guys would consider suggesting, or at least maybe bringing to the next administration? I was able to talk with some Iranian officials recently, and they talk of things like loosening restrictions on their journalists in the United States or giving Iran credit for an increased security in Iraq. I mean, are those things that --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me just speak to the credit to Iran for security in Iraq. I don’t think so.

QUESTION: They don’t deserve it?

SECRETARY RICE: No. I’m sorry to say that the Iranians cause nothing but trouble in the south. And their allies were defeated in Basra. That’s what happened. The increased security in the south is because the special groups that they trained and equipped were defeated by the Iraqi army. Now, if that was a contribution to security, so be it. I think I would characterize it in a slightly different way.

I want to just underscore a couple of things that we have done to prepare our country for the long run concerning Iraq. There was no office of Iraqi affairs in the Department of State, believe it or not, before we came here.

QUESTION: Of Iranian.

SECRETARY RICE: I’m sorry. Of Iranian affairs. Yeah, there were plenty on Iraqi affairs. There was not on Iranian affairs. And we now have an office devoted to that. We put the facility in Dubai to give – to get us closer to the Iranian people, to allow them to have easier access to visa facilitation, easier access to us.

I’ve mentioned a number of the programs that we have done in terms of exchanges. I remember quite well myself meeting with some Iranian artists. It was a fantastic experience. And I was just talking with David Stern, and the Iranian basketball team was just here.

And so there are a lot of things that we have done to reach out to the Iranian people, and I think to – I should also mention a tremendous emphasis on training our officers in – our Foreign Service officers in Farsi, because the fact is that over almost – well, now it is almost 30 years since the United States left Iran. I do think there was a deterioration in our capability to speak the languages, understand the country. The people who have been in Iran, most of them were – who had Iranian experience, most of them had retired. And so we’ve been trying to rebuild that cohort. And that is extremely important for the United States to do, is to build its capability on Iran, because it’s an important country. It’s going to be an important country for a long time.

But our focus has been to try and make clear to the Iranian people that there is a different road than their government is taking in terms of engagement with the international community, that isolation does not have to be the course.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, how do you assess the status of FYROM vis-à-vis to NATO due to the upcoming ministerial meeting in December, as you told (inaudible), and do you expect any problems by them since the U.S. Government decides FYROM become a NATO member? And also, if you can tell us about the Visa Waiver Program for Greece.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we are still trying to fulfill the requirements. Greece is still working on some of the requirements. We sincerely hope it will happen soon. I think the President said that at the time of the ceremony that he had in – at the White House.

In terms of the – of Macedonia, it is our great hope that this name issue can be resolved. I keep saying quickly – it’s obviously not going to be resolved quickly. But it is important that both sides recognize that whatever happens on the name issue, the real benefit here of the incorporation of Macedonia into NATO – it will benefit NATO, it will benefit Macedonia, it will benefit Greece, it will benefit the Balkans. And so Dan Fried, in particular, has been trying to work with Ambassador Nimetz to get a compromise, and we continue to try to do so.

A couple more? Yeah.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you expect any further initiatives – specific initiatives between now and the end of the Administration on any of the sort of major issues that have been facing you during this time?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don’t know.

QUESTION: And on the North Korea issue, do you expect to have a signed, sealed, delivered verification protocol by the end of that Six-Party meeting that will be agreed upon?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that is the purpose of the meeting. There is no other purpose for the meeting. And so we have had some discussions with all the parties. I had extensive discussions with my Chinese counterpart, as the President did with President Hu, as well as with the South Koreans, the Japanese, and with the Russians. And so this needs to get done. I might just note that the disabling has resumed and it needs to continue to conclusion. But this verification protocol is now the key.

As to other initiatives, look, we continue to work on making certain that the pillars of Annapolis, including what is going on on the ground, are solid and strong and moving forward. Interesting piece in the newspapers this morning about Hebron and the movement of Palestinian forces into Hebron, which I think is something most people didn’t think they would ever see. And we will continue to work on those kinds of issues.

I also am now very actively engaged on the issue – the piracy issue. I had extensive discussions with the Russians, the Chinese, the Panamanians, the – lots of people about the problem that is there with piracy. We will see what more needs to be done through the UN. It’s kind of ironic. Thomas Jefferson came in worried about pirates. It looks like I’m going to leave worried about pirates. But it is seriously an important issue to maintain freedom of navigation of the seas. And some of it, of course, comes – well, most of it comes from the instability in Somalia. So that is also an issue that we’re spending a lot of time on, and how to get a support – peacekeeping support for the forces that are on the ground in Somalia, and those are the Ethiopian, Ugandan, and Burundian forces.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. You had a question here.

QUESTION: I tried to think --

QUESTION: Going back to Annapolis, can you --

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- talk about your meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister this week and give us a sense of where the process stands at this point?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, again, as – there is still a lot that – even in complicated political times that can be done. The Prime Minister continues his discussions with Abu Mazen and the negotiators continue their discussions. And I think they’re continuing to work to narrow differences. They are continuing to have pretty intensive discussions on all of the issues.

They – you may have noticed the release of prisoners that the Prime Minister recently did in terms of the Palestinians. And the work on the ground in terms of the security forces is moving forward, and I think moving forward in a very positive way. So everybody continues to work to deliver on the goals of Annapolis. The political situation, in general, makes it difficult perhaps to finish an agreement, but there is certainly a lot of work that can be done and we’ll see where they are over the next couple of months.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up a bit?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Shimon Peres has been saying publicly that he supports the spirit of this resurrected Saudi peace plan from 2002. Are you getting any sense --

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- that the Israeli Government are at all seriously considering that plan?

SECRETARY RICE: We’re talking about that, because the Arab Peace Initiative – previously the Crown Prince Initiative – does offer a kind of broader framework in which one could understand what needs to be achieved in order to have broad peace in the Middle East, not just the conclusion of a Palestinian-Israeli plan. And I’m very pleased that a lot of good discussions are going on about precisely that, and yes, we are talking about how it might be used.

QUESTION: So you’re supportive of it as it stands?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we’ve been supportive all along. As you remember, the Arab Peace Initiative is one of the elements mentioned in the Annapolis declaration.

Yes.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on Afghanistan --

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- Minister Karzai’s been sharply critical of how the war is being waged. He’s asking why NATO has been unable to defeat the Taliban. He’s asking or suggesting the possibility of setting a definite timeline for the end of the war. And he’s even saying that if he had his way, he would stop American and NATO aircraft from bombing. What’s your response to that?

SECRETARY RICE: I think we have to do – and I’ve had lots of conversations with President Karzai, and I’ve assured him that we too are concerned about what he is concerned about, which is civilian casualties. I think we all understand too that the Taliban operates in a way that puts them in civilian areas, making it difficult to respond to their aggressions.

But there are a number of things that we are doing. You know that there is an Afghan review underway to look at some of our – some of the elements of our policy and to see what we need to do differently and what more we can do to build on what has already been achieved there. I would just note that one of the most important achievements and something that really can be built on is Afghan military forces, the Afghan army, because ultimately, the Taliban is going to also have to be defeated by Afghans. This is not for NATO to do. This is for NATO to do with the Afghan people.

It’s also going to be very important that governance improve, and I understand that there are places where security is prohibitive to get strong governance. But the building of the institutions, the fight against corruption, the work to make sure that ministries are operating, that is work that we need to do in partnership with Afghanistan and in partnership with President Karzai. And I’m quite certain that he is devoted to that goal as well.

And finally, as to a timetable, I don’t think one sets timetables on when wars end. We’d like it to end as soon as possible. And if we do the right things, I think you will see that it will. But I just wanted to note that while there are difficulties in Afghanistan, there are also a lot of assets in Afghanistan to deal with the problem. And one of the things that has changed over the last couple of years that we’re really working very hard on is that clearly, the interaction between Pakistan and Afghanistan, while it is improving at a political level, particularly under President Zardari and President Karzai, the increasing problems in the FATA have created new circumstances for Afghanistan. And getting a hold of that and working with the new Pakistani Government to deal with that space, that geographic space, is extremely urgent and important.

Just a couple of last questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Iran has launched yesterday a new rocket into space. How do you view this new (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t know. And look, the Iranians are launching things all the time. I would hope that they would be instead trying to work toward not being so isolated in the international system. But again, I don’t think anybody – I’ll say the same thing I said about the Western Hemisphere. I don’t think anybody is confused about the balance of power in the Gulf either.

And the United States has had a period of enhancing the capabilities of our allies in the region. You know of a number of the packages, security cooperation packages, to places like UAE, Saudi Arabia, and et cetera. So we have enhanced the – and the Israelis. We have enhanced the capabilities of our allies. The United States has increased its presence in the region. We also have begun to take advantage of the potential of missile defense in the region, and that is probably the best answer to some of these Iranian efforts, is to make certain that we are fully exploiting the technologies and the sophistication that the United States can bring to missile defense into other technological answers to any Iranian buildup.

We also have worked hard to caution states that might sell weapons technology to Iran that it is destabilizing to the region and that it should not be done. And so there’s a program for dealing with the Iranian efforts to – aggressive efforts. But I don’t think we – I think we want to continue on the course that we’re on, which is enhancing the capability of our allies, enhancing our own capabilities, and exploiting the potential for missile defense.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Can we do one on Zimbabwe?

QUESTION: And what do you think of another – another woman succeeding you? What do you think about it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m going to give President-elect Obama the courtesy of waiting until he makes an announcement. And I have heard some names of some great people, and I think that the Department and the country will be in good hands. But I think I’ll wait until there’s an actual announcement on it.

QUESTION: What is your relationship with Hillary Clinton like?

SECRETARY RICE: I told you I was going to wait, Libby, until there’s an actual announcement. Okay? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Have you heard --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the NFL?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know, I will just say this to close. There’s nothing like sitting there in front of the television trying to catch a glimpse of the highlights of your Cleveland Browns, when they actually had won for once, and seeing your name across – yeah, seeing your name crawl across and thinking, but this is ESPN, this isn’t CNN, this isn’t Time. Let me just say that I haven’t had any discussions with the 49ers and affiliates.

QUESTION: One more on Secretary Gates?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: What is your reaction to the news that he may be staying --

SECRETARY RICE: Libby, I’m going to wait until there are announcements, and then I’ll get back to you. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we do one on Zimbabwe, which is a major issue that --

SECRETARY RICE: Sure. I will take one on Zimbabwe. Yeah.

QUESTION: The Foreign Minister of Botswana today said that Zimbabwe’s neighbors should take more forceful action to squeeze Mugabe out of power.

SECRETARY RICE: We would agree.

QUESTION: One – yeah. One of the things he talked about was closing off borders so as to prevent the flow of goods in. Here’s the question. The South Africans have never shown – the South African Government has never shown a willingness to get very hard with Mugabe, and I wonder if you think that the idea of, for example, closing off borders is now something that the neighbors should consider, or that just inflicts --

SECRETARY RICE: I – yeah, look, I don’t – I can’t comment on a proposal of that kind. I think that would be very, very difficult. But I do know that – I would just note that the United States has sought a number of sanctions resolutions in the Security Council. We’ve not been able to do it. We’ve done some, but we’ve not been able to do ones that I think really have teeth. The United States has therefore done a number of things unilaterally. I think that the Europeans have worked very hard at this. There are a number of African states that have spoken out.

But frankly, we need more help from the region. And I think it is short-sighted on the part of the region to let this continue, because it looks to me as if what Mugabe is doing is that he is pulling as much power into his own hands as he possibly can. MDC, I think, is being squeezed out and intimidated. And what started out as power-sharing talks don’t look very promising. And if this goes in that direction, then the impact on South Africa is going to be very great, because you have a lot of displaced people living in South Africa who hope to go home if Zimbabwe becomes more stable. So it is short-sighted for the region to allow Mugabe to do this, and I believe that the region has the capacity to put enough pressure on him to get a reasonable power-sharing arrangement.

QUESTION: How so?

SECRETARY RICE: By making very clear that the region, not just – and by the way, if the region makes it clear, I think they’ll have tougher standards in the – tougher action in the international community as well.

Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) come to Beijing (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: We have – the Chinese have issued an invitation. The United States has accepted.

2008/992

 



Released on November 26, 2008

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