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Interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
March 26, 2006

QUESTION: And we're joined now by the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Secretary Rice, welcome back to Fox News Sunday.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you, Chris. Good to be with you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Let's start with Abdul Rahman, the Afghan who was being prosecuted for converting to Christianity, as we say. His case apparently was dropped this morning. What do you know?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't have independent confirmation, Chris, of that news report but I do know that the Afghan Government was working on it, that they were looking at the judicial case here and that they were working very hard to try and resolve it in a favorable manner. So I hope that, in fact, this has been done.

QUESTION: If that is the case, if it is dropped, but not dropped because it's just wrong to prosecute somebody for exercising freedom of religion but, rather, because of technical flaws, lack of information, he's mentally incompetent. Does that end the controversy? Are you satisfied with that outcome?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think the question of mental incompetence, as far as I understand, has not been raised here, that this is really about the case itself. This is a complicated situation. We have been very clear with the Afghan Government that the freedom of religion and the freedom of religious conscience is at the core of democratic development. They have constitutional expectations and have been written in that they will, in fact, live up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which protects individual conscience on religion. So I do understand that they need to get through this case.

The fact is, Chris, this is a young democracy. It's a young democracy that now does have a constitution that is in accordance with the modern age. But of course, they're going to have difficulties and conflicts. There are going to be cases that are going to go one way or another. What we have to do is stand with the Afghans to continue to insist on the principle and to help them work through some of these contradictions. There's never been a democratic constitution including ours, by the way, where we didn't have to have struggles and debates about constitutional interpretation.

QUESTION: So assuming that the reports are right and that the case is dropped for technical reasons, your reaction is?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would hope that, in fact, if that's the case that the Afghan Government has done that, would be a very good step forward. It would be a very good step forward. Obviously, there will continue to be discussions in Afghanistan and between Afghanistan and the international community about the importance of religious freedom, about importance of adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But we have to recognize that this is an evolutionary process. This isn't the Taliban. We had no constitution to which to appeal or the people of Afghanistan had no constitution to which to appeal. So Afghanistan's made a lot of progress in four years and we need to keep that in mind.

QUESTION: Let's turn to Iraq and the military situation there. Much was made this week of a statement by the President that the decision on pulling the last troops out of Iraq will be made by future presidents, meaning it would be made after he left office in 2008. On the other hand, that doesn't say that there won't be significant drawdowns this year. What do you think is the likelihood that there will be a significant pullout of troops, U.S. troops, before the end of 2006?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, as General Casey has said, if Iraqi forces continue to develop in the way that they have: they're taking and holding territory; they performed very well in the light of this recent sectarian violence, the Army did, then it is entirely likely that there will be drawdowns of American forces over this next year. It's conditions-based and no one wants to make any definitive statement because, of course, you want to know the conditions. But the Iraqi forces are making a lot of progress and the political system is making progress.

I know it's slower than we would like it to be. But for the first time, Sunnis and Shia and the Kurds and others are sitting down and they're working toward a government of national unity and that also is an important part of the picture as to why the stability in this country will grow.

QUESTION: I want to talk to you about the political situation. They held elections there on December 15th and you came on Fox News Sunday, three days later, and we talked about this. Let's listen to what you had to say.

"When you talk to Iraqis they recognize that they need to sustain the momentum out of this election. They need to sustain it because of the insurgency and the terrorists and they need to get a strong message that the political system is moving forward."

But Secretary Rice, today, almost three and a half months after those elections, they still don't have a government. They haven't sustained the momentum in the way that you were talking about there. Why shouldn't Americans be outraged that while U.S. troops fight and die, and in fact, since December 15th, 173 of them have been killed, Iraqi politicians are haggling about jobs?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think, Chris, that is not the way to characterize what they're doing. What the Iraqis are doing, the Iraqi leaders are doing, is they're sitting down to form a government of national unity. Now whenever there's an election and you have to form a government of national unity and no one can form a government on their own -- no one got enough votes to form a government on their own -- there are going to be negotiations and sometimes protracted negotiations. That's not unknown in the West. What the Iraqis are also doing, though, is that they are developing a program by which this national government will actually govern. They are developing rules and institutions that they will use to govern and they are looking at what jobs will be held by whom. So this is a complicated process that is likely to push them very much further forward once it is completed, than just having people identified as prime minister and defense minister and so forth.

We have to understand that because the Sunnis had not been a part of the process, really at the time even that the constitution was written, they have some very important, really even existential issues that they are trying to deal with and they're grappling with some of those during this period. They need to be able to talk to one and other.

Now everybody is putting considerable pressure on the Iraqis to get this done and to get it done quickly. But we do have to understand what's really going on here. They're not just dividing up jobs. They really are developing a program by which they will govern and they are creating the institutions by which they will govern.

QUESTION: Secretary, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the following this week, and let's put it up on the screen.

"Where is Condoleezza Rice? Why isn't she over in the Middle East, as the chief diplomat of this country should be, trying to get the political forces to form a government over there?"

I know you've got a strong ambassador in Iraq, but at a time when everyone says that forming a government of unity could help stabilize the security situation over there, shouldn't the Secretary of State go to Iraq and directly confront these politicians and say, "Get it done?"

SECRETARY RICE: Chris, first of all, we do have a very good ambassador there with whom I speak every morning about what he needs to move the process forward, but Iraqis need to talk to each other. They don't need to talk to me; they need to talk to each other about what the future and we have countries --

QUESTION: But don't they have a stake in this? I mean --

SECRETARY RICE: of course --

QUESTION: -- we have 133,000 troops over there.

SECRETARY RICE: Of course, we have a stake in this, but we also have a stake in an outcome for this national government that will be stable and sustainable. And that means that they have to work through some of these difficult issues. Now, if I thought for one minute that it would make a difference for me to get on a plane and go to Iraq and sit with them to do this, I would do it. But that is not what they need at this point. What they need at this point is to work through these issues, work through them quickly. Zal Khalilzad is providing all of the support.

QUESTION: Yes, the U.S. ambassador --

SECRETARY RICE: The U.S. ambassador is providing all the support that they need to do their job. And when it is time for the United States to intervene at my level, I'm quite certain that I can assure you that we will. But right now, Iraqis need to talk to Iraqis and come to terms with some of these extremely difficult issues.

QUESTION: Different issue related to Iraq. There's a Pentagon report out this week that during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that Russians apparently were able to get information about U.S. war plans from sources in U.S. Central Command and pass those on to the Iraqis. Do you believe that to be true?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't have any reason to doubt or confirm the report at this point. I do think we have to look at the documents and look very carefully. I will tell you that we take very seriously any suggestion that a foreign government may have passed information to the Iraqis prior to the American invasion that might have put our troops in danger. Of course, that's a serious matter and we will raise it with the Russian Government. I do think we owe it to everyone to take a hard look at the reports and to really understand what's there.

QUESTION: Now I want to -- because some of the information turned out to be true, some of it turned out not to be true. As National Security Advisor at the time, did you know this was going on? Was this, in effect, perhaps a way to spread disinformation to Saddam Hussein?

SECRETARY RICE: I knew nothing of -- to my recollection, I knew nothing of these reports at the time that I was National Security Advisor. But I think we have to look at the reports and, indeed, raise it with the Russian Government. And I would hope the Russian Government will take very seriously any such charges.

QUESTION: Now you say "raise it with the Russian Government," assuming that it's true --


QUESTION: -- but do you protest? How big a deal is this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I -- let's see what's there and let's talk with the Russian Government. I would not jump to the conclusion that this if, indeed, the reports are true that it had to be Moscow directed. So let's take a look and let's talk with the Russian Government about it. But I would think this is something that the Russian Government would take very seriously as well.

QUESTION: Speaking of the Russians, they continue to block a statement coming out of the UN, in effect, saying to the Iranians knock it off - with their program to enrich uranium. Are you prepared to step up the pressure on Moscow to try to get -- at a time when the Iranians are defying the world's will?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Iranians are defying the world's will. And the international community needs to speak and speak with one voice. We and the Russians and the Europeans and others have the same view that was expressed in the Board of Governors resolution on February 4th from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and that is that Iran needs to suspend its enrichment activities and return to negotiation. Nobody believes that Iran should have enrichment and reprocessing capability on its territory because that is easily transferable or easily convertible into the technology to make a weapon. And so we have agreement on what Iran must do.

There are some tactical issues about how best to express that. I spoke with Sergey Lavrov, my counterpart, Russian counterpart, on Friday. We agreed that our people would work through this weekend -- I think they're going to meet later today -- to try and resolve these differences because we do need to speak and speak with one voice. The Security Council brings a weight to allowing the IAEA to do its job. The IAEA has to continue to do this work because it's the technically competent agency. But the Security Council can lend weight to what the IAEA is doing.

QUESTION: I want to turn to a difficult subject. I'm sure you heard this week that a radio host in St. Louis made a racial slur in talking about your becoming possibly the NFL Commissioner and he was immediately fired for that. As someone who grew up in the segregated South, are you surprised that in the year 2006 this kind of thing still happens?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first let me say that my understanding is that he apologized, said he didn't mean it. I accept that because we all say things from time to time that we shouldn't say or didn't mean to say, and so I accept it.

We all carry, I think, deep scars of how the United States came into being with slavery as an initial birth defect for this country, of years and years of racial separation, of racial tension, of years and years of not being able to come to terms with what "we the people" really meant. And what it says to me is that even mature democracies like the United States, we still have our difficulties. And it reminds me that when people say, "Well, why haven't the Iraqis achieved this or why haven't the Afghans achieved this," maybe Americans should be a little bit more humble about how hard it is to build democracy, particularly to build multi-ethnic democracy.

QUESTION: How serious a problem do you think this country still has with racism?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I think the United States still bears the scars of our founding and still bears the scars of how hard it has been to come -- to overcome it. But, Chris, anyone who says that we haven't come a very, very long way and that for the most part Americans interact with each other as Americans, I think is also not giving you the full picture.

I was just recently in Australia and I noted for the students in Australia that should I serve to the end of my term, it would have been 12 years since there was a white man as Secretary of State in the United States. Given our history, we've come a long way.

QUESTION: Finally, and you'd be disappointed if I didn't, our 2008 question because it's who we are and it's Sunday morning. Laura Bush, the First Lady, said about you on Friday and let's put it up on the screen.

"She'd make an excellent president, but I don't think we can talk her into running. I think she sincerely does not want to run, but I wish she would."

A couple of questions. First of all, have you ever discussed the idea of a presidential run with Laura Bush?

SECRETARY RICE: I've generally said to the First Lady, who is a dear friend as well, exactly what she said, that it's not something I want to do.

QUESTION: Has she urged you to do it?

SECRETARY RICE: No. We've not had discussions at that level. I think my friends know that I see my life differently and I know that there's a lot of speculation, there's maybe going to continue to be a lot of speculation. But I know what I want to do with my life and that isn't it.

QUESTION: And what do you say to the First Lady, who may be watching this morning, about her wish, despite all of this, that you run for president?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm really honored that she would think so. But I know that we're going to -- whatever happens in 2008, we're going to have a good candidate in the Republican Party. We're going to elect a good president and, like all Americans, I'll be there to try to support them.

QUESTION: But it won't be you?

SECRETARY RICE: Won't be me.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, as always, a pleasure. Thank you for coming in today. Pleasure to have you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. A pleasure to be with you.


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