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Interview on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
March 26, 2006

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, welcome back to Late Edition.

SECRETARY RICE: Great to be with you.

QUESTION: Let's talk about Afghanistan for a moment. Abdul Rahman, this Muslim man. He converted years ago to Christianity. He's now potentially facing the death sentence in Afghanistan because of that. Is that why the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, so this kind of situation could develop?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've been very clear with the Afghan Government that it has to understand the vital importance of religious freedom to democracy. We have religious freedom as a cornerstone in the United States of our democracy and it is a cornerstone anyplace, religious conscience. In fact, the Afghans themselves in their own constitution have enshrined, through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a right to individual conscience and freedom, religious freedom.

And so, we're working with the Afghan Government. We've made clear that we expect to see a favorable resolution of this. I've talked myself to President Karzai and I think the Afghan Government is working on this problem.

QUESTION: Even as we speak right now, there were reports he might be released. He might be declared insane, not capable of withstanding a trial. What's the latest information you have from the Government of Afghanistan?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I've seen reports, Wolf, but I'm really working from largely press reports too, that they may dismiss the case for reasons having to do with the judicial nature of the case.

We have to understand -- and we do want a favorable resolution of this. Mr. Rahman should not face these charges. There should be a resolution of this case. But this is also a young democracy, and we have to recognize that unlike the Taliban, it actually has a constitution to which one can appeal about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We, as Americans, know that in democracy as it evolves, there are difficult issues about state and church or in this case, state and mosque. But there are difficult issues about the rights of the individual.

And so we expect that, given our own history, that we would know that Afghans are going to have to go through this evolution. But we're going to stand firm for the principle that religious freedom and freedom of religious conscience need to be upheld, and we are hoping for a favorable resolution in this case very soon.

QUESTION: You've referred now to the Afghan constitution. Let me read what Article Three of the Afghan constitution says: "In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." That would be Sharia, the Islamic law. That raises the question whether or not Sharia trumps the -- all the other provisions of that constitution.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the constitution also says that people should have certain individual rights, including freedom of conscience on issues of this kind. There are undoubtedly, as Afghan democracy evolves, there are going to be cases, there are going to be debates. They are going to have to go through a period of coming to terms with one of the most difficult and emotional issues that any society deals with and that's the relationship between religion and politics. We've been through the debate. We go through it still today. Other countries went through it in a much more violent way, democratic countries, earlier in their histories. But we need to stay focused on how much progress Afghanistan has made in four years that you don't have a Taliban, where it isn't even permitted to talk about these issues.

QUESTION: It's probably no coincidence that the same provision that's in the Afghan constitution is in the Iraqi constitution, probably because Zalmay Khalilzad helped draft the Afghan constitution, and he also worked with the Iraqis on the Iraqi constitution, which Article Two states, "No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established."

Here's the question: Could you envisage the same kind of situation developing in Iraq, whereby a Muslim man converts to Christianity and faces the death sentence in Iraq because of Sharia law?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, this clause or (inaudible), this is not unique to the Iraqi and Afghan constitutions. And so I wouldn't say that just because Zal Khalilzad was involved in both. All of these countries are trying to come to terms with the laws of Islam and the laws of modern democracy, if you will, having to do with individual liberty and individual conscience. It's happening, and it's going to happen, across the Middle East. We -- we should be fortunate and be pleased that these debates are taking place and that they're taking place in a constitutional context. Iraq is a very different place. Iraq, in fact, has practicing Christian populations and has had those practicing Christian populations for a long time. It's a much different mix of people and traditions.

But I want to go back to what the United States will continue to fend for, and that is that religious freedom is the bedrock of democracy. We will, as we do around the world, continue to press that case with our allies like Afghanistan and like Iraq. We need to understand that...

QUESTION: Let me -- excuse me for interrupting.


QUESTION: In Saudi Arabia, you can't be a Christian, either.

SECRETARY RICE: We are going to continue to press what we believe needs to be a principle that is universal, that people have the right to religious conscience. But again, Wolf, these are evolutionary democracies. They're democracies in transition. Let me just remind everyone that, in my lifetime, we were still trying to get to the place where the vote was assured, even though it was enshrined in the Constitution, that the vote was really assured for American blacks in the South. And so we should be humbled about what it takes to evolve to a completely functioning democracy.

QUESTION: Let's talk about Iraq, specifically the formation of a government of national unity. Is that happening?

SECRETARY RICE: The Iraqis are working on a government of national unity.
They're doing it, to be sure, more slowly than we would hope. And we've pressed that they need to -- to expedite because of the potential for a political vacuum.

But if you look at what they're doing, they are not, as I've sometimes read, dividing the spoils of who's going to get what job. They are very involved in trying to deal with some of the most sensitive and existential issues for the new Iraq as they begin to put together a program by which the national government, the government of national unity, would actually govern.

They're putting together the rules of how they will govern, how they'll relate to each other and to different institutions. And they are going to be selecting people for particular slots.

But this is the first time that Shia, Sunni and Kurds have really had a chance to sit down and talk to each other about these very difficult issues.

QUESTION: You want -- do you want someone other than Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be the prime minister?

SECRETARY RICE: This is something the Iraqis have got to determine. They've got to determine whether or not it is possible to achieve a government of national unity with that particular candidate. The Shia do not have enough votes to govern on their own. And so they have to bring into coalition others from -- who won in the electoral process. That is what they're doing, and I think they're doing a remarkable job. Were it not for the overhang of violence, it would not be in the least bit surprising that it is taking them some time to do it. The only reason that people are pressing them to get it done more quickly is that there is a violent insurgency that might try to take advantage of the period of time in which there isn't a government.

QUESTION: Here's what Republican Senator Chuck Hagel said a week ago today, Republican senator from Nebraska:

"Are we better off today than we were three years ago? Is the Middle East more stable than it was three years ago? Absolutely not. It's more unstable."

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the question is not just is it unstable but is it moving in a better direction than it was when it was supposedly stable? We thought it was stable for 60 years. And those authoritarian governments on which we counted for stability ended up producing an ideology of hatred or allowing an ideology of hatred so great to form and form terrorist groups that people flew planes into our buildings on September 11.

QUESTION: Are you referring to Saudi Arabia?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm talking about the entire Middle East. If you look at al-Qaida, you will find names from many of the governments in...

QUESTION: Well, 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you'll also find that there are names from many other countries in the region, so the authoritarianism that we associated with stability was, indeed, a false stability. Sixty years of that policy produced not just September 11 but the Cole and the bombings of our embassies, going all the way, really, frankly, back to the bombings of the '80s, the terrorist attacks of the '80s.

So when people say is it more stable today, I think the question is not stable. The question is, are we moving in a direction in which Kuwaiti women now have the right to vote, in which Syrian forces are out of Lebanon and they are going to be able to work democratically, in which Yasser Arafat's corrupt regime is, indeed, gone. And yes, that's produced a difficult circumstance with Hamas, but Palestinians have had the chance, the right to speak their minds about who will govern them.

The point, Wolf, is that we had a false stability. It is not as if we disturbed a prosperous and functioning Middle East --

QUESTION: I just want to press you on that point.

SECRETARY RICE: -- in which security interests were not at risk.

QUESTION: Did Saddam Hussein and his regime have anything to do with 9/11?

SECRETARY RICE: Saddam Hussein, and we have said this many times, as far as we know, did not order September 11, may not have even known of September 11. But that's a very narrow definition of what caused September 11. If you think that what caused September 11 was that the people who flew airplanes in caused September 11 then, no, Iraq has no relationship. But if you think that this was a broader problem of an ideology of hatred, of terrorism becoming an acceptable means in places where there was a freedom deficit and there was no possibility for legitimate political discourse, then you realize that you have to have a different kind of Middle East. And a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein at the middle of it is unthinkable.

QUESTION: Our recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll asks this question: Was the situation in Iraq worth going to war over? Only 37 percent of the American public said yes. That's way down from the 60s, 70s, 80 percent three years ago.

SECRETARY RICE: I understand that the American people see on their screens
violence. I understand that the American people are concerned, as are we, by
the loss of life of Americans, coalition and Iraqis. But I would not count on a poll to try and determine how the future of the Middle East is going to turn out when there's an Iraq with a national unity government and an Iraq that can form a different and a different core for a different kind of Middle East. You can't measure that in a poll.

I think it's fair to say, Wolf, that if you look at any big historical change in the world, it has been turbulent and it's been difficult. And there have been times when it looked as if it was not going well or as planned. But you have to step back and ask what was the alternative? Was the alternative really to leave a Middle East with authoritarian, repressive governments, with a Saddam Hussein who threatened his neighbors and threatened our interests or did you have to act? And this president believed it was time to act.

QUESTION: Is there evidence that the Iranian Government is supporting the largely Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: We are concerned about reports and activities that we see of Iranians, particularly in the south, with militias. And one of the subjects that we would, of course, talk with the Iranians about if Zalmay Khalilzad meets with his counterpart would be, about this kind of security problem. Zal has had these authorities for a long time.

QUESTION: To talk to Iranians?

SECRETARY RICE: On these very specific issues concerning Iraq. He has the authorities in Afghanistan to talk with the Iranians about security issues in Afghanistan. And Ron Neumann, by the way, our new ambassador to Afghanistan, continues to have those authorities. So that is the kind of nature of the issue that would be addressed.

QUESTION: Has either one of those ambassadors met with Iranians?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there has -- Ron Neumann has met with his counterpart. Zal met with his counterpart.

QUESTION: When did that happen?

SECRETARY RICE: It was several months ago, but we will see when it is desirable to do so again.

QUESTION: Because I think you're making some news. There have been direct contacts between the United States officials and Iranian officials --

SECRETARY RICE: No. Let's not say officials, because I want to be very clear. I want to be very clear --

QUESTION: Is the Iranian Ambassador in Afghanistan an official?

SECRETARY RICE: You're using an "s", a plural.

QUESTION: All right.

SECRETARY RICE: The Ambassador in Afghanistan has the authority to meet with the Ambassador from Iran in Afghanistan, and I believe he has done that on one occasion. The Ambassador in Iraq, Zal Khalilzad, has the authority and has had for some time, to meet with his counterpart in Iraq. When we are that close to --

QUESTION: They haven't met yet?

SECRETARY RICE: They have not --

QUESTION: Khalilzad --

SECRETARY RICE: -- had that meeting. When we are that close to the Iranian border and when we have concerns, we have found it useful to have these narrow and limited discussions about Iraq or about Afghanistan. In Afghanistan they also take place under the auspices of the UN, which is the case when Ron Neumann met with his counterpart.

QUESTION: Is there evidence that the Government of Iran is supporting or harboring al-Qaida operatives in Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, again, we've had concerns and we've made them known to the Iranians through various channels, that there are, in fact, maybe al-Qaida in Iran and we've made clear to them that we would expect to have those people handed over. We don't know the extent of it, but, yes, there are reasons for concern on that score.

QUESTION: What about the Russian role right now in getting a UN Security Council resolution that would threaten Iran and its nuclear program? Right now there seems to be a disconnect between the U.S. position on the one hand and the Russian position on the other.

SECRETARY RICE: The United States and Russia and the Europeans, by the way, and let me remind everyone that it's the United States and the Europeans who are doing this together, so it's not correct to say the United States and the Russians. The United States and Europe are with Russia in agreement that Iran needs to do what was required of it in the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency's resolution of February 4th. That resolution said that Iran needed to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities and return to negotiations and cooperate fully with the IAEA. We have complete agreement on that. In fact, the Russians voted for that resolution.

Now the question is: what tactics do we use now that we're in the Security Council to get the Iranians to come to terms with what they must do? On that we have had some differences and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and I spoke on Friday. We agreed that our people would get together this weekend and continue those efforts to bridge that difference. But we shouldn't delay. We do need a presidential statement that makes clear to the Iranians what is clear to everyone; everyone is in agreement on what they need to do. But we do have some tactical disagreements about language.

QUESTION: Did the Russians have a mole inside the U.S. military Central Command on the eve of the war three years ago, providing information about U.S. military troop movements in Iraq directly to Saddam Hussein's government?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have obviously seen the reports as well, and we're going to take a good hard look at the documentation. We certainly will raise it with the Russian Government and any implication that there were those from a foreign government who may have been passing information to the Iraqis prior to the invasion, would be, of course, very worrying. And we will talk to the Russians. I would think the Russians would want to take that very seriously as well.

QUESTION: But you haven't raised that with the Russians?

SECRETARY RICE: We're going to take a good hard look at the documentation and understand a little bit better what's there and then we'll raise it.

QUESTION: We're almost out of time, but a few other issues I just want to go through very quickly: the Israeli elections happening this coming Tuesday. Ehud Olmert, the
Acting Prime Minister, widely expected to be elected the next Prime Minister of Israel, says that he's going to seek U.S. approval for future Israeli unilateral steps, withdrawal steps, disengagement steps from the West Bank, removing some of the settlements in the isolated parts of the West Bank. Is that something that the U.S. would support?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all the Israelis will have their elections and that's a matter for the Israelis. Once that is done, we will of course engage with the Israeli Government in discussions about how we move forward. I would note that the unilateral withdrawal, disengagement from Gaza ended up turning over to the Palestinians territory for the first time in the 30-some years of this conflict and that was a good thing. We will see what the Israeli Government has in mind, but I think it's premature to make any judgment about what that might be.

QUESTION: The President meets this week with the leaders of Canada and Mexico immigration, illegal immigration in the United States -- a big issue. The House passed legislation which would make it a felony for an illegal immigrant in the United States simply to be here. Is that something the Bush Administration supports?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President has very clearly stated the principles on which we would work to try and get a more humane and effective immigration law. And those principles include that we really must, of course, defend our border and we've put a lot of money into border security. The State Department has enhanced its request for border security. We are obviously determined that U.S. laws should be enforced.

It's also the case that we have a population here that needs to be treated humanely. No matter how they came here, I think Americans want to think that people would be treated humanely, and the President has talked about a temporary worker program that would allow people to -- who have work that Americans will not do, to find a way to be legally in the country. But the President is always going to stand against amnesty, and the reason that he stands against amnesty is because our laws do need to be respected, our borders do need to be respected.

And one of the points that I made, Wolf, to the Mexican Government when they were here -- I'd met with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Derbez, and Mike Chertoff met with his counterpart -- is that we need the Mexican Government and expect the Mexican Government also to recognize the importance of defense of the borders and of American laws, and we were assured by our counterparts that Mexico understands its responsibilities, our shared responsibility for safety and security at the border and also for humane treatment of people, whoever they are.

QUESTION: We are all out of time, but I have to ask you about the NFL, your passion. This is what you told Ebony magazine, July 26th, 2005. "If that job comes open, I'm gone."


QUESTION: That job has come open.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, a little too soon, I'm afraid. As I was saying earlier, you know, I'm going to have to let this ship pass. If they'd have me -- but the fact is, I'm Secretary of State. I love being Secretary of State, and there's always the next time on other jobs.

QUESTION: Well, speaking of other jobs, the First Lady told our Larry King Friday she would love you to run for president of the United States in 2008. Listen to this little clip from Laura Bush.

"She'd make an excellent president, but I don't think we can talk her into running."

QUESTION: Can she talk you into running?

SECRETARY RICE: The second part of that's right.

QUESTION: Why not?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Wolf, I know what I want to do with my life, and I know what my strengths are. And I have enormous respect for people who run for office, but I love being Secretary of State. I think I'm fortunate to be here at a time that is consequential, and hopefully we will make some progress on some of these very important issues while I'm here. But I know what I want to do, and I'm going to be back at Stanford, and who knows maybe there will be other great jobs, like the NFL job.

QUESTION: You're still a very young woman.

SECRETARY RICE: Still young, but I know what I -- well, thanks, I appreciate that.


QUESTION: Thank you very much for joining us, Madame Secretary, and good luck to you.



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