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Interview on NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Madison Room
Washington, DC
April 6, 2006

QUESTION: Okay. First of all, Madame Secretary, you and I were talking just moments ago before we started rolling tape. You are to be commended for taking one of the most harrowing rides on the planet Earth. I'm talking about the airport road in Baghdad. It's something all visitors to Baghdad must do if they don't have air transportation, which was not of course an option to you in the pouring rain. I know you got an idea of just how scary a visit to that place can be.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the road has been better defended, in fact, since the Iraqis have been defending it, which is an interesting point. And indeed, we did run into an Iraqi checkpoint so it shows that they're taking the security seriously. But yes, there's a significant security problem in and around Baghdad and I think everyone understands that. That stands in considerable contrast to the political process that is going on there in which people are taking their own political futures into their hands. And so yes, you have this contrast: You have the security situation which Iraqis are beginning to take under their own control; and then, of course, the political process which is moving forward.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I'll quote for you from The Washington Post, 6th of April, 2006: "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he did not know what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was talking about when she said last week that the U.S. had made thousands of tactical errors in handling the war in Iraq, a statement she later said was meant figuratively." How are things between you and the Secretary of Defense?

SECRETARY RICE: Couldn't be better. I think what the Secretary said was that he hadn't seen what I said. And we were just together at a series of meetings. Look, the statement was indeed a figurative comment. I guess I shouldn't use figures of speech. But the point that I was making to this audience is that it is always hard in great historical events to judge at the moment what might be a mistake and what might not be a mistake. Have mistakes been made? I'm certain that they have. But very often in history, things that looked brilliant at the time turn out to have been mistakes, and things that looked like mistakes turn out to have been brilliant.

The point that I really would like to underscore is that it was not a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It was not a mistake to open up the possibilities of a different kind of Middle East and to give the Iraqi people a chance to build a different and democratic future and then to be a part of that different kind of Middle East.

QUESTION: To your visit to Iraq, Madame Secretary, how much say does the U.S. -- should the U.S. have there, specifically about the governing body, given our investment, our sacrifice in Iraq in lives and dollars?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we certainly have sacrificed treasure and lives, and of course we have supported financially the Iraqi reconstruction. But it has to be for the Iraqis to decide who is going to lead them. It's going to have to be for the Iraqis to decide who is going to be their prime minister. I do think the United States, the American people, the coalition partners, have a right to expect that there will be a government and that there will be a government soon, and the purpose of my trip was to go and urge the rapid formation of a government because we don't want to leave a political vacuum there.

And, Brian, it's not just the American people and coalition that are asking for that government. I was really struck by the degree to which the Iraqi people are demanding that the negotiations end and that a government be formed. They risked a great deal in going out and voting in huge numbers against terrorist threats and now they expect a government to be formed. And in their newly free press, I am told -- I couldn't read the press, but I am told that there were cartoons saying that the politicians need to get busy and form a government. So the impatience is there on the part of the Iraqi people because they need a government that can represent their interests and help them deal with the many challenges that they face.

QUESTION: It was said openly you were in Iraq to talk tough with the Iraqis. Do you think they feel prodded as a result of your visit? The New York Times story today quotes an aide to the man you met with saying, "Pressure from outside is not helping to speed up any solution."

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I hope that they see it as the urging of a friend because, after all, the Iraqis have had no better friend in their march to democracy than the United States. But of course it's important to urge and to prod. They have to have a government and they have to have a government soon because there is a very long list of problems to deal with. The Iraqi people need help to stem what has been a rising tide of violence, sectarian violence, where only the formation of a police force that is responsive to the needs of the Iraqi people, that can only be done when there is a minister of interior who will help to bring about a police force that is going to unite the country. So they need a government that can deal with their many problems, and that's the only thing that I went there to say and that Secretary Straw went there to say.

QUESTION: And if the next step they take is somehow objectionable to you, to your counterpart in the UK, do you -- do we -- have veto power?

SECRETARY RICE: We are not even thinking about veto power, Brian. I don't think it's the right way to think about this. We have given the Iraqi people, through the liberation of that country from Saddam Hussein, an opportunity to exercise their democratic rights. They've exercised those democratic rights three times in elections that by all accounts were extraordinary in this part of the world. In the last election they elected a government and -- they elected representatives who now have to form a government. They have to decide who is going to be in that government. This has to be an Iraqi government. But the international community does have a right to say: You choose the prime minister, but there must be a prime minister and there must be one soon.

QUESTION: Is this all a part of that now well worn expression, "You break it, you buy it"?

SECRETARY RICE: The Iraqis are building a new future. What we've done is to give them an opportunity to build that new future. And, Brian, I know that on our screens every night we see pictures of violence. I know every night we are given stories about the difficulties in Iraq, and it is a difficult situation. But nothing of this historical consequence has ever been born of anything but a struggle. The Iraqi people are struggling toward their new democracy. They're exercising their democratic rights. Yes, there is a really quite daunting security situation, but their security forces are getting stronger. As a matter of fact, that checkpoint that we ran into was an Iraqi checkpoint, Iraqi army forces protecting Baghdad.

And so I think we need to give them our confidence, recognizing that the road to democracy is hard. It was hard for our country. It's been hard for every country that's made that journey. But they are committed to democracy. They are committed to living together in a national unity government and we should support and be confident in their ability to do it.

QUESTION: Has there ever been a single day in Iraq, say a daily death toll, an incident, a bombing, that has shaken you, your confidence in the mission or its ultimate end?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly I have with the President and other members of the Administration mourned every death. But we also know that nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice. And I am confident in the Iraqis' ability to do this because I really do believe that in every human heart there is the desire for freedom and liberty. The Iraqi people now have that chance. And when you see what they've already achieved, when you watched that election with 11 million Iraqis going to vote despite the terrorist threats against them, when you see that school children are now going to school in new schools that have been built for them by the coalition, or when you look at Iraqi political leaders struggling toward their freedom or members of the free Iraqi press asking very difficult questions of their government and also their foreign visitors like me or like Secretary Straw, you gain a confidence.

It's one reason that I like to be in Iraq. Back here in Washington, it's sometimes hard to keep the pulse of a country that is going through such a struggle but on the other hand is still making progress. And when you're in Iraq, you feel it. You feel that these people are determined, they're tough and they're going to make it.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, all of us who have flown into combat zones, yourself included, know we have to give up some luxuries either en route or when we arrive. That in mind, is it true you slept on the floor of the aircraft, giving the only bed to your counterpart from Great Britain, Jack Straw?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it was what a good hostess should do; isn't that right? Yeah, I did. But I had very comfortable accommodations myself. I slept very well and got to Baghdad in good shape.

QUESTION: Is it also true he was horrified when he awoke and realized what the deal had been?

SECRETARY RICE: He was. I didn't tell him because I didn't want an argument over whether it was the right thing to do. But it was a great trip and Britain is a terrific friend, and Jack Straw is a great friend and a great counterpart in this because Great Britain and its people have also sacrificed a lot. They remember that the United States came to their aid when their democracy was under threat and they've now come to the aid of the Iraqi people in their search for democracy. I can think of no better partner in this challenge and yet in this opportunity than Great Britain and indeed Jack Straw.

QUESTION: Finally, Madame Secretary, I'll quote from the Associated Press: "Just this afternoon, Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide told prosecutors President Bush authorized the leak of sensitive intelligence information about Iraq." My question I'd like to frame this way for our viewers who will hear about this story tonight and follow it in coming days and weeks: Could this be true?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, this is an ongoing criminal investigation and criminal case and so I don't think it's appropriate that I comment about this. We've all cooperated with the investigator and I'm certain that he'll establish the facts.

QUESTION: And one more to round up the subject of Iraq. Do you see the glass as half full or half empty these days? You've talked about the drumbeat on this broadcast and others. While it is true we don't report when a car successfully makes it from Point A to Point B in Baghdad, we report when it blows up en route. Do you still have the confidence you had the day the statue was toppled in the U.S. effort and the ultimate goal?

SECRETARY RICE: I have great confidence in the Iraqi people and the ultimate goal of the establishment of a democracy in Iraq. It's going to take some time and our job is to help to lay the fundamentals so that that democracy can grow and proceed.

But I have confidence because the Iraqi people have demonstrated time and time again that they are desirous of this. That's why they went to vote in large numbers, including almost 11 million strong despite terrorist threats that if they voted they would die.

I have confidence because I have watched Iraqi leaders every time they've been confronted with a challenge that might tear them apart, like the Samarra bombing, that instead they've come together and reaffirmed their wish and their desire to indeed have a government of national unity.

And I am confident because I know that in the hearts of every human being, in the heart of every human being, there beats a desire for the human dignity that comes with liberty, with democracy, with the ability to say what you think and worship as you please and to educate your boys and your girls. And because I know that that is indeed a universal value and I see the Iraqis responding to it, I have enormous confidence that they are going to come through what is obviously a difficult struggle, what is obviously a struggle in which violent people are trying to throw them off course, but it's a struggle that they seem to believe is worth it and that we should, too.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you've been very generous with your time today. Thank you very much for joining us.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, Brian. It was great to be with you.

QUESTION: I would only ask the next time you fly our producer, Libby Leist, into a war zone, you let her pack some more appropriate clothing -- the poor kid.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, people are getting used to going any and every where on my flights. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I guess so. Thank you very much. Good to see you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. You, too.


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