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Interview on CNN Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
April 30, 2006

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to Late Edition.

SECRETARY RICE: A pleasure to be with you, Wolf.

QUESTION: Welcome back from your overseas trip. The Secretary of State, the former Secretary of State, your predecessor, Colin Powell, has made some news suggesting that he thought the U.S. should have gone into Iraq with a much larger force. Listen to what the former Secretary said:

"And the President's military advisors felt that the size of the force was adequate. And they may still feel that years later. Some of us don't. I don't. And I have said that. But at the time, the President was listening to those who were supposed to be providing him military advice."

Now, you were the National Security Advisor during those days. Did Colin Powell, the retired former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, make the case that there should be a more robust U.S. military invasion?

SECRETARY RICE: I just want to underscore what Secretary Powell said, which is that the President had military advisors who looked at the war plan, who decided that they had a certain number of troops that were needed to execute the war plan. The President listened to his advisors, he listened to those who were to execute the war plan and he made the decision on that basis.

I do remember that the President had a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in which he asked are we adequately resourced to execute this plan, and they said yes. That's the way it works. The President listened to the military advisors who gave him those numbers.

QUESTION: But can you confirm that Colin Powell dissented from that opinion?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't remember specifically what Secretary Powell may be referring to, but I'm quite certain that there were lots of discussions about how best to fulfill the mission when we went into Iraq. And I have no doubt that all of this was taken into consideration but that when it came down to it, the President listened to his military advisors who were to execute the plan.

QUESTION: To General Tommy Franks, who was then the overall commander?

SECRETARY RICE: That's right.

QUESTION: And the other commanders, General John Abizaid, General Casey --


QUESTION: They all said that the troop level was fine.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. I think General Casey was not -- was not yet in that chain, but General Franks was, of course, the commander on the ground and there was also a session with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The President listened to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is his principal military advisor, and of course the Secretary of Defense. And I do remember that the question was asked, do we have what we need to execute this plan, do we have everything that we need? The President asked that time and time again and he was told yes.

QUESTION: Clearly that plan was fine for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but with hindsight it clearly was not fine for the post invasion, for the occupation, if you will, that there weren't enough troops to get that job done. Will you acknowledge that that was a mistake?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the stability operations, that is, after Saddam Hussein, were also considered as a part of this plan and those troop numbers were also set by military commanders. I've said many times, Wolf, we will go back at some point in time and I'm sure others will, too, examine what we might have done differently, what might have been better. That's the way big operations are. But there would have also been potentially a lot of problems with a very, very big footprint of coalition forces at the time of the liberation of Iraq.

And so our goal now, every day now, is to get up and to make certain that we're doing what we need to do to move this process forward, to help the Iraqis secure themselves. What is very clear now is that the goal is to train Iraqi security forces so that they can take up these responsibilities.

QUESTION: You caused a stir at the end of March when you said these words in England. Listen to what you said:

"I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I'm sure. This could have gone that way or that could have gone that way. But when you look back in history, what will be judged is did you make the right strategic decisions."

That was on March 31st. A few days later, on April 4th, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, said this:

"I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest. If you had a static situation and you made a mistake in how you addressed the static situation, that would be one thing. What you have here is not a static situation. You have a dynamic situation with an enemy that thinks, uses their brain, constantly adjusts and therefore our commanders have to constantly make tactical adjustments."

I know you later clarified that to say you were speaking not necessarily literally but symbolically, but there were plenty of military personnel officers who thought you were belittling them by talking about the tactical mistakes while acknowledging -- while not acknowledging a major strategic mistake in the size of the force.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, nothing could be further from the truth. I have enormous --

QUESTION: You've heard that criticism?

SECRETARY RICE: I've heard that. And perhaps it's the use of the word "tactical." But people should remember that tactical doesn't necessarily mean military. You can make tactical political mistakes as well, not just tactical military mistakes.

And so the point that I was making -- and by the way, I also say that I have done this a thousand times and I also don't mean that I've done it a thousand times. This was a figure of speech to acknowledge that, of course, there are things that could have gone better.

QUESTION: Like what? Like what? What were some of the tactical mistakes?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm quite -- if you listened to that whole -- not just the quip that you played but the rest of that, the point was that when we go back and look we will be able to determine what we could have done better and what might have been done well. Because what we know -- I'm enough of a historian to know that things that at the time seemed like they were brilliant decisions later on turn out to have been mistakes, and things that at the time looked like they were mistakes turn out to have been the right decision.

And so the whole point of that comment was that when I'm back at Stanford and when we have time to have the perch of history to look at what happened, we'll know how this might have gone better. But what we do know is that in overthrowing Saddam Hussein we've given the Iraqi people an opportunity for a different kind of life, for a different kind of Iraq. That gives the entire Middle East an opportunity for a different kind of Middle East and that was the right decision.

QUESTION: I want to fast-forward to what's happening right now in Iraq. But do you ever wake up over these past three years and say to yourself, I wish we would have done it differently, I wish we would have maybe prevented going in, used the sanctions, used the weapons inspectors now that you know there were no weapons of mass destruction?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I simply don't believe that Saddam Hussein was ever going to come clean with the international community. I don't think we were ever going to resolve the dozen -- the 16 resolutions that the Security Council had put before him.

You know, Wolf, at the time, you had a certain set of facts, which was that Saddam Hussein had been asked repeatedly about his weapons of mass destruction programs. I remember Hans Blix saying that mustard gas is not marmalade, you're supposed to know what you did with it. And Saddam Hussein wouldn't tell anyone what he had done with these weapons of mass destruction.

We were still in a state of suspended war with him in which we were trying to fly no-fly zones -- our pilots were -- in order to keep him from threatening his neighbors and threatening his own people. He was shooting at our aircraft.

You know, people in hindsight now create a world that simply wasn't there.

QUESTION: But in hindsight, you now know a lot that you didn't know then --

SECRETARY RICE: But, Wolf, you don't make decisions in hindsight. You make them at the time.

QUESTION: Do you regret the decisions you made?

SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely not. I think that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the right thing for a whole variety of reasons, not just the fact that he had used weapons of mass destruction before, not just the fact that he was manipulating the sanctions -- by the way, making the sanctions very hard on his own people but essentially manipulating the Oil-for-Food program to the point that it was having no effect on the regime -- not to mention that he continued to be a threat in the region, not to mention that he supported terrorists in the region. It was absolutely the right decision to finally deal with this threat in the midst of the world's most volatile region.


SECRETARY RICE: And now we have an opportunity to see this volatile region change. That is something that not only do I not regret; I'm very glad we did it.

QUESTION: Hearing what the Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwafaq al-Rubaie said on Friday:

"We have a roadmap, a condition-based agreement where by the end of this year the number of coalition forces probably will be less than 100,000, by the end of next year the overwhelming majority of coalition forces would have left the country, and probably by middle of 2008 there will be no foreign soldiers in the country."

Right now, about 130,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. Is this about right, what he says?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we will see. We're going to work with the new Iraqi Government to assess the capabilities of their forces. There's no doubt that their forces are taking on more and more responsibility. You know, when I was in Iraq not this last time but the time before that, I had to take the road because of the bad weather. The road between the airport and the international zone had always been notorious. It's been a lot better since Iraqi forces took over the securing of that road. They have taken over a number of important pieces of real estate that were cleared of terrorists and now they are holding them and securing them. So there's no doubt that their force are getting better. There's no doubt that we are doing fewer of the kind of large-scale operations, though from time to time we do. And there's no doubt that as they get better we are going to be able to do less. But we really do want it to be based on conditions on the ground. So do the Iraqis. If there's anything that they recognize, it's that they are not quite ready for these tasks but they want to take that responsibility and we should want them to take it.

QUESTION: You had a chance to meet with the new Prime Minister-designate, Nuri al-Maliki. Here's what the Los Angeles Times wrote about him on Thursday:

"Al-Maliki's own political coalition is supported by two Shiite militias, the Iranian-trained Badr Brigade and radial cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army. Even the country's U.S.-friendly Kurdish President appears unwilling to lay down arms. On Sunday, Jalal Talabani, speaking to reporters near Irbil, defended the 70,000-strong Kurdish Peshmerga militia as a regulated force."

Do you see anything right now that in the short term anybody in Iraq is going to do anything to dismantle these private militias?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I heard the Prime Minister-designate say that they have to dismantle militias, they have to make certain that there's only the possibility of the use of force on behalf of the government, there has to be one gun --

QUESTION: You heard him say that to you?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I heard him say it publicly. As a matter of fact, he said it the day before I arrived and he also talked about it privately.

QUESTION: Do you believe him?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Ayatollah Sistani has said that the disbanding of militias is an important element. You know, Wolf, we always say this can't be done. I remember in Afghanistan nobody was going to be able to dismantle militias either in Afghanistan; there were always going to be warlords who would hang on to their militias. And indeed, what you're seeing in Afghanistan is a successful demobilization and reintegration of forces there. I believe you're going to see the same thing in Iraq. I'm not suggesting that it's going to be easy, but people understand that you need security forces that belong to the state, and there are two parts to that. One will be dismantling militias, but the other piece of it will be having a strong set of security institutions in which people have confidence that they can actually secure the country.

QUESTION: He apparently, the new designated Prime Minister, has the backing of Muqtada al-Sadr, this young Shiite cleric, a radical who hates the United States. He gives an interview in the new issue out today of Newsweek Magazine in which he says this:

"The occupation is the creator of all problems. There is only an incomplete sovereignty in Iraq, which means that the occupation is the decision maker. Any attack is their responsibility. The U.S. Ambassador and Rumsfeld have ignited the sectarian crisis here."

Muqtada al-Sadr was once wanted by the U.S. as one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq, but now he's in a coalition, in effect, with this new designated government. How do you feel about that?

SECRETARY RICE: They're going to have lots of voices, and the last time I was here on your program or some other program, people were telling me, well, Muqtada al-Sadr is the one who's backing Jafari. What this says is that perhaps people understand that this is really a political process that's taking hold and that the way to deal with politics in Iraq is through support for a national unity government. Now, it's going to be up to Iraqis to deal with their past, to deal with issues of reconciliation, to deal with the issues of people who have committed crimes against the Iraqi Government and against the Iraqi people. But you have an --

QUESTION: Let me interrupt you for a second.


QUESTION: Muqtada al-Sadr, he has claimed responsibility for killing Americans and other coalition forces. Do you want this new Iraqi Government to arrest him?

SECRETARY RICE: I want the Iraqi Government, the new national unity government, to get its feet on the ground and to begin to deal with the multiple problems that it has and to begin to deal with those on behalf of the Iraqi people. And we're going to take this one step at a time. Let's just remember that just a few weeks ago everybody said, well, they'll never get a government of national unity, they'll never be able to find a prime minister-designate that actually Kurds and Sunni and Shia and others will all support. Well, they've done that. If we've done anything consistently, it is to consistently underestimate the capability of Iraqis to make this political process move forward. And I would suggest that for once let's help them to get this government in place and to start to address their problems. They will have many opportunities to address their issues of reconciliation and they'll have many opportunities to address the security situation.

QUESTION: I want to move on to Iran, but when all is said and done, should Muqtada al-Sadr be arrested?

SECRETARY RICE: You know that our view is that everyone ultimately has to be brought to justice for any crimes that have been committed. But this is now going to take place in the context of an Iraqi effort at reconciliation. What we are going to focus on right now is to make the -- help to make the Iraqi Government capable of dealing with the many problems that it has.

And I just want to repeat again, Wolf, every time there has been a milestone in Iraq, people have been surprised that the Iraqis have been able to meet it. They continue to meet them. They continue to meet these milestones under the most difficult circumstances. They now have a permanent government that is going to be able to deal with both the present and with the past. We're going to support them in those efforts.

(Commercial break.)

QUESTION: Iran, it's a hot issue. A very important issue. The new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says this weekend in an interview with the German newspaper Bild, he says:

"Ahmadi-Nejad, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the President of Iran, talks today like Hitler before he sees power. We are dealing with a psychopath of the worst kind. God forbid that this man ever gets his hands on nuclear weapons."

Do you agree with the Prime Minister of Israel?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, everyone agrees that Iran can't have nuclear weapons and of course their President makes it ever more evident that they can't have nuclear weapons with the things that he says and the things that he does. But the Iranian regime is going to certainly deepen its own isolation not just by the things that the President says, but by the defiance of this regime to the will of the international community. The international community is completely of one mind that no one wants, needs or really can tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran in the midst of the world's most volatile region. That is a consistent view.

QUESTION: Is Ahmadi-Nejad a psychopath?

SECRETARY RICE: I have no idea. You know, I haven't ever seen the man or talked to him. I just know that nobody speaks in polite company in that way and that he represents the Iranian regime very badly and that, in fact, every time he says something along those lines he reminds people why this regime that is isolated from its own -- has isolated itself from the international community and that indeed is run by an unelected few in terms of the Iranian people themselves, why it would be very bad for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: Now, you've authorized your Ambassador in Baghdad to have direct talks with Iranian officials on Iraq. Have those talks started yet?

SECRETARY RICE: No. We felt strongly that we wanted to allow the government formation process to go forward. I'm quite sure that when it makes sense to open or to use that channel, we will. We've done it in Afghanistan. Zal Khalilzad, now Ambassador to Iraq, in fact, did have those discussions in Afghanistan when he was Ambassador to Afghanistan. Ron Neumann, his successor in Afghanistan, has had discussions with the Iranians. When it's appropriate and when need by, I'm sure we'll do it.

QUESTION: What about direct U.S.-Iranian talks on its nuclear program?

SECRETARY RICE: Look, the Iranians know what they need to do on the nuclear issue. The United States has made no secret of the fact that we back completely what the Europeans are doing, the offers that they've made to the Iranians about civil nuclear power. We've made it very clear that we back the Russian proposal for a joint venture with the Iranians. So they know what we think.

QUESTION: So the answer is?

SECRETARY RICE: Wolf, we have many ways of communicating with the Iranians. We have channels that we have used. We have people who know our views who talk with the Iranians. I don't think that the absence of communication is the problem here. What we are doing, though, is we are following this diplomatic course and we're assessing at every step what we can do to make the diplomatic course more effective.

QUESTION: There's a rally today here in Washington to save Darfur. A horrible situation unfolding in Sudan. Is it still the position of the Bush Administration that the Sudanese Government, through its militia, the Janjaweed, are engaged in genocide against black Africans?

SECRETARY RICE: We have not changed our view. And the President is very passionate about what is going on in Darfur. I've been there myself. The Deputy Secretary has been there four or five times. We are getting a little progress at the Abuja talks between the rebels and the government and we hope that that progress continues. But the United States has been in the lead on providing humanitarian assistance. The United States has been in the lead on pressing the case in the Security Council for the use of -- first getting the possibility to use sanctions and then using sanctions against individual members of the government. The United States has been in the lead in working with NATO to provide an offer of logistical and planning support first to the AU forces, which we are doing, we are helping there; but also when there's a UN blue-hatted force, and there really must be a more robust security force, we stand ready to support that force.

And so the United States has been by far the most active and the most forward-leaning of the countries. We need more help from the international community. We need more help from China and Russia, which I think need to look at what is going on there and ask what more they can do. And we, frankly, need to make sure that the African Union acts expeditiously to take advantage of the help that is being offered by the United Nations and by NATO.

QUESTION: We are out of time, but I'll end it on this note, a happier note. Time Magazine, our sister publication, in the new issue out today says that Condoleezza Rice is "Master of the Universe." You're on their list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World." Did you know that?

SECRETARY RICE: No, I didn't know that. But gee, that's very nice. I don't really feel like Master of the Universe, however.

QUESTION: You are Master of the Universe, according to Time Magazine. Madame Secretary, thanks for coming in.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Great to be with you, Wolf.


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