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Roundtable With Boston Print Reporters

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Boston, Massachusetts
May 21, 2006

Catherine Elton of The Boston Globe, Victoria Scavo of The Boston Herald, Bart Jansen of The Portland Press Herald, Randolph Holhut of The Brattleboro Reformer

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talks with local reporters from the Boston Globe [Catherine Elton], The Boston Herald [Victoria Scavo], The Portland Press Herald (Bart Jansen), and the Brattleboro Reformer [Randolph Holhut]. Secretary Rice is in Boston to deliver the Commencement Address at Boston College on May 22, 2006. [Photo by Josie Duckett]SECRETARY RICE: Okay. Shall we get started? Who's going to lead off?



QUESTION: I'm interested to know, as a woman of faith, how do you reconcile your understanding of morality with the concern expressed by so many Christians, including those at Boston College recently, that the justification for this war was not moral?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I won't go into, for you, a long discussion of the very, very long philosophical history of just war theory, but to say that Christians are, of course, on both sides of the argument about the use of force; when it is, indeed, just to use force and when it is not. And I would only say, in the case of the war in Iraq, we have overthrown a dictator who brutalized his population, used chemical weapons against his neighbors and against his own population. If you want to talk about justice, go to Halubja and look at people who have suffered from chemical warfare use to get to them. Go and look at the mass graves of 300,000 people and ask yourself if it is, indeed, just to liberate people from that kind of torture and that kind of tyranny.

People will agree to disagree, but I think there's at least a reasonable argument that when a dictator does the kinds of things that Saddam Hussein has done in Iraq to his own people and to his neighbors, that justice certainly includes not forgetting the torture of those people. I'd also note that, of course, it's not the first time that force has been used to overthrow brutal dictators. I shudder to think what would have happened if force had not been used against Adolf Hitler. I shudder to think what did happen when appropriate action was not taken in Rwanda. Sometimes, the use of force is necessary in order to do justice.

QUESTION: You didn't want to go into just war, but you do -- you did study at St. Mary's and at Notre Dame.


QUESTION: And so you do have a lot of Catholic education --


QUESTION: -- for someone who's not a Catholic. So --

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. I'm, by the way, a Presbyterian minister's daughter.

QUESTION: And a Presbyterian minister's daughter.


QUESTION: So could you tell me a little bit about your thoughts on Catholic education and your understanding of -- if you could sum it up, just war theory and --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm not going to go into just war theory. I'm a political scientist. I've spent plenty of time thinking about just war theory. But my role now is as Secretary of State and my role prior to this was as National Security Advisor. And Saddam Hussein, who was under UN sanction, and his regime under UN sanction and UN resolutions for 12 years, for a brutal war that he launched against his neighbor to try and annex Kuwait, again, using chemical weapons against his Iranian neighbors, against his own people, this was a very brutal dictator who was a threat to international peace and security and, I think you can argue, was also a tremendous threat to human rights.

And I know that the Iraqi people are going through a very difficult time at this point in time, but the kind of regime that they lived under was one of the worst regimes in modern history. And sometimes, both for security and for justice, it's necessary to use force. I would just note too that the Taliban, which was overthrown in Afghanistan, which executed women publicly in stadiums, which executed people for singing or not wearing a beard, sometimes, you have to get rid of really, really, really bad regimes.

As to Catholic education, I obviously think it was great. I think it was rigorous. I don't know anyplace else that I probably would have learned Latin. And when I took up the Russian language, I was awfully glad I'd learned Latin, because the grammar is almost identical.

QUESTION: And do you -- knowing what you know about Catholic education, are you surprised that there was controversy over your invitation to speak at Boston College?

SECRETARY RICE: No, I'm not surprised that there was controversy, but my understanding is that there are views on both sides of this, that there are many people who very much wanted me to come and speak. People have a right to say whatever they wish and that's the great blessing of living in a free country. I would just say that when people exercise that right, they should think about people who don't live in freedom. They should think about what it would have meant to try and exercise your right to free speech under Saddam Hussein or under the Taliban.

I'm glad now that today, when we are just getting our first glimpses of the first permanent government in Iraq, elected permanent government in Iraq, where there is political discussion and debate and, indeed, controversy, that the people of Baghdad and the people of Kabul are going to enjoy, finally, the same liberty to say what they think that the people of Boston do.

QUESTION: And how do you plan to deliver your message to an audience that is -- you know, there's been so much controversy that --

SECRETARY RICE: Look, I'm a university professor. This isn't the first controversy I've seen. It won't be the last. And I'm going to deliver a message, first of all, that's not about me, but is about the graduates. Because as I will say in my speech, I would dare anyone my age to actually remember and quote anything that was said by their commencement speaker. So the first thing you have to remember when you're a commencement speaker is that your job is to say something hopefully not too boring, maybe a little bit memorable, and most assuredly short so that people can get on with the real business of getting their degrees and going on.

QUESTION: Now that there is a permanent cabinet in Iraq, what do you see as the future for security in that country? And what effect might having a stable government in Iraq have on talks with Iran? There was a report in The Washington Post on Friday saying that there was a freeze on the talks since about March, waiting for that government to come. So now that we do have something of a permanent cabinet there that's going to be there for four years, what's going to happen next?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, it is finally a permanent government for Iraq. I mean, every other government has been elected to do something else, to either set up new elections or to set up a constitution. And so, this is the first permanent government -- first government - that is there to actually govern and to do so for the next four years. It is also a government that has heavy Sunni representation. The Sunnis have been a disaffected population, didn't participate very heavily in the January elections, for instance, and now are participating very heavily in this government. And I think that may give an opportunity for those who wish to leave the course of violence and the insurgency and now turn to politics a reason to do so.

It's not going to happen overnight. These things take time. And it will be a while before I think you see any substantial reduction in violence because a few violent people who don't mind killing innocent children or schoolteachers can continue to do that, and don't care how strong the government is. But in time, as the Iraqi people see their interests as more associated with the political process and less and less with the rejectionist philosophy, I think you're going to see the Iraqis stabilize the situation.

As to talks with Iran, we'll certainly allow Ambassador Khalilzad to meet with his counterparts if it's warranted and when it's warranted. He did so when he was ambassador to Afghanistan. His successor in Afghanistan, Ambassador Neumann, has met with his Iranian counterpart. But we need to recognize that this is really -- the only goal of such meetings is when it may have a positive effect on the security situation and we'll assess that at the time.

QUESTION: I have a question about Darfur and a question about Iran.


QUESTION: On Darfur, we have some folks in southern Maine who are quite interested in helping them, but I guess the UN coordinator told the Security Council on Friday that conditions are deteriorating so badly that the international assistance could collapse in the next few weeks. What can you do to persuade the dissidents to obey the peace treaty?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly, the United States has put a lot of time and effort into the peace arrangement -- the peace treaty, peace agreement that was just signed, put a lot of effort into food assistance. The United States provides -- of the food assistance to the World Food Program has actually received -- about 89 percent of that food assistance has come from the United States. If all pledges are taken into account, it'll be 50 percent. That's still U.S. and President Bush continues to increase our food aid to Darfur.

The United States, of course, also was a very active partner -- in fact, helped to broker a peace agreement between the north and south, the so-called Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And people need to remember that that was a civil war that had killed millions of people over decades. And so we've been very active. We have been pushing the Security Council. I went to the Security Council myself and argued for a rapid work toward a UN peacekeeping force that could be more robust to protect the people of Darfur. We have -- the United States has gone to NATO to try and get NATO logistical support for such a peacekeeping force.

But frankly, we need more help from the international community. It is extremely important that states like China and Russia have the same sense of urgency in the Security Council about Darfur that the United States has about Darfur. And so we're pressing very hard for that. There are -- too many people have died or have had terror reigned upon them in Darfur. It's really time to get a peacekeeping force in that can help.

But we need also -- going back to the first question, you know, it's not the case that some people are worthy of help and others are not. And I would ask people, when they think about who's worthy of help, to think about the Darfurians, to think about the people of Zimbabwe, to think about the people of Burma, but also to think about the conditions in which the people of Iraq and Afghanistan found themselves before the United States and a coalition of willing forces acted.

QUESTION: In terms of Iran and the concerns about nuclear proliferation there, I guess your predecessor, Secretary Powell, described intelligence mistakes before the Iraq conflict as troubling and a blot that will forever stain his record. What makes you any more confident that intelligence is better in terms of Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, what I'm confident of in Iran is that the Iranians themselves have engaged in behavior that has made the entire international community suspicious of what it is they're up to. That's why the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is doing what it's doing, asking questions that it's asking. It's why Mohamed ElBaradei continues to report that he's not getting satisfactory answers from the Iranians. It's why, when the Russians talk to the Iranians about how to provide civil nuclear power, they talk about a so-called fuel takeback, which means that you allow Iraq to run on fuel, but you take back the fuel so that you diminish the proliferation risk that that fuel can then be used for building a bomb. It's why people are worried that after 18 years, suddenly things were discovered about the Iranian nuclear program that had not been reported.

And so the United States is not alone in being concerned about what the Iranians are up to, that they may be building a nuclear weapon under cover of civil nuclear power. And thus far, the Iranians haven't done much to build confidence that, in fact, they do want a civil nuclear program and that's what this whole debate is about, this whole controversy is about.

QUESTION: Well, why did you choose to speak at Boston College of all the invitations you get? And does it have anything to do with your background in Catholic education?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm tempted to say it's because they kept beating Norte Dame at football, but -- and I wanted to see what was in the water up here. (Laughter.) No, I have some good friends who are Boston College alums, including Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nick Burns, who first brought the idea to me. I've always had great respect for Boston College. It's a fine, really fine institution of learning. And it is in the fine Catholic tradition of education of students without regard to their standard in life; in fact, reaching out to populations that might not otherwise receive such an excellent education and it's a fine place of learning. And so when I was invited, I thought it would be a good place to come and speak. And again, I'd like you to understand you won't hear a policy speech tomorrow. I really think graduation speeches are about the graduates.

QUESTION: Do you ever have -- back to Iraq, I mean, you've talked about political advances. There's also been -- I think it's well over 3,000 deaths, including civilians, insurgents, and women and children, I think, since the beginning of the year. I'm not sure of the exact number. Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and question whether you did the right thing?

SECRETARY RICE: I know we did the right thing. Saddam Hussein was a monstrous figure, not just to his own people, but to the Middle East as a whole. He'd invaded his neighbors twice. He used the chemical weapons in the region. And this is a region that has been -- has had such malignancy in it and such an absence of freedom that it was producing a movement of people who were prepared to fly airplanes into our buildings on September 11th and associated people in this movement to kill Russian schoolchildren or to blow up a Spanish metro stop or a nightclub in Bali or a place that I went that was just eerie, which was a Palestinian wedding in Jordan. I actually went into the hotel room where that happened.

This is an ideology of hatred that has got to be stopped and it's got to be stopped at its source and its source is the absence of freedom and hope in the Middle East. And with somebody like Saddam Hussein in power, you weren't going to do anything about a different kind of Middle East. And it is absolutely the case that people thought he had weapons of mass destruction.

And you know, it's very interesting, a lot of people have very short memories. If, in fact, nobody else thought that he had weapons of mass destruction, then for some reason, the international community put the Iraqi people under the toughest sanctions probably known in modern international history. Sanctions that drove nutrition rates down, sanctions that collapsed agriculture in Iraq, sanctions that to this -- that were being bled off and used and manipulated by Saddam Hussein's regime and also, apparently through bribery and scandal, other figures in the international system. That's the kind of sanctions regime that was in place. Now if nobody thought he had weapons of mass destruction, then that's a shame. And those are the people who ought to be ashamed. There's people who were prepared to leave that country under those kinds of sanctions because they were fearful of Saddam Hussein, but not willing to do anything about it.

And so no, I'm very -- I think it is an honorable thing that the United States and its coalition partners have done. I think it is an honorable thing that the Iraqi people have their first chance to have an elected government that can represent them. I know they're going through difficult times. You know, democracies always go through difficult times and before we become, in the United States, too high-handed about the difficulties that the Iraqis are having, I hope we'll remember our own difficult past, both in our own revolution and in our own Civil War. And I hope we'll remember that when our democracy was formed, it had a few flaws, like the one in the Constitution that made my ancestors three-fifths of a man. So, you know, we shouldn't be so doubting of the Iraqis and I think they we ought to be with them, supportive and proud of what they've achieved.

QUESTION: What was the -- you had discussions with the Saudi Foreign Minister a few days ago --


QUESTION: -- a country that provided 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers. And were those security issues discussed with the Saudis as well as the kind of human rights and democracy questions that Russia and China have been pressed about over the last few months?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Not only were those issues of human rights and democracy and women's empowerment discussed with the Saudis, we actually have a working group that works on issues of how to encourage improvement in those areas. Look, I've stood in Riyadh next to the Saudi Foreign Minister and said women ought to vote. We're not going to be silent about issues in the Kingdom.

As to terrorism there, though, I would have to say that while, absolutely, Saudi Arabia has had -- we've had problems with people coming out of Saudi Arabia who were terrorists, Saudis who have been found in all kinds of places fighting the war -- in the war on terror, it's not the only place. When we liberated Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan, there were Saudis and there were other people from the Middle East, but there were also Nigerians and a few Chinese and an American, Australians. This is a worldwide movement and we have to recognize that. And I would say one other thing; Saudi Arabia has been a fierce fighter in the war on terror in terms of rooting out terrorists. Many top al-Qaeda leaders have been either captured or killed in Saudi Arabia. And it's been a particularly fierce effort since the bombing in Riyadh in May of a couple years ago.

QUESTION: Back to academia and speech issues, there have been a couple of people on campus who said, well if anyone opposes to your speaking, it should be because you're moderately -- you called yourself moderately pro-choice in the past. And there have been issues on Boston College Campus with pro-choice groups with the presentation of different works of theater, issues about organizations of students for gay rights. Again, you know Catholic education, you've been in Catholic education. What is your thought on those issues and how they should play out?

SECRETARY RICE: I've been a student in Catholic education. I know the controversies and also the delicate balancing that institutions, Catholic institutions are trying to do to uphold all Catholic doctrine and Catholic traditions and to provide a free atmosphere for the exchange of views and the expression of views. I think, on balance, they're doing a very fine job of that and I'm not going to make their job more difficult by coming in from the outside and opining on things that I don't have any idea of the complicated decisions that are having been made.

I'll tell you this. When I was provost at Stanford and outsiders came in and they knew exactly what I ought to do at Stanford, I was always rather suspicious that maybe they didn't because they couldn't possibly know all that we were dealing with. But I have enormous respect for Boston College, for its trustees, for its faculty and for its student body. It just demonstrates, though, that ours is a country in which you're going to have people on both sides of every issue and where, as long as we debate the issues civilly and with respect for one another's most deeply held views, then that's all we can ask.

A couple more? Anybody else?

QUESTION: Now I get to ask my two.


QUESTION: I'll throw in the token Vermont question.


QUESTION: Over the past couple of years, Vermont has been busy trying to sell agricultural products in Cuba. We sent down some cows a couple of years ago. We're trying to send some apples and other dairy products. And the program's kind of run into some snags of late because of the embargo and the, kind of, tightening of the embargo. When are we going to -- when can we hope to see some changes in that so that there is more agricultural exchange between the United States and Cuba?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the purpose of the embargo is to prevent Fidel Castro's dictatorial regime from using commerce and trade to fund and strengthen his regime so that he keeps his hold on the Cuban population. That's the purpose. And unfortunately, in Cuba, there isn't much of a free enterprise sector or a small business sector or a private agricultural sector to work with. Almost every economic activity in Cuba benefits the Castro regime. And so the United States has made a choice. It's been in place for a very long time that the embargo, as well as other sanctions against exchange with Cuba, makes sense in the context of trying to hasten the day when the people of Cuba are like every other country in this entire hemisphere, democratic.

You know, when you go to the Organization of American States, which is located in Washington, and you walk into the hall, there are 35 flags. But when the Council meets, there are 34 seats and that's because Cuba is the only non-democratic state remaining in the hemisphere. Now to be sure, there are troubles in other places like Venezuela. But this is -- the only not-democratically elected government is Cuba. And so I think the larger goal here has to be to try and attain the full and complete democratization of our hemisphere.

And it's important not just for the people of Cuba, but it's important when you see that Castro, given a chance, tries to spread his revolutionary views and revolutionary ideas into other places and through -- some of his associations bring, for instance, back Sandinistas in Nicaragua, something that I think would be very bad for the hemisphere and very bad for the Nicaraguan people.

And so I understand that at the level of agriculture, at the level of farmers, there's a desire to have their product be as widely accepted as possible. And we are free traders. I work every day to try and make the case with our friends and not-friends around the world that markets ought to be open, American product ought to be able to compete and compete openly. But Cuba is not a part of that open trade system. It's a closed system where every economic activity benefits Fidel Castro.

QUESTION: I had a colleague that was dying to ask when you're going to become NFL Commissioner.

SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) Well, apparently not soon, now that his -- Paul Tagliabue stepped down too soon. (Laughter.)


SECRETARY RICE: All right. Thank you.

Released on May 22, 2006

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