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Interview on New England Cable News With Chet Curtis

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Boston, Massachusetts
May 21, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Chet Curtis and the crew from New England Cable News. Secretary Rice is in Boston to deliver the Commencement Address at Boston College on May 22, 2006. State Department Photo by Josie DuckettQUESTION: Madame Secretary, Saturday was a very important day in the history of Iraq. The Prime Minister, the Cabinet was sworn in. It's certainly a significant development. A couple of key posts, ministers of Defense and Interior, have yet to be agreed upon, but are you confident that they'll be able to maintain security and function as a legitimate government?

SECRETARY RICE: This is a very good day for the Iraqis, what happened on Saturday. And I do think that this is a government that's very focused. I met Prime Minister Maliki. He has a very clear-eyed view of what must happen. He's going to focus on security; obviously, he's going to focus on infrastructure like electricity. They will fill their positions for Defense and Interior. They just want to take a little bit longer, to be sure, to do some vetting of backgrounds. It seems like a reasonable thing to do. But this really is a chance now for the Iraqi people because they have their first permanent government. They have a government in which Sunnis are really very actively involved and they have increasingly capable security forces that are going to be able to help them on the security side.

So, yes, I think this is a time when they will be to get control of the situation, but it's going to take a little time. It's not going to happen overnight. A few violent people can do a lot of damage and probably will continue to for some time.

QUESTION: Well, as you say, security is the issue, but a lot of people feel, in fact, many Iraqis, that we won't be able to get the security under control so long as American troops are on the ground in Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, when you talk with the Iraqi leadership, they understand that their security forces are not quite ready yet to carry the entire goal -- the entire burden of defense and they want the multinational forces to help. But Prime Minister Maliki has been pretty clear; he expects Iraqi security forces to be trained as rapidly as possible. He expects them to take more and more of the bulk of the security duty. Already, they're taking large areas of territory that have been handed over to them. They now control this, what was a notorious highway between the airport and the international zone. It has been a lot quieter since Iraqis have been in control of it. And so I think you will start to see more and more Iraqi forces taking control and then our forces can step back. But they still need the kind of combat capability that American and coalition forces can bring.

QUESTION: We've gone over this pre-war intelligence over and over again, and I don't want to dwell on it, but can you imagine and can you acknowledge the disappointment that some -- you know, that many Americans have knowing what we know now? If you knew three-and-a-half years ago what we know now, would you be onboard with the decision to invade Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, we didn't know three-and-a-half years ago what we know now. As you said, we -- at the time everybody thought that he had weapons of mass destruction. That's why he was under very, very tight Security Council sanctions and resolutions. But I do believe that given Saddam Hussein's insatiable appetite for his neighbor's territory, as he demonstrated twice, the fact that he had used chemical weapons before, the fact that he still maintained a considerable infrastructure for weapons of mass destruction and considerable knowledge of how to do it, this was a destabilizing force in the Middle East that it was time to take care of. It was time to get Saddam Hussein out of power so that the Middle East could move on to a better future. One cannot imagine a changed Middle East, a more democratic, a more stable Middle East with Saddam Hussein in the middle of it.

QUESTION: Have you given some thought, and I'm sure you have, but where did the post-war planning go wrong?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, post-war planning was done and done thoroughly, but there were conditions on the ground that were not anticipated. And I think whenever you're looking at an enterprise of this size and this complexity; you're going to make some misjudgments. And the real question is, then, do you find a way to adjust and to deal with circumstances as they are.

One day we'll be able to look back and say what could have been done better, what might have been done differently. I'm sure there will be many things that will present themselves as problems or mistakes. But right now, we need to recognize that the Iraqis are moving forward. We've made the adjustments that need to be made. And even though I know that the road is still going to be very difficult for Iraqis, they have -- they've set themselves on a good course.

QUESTION: Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha, decorated Vietnam veteran, you know, he jumped into the headlines when he first called several months ago. But he reiterated his position that we can't win that war and that we ought to, as soon as possible, move our troops back to a peripheral area and serve as a containment force, rather than to the extent we're involved now.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have enormous respect for Congressman Murtha and he served his country well. I just respectfully disagree on this issue. We're in Iraq because we hope now to help the Iraqis build a stable democratic foundation which will change the nature of the Middle East. And given the volatility of that region, given how much our interests, indeed, our own security has been wrapped up in that region, it is very important that the United States do this job and do it well.

It is not the case that we are always going to be in Iraq. We are training Iraqi security forces. Their political system is coming into being. They've made enormous progress since the old days of the governing council, where the presidency rotated every month, to now a stable and permanent government. And so they need our support and they need our help. But the best way to honor the sacrifices that Americans have made is to help the Iraqis lay that firm foundation. And we are close to helping them do that. To not finish the job would be, indeed, a tragic mistake not just for the United States, but for the whole region. And we would condemn not just Iraqis to an insecure future, but Americans as well.

QUESTION: Tomorrow afternoon, you'll be speaking at the Boston College Commencement. Certainly, you're aware of the controversy that has attended the decision to bring you to Boston College and to give you an honorary degree. How does Condoleezza Rice, the person, not the Secretary of State, not the most powerful woman in the world, how do you deal with that? Does that trouble you just on a personal level?

SECRETARY RICE: No, of course, not. I've been a university professor. I've been a university provost. This isn't the first controversy on a university campus that I've encountered and it's not going to be the last controversy that I will encounter, because people have a right to say what they think. And I think some people are very pleased that I'm going to speak and apparently, some people are not. That's our great democratic society. College campuses, in particular, are places where people express their views and ought to. I would just say that I'm very pleased to be associated with policies of a president that have now helped to deliver that ability to speak freely, that ability to have your views known in places like Kabul and Baghdad, where that was not the case before America took the action that it did.

Now we're very fortunate in the United States that a revolution that started somewhere right around here, if I remember, gave us a birthright of freedom and the dignity that comes with the freedom and liberty to say what you think and to choose those who will govern you. Not everybody in the world has that blessing. But if America can be a small part of helping to spread that blessing of liberty to others, then we will really deserve the birthright that we have been given. And so when I see controversy, I think, good for our democracy, but I also say, good that our democracy has been one that has cared about the rights of others who perhaps were on the wrong side of freedom.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you.

Released on May 22, 2006

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