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Interview With Sean Hannity of Fox News Hannity & Colmes

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
May 24, 2006

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, good to see you again.

SECRETARY RICE: Nice to see you, Sean.

QUESTION: All right. So you're speaking at Boston College. You had some protestors. Some people turned their back to you. And I was watching you very closely. There were a lot of people, of course, that supported you there as well. Does that bother you at all?

SECRETARY RICE: Sean, I have been a university professor for 25 years. I've been a university provost. Universities and controversy, it's not really a headline. And people were respectful. The crowd was terrific. And there were a very few people who wanted to protest. They did so in a way that was not disruptive. And I will defend their right to protest. I'm very proud that we live in a country where you have that right to protest and to have your views known. But I'm also very glad that I am working for a President and in a country where we use our influence and indeed our power to try and help others secure the same liberties that we enjoy. So I would hope that at the University of Baghdad or at the University of Kabul they now have the same right to protest.

QUESTION: I had a book thrown at me once at a book -- that was pretty rough.

Let me ask you this. It's been four and a half years since 9/11. Do you think in many ways, as you look at the political landscape, and in many ways the country is divided on some of these controversial issues, do you think America is war weary?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm quite certain that there are times when Americans feel a little bit that Walt Whitman quote, "The world is too much with us." And I understand that. But I remember on the first days after September 11th when President Bush spoke to the nation that he warned us that it was going to be a long war, that this was a generational conflict, that we were not going to easily defeat the forces of terror and that we were not going to easily lay the groundwork for democracy that would finally defeat the ideology of hatred that led people to fly airplanes into our buildings.

But I know that sometimes people wonder, "Are we making progress?" And I would just like to say yes, we're making progress. We're taking down the organization that did 9/11. Al-Qaida is not the same organization that it was on September 11th. And we're making progress in spreading freedom in the Middle East, and that ultimately is going to be an antidote to terror. But we've still got a lot of work to do and we have to stay vigilant because one never knows when there might be an attack. I'd like to say that there won't be, but I do know that the terrorists only have to be right once; we have to be right 100 percent of the time and those aren't fair odds.

QUESTION: At any point can we look at -- at least take the conflict in Iraq? I know a lot of people want the words to come from either yourself or the President that we may be seeing an end in sight in some way. We see the formation of the new government. There are certainly some cabinet positions to be filled and still work to be done and more security forces to be built. Do you see an end in sight emerging now in Iraq? Are those words -- are we able to use those words?

SECRETARY RICE: I certainly see that the Iraqis have now developed a political process and a political system that means that Iraqis are going to be in control of their future. I think we're always going to be supporting and be friends of this government, a government that will be the first true constitutional democracy in the Arab world, a government that will be a fierce fighter in the war on terrorism for which we still have a lot of work to do. We're going to have to be there to support them but not in the way that we have in the past.

QUESTION: But you do see an end --

SECRETARY RICE: Of course. I see a very big change in the way that we have to support them. Sean, we've been through interim governments and transitional governments and provisional governments and now they finally have a permanent government. We are a long way from the Governing Council at the beginning, shortly after the liberation of Iraq, where they changed presidencies every month. Imagine that.

Now we have a government that is going to be in office for four years, that clearly sees its responsibility of governing. It has security forces that are making strides in being able to take over security functions. And most importantly, all Iraqis -- Sunni, Shia and Kurds and other groups -- are really represented by this government.

QUESTION: Let me ask you this. You have the ability to sort of see this through the prism of history. I don't think anybody really anticipated when Ronald Reagan said it's an "evil empire" and later, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," that literally all of that would unfold very quickly in our lifetime.

If we look through the prism of history, you know, what will we see? The impact of Iraq on a region, if this is successful, as both you and the President believe it will be --


QUESTION: Democratization and the emergence of it there. What does it mean?

SECRETARY RICE: If we are successful, and I fully believe that we will be and that the Iraqis will be successful, you'll see a completely changed Middle East. This has been a Middle East that has been ruled by authoritarian governments that gave no political -- legitimate political space to their people for the expression of their views, for a sense that they were choosing those who would govern them, very little progress for women in so many parts of the Middle East, and really the entire region has been held back by this absence of political freedom.

It's also the region, of course, that therefore produced this ideology of hatred that led to groups like al-Qaida. Now they're going through a kind of important rejuvenation of culture, of the people's rights. It's hard, as big historical changes always are. But imagine that in the center of Arab culture, in Baghdad, a place that has a history as long as the culture of the Middle East itself, that you have a stable, multi-ethnic, democratic government that is a friend of the United States. And just think how different that is than just a few years ago where you had Saddam Hussein, who was a terror in the region, where we had been to war against him because of his desire to occupy his neighbors, to take over his neighbors, his use of chemical weapons. What a change.

You don't have to be much of a visionary to just look a few years further down the road and see that that kind of stable Iraq could make the Middle East as different as we left Europe after World War II.

QUESTION: You know conventional wisdom now is that there were no weapons of mass destruction; we were wrong. That seems to be the conventional wisdom. I happen to be of the mind that we were not wrong on that issue. Were we right, in your view, on the issue of WMDs, whether they were found or not? Could they not have easily been moved to Syria or elsewhere? Are you confident they did exist, that the right arguments were made?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I am quite confident that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in his -- during his regime. I am quite confident that he was trying to retain the infrastructure, that the link between Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction was never going to be broken. And yes, I know that we didn't find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, as we thought we might, but Saddam Hussein had refused repeatedly to answer the legitimate questions that were being asked about what he had done with sarin gas or what he had done with the VX gas or what had he done with all of these capabilities that we knew that he once had.

People forget that -- you know you can only act on what you know at the time. The notion that somehow -- I've sometimes been asked, "Well, if you knew now what you knew then." Well, in policy making, first of all, you don't have that luxury. But I do know this, that Saddam Hussein was a danger to the region, we had been to war against him in 1991, President Clinton had ordered strikes against him in 1998, he was using his military assets to try and shoot down our pilots as we tried to patrol the no-fly zones to make sure that he couldn't hurt his own people or his neighbors, and he was manipulating the very sanctions regime that was in place to try to keep him contained, manipulating it at a level that I think is probably unprecedented in history. It was time to deal with this problem. The President made the bold and courageous decision, along with our coalition, to do that, and the world is much safer without him.

QUESTION: Let me ask you this, because it is still divisive, even to this day in America. I'm not going to bring you into a political debate, but let me ask you the question in this context. We had John Murtha just this past week accuse our Marines of killing civilians in cold blood. The former presidential candidate for the Democrats said that our troops were terrorizing women and children in the dark of night in Iraq. To the extent, you know, what impact does that have on our ability to successfully finish the job knowing that those words will be used by the enemy that we're fighting?

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, I do have enormous respect for Congressman Murtha. He's a true national hero. I think our troops have done remarkable work and a remarkable job. When you go out there and you see these young people, and some not so young, from all over this country who are putting their lives on the line every day so Iraqis or Afghans can have a better life, and then contribute to a more stable environment which will allow Americans to have a better life, you know that they are operating in the best tradition of the American military that's ever been there; that is, that our power and freedom are linked.

Now, whenever we have had circumstances in which our forces or others have done wrong, and we have had those circumstances like Abu Ghraib, we've done what democracies do, which is that we've investigated it with due respect for the due rights of those who are accused, but then when people have been convicted, they've been put in jail, they've lost rank. And that's how democracies respond.

So I would hope that people understand that our military is behaving and behaving honorably. If there are wrongdoings, we deal with that.

QUESTION: Let me ask you a question. I couldn't find in the record that you've ever been asked. You know, Iraq has tremendous natural resources.


QUESTION: You know the oil resources they have, for example. Would it be appropriate for Iraq over time to pay the financial cost and burden of their liberation back to the United States? Would it be just and fair for Iraq, with their vast resources, to compensate the families of the military for their loss and injuries?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I understand the impulse to think in that way. But I would hope that what we would ask Iraqis to do with their vast resources, when they are available to them -- let's remember that Saddam Hussein left a very deteriorated infrastructure and a lot of needs that Iraqis have had. But I would ask them to do, to do instead, what countries like Germany and Japan have done, countries that we also liberated and that we gave a chance, and that's to become steadfast beacons and steadfast bulwarks of democracy in their regions, to become irrepressible friends of the United States.

QUESTION: That's more important.

SECRETARY RICE: That's more important. Because the generosity of the United States, I think will always be appreciated in this region. But that generosity in other parts of the world has led to a more stable environment, it has led to a Europe where nobody can ever imagine war again between Germany and France, an Asia where one of the President's best friends, indeed I would even say best buddies in international politics, is Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan -- this from a President whose father was shot down as a pilot over -- in fighting in the war in the Pacific.

So they will give back. They will give back enormously to the international peace and stability. They will give back enormously therefore to America's security. And I would like to see them take those resources and build a stable and free Iraq.

QUESTION: Let me ask you a general principle question. President Reagan used the term "evil empire." President Bush used the term "axis of evil." Do you agree, were both Presidents correct in their descriptions?

SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. And I know sometimes in America we have trouble using words like "evil" and I know that there can be dangers inherent in using it, and when we have policy differences we shouldn't -- when we have a policy difference with a country, we shouldn't brand it as evil. But there's some acts, some regimes, that act in that way. When they repress their people, when you have the kind of starvation that you've had in North Korea, when you've had the use of chemical weapons in Iraq, what else can you call it?

QUESTION: I want to ask you that question in this context. We know the President of Iran, Ahmadi-Nejad, he's denied the Holocaust on multiple occasions and he has on multiple occasions talked about annihilating Israel, wiping Israel off the map. He's actively pursuing nuclear capability. He's defying the world community. There's even a report that he is saying that there's going to be a separate set of clothing for non-Muslims in the country. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has identified him as a Hitler in our time. Does he fit this category? Is he evil in our time?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, he certainly is doing nothing good for the Iranian cause in the way that he is speaking. Every time he speaks, he reminds the world why Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon as a volatile state in this region. He reminds the world that Iran is the central banker of terrorism and he reminds the world that we need to remain united to deal with the Iranian ambitions. It's also a reminder that it's not just the nuclear issue; it's also terrorism and human rights and regional destabilization.

But I would characterize what is going on in Iran right now as something of a tragedy because you have a great people in Iran, a great culture in Iran that is being now -- is not allowed to flourish because you have an unelected few who will not allow the Iranians to have the democracy that they clearly seek. This is a sophisticated people that should be integrated into the world.

We're dealing with this problem and we're dealing with it through an international coalition. We've got a track that would take us through the United Nations Security Council if Iran does not change its behavior. There's a negotiating track that if Iran were prepared to make a strategic choice, suspend its programs and get back into the good graces of the world, there would be so many benefits to Iran. And we want that negotiating track to work.

QUESTION: And just this day test-fired a long-range missile. We have to believe them if they are talking about wiping Israel off the map and annihilating Israel. If all that's true, you know, how do we work with a world community that I think, by any objective measure, the United Nations failed the world community when it came to Iraq with corruption? I think strong arguments could be made that even France and Russia had external and even financial motives in not supporting us in the Iraq effort. How do we develop a confidence with the UN, with the French, with Russia, based on that history, especially in light of the severity of this particular threat? I mean, you know, you couple weapons of mass destruction and a person with that stated goal, I think it is a threat that is becoming unparalleled and unprecedented really.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've come a long way from a year ago when I went to Europe as my first trip as Secretary of State. And I remember, Sean, thinking, "How could it be that we've gotten into a situation where the Europeans seem to be mediating between the United States and Iran?" That didn't make sense. And we now have a situation in which Iran is facing the international system, facing the Security Council where we've had a presidential statement, facing the International Atomic Energy Board of Governors.

I think you can really see that the world has come together around the view that Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon and that Iran needs to take the strategic step to change this path. And we continue to work. We have some tactical differences with the Russians and the Chinese about when and what kinds of sanctions, but we don't have really any difference that they've got to be stopped. And we'll do what we can through the negotiating track, through the Security Council, as necessary, with like-minded states outside the Security Council to impose costs on Iran if it will not change its course.

But let me just say we do believe, having spent a year now of building really a multilateral approach to Iran, that a unified multilateral approach will confront Iran with a very clear choice: suspend and negotiate or face the consequences.

QUESTION: And the consequences could be severe?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, consequences can be consequences. We know that Iran is not Iraq. We don't assume that we can treat every case the same. But the President doesn't take any of his options off the table. He also believes that it is very possible that if we pursue the diplomatic and negotiating track fully and with unity that we can show Iran that it can't afford the kind of isolation.

QUESTION: How could the world, you know, expect Israel to sit back patiently if these threats keep coming out and this pursuit of nuclear weapons keeps developing? At some point, Israel is going to have to make a determination of what is in their long-term strategic interest.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it simply speaks to the volatility of this region and to the difficulty, the trouble that it will cause if Iran does not make the right strategic choice. But I'll tell you, we've had conversations with Prime Minister Olmert yesterday. He was very supportive of the course that we are pursuing, said so publicly standing next to the President. And we stay in very close contact with the Israelis, as we do with all of our allies. And I might just mention, the Gulf States are none too keen either of the notion of an Iranian -- Iran armed with a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: All right, I've got to ask you a personal question. I can't ask you the way I always ask you because you're never going to answer me, which is about your political future. Now having had the great opportunity to interview you on a number of occasions, I ask you all the time if you would ever consider running for president, so I'm not going to ask you that because you view what you do now as public service.


QUESTION: And you believe you're serving the President and the country in this capacity.


QUESTION: So here's the question I have for you. If at some other point, maybe you're a reluctant person, if people want you to serve in a higher capacity, Vice President or President, do you feel you would have an obligation, would any person have an obligation, to really give that serious consideration? Because there are a lot of people, whether you like this notion or not, there are a lot of people out there that would like to see Condoleezza Rice be the President or the Vice President of the United States.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I'm really honored and -- and flattery -- you know, flattered sounds frivolous and I don't want to say I'm flattered. I'm really honored by the thought that some people believe this.

You actually can't do that as a reluctant person. I think that the United States of America will have another President who I think will have the best interests of the country at heart and a Vice President who will do so, but it has to be somebody who wants to do that. And my life is just different. I see my strengths as different. I see my desires as different. I fully believe that I'll find other ways to serve. I don't believe that public service is just in government. I'm an academic. I love to teach. I've had the opportunity to, I think, have an impact on the lives of young people who I've taught. I've always been involved in civic service and with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and a nonprofit for education that friends of us started in Palo Alto. And so I'll find ways to serve. I'm not going to leave that --

QUESTION: I'm going to take that as you are reluctant.

SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) I have said no in as many ways as I know, Sean.

QUESTION: I know, I know. I've tried very hard. It's been a mission to try and get that answer out of you.

Anyway, Madame Secretary, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Pleasure to be with you.


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