Interview on Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer and Mike DuffySecretary Condoleezza Rice
June 4, 2006
QUESTION:Madame Secretary, Friday night in the suburbs of Toronto, as you now know, the Canadian police arrested 17 people on suspicion of terrorism. They had three times the amount of explosives that was used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City. They apparently had some sort of contact with two Americans from Georgia. What can you tell us about this?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, it's obviously a very great success for the Canadian counterterrorism efforts, which we know have been very robust. Really since September 11th, Canada has been very active in the war on terror. We have very good cooperation. I don't think we know very much more about it and we certainly don't believe that there's any link to the United States, but obviously we will follow up. And we have excellent counterterrorism cooperation; I think we will get whatever information we need. But it's obviously a great success for the Canadians. They're to be congratulated for it.
QUESTION: Well, it sounds as if they were planning to blow up some of the national institutions in Canada, or at least that seemed to be the plan. We know they had contact with two men who have been arrested on terrorism suspicion in this country from Georgia. One of them was a Georgia Tech student, I believe. Do we have any indication that they were trying to plan some sort of an attack on anything in this country?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we don't have any indication, but let me just say obviously this is an ongoing operation, ongoing investigation. I think it's best not to talk about whatever details there may be. But we have excellent counterterrorism cooperation with Canada and I'm quite certain that if there is any further information to be passed, that it will be.
QUESTION: We want to talk about Iran and the negotiations there. We also want to talk this morning about Iraq. This week, Madame Secretary, Tom Friedman of The New York Times says Iraq is not moving toward democracy but moving into anarchy. What would be your assessment?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, my assessment is that they have a political process that has been maturing ever since the liberation of Saddam Hussein. We are a long way from the Governing Council which had a new president every month to now the freely elected, first freely elected, permanent government in Iraq. Of course it's difficult and of course there is violence and everyone is concerned in particular about sectarian violence that has risen. But the way to handle this is through a government of national unity with a strong prime minister, which Mr. Maliki certainly is, and with security forces that can take care of the fight for the Iraqis.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, let me just challenge your basic statement here. How can you say it's any better? They are now losing, you know, 40, 50 people a day there? Just this morning, 26 people pulled off a bus and shot. They can't pick somebody to run the defense department. Yes, we have a government in place, but I would have to ask the question: What difference does that make?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's only been a matter of a few weeks since you've had a government in place. Let's give the government a little chance now to get settled in and to really begin to work on the situation. I would note that Prime Minister Maliki, even in the absence of a minister of interior and a minister of defense, which they will have and they will have good ones because they're going about this in the most careful way, but even in the absence of filling those ministries he has been working with General Casey and with Zal Khalilzad on a security plan for Baghdad. He had declared a state of emergency in Basra to deal with the situation there. This is a government that is more confident, that has real basis for action because it is a national unity government, and I think it is far too soon in a matter of less than a month to say that this government can't deal with the problem.
QUESTION: But it has taken them since last December to even get this far.
SECRETARY RICE: To have a government of national unity has taken some time. But to have a government of national unity is at the core of solving the problems that the Iraqis face.
QUESTION: Mike Duffy.
QUESTION: The Iraqi Prime Minister also made a startling charge this week. He said that attacks on Iraqi civilians had become -- appeared to become an almost daily occurrence by American troops. What do you make of that charge?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, there's a much longer statement there and I've talked to Prime Minister Maliki. He wants coalition forces there. He knows that Iraqis are not yet capable of dealing with these security issues themselves. We have very good cooperation with him.
I would just note that obviously the United States goes out of its way to try in any counterterrorism operation to avoid civilian deaths. When there are incidents that need to be investigated, they are fully investigated.
QUESTION: You think he did it for internal reasons? He didn't mean it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, no, I'm certain he really is concerned. We are always concerned when there are reports of this kind. But let's remember that American soldiers, American men and women, are there on the front lines making tremendous sacrifice, losing their own lives in defense of a free Iraq, in defense of the protection of the Iraqi people and in fighting these terrorists who on any given day do drag people off of buses and try to blow up schoolchildren. So American forces are the solution here, not the problem.
QUESTION: An army officer we spoke with this weeks who's in Iraq said one of the most frustrating aspects to his job, aside from being, you know, at the risk of being shot at every day, is that when he goes in to sweep through houses and try to find insurgents house to house, he encounters locals who say, "We don't know any insurgents. We don't know who they are." He's getting very frustrated, he says, about trying to actually get people to help him.
Are we asking American troops to do more than we should expect them to do if the Iraqis aren't willing to help?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Iraqis are taking tremendous chances and sacrifices themselves. We have to realize that Iraqi security forces are also dying on the front lines, that some of the people who are in the political leadership like the head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni party, has lost a brother and a sister to insurgents. So these are committed people. But it is difficult to fight insurgents when they can hide among the civilian population. I will tell you that we have had many, many, many more tips from Iraqi civilians over the last couple of months about what is going on, and as the Sunnis are integrated into the political process, as they clearly are now, I think you will see that people will start to turn on the murderers and the terrorists who are killing innocent Iraqis.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister says that the United States should turn over its files on Haditha where this alleged massacre took place to the Iraqis because they want to do their own investigation. Should we do that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm quite certain that there will be full cooperation with the Prime Minister about this case. Let's remember that when this happens in a democracy, there is full investigation and there will be full investigation. But there is also the right of the accused to have due process and so we want to be sure that both are protected.
The President has said that this to him is deeply troubling, these reports, and they will be fully investigated. But the great mass of American soldiers are there taking casualties, making sacrifices to protect the Iraqi people. When something like this happens, we'll get to the bottom of it.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, one more question about Iraq. This week General Casey, the U.S. commander in the country, said that he was moving reinforcements into Anbar Province, 3,500 troops. The Prime Minister declared, as you said, a state of emergency in Basra. Are we undermanned in Iraq still?
SECRETARY RICE: We are using the forces that are available and that are needed. You notice that when General Casey needed more forces in Anbar, he had more forces.
QUESTION: It's his next to last group, though.
SECRETARY RICE: But he -- Anbar is a place that we've had good cooperation with a number of the local officials. We wanted to be able to reinforce that region so that some of the things that were happening, the insurgents were doing to those local officials and communities, could not go on. But the United States has forces on the ground to deal with the situation. As importantly, the United States is of course supporting Iraqi forces who are in growing and growing competence. And the real breakthrough here is that Iraqis are able to engage in these activities. After all, Iraq really needs Iraqis to be able to secure their country.
QUESTION: Talking about moving those new troops in, I would just note that on the very day that the Pentagon was planning to move those troops in, General Casey was telling Harry Smith at the Early Show that we were going to draw down troops. He didn't get around to mentioning that part.
Do you think there is any way that American troop levels can be reduced this year, Madame Secretary?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's very clear that Iraqis are getting better and they're taking more of the fight. It's also very clear that they're taking large portions of territory. But as the President has said many times, whatever is going to happen with American troop levels is going to relate directly to what's going on on the ground; and therefore, when General Casey felt that he needed to reinforce Anbar, and indeed, even before then, some hundreds of forces had gone into Baghdad to deal with the new security plan for Baghdad, when General Casey has needed and wanted to do that, he's been supported in the Pentagon and he's been supported by the President. So these are decisions that will be made on the ground. But as Iraqi forces get better -- and they are getting better, they are taking more of the fight -- American forces will clearly have fewer responsibilities and ultimately will be able to come down.
QUESTION: But you're not prepared to say this morning when they will be better, when that's going to happen?
SECRETARY RICE: It's all got to be conditions-based. It's also the case, Bob, that we have a new prime minister and we need to sit with that prime minister and his team and talk about what security challenges there are and who is going to play what part in meeting those security challenges. And so any talk about what American forces would look like at any point in time, I think has to await a discussion with the Iraqi leadership.
QUESTION: Let's talk a little bit about Iran. In a change of U.S. policy, you agreed to talk to Iran if they would suspend their nuclear program. I know there's a big "if" there. Now, you and the other Western powers have offered Iran a package of incentives and possible penalties if they don't stop their nuclear activity. Today they say they plan to make this package public. I guess the Western powers have said let's keep it private so it won't be provocative in any way. They say they're going to make it public and they say they're not going to stop nuclear activities.
Is that their response? What do you make of what they're saying today?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're going to give the diplomacy a little time here and we're not going to react to everything the Iranian leadership says over the last couple of days. They've said lots of different things. When the proposal goes to Iran, I think it will be very clear -- I hope it will be very clear to the Iranian Government -- that this is the international community's way of giving them an opportunity to resolve this impasse favorably with a civil nuclear program that would be acceptable to the international community. Iran keeps talking about its right to civil nuclear power. No one is questioning that it has a right to civil nuclear power. But many countries have the right to that that don't enrich and reprocess on their territory, and given Iran's history it must not have the technologies that could lead to a nuclear weapon.
Now, the two paths that were talked about by Foreign Secretary Becket, the British Foreign Secretary in Vienna, are very clear. We are committed as an international community to that path, to those two paths. But let me just say when the President made the decision more than a year ago that the United States was going to fully support the European negotiations, that that was in the U.S. interest to have the diplomacy have a chance to work, that really was the course that we continued to follow this week because it was clear that at some point we were going to have to decide should the United States become party to the talks that we already supported.
QUESTION: Do you see any sign at this point that the Iranians have taken this seriously?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I do think they're taking it seriously, but let's see what answer they come up with. As I said, I don't think we're going to react to everything that's said until we have -- they have a chance to see the proposal and until they understand the two paths.
QUESTION: What's the timetable here? John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, told us a few weeks ago that he does not expect Iran to acquire a nuclear device at the current rate for at least until the beginning of the next decade. Is the intelligence on that estimate any better than it was on the intelligence with respect to Iraq's WMD program?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the United States is not the only country concerned about the path that Iran is on. I think that the IAEA has had concerns about the progress of the Iranian program and the many unanswered questions about the Iranian program. Whatever the timetable to an unacceptable outcome in Iran, we have to push the diplomacy as hard as possible. One of the reasons that the President made the decision to do this now is that we need to know whether negotiation is a real option or not. And we will soon know that. But for the international community it is clear that Iran is on a path with its nuclear program that is not acceptable.
QUESTION: Do you think your partners in Russia and China will ever agree to putting sanctions on Iran if they do not pick up this trick?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm in fact very -- well, let me say proposal.
QUESTION: Proposal. Excuse me.
SECRETARY RICE: This is a serious offer to the Iranians by the international community. Look, I'm quite satisfied that the commitments that our partners have made to both paths are indeed to both paths and to robust action on either path, as appropriate.
QUESTION: I know you don't set deadlines and I wouldn't ask you to do that, but just in a general way how long do the Iranians have to respond to this proposal?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we need to know whether or not the negotiating track is real and we've said this can't be a matter of months because the Iranians are continuing to move. One reason that it's important that they suspend is that the program can't just continue even if you're in negotiations. And I might just add, Bob, that I've heard the condition of full suspension described as an American condition. It is, of course, the condition that the Europeans set when their talks broke down and it is also the condition written into the IAEA Board of Governors resolution and into the presidential statement of the UN Security Council.
QUESTION: In the end, do you rule out the military option now that you're concentrating on this?
SECRETARY RICE: The President has never ruled out and won't rule out any of his options. But as he said, diplomacy is the way to resolve this, unity of the international community is the way to resolve this, and everything that we've done is to build an international consensus, a climate of opinion about what Iran must do, and now we're working very hard to try and see if we do indeed have a negotiating option.
QUESTION: So you're saying -- the Soviet Foreign Minister said that -- unambiguously ruled out the idea of military force. You're saying that's not the case?
SECRETARY RICE: The President of the United States doesn't rule out any of his options. But again, we believe that there is a lot of life left in the diplomacy here. I had heard, "Is the diplomacy at an end?" Well, of course the United States with this new offer made a new diplomatic overture, a new diplomatic effort. I think it just shows that we, the international community, has a lot of arrows in its quiver.
QUESTION: All right, we will leave it there, Madame Secretary, to be continued.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you for being with us.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.
Released on June 4, 2006