Interview With James Carney and Elaine Shannon of Time MagazineSecretary Condoleezza Rice
August 4, 2006
QUESTION:As you've seen in the newspapers, it's been all throughout, talking to people about the fear of why it wouldn't go to Syria and even Iran. Do you have any commitments from the Israelis that they won't move an offensive into those countries?
SECRETARY RICE: The Israelis have said publicly that they do not want to widen this war and I take them at their word. Obviously, the key is to get the violence stopped in a way that doesn't permit this situation to return to where we came from because we want to prevent the circumstances that allowed Hezbollah to make this attack in the first instance. So we are working very hard now, and I think making a lot of progress on a Security Council resolution that would cease the violence, cease the fighting and on the basis of some principles that make clear that that can't be returned to status quo ante, and then to have ultimately an international force go in under a U.N. mandate. So we're making progress. But the Israelis have said they don't want to widen the war, and I assume that they do not.
QUESTION: And on the subject of the resolution, the French resolution refers to something -- the wording is kind of -- it doesn't say prisoner exchange, but where does that issue stand? Is there any compromise possible on that?
SECRETARY RICE: We did not begin with the French resolution as the basis of the text. We agreed to take elements of work that we had done in Lebanon with the parties and the French resolution is essentially a resolution based on a plan that they had put forward in Rome. And we've now drafted a resolution. So I would not start trying to talk about what was in that resolution and how it's now --
QUESTION: Well, I don't want to get into technicalities, but is there a way to find a compromise on the issue of prisoners?
SECRETARY RICE: I'm not going to talk about the specifics of what is being dealt with in the resolution. Obviously, the abducted Israeli prisoner and the release of that prisoner unconditionally have been called for by numerous international bodies, including in the G-8 when it was called for. And everybody recognizes that there is an issue with Lebanese prisoners, but I don't want to suggest that anybody is talking about prisoner exchange here.
QUESTION: Israel hasn't (inaudible) prisoner exchange, right?
SECRETARY RICE: But in the diplomacy there isn't contemplation suggesting a prisoner exchange.
QUESTION: There have been a numbers of commentaries and stories talking about the U.S. and Israel being surprised at Hezbollah's capabilities. And you've been asked about this before. Does this suggest an intelligence failure? And if so, what do we do about it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, the capabilities of Hezbollah I think were more extensive than people realized because they have used the last 10 years, really since the "Grapes of Wrath" ceasefire, to build those capabilities and the enhanced relationships that they've had with Iran and Syria, but particularly Iran for financing and for technology clearly has improved their capabilities.
It is very hard to know what the capabilities of a terrorist organization are when they burrow into a population in the way that they do, when they have free rein and free run of southern Lebanon because there's a vacuum there. And so the goal has to be to prevent those circumstances from coming into being again. That's why the extension of the authority of the Lebanese Government throughout the country is very important, and when the Lebanese Government does have authority over the country, when Hezbollah cannot operate as a state within a state in the south of the country, that's going to be a strategic setback for Iran as well.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, going to that point, we are three weeks into Israel's offensive, and the day before yesterday Hezbollah fired 200 plus rockets, yesterday it was 120 and a hundred of them within one hour, and today we've already topped 100. It seems like the goal of diminishing Hezbollah's capability may be unattainable or it is certainly not working. Is there any evidence that this -- that allowing this offensive to continue in order to create the circumstances that it can be a more permanent ceasefire may not actually be productive?
SECRETARY RICE: It is not a matter of allowing the offensive to continue; it is a matter of getting in place a set of political understandings that will not allow the conditions that created this situation in the first place.
But let me go to the question of Hezbollah's capabilities. I'm certain Hezbollah has lots of rockets that it can fire, but there are other questions. There are questions of infrastructure. There are questions of command and control. There are questions of supply of equipment that have to be taken into consideration. And there is the question of freedom of action and freedom of movement in south. That's really the problem.
Now, ultimately, Hezbollah has to be, under several obligations of the Lebanese Government, disarmed. And I would think you would want to deal with these heavy weapons existence and so forth and its rockets early on. But this is not just an issue of Hezbollah having rockets. This is an issue of Hezbollah having a strategic position in southern Lebanon that has allowed it to operate as a state within a state, that has allowed it to operate with complete freedom of movement, and that is what you have to focus on, is denying that capability that becomes (inaudible).
QUESTION: And that is the goal here of the Israeli defense?
SECRETARY RICE: There are several elements to it. Obviously, they lost some of that ground and shouldn't be allowed to get it back. Secondly, you don't want to leave a vacuum. Ultimately that ground has to be filled by the Lebanese armed forces. And finally, the Lebanese armed forces have to be the only armed authority in the country. And those elements are the ones that will unravel this problem of a state within a state.
QUESTION: Disappointment has been expressed in many corridors about a U.S. refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire is the words, and you've talked many times of a sustainable ceasefire as an alternative. But has the U.S. approach, do you think, undermined its credibility in the Arab world?
SECRETARY RICE: I think what would undermine America's credibility is if we said something we didn't really believe, first of all. We want an immediate ceasefire too. We just want one that isn't going to give way in a few days or weeks or months to more violence. And so we were just being completely straightforward about that in calling for what was both possible and indeed desirable.
Now I know that some have read that as not wanting to get to the ceasefire as soon as possible. No, we want to get to a ceasefire as soon as possible. I think now the kind of cessation of hostilities -- this is happening in two phases -- cessation of hostilities or suspension or whatever you want to call it -- that leads to -- and based on a set of conditions that stops the fighting -- but then starts to create the circumstances where you can invite international forces in. You have, then, something that is really sustainable over an extended period of time, which is really what we must do.
The way we think that we finally now, in the last -- after the time that I spent in the region, and after the international community has begun to support the notion of an international force and so forth, I think we now are seeing those conditions come into place. And so now, I think you can go and get an immediate stop to the fighting that has a prospect of lasting. And that's really what you would want to do.
QUESTION: It seems like you're using a euphemism when you say that the conditions are in place. The conditions beyond conversations, the only conditions that have changed are on the ground brought about by the Israeli offensive. So, I mean, shouldn't we just be explicit about what was the policy we've been pursuing here, which is to give Israel a grace period to diminish it.
SECRETARY RICE: If that had been an (inaudible) agreement that Hezbollah had to move out of the south and that it had not to try to act as a state within a state, we would not have had to have military action there because it was the fact that they used that strategic position of the south to attack across the blue line that caused this conflict. So when I say concentrate on the conditions on the ground, I mean concentrate on things like a commitment that you are not going to have armed groups operating outside of the authority of the Lebanese Government, that you're going to have security arrangements that are going to ensure that. You have to get agreement to those things. And unless you have agreements to those things, unless the Council agrees that those are the elements that are going to sustain a ceasefire, then you don't know what it is that the ceasefire is trying to protect.
The problem is that with kind of a unconditional, "well, let's just all stop fighting," as much as everybody wants to see a stop to the fighting, you do that at your peril because no one knows what those political conditions that you're trying to protect actually look like. What we've done now is establish those political conditions. I think that will permit the Council to call for an immediate halt to fighting. I think that then will permit the parties to say, yes, these are the conditions that we agree to or we agree to in principle.
Then if we can get an international force in that will really protect all of this and you can move this then toward an enduring peace in which you have the kind of strategic environment in which Lebanon can build its capabilities of its own forces, the Lebanese Government can strengthen its own authority over the country and so forth.
So there are series of steps. You don't go from end the fighting to peace. You have to end the fighting on the basis of something that is actually going to lead to peace.
QUESTION: You are confident then that Lebanon will be able to disarm Hezbollah somewhere right after this beginning of cessation of violence?
SECRETARY RICE: I'm confident that the Lebanese Government understands its obligation to do that. In fact, it is not just 1559; it is also the Taif Accords that required that disarmament of militias. I know that the Lebanese Government doesn't want a circumstance again where you have militias running around that can bring this kind of destruction on a country. I know that Prime Minister Siniora made a major point in his Rome speech of saying that there couldn't be a return to the status quo ante and all armed authority had to be held in the Lebanese Government.
Now it is up to the international community to help them achieve that. And that means creating a stable environment. It means not letting these groups operate where they've left. And it means having, in this political framework, the Lebanese army and the Lebanese Government able to disarm Hezbollah.
You don't disarm a militia by locking up their people and taking away their guns. You have to have a plan for it. You have to have (inaudible) areas. You have to have the orderly disarmament of people. You have to have someplace to return them. Some of these people have probably done nothing but fight their entire lives. So there has to be a plan for doing this and I'm confident that the Lebanese Government very much wants to get this done.
QUESTION: This is something of a transition question, but a former supporter of the U.S.'s policies in the Middle East, Walid Jumblatt --
SECRETARY RICE: A former critic of U.S. policies.
QUESTION: Well, a supporter of some.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, you mean, very recently.
QUESTION: Right, right. Looking at the state of the world and the state of region, he would say, you know, the U.S. is looking at failure in Palestine, failure in Iraq and failure in Lebanon. And given what we saw at the hearings yesterday on Capitol Hill, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Abizaid, Secretary Rumsfeld on the conditions on Iraq, conditions on the ground, how -- what evidence is there that the Middle East has become more stable and less dangerous as a result of this Administration's policies?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would not say that it has become less dangerous. I would say that it was never stable. And the sense that things were going along just kind of fine when this Administration began a new set of policies in the Middle East is either short-sighted or -- and is short-sighted and ahistorical because I would just ask, all right, a failure in Palestine? Where was the success?
QUESTION: Compared to what?
SECRETARY RICE: Compared to what? Failure in Iraq compared to what? A failure in Lebanon compared to what? The false stability of Syrian troops occupying the country for 30 years?
Again, I find it a very odd framework and a very odd way of looking at things that because it is hard and because it is turbulent and because change of this magnitude comes with a lot of turbulence, that we should wish for the good old days of the false stability of Saddam Hussein and his 300,000 people in mass graves and his chemical weapons use and his two wars started in a period of 20 years and the war we fought against him in 1991 and the fight against him in 1998, or Yasser Arafat stealing the Palestinian people blind, launching the second intifada, the Passover massacre. What Middle East are we talking about?
And so, yes, this is -- we're in transition to a different kind of Middle East and it is very turbulent. It's even violent. But it has a chance at least of being a Middle East in which there is a democratic multiethnic Iraq where people solve their differences by politics not by repression. It has a chance of having an Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace. By the way, it's Israel that has now left -- that left the Gaza unilaterally. It has a chance of having a Lebanon that can control its own territory without Syrian forces, the kind of (inaudible) Syrian forces there. Yes, it's tough going, but compared to what?
QUESTION: Is that what you meant by birth pains, that something new is happening?
SECRETARY RICE: That's right.
QUESTION: It can go one way or it can another so we're trying to push it?
SECRETARY RICE: Again, sometimes I -- there's a kind of ahistoricism about how big change takes place and there is a sense that things that seem now very, very hard, well, they are just impossible. I don't think there was anybody in 1946 who would have told you that Germany and France weren't going to go to war again. But now nobody thinks it's possible that Germany and France will ever go to war again. I don't think there was anybody in 1946 who would tell you that Japan was not only going to be democratic, but it was going to be a firm defensive ally of the United States. It's that way. But now in retrospect, people say, oh, well, that was easy because you see Europe had these democratic values underneath or you had the occupation of Japan (inaudible). I don't think it was easy in 1946 or in 1947.
So I would just have two answers. The first is: Compared to what Middle East, what Middle East are people remembering? That would be my first question. And the second question is: Are you giving enough scope and time to big historical change in order to be able to make a judgment?
QUESTION: There must be a point at which, because the comparison to Germany and Japan is well taken, but there was also steady progress from that point forward.
SECRETARY RICE: When? In --
QUESTION: -- in '46.
SECRETARY RICE: When? In 1948, when Germany was permanently divided by the Berlin airlift?
QUESTION: That --
SECRETARY RICE: No. And Czechoslovakia fell to a communist coup? And we had --
QUESTION: Okay, but that doesn't have anything to do with Germany and France going to war with each other or going to war with the United States.
SECRETARY RICE: No, but we had -- but let me -- it's very important. What steady progress? In 1949, when the Soviet Union exploded a nuclear weapons and the Chinese Communists won? What steady progress?
QUESTION: I'm not talking about war. I'm talking about your example of Germany and France as potential future allies as opposed to combatants. The point I was trying to make is that the situation in Iraq at some point, if it continues to get worse, you know, your point about is it better or worse than what was there may end up to provide an answer that is not the one you're giving now. I mean, is there a point at which if it does slide into civil war, as the commander said yesterday is possible, if it is divided into sections, Sunni, Shia and Kurdish, if there is a raging civil war for years and involves other powers in the region, is there a point at which this project does become a worse alternative than what we had before?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I guess I would ask the 300,000 people who ended up in mass graves what they think.
QUESTION: Over the course -- no question that there are people ending up in graves now. And I'm just saying, is there a sliding scale here?
SECRETARY RICE: The thing is that I don't think that we are anywhere near able to make those kinds of judgments. I don't think Iraq is going to slide into civil war. I do believe that they have problems that carry violence which is a relatively small number of people from one group reeking havoc on the population and vice versa. I don't think that you are looking at the breakdown of the institutions -- that people's desire to have institutions of unity -- that usually constitutes civil war. People haven't opted out of a unified Iraq. People haven't opted out of the democratic institutions. There are some people outside the system who seem to be intent on trying to cause the breakdown of those institutions. But people haven't opted out of them.
Our civil war began quite dramatically when the South opted out of the United States of America. Well, the Kurds haven't opted out of Iraq. The Shia haven't opted out of Iraq. There are --
QUESTION: Thousands of Shia today demonstrated in Baghdad, shouting "Death to Israel. Death to America."
SECRETARY RICE: I said they haven't opted out of a unified Iraq. They weren't saying let's leave Iraq. There are going to be, as -- in these new democratic states, people are going to say a lot of things that we don't like. That's the nature of democracy. I think it is highly likely, though, that an Iraq that is democratic and that is unified is less likely to be a problem for Israel than the Iraq of Saddam Hussein who fired Scud missiles into Israel.
So on your question of what's better, let's be realistic. Where was the military threat? It was from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I don't think you're going to see that from this new Iraq.
QUESTION: Well, just on that point, Tony Blair has mentioned the "hearts and minds" problem, and do you think we are getting close to the point where perhaps our presence is part of the problem and (inaudible) is part of the solution?
SECRETARY RICE: I do think there are some people who take our presence as an excuse to propagate violence or to stir passions. But I also know that there are -- I've heard no Iraqi leaders calling for us -- the central Iraqi leadership calling for us to leave, and that is Sunni and Shia now. That's changed among the Sunni leadership by the way. I've also heard no Iraqi leaders suggesting that the immediate withdrawal of American forces would make their lives easier. Quite the opposite. And I'm told that in many neighborhoods the most reassuring sign is in fact the American or coalition forces. Now that's good because it means that I think they recognize that Americans want to help. But it does say that there's still work to do in getting the confidence of the Iraqi people in their own security institutions. And that, I think, is the problem. I think that they don't -- I think that there is not -- obviously it is a problem that people don't have confidence in their security institutions.
And if I can cite one thing that I think we need to focus a lot on, it is trying to build a police force or help them build a police force that is more professional, less given to both corruption and to sectarianism. And if you can make progress on that issue, I think you're going to make a lot of progress on the sectarian problem (inaudible).
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, going back to the broader question that is the impact of what the U.S. has done in Iraq. There's been a lot of discussion and intellectual debate about how there was for better or worse a certain stability or balance of power, even though it was intense and it sometimes led to war between Shia and Sunni in the region, and that the removal of Saddam and empowering the Shia in Iraq and their close ties to Iran has potentially created a Shia arc. And I wonder if you could address that issue and the risks of that.
SECRETARY RICE: First of all, I don't think the Shia arc exists. I think that Iranians would like people to -- would ideologically like to have a Shia arc that is based on their own kind of theocratic model. And they have some allies in that. There's no doubt about that. But most of them don't happen to live in Iraq, and most of them are certainly not in the Iraqi Government where because of a long history of tension between Iraqi and Iranian Shia. We want Iran to have good neighborly relations with Iraq. That's only fair to Iraq. But if you look at the models that the Iraqis have chosen for their government, it's not the Iranian model, and I don't see Iraqis who are anxious to trade Saddam Hussein for the Grand Ayatollah (inaudible).
As to the Shia/Sunni balance, well, it was a balance of sorts. It was called repression of Shia in Iraq. And I find it odd that people would think it is a better argument, a better policy to countenance the repression of an entire group, an entire religious community than to go through whatever difficulty there is in getting to a circumstance in which that community, which is after all the majority, can find a new balance of power based on political institutions.
We know in our own history that this hasn't been easy and we know in our own history that it has sometimes been violent. But we also know that if you want to argue that it was just kind of better when repression was the order of the day or absence of equal rights was the order of the day, I think no American would agree with that. And so I think it would be very strange if we argued that for the Iraqis.
QUESTION: One follow-up question on Iran. Do you think it is possible to bypass the president's faction and reach out to a more -- I won't say moderate, nobody wants to say that -- but more pragmatic faction or two factions who want to be part of the world, or is there now -- do you see a possibility of doing that? Are we making the president and his faction ten feet tall?
SECRETARY RICE: I don't know how to read internal politics in Iran and I'm probably more cautious about trying to do this than most people because I used to try to read the internal politics of a totalitarian state and we almost always had it wrong. And there we thought we really knew something about this state. We had all -- actually all been there. I read Pravda and Izvestiya for little differences between very and very reasonable and reasonable and assumed there was a split between the state and the government -- or the state and the party.
We shouldn't do that. We have to treat Iran as a whole. Now, if there are differences in that leadership about Iran's role in the world, about the devastating impact that it would have on Iran to be really isolated from the international community, policies that sharpen those choices for the Iranians are likely to sharpen those contradictions inside Iran.
So rather than trying to prejudge what those contradictions might be or trying to play to one side or another, which I can assure you we don't understand, and trying to do it through a glass darkly, I think it is preferable to continue to lay out the strategic choices for Iran as to their nuclear program, as to support for terrorism, as to supporting democratic change. And if there are indeed voices in Iran who are susceptible to the argument that Iran's deepening isolation is a problem, they will emerge.
QUESTION: Why not talk to Syria? All the players here who are problems for us we don't have relationships with. And we talk to bad guys. Even in this Administration, we'll talk to people we have problems with like the Chinese who do things we don't like. So what is the downside of talking to Syria, talking to Hamas, talking to Hezbollah, talking to --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations. It's actually --
QUESTION: They also have -- but they have political arms. I mean, we talked to, you know, we spoke to -- I know this is somewhat apropos on this, but you know we spoke to Sinn Fein when the IRA was blowing places up.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, but you make an important point about that -- Northern Ireland. There was a context here which changed a set of priorities and changed international (inaudible) that Sinn Fein took on on behalf of Northern Ireland that was quite fundamental.
People are asking Hamas to make a not dissimilar choice. You can't have one foot in politics and one foot in terror. If you want to be in politics, then give up the terror, give up violence, join politics. And by the way, accept the consensus -- the Arab consensus, the consensus that has led Palestinian leaders to sign on to a series of agreements over the last decade and a half or so that have to do with the right of Israel to exist, and a renunciation of violence.
So in some ways the comparison tells you something about how --
QUESTION: But it wasn't perfectly clean. We talked before the violence completely ended.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, but the commitment -- has Hamas made a commitment to renunciation of violence and to the existence of the state of Israel? No. Have they been given an opportunity to make that commitment? Yes. But we have a Palestinian partner, by the way, who has made those commitments, and I for one am not prepared to undercut him by assuming that the future of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian state rests with Hamas. I happen to think the future rests with Abu Mazen and people of that kind. And to the degree that others want to join that consensus, I'm all for it and they will find a partner in the United States to the degree that they want to join that consensus and join it fully.
Now, as to the state sponsors, Iran is just in a different category -- a long history there -- but we made an offer that in the context of the six-party offer to Iran that we would be prepared to sit at the table and we said any issues could be on the table. We actually -- if you go back and look at the statement, it doesn't limit the conversation to the nuclear side. But the condition -- the suspension of enrichment activity, uranium enrichment activity -- isn't even our condition. It's the condition of the IAEA Board of Governors, it's the condition of the Paris Accords and now the mandatory condition of the international community. So if Iran wanted to talk, the opportunity was certainly there.
When it comes to Syria, it is not as if we haven't talked to Syria. We have a chargé in Syria. Colin Powell went to Syria. Bill Burns went to Syria multiple times. In December after the President won reelection, Rich Armitage went to Syria. It's not a problem that people don't talk to Syria; it's that Syria doesn't care to listen or respond.
And at least in the case of Lebanon, I think inviting Syria back into Lebanese affairs as if Syria is some kind of broker of peace in Lebanon when it occupied the country brutally for 30 years and interfered in Lebanese affairs and security forces engaged in all kinds of intimidation if not outright assassination of Lebanese officials is grotesque. So the idea that somehow Syria is key to a stable Lebanon, you'd have to convince me of that.
But on the broader issue, it is not as if we haven't talked to Syria, don't talk to Syria, wouldn't talk to Syria. It is that Syria doesn't respond. It continues along the path that it's on.
SECRETARY RICE: All right, thank you.
Released on August 6, 2006