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Interview With Susan Page of USA Today

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
August 15, 2006

QUESTION: Thank you for this time.


QUESTION: And congratulations also on the UN resolution.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's a good first step, but it is just a first step and we have to recognize that.

QUESTION: There was, of course, a lot of skepticism that you would get to that point.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, this was a very, very difficult crisis and it was difficult for a number of reasons. Obviously, it started when Hezbollah attacked across an internationally recognized line, abducted soldiers, started shelling Israel and in doing so, I think demonstrated that they had become a state within a state to the degree that perhaps was not even recognized more broadly. And so that was one factor that you were dealing with.

And it was made exceedingly difficult by the fact that Hezbollah uses villages and human shields to carry out military activities. I thought one of the remarkable things about the resolution is that it recognized that, in fact, Hezbollah was the trigger for this war and therefore, brought terrible devastation and destruction on the Lebanese population. You also had a circumstance in which Israeli civilians were being targeted every day by hundreds of rockets. And you had a circumstance in which you had a Lebanese Government that was clearly not fully in control of its country, but where the answer to the crisis was to have a firm commitment to put the Lebanese Government in full control of its country.

And so all of those factors, the toll on civilians, the fact that you had a Hezbollah operating in the way that they did, a Lebanese Government that needed to be strengthened and empowered to take control of its country meant that you couldn't resolve it in the kind of way that it was resolved in '96 when Syria and Israel, with U.S. help, over the heads of the Lebanese Government, actually signed the ceasefire. So it took longer. We were in very close coordination with the French, who have extremely strong interests and history in Lebanon and have been good partners for us in Lebanon going all the way back to Resolution 1559. And so that piece of it had to be managed.

Nick Burns said -- I felt -- when he said it, I felt exactly that way, that we would think we had it all pieced together, we would go home, and it's like "Groundhog Day" -- the next day you would come in and it had come apart again. But I think in the final analysis, all the parties realized that if we could get to a solution that ended the violence, that had a cessation of violence, but left the conditions in place so that you didn't go back to the status quo ante and that you dealt with the root cause, which was the state within a state, that that was the best outcome.

QUESTION: Now, one of the keys to this is the international force of 15,000. What is your sense of the timetable for that force being in place?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, just one final point about the --


SECRETARY RICE: The other complicating factor, of course, was you had a big external power in Iran, which -- Iran, through Syria, arming the Hezbollah. So that's another factor that made things complicated, but that said, we've got the cessation and now we have to try to support it and the international force is perhaps the most important element. It needs to accompany the Lebanese armed forces, which are willing, for the first time in decades, to go south, but need help with their capabilities. I've been talking to Kofi Annan. We've had people working with the UN Peacekeeping Office. We have been talking to potential troop contributors. I talked to the French Foreign Minister this morning. This force needs to come into being. It needs to be active on the basis of its quite robust mandate, which is a really very robust mandate, and then I think it can do the job.

QUESTION: When you talk about a really robust mandate, what does that mean?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, it really means, first of all, that it's a sizeable enough force. The UNIFIL that is currently there is about 2,000 people and it's just not capable and it has no -- virtually no Lebanese forces with it, so now you would have roughly 15,000 Lebanese forces, another 15,000 UN forces, that's 30,000 forces. That's a substantial force.

Secondly, it has to have the ability to defend itself, because you don't want a circumstance where it's fired upon or somebody challenges it and it doesn't have the right to defend itself. That's in the mandate. It also has to have the ability to defend its mandate, meaning that if by force of arms, some group tries to interfere with the mandate, which is to keep the south clear of arms and armed groups, that it has the right to respond to that kind of aggression. It's backed up by an international arms embargo for the first time, which means that those states that now supply Hezbollah are in violation of a UN Security Council resolution and that should help the forces as well. And then ultimately, it's going to have to help the Lebanese at various entry points to help enforce that embargo.

QUESTION: So would the UN forces be expected to -- allowed to and expected to confront -- if there are Hezbollah forces, to confront them and to forcibly disarm Hezbollah forces that were in the south?

SECRETARY RICE: Susan, I don't think there is an expectation that this force is going to physically disarm Hezbollah. I think it's a little bit of a misreading of how you disarm a militia. You have to have a plan, first of all, for the disarmament of a militia, and then the hope is that some people lay down their arms voluntarily. You have cantonment areas where heavy arms are -- but the disarmament of militias is essentially a political agreement and the Lebanese Government has said that it intends to live up to its obligations under Resolution 1559 and something called the Taif Accords, which was signed in 1989 in Saudi Arabia -- it shows you how long we've been at this -- that they will not have any groups in Lebanon carrying arms that are not a part of the central security forces of Lebanon.

So the political agreement is in place. Now the plan for disarmament is to be worked out. Kofi Annan is to present a plan. This will have to be worked with the Lebanese Government, it'll have to be worked with the Lebanese armed forces, and I'm sure to the degree that support is needed for that, the international forces can help. But even if you look at how we disarmed -- how the Afghans disarmed militias in Afghanistan, it was not by the quite substantial coalition forces going up and physically disarming Afghan militias. So I think there's a little bit of a -- when people say, "Are they going to disarm Hezbollah?" that's not actually how militias disarm. They're disarmed by a plan under political agreement and then support can be given to the Lebanese in doing that.

QUESTION: So disarming Hezbollah involves a political agreement that the Lebanese Government has got to be responsible for?

SECRETARY RICE: And that the Lebanese Government has already undertaken an obligation to do that. Now we will see whether Hezbollah, which is -- after all, has ministers in the Lebanese Government, is prepared to live up to those international obligations. We will see who is for peace and who isn't. We will see whether Hezbollah has taken the lesson that everyone in the international community understands, that you can't have one foot in politics and one foot in terror.

But this time, we'll make it very clear; if there is resistance to the obligations that the Lebanese Government has undertaken, then there will be a problem and Hezbollah will have to face the international community and Hezbollah supporters will have to face the international community.

QUESTION: Meaning Iran and Syria?

SECRETARY RICE: Meaning Iran and Syria.

QUESTION: But if -- say Hezbollah decides it does not choose to live up to this agreement and does not choose to disarm. What happens then?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't want to speculate because I think so much depends on conditions, but let's look at it this way. First of all, the Hezbollah, I think, was hurt by the military action that has been taken against it. It does not have the positions in the south that it once had. It doesn't have the positions along the border. It's not going to be on the border with Israel. Those will be international forces and the Lebanese armed forces.

It will -- can it be kept from being resupplied? Yes; if the international embargo is carried out and carried out with vigor, they can be prevented from rearming. So already, this organization will be weaker because its dominant position in the south, which allowed it to carry out this attack, a position that they've built up essentially since the Israelis withdrew in 2000, they have been dislodged from that. So part of the answer to how to deal with Hezbollah is not just the matter of arms, although it's important, but also keeping them out of those strategic positions in the south.

And then I think there will be a lot of pressure on Hezbollah to make a choice and if, in fact, they make the wrong choice, one would have to assume that there will be others who are willing to call Hezbollah what we are willing to call it, which is a terrorist organization. Europe does not, for instance, currently list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. I would think that a refusal to live up to obligations that were undertaken by the Lebanese Government, clearly putting Hezbollah outside of the Lebanese Government consensus might trigger, for instance, something like that.

QUESTION: So it would isolate Hezbollah in the world?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, in ways that -- we consider them a terrorist organization now, but Hezbollah is a little different than Hamas. Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the Europeans; Hezbollah is not. I would think that this would be another further isolation for Hezbollah.

QUESTION: Is that complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is now a party of the -- part of the Lebanese Government, has two ministers? I mean, is it hard to isolate a movement that is, in fact, part of the democratic government that we support?

SECRETARY RICE: Ironically, I think it simplifies the matter, because as members of the government, those ministers have an obligation to the government. And the government has an obligation to the international community. And so in that sense, for Hezbollah to stand outside of the consensus of the Lebanese Government, I think is actually more difficult, not harder -- not easier.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Lebanese Government has been strengthened or weakened by this month-long conflict?

SECRETARY RICE: I have no doubt it's been strengthened, I think, for a couple of reasons. First of all the Foreign -- the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Siniora led his government and his people through this extraordinarily trying time with dignity, with strength. I was in Rome when he spoke to the assembled there. It was passionate, but it was also concrete and here are the things that we need to do.

And I hear a lot about how Nasrallah has emerged from this, but Nasrallah is going to have to face what has become of those populations in the south and the great devastation that Hezbollah brought on. Prime Minister Siniora is someone who, with great dignity and great aplomb, has led his people out of that terrible situation, not of his own making, to, I think, an international standing that is quite remarkable.

QUESTION: Now, it's clear that Hezbollah has taken a military hit, had its military resources degraded through this past month. But there is a lot of commentary in the region and even here in the United States that it's been politically enhanced, enhanced in Lebanon and across the Arab world. And I wonder if you think that's true, if its reputation has, in fact, been burnished in some ways.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we need to let the dust settle, literally, and then the question will be asked of Hezbollah, exactly what did they achieve? They achieved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese. They achieved the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure and housing and neighborhoods. They achieved the -- what has not been achieved before, the movement of the Lebanese army into the south to displace them with an international force that this time, will be robust enough to defend its mandate. That's what they achieved.

Now perhaps that stands as a great achievement for Hezbollah. I would submit it doesn't. What it says is that because they launched this war, unprovoked, clearly without the authority of the Lebanese Government, they are -- have been branded by this international -- by the international community, by a 15-0 vote of the Security Council as the aggressors. I think that is unheard of in the history of the Middle East, and I -- the Middle East conflict -- and I would suggest that when the dust clears, Hezbollah has a lot to answer for.

QUESTION: You know, you may well be right that over the long term, there will be a feeling that Hezbollah caused this terrible situation, but do you think that over the short term, there has been some political benefits for Hezbollah?

SECRETARY RICE: I can't tell, but if there have, I think they'll be very short-lived, because Lebanon needs to now -- to rebuild and to rebuild as a respected democratic state that has control of its territory, where it's the Lebanese army that defends the Lebanese people and that defends the Lebanese people in a way that does not endanger them or their neighborhood. And I think that when everyone looks around, except for Hezbollah's direct supporters like Syria and Iran, the Arab world, the neighborhood will look at Hezbollah and say, "How could extremists cause this kind of devastation?"

In fact, the Saudi Government and the Egyptian Government said that early on. Now it's true, as the war went on, there was more and more emotion. As civilian casualties mounted, it was more and more difficult. But there's a certain reality on the ground and it's now the obligation of the international community to carry through on the real promises, really, that were made now to Lebanon and to Israel about what the situation on the ground is going to be after this conflict is over. And that has to do with the international force and the movement of the Lebanese army south.

QUESTION: There was an AP report this afternoon that the first announcements of commitments for this international force would be Thursday. Is that true?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm not -- I don't know that it will be Thursday. I think it's going to be soon, because I know that people are working very, very hard. Kofi Annan is working really hard on this and I think the international community will take on its responsibilities. I do.

QUESTION: Do you think there are already, implicitly or explicitly, commitments for the 15,000 troops or some portion of them?

SECRETARY RICE: I think there are clearly countries that have expressed an interest in participating. And I think that you're talking about thousands of troops. I don't know if we're at 15,000 yet, but there are certainly a lot of expressions of commitments.

QUESTION: So you feel confident that in the short term, by the end of the week or whenever, we'll have an announcement of thousands of troops that are being committed?

SECRETARY RICE: I think you will start to have contributor nations over the next -- I can't say the end of the week, but over the next period of time, you will start to have contributor nations come forward. Now, of course, it has to be melded into a force and it -- I think people will want to look carefully at the mandate. They'll want to have military discussions. They'll want to have discussions about how it will deploy. Those are -- that's only fair for governments that must put their forces now into a difficult situation. But I would have liked to have had the force in being immediately, but it is certainly coming along. And I should also mention that people are working also to try to strengthen the Lebanese forces because, of course, they will be an important part of this too.

QUESTION: Kofi Annan had said that the French commander in the region had said it might take a year to get fully up to 15,000. Too long?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, too long.

QUESTION: Kofi Annan said yesterday, I think, weeks or months. Is that more of the timetable you see?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't know what prompted the comment about a year, and it may have been in some other context, but the mandate for UNIFIL was 8,000 -- 7,000 originally. It just had dwindled to 2,000. It now has a much more extensive mandate, which means it's going to need different kinds of equipment and different kinds of mobility and so forth. So that will take a little bit longer to put together. But when I speak to people and I thought certainly Kofi Annan's comments were more in line, weeks or --

QUESTION: Weeks or months.


QUESTION: So it might take some months?

SECRETARY RICE: I think you'll start to see real movement in weeks.

QUESTION: Would you see partial deployment initially before you --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's going to have to be partial because you'd never deploy a force all at once.

QUESTION: Right, so maybe partial deployment within weeks, you think?

SECRETARY RICE: I can't answer. I mean, I have to leave that to the people who are trying to plan the force.

QUESTION: Yeah, I'm sure that's quite a challenge, that operation.


QUESTION: Are you worried about this -- of the weeks or maybe slightly longer than that before there is a robust UN force on the ground? Are you worried about what might happen in the interim?

SECRETARY RICE: Sure. This is a fragile situation. I think everybody understands that. And it's going to take the maximum coordination -- for instance, displaced people trying to go home; that will take coordination. The humanitarian situation, which we're very concerned about, making sure now that people can take advantage of the abatement of the violence to get humanitarian shipments in, that should help to prevent any situation of panic or -- which might set off something. But that's the kind of thing you have to worry about.

No, I think one thing we were very concerned about as time was going on was the humanitarian situation was worsening. Fuel supplies were getting low. There were areas that couldn't be reached. And now, at least you can deal with those kinds of situations. I hope there will be a fairly early response to being able to secure ports and perhaps the airport so that the arms embargo can be held up, but so that also, you can get movement at ports and at the airport, which would be a major breakthrough.

So there's a lot of work to do in this period of time. But yes, it's a fragile situation. And I have to repeat, I don't think anybody expects that there won't be some skirmishes. There will be, because you have opposing forces in close proximity. The Israelis have the right to defend their forces. And we expect, though, that the kind of military action that has been so hard on civilians, that is, rockets into Israel, attacks on civilian populations, aerial attacks and the like will hopefully cease.

QUESTION: When this started a month ago, there was some sense that both Israel and the United States felt that this could be an opportunity. I think the President used exactly that word, an opportunity to take care of something that had been a military threat for some time. And I wonder if it's taken longer and cost more than the U.S. thought when this first began.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't know how to gauge -- I don't remember having a sense that this should take a certain amount of time. What I remember at the G-8, because it broke out just around the time of the G-8, is when we put together the document that became -- really, the G-8 document became a kind of blueprint for how to move forward, the concern was that Hezbollah not be able to be left in the position that allowed it to do this in the first place. And that was, from the very beginning, the big concern.

We have wanted to see an end to this violence as soon as possible. The problem was that you needed to have an end to it that was going to create the kind of conditions that we created in the UN Security Council resolution. And so the notion that you would try to not return to the status quo ante, I think, was not a concern -- not an issue of -- you know, how much damage could the Israelis do. I've read those stories; how much damage could the -- that wasn't the issue. The issue was, when were you in a position to have a fundamentally different situation in the south. And that took some time because as the military operations were going on, what really became clear to me was that this wasn't just a cessation of hostilities that was being negotiated, it was really that people were trying to negotiate the terms on -- I'll call it war termination; who -- what would the conditions in the south look like after this was over, and that's what really took the time.

When I was in the region two weeks ago, a lot of these elements were already emerging then, but the Lebanese Government had not been able to get the decision to move the LAF to the south, for instance. The Israelis were not yet ready to think about an enhanced UNIFIL rather than a completely new security force. So it took some time to go through those elements to get to this point.

MR. MCCORMACK: Susan, I think we have time maybe for one more question.


QUESTION: Okay. And on the UNIFIL force, do you feel a kind of personal obligation to make sure that we're -- to make sure it's fully enlisted with the kind of troops that you want to have so that you'd be doing -- if there needs to be more recruiting done, for instance, that you would be doing that?

SECRETARY RICE: I absolutely will do everything I can to support Kofi Annan's efforts to raise this force. We all undertook an obligation when we raised our hands on Friday night. We all undertook an obligation to, first, ask the parties or first, get the parties to agree to a cessation of hostilities, but also to try and create conditions in which this wouldn't happen again. And so yeah, it's a personal obligation in that sense, and it's an obligation on behalf of the United States of America. And so of course, I'll do everything I can.

QUESTION: Including specific calls to other nations to try to --

SECRETARY RICE: Right, whatever is needed, yeah.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.


QUESTION: Well, thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. You bet.


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