SECRETARY RICE: (Inaudible.) I can remember on a number of occasions going to APEC and being really impressed by the fact that it sweeps really from Chile up through northeast Asia. And these are very dynamic economies. Theyíre largely economies that are committed to open markets, to free trade. And so itís in that sense a very interesting agenda.
Itís also an organization that in recent years has been more devoted to more issues of security, particularly terrorism, and it is an organization that also has learned to cooperate on issues like Avian Flu. So I look forward to the multilateral part.
There were will also be, obviously, a lot of very important security issues, North Korea. There are certain countries here that will have a particular interest in Iran and the proliferation issues. The bilaterals that I will have will allow for a kind of full agenda with the Chinese, the Russians, the Australians and others.
So itís a very full agenda. But Iím most excited about going to Vietnam. I have never been to Vietnam. I think itís a remarkable story. Itís still a place where there is a lot of work to do in terms of political freedom. Just two days ago Vietnam was removed from the countries of concern on religious freedom because of progress that they are making there.
And so itís a country thatís very dynamic. Everyone who goes there talks about its dynamism. Itís obviously looking to join the World Trade Organization. And so from my point of view, the fact that this is in Hanoi is one of the most exciting parts of this trip. So I really look forward to getting there.
Okay, everybody can have a question.
QUESTION: Actually, I wanted to ask you about Iraq. Youíve had a couple of days of meetings in Washington, and I guess some perhaps clarity on what the Baker Commission may be looking at if not what theyíre going to recommend. Have you heard anything in the last two days that sort of gives you any new ideas of what you would like to see happen in Iraq and anything that changes your mind about whether or not Iran could be helpful and U.S. direct talks with Iran could be helpful in that regard?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first, Iíve been looking at the situation in Iraq and trying to do some deep thinking, deep thoughts into where we are at this particular point in time, now several months into the Maliki Government. I started that process with a trip out to Iraq. But really weíve had, inside the Department, several people that have been meeting regularly with me, brainstorming about Iraq, going through a number of issues, really looking in depth what is happening with our reconstruction, whatís happening with the politics. So weíve been very involved in this now for several weeks. And the meetings at the White House over the last couple of days, the President really then wanted to take what he knew to be several informal or several departmental, I guess I would say, efforts in this regard and put them together. And thatís really what he did today.
I donít think that there are any magic bullets about Iraq. This is a complicated case -- or silver bullets, I guess, is the right phrase. But this is a complicated place. Theyíre in a very difficult time. It will take some combination of Iraqi responsibility for their politics and also for increased responsibility for their security as well as better help from the neighbors in supporting Iraq as it makes its very difficult transition.
I canít say -- I donít want to try and prejudge what the Baker-Hamilton Commission will do. We had a very good conversation yesterday, very open. They asked a lot of questions. I talked to them about what I thought we were doing, what differences we were seeing now, and I think we will have to see what ideas come from there, but also what ideas come from others. I think weíll want to hear and Iíll want to talk to some members of Congress about their views. And at that point we can step back and see what new ideas might help us chart a more successful way forward because, obviously, weíre not making the progress that we want to make.
In terms of the Iranians, there are -- there have been multiple -- we have made multiple overtures to the Iranians about talking to them first and foremost through the nuclear file. If they would simply suspend their enrichment program, which has been a demand of the international community for more than two years, we could talk and we could talk not just about the nuclear issue but also about other issues. We do have the channels that at some point it could make sense to activate between Zal Khalilzad and the Ambassador from Iran. So there are no -- thereís no lack of opportunity to talk to the Iranians. I think the question is, is there anything about Iranian behavior that suggests that they are prepared to contribute to stability in Iraq. And I have to say that at this point I donít see it.
QUESTION: You mentioned that this is your first trip to Vietnam. And I believe itís the Presidentís first trip to Vietnam as well. Do you see any parallels between Vietnam, the Vietnam War and obviously whatís happening in Iraq? I heard somebody said something, and I canít remember who, about a week ago that said something that if the U.S. is really lucky, Iraq will end up as Vietnam did. What do you think of that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, if what people are saying is that one would not have guessed in 1975 that Vietnam would look like it does now, I think thatís probably true that Vietnam is an extraordinary place given its history. And our relationship with Vietnam is extraordinary given our history with Vietnam.
But no, I think that, first of all, historical parallels of that kind are I think not very helpful, and I donít think they happen to be right. This was a different set of circumstances with different stakes for the United States and a different kind of war. Iraq is in the center of the Middle East. This is a country that we clearly liberated from a dictator. I donít think that most Iraqis disagree that Saddam Hussein was bad for Iraq. And so the U.S. role here is very different than it was in Vietnam. One of the major differences, of course, is just in terms of the history here, volunteer army, not a draft. And probably most importantly, you have an Iraqi Government that is not facing an alternative government in the sense that you had a South Vietnam and North Vietnam facing off for control. In Iraq you have an Iraqi Government elected by twelve and a half million Iraqis -- thatís most eligible Iraqis -- who are now in a fight against terrorists and insurgents who have tried to destabilize the country.
Now there is a sectarian element of this, the sectarian violence. But again, I donít think that you can argue that this is a government thatís fighting another alternative government. And certainly the role of outside powers is fundamentally different than in Vietnam. So I think if you just go through the list, youíll see that it just doesnít hold up. And I think those kinds of analogies are not only faulty, but they really are not helpful.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, could you tell us are you making any progress on setting a date certain for six party talks? How much progress have you made on coming to a sort of common perspective on how to approach the talks internally in the U.S. Government and among the other five, in other words excluding North Korea? And lastly, do you expect any collective meetings on North Korea at APEC, or are you going to do all this work in bilats?
SECRETARY RICE: North Korea doesnít -- oh, collective meetings on North Korea, sorry. I think that the need for such collective meetings is really not there because what weíre really doing is preparing for the next round of the six party talks. Bob Joseph and Nick Burns were just out there. If necessary, people are prepared to go back to have further talks. I think there probably will be more visits back and forth to try and prepare for the six party talks because we need to take our time this time and make sure that when we go to the table of six party talks there is a reasonable chance for a successful outcome. Weíve tended to go to the talks and then try to let an outcome come from within the discussions from the bottom up. Now they did a very fine job of that in September when they got the six party agreement, but I think weíre past the point that that model is going to work. And itís not at all -- you know, Iím a veteran of arms control negotiations. Itís not at all unusual that you have a lot of preparatory work in advance of any round of getting the actual negotiators together, and thatís whatís going on now.
In terms of the U.S. Government, there isnít any issue inside the U.S. Government. There simply isnít.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, yesterday Tony Blair said that the solution in Iraq had to -- would depend on progress between Israelis and Palestinians. Would you be ready to go to Damascus if itís -- whether the conditions for such progress?
SECRETARY RICE: I think what he said, Sylvie, was that Iraq had to be understood in a broader context and that we needed a comprehensive approach to the Middle East, of which I agree completely. And part of a comprehensive approach would obviously be to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli issue. But I think it would be -- I canít remember precisely his words, and I donít want to put words in his mouth, but I think we have to be careful not to say well, if thereís a Palestinian-Israeli breakthrough, that will help in Iraq. Iraq is involved in its own struggles. But a broader Middle East in which there is greater movement forward for the moderate forces rather than the extremist forces would certainly put Iraq in a context that I think would be better for moderate Iraqis. So in that sense I think the notion of comprehensive work in the Middle East is very important. And we are going to engage in comprehensive work in the Middle East, including I would hope, depending on what happens with the Palestinian Government formation, that we can see early engagement and re-engagement of the Palestinians with the Israelis. I think itís very important.
In terms of Damascus, Syria has demonstrated no -- thereís no indication that Syria wishes to be a stabilizing force. They are causing problems in Lebanon of extraordinary proportions. They have been totally unhelpful to Abu Mazen as he tries to get the release of Corporal Shalit so that he can move forward on negotiations with the Israelis. They have stood side by side with militant Palestinian factions that are opposed to Abu Mazen. And they have insulted the moderate Arab states that are devoted to the roadmap, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Thatís not a very good record on which to suggest that just going and talking to Syria is going to get a change in their behavior.
So I think the question is what is it that Syria thinks that Syria is doing? And right now, it appears to have aligned itself with the forces of extremism. It is not an issue of whether you talk to somebody. I will talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime under the right circumstances if I think we can make progress. Iím not afraid to talk to anyone. But we have had, over the course of this Administration, discusses with the Syrians, talks with the Syrians, envoys to the Syrians and nothing has ever changed in their behavior, and we simply have to keep that in mind.
Okay, thanks everybody.