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USA Today Editorial Board Roundtable

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
December 11, 2007

(3:15 p.m. EST)

SECRETARY RICE: All right. Why don't we launch right in, because I think we only have about 45 minutes.

MR. MCCORMACK: 45 minutes, on the record.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us.

SECRETARY RICE: Of course, glad to do it.

QUESTION: We can see a lot of progress on the ground in Iraq and in many different ways, but it's very hard to see through to the endgame, which will come after this Administration, of course. Do you foresee a need for or an advantage to a permanent American military presence in Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that we are -- we are not talking about permanent bases or permanent presences in really anyplace in the world these days. As a matter of fact, we've been unraveling permanent bases in a number of places. But I do think that there is going to be a significant period of time, I can't tell you how long, where the Iraqis are going to need the support of international partners, they're going to need support in training their forces, they're going to need support in guaranteeing, in effect, their territorial integrity because they live in a difficult neighborhood. And I think that that is going to take some time.

Certainly, one would be looking to a different role for American forces as Iraqis get more capable, but certainly, the evolution of Iraq as a stable political system that is moving ever closer to pluralism and democracy is going to take some time and it will be helpful if there is an international partner there to help them deal with the myriad security problems that they're going to face. The President and Prime Minister Maliki signed a partnership agreement. It's not an agreement that is solely about military issues. It has economic aspects, it has political aspects. But I think it shows that the -- all Iraqi or the great number of Iraqi political leaders see the need for continued partnership with the United States over the next several years.

QUESTION: To turn the question the other way, do you foresee that the appropriate end of our involvement in Iraq is a complete American military withdrawal?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think --

QUESTION: Whenever it occurs.

SECRETARY RICE: I think that we need to be sensitive to the fact that the -- we are going to want to have, and I think the Iraqis are going to want us to have, a continuing relationship with them for some time to come. That's why they talked about a long-term partnership. I don't think that we are going to do them any good or ourselves any good in trying to prejudge too quickly how that presence is going to look over time. But it's very clear to me that their forces are becoming more capable. In some of the difficult work that has been done, they have actually been effectively almost independent forces.

But there's a lot more work to do in training, there's a lot more work to do in helping to secure the territorial integrity, there's a lot more work to do in providing a stable environment for reconciliation to take place. And I would hope that there might be an understanding that that can -- that might take some time.

QUESTION: Do you see the reduction in sectarian violence that we've seen in recent months as a temporary lull while the various factions and the Iranians cool their heels or is it the beginning of the more permanent stability?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's fragile. I do think that the change in the security situation is fragile. But I also don't see it as temporary because a number of conditions have changed that are undergirding this change in the profile in terms of violence and in terms of, particularly, the sectarian violence. One very important trend, of course, is the ability of provinces like Anbar to raise up -- effectively raise their own forces, take back their streets from al-Qaida, and then begin to establish more stable political institutions at the local and provincial level. And you're seeing that in a number of parts of the country. Sometimes it's a neighborhood in Baghdad. Sometimes it's an entire province, like Anbar. Sometimes it's a city in a province, like Fallujah.

But what you're seeing is that there is increasing responsibility, that the Iraqis themselves feel increasing responsibility for their own security and increasing responsibility for making sure that their enemies, extremists, whether they are extremists like some of the special groups of Jaish al-Mahdi or al-Qaida extremists or remnants of the old Sunni insurgency, that they're not going to be tolerated. And I think that's a permanent change. Now it is going to be made less fragile and wider spread both by the increasing capacity of the Iraqi security forces that can integrate with these local security elements and bring an Iraqi stability to -- Iraqi security stability to the table, but also by political -- the maturity -- maturation of political institutions.

And while, at the national level, there are still -- still an awful lot of work to do in terms of the so-called benchmark legislation, the oil law, de-Baathification, et cetera, you do have very positive trends politically from the bottom up, whether it's the kind of provincial and local governance that's growing, the ability of the central government, frankly, to get resources to the provinces and to local governance, and the spreading of these movements like the awakening movement now out of Anbar and into the south. So I think there are a lot of elements here that can lead to longer-term stability, but I would be the first to admit that there's still a certain fragility to it.

QUESTION: Are those benchmarks still relevant and what's the Administration doing to get the sort of political progress the surge was supposed to create?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, what -- partly what this shows is that these events are a bit unpredictable, because the political progress has come in places that I don't think we would have predicted. I don't think we would have predicted the big turn in Anbar at the time that the benchmark legislation came about. And remember that the idea of a benchmark legislation like, for instance, the de-Baathification law or the public accountability law or the constitutional reform was to bring Sunnis into the political process. Well, Sunnis are in the political process now in a very big way through these indigenous movements in Anbar.

And so the benchmark legislation is important and I'll tell you in a moment what we're doing to help the Iraqis in that regard. But they're not the only elements of political activity, political maturation, political reconciliation that are going on in the country. In fact, these movements of the growth and maturation of political -- of provincial and local institutions -- the pressure, frankly, that those are bringing from the bottom up on national-level institutions to distribute resources -- I'll give you one example. The oil law and the revenue distribution measures are meant to make certain that the center distributes the resources out to the provinces. Well, the budget, which passed in '07 and which they probably will pass after the 1st of the year, in effect, does that. It distributes resources from the center to the provinces.

So I just think by focusing only on the benchmark legislation, you would miss the extraordinary political developments that are going on in the country. We still consider the benchmark legislation important. I've had envoys out there working on various elements of it. David Satterfield, who works for me, has been out working with them on de-Baathification, on the provincial powers, which is going to be important in redistributing power between the center and the provinces, and Ruben Jeffery on the -- the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, on the oil law.

But these are big, very consequential pieces of legislation that are literally defining things like the relationship between the center and the periphery. And those are hard issues and they may take some time, but they shouldn't -- the -- they shouldn't mask all the political activities really going on in the country.

QUESTION: The White House said today that you had talked to your Israeli counterpart about Israel's decision to expand the housing settlement in East Jerusalem, and I wonder what you told him?



SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. (Laughter.) But -- actually, him too. I talked to both the Defense Minister and to the Foreign Minister and I said to both of them -- and by the way, I talked to Tzipi Livni just before I got to Brussels last week. This is a time to build confidence between the parties and it's -- something like the Har Homa activity undermines confidence. It doesn't help to build confidence. And it's really important that as they go into negotiations, there isn't a sense that one party or the other is trying to take steps on the ground that can prejudge final status, a sort of creating facts on the ground.

And so I got clarification about what was going on there, you know, that this was in the context of a plan that had been in place for a long time and so forth. But all of that said, the obligation to be very careful about activities that undermine confidence, that admonition remains and that was the admonition that I communicated.

QUESTION: Did -- was there any willingness to back off?

SECRETARY RICE: I think there was an understanding of what I was saying and I think we'll certainly be watching in the future about activity. But what this really underscores is the need to get this agreement and to not continue to live in this netherworld about what the territorial outlines, boundaries of the Palestinian state are going to be.

QUESTION: Could this imperil the talks scheduled for tomorrow?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, to my knowledge, they're going ahead. I'm certain that they will be a subject for discussion. But I would hope too that the Palestinians would also recognize that this is a very important time and it's a time when we have a chance to get a Palestinian state and that they need to push ahead on the negotiations so that we can get the Palestinian state.

QUESTION: Could you comment on Iran, on two aspects of Iran? One, the impact of the National Intelligence Estimate and whether making such National Intelligence Estimates public is helpful or not in the debate? Because obviously, it complicates policy.

And then the second aspect is, obviously, Iran is very important to the stabilization of Iraq and how much do you think that the lull in the violence, or the down-tick in the violence, is because Iran is doing that and going forward, how important it is to engage in a dialogue with Iran and whether that might be possible, whether the United States might drop its insistence on -- that Iran stop enriching uranium first.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first, on the National Intelligence Estimate, I think in this particular case, it wouldn't always make unclassified an intelligence estimate of this kind, but I think in this case, this has been an important issue of national policy and it was obviously an intelligence estimate that had -- that had a different cast than the intelligence estimate it had two years ago, went in a different direction, and so everyone thought it was important, most importantly, the President, to have it released in a way that people could actually see what the intelligence estimate said.

Because one of the problems with these estimates, if they come out in just bits and pieces, is that what is actually a fairly nuanced case in the intelligence estimate isn't really fully understood. And if you actually look at the intelligence estimate as a whole, you see an estimate that says that the good news is that they -- according to the intelligence community, that they assessed, that they've not been weaponizing, doing the weaponization work, since 2003. Yet they maintain an active enrichment and reprocessing activity which is, of course, the way that one acquires fissile material, which is an element of a nuclear weapons program if you're ever to have one, and that their missile program continues. So it is a more complete picture by releasing the fullness of the estimate.

I actually don't think it's complicated policy. I think that it has, in some ways, clarified certain aspects of this. One aspect is Iran has always maintained that it didn't have a covert weapons program. And I've been a little bit struck by the degree to which they've embraced the intelligence estimate and I wish I had a chance to say, well, do you embrace the whole thing? Does that mean that we should be asking questions about before 2003 that haven't been answered, that the IAEA has not been able to answer? So in that sense, this is somewhat clarifying and I think puts a whole another set of issues and questions on the table that need to be resolved: What was that program? How far did it go? What does it mean to have halted it? All of those are extremely important questions, given that weaponization is only one element of a weapons program.

The second clarifying point is that Iran is apparently responsive to international pressure and scrutiny. And it would suggest to me that if there's not international pressure and scrutiny you're going to have a problem with what kinds of activities Iran will be engaged in. And they can read costs and benefits and that means that the third clarifying element for me is, we've had the right strategy, which has been a strategy, there is a diplomatic strategy, but that has two tracks. One that shows a way forward for negotiations and benefits that would accrue from negotiations, and secondly, a set of consequences should Iran not suspend its enrichment and reprocessing.

In terms of why it's necessary to have a suspension in order for negotiations to begin, I think the situation that we would not want to get into is where there are endless negotiations while Iran perfects the enrichment and reprocessing capability because once you've learned to do it -- it's an engineering problem. It's not a scientific problem. It's an engineering problem. Once you've learned to do it, once you've learned to maintain these cascades over a period of time, you can enrich at ever higher levels to weapons-grade material. And so you don't want them practicing, in effect, while you're talking. That's why suspension has been the requirement first of the Europeans, then of the IAEA Board of Governors, then to Security Council resolutions. So this isn't an American condition, this has been an international condition.

As to Iran in Iraq, I don't know the answer to your question about whether Iran has, in fact, pulled back. There is clearly a reduction in violence with some of the groups associated with Iran. When I was teaching political science, I used to always tell my students, though, to always look for alternative explanations. And so there are alternative explanations. We've been very aggressive against the Qods Force and against Iranian operatives in Iraq, including picking up a fairly senior one. And so there is that element.

Secondly, the -- some of the elements with which Iran was associated got involved in this very bad incident in Karbala which ended up killing a lot of innocent pilgrims and there was some sense in which that was an incredibly unpopular thing in Iraq and perhaps that's the reason that people have pulled back. So the one thing that it says to me is that we should continue along the strategy that we have been employing in Iraq because it is having results both in terms of the surge and in terms of the pretty aggressive work against these Qods Force elements. But we remain open to discussion. The channel with the Iranians is there. They’ve met three times, I think, and will probably meet again. And if the Iranians are prepared to act on what they say is in their interest, which is to have a stable Iraq, then we definitely want to see them do that. And that would be a good basis for moving forward.

And let me just -- and finally, you know, we've also offered, by the way, if they suspend that we really will -- and I really do mean it -- anyplace, anywhere, anytime about anything.

QUESTION: Has the release of the NIE affected efforts to get Russia and China to go for a new set of trade sanctions?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've had affirmations from everyone that the two-track strategy remains in place. We have some tactical differences with Russia, in particular, and to a certain extent, China, about timing, about the nature of any further sanctions. But I do believe that people understand that we need to continue moving forward.

QUESTION: Despite the NIE? Has the NIE had any influence?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the NIE had people step back and take a look. But I think when they stepped back and took a look, they said, oh, well, susceptibility to international pressure, enrichment and reprocessing continues to go on. What we've been after is enrichment and reprocessing for the reasons that I described. And by the way, what is this about a weapons program prior to 2003? While everybody focused on the fact that it had been halted, many people focused on the fact that it had existed. And if you're concerned about Iranian capability, then that's something to focus on.

QUESTION: But just -- did the conference call that was supposed to be held today, well, has that already been held? Do you know --

SECRETARY RICE: It has and I think there will need to be another. We continue to have some tactical differences about what we might do going forward.

QUESTION: Because you had made some progress on that before the NIE came out.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, but I talked with my counterparts, including my Russian counterpart in Brussels, and we continue to -- we agreed to continue working on the UN track.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about Mr. Medvedev, the -- not just your view of his prospects of what sort of a leader he'd be, but the process by which he was elevated and what that tells you about what's going on in Russia?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I guess, they're still going to have an election in March. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: They used to have elections in Communist Russia.

SECRETARY RICE: Right. They did. And 99.9 percent. Look, I think we've made very clear that we think democratic processes have taken a step backward in Russia. And the elections even for the Duma were not up to international standards. It's been very difficult for opposition to operate in that country. It's been very difficult for them to have access to the press, access to assembly. You've had people arrested. It's not an environment in which you can talk about free and fair elections.

And -- but I do know Dmitri Medvedev. I met him on a number of occasions. And he is a very intelligent person. He is of another generation. And he is somebody who has had responsibility for some kind of interesting programs in Russia, which is essentially trying to diversify the economy and a lot of work with the regions on efforts to wire the country with the internet and a variety of things like that. And so he comes with a certain -- having had a certain portfolio that is interesting from the point of view of where Russia might be going on the economic side. He's also, of course, chairman of Gazprom, which is the other end of the spectrum.

But you know, I would hope that the time will come when Russia is going into a presidential election where there is a realistic chance for a really contested election. And I think that, to me, is the biggest problem with this. Look, somebody saying, I have confidence in this person, that happens. But I don't think that people view this election as being contested and that's too bad.

QUESTION: Was does the fact that he doesn't have any roots in the KGB tell you about his prospects, and in whether he'll be independent of Mr. Putin?

SECRETARY RICE: I can't read that. I'm not sure, by the way, anybody can. Events will unfold and he will carry out his responsibilities. I think we'll just have to watch this space and see how this all plays out.

QUESTION: I want to go back to the Mideast for a second. You had said that, following your talks with the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister, that you'll be watching to look at what developments here. You're not going to say -- you're not going to give us a readout on those phone calls, but will you be watching for a withdrawal from that housing program or for no more such housing programs?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's remember that what it is is an announcement of a tender. That's what it is. I don't want to get too deeply in this because I, and I don't mean with you, I mean, in general because one of the problems is that once you start saying, this kind of activity is okay but that kind of activity is not okay, I just don't think it's fruitful. I think what is more fruitful is to say that everybody understands the sensitivity of enhanced settlement activity and particularly in the areas of East Jerusalem. And Har Homa has been controversial since it was first developed. And the United States has been on record since '96 or '97 when it was first developed as being concerned about its effect on confidence between parties for negotiations, and that's where we are now.

So I will keep carrying that message. The United States will at some point have to begin to look at roadmap obligations and how the parties are carrying them out. But for now I think it's enough said that this activity was not confidence-inspiring. I would hope that both parties are going to start to take the steps that do inspire confidence. And I will not go into detail, but I also talked about perhaps accelerating some of the steps that might inspire confidence on both sides.

QUESTION: Did you talk to the Palestinian side at all on this today?

SECRETARY RICE: Not today, no.

QUESTION: Within the last couple of days?

SECRETARY RICE: We've talked to the Palestinians about it and I have not talked to Abu Mazen but I will hopefully see him very soon.

QUESTION: Last question on this. Do you have any fears that they will set a precondition on the talks that begin tomorrow?

SECRETARY RICE: I hope not because these talks need to get underway and we need to get -- they need to get on the road to getting to a Palestinian state. I mean, part of -- as I was saying, all of these incidents, whether it is settlement activity or whether it is -- I've seen some stories about lack of acknowledgement of Israel's existence in Palestinian literature, this all can get solved when there's a two-state solution. So let's get on with the two-state solution. I think that's really the key.

QUESTION: Just to stay on that subject -- one more question. You said earlier that the Israeli position was that this was a longstanding plan that they had. Did it come up in Annapolis?

SECRETARY RICE: No. This did not come up in Annapolis.

QUESTION: Is this a surprise to you?

SECRETARY RICE: The -- I will tell you that these kinds of things happen periodically where there's an announcement of a tenure -- a tender or an announcement -- you might remember there was an announcement of a road that was going to be built. But that actually was going to result in confiscation of land and the Israelis have now said they will not confiscate anymore land, which is an important step. But that is why the best way to resolve these kinds of issues and not have them continually coming up is to get a definition of the boundaries of the Palestinian state and the Israeli state. And then what goes where can be firmly in an agreement and that's really -- that needs to happen. It needs to happen soon.

QUESTION: There was one more thing that happened today or within the last 24 hours and that is there was the deepest military incursion, I believe by Israelis in Gaza, was just within the last 24 hours or so. Is that -- do you think they're sending signals or making statements on the eve of these talks or is that happenstance?

SECRETARY RICE: No, I don't. I have not talked to the Israelis about this and so I don't -- but I don't want to try to judge what they were doing. There are concerns about activities in -- security activities, terrorist activities in that region, but I don't really have a readout on precisely what was going on there.

QUESTION: There are 13 months left in this Administration. You have to at this point be thinking about your legacy and I'm curious about that. But I'm curious also how you see the evolution of foreign policy in this Administration and particularly how it differs in the second Administration from the first. It seemed to us that it made a substantial shift, right around inauguration.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I assure you, I'm not spending much time thinking about my legacy. I keep a couple of portraits on my wall. One is of Dean Acheson, who I think is remembered for who lost China and then now is remembered for NATO. And I -- William Seward, who was remembered for Seward's Icebox, having bought Alaska from the Czar for $17 million or something like that. So I think you think about your legacy at your peril. You should let other people worry about your legacy. And you should do what you think is right while you're in office and do your best.

I do think about what kind of foundation we are trying to leave for what I think will be an extended generational campaign to counter extremism and extremist messages and extremist activities with a positive message of development and strong democratic stakes and values. And I do think a lot about that. And that kind of – the kind of institutional basis for that.

I think about what kind of world we'll leave in terms of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. So when I think about legacy, it's not my personal legacy, it's a question of what kinds of foundation are you laying to go forward. And I'm always very cognizant of what a great foundation the people who were in this building, or to be exact, in that building over there, in '46 and '47 and '48 laid that we were then able to reap the benefit of in '89 and '90 and '91 the last time I was here.

And that goes to your second question. I think that the first time I was here at the end of a big historic transformation and reaping the benefits of 40 years of a strong policy of containment and challenge to the Soviet Union, and standing up for the values that we believed in, and protecting fledgling democracies, and helping them grow around the world, and I got to be therefore for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe.

So this time I think we're at the beginning of a historic transformation. And I would say that in the first term -- and I think everything really has to begin post-9/11 because pre-9/11 almost seems to me like a world that barely existed. I think you can probably understand that. If -- those months before seem like another world. And post-9/11, the recognition of the degree to which failed and failing states were the real security threat to the United States because they permitted the growth of safe havens for terrorism and terrorists that were able to plot and plan and attack us directly on our own soil.

And I think the first -- in the first term we had to do a lot of really hard things. Whether it was Afghanistan or Iraq, or insisting that no Palestinian state was going to come into being with Yasser Arafat in power because he had one foot in terror and one foot in politics and that wouldn't work and what Palestinians needed was new democratically elected government leaders, whether it was insisting that the way to structure an effort to denuclearize North Korea was not through the United States sitting down and having with North Korea a bilateral agreement but a six party framework in which you brought all of the states with the relevant incentives and disincentives to the table -- you know, it puts a -- recognizing in that period of time that the false stability in the Middle East wasn't going to last and so you had to challenge Syrian power in Lebanon, and I could go on and on and on.

And I do think that what we've been doing in the last few years, last couple of years really, is -- in an even fashion because nothing is a straight line in international history -- we've been now able to build on some of -- the foundation of some of those hard things that we've had to do. Let me just use two examples. One, I think changing the terms of how we thought about the Palestinian-Israeli issue, and now you do have a democratic government in the Palestinian Territories committed fully to a non-violent course. You have an Israeli Government that, thanks to of all people Ariel Sharon, now has a broad base of belief that there isn't going to be a greater Israel. And so now you can seek the peace that has been elusive. North Korea, I think we're benefiting from having a structure that brought all the right states together with the right set of incentives and disincentives for the North Koreans. And so now there's movement.

So I see it as more continuous, but I recognize that some of it was -- some of the earlier period in the Administration was doing the hard work, tilling, sometimes pulling up roots, and creating another foundation. And I think that's what we're benefiting from now.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say it's an evolution? Is it fairly simplistic to say that it's an evolution and confrontation toward engagement?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, no, I don't think -- look, with the exception of Iraq, where we did have disagreements with some of our key allies about what we were going to do, most of these issues were multilateral from the very beginning for us. I mean, one of the interesting things about North Korea, the North Korean issue is we were being told not to be multilateral; we were being told to be bilateral or unilateral in that case. And what we did was to take the time to build a real multilateral coalition to deal with North Korea.

But sure, in the last couple of years, I -- one of the things that I think is most evident is that whatever happened in Iraq is behind us with our allies. And we have extremely smooth relations with our European allies, extremely smooth. That isn't to say that we agree about everything, about every -- dotting every I or crossing every T, but I have -- we have the strongest possible relations with our European allies. And at the same time, by the way, we have built stronger relations with our Asian allies -- Japan, South Korea, Australia -- where we've renovated security relationships that were in need of updating at the end of the Cold War, and we're benefiting from those as well in Asia.

So I wouldn't say confrontation to engagement, but I do recognize that particularly in the case of Iraq, there has been a shift, there's been a change, in the way that our alliance works.

QUESTION: Can I ask a little bit about the trip coming up?


QUESTION: The President doesn't do anything for show. He's going to have probably -- I guess it's about eight days in the Mid East, and I'm wondering -- and I think that the schedule is shaping up so that he will go to Israel, and the Pal-- well, Israel and if he goes to the Palestinian Territories first, which I think is a sort of a shake-up on tradition of how you -- where you go first --

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. So you said it's partly logistical, frankly.

QUESTION: Can you shed any light on the trip and tell us will he play a substantive role at this point in the Mid East talks and/or is there something stylistic or otherwise that will make it -- you know, will help advance those talks while he's there, if he's involved in that?

SECRETARY RICE: The trip is just, as you might imagine, being planned. But the reason that he's going is that he very much wants to signal support for the bilateral process between the parties and to continue in a hands-on way to encourage them to move forward.

Now I can't tell you what that is going to mean in January because I don't know where they will be after the next two or three weeks. But the President has an extraordinary way of sitting with people and eliciting from them where the enabling -- the enablement might be to get something done. Where are the sticking points? And not in a way that says all right I'm going to go ahead and fix this for you, but just talking to the parties. And I think actually talking to them individually by that time will be very helpful because he'll be able to get a strong sense of where the points of convergence are that maybe they won't see, and where the points are divergence are as well.

I watched the President the morning of Annapolis when the parties were having a little trouble seeing that there really was a joint statement that they were very close to making, and I watched him just elicit from them why they were having difficulty realizing how close they really were. And I think you'll probably see him do quite a lot of that this next trip.

He’ll also, by the way, get a chance to go to the region, the broader region, which is important, because holding together Arab support for the Palestinian-Israeli track is just really critical.

One of the differences in how we’ve tried to approach the Palestinian-Israeli issue this time is that we've spent a lot of time trying to have the Arabs in at the beginning. It was an extraordinary gathering in Annapolis in part because you had the Saudis there under their own flag, you had the consensus of the Arab League to be there. And this agreement will take, in order to get an agreement, it will take very tough choices by both sides. And the Palestinians can't make those tough choices without Arab support, and the Israelis, I think, will have a hard time taking those tough choices unless they know that this is really going to be an end to the conflict more broadly than just with the Palestinians, and that a comprehensive peace is really possible.

QUESTION: So can we expect him to go to Saudi Arabia, Egypt -- I don't know, can you --

SECRETARY RICE: I -- they are really, literally, details are still be worked out. But he will go to other places in the region.

QUESTION: You were National Security Advisor at the time these controversial CIA interrogation tapes were made. Senator Biden has now called for an independent inquiry into their destruction, and I wonder if you think that makes sense or if -- would that be an overreaction? Should it be left to the Justice Department inquiry?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, in the first place, I am not going to comment on the decisions that are being made here. I think the Justice Department is going to investigate it, and I'm sure they'll make recommendations on what next steps they think need to be taken.

QUESTION: And you said yesterday, I think, that you weren't aware at the time --

SECRETARY RICE: I said I don't recall conversations about tapes, but look, I -- again, it's a Justice Department matter, and I think it's just best to let them go forward.

QUESTION: How does the talk about that affect you when you go around the world talking to people and doing the job that you do?

SECRETARY RICE: You mean the whole --

QUESTION: The discussion of whether or not somebody was waterboarded, the discussion of whether the U.S. tortures, the emergence of tapes, the destruction of tapes, does this make it more difficult to talk to people at times? Do you get feedback?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm very clear with people that the President has been crystal clear from day one that Americans were to uphold and act within our national laws and within our international obligations, and that that has been from day one his guidance.

And the United States is, in fact, a nation of laws. And one of the points that I often make is that whatever you think about the way that we have conducted the war on terrorism, the difficult things we’ve had to do in this new kind of war and the extraordinary anxiety of those first several months, you know it's easy to forget what it was like here in September and October and November when you had first the attack on September 11th and then anthrax attacks and just a flood of intelligence and information that something else was happening.

You know, we -- it's an interesting -- it will be interesting when somebody looks at the history of this because we went from almost no information about homeland attacks to a flood because suddenly -- people weren't even screened, what was coming to the President, just everything to the President. And I think it's hard to now, some seven years later, six years later, remember what that was like. But suddenly facing a very new kind of war with concerns about the next follow-on attack.

But whatever you think about how the Administration responded to that, there are two things that I always -- two points that I always make. The first is the point that I made to you, the President was clear from the beginning that law mattered. International obligations mattered.

But secondly, that ours is such a vibrant democracy that we have been able to debate these things. These questions about what happened and how it happened have been debated in our free media because we do have a free press. Hamden sued the Secretary of Defense in our Supreme Court and won the case.

And so when people say to me, is the United States a nation of laws? That's what I point to. Our Congress has debated these issues and has proposed legislation, has passed legislation. And so ultimately that's what makes the United States a great democracy and gives us the moral high ground.

And so I react quite strongly when people tell me, the United States doesn't have the moral high ground to criticize, fill in the blank. The junta in Burma, are you kidding? Human rights abuses in Zimbabwe? Does anybody really believe that?

So I tend to be pretty aggressive in defending the reputation of the United States as a nation of laws.

QUESTION: I have one more on the Mid East. The Clinton Administration, of course, had a major peace initiative in its final hours. What lessons do you draw from that experience as you go into this effort?

SECRETARY RICE: I've talked to a lot of people. I've tried to talk to people who were part of these efforts and I've even had an opportunity to talk to President Clinton who was nice enough to spend a little time talking with me about it.

Yeah, I think they gave it their very best. I think they had some circumstances working against them that we don't. I really do think that the inability of Yasser Arafat to make a decision in favor of peace because he wanted to keep his option -- his options on violence was probably the core issue, the core problem. And I think in Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad we have a different kind of Palestinian leadership, and that's important.

But the other big issue is to make certain that there is Arab support for this at the beginning, not at the -- so that it's there at the end. And I think just being sure that things are well prepared. You know, we took a long time to prepare Annapolis. We announced it at the last moment, but we took a long time to prepare it before announcing it, so those are some of the elements that I take away.

QUESTION: After 9/11, the President declared policy of preempting threats to the nation before they fully manifested themselves. Yet we've seen some of the intelligence about those threats is often flawed, significantly. Can a preemption policy coexist with imperfect intelligence?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would argue with you -- I don't think I would argue with you, I would argue that we have -- I don't think we’ve yet employed preemption. I would -- we could have a discussion about Iraq, continuing state of war since '91, shooting at our airplanes, almost a half dozen or more resolutions on this issue. I mean I think this was a long, long buildup. And I think it was a case in which you implement it or you had pretty much exhausted diplomatic options with Iraq.

But it's an important question and it's an interesting theoretical question. If I were back at Stanford, I would find it fascinating. (Laughter.) Fortunately, in a policy position, you recognize that sometimes not acting is as dangerous as -- not acting is more dangerous than acting.

The intelligence on the kinds of proliferation targets that we are looking at is, I think, never going to be perfect. And I'm not at all surprised that in -- it's going to be revised and things are going to change, because you're dealing with really hard targets, you're dealing with people who are intending to prevent you from learning what is going on, you're very often dealing with dual use tech -- dual use equipment or dual use activities like enrichment and reprocessing, which can have a civilian component. And so people are going to continue to refine the intelligence and sometimes the intelligence is not going to be right.

And it has said to me that one of the challenges of this era, with these kinds of proliferation targets, is to try to make the job of intelligence somewhat easier. And there are a couple of aspects to that. One is that you need to have greater means of prevention of proliferation. Which is why one of the most important things I think we've done is the Proliferation Security Initiative which actually, using small glimpses of intelligence, can use an international network of countries to try to preempt cargo going someplace, or to try to keep a suspicious shipment from going to a place. And I think that’s one way that you use intelligence to make the job somewhat easier.

It would also make the job a lot easier if we could do something about the fuel cycle. The reason that the Iranian problem is so hard is that the enrichment and -- the ability to enrich and reprocess, once you've perfected that technology, you can enrich to high levels of enrichment, 98 percent, and you can have fissile material for a bomb. So whenever that technology is existing someplace in a country, it's a proliferation risk.

It's one reason that the President, President Putin, Mohammed El Baradei, have talked about assured fuel supply as a way to allow countries to have civil nuclear programs without having the fuel cycle. That's another way that you take some of the pressure off of intelligence, because if you don't have the enrichment and reprocessing end of the fuel cycle, you have a much reduced proliferation risk.

So given that these are very hard targets, I do think there is a strong imperative to try to make the problem easier. And those are a couple of ways that I think you can do it.

QUESTION: And what level of certitude would you need to take preemptive action?

SECRETARY RICE: I can't answer it in the abstract. I mean there is always a -- there's a balance between risk of allowing something to continue and certainty about what it is. And that's there across the board. But fortunately, in this particular case, we believed that we have a diplomatic option that, while you would never take other options off the table, diplomatic options are pretty robust.

I think that the NIE has given us some confidence that it’s the right option.

MR. MCCORMACK: Time for one last question.

QUESTION: You just talked about President Putin and obviously you have a Soviet studies background and you've met him and I talked to one European leader who thinks that he's extremely smart and intelligent, and his press conferences show that he is --

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, he's very, very intelligent.

QUESTION: So, but he's very difficult to deal with. And what I imagine is that he's maybe a little more helpful behind the scenes. But how is it that you deal with Russia, with President Putin, and the coming issue of Kosovo, how important is that?

SECRETARY RICE: I have spent a good deal of time with President Putin, and I found him a pretty straightforward person. He will tell you if he plans to do something and he will tell you if he plans not to do something, and he's generally true to his word and I appreciate that. And we've had quite candid conversations about the evolution of the Russian political system and about concerns about the concentration of power in the Kremlin. I’ve not had any concern about raising those issues and raising them straightforwardly and I think it’s been useful to do that.

Generally, I would say that on the big, global issues -- proliferation, terrorism -- we’ve had pretty good cooperation with Russia. As I've said, we've not always agreed tactically about some elements with Iran, for instance. But I think we've had pretty good cooperation. I'll give you just one example, and here we did make a shift, just to show you an example. The civilian nuclear program Bushehr -- their civilian nuclear reactor that they have built in Iran -- for a long time the United States objected to the building of that reactor. And I remember a discussion that first the President had with President Putin and then I later had with the Russians, which was, well if you're going other say to the Iranians, you can have civil nuclear power, but you can't have the fuel cycle, Bushehr is the perfect example of that, because it has a fuel takeback provision; we provide the fuel, we take it back. Actually, that's a pretty good argument. And it has brought us closer to the Russians on what the solution would be for an Iranian nuclear program.

And so we can have those kinds of conversations with the Russians. I think we are going to have better and better conversations about missile defense. So on some of these bigger issues, bigger, global -- not bigger, but global issues -- conversations become most difficult when they are conversations about either parts of the former Soviet Union or issues related to the end of the Cold War and the kind of European security architecture, which is why the CFE discussions are difficult and why Kosovo has been difficult.

I really do think, and we’ve communicated this to the Russians and I just -- I hope that the Russians are as committed as we are to a stable outcome in the Balkans and to being constructive in the Balkans. But the fact of the matter is Kosovo and Serbia are never going to be one again, and that's the reality. And if you don't deal with that reality, you're only going to sow the seeds of considerable discontent and considerable instability.

Both Kosovo and Serbia need to get on with their futures, their separate but related futures. And the way to do that is for Serbia to have a strong European perspective. I have been encouraging our European allies to do as much as they can to encourage that European perspective. But -- and for Kosovo to live up to the obligations that it would have taken under the Ahtisaari plan for things like the protection of minority rights and sites and religious sites and what, and that's what we have to concentrate on now, because there isn't any more point to further negotiation. They are obviously not going to agree and we are going to have to go forward with the logic of the Ahtisaari plan.

I hope that when we do it, we can do it in the spirit in which the Troika worked. The Troika with the United States, Europe -- the European Union and Russia, worked very well together and actually got some important commitments out of both parties, like not to use violence and so forth. But it's my great hope that Russia and Europe and the United States can move forward in a constructive fashion, although I don't expect that we're going to disagree about the disposition of status.

QUESTION: I wonder if you could just clarify an earlier point?


QUESTION: It's striking to me that you say that Iraq is not an example of preemption. Certainly there was the Persian Gulf War agreement --


QUESTION: But that wasn't cited very broadly at the time. It was that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction.


QUESTION: And refused our various requests and if they did not comply, we were going to go to war to preempt.

SECRETARY RICE: No, we were going to go to war to carry out what had been a -- first of all, a long history of demands against Iraq for its weapons program, weapons programs, resolution after resolution after resolution, including by the way in 1998, military action against Iraq because of its refusal to deal with the inspectors in a reasonable way. And then a resolution in 2002, 1441, which said there would be serious consequences, plenty of history there, plenty of warning, plenty of diplomacy. I said I might argue with you about the use of the term "preemption" in this case. But my point is that Iraq came out of a long history of diplomatic efforts that did not get a response from the Iraqi government.

QUESTION: And how do you define preemption in the sense of going to war to deter a threat?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I tend to think that you don't have a long diplomatic buildup of the kind that we experienced. And, in fact -- look, if by preemption you mean that -- and there are many definitions of it, I used to teach this, there are many definitions of preemption -- but if by preemption you're asking, does it mean that you have to be attacked first, I don't think that every definition of preemption would suggest that if you aren't attacked first then you're preemptive. But my point was that this was not an act that was without a significant front end that was diplomatic in character and where I think we believe we had exhausted all diplomatic possibilities.

QUESTION: Thank you for your time.

SECRETARY RICE: Great, thank you. Thank you very much.


Released on December 12, 2007

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