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Interview With Sylvie Lanteaume and Lachlan Carmichael of Agence France Presse

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
December 20, 2007

QUESTION: Okay, I'll fire away first then.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, let's get started.

QUESTION: Well, the P-5+1 conference call was this morning. What did Nick Burns achieve this time?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, they're continuing to work on a resolution. We continue to have some tactical differences about the timing, but more than that about how deep this resolution should go. But we're all agreed that the strategy is to have this two-track approach. And we'll get there. We'll work through the differences.

But I suspect that at some point this is going to have to go to ministers, as it always does. But we think that there's enough continuous forward movement that it's good for the political officials to keep talking.

QUESTION: What was the forward movement then today?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm not going to get into the details of their discussion, but they continued to refine the contents of the resolution. And at some point, it'll be important, as it has in almost every case, to come to ministers for a final resolution of any outstanding differences and then it'll go to New York.

QUESTION: Okay, then. China, of course, is one of the reluctant parties, along with Russia. I was wondering if -- does China's growing dependency on Iran's oil and gas make it much harder for them to get on board with sanctions for the sanctions you want?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think the Chinese understand that it is not going to be a very stable supply of oil and gas if there's an Iran with a nuclear weapon. I mean, this is -- there's a bigger issue here. But obviously, the Chinese have some economic interests that are different from the economic interests of the other parties. And that is, frankly, sometimes a sticking point. But I think we'll still get -- we'll get a good resolution.

This is always going to be a set of progressive resolutions and it's always going to be less than the United States would do if we were acting alone, probably less than if the United States and Europe were acting together. But the importance is moving the resolution forward. And then, of course, there are a number of financial measures that we take outside of the Security Council that I think will have a real impact.

QUESTION: Just finally, back to the NIE estimate.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: After it was issued, you indicated there was more time for diplomacy to work to get a sanctions resolution. I know the U.S. will never pull away the threat of resorting to military action, but doesn't that seem -- military action -- doesn't military action seem much less likely now because the allies would say it was unjustified?

SECRETARY RICE: It was not at the top of our list to begin with. You know, this was always a diplomatic effort. We've said time and again that while the President was not going to take any of his options off the table, we believed that this was a problem that could be solved diplomatically. So nothing has changed in that regard. We still think it's a problem that can be resolved diplomatically.

It requires the international community to come together and continue to pursue the Security Council path. It requires the international community to -- those that wish to pursue measures outside of the Security Council to continue to do that. But that's been the path that we were on and I don't think the NIE does anything to change that circumstance.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on Russia, U.S. appears to be concerned by the future role of Vladimir Putin, who will continue to (inaudible) after the presidential election. Do you think the respect by Russia of the democratic principles is essential or do you view as more important the stability of Russia, which is a huge --

SECRETARY RICE: I think for Russia to reach its full potential, it's going to have to have a democratic transformation. Modern, economically powerful states that are diversified and that can take advantage fully of their -- the talents and potential of their people are ultimately not states that tell people you can only think at work, but you can't think at home or you can't think politically; you just have to think about how to be creative on the job. It doesn't work.

And especially for a country like Russia, which really has a set of European traditions that are not -- that have not really been embodied in its political system over its entire history, but where the -- if you look at Russian literature, Russian culture, it's a culture that's tied to Europe, a culture that's helped to advance European culture.

And so ultimately, I think Russia will find its place in Europe, and but part of that is finding its democratic future. So I'm -- we're all concerned that this has not been a good period in that regard, that there is a move backward from what were democratic processes. It's not that anyone wants Russia to be weak or chaotic or to go through the kind of upheaval that was there in the '90s. I understand that many Russians do not see the '90s as a period of democratic development. They see it as a period that was chaotic. But there has to be something between a sense that things are chaotic and a move back toward a more centralized Kremlin where there's such a concentration of power in the Kremlin. There's something in between that, and it's called democratic institutions. And I hope that at some point Russia will be moving to a place that their presidential elections will be fully contested.

QUESTION: And Mr. Putin said recently that U.S. does not treat Russia as an equal. Do you think it's one of the reasons they don't cooperate largely on Iran? And do you think that -- would you be ready to make some concessions to Russia, for an example on the missile defense system, to convince them to be more --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I consider Russia a great power and very much an equal partner in international politics. Russia is an important state that has interests. Sometimes those interests don't coincide with ours. I happen to believe that when we finally go through the entire process concerning missile defense, we will see that we have a great interest in common in being able to counter small missile threats, small nuclear threats of the kind that would be posed, for instance, by an Iran.

We once had no interests in common with the Soviet Union. The only interest that we really had in common was to prevent -- to keep from annihilating one another, which is why we had this complicated strategy of essentially mutually assured destruction because we held each other hostage. That's not the nature of the relationship between Russia and the United States. We're not in a zero-sum relationship with Russia like we were with the Soviet Union, and so our military relationship should reflect that. And that means that we should be able to see and they should be able to see that we have a common interest in missile defense and that what we might deploy in the Czech Republic -- a few radars -- and a few interceptors in Poland is not going to disable the Russian nuclear deterrent. That's not the purpose.

So I'm hoping that that's one where we can start to see more of a common interest as we work through it. Sometimes our interests are not going to coincide or our views of the interests are not going to coincide. We have a common interest in stability in the Balkans. We see differently what that means for Kosovo. But I don't think that that's a question of inequality. I think it's a question of perhaps seeing our interests differently.

On Iran, I think we have a very strong common interest. I think we express that. The strategy reflects it. And as I said, we will have tactical differences as we look at how strong a resolution should be or what the timing of a resolution should be. But that's one where I don't think there's any doubt that we have a common interest.

QUESTION: If I can go directly --

QUESTION: -- to Kosovo.

QUESTION: Yes, because we were speaking about Kosovo also.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: The European are trying to deploy a major police mission in Kosovo to help the transition to independence. Are you concerned about the situation in Kosovo itself and the positions -- the position of the Russians? And would U.S. be ready actually to assure the security of the Kosovars in case of -- in case the Russians or the Serbs would threaten them?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I am hopeful that we won't face that situation and I don't expect Russia or Serbia to threaten the Kosovars. KFOR is there to provide stability and it will play that mission and it's ready to play that mission. There was a firm commitment at the recent NATO ministerial that KFOR is ready to play that mission -- ready to play that role.

I do think it's important that the European mission is deployed and my understanding is that that's moving forward in the European Union. But the worst thing that we could do for stability in the Balkans is to fail to recognize the reality, and the reality is that Kosovo and Serbia are never going to be a part of the same state again. And that means that we have to eventually act on the logic of the Ahtisaari plan.

So I don't expect that Russia or Serbia want to destabilize the Balkans. It wouldn't be in their interest. But it will not be a stable Balkans if we don't move forward and resolve the status of Kosovo.

QUESTION: To North Korea now. Are you -- do you see signs of openness in the Stalinist state that encourage you to get a full and complete declaration by more or less the year's end? And --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the jury's still out on the full and complete declaration. I do think that the course of the disabling has been pretty smooth. It's been cooperative. The North Koreans have taken the steps that they said they would take. We've been able to observe them. This is actually a pretty remarkable situation when you think about it that the -- first the shutdown of the reactor and then the actual disabling, which now begins to reverse the plutonium program. But the next step is to get this declaration, finish the second phase and then move on to full denuclearization, dismantlement, accounting for the materials and whatever was done with them.

And we'd like very much to move forward with that phase because that's where the real beginnings of political engagement and ultimately normalization would be anticipated. I happen to think that the opening up of North Korea will benefit everybody. To have a kind of closed state of the kind that North Korea is is not -- I think not good for the Korean Peninsula, it's not good for Asia. And that's why I think the six-party process has been a good way to structure denuclearization and political openness moving together. And it's my hope that the North Koreans will go ahead and file an accurate declaration and we can then move forward.

QUESTION: Is it conceivable that you personally could visit North Korea before your job finishes here in the next year or so?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that would be a little premature to speculate on that. But you know, nothing is inconceivable. But we'd have to be quite a bit further along than we are now.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, it has become clear now that the political crisis in Lebanon is one between Syria and U.S. because the Syrians said they we continue to speak with others, especially with the French, but not with the U.S. because U.S. are spoiling the process. So what are you going to do to convince Assad to give up?

SECRETARY RICE: I would hope that Syria would see its interest in helping its allies or in being constructive with its allies to come to a resolution. This isn't between the United States and Syria. This is among the Lebanese. And frankly, foreign powers ought to stop -- should not prevent the Lebanese from coming to the -- coming to elect a president. By all reports, the Lebanese have a consensus candidate. By all reports. Now, the question is: Why can't they elect that consensus candidate? The parliament should open. They should go and elect the consensus candidate. And then questions about the nature of the government and so forth can be resolved.

But this seems to me quite simple. If outside powers will stay out, if Syria will stay out, then the Lebanese can move to their consensus candidate.

QUESTION: Well, obviously, they sent a message they expect you to do something. What could you do to help to solve the --

SECRETARY RICE: Stand for the Lebanese to be able to do what their constitution requires; let them elect a president. It's very simple from our point of view. We stand for the election of a president; if it is the consensus candidate that the Lebanese have identified, that is fine by us. And there is a majority there, but the important thing is that there appears to be a consensus candidate. Why can't that person be elected? Why can't the parliament open? Why can't they go and vote for somebody that they all agree should be president? That would be my question.

QUESTION: Okay. And still on Syria, the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem said recently that with its participation in the Annapolis conference, Syria had effectively defeated your strategy of opposing the moderate and the extremists in --

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, is he saying Syria is an extremist?

QUESTION: Yes -- well, he said that. (Laughter.) So do you think he recognizes the fact that he's extremist?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, if he thinks that he was there because -- you know, I thought it was a conference to help the Palestinians and Israelis come to a two-state solution so that Israelis and Palestinians can live in dignity and security and peace. But I thought that everybody that was there was in favor of peace. I guess you'll have to ask the Syrian Foreign Minister if he's saying that they belong with the extremist side and came to the conference.

QUESTION: So on the Middle East, the settlements are one of the main obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The Israelis, I think it was just today, announced that they're dropping plans to build settlements in Atarot in East Jerusalem. Did you have anything to do with it personally or did the U.S. Government say anything that encouraged them to stop that?

SECRETARY RICE: I think that the Israelis understood the -- that what had happened with Har Homa had had an effect of undermining confidence in a very fragile and brand new peace process. And so, you know, I'm not privy to the inner workings of the Israeli Government on these decisions, but I am just hopeful that we're not going to see actions that do undermine that confidence. Israel has roadmap obligations concerning settlements and it's just really important for everybody to be very careful now and let this peace process get off on a good foot.

I will say that at the same time that I have said to the Israelis or that I said publicly that this can undermine confidence, I did also say that it's time to move on with the negotiations because the Palestinians and the Israelis should meet the next time ready to set up the structure for their negotiations and then they need to move forward. All of these issues will be resolved when there is a Palestinian state. When the borders of the Palestinian state are clear, we're not going to have these questions. And so the highest priority now is to get the negotiations going.

QUESTION: So on the decision to drop the settlement building in Atarot, how important a move was that?

SECRETARY RICE: I think it's a good step, but I'm not privy to the decision-making behind it in Israel.

QUESTION: I mean, does it show a very -- a big change in the Israeli view?

SECRETARY RICE: As I said, I don't know the calculations that went into it, but obviously, it's helpful that there -- you don't have that decision to contend with, which -- you know, these are the kinds of decisions that do undermine confidence.

QUESTION: After the --

SECRETARY RICE: Or I should say would have undermined confidence.

QUESTION: On the Palestinian side, any big suicide bombing or rocket attack -- they haven't been big, but you never know. They could increase in lethal -- and how deadly they are. But surely, that's the Achilles heel of this peace process; if there is a Palestinian attack of scales we've seen in the past, that could wreck the whole process or just derail it for a long time.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't want to speculate, but I will just say there are always going to be people who try to derail the peace. There will be. We know --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we know that Mahmoud Abbas and his government with Salam Fayyad are not among those people. And we know that they are the legitimate authorities that are negotiating on behalf of the Palestinian people. And so my hope is that everyone can stay focused on what we're trying to do. There will be rejectionists. There will be those who try to spoil the process, but -- there will be violent people who try to do that. But we know that it is not the (inaudible), it is not the desire, it's not the intention of this Palestinian leadership to engage in violence.

And by the way, there is a difference between this leadership and that of Yasser Arafat in that regard. He was never quite able to really bring himself to completely renounce or completely set aside violent means. We saw that in the Karine A shipments of arms and so forth from Iran.

QUESTION: Right.

SECRETARY RICE: And so it is a different circumstance and, you know, we will have to try to keep moving forward.

QUESTION: Since Hamas, though, still has a lot of support, obviously in Gaza but even in other parts of the West Bank, shouldn't the U.S. eventually have to reach out to Hamas? And there are even signs that Hamas is reaching out to Israel. There was a story, I think, in The New York Times today saying there's a discussion, a proposal perhaps of a truce with the Israelis if they lift the blockade in Gaza. Isn't that a hopeful sign of --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I haven't seen that the Israeli Government is particularly enamored of this idea. But look, Hamas should avoid using terrorist attacks because anybody who says that they care about the future of the Palestinian people should want this process to succeed. What the Palestinian people most need is they need economic development and jobs and prosperity and they need their own state. And the world has come a long way in the last couple of decades to get to the point of agreement by all and the huge basis of agreement in that conference and in Annapolis that there should be a two-state solution -- a state for the Israelis, a state for the Palestinians. And so anybody who has the interest of the Palestinians at heart, the Palestinian people at heart, couldn't possibly want to see this process aborted because of violence. And after all, Mahmoud Abbas won the presidency, is the chairman of the PLO, is a legitimate negotiating authority; he should be given a chance to deliver the Palestinian -- to deliver a Palestinian state.

QUESTION: If I may, why you don't think it's a good idea, because it's a truce only and --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I didn't say -- I haven't -- I just said that the Israeli Government did not respond favorably.

QUESTION: No, but you don't seem very keen in an engagement.

SECRETARY RICE: I think Hamas should not engage in terrorist attacks. Whatever they call that, they shouldn’t do it.

QUESTION: But that doesn't give them any negotiating leverage with the Israelis saying, we'll stop terrorist attacks if you open the blockades?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, they should stop terrorist attacks because the Palestinian people will be the ones who suffer if there are terrorist attacks. Ultimately, it will be the Palestinians who suffer from terrorist attacks. The intifada brought nothing but more deprivation and more suffering for the Palestinian people. They were much further along and much better off under the possibility of a peace process after Oslo and after -- after Madrid and then after Oslo. They were much better off. And so terrorism is not on path with the Palestinian people; it's against them. And it's especially against those leaders like Abbas and Fayyad and their whole team that want to negotiate a two-state solution with Israel and finally give the Palestinians what they deserve and what they need.

QUESTION: You have still a question?

QUESTION: Yeah. I think that's the last one we have. So, okay.

SECRETARY RICE: Good.

QUESTION: Well, Pakistan. Has President Musharraf redeemed himself or done much to redeem himself in American eyes? I mean, he was considered the indispensable ally. Will he -- do you see him becoming that indispensable ally again?

SECRETARY RICE: He has been a good ally in the war on terror. He -- al-Qaida tried to kill him several times. He has tried to fight back against terrorism. It was not a good decision to impose a state of emergency. He's lifted the state of emergency. He's taken off the uniform. And now I hope that he is going to oversee the return of Pakistan to a civilian-led democratic state. They need to have free and fair elections. We're very clear with the Pakistanis that free and fair elections don't begin on the day of the election. It begins when opposition can gather. It begins when opposition can have access to radio and TV and the media, the newspapers. And the Pakistani people deserve that.

The irony is that in the period of time that President Musharraf has been in power, particularly after September 11th, he did a lot to try to roll back extremism in Pakistan. And the emergence of a vibrant press and a civil society that was expressing itself prior to the state of emergency is, in some part, due to changes that took place under him. So now it's important to get back on that path and we're watching very carefully and that's what we're focused on in this election.

QUESTION: So it's too early to say that he has your full confidence?

SECRETARY RICE: He has done what he has said he would do. He took off his uniform. He's ended the state of emergency. The next step is free and fair elections. But this is a really crucial time for Pakistan. We have a good relationship with President Musharraf and our Ambassador is in constant contact with him. The key here is that these elections move Pakistan forward on the democratic path. That's the key.

QUESTION: Sorry. One last question. You come back from Iraq and, in Iraq you -- it was questioned that you would -- you would meet with the Kurdish Regional Government, especially --

SECRETARY RICE: Mr. Barzani.

QUESTION: Mr. Barzani decided not to come to meet you. Were you disappointed? Are you surprised?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I was sorry, but it was kind of interesting because the explanation that we got and the explanation that their Foreign Minister gave were different.

QUESTION: Oh.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Because what we have from the Kurdish Government source is that he decided not to come because he's not happy with what’s happening in -- with the PKK.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's very interesting because they told our Ambassador that we should read nothing into it, that he felt that he needed to be in the north, given the circumstances. So --

QUESTION: So you don't read anything --

SECRETARY RICE: I'm not worried about it. Look, I talk to Mr. Barzani fairly frequently and I'll see him -- he doesn't often come to Baghdad. And you know, I'll see him soon, actually. I'm sure of it.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: All right. Thank you.

2007/1151



Released on December 21, 2007

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