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Interview on CBS's Early Show With Harry Smith

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
January 11, 2007

QUESTION: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testifies today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Iraq policy. Earlier this morning I was at the State Department and I asked Secretary Rice what her most important message will be on the Hill.

SECRETARY RICE: I think the most important message and the most important message the President was giving last night is the enormous stakes that we have in Iraq, that in fact we cannot afford to fail and there is broad agreement on that point. Secondly, that the President took a good deal of time with a lot of input from a lot of people to come up with a considered strategy that gives us the best opportunity for success given the sectarian violence that has really spiked since February of '06. And finally, that our differences as Americans, we will have a debate. There's no doubt about it. And we understand in the debate that there's a lot of skepticism, that there's a lot of skepticism about where the war is going, that there's skepticism about whether or not the Iraqi Government will really step up this time. But I've talked to these Iraqi leaders and they know the consequences of failure personally and for their country, and I think they're ready to try and take on this challenge.

QUESTION: The President in briefing members of Congress over the last couple of days apparently said to some group that Maliki knows, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki knows, that if he doesn't make this work, he's out. Is that the Administration's actual policy toward the Iraqi Prime Minister?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think what the President really said was that there are pressures inside of Iraq on this Prime Minister to make this work, on this government to make this work. We forget that this actually is a democracy that is functioning as one. The Iraqi people are impatient. Some of the political class is impatient with the progress in Iraq. And so obviously there will be accountability in terms of the Iraqi people, too, but we back this government. We believe that Prime Minister Maliki and those around him -- this is not just Prime Minister Maliki, but those around him as well -- have really this time taken an obligation to deal with the insecurity of their people and their capital.

QUESTION: They said this before, though. They said we'll meet benchmarks. They've said that they'll root the Mahdi army out of the police force in Baghdad. It's just it hasn't happened.

SECRETARY RICE: That's right, it hasn't happened. And the last time that we had a Baghdad security plan in the summer, there were really two problems. First of all, it was not -- there were not enough reliable forces. And one of the reasons for the augmentation of American forces is to help create circumstances which you have reliable forces. But the Iraqis this time are bringing in some of their best forces from around the country to deal with this problem. The other problem was that frankly there was too much political interference in the work that the security forces had to do. And that was the crux of the very candid, sometimes very difficult conversations that we've had with the Iraqis.

QUESTION: Let me ask you this because the other thing that really stood out in the speech last night to me was bringing this carrier group into the Persian Gulf, Patriot missile batteries. The President was very specific in signaling out both Iran and Syria. Did he set the table last night for military confrontation with those two countries?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, obviously, the President's never going to take an option off the table. But he believes at this point that what we are -- we're looking at is the need to solidify the consensus, the interest of these states that all fear Iran's moves in the region, fear the regional aggression of Iran. And we also have to recognize that Iran is engaging -- Iran and Syria, but particularly Iran -- engaging in activities that endanger our troops. And so the President I think is determined that we will help to defend the territorial integrity of Iraq.

QUESTION: The President acknowledged last night that there's no guarantee that this new program, this new strategy will work. What if it doesn't work?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first we have to give it the best chance to work and because we -- and we need the support of Congress, of the American people. The President's considered this long and hard. He considered other options, but believes that this is the best. His commanders believe that this is the best option. And so we're going to do everything to make it work.


Released on January 11, 2007

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