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Interview on NBC's Today Show With Matt Lauer

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
January 11, 2007

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, nice to have you with us. Good morning.

SECRETARY RICE: Good morning.

QUESTION: You know, the President said last night that failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States and I'm sure a lot of people watching across the country feel the same way, but they're saying so many mistakes have been made, Madame Secretary, by this Administration. No weapons of mass destruction, not enough troops to secure the peace, wrong on how much this war would cost, wrong on the strength of the insurgency, and they're wondering how do we know we're not making another big mistake now that's going to cost more U.S. lives. How do you answer that fear?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, as the President said last night, there have been mistakes. And all of us who've been involved in it are responsible for those mistakes. We're also responsible, I think, for helping the Iraqi people to overthrow a dictator, to create a functioning political system that has a chance at least of giving them away to resolve their differences peacefully rather than by violence. And we have to give that chance now to the Iraqi people to really make this work. This is a young democracy. This government has only been in power for nine months. And the President's plan last night made very clear that we understand the stakes, but that the Iraqis also understand the stakes.

QUESTION: But Madame Secretary, the President has said for years now that the decisions on troop deployment and troop levels will be made after careful consultation with the commanders, the military commanders, on the ground. Well, General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in that region, said to Congress in November of last year, just two months ago, "I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem. I believe that the troops levels need to stay where they are." So is the message that the President listens to these commanders unless they say something he doesn't want to hear?

SECRETARY RICE: I think you just have to read a little further in John Abizaid's testimony and you will see that he says, too, but that a different kind of commitment from the Iraqis might be helped by additional forces. And the fact of the matter is that we've always needed more forces. We thought that those forces would be provided by the Iraqis. They are not quite ready yet to the task that they have to try to bring order to their capital. And what the President is doing is to give them an opportunity through the augmentation of American forces, through very different rules of engagement than they've had before, rules of engagement that will not permit political interference, to stabilize their capital, to establish security for their people --

QUESTION: Can they do that though, Madame Secretary? I mean, do you have faith in the government of Prime Minister Maliki that they can: (a) get the Shia militia to disarm, that they can get into those neighborhoods and hold them, that they can get the oil revenues up and running again and distribute them fairly? I mean, why do we have faith in this government?

SECRETARY RICE: This government understands the consequences of failure as well as we do. They understand that they -- the American people's patience is not endless, but they also know that the Iraqi people's patience is not endless. They're fed up with it. And it was Maliki who came to the President in Amman and said, "We have got to get control of our capital and here's how we intend to do it." We then worked with them on this plan. It was clear that they have the will but not the capability and so our forces helped to provide the capability.

QUESTION: The President referred to the Iraq Study Group and one of the recommendations was direct talks with Iran and Syria. The President did not at all go along with that. Here's what he said on Iran and Syria: "These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq." And he talked about sending an additional strike group to that region.

Is the President saying that military action inside Iran and Syria is a possibility?

SECRETARY RICE: The President is saying that we are going to make certain that we disrupt activities that are endangering and killing our troops and that are destabilizing Iraq.

QUESTION: If that includes attacks inside Iran and Syria is that on the table?

SECRETARY RICE: Matt, obviously the President is not going to take options off the table and I'm not going to speculate, but I will tell you this. Around Christmastime we did find a group of Iraqis* who were engaged in activities that were detrimental to our forces. We went, we took them, we then told the Iraqi Government that they needed to be expelled from the country and they were. The Iranians need to know, and the Syrians need to know, that the United States is not finding it acceptable and is not going to simply tolerate their activities to try and harm our forces or to destabilize Iraq.

QUESTION: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, I know you have a big day on Capitol Hill this morning and then a trip to the Middle East on Friday. Madame Secretary, thank you for your time.



* Iranians

Released on January 11, 2007

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