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Interview With Brit Hume, Fox News

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
July 12, 2007

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the progress that's been cited in the benchmarks to be met by the Iraqi Government is largely in the security area with the political issues that have been outstanding for a long time, still outstanding. Is there any new reason for hope that those benchmarks will be met?

SECRETARY RICE: There's no doubt that the Iraqis are trying to do something very difficult. They're trying -- by consensus -- to come to conclusions on what are really very, very concrete, but very complicated issues, like how they're going to share their national wealth. Issues about how they're going to deal with their past and the Baathist Party, how they're going to have constitutional reform that includes all Iraqis. It's very hard and it's a young political system. But these are people who are committed to trying to make that progress.

Now, we've been very clear to them that they have got to do this and do it somewhat more quickly. The breathing space that the United States is giving them, it's important that they use that and use it now. But Ryan Crocker's made the point a number of times that these benchmarks are important, this legislation is important. But they are finding ways to work together on these issues and hopefully they're going to succeed.

QUESTION: Is there any reason to believe that an improvement in the security climate will have any effect on these issues or are those two really unrelated?

SECRETARY RICE: They are related because when you have an improvement in the security climate, first of all, the leaders of the government -- the governing structure's not just responding to the crisis, not just responding to the latest uptick that there's been sectarian murder of large scale overnight or not just responding to yet another indication that perhaps the security forces have been involved in sectarianism in some way, that completely destabilizes the political system and it makes it hard for them to make progress on the political front. In the somewhat calmer environment that we hope to help them create, where the population feels more secure, where indeed sectarian murders are down, where they're beginning to have their security forces recognized as not being part of the problem but perhaps being part of the solution, it does create a better environment for the politics. But now they have to deliver on the politics.

QUESTION: Some knowledgeable observers have said that Maliki needs to realign his political coalition, to transforming it in order to move forward. Do you agree with that and do you think it's happening?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, clearly Maliki needs to find a working coalition that is prepared to go forward and that's not just dependent on Maliki. That's also dependent on the Sunni and Kurdish and other Shia leaders that also represent parts of the Iraqi political spectrum. The presidency council I think has taken on a more important role. The presidency council is Jalal Talibani. Tariq al-Hashemi is Sunni and Abdul al-Mehdi, who comes from another part of the Shia community, they're taking on more responsibility. I think that's going to be helpful to Maliki in moving things forward. But there's no doubt that this is not just the responsibility of Maliki. It's the responsibility of the coalition of Iraqi leaders who've got to move this forward.

QUESTION: Well, you say that they're taking on more responsibility. Are you seeing concrete signs that would lead you to be more hopeful today than you were, say, a month ago, that these key political objectives which remain unmet and remained unmet for some time will be met and soon?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly do see signs of hope that the improved security environment, and I don't want to overstate the improvements of the security environment, but the fact that sectarian violence is down, the fact that the security forces are showing up in the numbers that they're supposed to, the bottom-up strategy, the bottom-up efforts that are being made with the Sunni sheikhs -- sheikhs against the al-Qaida that that is improving the environment in which these political matters can go forward.

But, Brit, ultimately it is true that the Iraqis are going to have to press ahead. One good sign is that their legislature, which has been -- it's been difficult for them to meet -- I think that when they get through what was a crisis concerning the arrest of a particular Sunni minister that you're going to see that the Council of Representatives will start meeting again. And they have said that if the business of the nation is there to do, they're going to stay in session and do the business of the nation.

QUESTION: Let's talk about this -- this report that was testified about on the Hill yesterday concerning the strength of al-Qaida, particularly as it has, to whatever extent it has, reconstituted itself in travel in distant areas of Pakistan. Is it true, as the report suggests, that al-Qaida is now as strong as it was or at least as strong as it has been since the pre-9/11 situation?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't think that one can make the argument that al-Qaida is the same organization that it was on September 11th. You cannot lose a whole layer of field generalship in the way that they have. You cannot lose your training bases in Afghanistan. You can't lose the capacity to freely move money around because there's no effort at tracing terrorist financing. You can't be in the same situation today that you were prior to 9/11, if you are al-Qaida. What they have done, of course, they continue to try to reconstitute. Yes, there are some places that they are stronger. We are concerned about the tribal areas of Pakistan which is why the Pakistani Army has been active there. It's why we've been active in programs to try and win over some of the population in those areas with financial support. But I don't think that one can argue that al-Qaida is the same organization, effective in the ways that they were effective before 9/11. They're still dangerous, but this is a --

QUESTION: Well, are they more dangerous than they were, say, a year ago? The suggestion from this report is that they've been gaining strength, of late, rather than losing strength.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, they have been losing strength on some dimensions, quite a few dimensions, as they lose more and more of their financial network, as they lose more and more of their ability to operate freely in countries with which we're now allied. And yes, I think it's true that in the frontier areas of Pakistan, this has been a period in which we've been concerned about their gaining strength. But there are puts and takes. It's not as if this is an organization that has gotten stronger and stronger and stronger, so that they're now back to the point that they were on September 11th. I just don’t think that's true.

QUESTION: Do you sense -- do you share the gut feeling expressed by the Secretary of Homeland Security this week that this would be a -- this is a particularly dangerous time for the United States in terms of its vulnerability to an attack or the possibility of an attempt to (inaudible?)

SECRETARY RICE: I'm certainly concerned about it. It's a period of time in which there is a lot of intelligence, a lot of chattering that would suggest that there's an effort to plan an attack against the United States. But it's -- as Mike has said, you know, there's nothing that appears concrete or imminent. But of course -- and we always have to be vigilant because the truth of the matter is it's a kind of unfair fight. The terrorists have to be right once and we have to be right 100 percent of the time. But I think Americans can know that there's been a very active program led by Mike Chertoff and Fran Townsend, the President's Homeland Security advisor, to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to share intelligence with our allies abroad, to work with our local governments and city leaders and perhaps most importantly to be sure that we're doing what we can to disrupt activities when we see things happening abroad.

QUESTION: I want to ask you again about North Korea. You have been pretty optimistic that North Korea is, in fact, not simply going to shut down Yongbyon, but it's really going to go ahead and dismantle its nuclear program.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Brit, let me be very clear about what I said. I said we're in the first -- you know, I'm a sports fan. I said we're in the first quarter of a long -- a long game here. I do believe that the North Koreans will shut down the reactor. They've said that they will do that. They say that they have made a strategic choice to get rid of their nuclear weapons programs. I think we're going to know a lot about that in this next phase where they will have to declare what they've done, where they will have to disable the programs and the facilities in a more irreversible way than simply a shutdown. But I think we are seeing good signs that they're going to invite the IAEA inspectors in. They're going to shut down Yongbyon and then there will be considerable pressure, I think from the six parties. It's a very good thing that we're in this with the other big regional players -- China, Japan, Russia, South Korea. Because the way that this deal is structured, the February 13th deal, the North Koreans do not get significant benefits until they have made this strategic choice about the (inaudible.)

QUESTION: So how would you assess where all this will leave them in the near-term as they shut down the reactor? That still leaves them with whatever nuclear devices they may have already constructed; correct?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. And it then leaves them in a position in which, according to the framework agreement that was signed already in 2005 and the steps that are anticipated as a result of the February 13th agreement of this year, the next step is for them to declare what they have and to disable the current facilities. And we expect them -- at some point in time, that there's got to be an accounting for whatever was made out of the activity at Yongbyon.

QUESTION: You've got two trips coming up, one of them in the near-term and a later one with Secretary Gates. What do you expect to achieve in the first trip?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I will go -- now, I will go to the Middle East and see the Israelis and the Palestinians at the same time that I go out with Secretary Gates. Obviously, there is a very big regional dimension to everything that we're doing at this point in time.

Iraq has to be seen in a regional context. And the reason that Secretary Gates and I are going out is that we want to consult with Iraq's neighbors, many of whom are our very close allies in the region. We want to talk about what the way forward looks like in Iraq, both in terms of what the United States needs to do, but also in terms of what they need to do to support the development of a stable and democratic Iraq.

I will undoubtedly meet with some of the allies that I've met with in the past. I've met in the past with the Gulf states and Egypt and Jordan, in a forum to talk about the regional dimension of this. And so this is really to help set a concrete regional context for Iraq. That's why Secretary Gates and I are going out.

QUESTION: So there's an essential effort here to try to get these countries to do more to help the outcome in Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's to do that. They do need to help the outcome in Iraq. They are as dependent for their security in the long-term on a stable Iraq as we are. Some might even say even more, because it's their neighborhood that will be destabilized if Iraq is in chaos.

But we also want to talk about their security. When we sent a carrier into the Persian Gulf, into the Gulf region, when we made clear that the United States remains committed to its long-term security interests and those of the allies, commitments that have been there, essentially, since Franklin Roosevelt, we do want to talk to them about their security needs and how -- in what is a vastly changing region, but a challenging region. Given also the Iranian problem, we want to talk to them about how we jointly deal with those challenges.

QUESTION: And what about you? Are you here for the duration?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, only the President can tell you that. I'm --

QUESTION: As far as you're concerned?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm -- as far as I'm concerned, I'm enjoying it. It's a challenging time. I can't think of a better time to be Secretary of State than now. And we've got a lot of work to do. We've got time, I think, to make real progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. I think we've got time to make real progress in creating a better regional environment in which -- an Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, finally, and able to defend itself, can begin to move us toward a different kind of Middle East. And there are a lot of pieces to put into play, but I'm -- every day, that's what we do and I plan to do it for a while yet to come.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much.



Released on July 12, 2007

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