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Interview With Katie Couric of the CBS Evening News

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
July 12, 2007

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, as we saw in Alan Pizzey's piece, most Iraqis judge the war by the progress that's being made in restoring basic services. When and how will the situation improve?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, clearly, it's a difficult situation and Katie, the insurgents understand the need for services and they very often attack the infrastructure. And one of the things that we're trying to do is to help the Iraqis gain a way to better protect their services infrastructure like electricity, for instance.

But we've also -- as much as we've tried to help at the national level, we've begun to realize, then, to work more at the provincial and local level because it is sometimes easier and more effective to provide services at the local and provincial level. It's the reason for Provincial Reconstruction Teams that are helping local leaders to provide for their people. And so I think that strategy has a better chance of succeeding for the Iraqis.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the situation has improved in terms of the ability of the central government to get funding out to the localities so that they can create jobs, so that the young unemployed people can be put to work. It is improving in terms of getting money out to the local government so that they can do small water projects or small electricity projects. And I don't have a timeline, but I do have some confidence that this more localized strategy with local governments and local and provincial leaders taking more of a lead -- they're closer to the people. They know what needs to be done and the central government is finally, in many cases, with its own money, funding those projects.

QUESTION: This interim progress report, Secretary Rice, comes on the heels of testimony yesterday on Capitol Hill by senior intelligence officials, members of your own Administration, who, according to The Washington Post, offered an overwhelmingly negative view of military and political conditions in Iraq, saying that security forces will remain incapable of taking charge of security for years and that sectarian divides are only deepening. Why such a glaring disconnect?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you -- if you talk to people on the ground, if you talk to Ambassador Crocker, to General Petraeus or to the people on the ground, they see the difficulties, they see how hard it is. But they also see a young political system that, though struggling, is trying to deal with some of these problems. They see a lowered number of sectarian deaths and murders. They see that the local sheikhs in places like al-Anbar, places that used to be called triangles of death, the so-called dreaded Sunni triangle, that these people are turning against al-Qaida and fighting. They see that local provincial governments are rising up and trying to provide for their people. So it's obviously -- it is not as we would like it to be, but there is some progress on the ground that is hard to see if you look only at national benchmarks.

QUESTION: But how can your own intelligence officials have such a contrary view?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don't think it's a contrary view. I think it's a view that emphasizes the many problems that are there in Iraq. But it's the goal of policy to take whatever the difficult situation is and to take steps to ameliorate that situation. It's the role of intelligence to simply report on the conditions as they are. I think that it's -- you're seeing a difference between what policymakers do and what intelligence officers do. The people who are on the ground, the people in our embassies and the people in our military are out there trying to solve problems, not simply to present them as they are.

QUESTION: The President once again today expressed his support for Prime Minister Maliki, but doubts began to surface last fall both within and outside the Bush Administration about his ability to do the job. What has he done since the fall to warrant the President's continuing support?

SECRETARY RICE: Let me be the first to say the Maliki government needs to do more. There is no doubt about that and not just Maliki, but also the other important leaders around him, the Kurdish and other Shia and Sunni leaders who have equal responsibility for the health of Iraq with Prime Minister Maliki and they are working more closely together to try to deliver for their people.

But if you look at some of the things that were promised at the outset of the new policy, the Iraqis have shown up with their forces and their forces are in the fight. They have been able to begin to roll back the sense that their security forces were more a part of the problem in terms of sectarianism than part of the solution. That means that they are trying to apply justice and security in a more even-handed way. Some people have returned to their homes. They did promise that they were going to get money out to the provinces, particularly out to the Sunni provinces. They are beginning to do that. And not just the Maliki government, but people in places like Ramadi and now Baquba are fighting back against the foreign invaders and the al-Qaida terrorists who are threatening their future.

So yes, there is a lot more to do and they haven't made the progress that we want them to make. But it is also not the case that they've done nothing. And some of the commentary has tended to set aside and to underestimate some of the efforts that they have made. They have made some efforts and some of those efforts are paying off.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: He has our support. He's got a very difficult job. He's trying to do this with very young democratic institutions. They're trying to do it in a democratic fashion. One Iraqi said to me not too long ago, Katie, you know, we could pass some of these laws 51-49, but we're trying to do it instead by consensus so that all Iraqis feel a part of the national oil law when it comes into being.

Just think about that. This is a young political system that is trying to build a consensus rather than just jamming down majority votes, so that all Iraqis can feel a part of it. It's hard, but I think they're making some progress; not enough, but some progress.

QUESTION: Senator Pete Domenici said some very strong Republicans were really anxious for a new approach. I know you personally have been making calls to some GOP senators to limit the defections. Why do you think so many or some former supporters are now abandoning the President?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, everybody's concerned, most especially the President and his advisors like me, that we need to find a sustainable course in Iraq. And so this is not a debate between those who want to succeed in Iraq and those who want to fail in Iraq. It is a debate about how to go forward in a way that protects our interests.

The one difference is -- that I think that the President made it clear today in his press conference -- we believe that in September, we know that in September, we're going to get a report from General Petraeus and from Ambassador Crocker. They will have had a chance to assess the impact of the new strategy that the President laid out in January, but frankly, where the forces for it -- the military forces for it have only recently arrived in theater. They will be able to assess the impact on the security situation. They will be able to assess how the bottom-up strategy is working in some of these regions of the Sunni areas. They will be able to assess how the government is doing on meeting some of the goals that it set.

And at that point, we can take a look and say what is the way forward. They can also -- we can also have the benefit of regional issues and a regional approach. Secretary Gates and I are going to go out to the region at the end of the month. The idea there is to consult with our allies, with Iraq's neighbors who have to be a part of the solution. And in September, we can all talk about a coherent way forward. But it is not helpful to try to do that in midstream in July, when we know that we're going to get the kind of reasoned and unvarnished assessment from General Petraeus and from Ryan Crocker that will help us put together that coherent way forward.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that even if there is positive news to report by September, that the train will have left the station, that popular support for this war will have eroded so significantly that calls on Capitol Hill for troop withdrawal will be so loud that that report will be irrelevant?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, in September, which is really only eight weeks away -- we're not talking about a very long period of time here -- I think we will know and we will have an assessment of how the nation can move forward in a coherent fashion. The President said that he plans to call people together and say, all right, let's chart a way forward.

I think the American people want this to be a success. I think the American people want to see progress. They want to know that when we make our -- the President makes his decisions in the fall, that he's going to be charting a way forward that protects American interests because I think Americans know at a very visceral level that even though this is very difficult and that even though we've made great sacrifices, and we have made great sacrifices, that we can't afford to have a situation in which the Middle East becomes more chaotic, in which Iraq is a source for greater terrorism, and in which the neighborhood, this very important neighborhood, is chaotic.

And so I would hope that in September, when we've had a chance to have the advantage of the assessment that our people in the field will give us, that the President can present to the American people, with the help of the Congress and with the help of others, a way forward that demonstrates that America can protect its interests in Iraq.

QUESTION: But do you think the President will be willing to change course if necessary, if this so-called unvarnished report due in September doesn't have a lot of positive developments, because he has been so principled and, some might say, myopic about his position?

SECRETARY RICE: There is no doubt that whatever comes in September is going to be mixed. This is a very complicated and difficult set of circumstances. The Iraqis are trying to do something very different and, in fact, unprecedented in the whole region. So it's going to be a mixed report.

But at that point, we can react to what remains to be done, what has already been done. And of course, the President is going to structure a strategy that is responsive to what he's told. The only thing that we are determined to do is to protect American interests and to protect American security. And that means that you have to have a way forward in Iraq that does not leave this very important region in chaos. That has been the message from Iraqis; that has been the message from our allies in the region. It's been the message of our Ambassador. And that's the message that the President is communicating. But there's no doubt that in the fall we will chart a way forward that is based on the realities on the ground.

QUESTION: At the news conference today, the President said, "The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September 11th and that's why what happens in Iraq matters to security here at home."

But most foreign policy experts agree that the al-Qaida presence in Iraq increased dramatically after the U.S. invasion. Does the President take any responsibility, Secretary Rice, for helping create this situation?

SECRETARY RICE: What has happened is that we have had an exposure of the breadth and depth of the extremism that produced the attacks on the United States on September 11th. Katie, I -- yes, in Iraq, al-Qaida as a factor in Iraq has grown up and it has become an organization that is devoted, in Iraq, to stoking sectarian violence.

But the idea that somehow there were not extremists in this region, that there were not extremists who were threatening our interests prior to our decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein is just ahistorical, it's just not right. These are people who would have been fighting some place else because they are committed to an extremist vision that is 180 degrees from ours and from American interests.

It is al-Qaida that talks about Iraq as a central front. But of course, there is an important front, a central front also in Afghanistan. We have to look at this in its totality and recognize that what is happening in the Middle East is a great contest between the forces of extremism and the forces of moderation. They have made their choice. They're going to fight to control territory and populations in this most volatile and most vital region. We have to make our choice that we're going to stop them. And stopping them in Iraq is an important part of that -- of making that choice.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Al-Qaida in Iraq is a particular organization that has dedicated itself to destabilizing Iraq in hopes of using it as a foothold. But al-Qaida in Afghanistan, al-Qaida in the Persian Gulf areas, al-Qaida in North Africa, this is an organization that has global reach. But the difference is now that this is an organization that also has an international coalition that is determined to bring it down. It cannot move its finances in the way that it did prior to September 11th. It has lost dozens and dozens of central important field generals who were running these operations, people like Khaled Sheikh Mohamed. It has now determined fighters in places like Afghanistan that are determined to turn it back. It's not the organization that it was on September 11th. Yes, it is still dangerous and there are puts and takes. In some ways it has gained some strength in some areas. But in many ways, it has lost strength and it is not the case that al-Qaida has gotten stronger and stronger and stronger and it is not the case that al-Qaida would have somehow been weaker had the United States taken a different course.

QUESTION: The President continues to be very determined and quite optimistic about the outcome in Iraq, while being realistic at the same time. The two of you are very close in private. What kind of toll has this taken on George Bush?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think for everyone, but most especially the President, you know, he sees the loss of American life, the hopes and dreams of families that are cut short by the sacrifice of fathers and daughters and sons in Iraq. And that's hard, because he's the one who very often has to comfort the families or to go in to see our wounded soldiers. And I think that's what is hardest for him, is that he knows that this has been a great sacrifice for the American people and most especially for those families.

He knows, too, that nothing of value is ever gained without sacrifice and that we can make America stronger, more secure for the long term, if we can remain committed to defeating these extremists and I think that that's what sustains him, is that -- and sustains us all, frankly, that we are in a generational fight and it has fallen to us to lay the first foundations of making America capable of winning that fight. It won't come on his watch, on our watch. But America and our allies, we will because -- we will win this fight because we are right, our values are right and the extremists have nothing to offer but death and annihilation and just as Iraqis are turning against al-Qaida, because it is now clear what they stand for, so too will people all over the world.

QUESTION: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, thank you so much.



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