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Interview on NBC's The Today Show With Matt Lauer

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
July 13, 2007

(7:00 a.m. EDT)

QUESTION: Condoleezza Rice is the U.S. Secretary of State. Madame Secretary, good morning, good to have you with us.

SECRETARY RICE: Good morning, Matt. Nice to be with you.

QUESTION: I want to talk about your diplomatic effort to the Middle East in just a second, but let's start with this preliminary report on the surge in Iraq that the net result is, according to the President, that the Iraqis are making limited progress in about eight of 18 key benchmarks. How do you feel about that report card?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I -- obviously, we would like to have greater progress, but I think it's not inconsequential that the Iraqis are making progress on, particularly, some of the security benchmarks. We have to remember that we're in a phase where we've had a lot of inputs now, new forces, both American and Iraqi. I think it is also not inconsequential that they're making some slow, albeit, progress on some of the political benchmarks.

But the most important development is actually not on the benchmark list and that is that in areas of the former Sunni triangle, as we referred to it, Al Anbar Province, cities like Ramadi, you have Iraqis standing up, turning on al-Qaida, fighting with us in places that used to be considered by many analysts to be lost completely to al-Qaida.

QUESTION: Let me go back to these benchmarks, though, for a second. Let's take a look at two key specifics. The Iraqi military, according to this report, is nowhere near ready to stand up and take control of its own security situation. And the Iraqi unity government is nowhere near, it seems, able to forge the kinds of compromises that are required to end the violence. Aren't those two glaring problems?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, in terms of the Iraqi security forces, yes, they're going to need support and particularly in terms of logistics, but they have made some progress. And if you look at the way that they are fighting now in a less sectarian fashion, where I think they're fighting on behalf of all Iraqis, where they've showed up in the numbers that they are supposed to, or where they've made adjustments to get more forces into the fight, those are all positive signs. We've got more work to do in training the Iraqi security forces.

And in terms of the politics, yes, the Iraqi Government needs to do more, but not just Nuri al-Maliki; also the other power brokers in Iraq, the Kurdish leaders, the Shia leaders, the Sunni leaders. And that's what Ryan Crocker and the people in the Baghdad Embassy are working at every day. So yes, they do need to make more political progress.

QUESTION: Let's go back to Prime Minister Maliki for a second. A lot of talk in Washington this week, Secretary Rice, about gut feelings; all right, so what is your gut feeling about Prime Minister Maliki? Is he up to the task? Do you trust him? Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said this recently: "The current political leadership in Iraq is paralyzed. They're incapable, in my opinion, of making the hard decisions they need to make. You need to change people or change the attitude."

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the problem is the circumstances. This is a man, I think, who wants to do the right thing for his country. He's trying to overcome deep differences. One thing that we have to recognize is they're trying to do something very difficult. They're trying to bring about these fundamental changes, like how one will share resources, questions about dealing with the past of de-Baathification, and they're trying to do it by consensus. They don't want to have a simple majority vote.

But Nuri al-Maliki is not the only factor here. He needs the help of other Iraqi leaders. And so we spend equal time with the Presidency Council talking to those leaders about the need of the entire leadership cadre to support these changes.

QUESTION: But good intentions -- are Mr. Maliki's good intentions enough? Isn't it possible he simply doesn't have the support or the ability to make the changes? The Administration has expressed doubts about this man in the past.

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley wrote in a memo to the President back in November that I know you know about: "The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what's going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into actions."

The same month, CIA Director Michael Hayden said: "The inability of the government to govern seems irreversible."

SECRETARY RICE: Well, of course, those reports were prior to the change in strategy that the President announced in January, was prior to trying to give the Iraqi Government more capability, which we've been doing. It was prior to the Iraqis developing their own plan for security in Baghdad, which we're now executing. It's a very difficult situation and I would be the first to say that we've not been completely satisfied --

QUESTION: Right.

SECRETARY RICE: -- with the way that the Iraqi Government has performed. But we do have to recognize what a hard thing it is that they're doing. We have to continue to support them. And most importantly, we need not to make premature judgments about how this is all going to turn out before we have the full assessment of our commander, General Petraeus, and our ambassador, Ambassador Crocker, about how this is going. And then we can chart a coherent way forward.

QUESTION: I'm going to end on a little Monday morning quarterbacking. I know how much you must love that, but we're good in the press at that, and the President has announced that you and Secretary Gates are going to go to the Middle East on a diplomatic effort. The President also admits that Iran and Syria are responsible for fueling much of the violence in Iraq. The Iraq Study Group eight months ago said, go engage these countries, conduct a diplomatic effort then. Why did we wait eight months?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, of course, we haven't waited for eight months. I've been in the Middle East, I think, four times this year. I have met with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and Jordan, countries like Saudi Arabia repeatedly. They have been here. Of course we had a very successful neighbors' meeting for Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh.

QUESTION: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Madame Secretary, it's always good to have you with us in the morning. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Good to be with you. Thank you very much, Matt.

2007/578



Released on July 13, 2007

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