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Interview With Lukeman Ahmed of BBC Arabic Television

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
January 7, 2008

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, thank you for doing this again. And actually, Iranian boats harassed and provoked a U.S. naval ship in the Gulf, and yet the Iranian Foreign Ministry is just saying it was normal and was resolved. Was it normal and was it resolved?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there is nothing normal about what the Iranians did, at least I hope that's not what the Iranians consider to be normal behavior, because it was provocative. And that kind of provocation is dangerous, and I would sincerely hope that the Iranians would refrain from any such activity.

QUESTION: Does it bother you that this came or happened in the mid of or at the eve of your trip to the Middle East?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't know if it is a coincidence or not. But let's just remember that the United States under this President has sent a very strong signal that America has strong interests in the Gulf, that the United States will continue to defend its interests in the Gulf, it will defend the interests of its allies in the Gulf. And this goes back to -- decades for the United States and the Gulf region. And so I don't think anyone is confused about the commitment of the United States to defend its own interests and to defend the interests of its allies in the Gulf.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) details or detail this trip you are going to go to Israel and (inaudible). Are you having some new ideas to both parties as they are starting their negotiation for forming the Palestinian or formation of the Palestinian states?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the important point is the one that you just -- they're just starting. And so we shouldn't expect that there are going to be any great breakthroughs on this trip. That's really not the purpose. The President is going there to lend support to the bilateral process that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have begun, that their negotiating teams are working toward. I think he'll probably say to them, you know, that he really hopes that this will be done in 2008 -- that's his intention and his hope, too -- and that it is important to negotiate and negotiate in good faith and to negotiate urgently and intensively. And I believe those will be the messages that the President will send. But we don't need the United States at this point to try to take the place of the parties.

QUESTION: Let me go back to 2008 and how President Bush said in Annapolis that both parties should do that -- they would be able to reach or to conclude a peace before 2008. Based on what you are seeing now at this beginning and started, do you think that's something likely to happen? Before you finish this presidency we will see an agreement by 2008 or before?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think there's every reason --

QUESTION: By the end of it.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, well, I think there is every reason that they could do it. It is going to take a very, very strong effort. It's going to take urgent effort. It will ultimately take both sides making some tough political decisions that, to this point, have not been made by Israeli and Palestinian leaders. It's going to take the support of the Arab world to show the Palestinians that they will have the support for making tough choices and to show the Israelis that there will be a comprehensive and overall peace when they're moving forward. And so for all those reasons, there's a lot of work to do, a lot of support needed from the international community. But I believe that there's no reason that they cannot succeed by the end of 2008.

QUESTION: To have the starting point going forward, just President Abbas hoping that President Bush on this trip, on this visit will achieve that something to tell Israel to stop this settlement process, something that will help the basis starting point. Will you ask Israel to stop the settlement activities at this point -- this trip?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, American policy on this has always been very clear that the Israelis have roadmap obligations, including the ceasing of the settlement activity. We have been clear when we have not found Israeli policy supportive of the peace process, as we all have made statements about that when the Har Homa situation emerged.

But I want to note that I heard some very encouraging statements also from Prime Minister Olmert about the importance that Israel attaches to fulfilling its own obligations. The President talked about the illegal outposts and the fact that Prime Minister Sharon had promised him that those illegal outposts would be taken down and that he expects Israel to carry through on its obligations. The Palestinians have obligations, too -- on the security side, on the political and security reform side, on fighting terrorism.

And so what we've done with the Annapolis process is to say that the phase one obligations of the roadmap need to proceed in parallel with the negotiations for a final status agreement. For a long time, they were in sequence and we got stuck at phase one. I would hope that neither party becomes so focused on the phase one obligations that they refuse to negotiate on final status. This will all have to come together at the end because you can't imagine a final status agreement without the completion of phase one obligations, which is why the agreement will be subject to fulfillment of the obligations of the roadmap. But the parties need to negotiate completely and seriously on the final status and simultaneously fulfill their obligations.

QUESTION: Those obligations are well understood by both parties, but it seems like the settlement thing right now it's trailing this process to difficulties. So will you be -- just to facilitate this -- to ask Israel, to offer them something, would have both parties going forward about settlement?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've clearly said that Israel has obligations, that it should not engage in settlement activity and that seeks -- that tries to somehow prejudge the outcome of final status. America is very clear on that.

But I also want to be very clear on something. If we -- if the parties decide that they're going to stay stuck in phase one, that's a very bad thing. We finally broke that with Annapolis. So we would hope that if there are concerns, charges about phase one obligations, that those could be dealt with in the mechanism that the United States will oversee both bilaterally and trilaterally, and that the parties can get on with negotiating the final status agreement, because ultimately the best solution to all of these issues will be to have a Palestinian state.

QUESTION: Other thing in the Palestinian territory, Hamas is very against this process to work and against it, and they are there, they are really there. Are you still -- do you think Hamas should be isolated or you think they should be otherwise and other procedures that will go forward to include Hamas in the process?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Hamas is isolating itself. It's isolating itself because it is outside of the consensus of responsible Arab states and leaders that believe in the two-state solution, that believe that Palestinian agreements that have been made by Palestinian leaders over decades should be respected, that believe that violence is not an answer, that a Palestinian state is not going to be born of violence but born of negotiation. That's the consensus. That's the international consensus. That's the Arab consensus. And that is the consensus on the basis of which President Abbas, who is after all the PLO Chairman and therefore has the mandate for negotiations, that's the consensus on which he's proceeding.

Hamas is the one that's outside of that, so they've isolated themselves. They've isolated themselves by their behavior in Gaza. They've isolated themselves by continuing to associate with foreign elements like Iran, which has no interest in a stable and peaceful and prosperous Middle East. So eventually, when there is an agreement and it is clear that there will be a Palestinian state, then all Palestinians I hope will find that a unifying vision.

QUESTION: You are visiting Egypt and that is one of the greatest U.S. ally in the region and it's (inaudible) over there. The Congress has passed a resolution that conditions U.S. aid to Egypt. What do you think about that resolution?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Administration wanted aid to be unconditional and we made that very clear. When it was clear that we were not going to prevail, we worked very hard with the Congress to have the flexibility of waiver. And we did this because our relationship with Egypt is important, it's strategic. We have our differences with Egypt. We're working on those in other ways, including on issues of democracy and reform in Egypt. But we would have preferred an unconditional bill. We have at least achieved the flexibility of waiver.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on this here. There is a concern over freedom of (inaudible) in Egypt that would take some of the congressmen to go for this resolution. How do you address that issue as far as human rights?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've addressed the issue of reform and human rights quite straightforwardly. Egypt is a friend of the United States. Friends need to be able to talk honestly. And so when I have been in Egypt or when our Egyptian colleagues have been here, we talk about the importance of reform, the importance of Egypt, this great society, fulfilling I think what are the very great hopes of its people for a more open political system. And there have been some steps forward, but there have been some disappointments, too. But we can have that conversation and we'll continue to have that conversation.

QUESTION: Going to Libya, just few days ago you met your Libyan counterpart here and also there's concern over human rights record there and the Libyan opposition everywhere demanding Libya that should release prisoners and (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: And Libya should. Libya should release prisoners. Libya should deal with the cases of the -- in the United States of victims of terrorism. These are all issues on the agenda. But it is a good thing that U.S.-Libyan relations are now at the point that we can have those discussions face to face. We believe that Libya made an important strategic decision in abandoning its weapons of mass destruction, in renouncing terrorism, but that doesn't mean that there is not unfinished business with Libya. There is very serious unfinished business and I personally take it very seriously.

QUESTION: So have you got assurance from them that they are going to release these prisoners?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have said that this is something that really must happen. Libya is slowly being welcomed back into the international community of states. It's got a Security Council seat. With that is going to come certain responsibilities, and among those will be to be responsive to the concerns of the human rights community and of those who have outstanding concerns and claims.

QUESTION: Another issue to cover here and that is a very important country, Lebanon. There is an Arab League initiative right now and it's being welcomed by both parties. Are you aware of that initiative by the Arab League?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm very aware of the initiative. I am very pleased that the Arab states have taken the step because Lebanon needs to have its presidential election and it needs to have it unconditionally. There is a candidate, consensus candidate that all Lebanese apparently can back. And they need to go ahead and have the election, and when they've had the election other issues can be dealt with. But it's extremely important that outside parties tell all of their colleagues, all of their allies, that it's time to let Lebanon go forward, because you do not need the instability of deadlock in Lebanon.

QUESTION: There have been so many initiatives and they have failed, but how the U.S. could really invest on this and make it work because I spoke to so many Lebanese just (inaudible) there is no way to have this president elected in Lebanon right now, but we have now the initiative and it's welcome.


QUESTION: Will the United States of America make effort to have this initiative work and then the (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have been advocating for a very long time now -- ever since General Sleiman's name emerged as a potential consensus candidate, we have said that this -- if that is what the Lebanese believe they can do, then they should be allowed to do it. They should be allowed to do it without outside interference. Their neighbors like Syria need to allow this to take place. And we've been very much supportive of the views of the democratically elected majority, and the democratically elected majority believes that this is -- if they believe this is a compromise that should go forward, we would support that.

The election needs to take place. They need to open the parliament. They need to let the election take place. When there is a president of Lebanon, then Lebanon can get on with the remaining political business before it.

QUESTION: I'm being told that is all, but just can I get a last question here? Once, Secretary Rice, you sit down, you are the first African American to be the Secretary of State here. When you sit down (inaudible) and you see this phenomenon of the first African American leading in the primaries, that is Senator Obama -- not as Secretary of State, regardless of your political affiliation -- how do you see that? How do you feel about that?

SECRETARY RICE: Look, I am constantly and consistently proud of America and how far we have come. And whether it is the fact that a black man is considered now a presidential candidate with a chance to win -- and by the way, there have been other important black leaders, but this is different, obviously different. Senator Obama is somebody I know. He was on my -- he is on my committee and I respect him.

I think ultimately, Americans will take a look and decide is this someone who shares my particular values, is this someone who will defend my interests, is this someone who holds policy views that are close to my own, and then they'll make up their minds and vote. And that's the very best thing about America today, because we've come a long way as a country when we can really believe that the decision about whether or not to vote for someone will be on whether or not that person represents your political views and your policy choices, not the issue of the color of the skin.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Secretary Rice.



Released on January 7, 2008

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