Interview With Matthew Swibel of Forbes MagazineSecretary Condoleezza Rice
March 11, 2008
Complete Interview Series with Forbes Magazine:
8.07.2008 - 3.11.2008 - 12.03.2007 - 10.15.2007 - 09.30.2007
QUESTION: Okay, so I want to ask you a few questions based on similar topics we’ve been covering. Just so you know, the photo shoot, you know, is taking place because we’re trying to get this in the – our next two magazine issues –
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Okay. All right.
QUESTION: -- one of the next two magazine issues. So reports came out today, actually, as I was coming to your office that the Russians at least say you’re going to Russia at the end of the month. I don’t know if the – the specifics of the –
SECRETARY RICE: That’s right. That’s right. Not the end of the month, we’re going next week. Sunday.
QUESTION: Next week.
SECRETARY RICE: Monday.
QUESTION: So I’d like to revisit the missile shield issue.
SECRETARY RICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. In late January in Berlin your sessions with Foreign Minister Lavrov were described as heated and –
SECRETARY RICE: People have always described my sessions with Sergey as heated and they really are just normal.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, in December 2007 Lavrov spoke to Russian media and said that after his experts studied some of the initial materials based on the new ideas that you and Secretary Gates had presented, what they saw, they didn’t necessarily like so much. And what they didn’t see they still wanted, meaning, that they – they were underwhelmed at the amount of information. So you know, how do you advance some kind of Russian acquiescence on this missile shield issue?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the first thing is to recognize that we’d like to do it cooperatively. But if we can’t do it cooperatively, we’ll do it. And it means trying to address Russian concerns and we’ve been trying to do that. And Bob and I will go out and I think we’ll try to make additional efforts at addressing their concerns. But ultimately, we’ve made pretty clear that there isn’t a veto here in terms of Russians. But you listen to what they’re saying and you try to address those concerns. They’ve been concerned, for instance, that the system might grow over time, but – and nobody thinks that nine interceptors and a few radars is going to degrade the Russian nuclear arsenal, but they’ve said, well, what about breakout potential. So we’ll talk to them about some things that can give them transparency into the evolution of the system over time. They’ve said that they don’t see the same Iranian threat that we do, so we’ve said –
QUESTION: Although even that has changed a little bit.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, that has changed. But let’s look at how we might come to a more common understanding of the Iranian threat. So that’s how you do it. You listen to what they say they’re concerned about and you see if there’s any room within what the United States needs to do to see if you can address those concerns.
QUESTION: Because one thing in the story right now that I include is the idea of, I think you termed it, an audible.
SECRETARY RICE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And it – to me it showed you want to keep your counterparts nimble, you know, ready to respond to slight changes in your approach. So I mean, can you – is that still part of the tactic? I mean is that –
SECRETARY RICE: Well, you always want to be able to be – I would say the flexibility needs to be on your side. I don’t – at my level or at Bob Gates’ level, you don’t go out with such a constrained brief that you couldn’t make changes if you heard something from the Russians that was interesting and try to respond to that or say, oh, yeah, I think we could do that. So that’s really what I mean by being able to call an audible or being able to be flexible.
QUESTION: And so the new ideas that were presented, they’re still on the table or are they –
SECRETARY RICE: They’re still on the table and we’re still developing them.
QUESTION: Okay. Shifting to another area where your ability to shift directions quickly is a good measure of your effectiveness. Can you describe the tone or the overarching content of some of the conversations between you and President Musharraf since the election and at the same time to the leaders of the new bloc because you have to obviously respect –
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, well, I have not talked to the leaders of the new bloc. Our Ambassador has been really the principal contact and John Negroponte will go out pretty soon. And what we’ve – what I’ve been doing is, what the Ambassador’s been doing is to stick to – we need to stick to a set of principles here, which is about supporting the democratic process going forward, being concerned that there – that there’s attention to fighting, you know, against terrorism, but laying out American interests and values, but recognizing that this is the democratic – the newly democratically elected leaders, they’re going to have to form a government. And then when they form the government, you can address them, at this point it wouldn’t make sense for me to address them individually. They need to form a government and then I can represent U.S. interest to that government.
QUESTION: Do you get the sense, though, that your opinion, your reflection is solicited?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we – the United States talks to people all the time, but you’re not – you’re only trying to make certain that as they’re forming a government, they understand what U.S. – concerns of the U.S. interest are. But it wouldn’t be appropriate for the United States to try to be involved in how that government’s going to be formed or what its platform is going to be in terms of Pakistani domestic politics at least. It wouldn’t be appropriate and wouldn’t work, frankly.
SECRETARY RICE: So once they have a government, then we’ll engage that government, but I’m not involved in talking to them while they’re putting that government together.
QUESTION: If you hear any kind of resistance or any kind of waffling on Musharraf’s behalf while all these tremendous changes are going on, what has been your –
SECRETARY RICE: Waffling? What do you mean by waffling?
QUESTION: Waffling on a commitment to proceed in a direction that he has committed to.
SECRETARY RICE: They just had an election, all right. And they have to form a government. And he’s the president. There will be a new prime minister and all of that. So at this point, there isn’t an issue of – you know, you take the commitment of the Pakistani Government until there’s a new government. And so –
QUESTION: Right. What I was getting at, though, is there has been a tremendous change there in the last three months.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Right. And once it’s – right now, though, it’s very fluid, okay?
QUESTION: Okay, okay.
SECRETARY RICE: Once they’ve formed a new government, then, you know, we’ll – we are – we will be very clear about what U.S. interests are and what the United States is trying to do. But they have to get to that stage of forming their government. Anne Patterson, our Ambassador, will have talked to everybody. She talks to everybody, not just to one element. It’s really the responsibility of the Ambassador to go around and talk to everybody. But we’re not going to try to engage a government that’s not yet there.
QUESTION: Okay. What did the power-sharing agreement in Kenya reflect about how you manage a crisis situation?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, on that one, first of all, we had the Annan effort going on. But I knew and –
QUESTION: The initiative was not your initiative to bring Kofi Annan into – is that what were you saying?
SECRETARY RICE: No, no. Early on, when it first happened, when the Kenyan election went bad, we knew that they needed outside mediation. And the first thought was John Kufuor, who is the President of Ghana and is the Chairman of the AU. But it was going to need somebody who could stay there and the president of a country can’t do that. And so the African Union asked Kofi Annan to do it. And I talked to Kofi and he agreed to do it. I was trying to support his mission.
But a mission like that needs, sometimes, the weight of a big power. And the United States has a lot of influence in Kenya. And so when I was with the President in Tanzania, I went over and I spent a long time with each of the parties, both listening as to where they could come together, and when I left, I said to Kofi, there is a deal here. They’ll take it. Right now, there is a lot of, kind of, personal animosity and mistrust, but here is what the shape of that deal might look like. He worked it for another probably week or so, 10 days maybe?
MR. MCCORMACK: It’s about –
SECRETARY RICE: About – yeah, about seven or eight days because then we went to Asia.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it was just a little bit over a week.
SECRETARY RICE: Right, a little bit over a week and it came apart then when – or it was about to come apart. And I talked to Kofi again and I issued a statement saying – in effect, saying the United States will reconsider its option for anybody who doesn’t go along with the power-sharing arrangement at this point and I think it made a difference.
QUESTION: Okay. What would you say, though, that these actions reflected about, again, the principles that guide you in crises?
SECRETARY RICE: In doing something like that?
QUESTION: Is it stick-to-itiveness? Is it – you know, this is now the fourth example I think you and I have spoken about.
SECRETARY RICE: Clarity.
SECRETARY RICE: Clarity, yeah. It’s when to be really clear. It’s when to send a really strong message publicly as well as privately that what somebody is doing is not tolerable. And in this case, to send a clear signal, what I was worried about was that there was going to be a sense, most probably on the part of the government, that this is going to be business as usual, this would eventually go away, they wouldn’t have to deal with the opposition and to send a very strong message that then, they’re going to have a problem with the United States.
QUESTION: Okay. Because this is, I think, the fourth different scenario where you’ve commented that the personal animosity or the emotional element of it was a huge part of the complex.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, very often that’s the case, very often the case. In this case, it was particularly pronounced because these were two people who had known each other, they all – all their aides knew each other, they had gone to school together. And they had had – they had been working together at one point and then split apart. And so there was a lot of disappointment and mistrust and it was a question of how to get through all of that.
QUESTION: And did you come into the situation with specific briefings from anyone who – that helped – particularly helped your effort there?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I talked to both the Assistant Secretary, Jendayi Frazer, and to our Ambassador. I had been talking to them ever since the Kenyan situation. I actually had started working on this issue before the elections. I called both Kibaki and Odinga –
SECRETARY RICE: – two days before the elections were held and said, you know, this – these have to proceed in a way without violence and you need to tell your followers to live with the results of the elections. And then when it was clear the elections had gone bad a couple days later, I called both of the parties again. So I had been working on this issue for several –
SECRETARY RICE: – weeks before I went to Tanzania and actually went over to Kenya to deal with it. And I had been talking to –
QUESTION: Were you clear then?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. But I had been talking to our Ambassador frequently, so I knew the situation. But one of the funniest things about that situation was that the -- a person on one side, I taught at Stanford and the brother of a person on the other side, I taught at Stanford.
MR. MCCORMACK: Did you really?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, so --
QUESTION: You mean not from the State – not Jendayi?
SECRETARY RICE: No, no, I mean the Kenyan side, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. What do you think changed, though, if you were clear two days before the election and you were clear two days after the election?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, but two days before the election, the message was different. Two days before the election, it was: Live with the results of the election. Then it turned out the election wasn’t very fair. And so then the message was, all right, you two are going to have to come to some kind of power-sharing arrangement and it took outside pressure, took internal pressure from the Kenyans themselves who were not going to live with that kind of problem.
QUESTION: So did your former pupils present themselves well?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, they did, very.
QUESTION: Aiming for small victories is another part of my profile of you. And what do you say to Abbas and Foreign Minister Livni following recent event – recent violent events to keep them at the table? What – you know, do you hold more off-campus talks, as you like to do with them? I mean –
SECRETARY RICE: You mean, how did that happen? How did we –
QUESTION: Well, how do you – what’s the formula? What’s the guiding principles that –
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I –
QUESTION: Because that – if this is an area where you aim for small victories, I mean, I can’t think of a better example.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. I went – I went out there this time – the trip had actually pre – I had planned to go out.
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
SECRETARY RICE: But when the Gaza situation blew up, I went out there with one goal and one goal only, which was to not have the negotiations fall apart.
SECRETARY RICE: And – because we’d actually talked about this at Annapolis, that there were going to be attacks and people were going to have to keep going despite terrorist attacks.
QUESTION: Welch mentioned it to us in the press pool in October.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, exactly. And then you had the situation in Gaza and the Palestinians had suspended the talks. And so I just – I wanted to get them back to a place where they were not doing what they almost did, which was to say, we won’t talk again until – because then the “until” is a problem.
So that was really the purpose, was to go back and – was to get them not to cross that line, because once you lay down a condition, it’s very difficult to get back to talks. And so essentially, I said to President Abbas, you need to go back to negotiations. I’m not asking you to set a date, but whatever you do, don’t set a condition. And then I thought that he set a condition just in the way he had talked about it the next day when the Hungarian President was there. It turned out he hadn’t set a condition, so we had – we got that back on track.
And then I got to Brussels and I went to an EU dinner and I came back and the Jerusalem events had happened. But what was really interesting was because Tzipi Livni had made a very strong representation when she said in our press conference, after Dimona, I kept on negotiating and we’re going to keep negotiating. When the events in Jerusalem happened, my first fear was, oh my goodness, here we go again. We’ve just gotten the Palestinians not to suspend – or to say they won’t suspend. Now the Israelis are going to want to suspend. And I was really delighted and I thought it was a very courageous thing that within hours, the Israelis were out saying that despite the terrible events at the yeshiva, they were going to continue to talk. So, you know, sometimes, it’s just making sure things don’t go off the rails.
QUESTION: Can you enlighten me as far as you can about – was it – did you need to diffuse some anger? Did you need to reapproach, like, an ideology?
SECRETARY RICE: No. I needed to – in the case of getting the Palestinians back, I needed to find a package of things that would allow them to address it. So Will Fraser going out and doing the trilateral was part of that. David Welch going back to Egypt was part of that. In the case of the Israelis, they had made up their mind that they weren’t going to let it affect the negotiations.
QUESTION: And you’re genuine when you say you feared that the Israelis would want to suspend?
SECRETARY RICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Is there anything you’ve learned in the past six, five months since I traveled with you that would – that has caused you to reanalyze, restudy the Hamas equation?
SECRETARY RICE: No.
SECRETARY RICE: No. As a matter of fact, if anything, they’ve affirmed everything I think of them.
QUESTION: But in terms of practical ways to resolve or to –
SECRETARY RICE: No, I think the strategy’s right and – but –
QUESTION: Because a lot of your other areas –
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Like you said, there were a lot of things that flew into this, so –
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but not on this one. There’s no way that bringing Hamas into the negotiations area from their current ideological perch is going to help. They are, by their very nature, anti two-state solution, anti-negotiation. The one piece that we’ve had to redouble our efforts on, though, there was the three elements of Annapolis: West Bank improvements, roadmap obligations, negotiations. I have had to push harder. I don’t think that we’ve made enough progress on the West Bank improvements. And General Jones is out there now, just – probably back today as a matter of fact.
QUESTION: But I thought that the Israelis have been saying the PA wants us in places because they’re not strong enough to patrol certain areas.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, but it’s not really patrols that I’m worried about. It’s not being able to have movement and access so economic projects can be (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: All right. Okay, that's what my days are like.
QUESTION: Well, since, you know, since I began observing you, you've been dousing small fires, you've been containing some bigger ones, you've allowed a few to, you know, burn just not too large. I mean, how does this put transformational diplomacy in reach? That's what as a writer I'm trying to grapple with. Because you have a grand vision –
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: And I'm not just sounding cynical, but I see you do these things. So how does it put transformational diplomacy in reach?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, you have to be able to both. You have to deal with whatever crisis or circumstance you're dealing with at the time. But drawing on as much as you can, a lot of these capabilities are emerging out of dealing with new kinds of crises and new kinds of circumstances.
So for instance, how to turn Iraq around, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, clearly are going to be an element of the new State Department to be able to do that kind of expeditionary work with the Defense Department. But it comes out of trying to manage the Iraq situation and create better circumstances there. The Civilian Response Corps -- Reserve Corps – that is – we’re already using elements of it even as we build it up into a permanent larger institution, we've used little pieces of a concept to deal with Haiti and to deal with Sudan, and we'll continue to do that. So really what you see is that you don't get to sit back and think – grand think – and then put things into place whole. You have to start using little pieces of transformational diplomacy as you go along.
But it's -- in that sense, it's a kind of iterative process between new demands and new institutions, new institutions and new demands, and it goes back and forth. And I think that probably is the way most institutions develop. They don't develop in the neat orderly way that it looks like when you write about it in retrospect.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm, okay. What do you think you're well qualified to do in February 2009?
SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) Well, look, I'm a professor and I'm a certified card-carrying tenured professor, so I'm clearly qualified to do that.
MR. MCCORMACK: You have a backup plan. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: I've got a backup plan. I've got a job actually. I'm on leave from the university. Look, I've done a lot of different things. I've been an academic and I still consider myself at heart an academic, I think. So teaching, research and writing is something I love to do, but I've also run big organizations. I like doing that. I first, you know, was a chief operating officer at Stanford. And then – the State Department is no small institution. And so I like management a lot. I like the kind of strategic problem-solving that management requires. But I really am not a planner. You know, I'm not – I could imagine myself running a football team, if somebody needs one, as the president of a football team. I could imagine myself doing that. So we'll just see. But I know what my skill sets are, and I think I'm pretty analytical. And then I think I'm pretty good at putting plans in place to act on that analysis.
QUESTION: Okay. I think there are a few biographers and a lot of analysts who would quibble with your assertion that you're not a planner. I mean –
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: – you’re not a planner – how can you say that?
SECRETARY RICE: Because I have never tried to plan my next move, never in my entire life. I was going to be a piano major, that sort of didn't work out, so I found another major. I remember people saying, well, what are you going to do as a Soviet specialist? I would say, well, in any case, the job market's got to be better than for concert music – concert piano. I was on my way to probably going to work for a kind of think tank defense contractor, and then the Stanford opportunity came along to be a fellow there. And I was probably going to go back to Denver and then Stanford offered me a job so I took that. I came into government in '89, '91, not planning it, but because I knew Brent Scowcroft and ended up coming, then went back to Stanford ready to resume my teaching and professional life and was asked to be provost. That was kind of the way my –
SECRETARY RICE: – life has gone.
SECRETARY RICE: I have a great (inaudible) for uncertainty about what I'm going to do next.
Released on August 29, 2008