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Secretary Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Interview by Kim Ghattas of BBC
Palo Alto, California
May 22, 2008

QUESTION: Madame Secretary and Foreign Secretary Miliband, thank you very much for joining us here at the BBC. I would like to start with Burma, which is on everybody’s mind more than two weeks after Cyclone Nargis. It’s still a very difficult situation for people there, to say the least. Aid is only trickling in. We saw today the visit of the UN Secretary General.

Foreign Secretary, you had said that all options were being looked at to bring aid to the people of Burma. Are all options still on the table?

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Yeah. I think we have a responsibility to do so. It’s clear what the first best option is, is for the Burmese authorities to work with the international community, (inaudible) through the ASEAN countries, the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, to get aid, food, medical equipment, tents to the people who need it. And I think both of our estimates and the UN estimates are that only 20 to 30 percent of the people who need aid are getting it. So 70 percent are not and that’s why there’s real urgency and real support for what Ban Ki-moon is doing.

QUESTION: But two weeks after, that urgency is only growing and a lot of people are wondering, you know, what next, how can you make sure that the aid actually gets to the people. And some people are wondering why we don’t just force it. You know, there are American, French, British warships off the coast of Burma. Why not just bring the aid in?

SECRETARY RICE: I’ll make two points. First off, we are using every pressure point that we can think of. We had Admiral Keating there, our Pacific Commander, to try to make a military-to-military contact. We are certainly supportive of what Ban Ki-moon is doing. I talked with him before he left on that trip. We are working through the Chinese, through the ASEAN countries. We’re using every – every means to try to get in.

I think one has to recognize that you’re talking about distribution of aid, which means that you would have to try to put aid workers on the ground. And to do that in a non-permissive environment would be quite a task. And I think we have to be realistic about what is possible, but as David said, we have to continue to look at every option. But you’re not just dropping food in. You’re actually trying to distribute it and that’s the difficulty of doing this in an environment where the government is not really cooperative.

QUESTION: But we’re reaching the limits of what you call responsible sovereignty, I mean – and the consequences of not abiding by that responsibility.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Well, I think the tragedy is that for some people, it’s already too late and it’s certainly too little compared to the needs. But we’ve got to use the opportunity that exists, the – four days ago; there wasn’t a visit by the UN Secretary General. Four days ago, there wasn’t a pledging conference. Four days ago, we didn’t have – I think it’s now 43 or 45 flights that have got in. They have. We’ve got to keep pushing that door open and working to ensure those desperate people get the help that they need.

But the aid agencies themselves, I think we should listen to. They say that the danger of air drops is that actually, especially with all the water that’s there, you actually are not going to get to the people who need it and you may even injure some of those who are there. So of course, you’ve got to keep looking at everything. The French Government have got a ship with thousands of tons of food off the coast and they can’t get it in. That’s why they’re trying to work with the Burmese authorities to get it into the delta.

QUESTION: Did Western countries make a mistake in the very beginning in addressing this when they went on very harsh in terms of criticism of the Burmese authorities and the way they were handling this issue? It put off the military regime there. Wasn’t it better to – wouldn’t it have been better to try to approach this through ASEAN from the very beginning, knowing that Burma would not be open to Western aid?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we have to put the responsibility where the responsibility is, and it’s on the Burmese Government. Now it’s a quite unusual situation, actually, that you have a country in this desperate straits with its population and the circumstances that this population is in, and you get a – kind of a stone cold face about people who just want to help. We said, very clearly, this is not about politics. Everyone knows that the difficulties would be the Burmese regime. This is not about politics. This is trying to do something to help people. And we would have hoped that the regime in Burma would have seen it in that light.

So I think the responsibility does – does not rest with the international community that was just trying to help. But that said, we continue to try to make our contacts through countries that have good relations with Burma. And as I said, we went so far as to try to develop a direct military-to-military link which helped some in loosening the restrictions on assistance.

QUESTION: I want to move on to Pakistan, a slightly different region, where an agreement between the new Pakistani Government and pro-Taliban militants has just been reached that calls for the release of prisoners, the withdrawal of the army from the area. And the U.S. has voiced concerns about this deal. There’s fear that it could be – could give breathing room for militants in that area. But on the other hand, past tactics by President Pervez Musharraf, very forceful tactics, have not led to a good result either. In fact, the people argue that it has led to even more radicalism, more militancy. So why not give this approach a chance?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we certainly respect the Government of Pakistan, its newly civilian-led government. The President just met with the Prime Minister. And we fully respect their decision to try a course. But we do have concerns because we – they’ve been down this road before. There was an agreement in the tribal areas. It was violated by the radicals and as a result, the inability to fight the terrorists and the inability to make sure that people who have nothing in mind but to go after innocent people and to kill innocent people, one has to worry – you have to worry that that won’t be curtailed.

Now we understand -- we’ve now been at this for quite a long time and we understand that fighting terrorism is not just about military action. One does have to be able to deal with irreconcilables through military action, but of course, you also have to win the hearts and minds of the people. And the United States has been more than willing to support the efforts for reconstruction and development in the FATA region, for the development of better economic prospects for people in the FATA region. So I think we will find common cause with the Pakistani Government and common ways of dealing with this.

But to say that one is concerned is simply what – what friends do. It’s not to say that we’re not going to continue to work with this Pakistani Government of which we have great respect.

QUESTION: Right. On the other hand, Minister Miliband, you’ve sounded slightly more supportive of this deal and you said that we have to realize the Pakistani Government will talk to people that we are not comfortable with, even though you do add that those militants need to renounce violence, you know, enter the constitutional framework. But it is a different approach. You voice less concerns about this.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Well, I think it’s important to be clear, one, there’s an elected Pakistani Government that we support very, very strongly in the provinces as well as at the national level. Secondly, it’s got to be what the Pakistani Government call a multi-prong strategy. That’s security, plus politics, plus economics, plus the social investment that’s absolutely necessary. Thirdly, the common cause that Condi’s talked about is to say -- we’re clear that there is a constitutional system that people should abide by. And if they’re willing to abide by it, they’re included (inaudible). And if they self-exclude, then they have to face the consequences of the Pakistani army or, on the Afghan side, the Afghan national army supported by the international coalition. I think that is a durable and strong basis on which to proceed.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the concerns that the U.S. has? And, you know, we’ve seen in the past, as Madame Secretary pointed out, that, you know, these deals don’t always – well, certainly, most often didn’t work. They did give breathing room to militants. And in fact, when those deals were in place, the number of suicide attacks would grow.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Well, I answered this very clearly with the Prime Minister of Pakistan in a way that I’m sure is common course for any sensible person, which is deals that deny space to terrorists and don’t shove the problem from one side of the Pakistan border to the other side – deals that fail those tests are not deals worth having. And the Pakistani Government says exactly the same. They say that they’re serious about denying space to terrorists and not shunting the problem across the border. So I think it’s a matter of a bit of detail. It’s not about a theory. I think it’s about a detail and the detail is not to repeat – I don’t think anyone wants to see a repeat of what – of previous attempts.

QUESTION: But even Afghanistan is very wary of this deal that’s just been struck. And they’re the neighbors.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, so much is going to depend on how this is carried out. And I don’t believe that the Pakistani Government wants to create circumstances in which terrorists can get breathing space. I certainly don’t think that Pakistan wants to make this Afghanistan’s problem. I think there now is a better shared sense of responsibility for the border and the regions around it. Hopefully, this will work. It is a sovereign decision of the Pakistani Government and we respect that.

It is very important that any arrangement not permit terrorists to use that arrangement to plot or plan attacks and to strengthen themselves. But I – in talking with the Pakistanis, I think they’re quite aware of that and quite concerned about it themselves.

QUESTION: This leads me to the larger questions about talking to one’s enemies. We’ve heard a lot about it over the last few weeks with a speech of President Bush in Israel, with a lot of the political campaign that’s taking place in the U.S. at the moment, and also, we’ll talk about the U.S. role and leverage in the Middle East. I mean, there are a lot of deals being made by U.S. allies with militants, whether it’s in Pakistan or in Lebanon, where we saw the Lebanese Government make a deal with the militant group Hezbollah, which you’ve described as a positive step, a necessary step. You’ve said that an agreement is better than no agreement. But surely, it must be a blow to U.S. policy in the region and a blow to the U.S.-backed government in Beirut.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, the United States doesn’t believe in a monopoly on diplomacy. We’re very glad to see others involved in diplomacy. We backed the Arab League initiative that led to this outcome for Lebanon. This is a circumstance, of course, in which you have a duly elected government and an opposition. And Hezbollah and Amal and the other parties that were a part of that opposition were a part of this deal.

Now, I happen to believe that what this – that the circumstances under which this emerged are actually not, in the long run, good circumstances for Hezbollah. Because Hezbollah, which had styled itself as the great resistance movement against Israel, is now the movement that turned its guns on its own people, and that isn’t appropriate in a civilized state like Lebanon.

QUESTION: But it has given Hezbollah more political power. I mean, an agreement is better than no agreement, but an agreement at what cost? To undermine the Lebanese cabinet?

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Well, the agreement to deliver a president to Lebanon, which the Friends of Lebanon have been calling for, for a long time; yes, you’re right, to give a greater step to the blocking minority. But I think that many of the issues that they might seek to block have actually already gone through. Condi Rice spoke to the Prime Minister of Lebanon after the agreement. I spoke to him before the agreement. There are important negotiations (inaudible) they need to take forward, including on redistricting, which are important for next year’s elections in Lebanon.

And I think the sight of Hezbollah turning their guns on Lebanese people (inaudible) will have sent a chill down many spines in Lebanon and would reinforce the desire for a durable political settlement.

QUESTION: But again, talking to one’s enemies, that brings us also to Syria, to Hamas. I mean, Israel is talking to Syria, is talking to Hamas, but the U.S. isn’t.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Israel is not in negotiations with Hamas, is not talking directly (inaudible).

QUESTION: Indirectly.

SECRETARY RICE: No. But the United States doesn’t believe in negotiations with Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida. These are organizations that we view as terrorist organizations. When it comes to Syria, we have diplomatic relations. I, myself, met twice with the Syrian Foreign Minister. And so this notion that somehow the United States doesn’t talk to countries with which it has difficulties is simply not right.

Now with Tehran, we have not had diplomatic relations since 1979. And I personally offered to break a 20 – now, 8 year -- 29-year pattern and to meet my counterpart anyplace, anytime, anywhere if they will simply verifiably suspend their enrichment program, something that is demanded by three Security Council resolutions, by the entire international community, by the IAEA. And my question isn’t why won’t we talk to Tehran; my question is why won’t Tehran talk to us?

QUESTION: But – I mean, it still raises the question – I mean, why is it appeasement if – you know, Americans talk directly to some of those people, like Jimmy Carter going to talk to Hamas? And why is it not appeasement when a U.S. ally makes a deal with a group like Hamas, like Hezbollah, or with the militants in Pakistan?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let’s be clear. Hezbollah stood for election in Lebanon. It’s a part of the political system. We understand that, and this will have to have a Lebanese answer. And we understand that the circumstances of some of our allies and the circumstances of the United States are not identical. So we wouldn’t ask that every country behaves in exactly the same way that the United States does on these issues with Hezbollah. They are a part of the political structure.

Now, we believe that it is extremely important that the question of Hezbollah’s arms and the unified state with all of the guns in the hands of the state, that is an important issue and I believe it’s an issue that Lebanese are going to turn to. But the President was using an historical point, which is that it’s fine to talk to people, and that’s not the problem. As I said, we’ve offered to talk to Tehran. We do talk to Syria.

The question is: What’s going to be the outcome of the talk? You don’t do diplomacy just to talk. You try to have outcomes. And that means that you need to have leverage, you need to have prepared the ground. And when you have, as we are now doing through the six-party talks with North Korea, you can sometimes get good outcomes.

QUESTION: That brings me to Iran and the package that you’re presenting now, the package of incentives that you’re presenting to the Iranians. This is a refreshed package, something that you had presented to the Iranians two years ago. You’re now putting it back on the table, so is that a sign that the strategy of the last few years didn’t work?

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Well, no. It was never taken off the table. The point about --

QUESTION: You’re refreshing it.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Yeah, the point about refreshing it is to increase its allure and to make sure that it’s clear as to what it represents. The six countries, the U.S. and China and Russia united with three leading European countries, is there to make clear to the government and to the people of Iran that they have a very clear choice. They are not being victimized by the international community. They’re being given a very clear economic, cultural, technological cooperation, and it’s one that demands only that they satisfy the responsibilities that are inherent in the nonproliferation treaty and other aspects of international negotiations. And we’re asking of them what other states are doing, which is to recognize that with rights come responsibilities. And I think that’s the right thing to do.

QUESTION: But you’re having to, as you said, you know, increase the allure of the package. So, clearly, the first time, they weren’t interested. Why do you think it would work this time?

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: We’ve always said it’s a dual-track approach. We’ve got a sanctions track. We’ve now gone through four UN Security Council resolutions, three of them with sanctions attached. But we want it to be absolutely clear that this is a genuine dual track, and there’s a firm offer on the table for Tehran, that it’s their decision about whether or not they take it. If they don’t take it, then there are consequences in terms of the sanctions that come through.

QUESTION: But the strategy hasn’t had an impact on Tehran’s behavior. It has not stopped its nuclear program. It has not stopped backing of militant groups in the region. This is separate from the nuclear issue, but why – I mean, how is this strategy actually changing anything?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, on the nuclear issue, it has come – Tehran’s defiance has come at a cost. We are seeing an Iranian economy that is experiencing very rapid inflation. We’re seeing an Iranian economy that can’t get investment into its oil and gas sector. We’re seeing an Iran that can’t access the international financial system freely, because we, through the UN and also through U.S. Treasury designations, have refused to allow the Iranians to use the international financial system for the ill-gotten gains of terrorism or proliferation. So this has come at a cost.

Now, will there be people in Iran who recognize that there is a better way? We certainly hope so. And it is always on the table that that course is available.

As to Iranian support for terrorists, yes, we will continue to press – and for instance, in Iraq, we’ve been able to press it directly, because Iran’s support for the so-called special groups and the militias that were killing innocent Iraqis and threatening our forces, we’ve gone after them. We’ve captured a lot of them. A lot of them exist no longer. And perhaps more importantly, the Iraqis have taken back their territory in Basra and increasingly in Sadr City from these Iranian-trained and backed allies. So in Iraq, they’ve been on the run. And we know that they will be – continue to be dangerous, but we’re going to continue to pursue them there.

When it comes to places like Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, we believe that we’re going to have give decent, moderate forces a – the tools that they need to demonstrate to their people that there’s another way in. That’s why, in Lebanon, we will continue to back the professionalization of the army. That’s why we’ll continue to back the government. It’s why, in the Palestinian territories, it’s so important that the Palestinians have a state. And the President’s desire and commitment to a state for a Palestinian people that have suffered too long, the state that they deserve, that they have a right to, we’re going to do everything that we can to help Israelis and Palestinians end their conflict.

QUESTION: I’d like to conclude on a lighter note. Am I sitting down with the next Prime Minister of Britain and the next Vice President of the U.S.? (Laughter.) An eventual candidate?

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: How disappointing for you. This was what the interview was – you were not going to be disappointed that you’re only sitting down with two – well, Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary.

SECRETARY RICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: Well, that’s very good for a start, but tell us about – you know, (inaudible) future.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’ll -- I’ll start because – I’ll gladly visit a future Prime Minister. (Laughter.)

FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Don’t go there. Don’t go there. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: But I’m not a politician. I have never run for anything. I don’t think I even ran for my high school student council. I’m pretty sure I didn’t. In fact, I will return to private life, to academic life. I’ve been at this now for a long time, and at a very consequential and, in many ways, difficult time for the United States. I feel that I’ve got enough – another several months of hard work to do to work on the North Korean issue, to certainly work on the issues of the Middle East. And I’m sitting here in what has been my home for 20 years – well, since I was 25 years old, the Silicon Valley. And I expect to be back here and enjoying the great place where innovation is king and where I can reflect a little bit on what I’ve done.

QUESTION: So you will leave the sort of high-profile, hierarchal politics behind for the quiet corridors of academia?


FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: That isn’t yet available to me, I’m happy to say. (Laughter.) (Inaudible) beckoning the groves of academia. But I feel very lucky to be Foreign Secretary in Gordon Brown’s cabinet and that’s the job I’m intending to do.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Foreign Secretary Miliband, thank you very much for joining us here at BBC. Thank you for your time.




Released on May 22, 2008

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