Interview With the Wall Street Journal Editorial BoardSecretary Condoleezza Rice
New York City
June 19, 2008
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I thought we would just start right in. We don't have that much time and I'm sure people have plenty of questions, so rather than my going on, why don't we just start right in.
QUESTION: Great. Well, let me just start by asking you about the Iraq-U.S. security agreement, because there does seem to be emerging a new Iraqi nationalism, which may be a good thing, but it might complicate the negotiations. And I wanted to get a sense from you where those negotiations stand and where our -- that is, the American bottom line is. Where can we -- what do you insist on in order to get it together?
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, let me say a few words. We are in a situation in which if there's not a rollover -- let me say hi to -- hi, how are you, nice to see you -- in which when the Security Council resolution expires at the end of the year, there would be no legal basis for our forces to operate there. And that was really the most important element, the kind of origin of this discussion. And the Iraqis, for a number of reasons, don't really want to roll over the Security Council resolution. They'd like to get out of Chapter 7. They've made it very clear that it wouldn't be their preference to roll it over.
And so it becomes a matter of how to keep our forces there legally. And we are -- it's not, from our point of view, a very complex set -- it is a complex set of issues, but it's not a matter, for instance, of permanent bases or anything of the like. It's really just allowing our forces to be able to operate there, because we believe, and I think the Iraqis believe, that they're going to continue to need -- the Iraqis, I think believe, as we do, that they're going to need the help of coalition forces for at least some time. And so the first and most important thing is how to have our forces operate there legally.
There's also a declaration of principles that the President and Prime Minister Maliki signed about the kind of broader relationship, and there is -- they're therefore negotiating a Strategic Framework Agreement which is really about the broader relationship -- economic relations, political relations, a whole range of issues.
I believe that this will get done. It is true that we are having to adjust to the fact that there is a sovereign Iraqi Government, and not only a sovereign Iraqi Government, a sovereign democratic Iraqi Government that has a lot of voices, including in the Council of Representatives, about how this should look and how it should play out. And frankly, I think those are both good signs. But it does make negotiations more complicated. But we're working with the Iraqis. We're trying to show flexibility. And I'm pretty confident that we'll get the arrangements done so that our forces can continue to operate their legally.
QUESTION: Several of us went uptown yesterday, last week, speaking of the young Iraqi democracy, to meet with some Iraqi officials, the governor of al-Anbar province. They may have gone to see you as well. They were in Washington. And we asked them just how much support they were getting in the region, and the answer was basically none. As he said, what -- how is it in their interest for us to become a democracy? They're not particularly interested. How does that square with your view of the region? Is it at this point pretty much the U.S. and Iraq pushing this enterprise over there?
SECRETARY RICE: I do think this is something that's changed really in the last month, month and a half, where you do have the UAE, the Foreign Minister went there. The bin Zayed family has been very supportive and they're going to put an ambassador there and they've let it be known.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Jordan and Bahrain have said that they would also put ambassadors there. And I think we're now talking -- Saudi Arabia has said that they would, but I think that Jordan, UAE and Bahrain are actively looking to put ambassadors there. And the invitations for the Maliki ministers and indeed for the Prime Minister himself are starting to go back and forth between regional players. And you could really see it (inaudible) where what has really happened is that the neighbors -- and by the way, Turkey has been great. Turkey not only has an embassy but they have a consulate. Now they're about to put a consulate in Basra. So the regional support is starting to come along.
I think what's happened is that a year ago or a little more, there was the perception that Iraq could come apart completely and drop it’s constituent parts all over the region, and there was a kind of self-protective mechanism of keeping their distance. We were arguing that they could be a part of a self-fulfilling prophecy the other way if they were prepared to get involved, but I don't think it was taking, frankly.
But as Iraq has become more and more stable, the violence has diminished, the government has begun to function, the parliament has begun to function, the Iraqis have begun to pass these important laws, and perhaps most importantly as the Iraqi armed forces have shown their mettle in places like Basra and in Mosul, there is a recognition in the region that Iraq is here to stay and that Iraq is going to be a power in the region and, of course, Iraq has real resources so that helps, and you're seeing a different reaction to Iraq. And I think we can build on that.
I think it was also true with Europe. Sweden -- the Government of Sweden took something of a risk to hold the International Compact meeting in Sweden, the first European country to do it. But if you also think, the French Foreign Minister has been twice to Iraq, and he told me that he was telling all of his colleagues you need to go to Iraq, you won't believe what's happening there.
So as Iraq has become more stable and governing itself, the reaction to it is changing pretty dramatically in the region. I don't think they feel it yet because they would like to see a flood of this, but we, having watched its changing.
And the final thing I'd say is when the GCC countries -- it had been GCC plus Egypt and Jordan -- decided to make the GCC plus Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, that was a pretty important step.
QUESTION: I think 18 months ago when you and I talked, you were somewhat skeptical of the Maliki government making it, and whether or not Iraq could succeed (inaudible). Describe its progress, and particularly Maliki. Where do you think he's really demonstrated leadership? Is he a lot stronger now? Is he there for the long term?
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, I think I was less skeptical than some. But there wasn't much that was happening in Iraq to make you -- to make anybody that hopeful. And I think really three things have turned around for them. The first is that probably the biggest concern that all of us had was, would this government demonstrate that it was not sectarian, and that if it was Shia majority that that did not mean that it was going to occupy that ground and prevent the emergence of a unified multiconfessional Iraq. It was showing up in things like concerns about the role of the Ministry of Interior in Shia-on-Sunni violence. It was showing up in the inability to pass legislation that clearly was aimed at bringing the Sunni minority more closely in. So the first was: Would it be sectarian?
Secondly, there was a concern of whether or not it was a strong enough leadership to show to the Iraqi people that it was a government that could defend them. Whether it had our help or not, was it a government that could and would?
And then the third question was: Could it function, could the parliament function, could the ministries function, and so forth? And I think that the answers to all of those are now in the affirmative, although they're trends, not final destination points just yet. There are -- you know, they still have -- still hard to pass legislation, like the electoral law, but they've passed a lot in the meantime. The ministries are functioning better, but they still have problems of budget execution and getting -- for instance, they've made a kind of supplemental for the post-Basra, post-Mosul operations, and you know, just getting the money spent is not easy. But probably the most important element is that when Basra -- and I think Basra was really the defining moment -- when Basra took place, it demonstrated that their security forces are good and their security forces are prepared to go against militias, and that confronted with the power of the Iraqi state, the militias wouldn't stand up to them. And that may have been the most important element.
QUESTION: So he's well placed for the elections?
SECRETARY RICE: You know, I'll tell you something. The reason I don't think we know is that I think the political landscape is going to shift a lot, or has been shifting a lot. For instance, on the Sunni side, you essentially had the Sunni leadership that was Baghdad based, but now you've got these -- kind of like the Anbar people that you met, who have a narrative -- a true narrative, by the way -- but a narrative of having rid their country of al-Qaida, which is a fairly powerful narrative in an electoral campaign.
Depending on what happens with the structure of the elections, and we obviously favor and everybody favors if it can be done, proportional representation rather than a list system, it will --
QUESTION: Rather than a list system?
SECRETARY RICE: A list system where parties simply --
QUESTION: Proportional representation is a list system.
SECRETARY RICE: No, but not a list system. Not having a list system. Having representation by district --
QUESTION: By district.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, by district. Proportional representation, constituency representation. Yes, right. But not a list system because, obviously, for -- now, it's hard and it's --
QUESTION: You're pushing for that, actually?
SECRETARY RICE: We are. But it's just technically hard to do. It's not so much that people don't want to do it. It's just technically hard to do. But in any case --
QUESTION: I mean, they had electoral districts under Saddam, right? I mean, we know --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. But whether they're accurate or not I think is a good question.
QUESTION: There are lines.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, there are. But it's whether they're accurate or not I think is questionable. But in any case, that could change the political landscape a lot, too. So I don't know how to judge the prospects of the current government. But I do think that the respect for that government is pretty high now.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: There's a fair chance the free trade agreement won't go through. Is there anything that the Administration can do to show Colombia that it really is friendship with the U.S. and it's meaningful material, not just political?
SECRETARY RICE: This is really one of the hardest cases I've seen, because there is simply no reason not to pass this free trade agreement. There is simply no reason. This is a government that brought itself back -- brought its people and its country back from the brink of being a failed state. Now, I was in Medellin. Medellin used to be synonymous with trouble, Pablo Escobar and trouble. Now, you walk down the streets of Medellin and there are kids out playing the parks and, you know, they're building really nice new schools and all of these things.
This is a government that when they came to power, the man who is now their Foreign Minister was held by the FARC for six years. And you know, they've improved the lives of people. They've brought security. It's a democratic government. He's popular because of those things. They're defeating the FARC. And it is frankly maddening that the response of the Congress has been to say, well, we're not sure that they're doing enough on human rights and therefore we're going to deny them a free trade agreement, as if denying them a free trade agreement is going to make them a better state.
And you know, we've done everything we can. I mean, it's rather unusual that the Secretary of State leads a congressional delegation down to try and build support for a free trade agreement. Hank Paulson has gone down -- the Secretary of the Treasury. You know, we have pulled out all the stops. And I just hope that that says to the Colombian Government that the United States supports them and says to the Colombian people that the United States supports them.
We're still going to push to the very end to try and get this free trade agreement, but it's really an unfortunate circumstance right now. If we could bring this to a vote, just bring it to a vote, and let's see. Let's see if we can win the vote. But to have it unable to come to the floor is very frustrating.
QUESTION: So is trade promotion authority totally toothless in this? I mean, is there -- there's supposed to be a vote. That's what the law says, and Pelosi has pocketed it --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, there was a maneuver to get around that. We're going to just keep pressing. And you know, I have to say the editorial pages and, you know, the general commentary around the country has been really favorable to at least getting a vote. Let people stand up and say that in a region that we're always told that, you know, we need to improve the way the United States is viewed, in a region that is our neighborhood, let people stand up and say that they're not going to vote for a trade agreement with one of the most pro-American, most democratic countries in the region that's come the longest way, that's fighting the FARC, that's fighting Venezuelan influence. You know, let people stand up and take that vote.
QUESTION: Any of hints, suggestions, winks from either the Speaker or from Senator Obama about maybe this happening in a lame duck session?
SECRETARY RICE: Look, I – not that I know of. But, you know, we’ll just keep pressing.
QUESTION: As long as we’re in the neighborhood --
SECRETARY RICE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- can you say something about what happened at the Embassy in Bolivia and – I suppose that the Ambassador is still in Washington?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: And what’s the situation – what’s the problem with the relationship?
SECRETARY RICE: With the relationship with Bolivia?
SECRETARY RICE: The Bolivian regime is the problem. (Laughter.) Look, I think we’ve managed to work it out for the time being.
QUESTION: Okay, so he’s going back?
SECRETARY RICE: I hope so. I probably shouldn’t get into it, but I hope so. It’s a difficult regime that’s having its own difficulties. And I think we’re a little bit the foil there, but I hope so. We’re working on it.
QUESTION: You mean because of the problems he’s having in Santa Cruz?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, in Santa Cruz and just about everything else. I mean, the country just isn’t really running very well.
QUESTION: Is Hugo Chavez helping him?
SECRETARY RICE: There is some kind of relationship, clearly. And you know, there have been indications of that – strong indications that he was helpful – he tried to be helpful to him in the electoral – in getting him elected and so forth. Chavez tries to spread his influence through these governments that he considers to be – how would I put it – protégés, I guess. But he’s – Chavez has a number of problems of his own, but the bigger problem in Bolivia right now is I just think Morales is having a hard time governing. And the autonomy movement is particularly problematic.
QUESTION: And so he’s blaming the U.S?
SECRETARY RICE: I think you’re seeing quite a bit of that.
QUESTION: Speaking of Chavez, is there any chance that there are any consequences for the support of the FARC in the wake of the seized computer files? (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY RICE: I think we definitely have to we have to look at it just as soon as this has played out a little bit more. Clearly, the computer files are – were not tampered with. Clearly, there was a relationship there that, I think, violates just about every tenet of neighborly relations. And it certainly is, to my mind, support to terrorism. So I think we’ll – we’re taking a look.
QUESTION: Do you know if there’s any truth to the suggestion that there are also Brazilian officials who were in touch with the members of the FARC?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m not aware of any.
QUESTION: Would sanctions be on the table?
SECRETARY RICE: We’ll look at all the options.
QUESTION: I was talking to Dennis Ross the other day and he was pointing out that before the Lebanon war there were – Hezbollah had about 17,000 rockets. And now his estimate is that they have 40,000 when the UN resolution was supposed to prevent that kind of rearmament. How has that happened and --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t --
QUESTION: -- what can we do about it?
SECRETARY RICE: First of all, I don’t know if that’s right. I do know that Hezbollah has taken advantage of what we all consider to be a problem between the Syrian and Lebanese border, where there has been an international effort that I think has not been robust enough to try to deal through technical means with what is going on there. And so it’s something that we’re currently talking to the Lebanese Government about. But you know, given that there are talks between Israel and Syria, it might be an issue that would be worth raising there too, since Syria’s, of course, the land bridge. And it would be very good to tell the Syrians that to make the neighborhood more peaceful, maybe they should take responsibility for sealing their border with the Lebanese and giving the Lebanese some scope or some encouragement to use whatever forces and whatever technical assistance they could to deal with that border. So I would hope that would be an issue. We’ve raised it with a number of others who are having conversations with the Syrians that they have responsibilities under 1701 not to let that border be used for rearmament of – or for arms flow into Lebanon.
QUESTION: But you don’t have any doubt that that’s been a real land bridge, active land bridge, even with heavy weapons?
SECRETARY RICE: I have – I don’t know about – because there are some constraints that can be brought on heavy weapons. But yeah, it’s a land bridge. It’s a real problem.
QUESTION: But it seems that they’ve been able to rearm and Hezbollah does seem to be in a much stronger position now and we’re (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t know that Hezbollah – well, there are puts and takes on this. The first thing that I would point out is that for the first time, the Lebanese army is in the south. And I don’t think that Hezbollah has returned to the south in the strength that it once held there, which of course has strategic implications for the kind of thing that happened in July of 2006 to touch the whole thing off. So when you have international forces in the south and you have Lebanese forces in the south, that’s an important change from 2006.
It’s also important that the Lebanese army, in doing that, now occupies its entire country. And one of the things that we’re trying to do is to help strengthen the Lebanese army because it is an important national institution for Lebanon. And we forget that Lebanon was not just a weak state; it was an occupied state by Syrian forces without really much pretense of sovereignty. When Warren Christopher did the 1996 ceasefire, I don’t think he talked to the Lebanese. It was all done with the Syrians. This is a different set of circumstances now.
You do now have a President in Lebanon. I just met him. He seems to be a very strong figure. I know he comes out of the armed forces, again. You have Lebanese – the Lebanese laying claim to the Palestinian refugee camps as a sovereign state, also a new dimension in Lebanon.
And finally, you do have a democratic majority. And I know that a lot has been made about Hezbollah’s – or about the minorities -- blocking minority in the government. But the tribunal, which is what I think they really wanted the blocking minority to block --
QUESTION: To block, yeah.
SECRETARY RICE: -- is done. And so this is going to be a government now that I think will appoint its ministers and get ready for the elections. And the key for the majority there will be to make its case to the Lebanese people. And one of the things that I think they can use to make their case is that Hezbollah’s an odd resistance movement if its principal function has been to turn its weapons on its own people. So puts and takes on Lebanon. Lebanon has been tough for a long time.
But I simply don’t buy the argument that it’s somehow worse off now than it was with Syrian forces occupying it and with Hezbollah in a place in July 2006 where it could literally be a state within a state and launch a war against Israel that plunged the whole country into chaos.
QUESTION: When is the tribunal going to report?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s got to sit first. The investigation is being done.
QUESTION: Right. But, I mean, the report has been percolating now for --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the investigation has been going on. And I’ve met with the investigator. He’s a typical prosecutor. He doesn’t say much. But I can’t give you a time, but they’re working at it. And we are making sure it’s well funded and that it’s got a place to meet and all of those things. Some of this is just blocking and tackling.
QUESTION: Speaking of puts and takes, Iran. The President was talking about Iran again recently -- about options. Before I ask you to talk generally where we stand with them, I just would like to call to mind a point Amir Taheri made on our page recently, which I thought was a very strong one, which was that they are essentially a revolutionary government. It is not a normal government or a normal country. And the idea of negotiating with revolutionary movements is beyond difficult, because they are not thinking in our terms whatsoever. They have goals of their own. And that certainly seems to be true of Iran and Iran’s (inaudible) of movements like Hezbollah and (inaudible) revolutionary. So we haven’t made much progress with them and why is there any expectation that there is going to be made progress? I mean, it seems to be getting worse with the centrifuges and so forth.
SECRETARY RICE: On the first part of that question, Iran is dangerous, but Iran has vulnerabilities. And we have to be very clear that we are going to exploit those vulnerabilities and I think we are exploiting them. I think they overplayed their hand in Iraq in the south in Basra, where in typical fashion; they tried to get to the front of the parade and say that those militias down there were just criminals and they support the Maliki government. Well, they were criminals that Iraq armed and trained. So --
SECRETARY RICE: Iran armed and trained, right. And so, having been found out in a sense down in Basra, I think we should help the Iraqis keep the pressure on these Iranian-trained militias.
Secondly, when Ryan Crocker met with his counterpart, he told them in no uncertain terms, your people are not safe anywhere in Iraq, as long as they threaten our soldiers. And we are continuing to pick up their people and to go after them, when we find them involved in these activities. So I think in Iraq, we take the view that they are engaged in hostile activities there and that we will confront them in those hostile activities.
When you look to the nuclear issue, I would be the first to say, not unlike The Wall Street Journal editorial pages said, that perhaps the Security Council resolutions have not been scintillating in their content, that indeed they are not the resolutions that I would have written, if I didn’t have to negotiate them. But they’ve had two important effects. One is that it just demonstrates – and the Iranians go crazy every time we get ready to do one of these and they start sending people all over the world. And once we do one, they huff and puff and, whine, because it demonstrates that they are isolated. They can’t say, well, it’s just the United States or maybe just the United States and Great Britain or just the United States, Great Britain and France. It clearly is a Security Council resolution. And they hate having to tell their people that they’re being isolated internationally. You’re in a very bad club when you’re under Chapter 7, and everybody knows that.
But they have another effect, which is that they have provided a kind of umbrella under which we’ve been able to amplify by the Treasury 311-type sanctions that we’ve been doing where we designated the Qods Force, designated the IRGC, designated several banks. And there will be more of that. And what it does is makes – even if people don’t want to voluntarily go along with the constraints on Iran, it effectively so raises the investment and reputational risk of dealing with Iranian accounts, that that’s why you’re seeing the exodus of banks and the Iranians are having trouble doing investments – investment credits and they’re having trouble using the international financial system. And frankly, I just think we have to get much, much more aggressive with that set of arrangements. And we are working on it – Treasury – Hank and I work on it together all the time. We will only do it when they truly – when there’s truly a reason to do it. I mean, we’re not – and Hank is very strong on this – it is the international financial system, so we’re not just going to do these things for political reasons. We’re only going to do it when it is clear that the Iranians are misusing the international financial system with one of their banks. But that’s a vulnerability. And those are showing up as vulnerabilities for the cost of doing business with them, vulnerabilities in terms of inflation, vulnerabilities in terms of lagging investment. And so that’s another vulnerability that we can exploit.
Now, I think that – I don’t see anything wrong with continuing to show the Iranians that there’s a path out, which is why the potential for a negotiated solution should remain on the table. It’s why it’s perfectly fine for Solana to go and say, here’s what you could have if you suspend your enrichment and reprocessing. I think you want to leave that path out.
QUESTION: Didn’t Solana just hear from the Iranians that that was a red line, that that was (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. And they’ve been saying that all along. And we’ve just been continuing to turn up the pressure on the other side, while they continue to see it as a red line. You hope that at some point these are going to cross and that somebody responsible in the Iranian regime – I don’t say moderate in the Iranian regime, because every bad American foreign policy for the last 30 years has started with let’s find the moderates and the Iranian regime, so we don’t go there. We talk about responsible people who might want to say that, indeed, it’s not worth the cost, but we clearly haven’t gotten there yet. So you know, that’s the policy. The President doesn’t take his options off the table. He says that whenever he has the opportunity. But we believe that the best option is to continue to put pressure on the Iranians and to raise the cost of the policies that they’re pursuing.
QUESTION: Could you be a little specific about what kind of American presence you would envision in Iraq, say, 10 years down the road?
SECRETARY RICE: I think we have to take it in increments. I think we have to get through the next couple of years and see what they need in terms of continuing to fight what residual al-Qaida presence there is, because there will be one -- they’ll fight back -- sort of conditioning the environment so these militias don’t feel emboldened again. Training their forces; clearly, the training of their forces is still a major issue. I think the Iraqis themselves want some sense that somebody is watching their neighborhood. So I think we have to take it in, you know, increments, not – I can’t look out 10 years.
And I don’t know that – everybody hates the fact that we have a huge embassy there, but I think actually, that’s commitment for a long, long time to come so you don’t even have to think about presence as being a military presence.
QUESTION: The election of Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan seems to fundamentally change the relationship between Taiwan and China. Doesn’t that open up an opportunity to improve relations with Taiwan, given the relations between Taipei and Beijing?
SECRETARY RICE: I think it will. Look, our relations with Taiwan are not – are not bad. We were – we were concerned that some of the things that Chen Shui-bian tended to do were just outright provocative and we had to say so. You know, the referendum was just provocative. But there’s nothing now wrong with – we’ve been encouraging the Chinese and the Taiwanese to try to improve cross-strait relations.
I think our role needs to be to encourage that, but also, to remind everybody that the United States has a relationship with Taiwan as well, and that we want to see things like Taiwan have real space in the international community, like through the WHO, and that we also want to make sure that China understands that it’s not just provocative behavior on the part of Taiwan that we would oppose, but provocative behavior on the part of China. So I think we’ll see how it comes out. But yes, I think it (inaudible) possibly change their dynamic.
QUESTION: And how will you respond if John McCain asks you to be his running mate?
SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) I will always gladly talk to John about whatever he’d like to talk to from California. (Laughter.) I’ve had it. (Laughter.) Eight years is a long time. And John will – John is a terrific patriot. He would be a great president. He should find somebody who can help him on a number of areas that I couldn’t.
QUESTION: What would those areas be?
SECRETARY RICE: What?
QUESTION: What would those areas be?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, look. I have a lot of interests in domestic affairs. But I think that – you know, I’m a national security type. That’s what I do. And I’m quite certain that John will find somebody who’s broader in portfolio than I am. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Mexico?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: You were mentioning before that Colombia is so much better off than it was 10 years ago.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: And Mexico, in terms of law enforcement, seems a lot worse off.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: In fact, the organized crime cartels that are trying to get their product here --
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: -- are fighting hard against the government. What do you think the odds are for the Merida Initiative and with the qualifications that Congress wants to put on it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think Merida – I’m very hopeful that Merida will get funded. And we’ve been clear that we don’t think that putting any – putting conditions that would try to put limitations on how the program functions or the like would be – it would be very unhelpful.
This is an extraordinary circumstance when the Mexican President says to the President of the United States; we need help to deal with a terrible law enforcement problem. And I’m – you’re – you know this region. This is unprecedented for the Mexicans to come to us and be willing to have this kind of law enforcement cooperation. And why we would turn it away in any way, I don’t understand, especially given that we have real concerns on the border. I’ve been talking to a number of the border state senators, and they are very concerned that this go through, because the gangs that are coming up through Central America, lodging in Mexico and running cross border into our own cities are a real common threat and we need to treat it as a common threat. And so I’m hopeful that we’ve made the case on Merida. I am concerned about some of the conditions, and we’re working to make sure that we – that there’s nothing there that’s unworkable, of course.
QUESTION: So you think it’s going to be done before November?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it depends on what funding vehicles come out of the Congress. But I expect that if funding vehicles come out, then Merida will be included.
QUESTION: On North Korea.
SECRETARY RICE: Wondered if you were going to finally – (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Inaudible) would kill me if I didn’t ask. The – you said yesterday that North Korea is going to release its nuclear --
SECRETARY RICE: It’s going to give a declaration to China, we believe. That’s the expectation.
QUESTION: The key – one key issue is plutonium and how much they have versus – how much they declare versus how much we think they have. I guess my question is, what gives you any confidence that their declaration will be complete and honest, when they won’t even admit in public that they’re proliferating this area?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I don’t trust that it will be.
That’s why we have – why what I’m really looking for is, does it – do we have the means to verify it. So, for instance, let’s take plutonium. They’ll give us a number. They’ll give us records, they’ve given us records. But in order to know whether the number is accurate, to – in a sense, to minimize the uncertainty about what was actually made, you have to have access to the reactor, and you have to have access to the waste pool. If you have records and reactor access and waste pool, then you can – you can know within, you know, a kilogram – a few kilograms what they made. So that’s verification. I’m not going to trust the number that they give us. Now --
QUESTION: But you (inaudible) -- will you insist on spot, unannounced inspections anywhere in North Korea?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, what – on this plutonium issue, we just need to go to the reactor. And I’m told by – that – by the experts it’s kind of like the rings of a tree. You can tell what they – made with that plus access. And so that’s what we’re going to do.
We are working out with our allies a verification protocol for what else needs to be done. But let me say a word about both the HEU and the Syrian proliferation issue. Look, I think it’s deeply – look, I was a part of the decision-making group that decided to go to them and say, you’ve got an alternative way to make nuclear weapons. And that’s a real problem, the HEU decision of 2002. And I think it was the right decision. And I’m sorry that they walked out of the Agreed Framework, but it was the right decision.
The problem on -- so I'm convinced that there is -- that they have been either seeking or have gotten or have done something on the highly enriched uranium side. The problem is we don't actually know what they've done. I will tell you that the more we dig into it and the more we actually get -- talk to them about it, the more concerning it is. But we're actually learning more through this process about it than we would have known through our intelligence, because it is an opaque, closed, difficult place. HEU is by its very nature hard to know what's going on. I mean, we have inspectors all over the Iranians and it's still hard to know what's going on. And so the question I would ask is: Should we really stop the process of what I would call excavating about this HEU program? And I think we will learn more about this HEU program through these discussions with them, through insisting that they give us things like the tubes, which -- the aluminum tubes, which they did; insisting that they let us interview personnel and so forth. So I'd like to keep this process going.
Similarly on proliferation, I have no idea if the Syrian case is the tip of the iceberg, the end of the story. I really don't know. But I think we've got a much better chance of putting a collar around North Korean proliferation, finding out more about it, punishing it if it's continuing, if we are engaged with the Chinese, who have agreed to set up the proliferation working group within the six parties, than if we're out there on our own trying to follow intelligence leads. And, frankly, with an opaque country like that, you don't get very much.
So I see the process as doing three things to the different parts of it. Because we know a lot about the plutonium program over the last 30 years, I think we can essentially get them out of the plutonium business -- making plutonium business, by disabling and ultimately dismantling their infrastructure for plutonium. We can find out how much they made, and it is my -- our intention in phase three to deal with the outcome of those activities. That means whatever the -- finding whatever they made, finding out whatever devices they put it in, finding out whether it was weaponized, and trying to denuclearize them on that front.
In order to do that, we have given up 130,000 tons of fuel oil, we resolved the Macao issue and gave them back $25 million even though because they were -- because of their activities they still can't access the international financial system, and we have promised that if the declaration can be verified -- you know, is verifiable, is accurate and complete, which is why I put a lot of emphasis on the verification piece, not what they write down but on the verification piece -- then we'll take them off the terrorism list and the Trading with the Enemy Act. That's what we've given up.
There are so many sanctions on North Korea for other things, for human rights, for Security Council, for general bad guy. There are so many other sanctions that neither of those lists is going to matter.
Now, we also have to get a handle on what happened with their highly enriched uranium program. And what they said is, we acknowledge that you have concerns and we acknowledge or accept that you gave us information, and we promise to sit and answer questions about it and to make (inaudible). All right, let's test it. Let's go down that road. Because I don't have any other way to find out what they did on highly enriched uranium. No other way. We know more now in the several months that we've been dealing with this about their highly enriched uranium program than we did in all the work we did before.
And on proliferation, it's the same sort of thing. You will notice that when the public rollout of the Syrian reactor incident came out, the North Koreans said nothing. So their acknowledgment stands. I'd be the first to say it's not perfect. But you're dealing with a very difficult regime, and I'd like to put them out of the plutonium business and I'd like to excavate these other two.
QUESTION: On the inspections, China is leading the group.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: They're not going to be the only people inspecting?
SECRETARY RICE: No, we're -- as a matter of fact, we are the ones who are inspecting. In fact, it's not even an IAEA team. It's an American team with Russia and China.
QUESTION: Will that be the case moving forward?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: And we'll have the capacity for essentially unannounced onsite inspections where they say, we'd like to look under this rock?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, that's what we're talking through now. Obviously, we'll want to get as much of that as possible. I think this is going to be a process. It's going to take a while to get there.
I just want to assure you, I have not lost my bearings about the North Korean regime. Okay? I've seen regimes like this before. They're difficult. They're opaque. And you would be making a serious mistake to trust what they say.
To my mind, you would also be making a serious mistake to go back to the point at which we were not able to raise questions about -- along with the Chinese and -- particularly the Chinese and the South Koreans, who have real leverage, about all of their activities. And to put them in a situation where if they violate agreements, they're violating them with the United States, with Russia, with China, with Japan, with South Korea.
I know there are people who say they will never give up their nuclear weapons. That may well be the case. But I don't know any other way to test the proposition than to continue down this road. And we have backloaded benefits. There has been -- there's no economic assistance. There's food aid, but we consider that starving people. There's no economic assistance. There's no political normalization. I haven't been there yet. There is -- none of that has taken place, and they've already shut down the reactor, disabled it, and begun giving us the verification means that we need. And I think that's worth doing. But this is step by step. There's not going to be that big deal until this country is denuclearized. And knowing that it's denuclearized is going to take some work and is going to take a while.
QUESTION: Next administration, you think?
SECRETARY RICE: We'll see how far we can get.
QUESTION: You're not going to do an Albrightian last-month visit to Pyongyang, are you? (Laughter.) The vignette?
SECRETARY RICE: Let's see what phase three looks like. We're working hard to get a sense of what phase three looks like; in other words, what they have in mind as they contemplate actually giving up weapons.
QUESTION: That sounds like a maybe. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Let me put it this way: I'm not anxious to go. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
Released on June 20, 2008