Interview With Judy Woodruff of Bloomberg TVSecretary Condoleezza Rice
July 1, 2008
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, thank you very much for talking with us.
SECRETARY RICE: Pleasure to be with you.
QUESTION: You are just back from a round-the-world trip, including a stop in South Korea and the news of a breakthrough with North Korea on their nuclear weapons program. Now, this comes, though, after, what, six years of disavowing the work that was done by the Clinton Administration on all of this which, in a way, gave North Korea a chance to ramp up its nuclear program. So some are asking: Is the United States really better off with North Korea today than it was under President Clinton in 2003?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is true that President Bush decided to take a difference course. It was not that we believed that the Clinton Administration had not done their best. But in fact, we learned in 2002 that North Korea was pursuing another path. And indeed, the North did break out of the Agreed Framework. But this is a very different strategy now. This is a strategy that is not a bilateral relationship between the United States and North Korea as the Agreed Framework essentially was. This is a six-party framework. China is, indeed, the chair of the six-party framework. South Korea is at the table, Russia, Japan, the United States, of course. And what it allows is it allows the countries that have the right set of incentives and disincentives for North Korea to all be at the table. Any obligation that the North undertakes is an obligation to all of the parties and therefore, any obligation that the North would break would also be breaking that obligation to all of the parties. And so it’s a very different framework. It did not freeze the North Korean reactor, as the Agreed Framework did. It actually disabled the North Korean reactor -- you saw the cooling tower come down. And so, the reactor is disabled, and now we move on to the abandonment phase, where the North has pledged to give up its nuclear weapons. So it’s simply a different strategy.
QUESTION: Now, the former Bush Administration Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, is saying this decision to take North Korea off the list of states that sponsor terrorism -- as he said, “It’s the final collapse of George Bush’s foreign policy that the North Koreans out-negotiated the U.S.”
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, well, the North Koreans have gotten the following for disabling their reactor, for really disabling it significantly and, we think, ultimately putting themselves out of the business of making plutonium: making some representations is what they are willing to do in terms of verification, giving us documents, access to the reactor core, so that we can really know how much plutonium they made. We’re not going to take their word for it; we’re going to verify how much plutonium they made and then we are going to see if they’re prepared to give up their nuclear weapons.
Now, in exchange for getting this far, they’ve gotten 130,000 tons of fuel oil -- and by the way, it’s sludge, it can’t be used in anything but heating -- and they’ve gotten off of a terrorism list that, frankly, they met the statutory requirement for some time ago. And in getting off that terrorism list, we have not lifted any actual sanctions. Because the sanctions that remain, because North Korea is – has human rights sanctions, Security Council sanctions, proliferation sanctions, they’ve essentially gotten the symbolism of coming off the terrorism list. So with all due respect to those who look at this deal and say somehow, North Korea has gotten a great deal, I think one can say that this is a really good step for nonproliferation. We will see how much further the North is willing to go.
QUESTION: Now, you were also in Beijing. And my question is: If the Chinese don’t do more to improve their record on human rights, releasing political prisoners in the next six weeks, is there any chance that President Bush would cancel his trip to Beijing to make the opening remarks at the Beijing Olympics?
SECRETARY RICE: The President’s been very clear that the Olympics is a sporting event, and he’s going to go to it as a sporting event. It is also, by the way, a source of great pride for the Chinese people. And we have to remember that this is not just about the regime. This is the 1.3 billion Chinese that are looking to this Olympics as a source of great pride for China.
Now, we are going to continue to press the human rights issues. I pressed them when I was just in Beijing. We have reopened our human rights dialogue with China. We continue to believe that China will be better off when it gives greater freedoms to its people. One of the issues that I’ve been raising with the Chinese repeatedly now is the issue of internet freedom, because there are problems with China’s attempts to constrain this unconstrainable force that is the internet. And so we have many differences with China. But the President has made clear that the Olympics is a sporting event, and that’s the right way to treat it.
QUESTION: Well, we know the Chinese continue to supply arms, among others, to the repressive Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe. If the Chinese are not going to change their policies on an issue as clear cut as that one, do you think they can be expected to cooperate on these other issues?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I wouldn’t say that the Chinese are not changing some of their policies. They’ve been somewhat more helpful on Darfur, pressuring the regime there. Not as much as we would like, but they’ve been better than they had been. We talked about Zimbabwe and we talked about the fact that an arms shipment that was to go to the Zimbabwean Government was turned around because people refused to offload it. I think that was actually something of an embarrassment for the Chinese, and I found them on Zimbabwe recognizing that the international community, even many African states, are condemning what Mugabe is doing.
We are working with China very well on North Korea, and increasingly, even on Iran, we’ve been able to get Security Council resolutions through. So yes, we have differences with China. You would expect that with a country of China’s size and complexity. But I remain in the belief that without a constructive relationship with China, you’re not going to be able to resolve very many issues diplomatically.
QUESTION: It’s a lot to cover. Different country – Pakistan. Now, The New York Times is reporting that almost 7 years after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, al-Qaida has successfully reconstituted itself next door in Pakistan as a major threat. It is thriving in the tribal lands there. Now, it’s charged that this is – much of this is due to the Bush Administration shifting its priority from Afghanistan to Iraq, and disagreements inside the Bush Administration over what approach to take.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, are there policy debates from time to time about what approach to take on something this complex? Of course. But the Administration has been very active on Pakistan, whether it is on the matter of Pakistani democracy, where we were very active in pushing for democratic change in Pakistan, or in the work that we have done to help the Pakistanis deal with a terrorism threat that is a threat not just to the United States, not just to Afghanistan, but also to Pakistan. After all, it was the network that – in that region that assassinated Benazir Bhutto. And so this is a threat to Pakistan as well.
Now, as to the matter of al-Qaida’s reconstitution, Al-Qaida is a different organization than the one that prosecuted September 11th. Many of its field generals are either in custody or they’re dead, and it’s a different organization. Yes, it has certain strengths and continues to have certain strengths in this area that is very difficult for anyone to govern and very difficult for anyone to operate in. But there have been successes there, too. And we’re going to continue to work with Pakistan, we’re going to continue to work with Afghanistan, to deal with the cross-border terrorism that is taking place there.
But the Bush Administration has been focused on Afghanistan, focused on Pakistan, throughout this entire period. And we have also been able to prosecute a war in Iraq. But it’s just a very hard problem when you have, essentially, a border that is difficult to demarcate, where there are tribes on both sides. And we’ve had to work through it with Afghanistan and with Pakistan.
QUESTION: Senator Barack Obama was criticized for saying that, if elected President, he wouldn’t hesitate to go after al-Qaida inside Pakistan if it was proved they were there and the Pakistan Government were not acting. Isn’t that what U.S. policy should be right now?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the U.S. – the United States is acting with Pakistan to deal with the terrorism threat. One has to be a little careful about what you say about the territory of a sovereign state with which you are not at war. And so we have done this in working with the Pakistanis and working together to share intelligence and working together to deal with threats when they emerge.
Do we need to do more? Absolutely. Everybody needs to do more. But I would be very careful with what I say about the territory of a sovereign state.
QUESTION: Iran. Would it be a mistake if Israel engaged in a pre-emptive strike against Iran over its nuclear program?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me say first that we do have conversations with the Israelis quite a lot, and at very high levels, about the threat that Iran poses and the threat that a nuclear Iran would pose in particular. The Israelis have been willing to work with us on the diplomatic side. They, too, believe that it’s possible to deal with this diplomatically. But we better have really robust diplomacy in order to deal with this threat, because the Iranians are making progress.
One of the bright signs in this was when the President was recently in Europe. After a significant period of time, the Europeans have now sanctioned an important Iranian bank. They are working very hard to look at other things that might be done. The six countries – the United States, Russia, China and the European three – have put forward a proposal to the Iranians that would give Iran a great deal of benefit if Iran were willing to stop its enrichment and reprocessing. We’ll see what the Iranians say to that proposal. But the world needs to be very serious about this threat.
QUESTION: Do you think that Iran’s influence in Iraq is greater or lesser than it was one year ago?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s different, because the Iranians made a big mistake. They backed violent militias in the south that lost. They lost to the Iraqi security forces. The Iranians, never too slow to get to the head of a parade, then went out and said, oh, well, these were just criminals. We backed the Maliki Government. These were just criminals. Well, they’re actually criminals that Iran had trained and equipped. And they lost. And I do think that Iran has – that the Iraqis have been very concerned about these kinds of influences of Iran, particularly in the south of the country.
We also have a done a lot of damage to Iran’s network with the arrest of Qods Force operatives, of Hezbollah trainers, the work that we’ve done with Iraqi security forces against these violent militias. I think the Iranians have had some setbacks in Iraq, and we intend to increase those setbacks. They’re vulnerable.
QUESTION: So all in all, you’ve seen a drop-off in the Iranian-backed support for Iranian-back militias?
SECRETARY RICE: Look, Iran is continuing to try to make trouble in the south. But I remember when Ryan Crocker met with his counterpart, and he told him, your people aren’t going to be safe in Iraq as long as they’re threatening our soldiers and threatening the Iraqi people. And we’re going to carry through on that, and we’re going to continue to pursue them in Iraq.
And, you know, we have a tendency sometimes to think of Iran as a country that’s 10 feet tall. Iran is dangerous, they’re clever, they’re good at asymmetric warfare, but they’re also vulnerable. Their economy is vulnerable with runaway inflation. Their economy is vulnerable because of the really crazy policies of Ahmadinejad. They are vulnerable in Iraq, and we’re going to exploit those vulnerabilities.
QUESTION: The question on everyone’s mind: How long will the U.S. need to keep troops in Iraq? As you know from looking at the polls, most Americans would like the withdrawal process to begin within a reasonable period. Is this a commitment that is open-ended?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, in fact, some American troops have come out of Iraq and will continue to come out of Iraq. General Petraeus has said that with certain conditions, he believes that we can bring some American forces home.
But I think the question that we need to ask is, given the diminution in violence over the last several months, given the obvious strengthening of Iraqi security forces, given the gains that they have had against militias, given the gains that Sunni tribesmen have had against al-Qaida, given the fact that al-Qaida is really on its heels in Iraq and, therefore, by the way, on its heels in the Middle East, is this a time to talk about not sustaining the very American effort that has led to that?
Iraq has been very tough. It’s been tougher than any of us really dreamed, and we can never replace the people who have been lost. We can never do anything to soothe the pain of the family and friends that they have left behind. But we are seeing a change in Iraq for the better. And when we talk about Iraq, there is no greater barrier to Iranian influence in the region, negative Iranian influences in the region, than a strong Iraq that has a strong Arab identity, that is at peace with its neighbors, and that has a good relationship with the United States.
QUESTION: What do you think the consequences would be if -- Senator Obama’s stated plan, if he’s elected, to withdraw troops within 16 months of taking office?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m not going to get into the politics of this. I’m sure many things will happen and be said in campaigns. I think that when people look at the circumstances, they will need to ask the question: Given the circumstances in Iraq today – not a year ago, but today -- given an Iraqi Government that is clearly finding its footing both at home and abroad, given that they will have elections by the end of this year, given that their security forces are winning in Basra and Mosul and in Sadr City, given that al-Qaida is clearly on the run in Iraq and, therefore, has finally sustained a real defeat in the center of the Arab world, what does that say about the need for American commitment to Iraq?
QUESTION: The late William F. Buckley told me in an interview for Bloomberg Television almost two years ago that President Bush’s legacy, he said, above all else, will be Iraq. He said there’s nothing the President could do, in his words, even if he were to write the Bill of Rights, that Iraq will be his legacy.
SECRETARY RICE: That’s just fine. Because the removal of Saddam Hussein – you know, we tend to forget very quickly what Saddam Hussein meant. Not only did he mean tyranny and terrorism to his people – 300,000 in mass graves – actually using chemical weapons, but a million people dead in the Iraq-Iran war, invading and annexing Kuwait, which dragged us then into a war in the Gulf in 1991, weapons of mass destruction programs, whatever their state when we found them there, that led the UN to pass security resolution after resolution after resolution, and to put the Iraqi people under perhaps the most aggressive sanctions that the international community has ever used, and by the way, sanctions that were really making life pretty difficult for the Iraqi people, including growing malnutrition rates, but they were doing nothing to the regime as we now know because of the Oil-for-Food scandals.
That was the Iraq that this President finally decided it – there had been enough, that in the post-9/11 environment, you couldn’t let a threat to international peace and stability like that remain. And yes, it’s been very, very tough. But I know that great historical events go through difficult phases and often emerge with the world left for the better. And I am proud of the decision of this Administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein. I am proud of the liberation of 25 million Iraqis. And I’m proud to see an Iraq that is now emerging with a stronger government, a truly multiethnic, multi-sectarian government that’s about to have its second set of elections, that’s inviting private investment into Iraq, and that is making peace with its Arab neighbors.
QUESTION: What do you say to the widespread perception that the world has become a more dangerous place under the Bush Administration?
SECRETARY RICE: I simply don’t see it; a more dangerous place than the world that produced the al-Qaida that did 9/11? You know, there was a false sense of stability in the Middle East. But it was a Middle East, of course, in which Syrian forces had occupied Lebanon for 30 years. It was a Middle East in which Saddam Hussein sat astride the Middle East threatening his neighbors. It was a Middle East in which authoritarianism was so entrenched that you had this – this malignant force growing underneath in Saudi Arabia, in Yemen, in (inaudible). That now has been exposed. And yes, when you expose terrorists and you begin to take them on, then the fighting gets tough.
But we’re now beginning to see that perhaps it’s not so popular to be a suicide bomber. We’re beginning to see that perhaps people are questioning whether Usama bin Ladin ought to really be the face of Islam; certainly, we don’t think that he is. We think Islam is a peaceful religion. And so things are changing and change is difficult. But this is a Middle East that is at least on its way to a better future. The Middle East that we inherited was a Middle East of repressed peoples, of violent extremism growing up as a force underneath.
And by the way, even in the Palestinian-Israeli situation, do people forget that what we inherited was the intifada, the election of Ariel Sharon, who didn’t come to power to bring peace with the Palestinians; he came to power to defeat the intifada. Do people forget the Dolphinarium or the Passover massacre with Israelis dead as a result?
So I just don’t buy it. I just don’t. This was a very dangerous Middle East and it’s going to be better.
QUESTION: And what about the perception the polls show, that America is much less respected around the world than it was seven or eight years ago?
SECRETARY RICE: I also think people have short memories. You know, I remember when – in the 1980s, when there were millions of people in the streets in Germany protesting missile deployments in Europe that were supposed to plunge us into war with the Soviet Union. And just a few years later, the Soviet Union was gone – 75 years and the Soviet Union was gone. I remember women chaining themselves to the fence at Greenham Commons.
So, yes, there -- the United States has had to do some difficult things. And yes, maybe there are people who don’t like the policies that we’ve pursued. But we are also the United States of America that this President launched the largest health initiative in international history – the first 15 billion, now almost 50 billion AIDS relief program; a malaria initiative to try and halve malaria deaths; the foreign assistance that was quadrupled by this Administration in Africa tripled worldwide and doubled in Latin America. This is an Administration that has stood for prosperity for the poor, for women’s empowerment, and for the inalienable rights of human beings to live in freedom. I think that is a legacy that will stand this President historically in good stead.
QUESTION: In the early days of this Administration, early months, you spoke, the Administration spoke often of remaking the world into a more democratic place. Have you had to tamp down that talk? And was it inevitable that realpolitik, for example, having to make nice with the Saudis, would interfere with that goal?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President made very clear that this was a generational idea. You aren’t going to end tyranny as we know it in four years. It’s something that isn’t going to happen. But this President has made democracy the core, at the center of American foreign policy. It never meant that you wouldn’t have to deal with states that were not democratic. But it did mean that in any bilateral relationship, reform and democracy would be a matter of engagement and discussion.
And you are seeing changes on the democratic front. Someone said to me, you know, if you – maybe if you Googled the word “democracy” and “Middle East,” what would you have found in 2000? Not that much. But it is a course of discussion and debate in the Middle East in ways that it has not been. Women are voting in Kuwait for the first time a couple of years ago. You have a democratic Government in Lebanon, though fragile that it is, and challenged by Hezbollah, at least has Syrian forces out of Lebanon. You have democratic forces in Palestine that can try to make a two-state solution with Israel.
And you have a democracy in the center of the Arab world in Iraq. A fragile one? Yes. A challenged one? Yes. But one where the people of Iraq are going to get to choose their – have gotten to choose their leaders. That’s a breakthrough for the Middle East.
QUESTION: A couple of questions about the personal and the political. You’re obviously a loyal Republican and a supporter of John McCain, but what were your thoughts when the Democratic primary came down to a woman and an African American?
SECRETARY RICE: I thought it was great and like some – some say, oh, this was – I didn’t think it was surprising. You know, the United States is a country that, of course, has come through a real struggle about race and gender.
But on race, I’ve said we had a birth defect, after all, because in the Constitution, my ancestors were relegated to three-fifths of a man so that they could make the compromise that created the United States. And by the way, when we get impatient with Afghans or Iraqis, I remind people that they haven’t made a compromise that bad yet. And so the country has had a tough time with race and with gender. And it wasn’t that long ago that the vote wasn’t secure for African Americans in the South, where I grew up.
But we’ve had a period now, just to give you one little data point, if I finish my time here, it will have been 12 years before we had a white – since we had a white male Secretary of State in the United States. Chief diplomat of the United States; that says something about how far this country has come.
QUESTION: Well, picking up on that, you travel so widely. What do you think the impact of an Obama candidacy – the first time a majority white country could choose an African American, a black person for its leader? What effect could it – is it having around the world?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think people are – people are fascinated and they – as they very often look at the United States and say, oh, only in America. And I think they do believe only in America.
But I’ll tell you something: Ultimately, whoever is elected president of the United States will represent the United States not as a black president or as a woman president or as a black Secretary of State or as a woman Secretary of State, but the United States of America. And sometimes, in pursuing those interests, it will be popular, as with AIDS relief, and sometimes in pursuing those interests and some of the things that you have to do in the war on terror, it won’t be popular. And that’s ultimately what will matter.
QUESTION: If he should be elected, do you think expectations are being raised too high?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I hope not. And, you know, again, the politics will work its way out. But I think in time, people recognize that when you deal with the president of the United States, you’re dealing with the president of the United States. And the good thing about our country is that when people make their choices this time, I think they’ll do what they have always done. They’ll think about their interests, they’ll think about their own values, they’ll think about their own experiences, and they’ll make their choice. And I, for one, believe that Americans can make that choice with little regard for race.
QUESTION: You have said that you plan to go back to an academic life in seven months after the – or after the end of the Bush Administration. What are the odds that Condoleezza Rice could, one day, seek elected office?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’ve already – Judy, as I said, I didn’t even run for high school president or anything like that. I think I’m best suited in the kinds of roles that I’ve had. But I’ll tell you, I have a lot that I want to do, and not just as an academic. I care deeply about this country. Representing this country has been an enormous honor. But I do know too that unless Americans are confident about who we are and about our ability to compete, we’re not going to lead. I am concerned that we shouldn’t lose our will to lead.
And in order to do that – I’m concerned about issues like our educational system. I’ve said many times that to me, the greatest national security issue is educating our people well. Because if we really are clear and believe that essence of what it is to be American, that if life’s not very good for you, it’ll be better for your children – unless that’s preserved, then we will have lost what is really core to our leadership. Because when I go around the world, that’s what people resonate with about America. Yes, the freedoms and the prosperity and all of those things, but what really resonates is that it really does seem to be the case in America that it doesn’t matter where you came from; it matters where you’re going. And I have been very active in educational causes before, particularly for underprivileged kids. That’s what I’ll go back into.
QUESTION: But watching the Democrats break the gender barrier and the race barrier, wouldn’t it be exhilarating for you to see your own Republican Party do the same thing?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, it will --
QUESTION: Could you help them do the same thing?
SECRETARY RICE: It’ll only be a matter of time. It’ll be a matter of time. And I think you’ll start to have the barriers broken. This Administration broke the barrier of race for Secretary of State. And I think that oughtn’t be forgotten, that this President has had two African American Secretaries of State. Who, 10 years ago or 20 years ago or certainly, when I was growing up a kid in Birmingham, would have thought that? So both parties are breaking barriers, and that will continue.
QUESTION: Secretary Condoleezza Rice, thank you very much for talking with us.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
Released on July 5, 2008