Interview on the Sean Hannity Radio ShowSecretary Condoleezza Rice
July 17, 2008
QUESTION: It’s always an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure to welcome back to our newsmaker line – is the Secretary of State. Condoleezza Rice is back with us. Madame Secretary, how are you?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m fine, Sean. Nice to be with you.
QUESTION: I know you did have a tough day today. From what I understand, you went to Tony Snow’s memorial service.
SECRETARY RICE: I did, I did. And it’s a really sad day for all of us who knew and loved Tony, but it was also a wonderfully affirming service. You know, you realize that when you leave this life, it’s really very clear that – who you’ve touched and how you’ve touched them. And what really was just a unifying theme today was Tony’s kindness and his integrity and the many lives that he touched. So it was affirming, but we’re going to miss him. And I – my heart just goes out to Jill and to the kids, but he’s going to live on, because when somebody makes that much impact on lives, he’s not ever going to be forgotten.
QUESTION: He really was a special person. He really did have a kindness and a gentleness about him that, you know, is not seen enough, certainly in Washington or in life in general, I’ll tell you.
SECRETARY RICE: The word that came through a couple of times today, the way – he was just a decent person. He was just decent, and he was kind and he was funny. He had a wonderful sense of humor. But as I said, you know, we’re going to miss him, but nobody is going to ever forget Tony Snow.
QUESTION: Well, I agree with you. Anyway, welcome back to the program.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: It’s been a while. All right, I want to ask a tough question first because you – I’m such a pain in the neck. And by the way, you have every right to say, oh, there he goes again. Would you ever consider the vice presidency, if asked?
SECRETARY RICE: I think it’s time for me to go back to California. (Laughter.) No, no, it’s – I really believe that when you do this much government service, it’s time to move on, let other people have the stage. And I’ll be out there doing a lot of interesting things and working on behalf of freedom and democracy, and I love this country so very, very much. I’ve been really, really lucky to serve, but it’s time to go back.
QUESTION: I know you do, which is why I’m asking, because if Senator McCain did come to you and said, “You know, Madame Secretary, would you be my vice president,” would you turn it – would you say no?
SECRETARY RICE: I just don’t think I could do it. You know, and I think John McCain is a fantastic person. He’s going to be a great president and I believe he can be elected. I just – he’ll find somebody wonderful to work with, and he has all the right qualities. But I’ve got the quality to go home now. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I think you’ve got the quality to be the NFL Commissioner. Who are you kidding?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, yes, but that job’s taken for a while, so –
QUESTION: But I think if it opens up, I think you’re going to be the top contender.
SECRETARY RICE: Right, right. Maybe so. But I’m looking forward to getting back, Sean. There are a lot of things I care a lot about. You know, I’m a big advocate for education, particularly for some of the country’s least privileged kids, because if America has one really strong thing going for it, it’s that it really doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going. And we just have to make sure that our educational system is providing access for everybody. And I’ve done a lot of work in education, both higher education and education for younger kids. And so I’ll go back and do that. I want to write a book about American foreign policy in this period of time. But right now, I’ve got to sprint to the finish. It looks like the next six months will be pretty busy.
QUESTION: Boy, it really does. I’ll tell you, on so many different levels it is. You know, I’ve had the honor of meeting you a number of times, and your knowledge of international affairs is amazing to me and beyond impressive. And I will say this, that I don’t think people really recognize the sacrifice that goes into, you know, service in government and the schedule that you keep. I mean, I know that you get up at what – 5 o’clock every day or 4:30.
SECRETARY RICE: 4:30, 4:30.
QUESTION: 4:30 –
SECRETARY RICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: And you do a workout every – are you still doing that workout?
SECRETARY RICE: I do. I did this morning. And it’s one of the things that keeps me going is to do that every morning.
QUESTION: And you listen to Led Zeppelin still and Guns and Roses? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Yes, or maybe I’ll watch you on the replays from the night before.
QUESTION: Oh, boy. You know, let me tell you, that’s really bad. We’ll have to work on your workout routine. Let me ask you this. We have the report of the U.S. to – they’re saying it’s – that U.S. diplomat’s presence at talks with Iran –
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: – has raised a lot of questions, and that you said yesterday that the Bush Administration’s decision to break with past policy and send a top diplomat for weekend talks with an Iranian envoy proves that the international community is united in trying to eliminate threats to Iran’s nuclear program. Are there any preconditions to this talk? Because that’s been a big issue with Barack Obama.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. And here’s the situation. First of all, this decision, this tactical decision to send Bill Burns one time to receive the reply that the Iranians are supposed to give to the offer that the United States, Russia, China, and three European states made – he’s going to go receive the reply, and he’s going to tell the Iranians, in no uncertain terms, that if they want to negotiate, the condition for doing that is to suspend verifiably their enrichment and reprocessing. So this is really to reinforce the policy that we’ve set up. It’s to reinforce our unity with the other five countries that are doing this. And its, frankly, to say to the Iranian people, “Your government has a way out of this, and instead, they continue isolating themselves and isolating you.”
QUESTION: So this is a very, very specific, one-time meeting. This is not a negotiation. Would that be fair?
SECRETARY RICE: This is not a negotiation. We sent the letter to the Iranians with an offer. They’re coming back to give the response. Bill will listen to the response. He will explain to them the conditions under which the United States will negotiate, which have not changed. And in doing so, we believe we reinforce our policy and we reinforce our allies.
QUESTION: Yeah, well, you know, it’s being played up in the media as a shift in position. Does that bother you or frustrate you?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, what’s frustrating about that is that if people were – if people are just listening, they will hear very clearly that we are not going to negotiate on this – negotiate with the Iranians until they suspend their enrichment and reprocessing. That has been the bottom line always. And there’s a sense somehow that because we’re making this tactical decision that we’re changing policy. But our policy is as firm as ever. We think, if anything, this is an opportunity to reinforce it with the Iranians.
QUESTION: There was also some criticism or – at what many believe was a shift in position on North Korea. Can you explain that to people? What had happened that –
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, with North Korea, North Korea was to verifiably disable its Yongbyon reactor. They are doing that. You saw the cooling tower blow up, and we know that they’re shutting down the reactor. That means, Sean, we can get them out of making plutonium. And we know they can make plutonium. We know they have made plutonium. We know they’ve made enough for several devices. And so getting them out of the ability to do that is important.
Now, in response, we have said we would remove them from the terrorism list. And by the way, removing them from the terrorism list does not give them any benefit, because there are so many other sanctions in place. It’s more of a symbolic move. There are multiple, multiple sanctions – bilateral as well as multilateral sanctions – still in place.
What we were to get in return is a declaration from the North Koreans that is correct and from which we can work to verify their nuclear programs. And what we’re waiting for is we’re waiting for the verification protocol, because we are determined to be able to verify what is on their declaration and what isn’t on their declaration.
SECRETARY RICE: You see, the fact is, this is a very closed society. I mean, it’s the most closed society in the whole world. We’re not going to take their word for what they put on the declaration. We want to be able to independently verify that. And that’s what we’re working on now is how can we independently verify it.
This is a good deal for the United States, Sean. This is not the Agreed Framework of the Clinton Administration of 1994. The North Koreans are getting very few benefits upfront, some heavy fuel oil, which is, frankly, sludge that you can only use in heating. You can’t even use it to fuel a car. So they’re getting some fuel oil and they’re getting off this terrorism list. But the things that they really want – trade, the opening for economic assistance, by the way, even economic assistance from South Korea, political recognition – they’re getting none of that unless they fully and completely denuclearize. And that means all of their programs. That means highly enriched uranium, proliferation programs, and plutonium programs.
QUESTION: Let me ask you a little bit about some news that came out of Iraq last week. Some were referring to it as bombshell news that the U.S. had completed the removal of 500 tons of uranium from Baghdad, which had been stored at Saddam Hussein’s former nuclear weapons development plant. Now, I’ve discussed this on the program, this issue of uranium there, for years. Most people who learned about this, they were hearing it for the first time and saw it and viewed it as confirmation that Saddam did, indeed, have the potential for weapons of mass destruction or a key component to make them. My only question is: Why didn’t the Bush Administration ever highlight the fact that Saddam did have this huge stockpile of uranium, especially when Joe Wilson was running around saying that the guy didn’t have any?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they – not only did they have these stockpiles of uranium, yellow cake, which we’ve now secured and moved out of the country, but you know, every report made clear that the Iraqis were keeping infrastructure, they were making it possible for themselves to have weapons of mass destruction. They were waiting for the world to have turned a blind eye. They were waiting for the sanctions to be lifted.
But it’s been a little hard to get the point through that Iraq was a country that had used weapons of mass destruction against their neighbors and against their own people, that we had had sanctions, the world had had sanctions – some of the toughest sanctions ever, Sean, on this country because of their weapons of mass destruction programs – that in 1998 the United States had actually used military force because of their weapons of mass destruction. And so the idea that somehow – which now seems to be in vogue – that this was a country that was no threat in terms of this issue of weapons of mass destruction – maybe we just haven’t done a good enough job of getting the word out.
QUESTION: Let me ask you to go back to Iran for one second here. Iran and Ahmadinejad continue to threaten Israel, wipe it off the map, et cetera. Israel now has publicly stated that they are prepared to take out Iranian nuclear facilities. And it seems to be escalating in terms of the rhetoric. But if I’m Israel and I’m being threatened on a regular basis, and we see these missiles being fired by Iran on top of the pursuit of nuclear weapons, could anybody really blame Israel for taking out those facilities?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we keep in very close contact with the Israelis. And I think everybody understands that a diplomatic solution to this is far preferable to anything else we can do. And we’ve got a chance at it. And often when we say diplomacy, people think we just mean talking. That’s not how I define diplomacy. I define diplomacy as giving countries the right incentives and disincentives to come to an agreement. And with the Iranians, we’ve got plenty of disincentives now on the table, plenty of sticks, if you will: the financial measures that we’ve been taking, the recent EU sanctions of Iranian banks; you may have noticed that Total has pulled out of Iran; the Iranians are having trouble in terms of inflation; they’re having trouble getting investment. And so, I believe we’re on a good diplomatic course here, and we’re still waiting to see if there are reasonable people in Iran.
Now, to be sure, when the missile test took place, I said – I was in Europe at the time, and I said that it said two things to me. The first is that people who want to pretend that this is an imaginary threat of missiles from Iran and, therefore, don’t think we need missile defense are making a grave mistake. This is why missile defense needs to be pursued, and pursued aggressively. And secondly, the United States has plenty of power to defend the interest – its interest and the interest of its allies, and I don’t think the Iranians are confused. They know that we will do what we need to do to defend ourselves and to defend our allies.
QUESTION: I’m glad to hear that. I know you reiterated that point I read last week and said the very same thing. I just don’t know how you are to open discussions with a man that denies the Holocaust ever took place and continues to, you know, threaten to annihilate an ally and a friend and a country like Israel. It’s hard to find the starting point of where those negotiations could begin.
SECRETARY RICE: You know, I don’t really believe, Sean, that there is anything to say to Ahmadinejad, frankly. I think the question is: Are there others in the regime that don’t want to live in the kind of isolation that they’re beginning to experience and might be willing to take another course? But you never – you should never make the mistake of not taking your adversary seriously, and we take the Iranians very seriously. We recognize, though, that they have a lot of vulnerabilities, and we’re going to continue to exploit those vulnerabilities. We will exploit them when we come up against them in Iraq. We will exploit them when we are dealing with the financial system. We’ll continue to exploit them.
QUESTION: I’m not going to try and bring into the political debate that’s going on in the country as we have the race for the White House, but I wanted to ask you, maybe in principle, you know, about some of the things that Senator Barack Obama has said. He accused the U.S. of air raiding villages and killing civilians in Afghanistan. He once said it would be a profound mistake to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances. He referred to Iran, Cuba and Venezuela as tiny countries that don’t pose a serious threat. How do you respond to those comments, you know, taking Barack Obama or the political equation out of it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I know a lot of things gets said in campaigns, but let’s just look at the facts. And it’s the Taliban that’s killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan and killing them – trying to kill them with impunity. You know, when – no one tries harder than the American forces and our coalition partners to avoid civilian casualties. When you have terrorists who very often use villages as human shields, unfortunately, sometimes, if you’re going after terrorists, some innocents will be killed. But it’s by no means the policy or the intention of coalition forces or American forces who are there trying to secure Afghanistan – they are trying to improve the lives of Afghans – to kill innocent civilians. And this is – unfortunately, the line about killing civilians, I believe, is an unfortunate one. We sometimes hear it in Europe. We should not fall prey to that argument that somehow we’re killing innocent civilians. It is the Taliban that is doing that.
And as to Iran, Venezuela, Cuba – look, Iran is a dangerous country. It’s got a revolutionary ideology. It uses its tentacles through Hezbollah and Hamas and special militias in Iraq to not just try – not just endanger our troops, but endanger the hopes and dreams of Palestinians and Lebanese and Iraqis. It’s a dangerous country. It has its vulnerabilities. But it’s dangerous, and we need to treat it as such.
And as to Cuba, the Cuban people deserve better. They deserve their liberty. It’s been too long. And the Venezuelans certainly deserve – especially living in a hemisphere as they do that is moving closer and closer, and has moved over time to freedom, the Venezuelans also deserve better.
QUESTION: How about his line that it’s a profound mistake to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t want to respond to every statement. I think the United States has had a longstanding policy about nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence, and it’s served us well.
QUESTION: All right, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, soon to be NFL Commissioner. (Laughter.) Well, you know, I’m hopeful. I’m lobbying for you.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, thanks a lot, Sean. I appreciate that.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you for being with us, Madame Secretary.
SECRETARY RICE: Take care.
QUESTION: I appreciate it.
Released on July 17, 2008