Interview With Jenna Wolfe of the Sunday Edition of NBC NewsSecretary Condoleezza Rice
August 2, 2008
QUESTION: Secretary, before we get to your good friends Dvorak and Bach and Brahms and Beethoven, I thought we would start with a few geo-political hotspots.
SECRETARY RICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Mainly China, with the Olympics right around the corner here. What are your expectations for China for the Olympics with regards to their human rights record and protests, which, obviously, may be an issue?
SECRETARY RICE: Well first, I really wish the Chinese well in bringing off a successful Olympics, an Olympics without incident. Everybody in the international community has a real stake in having this Olympics go well.
For the athletes, this is a sporting event. We very often get caught up in the politics, but what I think about is the years and years and hours and hours that these people, these kids, have spent preparing. So let this Olympics go off without a hitch.
I hope that the Chinese will be discreet about the use of their security, that people will feel welcome and comfortable and that they will let free reporting take place. It’s important. That’s really important.
QUESTION: Do you think that the Olympics will change China’s relations with the rest of the world? They’ve spent the last couple of months trying to improve those relations. Or do you think when the Games are done, things will go back to the way they were?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Chinese will always have their interests and they’ll pursue them. But I think it’s a good thing, the kind of opening up that’s necessary to have that many foreigners and that many foreign journalists around. Perhaps it will have some lasting effect. We can always hope so. But again, this is a sporting event and it really needs to be about the athletes.
QUESTION: Is there a specific sport or athlete that you’re going to be rooting for?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I love sports in general --
SECRETARY RICE: -- and so I’ll – the track and field will be terrific, and some of the – I don’t swim, I’m a terrible swimmer, but some of the records that have been falling in swimming are really incredible. So I’ll be watching to see how Michael Phelps does, and others.
QUESTION: He might do okay. I’m not sure. I think he’ll do --
SECRETARY RICE: I think he’ll be all right, yes.
QUESTION: He might, you know, pass/fail, I think he might pass.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, right. He’ll be all right.
QUESTION: I want to talk to you about Iran for a second. My colleague Brian Williams sat down with President Ahmadinejad and the President did make a comment that he thought nuclear weapons were so twentieth century. Do you believe him? Do you believe that he really feels that way?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, there’s an easy way for Iran to show it, and that is to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing and take the offer that is before them to accept help to get a civil nuclear program that they can get energy from, without having the – what we call the fuel cycle – that is, enrichment and reprocessing, because enrichment and reprocessing can also be used to build a nuclear weapon.
So the Iranians could make this easy. No one would deny that they have a right to civil nuclear power. The question arises because Iran has not been forthcoming with the international community for 18, 19 years now, about what it was doing. So there’s an easy way to answer the question about nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: So is all this just a PR stunt to really (inaudible) nuclear pursuits by Iran, or do you feel they really want to improve relations with the U.S.?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don’t see that there’s any effort to improve relations with the United States or -- frankly, their relations with the rest of the world are also getting worse because they’re getting more and more isolated. The Security Council resolutions that put them under Chapter 7 status, saying they’re a threat to international peace and security, their activities are – that’s no place to be if you really want to have a better relationship with the rest of the world.
QUESTION: I want to ask you a question about domestic politics. Is there any issue with regards to foreign policy that you think that either of the candidates haven’t focused enough on?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, far be it for me to give them advice. I’m sure that we’ll get through the important foreign policy issues. Obviously, they are focusing on how to fight the War on Terror. They are focusing on the two central fronts in the War on Terror, Afghanistan and Iraq.
But of course, there’s a big world out there. And we have, really, very good relations with our European allies. Asia is emerging as an important power, a center of power. China is emerging as an important influence. I hope there’ll be discussion of how the very fruitful relations that have been built with Africa and the insistence on good governance in Africa, where you’re actually beginning to get some progress – perhaps that’ll get some attention. And of course, you always need good policies in you own backyard, here in the western hemisphere.
QUESTION: All right. By my calculations – and sometimes they’re shoddy calculations – but by my calculations, you have 172 days left --
SECRETARY RICE: Is that right?
QUESTION: -- in Washington. Not to freak you out or anything, not to scare you. Give me three things you want to get done before you leave.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don’t think about it that way. I think about the fact that we’ve been, for a number of years now, pursing America’s interests, whether it’s in nuclear nonproliferation, having built this important coalition to deal with the North Korean nuclear program, and so we’ll keep pressing in the Six-Party Talks.
You mentioned Iran. Obviously, we want the parties and the international community to really continue to put pressure on Iran. I don’t know when Iran will change its ways. But Iran is beginning to see, I believe, that it can’t continue on this path. And of course, we’re working very hard on Middle East peace. But I don’t have the luxury as Secretary of State to pick out two or three things. Every day, there are different events and different circumstances that arise and you have to deal with them.
QUESTION: One question, and then I want to get to all the music and the reason that we’re here. Is this job harder than you thought it would be when you first got here?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don’t think it was harder than I thought it would be. I think the times have been harder than perhaps we expected prior to September 11th. You know, before September – really, life before September 11th and life after September 11th. And it’s not that people didn’t know that there was a terrorist threat, but the degree of organization, the degree of hatred that penetrated so many societies; that really had to be dealt with. And that’s been hard. And it’s been hard to stay mobilized to deal with terrorism.
In some ways, you want the American people to move on. But we also can’t afford to forget what happened to us and to lose our sense of vigilance, either. That’s been hard.
QUESTION: Okay. Let’s talk about why you’re here. Secretary, I understand you were reading music before you were reading words.
SECRETARY RICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: You were playing the piano by age three. You’ve accomplished so much with regards to music. You even spent time here in Aspen.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, I did.
QUESTION: How good does it feel to be back in this environment with all this – all these other musical prodigies walking around?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I love being here. And I’ve been back a couple of times to hear concerts during the summer, and the like. And it’s always fun. What a great setting to have this fantastic music.
But you know, it’s funny how you have these flashbacks, too. I do remember being 17 and the pressures of the Aspen Music Festival and recognizing that most of these kids were a lot better than I was. That’s a flashback, too.
QUESTION: A nervous one?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, no.
QUESTION: A little bit?
SECRETARY RICE: Just a sense that I’m glad I moved on to something else.
QUESTION: Yeah, because you went back to the University of Denver and then changed your major, right?
SECRETARY RICE: I changed my major, that’s right, because it takes an extraordinary level – not just a talent, but a dedication. And then there’s that little something that great musicians have that even good musicians don’t. And I came to a realization that I was a good musician, but was probably never going to be great.
QUESTION: What are you playing today?
SECRETARY RICE: We’re playing – I’m playing with a wonderful young quartet, students here in the music school, in the music festival. We’re playing the first movement of the Dvorak A-major piano quintet. And we’re playing the second movement of the Brahms F-minor piano quintet. So these are great masterpieces --
QUESTION: That’s a mouthful.
SECRETARY RICE: So they’re fantastic pieces and two of my favorite composers.
QUESTION: Are you nervous? We talked about this before, but does the Secretary of State get stage fright at all?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m appropriately – a little bit on the edge, which is a good thing. You don’t want to be complacent about playing Brahms and Dvorak, because these are big pieces. They’re difficult pieces. And you can’t lose concentration, you know. You’re – the nice thing, in some ways, about playing this piece is your mind can’t wander. There’s only room for Brahms or Dvorak at any given time.
QUESTION: You know, you once said – you said – someone asked you if it’s relaxing to play. You say, it’s not relaxing; it’s transporting. What does that mean?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s not relaxing to struggle with these pieces. They’re big, they’re difficult. But you really are in another place completely. Your head has to be clear of everything else. It really has to be the music, particularly when you’re playing in ensemble with a chamber group, because a lot is going on with the five instruments and the connections between them.
And this is a fantastic group of young musicians. We haven’t played together very much. And so the cues and making certain that you’re really listening to what the others are doing and – it’s quite something.
QUESTION: When do you ever get a chance to practice? I’m just curious. I mean, you say you don’t really get a chance to play with them. I’m wondering when you even get a chance to practice.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t get to practice very much. Just to give you a comparative sense, when I was doing this seriously as a student, I probably practiced four or five hours a day.
QUESTION: A day?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
SECRETARY RICE: And then when I was back at Stanford and started playing again, I tried at least to practice an hour or so every day, and maybe a couple of hours on the weekends. Now it’s catch as catch can. You know, maybe it’s an hour here and an hour there. It’s tough to get the practice time. But it’s important enough to me and it is transporting enough to me that I – it’s a part of building your soul. And so I try to play with my music group back in Washington at least, oh, once a month, every six weeks or so.
QUESTION: So just so I understand this, you’re a workout fiend. You work out every morning. You work out every day. You’re a classical pianist. Oh, you’re Secretary of State. I’m just curious what you do in your free time.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is there any?
SECRETARY RICE: I have never cared much for free time. In fact, friends who vacation with me – really, I give them a hard time. Because my vacations have always been, go to tennis camp, go to music camp. I’m not one who sits around a lot. I really like to be active, but in another place. That’s the best way for me to relax.
QUESTION: Well then that leads me to this last question. What do you plan on doing after you leave the State Department?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’ll go back to California, back to Stanford. I’m on leave from the University. So I’ll go back to the University.
QUESTION: They may let you back. I’m just – I don’t know, maybe.
SECRETARY RICE: I think it’s the – you know, George Schultz is also back there, a former Secretary of State.
SECRETARY RICE: And Bill Perry, a former Secretary of Defense. They have a few of us around.
But I really care a lot about some of these issues. But the issues that I really would like to work on are those that have to do with the fundamentals that make America great. I had the great honor of representing this great country. I love this country. And when you’re abroad, you recognize how unique the United States is. You recognize that we do so well in being able to have all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds and ethnic groups live together and not just tolerate each other, but thrive together. You realize that this really is still a country where your circumstances matter less than what you’re willing to do and how hard you’re willing to work.
But I do think that our confidence in our ability to absorb different people, I think our confidence in whether we’re really educating each and every one of our citizens for the 21st century; that seems to me to be a challenge these days. And if America isn’t confident in those basic values, if we really aren’t confident that where you came from doesn’t matter, but where you’re going, we’re going to be fearful. We’re going to be protectionist. We’re not going to lead.
And I’ve long had an interest in and have worked in not just higher education, but improving education for kids who are not particularly from advantaged backgrounds. That’s the sort of thing I’d like to do, because I’ve seen it as Secretary of State. Without American leadership, the world is not a very orderly place. Without American leadership and values, no one really will lead on those values. But without confidence in our own fundamental strength, we won’t lead.
QUESTION: Secretary, thank you so much.
Released on August 4, 2008