Interview on NBC's Meet the Press with David GregorySecretary Condoleezza Rice
August 17, 2008
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, welcome.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: News this morning from Russia is that it will withdraw its troops by tomorrow in the middle of the day. Do you believe it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Russian President has made promises to the French President, the EU presidency several times that military operations would stop, that Russia would withdraw its forces. I hope he intends to honor the pledge this time.
QUESTION: But you’re skeptical?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I just know that the Russian President said several days ago Russian military operations would stop. They didn’t. The Russian President told President Sarkozy that the minute that ceasefire was signed by President Saakashvili, Russian forces would begin to withdraw. They didn’t. Now he has said that tomorrow, midday, Russian forces will withdraw and withdraw to their pre-August 6/7 lines. This time, I hope he means it. You know, the word of the Russian President needs to be upheld by his forces. People are going to begin to wonder if Russia can be trusted. I think it’s really very much time for them to do what they say they’re going to do.
QUESTION: Well, given that lack of trust as this was all coming together, why didn’t you go directly to Russia, to look them eye to eye to broker this agreement rather than simply going to Georgia?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I was in touch with my Russian counterpart several times, and before – immediately before the crisis really hardened and got hotter, I was in touch with them. But we felt very strongly that the European Union mediation of President Sarkozy needed to be supported, that it should be a mediation between Russia, the European Union with American support, and with Georgia.
I went to Georgia to strongly support the democratically elected Government of Georgia, to demonstrate that the Russian strategic intent of destroying the foundation of democracy in Georgia, the Russian strategic intent of destroying Georgian infrastructure and economic progress, that that would not succeed. I was also able to assure the Georgians, through clarifications by the French President, that their interests would be protected in this ceasefire.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about the future of the separatist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Who will control those regions now?
SECRETARY RICE: David, this has been a zone of conflict for well over a decade now, almost 20 years. And in fact, there has to be an international negotiation to determine the security and political and stability arrangements for these two regions. Those negotiations have gone on sporadically for the last several years.
But those negotiations will begin from the premise that the territorial integrity of Georgia must be respected, that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are indeed part of – are within the internationally recognized boundaries of Georgia, and that we will proceed from the basis of Security Council resolutions that recognize that. But there will have to be a negotiated solution to these two regions, which have been in dispute for a long time.
QUESTION: Will U.S. troops be part of those peacekeeping troops who will be responsible for ensuring that territorial integrity?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, what is first contemplated is that there will be monitors of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, that will go in now to make sure that the ceasefire is working. And the Russians also told the French that they are prepared to have those monitors come in immediately. So those monitors need to come in immediately. There will then have to be a negotiated solution, a part of which will be to get international peacekeeping forces that will have to be neutral peacekeeping forces. And I think the European Union is likely to be one of the lead elements along with others, but that’s for future negotiations.
QUESTION: Will U.S. soldiers be there?
SECRETARY RICE: David, I don’t think it’s good to speculate about what role the United States might play. Generally, this is a role that has been played by the OSCE and by the European Union.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about how we got here and what precipitated this crisis. This is how the New York Times reported it this week about a visit to Georgia back in July by you:
“During a private dinner in Tbilisi, Ms. Rice’s aid said she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not to get into a military conflict with Georgia” – with Russia, rather – “that Georgia could not win. She told him in no uncertain terms that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table, according to a senior Administration official who accompanied Ms. Rice to the Georgian capital. In the days since the simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia erupted into war, Bush Administration officials have been adamant in asserting that they warned the government in Tbilisi not to let Moscow provoke it into a fight and that they were surprised when their advice went unheeded.”
Did Georgia provoke this crisis?
SECRETARY RICE: This crisis has been going on for, as I said, more than a decade. It has been a hot zone and a volatile zone where there have been skirmishes over a significant period of time. It is absolutely the case that we have cautioned all parties against the use of force. In fact, I also talked to the Russians repeatedly in this period about the railway troops that they were bringing in, about reinforcing their peacekeepers, about overflying Georgian territory. So this had been a zone of conflict. We were trying to resolve it peacefully.
QUESTION: Right. But you –
SECRETARY RICE: Whatever happened --
QUESTION: This is a close U.S. ally and you warned them, don’t provoke the Russians, don’t do this.
SECRETARY RICE: David, I --
QUESTION: We have a lot of influence over them.
SECRETARY RICE: David, as I said, this – you can’t just start with “We told the Georgians this.” We also told the Russians not to engage in certain activities that they were engaging in. This was a zone of conflict. We were trying to do it peacefully. But whatever happened before this, once this broke out in South Ossetia, it could have been confined to South Ossetia. Rather than confine it to that and deal with the facts on the ground there, the Russians decided to go deeper into Georgia, to bomb Georgian ports, to bomb Georgian military installations, to go into the city of Gori. And so it was that escalation that got us to the point that we’re at now.
QUESTION: And given --
SECRETARY RICE: And that fully has to be (inaudible).
QUESTION: But given that escalation, Secretary Rice, do you understand why there are some within the Georgian leadership who feel betrayed by the U.S.? Do they have an unreasonable expectation that the U.S. would come in, guns blazing as it were, to protect them?
SECRETARY RICE: I don’t think anybody had an expectation that the United States was going to use military force in this conflict. But we need to keep the focus on the culprit here, and the culprit here is that Russia overreached, used disproportionate force against a small neighbor, and is now paying the price for that, because Russia’s reputation as a potential partner in international institutions, diplomatic, political, security, economic is frankly in tatters.
When President Medvedev gave that very forward-leaning speech just a few weeks ago saying that Russia was going to be a modern state, it was going to look to Western institutions, it was going to be integrated into the international system, well, if this is what he had in mind, that’s a real problem. And I think now, that vision that Medvedev put on the table is really in serious doubt --
QUESTION: Well, let’s talk --
SECRETARY RICE: -- and serious trouble.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about consequences for the relationship. You said that this isn’t the Cold War, this isn’t like 1968, that the Russians can’t get away with it. So what leverage does the United States have over Russia right now?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, in 1968, the Soviet Union occupied the capital, overthrew a government, and frankly didn’t care, because it didn’t want to be integrated into the international institutions. Russia does care. Russia is – sees itself as a modern state. It has – apparently wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, it can use disproportioned force against its neighbor and then it can still be welcomed into the halls of these international institutions. It’s not going to happen that way. Russia will pay a price. We will look seriously with our allies and bilaterally at the consequences of this Russian action for Russian integration into these institutions.
But Russia has already paid a price, because its strategic objective of undermining the democratic – the democracy of Georgia, of destroying its infrastructure is not going to succeed. And what is more, Russia has caused a backlash among the other small states, many of them which, by the way, are now integrated into the European Union and NATO like Poland, like the Baltic states, and even Ukraine, which – whose president went to stand with the Georgian President.
QUESTION: You talk about the tone of the U.S.-Russian relationship. This is how President Bush ushered in that relationship seven years ago in Slovenia. Let’s watch.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul. I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.
QUESTION: Was that trust misplaced, Secretary Rice?
SECRETARY RICE: Look, it was an – absolutely the right thing to do to give Russia a chance. It was the right thing to give Russia a chance to have a path toward integration into Western institutions, into a modern state, into responsible behavior in the international system. That’s still the right path for Russia. The fact that Russia, over the last several years, has demonstrated that it’s not prepared to go fully on that path is Russia’s choice. It was right to give them the choice. It is Russia that miscalculated. It is Russia that misjudged. And Russia is now seeing that the European Union and the United States will not tolerate the kind of behavior that they engaged in as the Soviet Union before the end of the Cold War.
QUESTION: Expel --
SECRETARY RICE: The Cold War is over.
QUESTION: Expelling them from the G-8 and other measures is on the table?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, David, let me just say, on the point that the Cold War is over, that means that the Cold War is over also in terms of what Russia can do and get away with. And so we will take our time and assess where Russia stands in regards to these various diplomatic and political and economic institutions. Right now, we’re focused very heavily on getting Russian forces out of Georgia, getting the ceasefire to hold, helping the Georgian people in humanitarian terms. We are going to help to rebuild Georgia in a major way because it will reemerge as a strong economy and a strong democratic state. We will turn to the Russia relationship with the West. I will go to Brussels on Tuesday. We’ll begin that conversation in NATO.
But I want to be very clear: Russia has already paid a price, because when President Medvedev said that he wanted to be forward-leaning and forward-looking and look to integration into Europe, his troops have done significant damage by instead damaging Georgian infrastructure and killing civilians in Georgia. Georgia will rebuild. Russia’s reputation may not be rebuilt.
QUESTION: Quickly, Secretary Rice, let me turn to Pakistan. General Musharraf, President Musharraf faces impeachment there. After 9/11, this Administration took a very pointed tact against Musharraf and said you’re either with us or against us, effectively, you need to do certain things. As you contemplate his successor, what level of confidence do you have that his successor will be in lockstep with the United States in finding – fighting terror the way he was?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the – however this comes out is, of course, a matter for the Pakistanis to decide. But the United States is supportive of the democratically elected government there. President Musharraf has been a good ally. He took off his uniform as he promised. Free elections were held. And now we have a relationship with that democratically elected government.
That democratically elected government also has a very strong interest in fighting terrorism, because it is the terrorists, the militants who killed Benazir Bhutto, it is the terrorists who are exacting a toll on, even, cities in Pakistan with their activities. And so the United States, Pakistan, indeed Afghanistan, we all have a joint interest in stopping these terrorists. And we had good discussions with the Pakistanis when they were in Washington a couple of weeks ago, and we’ll continue to fight these militants.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, before I let you go, all of us here in America and around the world are watching the Olympic Games, but here is a picture of Saudi Arabia’s flag bearer as it parades in front of the delegation for these games. And you’ll notice no women and that’s because Saudi Arabia does not allow women to compete in their Olympic Games. As an element of the freedom agenda of this Administration here in 2008, how do you react to that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, I think Saudi women ought to be able to participate. I’ve said Saudi women ought to be able to vote. And I think that when women can vote and they’re empowered, you’re going to see them in the games. But I would also note that if women wish to participate in Afghanistan’s team, they can; if women wish to participate in Iraq’s team, they can; that in most of the Middle East now, women athletes are participating. Those are positive developments. But certainly, I look forward to the day that there’s a Saudi woman athlete in that parade.
QUESTION: We will leave it there. Secretary Condoleezza Rice, thank you very much this morning.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
Released on August 17, 2008