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Interview With Matthew Swibel of Forbes Magazine

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
August 7, 2008

Complete Interview Series with Forbes Magazine:
8.07.2008 - 3.11.2008 - 12.03.2007 - 10.15.2007 - 09.30.2007


QUESTION: All right. Madame Secretary, thank you for speaking with Forbes again.


QUESTION: I’d like to begin with Iran.


QUESTION: For several years now, the world has applied economic sanctions as part of a carrot-and-sticks approach designed to make Iran come clean about a nuclear program that the U.S. and its allies believe to be a quest for a bomb. We hear a new round of sanctions is in the works. From where you sit, what nuances or subtleties suggest that continued sanctions will result in the desired outcome that maybe is not getting the attention or that someone on a 24-hour news cycle can –

SECRETARY RICE: Right – no, it’s really not even very subtle. I think that there are – that there’s clearly – all you – if you look at the Iranian press, even, there’s clearly some tension and debate in Iran about whether or not their policies are causing them difficulty. And we know that they’re having problems with runaway inflation. We know that they’re having problems getting investment. We know that, you know, it’s a country that’s subject to brownouts once in a while, despite their great energy store. And I don’t think there’s a question but that it’s having an impact. The issue is, is it getting to a critical mass, at which point Iran might take a different course. And that, I think, we just have to see. But that it’s had an effect, that people are debating it, that people know that it’s costing them, I think that’s clear.

QUESTION: And when you say people, you don’t mean the general populace?

SECRETARY RICE: No, I mean the regime.  

QUESTION: You mean the specific elite –

SECRETARY RICE: I mean – for instance, you know, the deputy head of the Atomic Energy Agency at one point, the Deputy Central Bank Governor, people like that.

QUESTION: Okay. What were your expectations when you sent Ambassador Burns to Geneva?

SECRETARY RICE: Precisely what we did, which was to send a strong signal that the United States was behind the diplomacy. We got very great support from our P-5+1 partners who were pleased at the signal. I think it put the Iranians on the defensive again, because if the United States is doing everything that it can to make this work, then it exposes even more clearly that the Iranians are not.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on why you thought the timing was right to pull that trigger?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the timing was right because I had signed the letter –


SECRETARY RICE: – to the Iranians offering – making the offer, and it seemed like the right bookend, frankly, for Bill to be there to receive the answer. 

And also, I think it’s a time when, you know, we tend to think of Iran as 10 feet tall. Iran is dangerous. Iran is good at asymmetric warfare. Iran causes a great deal of trouble. But Iran has a lot of vulnerabilities. And some of those vulnerabilities are showing up. I mentioned some of the economic vulnerabilities. I think political vulnerabilities are showing up for them, for instance, in Iraq, where they managed to back the militias at just the wrong time, just when the Iraqi political leadership decided to go after those militias. And so I think the timing was good to try and put further pressure on Iran. But you can put pressure in a lot of ways, and demonstrating your reasonableness is one way to put pressure on them and to show that they’re really unreasonable. 

QUESTION: What tactic – or what do you keep saying to people who might argue the sanctions aren’t working? How do you persuade them to continue to act in a reasonable way?

SECRETARY RICE: Because I think that people can see that there is an effect. As I said, it’s not the effect yet that we need where Iran makes a strategic choice for a different path. But I also think that people believe this is the best option, because if you can have robust diplomacy that has the right set of incentives and disincentives, it may take a little bit longer, but it would be a very effective way and, frankly, a way that had fewer costs to deal with this problem.

QUESTION: What political realities here or in Iran have you come to understand more crisply since the beginning of your term as Secretary that may have limited ambition on either side to get a deal done?

SECRETARY RICE: In fact, it’s less clear to me about Iran and what is going on there, because you clearly have this swirling in debate. They clearly know that they’re – that this is trouble for them. But it’s a terribly opaque system for what kinds of decisions are being made by whom. Sometimes the IRGC Qods Force seems to be running its own policy. 

And so in that sense, I think – and you get – I think we’ve gotten, and maybe this is just a signal that there’s a lot of churn inside – lots of mixed signals. The Iranians will say they’re coming forward with something, they’ll say they’re ready to negotiate, they come to the table, and they – it’s the same old story. So if anything, I think their behavior’s become more confusing over the last several years.

QUESTION: And you don’t see that as a ruse in some way?

SECRETARY RICE: Maybe. I can’t rule it out. But if it is, it’s one that’s having the opposite effect, which is making people more doubtful about Iran and more willing to take tougher measures.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me draw on your history – knowledge of history. During the Cienfuegos submarine base crisis, President Nixon chose quiet diplomacy, rather than a dramatic confrontation, in part, to give Soviets an opportunity to withdraw without humiliation. But years earlier, President Kennedy’s dramatic confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis also delivered positive results. Several books, including one by – recently by Mike Chinoy, suggest that quiet diplomacy was ultimately a vital tool in reaching an agreement with North Korea. 

Which paradigm do you view as delivering the highest success rate in your term as Secretary, specifically when you’re dealing with a hostile isolated regime? 

SECRETARY RICE: It’s a good question. I think, actually, you have to have a combination of these and I’ll tell you why. You – in order to set the conditions in which you might be able to make quiet diplomacy work, the one thing that is very clear about dealing with Iran or dealing with North Korea is it can’t be unilateral American policy. It has to – you have to have friends. 

And one of the problems that I thought I detected when I first became Secretary was that, for some reason, we were in a position where the United States – what the United States was doing was not enough with Iran. And you had the Europeans – when I went to Europe on my first trip, I was struck by the sense that Europe needed to mediate between Iran and the United States, rather than Europe and the United States being unified to force decisions in Iran.

And so one thing that you have to do is you have to really mobilize a coalition state, and you really can’t do that through quiet diplomacy. That really has to have a more public face. And I – and if you’re going to have the kinds of effects that we’ve had on, for instance, the banking industry in Iran or the numbers of companies that won’t deal with Iran now, people that are pulling out – I mean, Total is sort of the last major western energy company to pull out – that has to be a pretty public campaign.

On the other hand, sometimes if the conditions are right, you can use diplomacy, quiet diplomacy as we have in the context of the Six-Party Talks with North Korea, to see if you can advance the path. So I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. 

QUESTION: Can you point to a moment when you finessed your prescription vis-à-vis public versus quiet diplomacy in the middle of your dealings or concurrently in a negotiation? 

SECRETARY RICE: You’ve always got multiple audiences, you know. And it is true that you would have to be careful that, in the midst of something that you’re trying to do quietly, you don’t say something publicly that undermines it. But I think generally, we’ve operated in – I have operated in the view that the public line is there for a purpose and you don’t start – you don’t move away from that or change your public line in order to – because something is going on privately. The public line has to stay there because it’s there for a purpose. 

But no, I mean, I can think of times when I thought it was important to send a signal to both those with whom you were in coalition and to the adversary that channels were open if they wished to avail themselves. I used at Davos the line, you know, “America has no permanent enemies” to make a point. And I think from time to time, that’s important to signal. 

QUESTION: But that was public?


QUESTION: Okay. I thought you were saying that –

SECRETARY RICE: No, no. That was public, yeah. 

QUESTION: Okay. In previous discussions, you’ve mentioned the value in multilateral partners, seeing a common political horizon, both in the Middle East and then in your recent interview aired on Yahoo! this came up as sort of your – a question related to North Korea. And I wanted to know how has the increasing presence of Turkish and Egyptian negotiators in the Middle East and Iran issues affected the dynamics there, if at all? 

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Well, they’re different, but I think both positive. In terms of Egypt and Egypt’s effort in calming the Gaza, that’s something that we supported and that we helped, I think, when Egypt needed help on one side or another. I think we helped them. 

But it’s a positive thing, from point of my view, that other states take the lead. And there’s a sense that in the Middle East – Turkey, for instance, because Turkey has been the intermediary between Israel and Syria – well, isn’t that a role the United States could play? Well, probably could. But there are certainly times when it’s better that it’s not the United States who’s playing that role. 

Turkey is an ally we trust. Turkey is a state that the Israelis trust and obviously the Syrians, too. So why shouldn’t Turkey be the intermediary there? I think the multiplication of states that are prepared to play a more active diplomatic role is a real plus.

QUESTION: Not too many cooks in the kitchen?

SECRETARY RICE: No, because as long as there’s some – and there, in both of those cases, has been very close coordination, why wouldn’t you want states with different profiles and different assets to be involved in the diplomacy?

QUESTION: Well, just because you asked rhetorically, I mean, consistency of messaging, appropriateness of messaging?

SECRETARY RICE: I see no problem with the consistency of messaging. You have to work at it very hard.


SECRETARY RICE: But we were in constant contact with the Turks. The Turks didn’t want to be in a position in which the United States was in somehow – you know, a contrary position to where it was on Egypt even more. So it was very constant.

QUESTION: Am I correct in inferring that it furthered your multilateral approach to allies –


QUESTION: – and advanced it?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, it advanced it. It gives other people a stake. It allows you to have multiple approaches and, you know, multiple channels on some things.

Now, another one was Doha, when the Lebanese deal was done. I spent a lot of that weekend on the phone with various Arabs as they got through the Arab League meeting that then led to the Doha mission. And again, we were in close contact with Qatar about what they were doing.

QUESTION: Okay. When you return to the Middle East this month, what movement on which issues will you specifically be looking for?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m continuing – this is a continuation. You’re not going to see any spike or anything sudden here. You know, I’ve been working principally in these bilateral and trilateral sessions on the peace process to help the parties keep moving forward, helping them find areas of common ground, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.

QUESTION: At one point, though, I know – I remember that road movement and that was a priority –

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, and that’s – yeah, absolutely. We are –

QUESTION: – later this month. Is there a specific priority or –

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we’re continuing to try to – that was to get a – something started, which was really to get the Jenin project started. And it is started. And so now it’s a matter of trying to figure out where there are – not literally roadblocks but bottlenecks, let me put it that way, between Israelis, Palestinians, the Blair project, what we’re doing, and to see if you can get through them. But that project is underway and this is more now a function of – I take pretty specific lists of issues that have come to me and I go through them with the parties and see if we can find ways to resolve them.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Secretary Gates recently stressed civilian aspects of U.S. engagement in a speech, and it reminded me of your underreported advocacy for provincial reconstruction teams and your help in designing them, and reflecting your – one of your earliest strategic objectives in engaging rogue regimes or hostile regimes as Secretary. But is your success with such efforts in Iraq transferrable to more closed societies, such as Iran, North Korea, even Pakistan?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Probably not directly, but you learn some lessons. For instance, I think on Pakistan, for instance, which is, you know, different – you’re not talking about an adversary there, you’re talking about somebody with whom we have a close alliance. But trying to find ways to get outside the capital and to help with reconstruction in a way that – in secure regions is a challenge there, much as it was in other places. It’s not a war zone. But I think it works more in looking not so much at rogue states, but looking at places where governance, security, and economic development are three prongs of the same policy or three legs to a stool.

So I – if we are ever fortunate enough to be looking at Sudan in a more – in a different way, I would expect that you might need something similar to be able to deliver simultaneously security, governance, and reconstruction at the same time.

QUESTION: Might you sow the seeds for that before you leave office?

SECRETARY RICE: I think we’ve done some planning for it. It’s going to, frankly, take more cooperation from the Bashir government than we’ve had, but we’re looking at what more we might be able to do in southern Sudan in that regard.

QUESTION: Okay. When we first spoke in New York, you described your tenure as part of a step function that the next administration will inherit and build on. For your successor, what do you want that person to consider as the progress part of that, and what do you anticipate they’ll recognize needs reinforcing?


QUESTION: And specifically –


QUESTION: Well, I’ll let you –

SECRETARY RICE: No, no, go ahead.

QUESTION: Specifically in finding the right – you know, the age-old question of finding the right combinations of carrots and sticks, the right timing, you know, to achieve these desired outcomes; again, more with the hostile or the rogue elements.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Well, I do believe that we will –

QUESTION: That is still your view, right? That is – okay.

SECRETARY RICE: It is still – that’s still my view. I think we will leave strong international partners for dealing with the – both the shorter term problems of North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, obviously of different character. North Koreans actually have nuclear devices; we believe the Iranians don’t. They have the technology or are getting the technology. But strong coalitions to deal with that, that actually bring to the table the right group of countries that do have carrots and sticks that they can bring. And the temptation is always to have the United States just try to do it. And yes, the multilateral piece of this is slower and it’s tougher and you have to bring people along. But we’re showing, I think, with North Korea that if you didn’t have China and South Korea, particularly those two who have real leverage, but also Russia and Japan, if you didn’t have all of that, you wouldn’t be able to even have North Korea where we are now. And it’s got a way to go. 

So I suspect that the next administration will be trying to complete the September 2005 agreement, but they’ll have the right structure in place. And you have to resist the temptation just to let the United States do it, not to just let people chair the meetings, not become real – have a real impact, like a China, for instance. I would say the same with Iran, that we’ve put that in place.

Now, in the long run, that same set of countries with the right incentives and disincentives and contacts can also help in the evolution of these countries toward more responsible behavior in the international system, not just the nuclear issue. And what I think you see is that these patterns of cooperation that have developed between these states that are trying to manage this problem is something that you want to work on, nurture, institutionalize, for solving ever bigger sets of problems. So I think that will be a very important piece of it.

I also, frankly, think that just, you know, going to probably the one that has been most controversial, which is Iraq.

QUESTION: Are you referring to the part that might need reinforcing now?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, well that – I hope it will be recognized what’s possible now in Iraq. And I don’t just mean a more stable Iraq, an Iraq where the security incidences are down – incidents are down. I don’t just mean making the best of what was a bad situation. I mean, really seeing what Iraq could mean now to the Middle East. Because I watched the meeting in Kuwait –

QUESTION: The meeting?

SECRETARY RICE: In Kuwait, the friends – the neighbors of Iraq meeting.

QUESTION: Right, I thought you said eating, so –


QUESTION: No, no, no –

SECRETARY RICE: Right. I watched that. And I saw the – particularly the regional states recognize that Iraq is about to be – is being reintegrated into the Middle East, but is a completely different entity than when it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq:  one that won’t threaten its neighbors, one that is going to be the first multi-sectarian democracy in the Middle East, one that is going to be friendly to the United States, and yet with the history and tradition and weight of Iraq in the Middle East. And that’s going to transform the Middle East. 

And so the United States needs to stay engaged there. The United States needs to see this transition through. And just like the transformation of Germany from a problem for Europe that kept causing wars to a pillar of stability in Europe, and by the way a friendly-to-the-United-States pillar of stability in Europe, Iraq can play the same function in the Middle East. And it’s been a long, hard slog to get there. It’s been tough. We have paid enormously in terms of treasure and life – especially in terms of life.

But I hope that seeing that project through, and recognizing that that is the key to a different kind of Middle East, will be – that’ll be recognizable.

QUESTION: Okay, last question. I know you’re a sporting fan.


QUESTION: Is there a particular athlete that you’ll be watching closely in the upcoming Olympics or whose story you may have started to even derive some inspiration from?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, a great thing about the Olympics is that you – people go in with reputations, and so you know their reputations. But isn’t it always the athlete that you didn’t expect to – that for – at least for me, it’s always the athlete that you didn’t expect or you didn’t know before the Olympics that comes to characterize and be the most memorable fact in that Olympics. 

You know, I think back to a few years ago – maybe it’s because I’m a skater, but Sarah Hughes, whom nobody, nobody saw coming as the gold medalist. And she goes out, and I remember the last few minutes of her program, and it’s just utter joy because she’s just – that’s what really makes the Olympics special. It’s not who you watch going in. You know, I’ll watch all of the same people – Dara Torres, who can’t love somebody who’s 41 years old – (laughter) – who looks that way, you know? Or Michael Phelps, of course, or, you know, the great sprinters – you know, we’re going to all – the U.S. team looks so formidable on the track. And you know, will the dream team, or the redeem team, finally turn around our fortunes? You know, all of those story lines I’m following into the Olympics just like everybody else.

But what will make the Olympics memorable is going to be the performance of somebody’s name we haven’t yet heard. I mean, who had ever heard, really, of – oh, she was a Stanford student of mine – I’m blanking –

QUESTION: Kerri Strug?

SECRETARY RICE: Kerri Strug. Kerri Strug, who I got to work out next to one time.

QUESTION: You what?

SECRETARY RICE: I got to work out next to her one time in Stanford. But Kerri Strug – who had ever heard of Kerri Strug? And that one extraordinary moment when she just put everything aside, she was going to land that vault standing up, no matter what, you know? It’s somehow – that’s what you remember.

QUESTION: That’s great. Thank you.


Released on August 29, 2008

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